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Culture and Society What Is Culture? Culture is the ways of thinking, ways of acting, and material objects that together form a people's way of life. When studying culture, sociologists consider both thoughts and things. Nonmaterial culture consists of the ideas created by members of a society, ranging from art to Zen; material culture refers to physical things, everything from arm- chairs to zippers. The terms "culture" and "society" obviously go hand in hand, but their precise meanings differ. Culture is a shared way of life or social heritage; society refers to people who interact in a defined territory and share a culture. Neither society nor culture could exist without the other. Culture shapes not only what we do but also what we think and how we feel--elements of what we commonly but wrongly describe as "human nature." Culture is the totality of learned, socially transmitted customs, knowledge, material objects, and behavior. It includes the ideas, values, customs, and artifacts (for example, iPods, comic books, and birth control devices) of groups of people. Patriotic attachment to the flag of the United States is an aspect of culture, as is a national passion for the tango in Argentina. Culture encompasses all the values, beliefs, behavior, and material objects that together form a peoples way of life. It is the total lifestyle of a people, including all of the ideas, values, knowledge, behaviors and material objects that they share. Culture is all that human beings learn to do, to use, to know, and to believe as they grow to maturity and live out their lives in the social groups to which they belong. Culture is what we do not notice at home but would spot in a foreign context (although remember, the sociologists job is to notice these things at home, too.) Given the extent of cultural differences in the world and people's tendency to view their own way of life as "natural," it is no wonder that we often feel culture shock, personal disorientation when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life. People can experience culture shock right here in the United States when, say, African Americans shop in an Iranian neighborhood in Los Angeles, college students visit the Amish countryside in Ohio, or New Yorkers travel through small towns in the Deep South. But culture shock can be intense when we travel abroad. Elements of Culture 3 important features of culture 1.) Culture is problem solving. Cultures evolve as a way of adapting to the environment in which a people live. What these groups eat, what they consider valuable, how they live, and how they interact with one another and with outsiders is all a result of the conditions in which they live, and the problems they face on a regular basis. 2.) Culture is relative. Since a culture develops to address its own specific problems, no two societies can be evaluated using the same criteria. Each culture does the things they do for a reason, and those reasons can only be understood by understanding how and why these

cultures developed the way they did, and not by using our own expectations about the way a society should be. 3.) Culture is a social product. It is only through language that culture is developed and transmitted from one generation to another. It does not matter what culture a persons biological parents come from, it only matters how we are brought up. Culture is learned through language and interaction, it is not transmitted biologically. Symbols Symbols are anything that carries a particular meaning recognized by people who share a culture. Symbols are things that stand for and convey the meaning of other things. Almost all communication is done through symbols. Even the meanings of physical gestures such as touching or pointing are learned as a part of culture, and despite popular media representation, are not universally understood. Symbols need not share any quality at all with whatever they represent. Symbols stand for things simply because people agree that they do. The important point about the meanings of symbols is that they are entirely arbitrary, a matter of cultural convention. Each culture attaches its own meaning to things. Like all creatures, human beings sense the surrounding world, but unlike others, we also give the world meaning. Humans transform the elements of the world into symbols. A symbol is anything that carries a particular meaning recognized by people who share a culture. A word, a whistle, a wall of graffiti, a flashing red light, a raised fist--all serve as symbols. The human capacity to create and manipulate symbols is almost limitless--think of the variety of meanings associated with the simple act of winking an eye, which can convey such messages as interest, understanding, or insult. We are so dependent on our culture's symbols that we often take them for granted. We become keenly aware of the importance of a symbol, however, when it is used in an unconventional way, as when someone burns a U.S. flag during a political demonstration. Entering an unfamiliar culture also reminds us of the power of symbols; culture shock is really the inability to "read" meaning in unfamiliar surroundings. Not understanding the symbols of a culture leaves a person feeling lost and isolated, unsure of how to act, and sometimes frightened. Language The heart of a symbolic system is language, a system of symbols that allows people to communicate with one another. Language is the foundation of every culture. Language is an abstract system of word meanings and symbols for all aspects of culture. It includes speech, written characters, numerals, symbols, gestures, and expressions of nonverbal communication. Language allows much more than communication; it is the key to cultural transmission, the process by which one generation passes culture to the next. Just as our bodies contain the genes of our ancestors, our cultural heritage contains countless symbols created by those who came before us. Language is the key that unlocks centuries of accumulated wisdom.

