Difference Between Culture and Civilization

Main Difference – Culture vs Civilization

The two terms culture and civilization are often used interchangeably in general usage. However, civilization refers to a complex way of life that came about as people began to develop urban settlements. Culture is the complex whole which includes knowledge, religion, beliefs, customs, laws, traditions, art and music, etc. A civilization is made up of many complex elements and culture is one of these elements. This is the main difference between culture and civilization.

This article looks at, 

1. What is Culture? – Definition, Meaning and Characteristics

2. What is a Civilization? – Definition, Meaning and Characteristics

3. What is the difference between Culture and Civilization?Difference Between Culture and Civilization - Culture vs Civilization Comparison Summary

What is Culture

Culture can be defined simply as the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings which is transmitted from one generation to another. The cultural anthropologist E.B. Taylor defines culture as a  “complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” As this definition implies,  many factors such as knowledge, language, religion, social habits, beliefs, cuisine, music and arts, etc. are embedded in the concept of culture. Almost all the members of a specific culture share these cultural traits. It is also important to notice that culture is acquired, not inherited.  Thus, the behavior of an individual is shaped by the culture.

Culture changes over time; it does not remain static. Different features and practices of a culture may differ according to different nationalities, ethnicities, and even different age groups. Although culture is an abstract concept, food, clothes, rituals, art, etc. can be considered as material representations of a culture.

Main Difference - Culture vs Civilization

Martinique dancers in traditional costume.

What is a Civilization

The term civilization has different definitions and interpretations. It can be described generally as an advanced state of human society, in which a high level of culture, science, industry, and government has been reached. In other words, it is a complex way of life that came about as people began to develop urban settlements. A civilization is often associated with a number of socio-politico-economic characteristics such as urban development, social stratification, unique art and architecture, a form of detailed writing, complex division of labor,  codified laws and administration, etc.

The earliest civilizations developed after 3000 BCE, with the rise of agriculture. Civilizations expand through trade, war, and exploration.  All three of these factors must be present for a civilization to last for a long time. Roman civilization, Egyptian civilization, Indu valley civilization, ancient Chinese civilization are some examples of our early civilizations. 

In a historical sense, the term civilization also  used to refer to an advanced culture in comparison to primitive or savage. In this sense, civilized and civilization was an antonym for savages or uncivilized groups of people. However, many anthropological studies have shown that the so-called primitives have their own culture and way of life. Thus, this usage of the word is very subjective. 

Difference Between Culture and Civilization

Ancient Harappan civilization

Difference Between Culture and Civilization


Culture is the sum total of ways of living built up by group of human beings which is transmitted from one generation to another.

Civilization is an advanced state of human society, in which a high level of culture, science, industry, and government has been reached.


Culture is a part of a civilization.

Civilization is a complex entity made of different elements.


Culture is made up of customs, beliefs, religions, art, food, law, etc.

Civilization is characterized by social stratification, codified law and administration, urban development, etc.

Image Courtesy: 

“Martinique Costumes” via

“Ancient Harappa Civilization” By Shefali11011 – Own work via

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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