Module Eight

Introduction to Module Eight: Culture and Society in Africa


Overview: This module looks at various aspects of culture and society. In the past, you may have found that these terms are used to mean many different things, so it may be difficult for you to clearly define what one means by "culture" or "society." Typically, these terms are used to talk about the way of life of a group of people. While it is true that a particular group of people may share some things in common, we should also be cautioned that using these concepts can lead to stereotypes and overgeneralizations about a group of people. This may be easier to understand as you think about your own culture and society. For example, is it correct to say that all Americans talk, think, or act the same? Thus, contained within labels such as "American culture and society," is a great deal of diversity. The same diversity is true of people living in Africa. This module will touch on several selected aspects of culture and society, while emphasizing that these are only a few of many parts of life that can fit under the topic of culture and society.

Two important themes are emphasized in this module. First, Africa has great cultural diversity related to a history of global connections with cultures inside and outside of Africa. African culture is not static, timeless, and merely traditional. This lesson should give a sense of the vitality, diversity, and dynamism of African cultures, which vary from region to region, among different ethnic groups, genders, language speakers, ages, and classes in Africa.

Second, we want to question the concepts of culture and society to encourage you to consider how certain people, activities, practices, and values come to be recognized as a certain culture or society. Perhaps these concepts are little more than a way of organizing information about people different from us. You probably know from your own experiences that often the way that we describe other people is not the same as how those people would describe themselves. We should be careful not to generalize and stereotype others, and not to assume that they are always so very different than we are. By noting the differences and similarities among African cultures and American culture(s), you should begin to think about how we define culture, and more specifically, the meaning of "American culture(s)": What is it? How do people participate in it? Is there one American culture, or many American cultures?

The module is divided up into three activities and several homework options. The first activity is an overview of many different aspects of what we might call "African culture" as expressed in various regions of the continent. The second activity focuses on languages in Africa and explores the relationship between language and culture. The third activity examines family and community structures, another component of culture. Because this category is so diverse, two specific stories are given rather than trying to generalize about family and community. Finally, homework is suggested to reinforce what was learned in the lesson and encourage reflection on your own culture and society.

PURPOSE: Module Eight: Culture and Society in Africa is an examination of what is meant by the concepts of culture and society. We do not want to define these categories as if they are set in stone, but rather challenge students to think about the usefulness of as well as the problems created by such concepts. "Culture" and "society" are commonly thought of as the way of life of a group of people. While studying a people's "culture" can be meaningful, it can also lead to overgeneralizations and stereotypes about groups of people.

In this module, we want to emphasize the diversity within cultures and societies as well as among them. At the same time, we will challenge students to think about similarities that they may see between themselves and people in Africa, realizing that they may not be so very different in some respects. We have chosen to focus on only a few aspects of culture and society since these categories are very broad and potentially inclusive of many things. Students should be challenged to think about other aspects of culture not included in this module, both in various regions of Africa and in their own cultures and societies. It should also be clear to students in this module that Africa is a culturally diverse place with a history of global connections with cultures inside and outside of Africa.


  • What do the terms "culture" and "society" mean?
  • What behaviors, expressions, and ways of living do we categorize as representative of a culture or a society?
  • What is useful and not useful about using concepts such as culture and society?
  • What can the study of language tell us about cultures and societies in Africa?
  • What can we learn about family and communities in Africa?
  • What similarities and differences can you find between your own culture and those you have learned about in Africa?

OBJECTIVES: After completing this module, students will have gained the following:

  • An understanding of some of the positive and negative aspects of the concepts of culture and society.
  • A sense of the wide range of topics that can be described as aspects of a particular culture or society.
  • An understanding of the diversity of languages in Africa, and how the study of language can be useful in understanding cultures and societies.
  • A few examples of what family and community life can be like in various regions in Africa.
  • An evaluation of how the students' own culture is similar to and different from those learned about in Africa.

Begin this module with Activity One or go to one of the other activities in this module