Chapter 4 (L. Xu)

Estimated Reading Time 00:06:08

Notes by Lance Xu

SOC103: Chapter 4 Culture

-culture: Our uniquely human environment. It includes all of the objects, artifacts, institutions, organizations, ideas and beliefs that make up the social environment of human life

-cultural differences more distinct in rural areas than urban

organizational culture: the way an organization has learned to deal with its environment; it includes norms and values that are subculturally distinct to the organization

-human behaviour not genetic or inborn, changes due to environment, experiences and over different generations

-cultural universals: athletic sports/competitions, bodily adornment, cooking, dancing, funeral ceremonies, gift giving, and language.

-even cultural universals vary greatly, only real universal is culture itself

Functionalism (Durkheim)

-culture integrative role in society, organizes behaviour

-look to culture to explain consensus and stability

-civic culture (culture of participating in social and political life by citizens) crucial for survival of democracy

-culture creates stability and solidarity, arises out of social structure

-importance of education has emerged in modern society because to function correctly, it needs highly educated individuals

Critical Theory (Marx)

-focus on group differences in power and belief

-one group approves and another opposes certain behaviours causing conflict (ex recreational drug use)

-“general” values often work to benefit some people at expense of others

-material/economic relationships (social classes) shape culture

-view culture as part of conflictual nature of society and view it as helping powerful social groups to maintain their dominance

Symbolic Interactionism

-dramaturgical perspective, see culture through a microsociological lens

-culture arises out of face to face use of symbols, values and norms during everyday interaction

-culture also shows itself in the decisions we make in choosing to communicate or not, what we say or don’t say, and what we keep secret and what we reveal

-instead of controlling them (as in functionalism and critical theories approaches), culture is changed by participating individuals

Cultural studies perspective

looked at how subcultural groups lay claim to elements of the dominant culture and redined them through alternative meanings or ideas and thus shaped their own cultures outside the dominant environment

-argues that culture is shaped by dominant groups, but unlike critical theorists, they maintain that divisions are not just economic but also based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and geography

-dominant groups encode information in cultural products such as mass media

Production of cultural perspective

-origin of culture in material culture (the physical and technological aspects of people’s lives, including all the physical objects that members of a culture create and use)

-focuses on the production of culture rather than the effects of culture

non material culture: people’s values, beliefs, philosophies, conventions and ideologies, the aspects of a culture that do not have a physical existence

Language – A key cultural realm

-symbolic interactionists interested in how people work out patterns of action/communication

-functionalists interested in the ways different subgroups develop their own language to express unique concerns

-feminist sociologists interested in way which culture, through language, shapes our perception of reality (use of masculine words like chairman, policeman etc, illustrates gender inequality, discourages women from filling these roles)

-language is means by which achievements of generations are passed on to the next, like tools of memory

-different languages provide people with different tolls to organize and interpret reality, making cultural assimiliation difficult

-globalization could lead to loss of indigenous languages and cultures, creating a universal culture

Protestant ethic and Spirit of capitalism (Max Weber)

­-protestant ethic encouraged people to develop enterprises and engage in trade, resulting in the development of capitalism in the West

-Both arose in same place at same time, 16th to 17th century Europe

-Protestant religion viewed worldly concerns such as wealth, profit through investing money as acceptable and righteous

-however rise of capitalism also due to rise of international commerce, invention of mechanized production and development of European nation states

-therefore the theory is incomplete, as the protestant religion is only one of many factors leading to the rise of capitalism

Importance of values; the case of religion

-secularization resulted in organized religion playing a less important part in Canadian social life

-many sociologists (such as functionalists, feminists) see religion as a lesser important social factor than factors such as economic class or patriarchal values

-Max Weber: religion concerned with questions of ultimate importance, has consequences on economic and social realms

-Durkheim: religion tends to include all beliefs and rituals that create intense social bonding or involve the use of ritual objects

Cultural Integration, Ethnocentrisms and the Mass Media

-Durkheim – religious/cultural values server to forge strong social bonds between members of society

-small-scale tightly knit and interrelated societies- people’s value and experiences similar, changes in culture rare and brought about changes in other elements of culture

-modern societies – variety in people’s lives, technology and marketplace always changing culture and people’s lives

Ideal culture: that aspect of culture that lives only in people’s minds, the set of values people claim to believe in, profess openly, hold up for worship and adoration

Cultural integration: the process whereby parts of a culture (for example, ideal culture and real culture) come to fit together and complement one another

Ethnocentrism: the tendency to use one’s own culture as a basis for evaluating other cultures

-mass media an important source of cultural integration and a way to avoid ethnocentrism

Classic studies: theory of leisure class (veblen)

-shift of society based on raw materials to one centered on information

-critiqued modern western society, especially bourgeoisie, for wasteful consumption of time and goods

-foreshadowed the growing culture of consumption which would characterize the 20th century

Habitus: ability to live properly and effectively within given culture

Social field: social setting, domain or institution within which the habitus is to be exercised (ex politics, education, economics)

Cultural Variation

-high culture: set of preferences tastes and norms that are characteristic of or supported by high status groups

-popular culture: culture of ordinary people

-cultural capital: body of knowledge and interpersonal skills that helps people to get ahead socially (usually learning and participating in high culture)

-popular culture is fragmented along age, sex and social class lines, reflects the influence of high culture

-Mass media and popular culture reflect trends in high culture, middle classes adopt cultural tastes and practices of upper class, upper classes adopt new practices to preserve their social distance

-people with higher cultural capital do better in life than those with lower cultural capital

-cultural capital unequally distributed in the population, based on personal experiences

Counter culture: subculture that rejects conventional norms and values and adopts alternative ones

Subculture: group that shares the cultural elements of the larger society but which also has its own distinctive values, beliefs, norms, style of dress and behaviour patterns

Cultural literacy: solid knowledge of the traditional culture, which contains the building blocks of all communication and learning


Cultural change

-cultures change, for example fashion and vocabulary changes


Canadian Culture

-Canadians less traditional and less elitist than Americans

-Some believe Canadian culture is collection of regional cultures

-studies find North American culture divided into 4 regions


-Culture both marco (exists above individual people, ex languages, institutions, material artifacts) and micro sociological (inside of us all, something that affects our behaviours and communications everyday)

-cultural environment radically different from one group to another (rich vs poor, atheist vs religious, Italian vs Inuit)


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