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)


Week 3: Reading Sociology Part 2

Estimated Reading Time 00:03:27

Reading Sociology

Part 2: Culture

Chapter 6: Maintaining Control? Masculinity and Internet Pornography
by Steve Garlick

Robert Jensen’s position:

  • Radical feminist.
  • Internet has revolutionized delivery of pornography
  • Technology increases men’s ability to control women’s bodies
  • Gender politics of porn: fantasy world in which women always want sex because it is in their nature.
  • Mainstream pornography: man vs. nature


  • Amateur porn can potentially “save” mainstream porn from constraints of hegemonic masculinity.
  • (Such awkward phrasing, but I think I can make an analogy: the situation is similar to how open-sourcing weakens corporate’s ability to make profit. e.g. Open Office vs. Microsoft Office; Octave vs. MatLab; OpensCAD vs. AutoCAD; Arduino vs. pretty much everything else on the market.)
  • We shouldn’t push boredom away, but think about what it says about ourselves.


  • I am going to tell you all about porn.
  • Builds on Jensen: Internet may change the nature of porn itself.
  • Porn is a technological confrontation between men and nature.
  • Internet achieved “democratization of desire”.
  • Do you know that porn becomes boring if you watch it too much?
  • Goes on to talk about how porn becomes boring (In and out. What more?) without making any apparent connection to his central thesis.
  • Internet as a media may change porn, and thereby gender relations, itself.

Notable quotes:

Yet, insofar as marginal forms of online porn are able to break away from the profit-driven imperative to reinforce the existing gender order and, instead, to give us glimpses of sex that rupture the usual narratives of gender and sexuality, they thereby alert us to the sway of technological enframing and potentially disrupt the production of hegemonic masculinity within the pornographic imagination.

– Steve Garlick

Chapter 7: What a Girl Wants, What a Girl Needs: Examining Cultural Change and Ideas about Gender Equality in Relationship Self-Help Books, 1960-2009
by Sarah Knudson

What a mouthful for a title. The author’s clearly amusing herself writing an article like this. Mainly summaries and restatement of common sense, but I’m sure she’s had a lot of fun reading all those relationship guide books.


  • Old support systems (church, extended families, etc.) lose potency. Relationship self-help books, therefore, would remain popular.
  • Three clusters of books (categorized by year published) show three now-liberal, now-traditional attitudes. This difference can be explained by macrosociological trends.
  • rising spiral, conflicting ideas resurface, always in new packaging.

Notable quotes:

These changes have made love and loving in the late modern era “chaotic”, as couples try to build successful relationships in a culture where multiple scripts for loving (the traditional, the modern, and the postmodern) coexist. It also creates a climate ripe for individuals to seek out relationship guidance.

-Sarah Knudson

Chapter 8: The Bonds of Things
by Stephen Harold Riggins

He wrote about Allen Ginsberg in his introduction. I immediately gained respect for this man.


  • Symbolic interactionist.
  • The same object can have different meanings depending on how it is used or conceptualized by people. (Reminds me of the bowler hat in Unbearable Lightness of Being).
  • Lots and lots of technical details! Unfortunately I don’t have much time.
  • Instead of researching objective measures such as income, etc. Perhaps more insight can be gained by interview people about their objects, and the symbolic meaning of these objects.

Notable quotes (other than the Allen Ginsberg quote, of course):

Objects bind people, generations, castes, and classes. They symbolize the kind of people we are or the kind we aspire to be. They help individuals and societies remember the past.

– Stephen Harold Riggins

Chapter 9: Nationalism from Below
by Slobodan Drakulic


  • People think that nationalism is invented by European literati.
  • But no! They are wrong. This belief is FLAWED and unsupported by evidence.
  • In fact I studied Croatian songs to prove them wrong.
  • Nationalism is preserved through such things as culture and songs. It comes from below.
  • Elites and masses are not worlds apart, but part of the same complex universe.

Notable quotes:

The image of cultural elites leading the masses is doubly erroneous: it conflates social movements with social division of labour and postulates what must be ascertained by research.

– Slobodan Drakulic

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SOC103 Notes by digitalhardhat is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Lecture 4 (C. Morais)

Estimated Reading Time 00:04:42

Notes by Camilla Morais

Lecture 4 – Culture and Acculturation


  • Traditionally, “culture” was equated with “civility”
  • Comes from the latin verb colere – to til the soil (i.e. work the land, or improve ad refine the land in order to grow crops)
  • It is the sum total of all products of the human mind
  • Cultural products can be:
    • concrete or abstract
    • individual or collective
    • material or non-material (i.e. ideas)

The controlling effects of culture

  • Even when we have “free choice”, our choice is socially and culturally structured
  • Culture controls and structures and choices, perceptions and opinions
  • Culture is a choice guidance system
  • Defines good and bad, basic common sense (true vs. false, normal vs. abnormal etc.)
    • Varies from one culture to another, not fixed, not inevitable
    • Human beings are structures in certain directions and there is variation between one social structure to another

