What makes a culture unique? What do people within a culture believe and think? In this lesson, we’ll take a look at the elements that make up a culture, including the intangible aspect of mentifacts and the difference in popular and folk cultures.

Culture

Mike and Matt are good friends. They are very different, though. Mike grew up in a very religious place and is very devout. Matt, on the other hand, grew up in a place where religion wasn’t a major part of society.

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The beliefs and traditions of a group of people is called culture. Religion is one example of culture: Mike’s from a highly religious culture, while Matt isn’t.

Let’s look closer at some of the elements of culture, including mentifacts, popular culture, and folk culture.

Mentifacts

So Mike and Matt grew up in cultures that are very different when it comes to religion. Sometimes, they have a hard time understanding each other. Mike, for example, can’t understand why Matt doesn’t believe in God. Matt, meanwhile, doesn’t understand why Mike believes in something he can’t see.

The ideas and beliefs that express what a culture is are called mentifacts. Sociologists sometimes refer to mentifacts as ‘things in a culture’s head’ because a person’s ideas and beliefs are in their head. Think of the word ‘mental,’ and you can remember ‘mentifact.’

Religion is an example of a mentifact. Different religions are associated with different cultures, and some cultures, like Mike’s, aren’t religious at all. Other examples of mentifacts are language and folklore.

Note that mentifacts are intangible. A culture’s tools or food are things that you can touch, but its mentifacts aren’t. They are, instead, things that involve thought processes. Again, they are part of the culture’s thinking, as opposed to part of its physical nature.

Popular vs. Folk

Mentifacts aren’t the only element of culture, though. In fact, despite the difference in their religion, Matt and Mike have some things in common. They both like the same bands, for example, and they both love to eat cheeseburgers!

Sometimes, a society is so large and diverse that there are several subcultures in it. America is a good example of this: both Mike and Matt are from America, and yet they grew up in very different ways.

Popular culture is made up of elements of a culture that are found in large, heterogeneous societies that bind together various disparate subcultures. For example, the fact that Matt and Mike listen to the same music and eat the same food is an example of popular culture.

Sometimes, though, culture is more insular. Culture traditionally practiced by small, homogeneous groups isolated from others is known as folk culture, or folkways. For example, Matt grew up near an Amish community. They live separate from most of the popular culture around them, and they have their own set of beliefs and traditions that they practice.

Lesson Summary

Culture is a set of beliefs and traditions of a group of people. The ideas and beliefs that express what a culture is about are called mentifacts. Unlike clothing, tools, and other aspects of culture, mentifacts are intangible. Aspects of a large, diverse culture that bind various subcultures together are called popular culture. In contrast, elements of a small, homogeneous, and insular culture are called folk culture, or folkways.

Learning Outcomes

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define mentifacts and provide examples
  • Compare and contrast popular culture to folk culture