A Formal Definition of Culture

  • Aliaksandr Birukou
  • Enrico Blanzieri
  • Paolo Giorgini
  • Fausto Giunchiglia
Part of the Advances in Group Decision and Negotiation book series (AGDN, volume 6)


Globalization makes culture no more bound to a geographical area, race or religion as was previously considered in anthropology. With the advent of Web 2.0 it becomes appropriate to speak about the culture of online communities in general, without specific ties to country or nation. Multi-national companies, software developers, scientists need to take into account cultural differences when delivering products to people. The first step in dealing with culture consists in defining and representing culture of the targeted community. AI literature addressed issues of sociality, collaboration, and coordination in agent societies, but did not target the problem of defining and representing culture of a community. This chapter presents a formal definition of culture of a set of agents. The proposed definition generalizes existing definitions of culture and it is operational in the sense that it can be applied for characterization and comparison of culture(s) existing in various communities. The main focus of this chapter is on the first version of the formalism that does not introduce states. However, representing a snapshot of the culture in a certain moment is the first step towards a more complex formalism that includes states (the work on the latter is ongoing and we present only preliminary definitions here).


Formal definition Agents Communities Web 2.0 Traits Actions Artificial intelligence 



We would like to thank Stefano Borgo for suggestions he provided for improving the formalism.


  1. Axelrod, R. (1997). The dissemination of culture: A model with local convergence and global polarization. The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 41(2), 203–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bailey, G., & Peoples, J. (1998). Introduction to cultural anthropology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.Google Scholar
  3. Balzer, W., & Tuomela, R. (2003). Collective intentions and the maintenance of social practices. Autonomous Agents and Multi-Agent Systems, 6(1), 7–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Birukou, A., Blanzieri, E., Giorgini, P., & Giunchiglia, F. (2009a). A formal definition of culture of a set of agents. The version without states(Technical Report DISI-09-070). Trento, Italy: University of Trento.Google Scholar
  5. Birukou, A., Blanzieri, E., Giorgini, P., & Giunchiglia, F. (2009b). A formal definition of culture. In Proceedings of the workshop on modeling intercultural collaboration and negotiation (MICON) at IJCAI’09.Google Scholar
  6. Boyd, R., & Richerson, P. J. (1988). Culture and the evolutionary process. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bozeman, A. B. (1992). Strategic intelligence and statecraft: Selected essays. Washington, DC: Brassey’s.Google Scholar
  8. Brumann, C. (1999). Writing for culture: Why a successful concept should not be discarded [and comments and reply]. Current Anthropology, 40, S1–S27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carley, K. (1991). A theory of group stability. American Sociological Review, 56(3), 331–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Castelfranchi, C. (1998). Modelling social action for AI agents. textitArtificial Intelligence, 103(1–2), 157–182.Google Scholar
  11. Dieberger, A. (1997). Supporting social navigation on the world wide web. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 46, 805–825.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Epstein, J. M., & Axtell, R. L. (1996). Growing artificial societies: Social science from the bottom up. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  13. Ferber, J. (1999). Multi-agent systems: An introduction to distributed artificial intelligence. Harlow, UK: Addison-Wesley Professional.Google Scholar
  14. Freyne, J., Smyth, B., Coyle, M., Balfe, E., & Briggs, P. (2004). Further experiments on collaborative ranking in community-based web search. Artificial Intelligence Review, 21(3–4), 229–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Harris, M. (1975). Culture, people, nature: An introduction to general anthropology. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell.Google Scholar
  16. Harrison, R. J., & Carroll, G. R. (2006). Culture and demography in organizations. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Hirshman, B. R., Carley, K. M., & Kowalchuck, M. J. (2007a). Specifying agents in construct(Technical Report CMU-ISRI-07-107). Pittsburgh, CA: Carnegie Mellon University.Google Scholar
  18. Hirshman, B. R., Carley, K. M., & Kowalchuck, M. J. (2007b). Loading networks in construct(Technical Report CMU-ISRI-07-116). Pittsburgh, CA: Carnegie Mellon University.Google Scholar
  19. Hirshman, B. R., Birukou, A., Martin, M. K., Bigrigg, M. W., & Carley, K. M. (2008). The impact of educational interventions on real & stylized cities(Technical Report CMU-ISR-08-114). Pittsburgh, CA: Carnegie Mellon University.Google Scholar
  20. Hofstede, D. G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions and organizations across nations. (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.Google Scholar
  21. Keesing, R. M. (1981). Cultural anthropology: A contemporary perspective. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.Google Scholar
  22. Kroeber, A. L., Kluckhohn, C. (1952). Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions. Papers of the Peabody Museum, 47, 643–656.Google Scholar
  23. Linton, R. (1936). The study of man: An introduction. New York: D. Appleton-Century.Google Scholar
  24. Masolo, C., Vieu, L., Bottazzi, E., Catenacci, C., Ferrario, R., Gangemi, A., et al. (2004). Social roles and their descriptions. In Principles of knowledge representation and reasoning (KR2004).Google Scholar
  25. McFate, M. (2005). The military utility of understanding adversary culture. Joint Force Quarterly, 38.Google Scholar
  26. Mead, M. (2002). Cooperation and competition among primitive peoples. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.Google Scholar
  27. Mead, M., & Métraux, R., (eds.) (1953). The study of culture at a distance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  28. Mulder, M. B., Nunn, C. L., & Towner, M. C. (2006). Cultural macroevolution and the transmission of traits. Evolutionary Anthropology, 15(2), 52–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. O’Reilly, C. (1998). Corporations, culture, and commitment: Motivation and social control in organizations. California Management Review, 31(4), 9–25.MathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  30. Ossowski, S. (1999). Co-ordination in artificial agent societies, social structure and its implications for autonomous problem-solving agents: Vol. 1535. Lecture notes in computer science. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.Google Scholar
  31. Schein, E. H. (1996). Organizational culture and leadership (Jossey-Bass Psychology Series)(2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  32. Shoham, Y., & Tennenholtz, M. (1995). On social laws for artificial agent societies: Off-line design. Artificial Intelligence, 73(1–2), 231–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Shoham, Y., & Tennenholtz, M. (1997). On the emergence of social conventions: Modeling, analysis, and simulations. Artificial Intelligence, 94(1–2), 139–166.CrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  34. Tylor, E. B. (1871) Primitive culture. London: J. Murray.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aliaksandr Birukou
    • 1
  • Enrico Blanzieri
    • 1
  • Paolo Giorgini
    • 1
  • Fausto Giunchiglia
    • 1
  1. 1.DISIUniversity of TrentoPovo, TrentoItaly

Personalised recommendations