Culture | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Culture, a term used by social scientists, is also widely used in popular speech. It apparently arose first in the Old French of the Middle Ages to indicate a religious cult, or religious worship or ceremony. The verb culturer meant "working the soil."

Culture: A Definition

Culture, a term used by social scientists, is also widely used in popular speech. It apparently arose first in the Old French of the Middle Ages to indicate a religious cult, or religious worship or ceremony. The verb culturer meant "working the soil." In the 17th century, people referred to the "wheat culture," "legume culture," and, by analogy, to the "culture of letters" and "culture of sciences."

In the 18th century the word was used alone to mean "formation of the spirit." Eighteenth-century German philosophers and historians borrowed the term from the French, but Kultur, as it was written, had for the Germans both social and historical dimensions. Some writers used it to mean progress, the improvement of the human spirit, a step towards the perfection of humanity.

Others used it to mean "civilization" - that is, the refinement of mores, customs and knowledge. For German (and some French) authors of the day, the terms "culture" and "civilization" referred to the progress of Reason - that is, of science, knowledge and a new moral conscience which had been liberated from religions and mythologies.

It was in English, however, that the term "culture" took on the modern meaning (culture signifying "husbandry" appeared in English as early as 1420). Anthropologists used the term to denote the mores, customs and beliefs of the "primitive" people they were studying. By the early 20th century, culture had become a central concept of the Social Sciences; it is a term now used in all the social sciences and in all languages.

The technical use of the term in Anthropology was introduced by the English anthropologist E.B. Tylor in 1871: "Culture or civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society."

In Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions (1952), A.L. Kroeber and C. Kluckhohn analysed 160 English definitions of culture used by anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, psychiatrists and others, and classified them according to their principal emphasis. Drawing on all these definitions and on others more recent, culture may be defined as an ensemble, formalized in varying degrees, of ways of thinking, feeling and behaving which once learned give people a particular and distinct collectivity.

Canadian Culture

Given the diversity of Canadian society, it is easier to describe Canadian culture as a group of cultures interrelated with and juxtaposed to the 2 dominant cultural groups.

It is not surprising, given its size, that Canada should have several regional subcultures (see Regionalism). No exhaustive study has yet been made of these subcultures, yet it is possible to assert that West Coast Canadians have a different way of thinking and a different spirit from central or East Coast Canadians. Canadians who live on the Prairies are distinct from those in Ontario, as are Quebecers or Newfoundlanders.

Further divisions exist within the subcultures: northern Ontarians distinguish themselves from southern ones; Quebecers in Abitibi, the Beauce or Lac St-Jean are different from those in Montréal or Québec City. Differences in spirit, ways of thinking and attitude exist between Edmonton and Calgary, Victoria and Vancouver, Montréal and Québec City.

But the expression "Canadian mosaic" refers to the ethnic and cultural diversity of the country. Four constituent cultural groupings are usually distinguished in Canada. The first 2 are the cultures of the "founding peoples," the Anglo-Saxon culture and French culture (see Ethnic and Race Relations). The former subdivides into cultures of different origin - English, Scots, Irish, Welsh. French culture is more homogenous. Though French Canadians originally emigrated from different provinces of France, under the French regime they quickly merged into one "Canadian" culture, although those French Canadians living in Ontario or Manitoba are quite different from those in Québec (see French in the West).

With the exception of the native peoples, the remaining non-British and non-French cultural groups comprise all the other ethnic groups that have immigrated to Canada since the beginning of the 19th century. The vitality of these cultural communities has grown in recent years. This composite of cultural groups includes cultures from Europe, the Near East, Asia, Central and South America, and Africa.

The members of these communities usually adopt English as their working language and finally as their mother tongue, but many still speak their former national language and teach it to their children (see Languages in Use) and many devotedly maintain the customs and traditions of the old country. Canadian television and (especially) radio offer programs in a wide variety of languages.

The fourth Canadian cultural group is native peoples. This group includes many subdivisions. When the first Europeans arrived in North America, at least 6 cultural groups apparently inhabited what is now Canada. Each of these cultural and linguistic groups contained a certain number of tribes.

These differences still exist to some extent; the greatest distinguishing factor among native peoples now is the degree to which they maintain ancestral ways or have integrated into the structures and adopted the culture of industrial society. The Metis and mixed blood are the most highly integrated into urban and industrial life, but they have always fought and still fight for the preservation and recognition of their own cultural identity and for political rights (see Native-White Relations and various entries under Native People).

Cultural Conflicts

Canada has experienced many cultural conflicts. In the 17th century, the French vainly tried to convert the Indigenous people to a non-nomadic Christian and French way of life. After the British Conquest (1759-60) of New France, the conflict between the English and French moved from the military to the political battlefield. Many British colonists, merchants and administrators thought it simpler to anglicize the 70 000 French colonists and to impose on them British political, legal and religious institutions than to live peacefully with them.

Nevertheless, the 2 groups have had to accept coexistence. The coexistence has, however, suffered many stumbling blocks; eg, the battles are still being fought for the recognition of French outside Québec and of English inside Québec (see Francophone-Anglophone Relations).

In the 20th century, and particularly since WWII, the massive arrival of new cultural minorities has posed other problems. Sociologists have identified the various forms that characterize the relations of the English and French to cultural minorities as assimilation, integration and accommodation (see Multiculturalism). In Canada there has been a certain amount of assimilation of Indigenous people and of French Canadians (outside Québec) into the dominant anglophone culture.

Other cultural communities have been both assimilated and integrated. On their arrival in Québec, members of these communities are expected to choose French as their usual language for themselves and their children. Simultaneously, many have fought to have the culture of their countries of origin recognized as constituent elements of the Canadian mosaic.

Finally, the reality of both conflict and complementarity has led each cultural group within the Canadian ensemble to seek out some form of accommodation.

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