Thursday, November 8, 2012

What is culture?

Culture is a word we use so often, but it is not necessarily an easy one to define. When you hear the word "culture," what comes to your mind? Maybe you associate it with ethnicity, or heritage. But I think we could all agree that there is a "high school culture," or a "football culture," and these cultures have nothing to do with ethnicity.

I believe it is more appropriate to define culture, in the words of Anthropologist Dr. Brown, as learned patterns of thought and behavior characteristic of a social group. People in a culture have shared ideas, meanings, and values which are socially learned. Culture is part of our subconscious, it is learned and acquired, not inherent. Perhaps most importantly, our culture is continuously modified by life experiences.

This is the concept of culture that we at PWAP refer to when we say we are analyzing "cultural barriers" to successful implementation of water technologies. How do the peoples' learned patterns of thought and behavior affect their receptiveness to a new water technology? Do they have specific behaviors, such as working long days in a field, that make certain technologies more suitable than others? These are the questions that Pure Water Access Project is working to answer.

Another important component of our approach is considering the bio-cultural view of the people we serve overseas. It is critical to understand how individuals view their own health in order to work with them and supply them with foreign water technologies. If people don't even think there is a problem with their contaminated water source, how are you ever going to convince them to use a water filter regularly?

The concept of culture is an important one, and its lack of consideration has caused countless water projects to fail overseas, wasting thousands and thousands of dollars. We believe that our work will help shed this inefficiency by elucidating exactly what these cultural barriers are, and what technologies work best, where, and why.