What is the Difference Between Culture and Heritage

The main difference between culture and heritage is that the culture is based on what the people create whereas the heritage is what the people inherit by nature, by history, by culture.

Anthropology refers to the study of humans, human behaviour, and societies in the past and present. Hence, there are few sub-branches in anthropology such as social anthropology cultural anthropology and linguistic anthropology. Accordingly, social and cultural anthropology focus on studying the norms and values of human societies. Heritage and culture, therefore, are two major categories related to this cultural anthropology. Even though heritage and culture are inter-related social factors, there is a difference between culture and heritage.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Culture
     – Definition, Nature, Characteristics 
2. What is Heritage
     – Definition, Nature, Characteristics 
3. What is the Relationship Between Culture and Heritage
     – Outline of Common Features 
4. What is the Difference Between Culture and Heritage
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Anthropology, Culture, Heritage, Identity, Sociology

Difference Between Culture and Heritage- Comparison Summary

What is Culture

Culture refers to the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. Thus, it encompasses every aspect in the way of life in people. It includes human values, beliefs, customs, languages, and traditions.  Culture is reflected in the manner how people express ideas and creativity, their history as well as in the heritage.

Moreover, a pioneering anthropologies Edward B Tylor defines culture “culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”

Cultural Universals

Cultural universals are the cultural traits that are common to any culture. The distinctions in these traits determine the unique identity of a particular culture. Examples of these universal traits can be categories as:

  • Language (Spoken, Written, Non-verbal, Gestures )
  • Cognition/Education
  • Gender roles (position was given to genders, such as woman and man )
  • Marriage and family relationships
  • Aesthetics (Music, Literature, art, crafts, dance, )
  • Technology and Architecture
  • Religion
  • Ethics (hierarchies, behaviour as good and bad )
  • Celebrations, Rituals, Myths, Customs
  • Culinary styles
  • Clothing and fashion
  • Law
  • Medicine
  • Notions of time

Accordingly, there are vast cultural diversities in the world; one can make distinctions mainly as an Eastern culture, Western culture, African culture, Arabic culture, etc. Hence, the differences in these integral components in a culture determine the distinctions among varied cultures as well.

Difference Between Culture and Heritage_Fig 01

Figure 1: Traditional Dance in Zulu Culture

Moreover, within one culture there are several subcultures, which become distinct based on practices and traditions. For example, the ethnic subcultures in the American culture. As a result, the practices on several customs differ between different communities in one society.

Main Difference - Culture vs Heritage

Figure 2: Pop Culture

However, culture is a very tangible and fragile aspect as it is subjected to change with time and people. Similarly, just as how culture influences individual ideologies, and social conscience of people, the diffusion of different other cultures can also influence culture. The main aspect that contributes to this cultural diffusion is technological advancements and globalization. As a result, there are numerous arguments on the loss of cultural identity due to the emergence of new pop culture through the assimilation of other cultures.

What is Heritage

Heritage, in general terms, refers to the property that is or may be inherited; an inheritance. Thus, when culture is subjected to change with the flow of time, the past attributes on that particular culture becomes a heritage. The significance of heritage lies in shaping the human cultural identity, making heritage an integral part of humanity.

Difference Between Culture and Heritage_Figure 3

Figure 3:  Intangible cultural heritage: diabolic dance

In brief, heritage is what the past has conceded to us, what is valued in the present and what should be therefore preserved for future generations. Heritage consists of three elements such as:

Tangible – The historical sites, buildings, artefacts and archives, monuments etc

Intangible – The cultural customs, sports, music, dance, folklore, crafts, skills, traditional medicine and knowledge.

Natural – The waterways, landscapes, birds and animals, insects, native wildlife woodlands, bogs, uplands, plants, trees, etc.

Difference Between Culture and Heritage_Figure 4

Figure 4: Sigiriya – world heritage (tangible) in Sri Lanka

Thus, heritage not only includes aspects of culture, but natural and other aspects as well.

Hence, there are sites bearing a historical as well as natural value, which are listed as world heritage. For example; the giant Pyramids, Sigiriya rock fortress in Sri Lanka, Amazon forests in Congo, etc. Thus, we should preserve and protect these for future generations.

Likewise, heritage is what provides clues to the past and showcases how the societies have evolved. Thus, it helps to examine the history and traditions, enabling more awareness about humanity and culture.

Relationship Between Culture and Heritage

  • The cultural customs and traditions, when preserved to the future generations, it becomes a heritage to the future.
  • Heritage is a keystone of a culture as it preserves the identity of a culture.

Difference Between Culture and Heritage


Culture refers to the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. On the other hand, heritage refers to the aspects of culture which are inherited to the present and which will be preserved for the future. Thus, this is the main difference between culture and heritage.


Another difference between culture and heritage is that the culture is prone to change while heritage is not that much subject to change. 


Culture is what people create, and heritage is the inheritance of that to the present and the future generations.


A major difference between culture and heritage is that the culture is created on the present identities while heritage provides identity to the evolution of one culture, bearing evidence to the roots of a culture and mankind on the whole.


Culture and inheritance are closely related aspects. Both these are valuable aspects that donate an identity to the humankind. Thus, both are major aspects of the subject of anthropology. Nevertheless, the main difference between culture and heritage is that the culture is based upon what the people create whereas heritage is what the people inherit by nature, by history, by culture.


1. Zimmermann, Kim Ann. “What Is Culture? | Definition of Culture.” LiveScience, Purch, 12 July 2017, Available here.
2. O’Neil, Dennis. “Culture and Society.” Human Culture: What Is Culture?, 6 May 2006, Available here.
4. “What Is Heritage?” OpenLearn, The Open University, Available here.
5. “What Is Heritage?” Heritage Council, Available here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Zulu Culture, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa” By South African Tourism (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
2. “JFK Pop Culture Photomontage” By nemsow (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
3. “DiabladaFerroviariadeOruroBolivia” By Pame82s – Template:Trabajo Personal (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia
4. “459197” (CC0) via Pixabay

About the Author: Upen

Upen, BA (Honours) in Languages and Linguistics, has academic experiences and knowledge on international relations and politics. Her academic interests are English language, European and Oriental Languages, Internal Affairs and International Politics, and Psychology.

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