The Iceberg Concept of Culture


When you’re thinking about Multiculturalism, you need to be aware that CULTURE consists of more than the SURFACE AND ATTRACTIVE THINGS like

food, dress, music, visual arts, drama, crafts, dance, literature, language, festivals and celebrations, and games.

It is also a complete way of looking at the world; at people who are part of the home group and at people who are not;  at behaving in particular circumstances;  in judging what is acceptable and what is not;  in the concept of “self” in relation to the group and the wider society;  and more.

Below the superficial and immediately visible elements of culture there are unspoken rules and unconscious rules about behaviour, standards and values.  These are summarized in THE ICEBERG CONCEPT OF CULTURE shown in the featured graphic.

The complexity of these elements of culture that are below the surface accounts for why immigrants from some cultures pose far greater challenges of integration and assimilation into Australian society than do others.  To examine this complexity shows immediately why rabbiting on about the wonders of “Multiculturalism” is naive.

Here is a list of many elements of culture which the “multicultural” lobby usually ignore.

SHALLOW CULTURE (Unspoken rules;  High emotional level):

Courtesy, contextual conversational patterns, concept of time, personal space, rules of conduct (including attitude toward use of violence), facial expressions, nonverbal communication, body language, touching, eye contact, patterns of handling emotions, notions of modesty, concept of beauty, courtship practices, relationships to animals, ideals of child rearing, theory of disease, social interaction rate, nature of friendships, tone of voice, attitudes towards elders, concept of cleanliness, notions of adolescence.

African and Muslim cultures have a much higher propensity to resort to violence very early than in Western culture.  Violence can even sometimes be a way of being.   Current problems in Melbourne with South Sudanese gangs are a reflection, in part, of the violence many of these people have lived with in constant war, and also something endemic in their culture, which includes tribalism.

Muslim culture has nothing like the empathetic regard for animals that most Westerners have.  This goes with a greater capacity for callousness in behaviour.

DEEP CULTURE (Unconscious rules;  Intense emotional level):

Patterns of group decision-making, definition of insanity, preference for competition or cooperation, tolerance of physical pain, concept of “self”, concept of past and future, definition of obscenity, attitudes toward dependants, problem solving roles in relation to age, sex, class, occupation, kinship, and more.

Fatalism is a major component of Islamic culture.  A Muslim’s Inshallah (“if Allah wills it”) is far removed from the Western, especially Protestant, work ethic in which one makes plans for the future, sets goals, and so on.



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