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Zeitgeist refers to the prevailing thoughts and beliefs of a particular time period. Is there a word for the prevailing thoughts and beliefs of a particular place, independent of time?

An example sentence: "Knowing all your neighbors and an obsession with high school football define the ___ of American small town life."

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"Knowing all your neighbors and an obsession with high school football define life in an American small town."

But first,
Culture. syn. way of life

2 The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.

Formally, it is Cultural Geography, "a subfield of Human Geography which focuses “upon the patterns and interactions of human culture, both material and non-material, in relation to the natural environment and the human organization of space” (Cosgrove 1994)"

All that's needed in the sentence is the word way and no more!
"Knowing all your neighbors and an obsession with high school football define the way of life in an American small town."

It works even without that:
"Knowing all your neighbors and an obsession with high school football define life (and culture) in an American small town."
And that's what I'd personally go for.

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In addition to the answer already given, I would also suggest either tradition or pillars. Both of these make good contact with the "independent of time" notion.

Also, community might be a better substitute for "knowing all your neighbors".

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I have doubts about any thought or belief being independent of time. (There was no high school football hundreds of years ago, and there may not be hundreds of years from now.)

However (I tweaked your sentence slightly for grammar):

"Knowing all your neighbors and having an obsession with high school football defines the essence of life in an American small town."


1 b : the individual, real, or ultimate nature of a thing especially as opposed to its existence · a painting that captures the essence of the land

c : the properties or attributes by means of which something can be placed in its proper class or identified as being what it is

2 : the most significant element, quality, or aspect of a thing or person · the essence of the issue

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  • I agree with your doubts about a specific location based word as well as thinking that the word essence is a particularly GOOD word for the particularly defining aspects of place (culture might include both what it shares with all towns as well as those it is particular defined by). – Tom22 Jun 21 '18 at 22:01
  • Less good words (I am reluctant to make them answers but could add them here as a comment) might be aura (more exclusively for physical things and often places) or with the elimination and addition of a few words, another general term of iconic "iconic traditions of small town life" ? – Tom22 Jun 21 '18 at 22:04
  • @Tom22 Terroir would also be great—if only it weren't specific to soil, sunlight, climate, and grapes. ;) – Jason Bassford Jun 21 '18 at 22:23
  • while we're trading words "quintessential" is another close one - but more about specific qualities than the flipside – Tom22 Jun 21 '18 at 22:56

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