“The culture of a civilisation is the art and literature through which it rises to consciousness of itself and defines its vision of the world” – The terms, ‘civilisation’ and ‘culture’, are often used interchangeably to denote the same things – the world order, its rich history of people, ideas and institutions. However, it is vital to understand that the two terms, albeit with certain overlaps, do not stand for the same thing. If civilisation is the body of a society, then culture can be understood to constitute its mind and limbs – something that allows the civilisation to sustain itself.
The word ‘civilisation’ relates to the Latin word civitas or ‘city’. A civilisation is usually made of different cities, with specific characteristics of cultural and technological development. In many parts of the world, early civilisations formed when people began coming together in urban settlements. However, defining civilisation and what falls under that designation, is a hotly contested argument, even among today’s anthropologists. Still, most anthropologists agree on some criteria to define a society as a civilisation. First, civilisations have some kind of urban settlements and are not nomadic. With support from the other people living in the settlement, labour is divided. From this specialisation comes class structure and government. Another criterion is the surplus of food, which comes from having tools to aid in growing crops. Writing, trading, artwork and monuments, and the development of science and technology are all aspects of civilisations.
Culture, on the other hand, can be defined as a way of life - the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time. It is an integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behaviour that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations. It constitutes the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic.
A civilisation may or may not encompass more than one culture. For instance, when we talk about ‘Western civilisation’, we may refer to the West's way of life, based on Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian influences. Europeans and Americans have many cultures of European heritage and established principles. Together, these cultures make the Western civilisation which people in Europe and the United States share. Civilisation is a series of actions. A society or place reaches an advanced stage of social and cultural development and establishment, where the process of civilisation brings better individual self-control and the transformations of attitudes and values.
As a result, culture exists because it could be grown in a civilisation. The process of civilisation brings a place and people to a phase where they can be developed socially and culturally to realise a more advanced stage of human existence. Even historically, civilisations like Mesopotamia and Egypt to the Indus Valley, China and Central America all allowed diverse cultures to grow, spread and prosper. Large populations, architecture, distinctive art styles, communication patterns, systems for governance and the division of people into social and economic classes are some specific features of every civilisation. These features cater to the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of particular people or society, every reason to get evolved. To quote A. W. Green “A culture becomes civilisation only when it possesses written language, science, philosophy, specialised division of labour and a complex technology and political system”.
Both culture and civilisation, as appears from above, are closely interrelated. However, there are some differences too. While civilisation and its progress can be measured through specific indices, culture cannot. Culture is subjective. Secondly, civilisation is passed on without effort, but not culture. Culture is an acquired taste, something that makes any civilisation unique. Thirdly, civilisation is external and mechanical, while culture is internal and organic. Civilisation is inclusive of external things, and culture is related to internal thoughts, feelings, ideals, and values. Lastly, civilisation is borrowed without change or loss, but not culture. The transference of civilisation from one generation to another is quick and easy. Given adequate means of communication things of civilisation can quickly spread to the whole world. Radio, television, X-ray, automobiles are no longer the monopoly of any one country. The factory has displaced the domestic system of production. The new techniques of constructing buildings and building roads have everywhere been adopted. Culture, on the other hand, has an intrinsic quality and can only be imbibed. It will have a limited appeal. For instance, in India, we have borrowed some aspects of western civilisation, not Western culture.
Withstanding all differences, culture and civilisation both go hand in hand. Man does not simply create an object, he also creates it to be beautiful and appealing to his senses. An automobile or radio may be a useful thing, but the models and finish are determined by our culture. Likewise, a constitution or code of laws is not simply a means of government, but it also expresses the spirit of a people and is treasured as the embodiment of culture. In this way the objects that fall mainly in the realms of civilisation generally have a cultural aspect too.
Culture has a consistency of its own which is sometimes very hard to defeat. Culture succeeds civilisation in case of a clash between the two. Every culture change has its repercussions on civilisation. A civilisation cannot escape the influence of the standards and the styles of age. Human population and resources available determine the sustainability of a region. Uncontrolled concretisation over-exploits resources. The absence of resources can alter internal settings where we could fear the worst. Now, it is not about any cultural heritage, but poses a serious threat to the continuation of civilisation.