Culture and Its Distribution
"Culture" as used here refers to all the understandings that are socially learned and transmitted and that are shared by two or more actors who consider themselves to belong to some common grouping. This definition is closely related to those used by D'Andrade (1987:195), Goodenough (1971:22), Keesing (1970:440), Frake (1962:85), and Spiro (1984:323), to name only some. By confining "culture" to understandings, the concept not only focuses on mental processes but also only on those that are cognitive. It is not that emotions and perceptions have nothing to do with culture, far from it, but rather that they are not definitionally part of it.
It is worth noting that in this definition, cultural elements need not be shared by all the members of a group. The understanding that they belong to the group will always, by definition, be shared by virtually everyone, and some other understandings may, as a matter of fact, be widely shared, but such universal sharing is not part of "culture" as defined here. So long as two people who consider themselves to be members of the same group share an understanding, it is included as part of the culture of that group. Generally, it appears that each group member shares some understandings with some group members and others with others. Complex and overlapping networks of incomplete sharing of particular cultural elements are what is characteristic of human groups.
In fact, the differential distribution of cultural elements among individuals and categories within a group is itself one of the key influences on behavior within the group as a whole. This fact needs to be emphasized by explicitly including as cultural those understandings, and they are a very large part of the total, that are shared by only a limited part of the whole group's membership. The contents of culture, the famous "beliefs and values" that group members actually share, are what students of society and behavior have most attended to. But a focus on what everyone shares slights the vital importance of the distribution of culture, which is itself, independent of the contents involved, a significant part of culture's influence.