Political Connections

  • Culture by controlling us can put power in the hands of those who want to control us
  • Dominant ideology – way of thinking that prevails in society: rises when culture is influenced by the stay
  • Our society is a market ideology – everything is for sale, priced according to its value
  • By influencing morality, if influences our behaviour
  • The maker appropriately sorts people into positions of wealth and power and some into poverty and weakness on the other end: Dominant Ideology of our society
  • There is a link between the economic marketplace and the social marketplace 

Cultures vary in what they teach us

  • Often there is conflict between those brought up in different cultures due to different ideas – cultural confusion
  • It is often hard to hold culturally relative values – we tend to be ethnocentric
  • We tend to believe that the way we view the world is the right way
  • You cannot reasonably impose those kinds of standards on other cultures
  • 20th & 21st Century been the main motif
  • Moral evolution versus cultural relativism
  • Nations who were most economically developed had higher cultures and moral standards than those they were colonizing
  • Therefore the colonizers had to go and “correct” this
  • Today we are at a place of confusion in regards to cultural/moral relativism
    • i.e. Western people have difficulty viewing the way dressing of Muslim way in a culturally or moral way
    • Current debate in the “right” way to think of this

Cultural change can be painful

  • People who, in the process of acculturation, relinquish the home culture and reject the host culture are known as marginal
  • i.e. hard to accept new views about women, gays, youth
  • Marginals – reject host culture and relinquish home culture – unclear on how you should be thinking about things** View slide
  • Identity crisis may result

Culture never stands still

  • always changing within music clothing speech beauty etc.
  • New cultural practices and ideas diffuse through the population
    • took off in agricultural sociology
    • Curve associated with this is called the “S-curve”
    • Contagion

Innovators are always in the minority

  • In the cultural diffusion process 2.5% will be “innovators” and 16% will be laggards
  • People who are innovators or opinion leaders – a lot of contact and information – influence on the community – people are inclined to follow them
  • We don’t know as much as we need to about how and why people innovate and adopt new cultural patterns

Cultural Products Include:

  • Paintings, Books, Music, They are all modes of discourse
    • Habitual ways of speaking about and understanding a topic
    • Every cultural “text” consists of key ideas, symbols and concepts
    • Everything we read, see, hear can be conceived as a text – something we read and interpret
    • Everything we use is culturally used and culturally interpreted – meaning behind wearing black to a gig
    • Any work of art expresses at least three things: genre, particular period, particular artist
    • Also, class position

Art and Cultural Capital

  • People with more cultural capital get more education, get richer, marry “up”

Culture is a “Perceptual Filter”

  • Cultures teach us how to look at things
  • Art as a Cultural Product – distinguishes people by “taste”
  • According to Veblen, Cultural tastes change because the upper class repeatedly invents new elements to distinguish it from the middle class
  • The lower class cannot keep up and the middle class is always trying
  • In order to maintain distinction – “habitus” as described in Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital
  • Cultural literacy is basic; Cultural capital gives people an advantage
  • Cultural capital increase (apparent) social status
  • Cultural literacy improves knowledge base and interaction skills
    • Basic requirement
    • i.e. who is Hamlet

The Canadian Way

  • Canadians are more secular, more socially progressive, more egalitarian
  • Canadians are more realist modest and secular
  • Americans are much more likely to believe that people get rewarded for their efforts

The Cultural Role of Jokes and Humor

  • Socially accepted means of rule breaking

Cultural Globalizations vs. Nationalism

  • Are local cultures going to survive?
  • System changing cultural processes:
  • Certain social and cultural institutions are fundamentally world-chning: i.e. change the way cultures operate
    • i.e rule of law


Starting Points Chapter 3:

Social Scripts are lines and behaviours we are supposed to follow to fulfill roles as seamlessly as possible pg. 66

Becker’s perspective on deviance largely talks about labeling theory and that once people are labeled deviant they tend to set themselves apart, develop their own language identity etc. However they are learned behaviours – Normal people learning deviant behaviours – pg. 67-68



  1. Reflexive sociology, gathering data statistically pg17-18
  2. Pg 49 / Pg30 – Become more apparent, more fragmentary on the et as people surf from site to site and image to image Focus on fragmentary quality
  3. p.33  — linked to neo liberalism – rise in religion when there is a lot of instability

Week 3 Lecture Notes – Starting Points Ch. 4

Estimated Reading Time 00:07:03

Lecture 3

Culture and acculturation

Multiple choice:
-don’t choose absolutes/extremes!
-avoid unfamiliar terms
-when in doubt, choose the longer answer

The controlling effects of culture
How does culture control our:
-perceptions and opinions?
-beliefs and values?
-goals and ambitions?

“We are making choices all the time, but all the choices we make are constrained.” -Teppy
“Culture structures our choices, beliefs, and opinions…” -Teppy

Culture is a choice-guiding system

Culture defines:
-Good and bad
-Right and wrong

“Our notions of right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, are cultural perceptions. They’re not fixed; they’re not universal; they’re not inevitable. Else there’d be no reason for social science.” – Teppy

“We live in a scientific civilization. In a scientific civilization there’s an attempt to develop norms.” -Teppy

Culture even has political effects
-Culture, when influenced by the state and modes of production, gives rise to *dominant ideology*.
-By influencing morality, it influences our behaviour.

