Culture & Society Culture (1)

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Chapter 3

Culture & Society

Culture (1) (pp.59-60)

Totality of learned, socially transmitted customs, knowledge, material objects, and behavior

Example: language, beliefs, values, norms, symbols

It is generally referred to your way of life

How you dress, marriage ceremonies, patterns of work, leisure activities

It also encompasses material goods that have importance for some members of society

Culture (2)

In some respects, the development of culture makes people freer

For example, culture has become more diversified and consensus has declined in many areas of life, allowing people more choice in how they live

In other respects, the development of culture puts limits on who we can become

For example, the culture of buying consumer goods has become a virtually compulsory national pastime.

Increasingly, therefore, people define themselves by the goods they purchase

Culture (3)

Culture shapes

What we do, how we live

What we think

How we feel

Elements that we commonly but wrongly describe as human nature
US and Japanese cultures stress achievement and hard work
US society values individualism

Japanese society values collective harmony

Impact of Culture

Determinism means that social structures and cultural factors determine behavior of an individual

Karl Marx believed that it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness (1859).

Durkheim stated that individuals have little control over social facts, facts, concepts, expectations that come not from individual responses and preferences, but that come from the social community which socializes each of its members (Faraganis, 2000).

Material culture (p. 58)

Production is the one of the main tools in the human cultural survival kit. It involves making and using tools and techniques that improve our ability to take what we want from nature

Examples: food, houses, factories, clothes
Material culture reflects a societys level of technology

Knowledge that people use to make a way of life in their surroundings

A societys level of technology is crucial in determining what cultural ideas and artifacts emerge or are even possible

The more complex a societys technology, the easier it is for members of that society to shape the world for themselves

Nonmaterial Culture

Ways of using material objects to transmit customs, beliefs and patterns of communication

Example: Staring at people
Abstraction is the capacity to create general ideas or ways of thinking that are not linked to particular instances

Symbols are one important type of idea (more details later). They are things that carry particular meanings. Languages, mathematical notations, and signs are all sets of symbols

Cooperation is the capacity to create a complex social life by establishing norms, or generally accepted ways of doing things

Culture Lag

The tendency of symbolic culture to change more slowly than material culture (Ogburn, 1966 [1922])
When nonmaterial culture is adapting to new material conditions. It is a period of maladjustment
Example: Not paying your bills online when it is now the general trend

Language (pp. 72-73)

A language is a system of symbols strung together to communicate thought

Most important element of culture (foundation of culture)
Equipped with language, we can share understandings, pass experience and knowledge from one generation to the next, and make plans for the future

In short, language allows culture to develop
Abstract system of words, meanings, symbols


Symbols like street signs

Gestures like nonverbal communication
Human can manipulate those symbols while animals have fixed set of signs

Consequently, sociologists commonly think of language as a cultural invention that distinguishes humans from other animals

Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (1) (pp. 72-73)

Linguistic relativity hypothesis

The language we use influence our perceptions of the world

Deals with the role of language in interpreting the world

People see and understand the world through the cultural lens of language
We conceptualize the world through language

Words describing snow: black ice, powder etc…

Word symbols organize our world

Language is culturally determined

Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (2) (p. 72-73)

The Sapir-Whorf thesis holds that we experience certain things in our environment and form concepts about those things (path 1 to 2)
We then develop language to express our concepts (path 2 to 3)
Finally, language itself influences how we see the world(path 3 to 1)


Anything that carries a particular meaning recognized by people who share a culture
Entering an unfamiliar culture reminds us of the power of symbols

Culture shock is really the inability to read meaning in unfamiliar surroundings
Culture shock is a two way process

Traveler experiences culture shock when meeting people whose way of life is different

Traveler can inflict culture shock on others by acting in ways that offend them
Symbolic meanings also vary within a single society

Norms (p. 58)

Social rules that specify appropriate or inappropriate behavior

Rules and expectations by which a society guides the behavior of its members
In order to work, norms must be widely shared and understood
People respond to each other with sanctions

Rewards or punishments that encourage conformity to cultural norms

Types of Norms (1)

Formal norms

Generally written down

Strict rules to punish violators

Example: Laws, syllabus
Informal norms

Generally understood, but not precisely enforced


Norms governing everyday behavior whose violation raises comparatively little concern

When breached, violator is seen as RUDE

Most extreme form of norm. You just dont do these. They raise a sense of revulsion in societys members.

