What Are the Five Basic Components of Culture?

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Culture can be described as having five basic components: symbols, language, values, norms and material culture. Culture is a system of beliefs and codes of conduct that dictates the behavior of members of a society. Because humans are able to classify these beliefs symbolically, such as with language, they are able to impart these belief systems onto others, creating a culture.

The five basic components of culture can be divided into two categories. The cognitive component, or the font of knowledge that is the foundation for social behavior, is made up of the symbols and language. Symbols attach meaning to actions or events, such as a pledge of allegiance, and language conveys the beliefs and values of a culture, allowing members of a society to pass on an established lifestyle to future generations.

The normative component of culture encompasses that which translates into morality, or the correct ways of thinking and behaving. These normative components include values, which are the ideas that shape the way people think of morality, such as the idea that killing someone is bad. These values translate into norms, or specific expectations for behavior. The final normative component is material culture, or the expression of these values and norms that create material items and technology.