“In our case, dominant ideology is a market ideology. Everything is up for exchange. Everything is priced. Some people will win, because they bring things to the market. Some people will lose, because they don’t. Ultimately what market ideology tells us is that those who win deserves to win and those who lose deserve to lose. We should respect the winners and look with contempt at the losers.” – Teppy

Cultures vary in what they teach us:
-Cultures teach different views about right and wrong choices
-That sometimes leads to cultural confusion or conflict
-It is often hard to hold *culturally relative* values
-we tend to be ethnocentric

“How is it possible for people to interact across cultural minds given our differences?” – Teppy

“In the 20th century and the 21st century, certainly cultural relativism is the predominant belief. Contrast that to the 19th century, there’s a predominant belief (especially in the West) of progress and colonization.” -Teppy

Moral evolution vs. cultural relativism
-Between 1870-1920 sociology moved away from assuming a moral evolution in human history
-Today it views cultural beliefs as non-rational and largely incomparable
-Must be understood and judged on their own terms

“It was the job of white colonizers to help less-developed savages to ‘realize the correct way to live’.” -Teppy

“That belief [cultural relativism] came to a serious reevaluation after the WWII.” – Teppy
e.g. Nazi and their culture.

Example: the subordination of women
e.g. Islamic dress code for women
“It is extremely difficult (I know it’s pretentious) for Westerners to view that in a culturally relative way!” – Teppy

Cultural change can be painful
-People who, in the process of acculturation, relinquish the home culture and reject the host culture are known as *marginal*
-e.g. hard to accept new views about women, gays, youth

“Probably the most painful experience is the marginal. They are trying to relinquish their home culture. But they either have rejected, or are not yet accepted, in the host culture.” – Teppy

An identity crisis may result
-In the transition associated with acculturation, and identity crisis is most likely to occur after migration and cultural isolation
-This identity crisis may be brief or prolonged, but painful

Traditionally, “culture” was equated with “civility”
-Culture: from the Latin verb colere – to till the soil (i.e. to work the land, or improve and refined the land in order to grow crops)

“We are blocks. For us to be in the world, we have to be ‘cultivated’ by our parents. We have to cultivate ourselves to have the skills and knowledge to make social life possible.” -Teppy
[Tabula Rasa]

Today, we hold a broader definition of culture
-Culture is the sum total of all products of the human mind.
-Cultural products can be
-concrete or abstract
-individual or collective
-material or immaterial

“When I decide how I’m dressing tonight, which I’m sure you’ll all agree to be very beautiful, I am influenced by social and cultural norms!” – Teppy

Culture never stands still
-Culture is always changing
e.g. fashions in clothing, speech, names of children
-Ideas of beauty change over time too

New cultural practices and ideas diffuse through the population
-the curve normally associated with culture of diffusion processes is referred to as the S-curve
-We can speculate about the social processes that produce this pattern
Early adopters -> opinion leaders -> take off (contagion) -> late adopters

Innovations are always in the minority
-In the cultural diffusion process, approximately 2.5% will be “innovators” and 16% will be laggards
-It is interesting that innovation is similar, no matter what is changing
-but don’t underestimate the effects of marketing

Cultural Products include
-they are all modes of “discourse”
-habitual ways of speaking about and understanding a topic
-every cultural “text” consists of key ideas, symbols, and concepts

e.g. *Anna Karenina* movie adaptations change through time.

What does culture express? (What is the discourse?) Consider art:
-Any work of art expresses at least three things:
-A particular genre (landscape)
-A particular period (early 20th century)
-A particular artist (Tom Thomson)
-Also, class position

Art and Cultural Capital
You learn “good taste”
-In this way you acquire *cultural capital*
-Cultural capital provides access to valued interpersonal connections
-People with more cultural capital get more education, get richer, marry “up”

“Cultural capital relates culture to class.” -Teppy

More knowledge of high culture == more cultural capital

Perceptual filter
-We can view culture as a perceptual filter, allowing us to see some things and ignore others
-Cultures teach us that some things are beautiful and others are ugly, some are sensible and others are ridiculous
-Consider the following

Art – a cultural product – distinguishes people by “taste”
Low art (and Kitsch)/folk art/high art

“People position themselves in society with the art that they display, the beer that they drink, etc etc.” – Teppy

The re-invention of taste from above
-According to Veblen, cultural tastes change because the upper class repeatedly invents new cultural elements to distinguish it from the middle class

We learn “habitus” in order to distinguish ourselves by class
-In Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital, “habitus” refers to a body of learned skills needed for distinction
-The accumulation of such learned skills creates a fund of cultural capital

“To distinguish themselves from the poor is what the rich are always trying to do.” -Teppy

Cultural literacy is basic; cultural capital gives people and advantage
-Cultural capital increases (apparent) social status
-e.g. which fork to use with salad?
-Cultural literacy improves knowledge base and interaction skills
-basic requirement
-e.g. who is Hamlet?

e.g. “The Code” – written by a U of T scholar about biblical metaphors, etc. references throughout Western history.

