Culture – The Iceberg

Lesson 1: Topic 12 of 25

Another way of looking at culture is to picture it as an iceberg. Scientists tell us that an iceberg only shows about 10 to 15 percent of its mass above the waterline. This leaves 85 to 90 percent beneath the surface. The reason this is a helpful analogy is that so much of culture is not visible. We can see material culture and observe plenty of behaviors. But the values and beliefs that undergird those things and actions are much more difficult to determine. Worldview itself is an enigma, impossible to see and difficult for most people to articulate.

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Yet, in an iceberg model of culture, instead of traveling from the outside in, as with the target analogy, we move from the top to the bottom. This means that material culture is the uppermost surface, and worldview is at the deepest depths. Another diagram (on the “Ethnicity” page, still several pages away) will be helpful for understanding a few further points about culture.