IB Cultural Anthropology/The Nature of Culture/Levels of Culture

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Culture exists at various levels and changes to varying degrees between these levels. One can generalize these levels to be:

  • International
  • National
  • Subcultures
  • Individual



General cultural traits often extend beyond borders. Much of Latin America, for example, shares the same overall culture. Similarly, The US and Canada share many cultural standards. International culture tends to be very broad, however, and one will find a wide range of variation between the culture of, for example, Peru and Brazil. International culture is the most general classification of culture.


For the most part, the people within a nation tend to have the same general cultural characteristics. Americans, for example, tend to value individual freedom over extensive family ties. These national cultural traits, however, are almost as weak as international cultural traits. Indeed, one could often find groups of people who share more in common with a group of people in another country than in their own. This tends to be the case in areas where borders were arbitrarily drawn for political reasons. (E.g. Africa or the Middle East.)


Within any given culture (especially a large culture), one would be likely to find subcultures. In America, for example, the various economic classes form their own subcultures. Middle class families, for example, tend to emphasize individualism and happiness, whereas lower class families tend to emphasize obedience more. Both groups are still very much a part of the American culture; however, it is the distinction that can be made between them that makes them subcultures.

Occasionally a subculture might have to practice its culture secretly. During the early 1960s, for example, homosexuality was illegal, so homosexual cultures needed to maintain secrecy. Jewish culture during the 1930s in Nazi Germany is another example. Such subcultures are called clandestine cultures.

Individual Variation[edit]

Culture is different for every member, and any study of culture must take into account those differences. Men and women tend to view their culture differently due to different places in society, and likewise a chief is likely to view the culture differently than a peasant. Despite these differences, the actual variation relative to another culture is negligibly small.

Pluralistic Societies[edit]

Societies in which multiple cultures enhabit the same geographic and political region are called pluralistic societies. The United States is a weakly pluralistic society- there is a great deal of individual variation and a high number of subcultures. However, for the most part, these sub cultures maintain most of the values of the nation as a whole. More strongly pluralistic societies can be found in, for example, Bosnia. Often violence erupts in strongly pluralistic societies because members of different cultures cannot understand each other and conflict arises when they don't operate by the same rules.

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