May 20, 2011, 2:52 PM
The concept of culture has many definitions and interpretations. In social settings, it is often used broadly to represent entire ways of life. Included in such ways of life are rules, values, and expected behaviors.
At its most basic level, culture can be seen as the shared products of a society. These products have a common meaning that accumulates over time, and also reflect shared attachments among community members.
Culture can be seen as consisting of ideas, rules and material dimensions. Ideas include such things as the values, knowledge, and experience held by a culture.
Values are shared ideas and beliefs about what is morally right or wrong, or what is culturally desirable. Such values are abstract concepts, and are often based in religion or culture in that they reflect ideals and visions of what society should be. Such values often shape expected behavior and rules.
These rules are accepted ways of doing things and represent guidelines for how people should conduct themselves, and how they should act towards others.
Values and rules are often taken for granted, and assumed to reflect a common understanding. Both, however, have direct origins and developed in response to conflicts or needs.
At the core of such values and norms is a process of interaction that led to their emergence and acceptance. This process shapes the actions of individuals and social systems within their communities.
Culture provides belonging and an arena in which residents can make a difference. At the same time, culture contributes to exclusionary practices, and has been seen as a drag on development efforts.
Regardless, it is clear that culture plays a critical role in local community action. The inclusion of culture into community and economic development models can take many shapes and forms.
Culture can serve as the central focus. Included would be tourism, and other efforts that focus largely on the promotion, preservation, or enhancement of local or regional cultures.
Culture can also be a factor that needs to be addressed to determine its impact on new or existing development programmes (resource management, environmental protection).
In facing development, the programmes that communities are willing to accept and embrace are likely to depend largely on cultural factors.
It is, therefore, vital that problems and potential solutions be defined in a manner consistent with the local culture.