Some cultures (including religions) cover many countries
-Nation-staes are sometimes based on a common culture

Canadian culture
-Canadian and American cultures have many similarities
-There are distinctive norms, attitudes, and beliefs!

The Canadian Way
-more secular
-more socially progressive
-more egalitarian (e.g. Gini indices, tax rates)

Canadians are somewhat more realistic, modest, and secular
-e.g. Americans are much more likely thn other people to believe that people get rewarded for their effort

Distinctive feature of canada: Multiculturalism
-government policy
-it encourages the maintenance of cultures from immigrants’ countries of origin
Pro: ease of assimilation
Con: hinders formation of Canadian identity

Cross-cultural comparisons help us understand our own culture
e.g. Americans vs. French in the restaurant

Cultural Role of Jokes and Humour
-In every culture, jokes and humour let us discuss things that are feared or hated
-Joking is a socially accepted means of rule-breaking
-Since cultures vary in what people fear and hate, they joke about different things, or about the same things in different ways
-Here’s a North American “battle of sexes” joke

Russian joke
-many jokes about newly rich Russians

German jokes
-jokes about other nationalities and regions

Send in a joke!!
Deadline: midnight February 8.

BEST JOKE WINS A $10 GIFT CARD FROM TIM HORTONS!!!!!!?!??!?!!1111?1?!11!!?1!!!1!!!!

Cultural globalization vs. nationalism
Three processes suggest the coming of a global (trans-national) culture
1.Scientific and technological innovation
2.Polycentric cultures and policies
3.Homogenized human ambitions

Growing cultural complexity
“Global culture” featuring:
-diverse elements
-interactions between elements
-interdependence between elements (division of labour)

System-changing cultural processes
Certain social and cultural institutions are fundamentally world-changing
These institutions include:
-free markets
-democratic elections
-rule of law
-scientific inquiry
-technological innovation

Consider the role of science in changing the world

Merton’s model of the “culture of science”
-organized skepticism

Week 3 – Starting Points Ch. 4

Estimated Reading Time 00:22:03

Starting Points


Animals adapt to nature. We live in a social environment that eventually dominates nature. We change the environment to suit ourselves.

Our social environment is not only material but symbolic. Every human group produces meanings that remain in society’s memory (awwww). So culture is a collective memory of the group.

(Reminds me of a section in One Hundred Years of Solitude where the town Macondo was struck by a plague that induces amnesia – “the quicksand of forgetfulness”. Really interesting exploration on this topic. It is also sadly ironic that the author, G. G. Marquez, now has been diagnosed with dementia ): .)

Back on track: since culture is collective memory, it supports the identity of group or society. So culture is shared, remembered, and symbolic. People who share a culture experience the world and behave similarly. Culture is the societal glue. People from other cultures are viewed as “different”.

So, to understand society we need to understand its culture.

Canada is an immigrant country, so culture matters! Just how significant are the differences? Microsociologically, culture can shape people’s lives. e.g. lovers who decide against marrying because of cultural differences.

But if we dig deeper, other cultures are similar! We’re not so much different. In great cities especially – metropolitan lives are similar across the world as discussed in Chapter 2. Outside of great cities people may be more different, but not that much more. If you study history or anthropology though, you will appreciate how human culture has varied through space and time.

Why focus on differences? Because we are naturally proud and we always think we are right. But sometimes it helps to have a new perspective.

Animal behaviour is largely genetic. Does not vary much. (Constant function: ∇(Ab) = 0 and ∂(Ab)/∂t = 0.) But humans learn. And we have language to pass on knowledge. So both micro and macro structures of society can change.

But is there a limit to this change? George Murdock (his name sounds like Moloch) finds out about cultural universals:
-athletic sports
-bodily adornment
-funeral ceremonies
-gift giving
-use fire (identified by other researchers)
Each deals with a fundamental social issue. Fire is a good example of how we change nature into culture. If there are universal cultural concerns, then maybe they meet universal human needs? Even then there is a great variety of cultural ways.

The only real universal is culture itself.
Macro: the values of a culture is expressed in its SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS.
Micro: culture shapes personalities through socialization.



Culture is integrative. Functionalists emphasize order, so they look to culture to explain consensus and stability. People with “modern” values tend to be trusting — good for democracy. A “civic culture” — where citizens participate in social and political life daily — is good for democracy.
A police officer is your best friend!

Work of Émile Durkheim. Functionalists emphasize order, so they look to culture to explain consensus and stability. Culture is not only economic but reflect shared norms, values, beliefs, etc.
Implication: cultural elements signify consensus. So sociologists can look at cultural elements to determine what society wants (and not what capitalists want).
e.g. Importance of education in modern culture — response to society that needs more educated citizens.