Virtually all taboos are enacted into law

Example: incest in the U.S

Norms that are widely observed and have great moral significance

Can be formal or informal norms

Example: go to church in a bikini

Acceptance of Norms & Breaching

Why dont people follow norms?
Norms are not consistently enforced

Behavior which appears to violate societys norms actually represents adherence to norms of a group

Norms are violated because they conflict

Exceptions and circumstances allow violation of norms
Norms are subject to change as political, social and economic conditions change

People can violate them more often, and are less likely to be punished for it

Culture & Dominant Ideology (1)

Dominant ideology:

Set of cultural beliefs and practices that help to maintain powerful social, economic and political interests
Functionalists believe that stability in society depends on a consensus and support of societys members

They emphasize cultural stability, downplays the importance of change
Conflict theorists believe that a common culture exists but that it maintains privileges of certain groups, who enforce norms

They tie our cultural values of competitiveness and material success to our countrys capitalist economy

Strains of inequality erupt into movements for social change

Culture & Dominant Ideology (2)

Marx says that capitalist societies have a dominant ideology that benefits the ruling class
Powerful groups in society control wealth and property, but also produce beliefs about reality through religion, education, and the media
Example: the American Dream

Dominant Ideology & Poverty

Two explanations for poverty:

Individual explanations emphasize personal responsibility
Structural explanations blame external factors such as inferior educational opportunities, discrimination, low wages etc…
Which one represents the dominant ideology in the U.S.?

Cultural Variation (1) (pp. 67-69)


Segment of society that shares a distinctive pattern of more, folkways, and values that differs from larger society

Culture within the dominant culture

Differ but do NOT oppose the dominant culture

Example: computer hackers, Star Wars fans etc...

Cultural Variation (2) (pp. 67-69)

Countercultures are subversive subcultures

They oppose dominant values and seek to replace them

Countercultures rarely pose a serious threat to social stability

Counterculturalists favored a collective and cooperative lifestyle

Being more important than doing

Led some people to drop out of the larger society

Countercultures are still flourishing
Example: Hippie movement in the 1960s, Black Panther Party of Self-Defense

Culture & Ethnocentrism (pp.69-72)

Despite its importance in human life, culture is often invisible. People tend to take their own culture for granted
In contrast, people are often startled when confronted by cultures other than their own.
The ideas, norms, values, and techniques of other cultures frequently seem odd, irrational, and even inferior
Judging another culture exclusively by the standards of ones own is known as ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism (pp.69-72)

Tendency to see ones culture or way of life as the norm or as superior

Example: Using your own culture to critique others
Ethnocentrism impairs sociological analysis. This can be illustrated by Marvin Harriss (1974) functionalist analysis of a practice that seems bizarre to many Westerners

Hindu peasants refuse to slaughter cattle and eat beef because the cow is a religious symbol of life This seems mysterious to most Westerners, for it takes place amid poverty and hunger that could presumably be alleviated if only the peasants would slaughter their useless cattle for food instead of squandering scarce resources to protect these animals

Cow worship is an economically rational practice in rural India. However, Indian peasants cant afford tractors, so cows are needed to give birth to oxen, which are in high demand for plowing. Moreover, the cows produce hundreds of millions of pounds of recoverable manure, about half of which is used as fertilizer and half as a cooking fuel

Cultural Relativism (1) (pp.69-72)

It is the belief that all cultures and all cultural practices have equal value
Viewing peoples behavior from the perspective of their culture with their beliefs and values

the effort to understand a given social practice on the basis of the cultural meanings of the society in which it takes place
Trying to understand behavior in its social context

Example: female circumcision in African countries
How should we evaluate this practice?

Cultural Relativism (2) (pp.69-72)

If almost any behavior is the norm somewhere in the world, does that mean everything is equally right?
We are all members of a single human species, what are the universal standards of proper conduct?
In trying to develop universal standards, how do we avoid imposing our own standards on others?

