When a trait is to be regarded as constituting such a minimum, it involves evaluation of two kinds.
The decision in a given instance must be the result of an expert’s study of the problem, taking into account the unconsidered view of the individuals who live by the conventions of the culture being studied, and realizing that even such an ascribed unity may shift in terms of the larger whole of which it is a part.
The form a trait assumes at a given time will thus be determined by its context, rather than by any quality inherent in it.
Thus, a trait is the smallest unit of a culture; it has a context and its own structure.
Kroeber has discussed the importance of culture traits. According to him: “A trait is a minimal definable element of culture.” For Kroeber culture is the smallest unit and it cannot be further divided. And, if some division is made, the trait would lose its significance.
In a machine, for instance, the iron bolt is a trait. If the bolt is further divided, it would only be an ore. The significance of bolt is that it carries its identity and functional autonomy. In social behaviour, the term ‘good night’ or ‘sorry’ are traits as they are identifiable and cannot be further divided.
Let us cite an example of the culture trait. We have our house. Among the material elements in the house are rooms, the stairs, various kinds of furnishings and appliances used for the preparation of food.
These material traits are one aspect of the structure of culture. The non-material traits include the attitudes of the members of the household towards themselves, each other and the world outside. Now, let us analyze the structure of our household in terms of traits. The table placed in a room has a unity of its own.
It is a physical whole which can be identified as such. And, therefore, we call it a culture trait. But, this is not the only explanation. The chair has no meaning as it is a part of the dining table. It gains importance only when it becomes a part of all the four, six or eight chairs of the dining table.
Thus, the culture unit is identifiable only in a context. Therefore, when we identify a trait, as a culture trait we shall have to take into account the entire context of the object of study.
It is interesting to note at this stage of our discussion that British social anthropologists reject the concept of culture trait. They argue that culture trait does not help us explain the appropriate status of culture. On the contrary, the US anthropologists consider culture trait to be quite useful in analyzing culture.
Despite this disagreement culture trait has been studied by several eminent social anthropologists. Tylor has analyzed different cultures from the point of view of the development of social institution. Boas has investigated how mythology reflects the mode of life.