Critical Theory

Critical theorists focus on group differences in power and belief. Strongly stated values actually indicate conflict: one side justifies an action with certain values and the other opposes it with some other values. Sometimes overtly stated “general” values may benefit some people and exploit others.

e.g. legalizing marijuana. Often formal disapproval of an action prove that the behaviour is far more common than people would like to admit so come on just legalize marijuana already and we can all get some and so what we get drunk so what we smoke weed we’re just having fun we don’t care who sees living young and wild and free

Insight of Karl Marx, in response to Hegel. Hegel et al. focused on role of culturally based ideas in shaping society. Marx critiqued these arguments for ignoring role of material (i.e. economic) reasons that shape people’s thoughts and actions.
Marx didn’t focus on ideas or cultures; but on modes of production.

Marx says it’s not culture or ideas, but material relationships, that shape culture. (Hence the term: historical materialism.) So culture itself is already rooted in class struggles. Capitalism gives rise to a dominant ideology, which justifies capitalism and perpetuates it.

Since Marx though critical theorists focused less rigidly on economic relations as foundation of culture, but moved onto other sources of domination. Theorists still believe that dominant ideology is self-perpetuating, but they recognize the role of the state and the ideologies of politicians.
Antonio Gramsci (1992) says that during the Great Depression, intellectuals provided knowledge and advice to general public, subduing revolutions. Many consider this the chief role of academics.

Frankfurt School of Theorists (Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, and Walter Benjamin): focused on analyzing ideology, consumerism, especially popular entertainment as capitalist ideals. (Which they are — just look at the amount of sycophancy in the reality TV show “The Apprentice” — who does Donald Trump think he is?).

Symbolic Interactionism

Dramaturgical perspective: culture arises out of interactions of social actors and the symbols they communicate with. Culture is the creative use of values and norms. e.g. In a conversation even if you have a general idea of what you’re gonna say, it’s still a largely spontaneous process.
So values and norms are not something people are programmed to follow, but more like building blocks of a conversation (or an interaction in general).

Even if we choose not to interact, that itself is a manifestation of culture. (Parallelism with Sartre: ‘not choosing’ itself is a choice.) In interactions we learn culture, and through interaction we add to culture.

Symbolic interactionists allow more room for social factors in shaping and impacted culture. Functionalists and Critical Theorists think of culture as imposed and regulating, but symbolic interactionists think of culture at the same time as dynamic and evolving.

“Cultural Studies” Perspective

Arose at Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at University of Birmingham in 1970s.
Sociology + literary scholarship = cultural studies.
Marginalized subcultural groups: how do they lay claims to the dominant culture and put a twist to it?

Borrowed claims from critical theorists — dominant ideologies. Culture is shaped by dominant groups to maintain status quo. Class relations is only contributing factor, among others like relations of gender, race, ethnicity, and geography.

Like symbolic interactionism — focuses on role of meaning in culture. Stuart Hall (1980) says all communication requires encoding and decoding. (Just like how you’d put signals on LEDs.) But they are subtle! Encoded in a reality TV show, for example, lies assumptions about normality and social values.
While dominant group encodes this material, other factions decode it based on their social and cultural position.
So: culture originates from dominant group, but its effects depend on characteristics of individuals. Culture is both unifying and fragmenting.

“The Production of Culture” Perspective

“Cultural Studies” isn’t really interested in the origin of culture so much as the fact that culture serves dominant classes, because of its Marxist, critical roots.
“The Production of Culture” perspective sees origin of culture in material culture (i.e. mass media, technology, art, other symbolic materials, etc.). It’s interested in social action around this material base.

This perspective looks at how culture is produced, instead of accepting that it just pops out of class relations. Someone has to create culture. Plays, symphonies, advertisements, etc. all has to come from somewhere. “Production of culture” theorists dismiss “cultural studies” approach as too vague.

Other theorists on modern art: product of the times, the values in societies where this art movement arose, role of political and social atmospheres;
Cultural production perspective: labour process by which art is communicated and perpetuated.
Better understanding of cultural content — where it comes from and how it changes.

Canvases and Careers by Harrison White and Cynthia White (1965). Studied Impressionism in 19th century France. Highlights role of “l’artiste” and his/her need to make a living — i.e. to have a career.
Breakdown of Royal Academy system (of the classical style) left room for a new system. Dealers and critics organized markets toward middle-class art buyers, who are less grandiose and even experimental.
Today fine arts are supported by government. And artists eke out a living with sales, commissions, fellowships, teaching, and day jobs.

Fine arts is a particular form of culture, because it requires 1) specialized culture producers and 2) market for their wares (dealers/critics).
Language is a general form of culture, since everyone uses it.
But even language requires a market!

Language: A Key Cultural Realm

Language is interesting to symbolic interactionists and feminists. Other theorists are interested too though: e.g. structural functionalists (group-particular language used as social bond — ghetto talk, etc); critical theorists (language used as part of dominant ideology).

