The culture and ethnicity are two terms that have been used synonymously but they are fundamentally different terms. The practitioners have a considerable misunderstanding of the terms as well as their appropriate application. In this paper we examine the concepts of culture and ethnicity so as to show their own relationship and their applications in the society. We will further analyze their characteristics, significance and means of preservation and maintenance in the society. Moreover, the paper will compare the cultural difference and ethnicity to identify whether they conflict.
Definitions of Culture and Ethnicity
The social scientist have defined culture as complex make up of the actual and the symbolic elements of a given group which include beliefs, mythology, religion, ideas, sentiments, institutions and objects. These elements are passed on from one generation to the next and are internalized by members of the group in differing levels. The culture includes the way members of a group should relate to each other in conformation to the given ethics guidelines, kinship models and the practices of bringing up the young children. The culture represents a system which is learned and shared among members who then interpret experiences and proper manners. The system recognizes both personal and group identity and as such their ideas are equally included in the culture systems to be shared and taught (Davies, 2002).
On the other hand, an ethnicity shows groups of human populations. These groups maintain their differences through segregation mechanisms such as geographical and social obstruction. Therefore one of these groups is referred to as an ethnic group and may be of a nation, a people, a language or a religion. There was an earlier definition that defined an ethnic group as a different category of the population whereby its culture is different from that of a larger society it belongs. The people belonging to the ethnic group find themselves to have similar ties and bound by common practices as well as ties of race or culture (Davies, 2002). According to O%u201FDell (n. d.), anthropologist Fredrik Barth referred an ethnic group as something that is extensively biologically self-continuing, shares basic cultural beliefs recognized in their cultural forms, sets up the ground of communication as well as interaction and has a membership which consciously identifies itself, and is identified by others, as constituting a unique category from other groups.
Culture Difference and Ethnicity
The culture difference alone cannot make up ethnicity but requires to be consciously recognized in order to make ethnicity. The fact is that if a group is not conscious of its characteristics then they cannot make up an ethnic group. Thus there cannot be ethnicity even where a group is very distinct but fails to be conscious of their unique features. This explains why many indigenous groups which were distinct from each other do not belong to ethnic groups since they were not conscious of their ethnicity. Therefore ethnicity as well as enlistment as an ethnic group requires that the members be conscious of their difference including their cultural differences from other groups as well as the similarities to identify with in their own culture. Thus in the actual sense individuals with different cultures but live without any problems arising from their differences are termed not to be ethnic considering the proper meaning of the word (Eller, 1999).
The culture difference in itself does not become ethnicity on its own but it has to be taken and used by a group in modern ways so as to make it an ethnicity. The ethnicity normally do not cause conflict but in certain situations and accelerated by particular events, there may be conflict caused by ethnicity. This means that small cultural differences can easily be noticed and contribute to controversial difference in ethnicity. However, large cultural difference leaves no doubt to the ethnic groups about the divide and as such may lead to minimal or no ethnic differences or conflicts (Eller, 1999).
It is apparent that cultural differences causes ethnicity but ethnicity does not give rise to cultural differences. This is because group identity is derived from cultural difference and failure to recognize culture implies that a group may not be developed. Thus ethnicity exists purely because of existence of different cultures. Whenever an ethnicity is being elaborated, it is apparent that culture has to be mentioned. According to Darder (2005), ethnicity is thought by people to be a segment of population that share a common culture and participate in shared activities which generate from a common culture. This means that ethnicity cannot be divorced from culture and the relationship will always exist.
Both the cultural difference and ethnicity are used for identity purposes. However, it is important not to be overemphasized because there are other means of identity like gender, class or economic status. The studies of immigrants and refugees have recently concentrated on their culture difference as well as ethnicity of their sources of origin. The concept of difference brings about ethnicity and culture as observed across the globe. As a matter of fact tourism has been promoted by culture difference and ethnicity which has improved national economies (O%u201FDell, n. d.).
Characteristics of Culture
The most conspicuous characteristic of culture is that it is open to all people who are interested. An individual can be recruited to a culture by learning its norms, traditions and procedures. Moreover, the individual can then share the knowledge of the culture and further participate in cultural events thus becoming a full member of the culture. Although it is possible that a given culture is able to can be learnt, it is of absolute importance that an individual is raised from a particular culture so as to understand fully its features and contribute to its improvement. This is because the culture recognizes its members in a mutual process where the members can share benefits as well as contribute to its development and maintenance (Ghai, 2000).
Secondly, the culture is based on tradition and continuity which is passed from one generation to the next. The culture stresses on conservation and continuity of traditions rather than innovation of new culture developments. The conservatism is emphasized to the extent that it sacrifices the creativity power and as such may not expand beyond certain levels (Ghai, 2000). The preservation of traditions and passed to children through stories and teachings, ensure that the culture is maintained for a long term period. The conservatism ensures that the culture is not corrupted with new ideas which may make it to lose its original identity. Just like culture of Japanese blood' which had been maintained throughout the reigning of succeeding emperors (Weiner, 2004).
Moreover, a culture survives mainly through assimilation. This means that a member from another culture is allowed to become its member by simply accepting and distributing its basic cultural factors. This process is a characteristic of both dominant cultures as well as newcomers which allows them to grow and ensure survival of their cultures (Ghai, 2000). Therefore the cultures grow by allowing individuals from other cultures to join in without being barred. Thus the characteristic of non-segregation of other cultures is working positively to the increment of numbers of a particular culture which enhances strength and unrivaled continuity (Appadurai, 1996).
