[Essay Topic- 5 Mains 2020] Culture is what we are, civilization is what we have.


The distinction between “culture” and “civilization” has long been a subject of contemplation. The adage, “Culture is what we are, civilization is what we have,” poignantly encapsulates this distinction, emphasizing the intangible nature of culture and the tangible manifestations of civilization.

Thesis Statement

While culture delves into the realm of beliefs, values, and shared identities, civilization reflects the external structures, accomplishments, and artifacts that societies create and possess.

Crux/Meaning of the Essay

This essay seeks to explore the profound interplay between the inner world of culture and the external expressions of civilization, highlighting how one stems from the depths of human essence while the other showcases humanity’s achievements.

Different Dimensions

Innate vs. Created: Culture, being the bedrock of shared values, traditions, and beliefs, is intrinsic to a community. Civilization, on the other hand, represents the external creations, such as cities, institutions, and technological advancements.

Shared Identity vs. Physical Progress: Culture gives a community its unique identity and cohesiveness. Civilization marks the community’s progress, achievements, and innovations.

Continuity vs. Evolution: While cultures often persist, providing a continuous link to the past, civilizations evolve, reflecting the changing times, technological advancements, and societal progress.

Different Perspectives

The Anthropologist’s View: They might delve deep into how culture shapes behaviors, rituals, and societal norms, while civilization represents the tangible milestones of societal evolution.

The Historian’s Perspective: Historians could trace the development of civilizations, linking them with the underlying cultural ethos of the times, showing the symbiotic relationship between the two.

The Sociologist’s Lens: They might examine how culture influences social structures and how, in turn, these structures, as part of civilization, reinforce cultural norms.

Significance in Current Context

In today’s globalized world, understanding the distinction and interrelation between culture and civilization is pivotal. As societies become more interconnected, it’s crucial to appreciate the cultural ethos (what people inherently are) while engaging with their civilizational achievements (what societies have and showcase).


Culture and civilization, while distinct, are deeply intertwined. One reflects the soul of a community—its beliefs, values, and shared essence—while the other showcases the community’s achievements, progress, and tangible creations. Recognizing that “Culture is what we are, and civilization is what we have” allows for a deeper appreciation of societies, emphasizing both their inherent identities and their external accomplishments.

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