Stemming from critical perspective, feminists says that culture (through language) shapes our perception of reality. Androcentric and sexist language perpetuates inequality. e.g. mankind, policeman, chairman.
If we don’t switch to gender-neutral words such as humankind or chairperson we’re implying that women should be absent from these roles. We are discouraging women! (every step you take, they remind you you ghetto)

Language goes deeper than that though. It structures the way we perceive reality. Language is communicated through sounds, signs, and gestures — the tools of memory. But words are ambiguous or even confusing, with intended and unintended meanings. We learn through observation and through trial and error. Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf (1929) says that language expresses our thoughts and structures them. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis — androcentric language is the norm. Different languages organize reality differently.

“Instinctive” gestures — e.g. raising an eyebrow — means the same everywhere.
“Coded” gestures — developed in social contexts — prone to misinterpretation.

Assumptions pervade any language. E.g. the Slave (a Native group) of Northwest Territories and Alberta has a complex vocabulary related to ice conditions. (Because they travel and fish on ice).
So language is needed to make social life possible. Globalization may contribute in the decline of language and diversity. But no one knows for sure.

Classic Studies: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Max Weber studies how cultural values influence people’s behaviour in 1905. Began as a series of essays in German, but today it is considered a founding text in sociology. Especially economic sociology. First translated into English by Parsons in 1930. Documents the growing importance of “the non-rational” in sociology.

Argument in this book: religion serves as dominant ideology but can also motivate material progress. Capitalism evolved when Protestant (esp. Calvinist) ethic urged people to work in “this world”. Protestantism downplayed other-worldliness and asked people to work their asses off instead. (If I had an orchard I’d work till I’m sore). So protestantism is the force behind a largely uncoordinated development of capitalism.

That being said, WEBER’s theory was not deterministic. This idea is known as “the Weber thesis” — but it’s not rigid, and Weber himself rejected deterministic approaches. Weber instead presented Protestantism as one element of several leading to modern capitalism. Or in other words, Protestantism has an “elective affinity” with capitalism.

WEBER develops upon a previously identified link between Protestant Christianity and capitalism of the time. Demonstrated a correlation between Protestantism and business, esp. in 16th century northwestern Europe. Maybe religion is a cause? I mean, Hinduism, Confucianism, or ancient Judaism didn’t produce capitalistic societies!

What was Weber’s proof?

  1. Outline nature of capitalism: this-worldliness.
  2. Identify source of this belief system: Protestantism.
  3. Link the rise of capitalism with rise of Protestant beliefs.


1.Nature of capitalism is characterized by the view of profit as an end in itself. Pursuit of profit is righteous. Embraces investment and risk-taking. Requires diligence, thrift, and sobriety, but more importantly this-worldliness.

2.Protestantism is concerned with the ultimate question: am I saved or am I damned? How can I know what God has planned for me? What is the most moral way to live?
Because religion asks these fundamental questions, it is able to transform society and have wide variety of consequences.

3.Economic behaviour that we see in “modern life” would’ve been impossible without a major shift in religious and economic values. In medieval times, wealth is immoral. And so for people to change their economic behaviour, they must first embrace money.

Note on Protestantism:
Developed by John Calvin and Martin Luther, who believed everyone in the world has a “calling”. A task given by God. It’s his/her holy duty to work hard for the glory of God. Especially late Calvinists developed a sense of predestination, and unwittingly helped create capitalism.
Calvinists believed that all people are predestined to go to either heaven or hell. Since everything’s already set for you, why worry about the afterlife? Take advantage of what you have at the moment is the right way to go! Calvinists emphasized the individual’s freedom on Earth.

Such autonomy sure helped the rise of capitalism. But capitalism isn’t just about the money. Instead, it’s about renewable money. The pursuit of endlessly renewable profit. Calvinists searched for signs that they are the “elect” (i.e. heaven people). What are the signs? — that they are doing well in this world, of course!

WEBER’s thesis has been attacked on many grounds though. There may have certainly been other more important factors. e.g. rise of international commerce, invention of mechanized production, development of European nation-states, etc. So the theory’s good, but incomplete. (Kind of like what Einstein said of quantum mechanics.) Even Weber himself said so. Furthermore, the causal relationship may be reversed to an extent; capitalism also helped development of religious theories (i.e. dominant ideology). So it’s kind of like a positive feedback!

The book is a good illustration of WEBER’s approach though. Changes in one cultural element — religion — can contribute to changes in another cultural element — economy. This link is important because it shows that:

  1. social and economic development are tied to culture.
  2. every society is a complex system.
  3. culture is not static, not always a hindrance to change. As cultures change, they cushion the psychological hardships of social and economic change.
  4. religious values can change the course of world history.

The Importance of Values: The Case of Religion

Religion is not the only source of values in Canada anymore. First, it went through secularization. Second, sociologists argue over importance of religion as source of values. e.g. Marxists see source of values rising from dominant ideologies; feminists see source of values rising from “patriarchal relations”. Religion is but a mask, to these people.

But other sociologists do think religion’s important too! Some (like WEBER) say religion is any set of coherent answers to “the questions”. While others (like DURKHEIM) define religion as based upon the idea of the sacred. According to them, religion binds people together.