Furthermore, the culture is characterized by its difference. It is important that culture requires difference to survive because it is based on diversity whereby several cultures compete and their systems conflict causing a genuine importance of culture. This difference is important so as to be able to distinguish separate persons as far as culture is concerned. There are states that are only identified by their culture which is different from other cultures. Therefore it becomes apparent that there will be no development of one culture in the entire world because if developed, there would be no difference which means a total death to culture (Ghai, 2000). Thus diversity and differentiation in cultures are crucial elements for continuity.
Characteristics of Ethnicity
The major characteristic if ethnicity is that each ethnic group has unique cultural traits. Since an ethnic group belongs to a larger society, they can only be identified with their unique cultural set of traits. Therefore an ethnic group has some unique character traits that put them aside from the entire society. However, for the character traits to make up an ethnic group then they should be of fundamental features of social life including language and religion. This means that we may need further qualification of ethnicity in an event we have a character trait like a profession which is not fundamental (Marger, 2008).
The second characteristic is that ethnicity has a sense of community. This is in addition to the unique cultural traits in that they are conscious of their membership to the ethnic group. This is the awareness of being closely associated with particular ethnic group. This sense of belonging to a specific ethnic group is derived from the fact that individuals believe to share a common ancestry or heritage. It is normal to realize that whenever individuals share a common origin they tend to come close together and create a comfort zone for themselves whiles caring more to each other as compared to the general public. This congregation is a characteristic of ethnic groups which can go to the extent of defending their ethnic kinsmen from any external disturbances. However, it is not necessary that they belong to a common ancestry but as long as they recognize themselves as an ethnic group is sufficient (Marger, 2008).
Another characteristic of an ethnic group is the ethnocentrism which is the tendency to judge the other groups by the standards and values of their own group. This judgment creates a general assumption that one's ethnic group is superior. With this character, a group will view its own ways to be the correct while for the other groups to be odd and immoral. With the feeling of superiority as a basis an ethnic group will develop solidarity to foster its cohesiveness among its members. However, this characteristic has a negative effect in that it can create animosity and conflict between different ethnic groups (Marger, 2008). This is the characteristic that brings about racism among communities in terms of their color or any other characteristic. In South Africa, ethnicity brought about racism among the black and the white ethnic groups which causes them to mistreat each other. In the movies "District 9" the black South Africans was being mistreated by the white during "apartheid" period being referred to as thrash-eating vermin and loathsome which was not actually true but rather accelerated by racism (Schürholz, 2010).
Moreover, in ethnicity there is an ascribed membership. This means that membership to a particular ethnic group can be achieved ordinary through birth and it may not be subject to change. Once an individual is born in certain ethnic group it may be difficult to change to another ethnicity unless under abnormal circumstances. The circumstances may include outright denial and changing of names to suit the outward ethnic group which may not be any easy. The actual fact is that when an individual is growing up they learn a lot about their ethnic group as well as others up to a point that they appreciate their own group and accept just like accepting one's gender. Those aspiring to change their ethnicity usually are not permitted fully by the members of ethnic groups and may sometimes be considered to be outcasts. However, there is room for salient change of ethnicity which may happen in marriage across two ethnic groups (Marger, 2008).
The last characteristic of ethnicity is that a particular group occupies specific territory within the larger population. An ethnic group is usually concentrated in a region. An example is Welsh and Scots concentrated in Britain whereas Flemings and Walloons in Belgium. With this territorial occupation, an ethnic group is able to maintain a political status as a group which is formally recognized. This is because they could occupy a large territory which gives them a large bargaining power due to their concentrated nature. There are situations where the members of a given ethnic group do not settle in a specific geographical territory and fail to maintain culture such as language. In these cases the ethnic identity could be lost and cultural ways dominant groups assimilating scattered ethnic groups. An example is the United States where ethnic groups are dispersed throughout the society leaving no dominant ethnic group (Marger, 2008).
Significance of Culture Difference and Ethnicity
The ethnicity is not fixed but rather a variable in which the characteristics displayed by a given group are at varying degrees. The importance of ethnicity and culture difference makes people to work hard to retain their identification (Rosdahl & Kowalski, 2007). The importance of ethnicity and culture is that individuals can be associated to a particular group and through it are able to be easily accepted in the mainstream of the society. There is a high bargaining power for an ethnic group compared to a situation where there is no group to be associated. It is important to note that ethnicity is used as a basis of ranking where individuals are rewarded according to the status of their ethnic groups. This is because it is difficult in any society for resources to be shared equally but rather ethnicity determines the share to be taken by each group in specific amounts. This makes ethnicity to be so influential in people's lives and thus considered to be what shapes the relationships among the members of a society (Marger, 2008). Even the students in schools are influenced by ethnicity to the extent that they relate to their fellow students and colleagues by display family characteristics (Berends, 2005).
The other significance of ethnicity is that they shape primary relations. These are relations in small social set ups including families and peer groups. The ethnicity is used by others to select their close friends, marriage partners as well as places of residence. Moreover, ethnicity and culture can be an excellent way of shaping behavior of the group members of particular groups (Marger, 2008). This is because there are values being thought by ethnic groups to its members concerning good behavior values and results in a better society. However, we cannot rule out that whenever there is a bad culture in an ethnic group there is a potential that it will be transferred to generations if not addressed within the shortest time.
Conclusion on Culture Difference and Ethnicity
After stating ethnicity and culture and discussing the specific characteristics for each one of them, we find that culture difference does not conflict with ethnicity. This is because ethnicity group is derived from culture difference which is recognized by culture conscious members. Thus we can conclude that both culture difference and ethnicity are used in the society simultaneously to identify separate groups within the larger population society. However, it is important to note that although culture difference consciousness gives rise to ethnicity, the reverse is not true. That is an ethnic group cannot give rise to give culture difference.