Introductive Elements of Culture and Civilization

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1.1. The notions of culture and civilization

Trying to define notions such as culture and civilization is not an easy task. Defining the culture means defining the human condition in its unity and variety, in its never-ending efforts to create, to leave inestimable values to posterity, for the culture represents the specific environment for the human existence.

The culture defines synthetically the human way of existence and it is the symbol of the creative power of men. It consists in a set of fundamental values, accepted in a human society.

We can distinguish two main components of the culture: a material component and a spiritual one.

The material component of the culture, usually referred to as civilization, includes the means and the values that insure the material reproduction of the social life – in other words, the processes of the social existence.

The spiritual component of the culture consists of the systems of values in which the efforts ok knowing and discovering, the attitudes and the reactions of men towards everything surrounding them are manifested. Usually, these appear in the form of systems such as the philosophy, the art, the mythology, the religion, the morale.

Etymologically, the term of culture finds its origins in the Latin language, where it meant two meanings: it meant cultivating the earth, but it also meant cultivating the spirit. The concept of culture begun to be used more frequently during the XIX-th century, when the social sciences developed and new social disciplines appeared. It was more and more associated to the concept of civilization – concept already widely used in the XVIII-th century, designing the progress of a society based on knowledge and rational thinking.

A first definition of culture was given, in the XIX-th century, by the anthropologist Edward B. Taylor. It considers the culture as a complex assembly of knowledge, beliefs, art, morale, law, traditions and any other modalities of expression and results of the creation of a human society.

During the XX-th century, many definitions were given for the term culture, each one being influenced by the social discipline that studied the culture and tried to define it. Trying to synthesize all these definitions, we can define the culture as the assembly of material and spiritual values of a human society that reached a certain level of development.

The term of civilization was formed from the Latin words civis, civilis, that referred to the citizen living in a country and disposing of certain qualities that allowed him to comply with the rules imposed for social and public relationships. Therefore, civilization means educating the citizen so that he can have an adequate behavior in society (politeness, good manners, habits).

Most of the time, civilizations are understood as great units of the universal history, as ways of living of some nations and societies united by religion, language, traditions, public institutions, cultural features, values, ideals, artistic forms, technologies, ways of action. Civilizations are therefore long lasting structures of human existence, in their geographical and historical variety, manifesting themselves trough complex forms of economic, institutional and political organization of the human society.

There is no clear and unanimously accepted delimitation between the notions of culture and civilization. From one society to another, the two notions can have a broader or a narrower meaning. In France, for example, the term civilization was considered the broader notion, containing the culture as a component, while in Germany the culture was considered the broader notion, the civilization being seen just as the material, technical and economical component of the culture. In Anglo-Saxon territories, the two notions – culture and civilization – were used as synonyms.

Yet, one idea that is unanimously accepted is the one that the notions of culture and civilization are closely related. The two components of the history of the human society, the culture and the civilization, must permanently interact. The civilization needs culture, especially at individual level. A truly civilized person is well educated person, having a broad culture, good self-control and an impeccable behavior.

The XX-th century brought major changes in the field of culture. The technical and scientific progress reached an unbelievable speed and the explosion of scientific successes determined an acceleration of cultural changes, but also a crisis of traditional values. In the same time, the interest for a fast impregnation of cultural values in the system of social activities grew, with the help of mass-media. This century created a new cultural reality: new mentalities, new forms of artistic expression, new ways of relating to the external world, a new self-conscience of the modern human being.

A specific feature of the XX-the century refers to the intensification without precedent of the cultural values exchange and of the dialogue among cultures. The social communication of values and the intercultural communication were facilitated by the expansion of mass-media, which allowed the cultural interferences and the exchange of values to become dominant realities. Mass-media represents o network that transmits information in the entire world, and the newest cultural creations can be received in all societies from all the regions of the planet. All these accomplishments cancelled the distances and connected societies, regions and cultural areas that were isolated from one another until then (or had very few and random contacts.

A new notion imposed itself – the notion of interculturality, expressing the interaction or the contact area among two, or more different cultures. Although in the conceptual plan the notion of interculturality is new, being used only in the last decades, the interculturality, as a phenomenon, is not at all new; it manifested itself throughout the history every time when the expansion of an empire brought together different nations, different mentalities, different cultures.

Inside the boundaries of great historical empires (such as the Macedonian Empire, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire etc.) the capacity of cultural dialogue of the human societies involved has always been tested. Most frequently, the historical context and the lack of tolerance impeded positive results to be obtained, and the cultural interaction generated tensions, even wars. The winning societies imposed their own culture and civilization, destroying or minimizing the cultures and civilizations of the conquered nations.

The first model of interculturality is probably the North-American model, where cultures from all over the world are coexisting for more than 400 years. Initially, there were bloody conflicts too, caused by cultural differences, conflicts that culminated with the Independence War. But trough an adequate legislation, adapted to this multicultural reality, the United States were successful, at least at a formal level, in imposing a peaceful coexistence of all these cultures inside its boundaries; although there were many cultures, the country was united by geo-political and economical and financial criteria.

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