Multiculturalism (1) (p. 67)

A perspective recognizing the cultural diversity of the United States and promoting respect and equal standing for all cultural traditions

U.S. society has downplayed cultural diversity

Defines itself in terms of its European and especially Anglo-saxon immigrants

A bill in Arizona in 2008 stated a primary purpose of public education is to inculcate values of American citizenship. Public tax dollars used in public schools should not be used to denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization. It was not passed. However, an Administrative Law Judge just found the Ethnic Studies program to be against state law in Dec. 2011
The measure is at least partially a response to a controversy surrounding an Ethnic Studies program in the Tucson Unified School District, which critics have said is unpatriotic and teaches revolution
At the political level, cultural diversity has become a source of conflict

Arizona Bans K-12 Ethnic Studies

Multiculturalism (2) (p. 67)

The conflict is most evident in the debates that have surfaced in recent years concerning curricula in the American educational system

History books did not deny that African Americans were enslaved and that force was used to extort territory from Native Americans and Mexicans.
They did, however, make it seem as if these unfortunate events were part of the American past, with few implications. The history of the United States was presented as a history of progress involving the elimination of racial privilege

Multiculturalism (3) (p. 67)

A multicultural approach to education highlights the achievements of nonwhites and non-Europeans in American society
It gives more recognition to the way European settlers came to dominate nonwhite and non-European communities
It stresses how racial domination resulted in persistent social inequalities, and it encourages Spanish-language, elementary level instruction given in Spanish in the states of California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Florida, where a substantial minority of people speak Spanish at home
The texts of the nineteen-twenties . . . portrayed the Indians as lazy, childlike, and cruel (Fitzgerald, 1979: 91). Proponents of multiculturalism regard these descriptions as ethnocentric or racist

Multiculturalism (4) (p. 67)

Most critics of multiculturalism do not argue against teaching cultural diversity.

What they fear is that multiculturalism is being taken too far (Glazer, 1997; Schlesinger, 1991). They believe that multiculturalism has three negative consequences

1 - Critics believe that multicultural education hurts minority students by forcing them to spend too much time on non-core subjects.

To get ahead in the world, they say, one needs to be skilled in English and math. By taking time away from these subjects, multicultural education impedes the success of minority-group members in the work world. (Multiculturalists argue that pride and self-esteem help minority students get ahead in the work world)

Multiculturalism (5) (p. 67)

2 - Critics also believe that multicultural education causes political disunity and results in more interethnic and interracial conflict.

They want schools and colleges to stress the common elements of the national experience and highlight Europes contribution to American culture. (Multiculturalists reply that political unity and interethnic and interracial harmony maintain inequality in American society)
3 - Finally, critics of multiculturalism complain that it encourages the growth of cultural relativism.

The trouble with this view is that some cultures oppose the most deeply held values of most Americans

Society (p. 60)

System of interrelationships that connect individuals together

Refers to people who interact in a defined territory and share a culture
No culture can exist without a society but culture is the glue to society
Some degrees of conformity is needed for society to exist

People learn the norms of that society and they become engrained in peoples minds.

They, then, become unquestioned and passed on to the next generations

Society influences the individual

Through other individuals (social influence)

Whether were aware of their doing so or not, other people affect our thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors
Through social structure (societal influence)

Statuses/roles + groups + organizations + social institutions + culture = society

Why Social Structure Matters

Everyday social life--our thoughts, actions, feelings, decisions, interactions, and so on--is the product of a complex interplay between societal forces and personal characteristics. (Newman, 1995)
Societal forces are not some mysterious thing that happens behind the scenes
They work through our statuses and roles, the groups we belong to, the organizations we work through, and the institutions with which we are inexorably intertwined.

Social Structure (1)

Ways in which society is organized into predictable relationships and controls its members behaviors

Social ordering

Interweaving of peoples interactions and relationships
Our social interaction with others is controlled by the social structure, which means that ways in which people respond to one another (can be face-to-face, phone, computer etc…) are based on social constraints

Example: When you meet somebody for the 1st time, your behavior is controlled by what you see in that person (status, roles etc…)

Social Structure (2)


Full range of socially defined positions within a large group or society

Example: student, doctor etc…
People have many statuses called STATUS SET
Although status cues may be useful in helping people define the situation, they also pose a social danger, for status cues can quickly degenerate into stereotypes