In both definitions (Weber ∩ Durkheim), religion includes thoughts and practices that connect people with the supernatural or the transcendent. Some think that there is “Tao” in nature. Some think of humanoids (devils, angels, etc.). etc. etc.

How does religion contribute to the way society works? We’ve talked about Weber’s point of view. Durkheim says beliefs and rituals create social bonding. (A certain cannon from a certain engineering school in a certain university comes to mind.)

Cultural Integration, Ethnocentricism, and the Mass Media

DURKHEIM says that values serve to forge social bonds. But his theory is based on small-scale, tight-knit, interrelated, traditional communities. So changes are more easily felt in these communities.

Modern communities are different. Specialization, isolation, and rapid pace prevent integration. Technology and marketplace changes culture. New goods and services change people’s lives even if they don’t square with the ideal culture.

So people have wide variation and differences between what people say they want (stated values) and what they really want. Cultural integration and ethnocentrism are also important.
Ethnocentrism: my culture’s so good, everything else is sh–.

Some would argue that cultural relativism can be taken too far. e.g. cultures that promote racism, sexism, violence cannot be condoned. Why? Because it’s 1) self-evidently inferior, 2) violating first principles of human rights. But this is another version of ethnocentrism. Whenever a conflict like this happens, we must re-examine our own rules and ask whether they are good.

Mass media is important for cultural integration. It communicates to large audiences without being personal. It started with Gutenberg. He spread literacy! (And since people can read the Bible for themselves, they don’t need the priests as much and that started the Reformation).

Explosion of information technology made cultural integration and political rebellion equally possible. e.g. “fall of communism” in 1989.

Classic studies: Theory of the Leisure Class

Thorstein Veblen addresses shift from society based on raw materials to one based on information, as well as distinction between upper and lower classes in 1899.

Critique of modem society, esp. “conspicuous consumption” of upper-class bourgeoisie. Living as though every day were a holiday. Veblen argues that symbolic nature of social prestige (e.g. fashion) encourages a wasteful, even barbaric consumption of time and goods. But this wasteful consumption serves a purpose: to reaffirm the status and power of those who can afford to live like this.

Though published in 1899, the book foreshadows the growing culture of consumption. e.g. 1920s and now. Veblen was one of the first to work on this topic, and provided foundation for many other works on consumerism. Underpins critical analysis of advertising industry and the mass media, both of which are interested in fostering conspicuous consumption.

Veblen recommends a simpler and more austere lifestyle oriented toward civic mindedness and conservation culture. He didn’t base his analysis in either Marx or Weber, which accounted for his book’s failure to attract readers or to generate follow-up research (contradiction: read paragraph above). The textbook says that Veblen failed but I disagree. Ain’t nothing wrong just trying to be yourself.

Researched the way dominant culture maintains its power and privilege. e.g. French education system — “learning of class”. Learned expertise and competent practices are the means by which social domination is transmitted or reproduced from on generation to the next. e.g. symbols and practices and styles and tastes all embody interests and function to enhance social distinctions.

Bourdieu notes that social class is distinctive because of their differing tastes. (Wow, what a French thing to do.) Cultural capital gets passed along. The dominant class defines what tastes are excellent. Differences in cultural capital mark the differences in classes. Criticized Marx for focusing too much on economics. Social and cultural symbols are more important.

Bourdieu’s theme is how cultural and social values are passed down, and the influence of socio-cultural capital. Key concepts include habitus and social field (and social agent).

Habitus: habituation gained through lifelong learning and socialization within a particular context. Can be seen as “cultural competency”. It’s something that “goes without saying”. e.g. You don’t put your elbow on the table as you eat. You don’t wear a tuxedo out the door before 6 pm. You don’t button the last button of your suit, etc.

Social field: social setting, domain, or institution within which habitus is to be exercised. e.g. politics, education, or economics. These are sites of competition where social agents struggle for power and control.

Glastra and Vedder (2010) use field to explain the experiences of asylum seekers and refugees in Netherlands. Catlaw and Hu (2009) use field to analyze construction of bureaucracy in the United States. Wright (2009) says that cricket becomes restricted to those who lack the cultural capital. Kerr and Robinson (2009) use cultural capital and habitus to look at domination in British corporation in Ukraine. Pollmann (2009) draws on habitus and cultural capital to understand how people’s attachment to their country would contribute to “intercultural capital”.

Criticisms for Bourdieu:

  1. Too much focus on high culture. (Well, he’s French, what can you do?)
  2. Is there even a class-based difference in knowledge of fine arts? (Don’t discriminate against the bourgeoisie!)
  3. Didn’t consider the full importance of social capital. (Ok, give the man a break. He invented the whole thing! I’m sure Newton didn’t consider the full importance of calculus/Newtonian mechanics).

Kim (2009) says Bourdieu is right about fields and is empirically accurate. Ignatow (2009) uses Bourdieu’s concept of habitus to develop a theory of morality.

