At the Intersection: Cultural Components

Our stated premise is that transformation (global, national, corporate, domestic, personal) takes place at the intersection of culture and economics. We just finished discussing the four basic production components of economics: Land, Labor, Capital, and the Entrepreneur. Now it’s time to examine the cultural components.

It is necessary to have an agreed upon definition when discussing the concept ofculture. No, we are neither talking about growing a microorganism in a laboratory Petri dish, nor are we describing an artsy enlightenment trip to Carnegie Hall in New York City or an art museum in London. Culture, as we will be discussing, can be described as the inherited and shared beliefs, attitudes, feelings, values, ideas, customs, and social behaviors of a particular people.

There are at least four strategic components that are utilized in order to perpetuate a culture: Traditions, Institutions, Families, and Individuals. It is not my intention at this point to get involved in a thorough investigation or discussion of these four components. I must admit, however, that it is a temptation to get off track and share with you some of the incredible customs, traditions, and institutions I have witnessed in my world travels over the past nearly thirty-five years (everything from simple birthday celebrations to male and female rites-of-passage circumcision rituals of the Maasai tribe in Kenya and Tanzania). We will stay on point.


The term tradition comes from the Latin tradere that literally means to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping. It is a belief or pattern of behavior in a community with special or symbolic meaning that has been handed down from generation to generation and might persist and evolve for thousands of years. The concept of tradition is viewed as a set of precedents valued by a culture and carries with it the notion of holding on to a previous time. Traditions are extremely important to a given group. History bears out those traditions are many times considered worth dying for. Wars have been fought and civilizations eradicated because of traditions.


Institutions are designed to formalize and perpetuate agreed upon traditions. They work to give structure, influence and even power to the sustainability of those social orders deemed most important to a people group.

On the surface, institutions look a lot like churches, hospitals, jails, banks, and schools. But, more formally, they describe normative systems that take care of regulating the distribution of goods and services, the providing for the legitimate use of power, the transmitting of knowledge from the present generation to the next generation, and the lending of structure to moral and religious matters. Institutions end up mediating the agreed upon rules that govern social behavior of a group.


As a component of culture, family has to do with kinship. Here again, this is not an involved dissertation on the current interpretation and aspects of the modern family.When dealing, however, with the premise that all transformation takes place at the intersection of culture and economics, the cultural component of family is paramount.

Family is considered more than just a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, whether dwelling together or not. It extends to any group of persons closely related by blood, as parents, children, uncles, aunts, and cousins, etc.

Historically, kinship has played a huge role in developing, establishing, and perpetuating traditions. Likewise, the family units of a people group are the most powerful influence and factor of sustainability when it comes to the success of institutions.


Recall for a moment the list of production components of economics that we discussed last session: Land, Labor, Capital, and the Entrepreneur. We learned that nothing happens without the Entrepreneur. So it is with the components of culture . . . nothing happens without the Individual.

From the traditions, from the institutions, and from the family, the individual emerges as the ultimate building block of transformation and change.

Now we are ready to plug these eight components into our social economics matrix and apply them to the phenomenon of transformation.

Next Week: Examples for the Matrix

(Research Ideas from Dr. Jackson’s new writing project on Cultural Economics)