Ascribed Status

A social position a person receives at birth or takes involuntarily later in life
Matters about which we have little choice
They are not earned through talent or actions, and are hard to change, if not impossible
Example: race, ethnicity and gender (it is not biological)

Achieved Status

A social position a person takes on voluntarily that reflects a personal ability and effort
Comes to us through our individual efforts

They can change but can also be affected by ascribed statuses

Example: being promoted in a company can depend on your work but also on your gender or race

Master Status

A status that has special importance for social identity, often shaping a persons entire life

Can be negative as well as positive

Gender is a master status because all societies limit opportunities for women

Physical disability can serve as a master status
Status that dominates others and determines a persons general position in society

Race and gender tend to dominate our lives

What about age?


Set of expectations for people who occupy a given status

Example: teacher lectures and grade; student studies and takes exams

Role Conflict

Incompatible expectations arise form two or more social positions held by the same person


Role conflict occurs when two or more statuses held at the same time place contradictory role demands on a person

Todays female flight attendants experience role conflict to the degree that working in the airline industry requires frequent absences from home, whereas being a mother and a wife require spending considerable time at home

Role Strain

Differing demands and expectations are associated with the same status

One STATUS, two conflicting ROLES

Status: Friend

Role: be honest be nice

Role Exit

The process by which people disengage from important social roles

The process of becoming an ex

Process begins as people come to doubt their ability to continue in a certain role

Exes carry with them a self-image shaped by an earlier role

Exes must also rebuild relationships with people who knew them in their earlier life
Process of disengagement from a role that is central to ones self identity and re-establishment of an identity

Example: divorce, leaving a career


Principal social structures used to organize, direct and execute the essential tasks of social living.
Each institution is built around a standardized solution to a set of problems
Example: schools, government agencies, legal system

Culture: The Functionalist Perspective

The functionalist perspective is based upon the assumption that society is a stable, orderly system with interrelated parts that serve specific functions
According to functionalist theorists, societies where people share a common language and core values are more likely to have consensus and harmony
All societies, however, have dysfunctions

Inequalities among class, racial and gender lines contribute to problems, and multiple subcultures can lead to lack of consensus about core values
How are these problems resolved?

Resolution of problems comes with education about the value of cultural diversity (schools are charged with this responsibility)

Culture: The Conflict Perspective

Recall that the conflict perspective is based upon the assumption that social life is a continuous struggle in which members of powerful groups seek to control scarce resources

Conflict theorists suggest that values and norms help create and sustain the privileged position of the powerful
According to Karl Marx, ideas are cultural creations

It is therefore possible societys leaders to use ideology – that is, a system of ideas that guides the way people think and act – to maintain their positions of dominance in a society

Culture: The Conflict Perspective

According to Marx, people are not aware that they are being dominated because they have false consciousness, meaning that people hold beliefs that they think promote their best interest when in fact they are damaging to their best interests
For example, when hate groups blame certain people for a societys problems, they shift attention away from persons in position of political and economic power
Extremist groups may perpetuate the very problem they think exists, and may maintain status quo

Culture: The Symbolic Interactionist Perspective

Recall that the Symbolic Interactionist perspective is engaged in micro-level analysis, and examines society as the sum of all peoples interactions
People create, maintain and modify culture as they go about their day-to-day activities
Our cultures values and norms do not automatically determine our behavior. Rather, we re-interpret these values and norms with each situation we come across.

In other words, our values and norms are dynamic; that is, we are constantly changing them.

Culture: The Symbolic Interactionist Perspective

Georg Simmel suggested that eventually culture takes on a life of its own – and begins to control us instead.

For example, people initially created money as a means of exchange. It is a social construct that was designed to facilitate economies.

Now, however, money has taken on a new meaning: it has become an end in itself (ie. material wealth), rather than a means to an end (ie. facilitating the exchange of goods and services).

Not only goods and services, but even people have a relative worth applied to them:

Bill Gates – $50 billion Oprah Winfrey - $2.5 billion

Culture: The Symbolic Interactionist Perspective

Symbolic Interactionists examine how people maintain and change culture through interaction with others
As a result, Symbolic Interactionism does not provide an outline to analyze how we shape culture and how it in turn shapes us. It fails to take into account the larger, macro- level social structures (eg. social class) that are considered in the Functionalist and Conflict perspectives

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