Bourdieu’s book Distinction was named one of the 20th century’s most important sociological works by the International Sociological Association.

Cultural Variation

Unlike high culture, popular culture is fragmented. e.g. Grunge, funk, rock, pop, R&B, etc. But popular culture also reflects the influence of high culture. e.g. ads borrow from classical paintings.

Mass media and modern popular culture have developed together. But trends in high culture reflect growth of new audiences too. Middle class wants to catch up to upper class. Upper class wants to distinguish itself.
Familiarity with high culture is one form of cultural capital. Young people with more cultural capital tend to do better according to a research by DiMaggie.
(So, to schmooze up to Bill Gates, learn to play bridge first.)

Cultural capital includes a variety of skills. e.g. how to speak interestingly, what topics to discuss, how to order food and eat graciously, etc. etc.
Few people learn them in public school. You really need a wide variety of personal experiences, indulging and knowledgeable parents, devoted teachers, and time and money.

People are encouraged to conform. If they conform they can move up the social ladder, if not they slide down. People at bottom have “nothing to lose but their chains”. And so they can form countercultures. People at top gain nothing by conforming, and so they form subcultures — often equally grotesque!

For poorer people, cultural literacy is often the critical issue. Unlike cultural capital, it is a necessity. E.D. Hirsch (1988) says that schools ought to provide students with a store of cultural knowledge instead of abstract thinking skills. Implication: knowledge is more important than creativity, experience more important than “ability”. e.g. A chess grandmaster is better at identifying traditional (optimized) game strategies and responding to them.

So creativity and problem-solving abilities depend on solid knowledge.
(You know it’s true when you’ve tried to pick up object-oriented programming with nothing but self-help tutorials on the Internet.)
So before people can learn anything else, or solve any problems, they need to master a body of information.
(Sounds like something my bio prof would say.)

Cultural Change

All cultures change. e.g. fashion; baby names.

Canadian Culture

How is the Canadian society unique? American Seymour Martin Lipset (1990) says we are elitist, traditional, and collectivistic (group-focused). The difference from US results in birth of Canada in counter-revolution and compromise.

Some survey data say otherwise. A lot of times Canada and US are indistinguishable. In fact Canadians are less traditional and less elitist than Americans. e.g. medicare. (Maybe) Canadians prefer order more than liberty, and Americans vice versa.

Some say Canadian culture does not exist at all. It’s just a collection. “A tossed salad” — cultural mosaic. In reality the findings gave just about everyone some ammunition.

A Global Culture?

Yes. No. Maybe.

New Insights

Who Authors the Authors?
Agger (2001) says that cultural “texts” must be viewed with author’s social context and personal subjectivity in mind.

Let’s Roll
Arvidsson (2001) analyzes root of postmodern consumer culture. Case study of marketing strategies of Italian motor scooters called Piaggio. The company used popularity of its vehicles to create a lifestyle image to invoke a “mod subculture” (or kitsch).

A Neon God They Made
Bishop (2001) analyzed the “changing nature of professional sports logos, using semiotics and work of postmodern writers”. Before logos were worn as signs of loyalty. Now they show social rapport. In essence, sentiment has turned into material consumption.

A Place Like This
Till (2007) studied link between popular culture and religion through club music. Till says that club music actually incorporates many elements of mainstream Christian religion and spirituality. e.g. Nine-O’clock Service (NOS).

Embracing Chaos
Boggs and Pollard(2001) focused on postmodern cinema, which included “class polarization, social atomization, urban chaos and violence, etc etc etc.” Though “dark” and seemingly unmainstream, these elements are popular in today’s society.

Back Street’s Back
Critical theorists have much to say about culture. Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Walter Benjamin from the Frankfurt School critiqued modern pop culture and mass consumption. Critical theory assumes that both reality and science are socially created, so understanding culture, the social basis, is important! Today, Castro-Gomez argues that critical theory is useful for understanding culture.

One Is Whole, and Whole Is One
Modern critical theory, as informed by feminist approaches, say that cultural elements like gender, race, ethnicity, class, etc, are socially constructed and culturally bound. We can’t consider such elements without considering cultural and social, political, and historical contexts.

The End of Art?
Kirkpatrick (2007) applied critical theory on computer games. Basically what he’s saying is that the design of computer games requires art. But this art is easily reproducible (through screenshots, etc.) and so loses its uniqueness. Since computer games are recreational, they lose their purely expressive value.
(I beg to differ. Anyone who’s played Heavy Rain or Shadow of the Colossus will know what I’m talking about. Those games are real pieces of art.)

What’s Computer Games Gotta Do with This?
Rief (2008) sees computer games as another form of consumption in modern society. But he says consumption is simply a cultural and social practice, not evidence of social decay. Consumption is not psychopathology but rather is connected to different social and cultural contexts.

Some Distinctions
Goldfarb(2005) claims that modern sociology is not yet developed enough from critical theory perspective. We need to distinguish between: culture and ideology, high culture and autonomous culture, and power and knowledge. Calls for consideration of links between arts and sciences and everyday life and politics.

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