Culture Iceberg – What is it all about?

Firstly, let’s take a closer look to the title, culture and iceberg. Why they are together and what do they mean.

Culture as it’s described in dictionary[1] definitions is “the way of life, especially general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time”. I would add to this concept that it’s learned through a process of socialisation, interaction with community we live in. It is built on all artefacts created by group.

There is number of concepts in sociology, anthropology describing what culture is. Ultimately if you sift those phrases you will see that culture is described as THE WAY. For any given group, culture is shared knowledge (of values, symbols, ideas), behaviour that gives patterns to interpret, use, perceive the world[2].

Picture1This gives you understanding of how many things we want to pack in this one word. Considering that when you think of cross-cultural communication you can notice how many things can interrupt message.

Having in mind this brief overview of what culture is let’s now consider the word iceberg.

Iceberg is picturing culture with all this worlds associations. Big concept with a lot of beneath the surface. Let’s not forget that that’s something you can crash into if you don’t embrace it’s potential and size.

The overall concept of using an iceberg to picture complexity of culture comes from American anthropologist Edward T. Hall. In his book Beyond Culture he describes the concept of culture iceberg model. It basically means that there is more than what we see.

When looking to an iceberg you can recognise 3 levels each getting you deeper. Like other concepts core of an onion or roots of a tree. (Those concepts we will touch in other posts).

Picture2More we understand, deeper we go. First level would include what’s visible to outside world. This is what we commonly associate with culture. Art, language, rituals, fashion, elements that identifiable or accessible. Next level is just below the surface and are not so obvious. For example, concept of time, personal space, body language, expressions, philosophies, beliefs. Ultimate level is deepest and most emotionally intense. These are commonly understood within group and for instance include childrearing, notions of leadership, attitudes, decision making, concept of “self”, concept of time.

Whichever model describing culture we take it will show us basically that there is more than we see or experience in a first place. It is our decision to take the effort and discover more. My main objective for this blog is to show that world, people, cultures are interesting and each one of them is worth your attention and minimum effort. After all, if we know each other better we work, live in better communities. Even if they are mix of different cultures. Oh, considering culture models an onion, a tree or an iceberg I chose the last one, it sounds the best.

Interesting read:

Take time and read this New Yorker commentary by Joshua Rothman on evolution of use, meaning of the word culture in modern society.

“The meaning of Culture” by Joshua Rothman, New Yorker, Dec 26th, 2014


[1] Cambridge Dictionary –

[2] University of Minnesota – Centre for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition –