The etymology of the word is that it is linked to cultivation. It is useful to rediscover this overlay of meaning since the implication that we can cultivate society in order to make our culture is empowering and something that this site advocates.

The Cambridge English Dictionary states that culture is "the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time." In the schematic of the human system all individuals with overlapping group memberships would feel some affinity for the whole represented by the larger grouping of society. Systems are never static, within the human systems cultures vary and are never static; at any point in time is both the interplay of our artefacts combined with our valuers, beliefs and norms of behaviour which in turn is influenced by the groups we form and the interplay of many minds and the knowledge we have built up and all of these things over time - the playing out of history.  In systems thinking terms culture could also be emergent from this interplay of individuals and groups acting and reacting with/against each other. Up to now all of this may be described as accidental or contingent. 

As noted in Our Natural Selves we have groups because we are primates, we have groups as part of our culture.


Groups occur in nature, think of herds, flocks and shoals. Groups within culture range through the full gamut of sophistication from the informal and familial to the formal from companies to chambers of trade, trade unions, armed forces and state bureaucracies. At the most basic level we all congregate together and easily fall to talking about the other.

We are all member of many overlapping groups. Different types of groups exert different influences on the individuals that make them up. Norms of behaviour are specified or emerge, some things are acceptable and others not. Some groups are strongly binding others merely associations. The study of groups is a massive part of social science. Those who study society can put us in groups we are barely aware of – political science and advertising both share this habit.

It does not take much time to create a very long list of groups;

  • Family (nuclear, extended (tribe), single parent….)
  • Neighbours (close, good/bad, overlapping with friends)
  • Workplace (team, department, project…)
  • Belief (church, political party…)
  • Interest (hobbies, profession, occupation, all sorts of clubs, lobby groups…)
  • Education (school, class, year, alumnus, attainment…)
  • Social networks (reflecting any all of the above)

Norms of behaviour

It does not take long for groups to work out sets of acceptable behaviours which are enforces in may ways ranging from peer group pressure through to simple co-coercion. However the level of self-awareness and thinking power we have – rational (abstract) thought enables us to argue and disagree.

Values, Ethics and Beliefs are discussed in The Products of Mind