The culture area has similar, if not uniform, ways of doing things. In a culture area, there are traits, complexes and patterns which the people follow. The process is simple: people who live close together have greater opportunities to borrow from each other rather than from people who are at a distance.
The idea of culture area derives from the fundamental principle that since culture is learned, any element in it can be taken over by any individual or group of individuals exposed to different ways of doing and thinking.
It is striking but true that the population structure of Mumbai consists largely of Marathi and Gujarati speaking people. Gujarati women who are married to Marathis speak both Gujarati and Marathi.
Such a situation of bilingualism exists because the culture traits of a particular culture area have been adopted by the newcomers to that area. Herskovits has defined culture area in a very precise way as under:
The area in which similar cultures are found is called a culture area.
The concept of culture area as developed by Herskovits says that in a particular area there might be a limited cultural heterogeneity but the varying cultures found in the area have more or less a similarity.
In a systematic and scientific way the concept of culture area was developed by C. Wissler. He worked on American Indian cultures. His definition, though it has been since sharpened, is still useful:
The natives of the new world could be grouped according to culture traits.
Thus, a culture area, according to Wissler, is an area which has similar culture traits. These traits include food areas, textile areas, ceramic areas, etc. If, however, we take all traits into simultaneous consideration and shift our point of view to the social or tribal units, we are able to form fairly definite groups. This will give us culture areas, or a classification of social groups according to their culture traits.
Boas, an American anthropologist, has creditably worked on culture. He has brought out culture areas among the North American Indians. In doing so he has taken folk tales and myths as bases of culture area classification.
He argues that a culture area has definitely material cultural traits common to all the people. He has also constructed a map of culture areas in North America, South America and Africa.
Kroeber, another American anthropologist, has critically examined the culture area maps constructed by Boas and Wissler. He, however, could not make any effective change in the number of culture divisions, but he did bring out some major changes in the cultural map. It is reported that Kroeber prepared a revised cultural map on the strength of the map created by Wissler.
The important thing is the determination of the criteria for marking a particular geographical area as a culture area. Boas took two criteria for identifying specific culture areas ecology and cultural manifestation. Changes in the culture area come when we change the criteria.