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Sometimes "culture" is also used to describe specific practices within a subgroup of a society, a subculture (e.g. Within cultural anthropology, the ideology and analytical stance of cultural relativism holds that cultures cannot easily be objectively ranked or evaluated because any evaluation is necessarily situated within the value system of a given culture.

Culture is considered a central concept in anthropology, encompassing the range of phenomena that are transmitted through social learning in human societies.Mass culture refers to the mass-produced and mass mediated forms of consumer culture that emerged in the 20th century.Some schools of philosophy, such as Marxism and critical theory, have argued that culture is often used politically as a tool of the elites to manipulate the lower classes and create a false consciousness, and such perspectives are common in the discipline of cultural studies.In the wider social sciences, the theoretical perspective of cultural materialism holds that human symbolic culture arises from the material conditions of human life, as humans create the conditions for physical survival, and that the basis of culture is found in evolved biological dispositions.When used as a count noun, a "culture" is the set of customs, traditions, and values of a society or community, such as an ethnic group or nation.

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Thus a contrast between "culture" and "civilization" is usually implied in these authors, even when not expressed as such. Terror management theory posits that culture is a series of activities and worldviews that provide humans with the basis for perceiving themselves as "person[s] of worth within the world of meaning"—raising themselves above the merely physical aspects of existence, in order to deny the animal insignificance and death that Homo sapiens became aware of when they acquired a larger brain.

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