Culture is said to be an accumulation of the beliefs, traditions, language, and values of a particular group of people. A cultural symbol, on the other hand, is a physical manifestation that signifies the ideology of a particular culture or has a meaning within a culture. Like for the case of Christians, their symbol is a sign of a cross, but for cultural symbols, they do not have the actual symbols or signs; instead, they have gestures such as handshakes or signals. Different backgrounds and situations can trigger a human reaction that can be determined as a signal. This essay will analyze the three pictures in term of their culture and symbols and the message they try to convey to their audience.
According to Murphy (24), culture is a distinctive lifestyle, characteristics of different societies. Culture also includes designs or models of behavior and norms for what is considered proper or moral or even sane. Culture can also be said to be a body of knowledge and tools by which we adapt to the physical environment. Culture not only tells people how to behave but it also tells us what we can expect of the other person. Looking at American anthropologist Leslie White culture consists of a system of symbols or signs endowed with general and abstract meanings. An example of red and green traffic signals designate only to stop and go and nothing more. This argument can relate with that of Schneider's symbolic culture theory (1979) where he illustrates his point on traffic lights by stating that red and green lights are just used to derive a rule and the rate at which people follow or break it has no cultural significance (Murphy 25). Thus, Murphy (23-25), outlines that cultures and different reactions tend to create some signals relating to certain environments and societies. These signals can end up being symbols of communication under different circumstances.
Looking at the photos in the study from the first photo it can be derived that the pictured woman has a physical symbol and is replicated in the portrait beside her. This goes on to show that there might be a culture relating to the portrait that the pictured woman is embracing. In this case, there are different physical symbols which can be embodied even in our physicality to represent a certain character of a group or culture. These symbols are visible and can be related to certain people by others and are used to communicate or mean something and only the intended party can encode its meaning. This though as for Murphy (25), it might be the symbol relating only to the current situation and not necessarily meaning it's a symbol of a certain culture. In the third photo, we see a photo of a street family and depict some emotion. In this photo we can relate poverty and neediness for sympathetic nature; thus they symbolize sympathy. Emotions are well can be used to communicate and send different signals as of the situation that humankind is at. As we can see in this particular picture, the woman is in a needy situation, and that brings out the sympathy in her to reflect emotionally. This is a signal that she sends to the passersby that she could do with some help and it's symbolic in that particular situation. Looking at the fourth and final photo, we can see the faces of beautiful women with smiles on their faces. This may go ahead to show the heritage of a particular place. Beauty and happiness can be derived as the symbolism of that particular place and can well relate to a certain culture. From this particular picture, we can derive that people of that country in mention are beautiful and will often put a smile on their faces that the signal that it sends out there and hence it becomes a symbol of that particular culture. According to Murphy (25), these pictures may not necessarily symbolize any values, ideas or beliefs of a certain culture. They are but signals intended for specific time and situations.
In conclusion, symbols can be used in different cultures and different situations. They may be as a way of reacting to certain situations or a circumstance. We can also as well depict that symbols can be used to communicate different meaning and whether they are followed or do not define a certain culture. Symbols, in general, cannot be used to define a people's way of living since when used in different cultures and situations they bring out a different meaning.
Murphy, Robert Francis. Culture and social anthropology (2nd ed). Prentice Hall, 1989.
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