The thumbs-up gesture is an example of nonverbal communication. Facial expressions, and other visual images are used to communicate without speaking. We are not born with these expressions. We learn them, just as we learn other forms of language, from people who share our culture. That is as true for the basic expressions of happiness and sadness as it is for more complex emotions, such as shame or distress. The symbols in a language can be strung together in infinite ways for the purpose of communicating abstract thought. Each word is actually a symbol, a sound to which we have attached a particular meaning so that we can then use it to communicate with one another. Language is a particularly important component of culture because it is through language that the other components of culturebeliefs, values, and normsare stored, communicated, and absorbed. Symbols and language also let us think about and use abstract ideas like justice, equality, and freedom. Norms Most people in the United States are eager to gossip about whos hot and whos not. Members of American Indian societies, however, typically condemn such behavior as rude and divisive. Both patterns illustrate the operation of norms, rules and expectations by which a society guides the behavior of its members. In everyday life, people respond to each other with sanctions, rewards or punishments that encourage conformity to cultural norms. All societies have ways of encouraging and enforcing what they view as appropriate behavior while discouraging and punishing what they consider to be improper behavior. Norms are the established standards of behavior maintained in a society. A peoples culture is such an ingrained part of their lives that most people take it for granted. Furthermore, its effects are frequently so subtle that people are rarely aware of how strongly or in how many areas it influences them. For example, the distance at which people feel comfortable when talking to one another is strongly influenced by culture. Most people in the US regard the area from six to eighteen inches around them as an intimate zone. The only people normally allowed within that zone are very close friends or lovers. Should a stranger invade it, they would likely feel uncomfortable. Among Arabs, however, practically all social interaction takes place within this zone. In fact, Arabs may be insulted if someone tries to converse with them from outside it. Norms are rules of conduct that guide peoples behavior in particular situations. They are the expectations that people in a society share about how they ought to think and act. They define normal expected behavior and help people achieve predictability in their lives. Norms provide a script for personal behavior, and they allow people, to some extent, to predict the behaviors of others. By doing so, they provide the order and stability necessary for a society to exist. Types of norms Mores (pronounced MOR-ays) are norms deemed highly necessary to the welfare of a society, often because they embody the most cherished principles of a people. Each society demands obedience to its mores; violations can lead to severe penalties. They are the social rules that deal with such things as murder, incest, and theft, and they are taken very seriously. Mores are strong norms that specify

normal behavior, and constitute demands, not just expectations. People who violate folkways are usually tolerated, but people who violate mores are usually punished. Not all violations of mores result in legal punishment, but all result in such informal reprisals as ostracism, shunning, or reprimand. These punishments, formal and informal, reduce the likelihood that people will violate mores. Folkways are norms governing everyday behavior. Folkways play an important role in shaping the daily behavior of members of a culture. Still, society is less likely to formalize folkways than mores, and their violation raises comparatively little concern. They are customary, popular, and widely performed, but not required. Folkways are weak norms that specify expectations about proper behavior. Folkways allow a wide degree of individual interpretation as long as certain limits are not overstepped. A key feature of folkways is that no strong feeling of right or wrong is attached to them. They are simply the way people usually do things. The proper use of silverware is an example of a folkway (which one to use, how to use it), not using it to stab someone is a more. Sanctions Sanctions are penalties and rewards for conduct concerning a social norm. Note that the concept of reward is included in this definition. Conformity to a norm can lead to positive sanctions such as a pay raise, a medal, a word of gratitude, or a pat on the back. Negative sanctions include fines, threats, imprisonment, and stares of contempt. The entire fabric of norms and sanctions in a culture reflects that cultures values and priorities. The most cherished values will be most heavily sanctioned and regulated by norms; matters regarded as less critical will carry light and informal sanctions, and less restrictive norms.

Values and Beliefs What accounts for the popularity of movie characters such as James Bond, Neo, Erin Brockovich, Lara Croft, and Rocky Balboa? Each is ruggedly individualistic, going it alone and relying on personal skill and savvy to challenge "the system." In admiring such characters, we are supporting certain values, culturally defined standards that people use to decide what is desirable, good, and beautiful and that serve as broad guidelines for social living. Values are what people who share a culture use to make choices about how to live. Values are broad principles that underlie beliefs, specific ideas that people hold to be true. In other words, values are abstract standards of goodness, and beliefs are particular matters that people accept as true or false. Cultural values are collective conceptions of what is considered good, desirable, and properor bad, undesirable, and improper. They indicate what people in a given culture prefer, as well as what they find important and morally right or wrong. Subcultures The term subculture refers to cultural patterns that set apart some segment of a society's population. People who ride "chopper" motorcycles, traditional Korean Americans, New Sometimes the distinction between high culture and popular is not so clear. Bonham's England "Yankees," Ohio State football fans,

the southern California "beach crowd," Elvis impersonators, and wilderness campers all display subcultural patterns. It is easy but often inaccurate to put people in subcultural categories because almost everyone participates in many subcultures without having much commitment to any one of them. In some cases, ethnicity and religion can be strong enough to set people apart from one another, with tragic results. A subculture is a segment of society that shares a distinctive pattern of mores, folkways, and values that differs from the pattern of the larger society. In a sense, a subculture can be thought of as a culture existing within a larger, dominant culture. In order to function, and to be distinctive from other groups, every social group must have a culture of its ownits own goals, norms, values, and ways of doing things. It is a full blown, complete culture in its own right. A subculture is a group within a culture that shares some of the same beliefs, values and norms of the larger culture but has some that are distinctly different. Examples include the Amish in Pennsylvania, the Cubans in Miami, the Gay communities in most large cities, the Hip-Hop culture, and the few remaining hippies left over from the sixties. Membership in a subculture is not simply a matter of fitting into a particular category. Instead, it is based on accepting the beliefs, values, and norms of the subculture and identifying with other members. A person can, for instance, be a prison inmate without belonging to the prison subculture or be a sports fan without belonging to a sports subculture if that person does not identify with the subculture and share its ideas. Like culture, subculture as a concept can be a moving target: Its hard to lock into one specific definition of the term. Historically, subcultures have been defined as groups united by sets of concepts, values, symbols, and shared meaning specific to the members of that group. Accordingly, they frequently are seen as vulgar or deviant and are often marginalized. Ethnocentrism Many everyday statements reflect our attitude that our culture is best. We use terms like underdeveloped, backward, and primitive to refer to other societies. What we believe is a religion; what they believe is superstition and mythology. It is tempting to evaluate the practices of other cultures from our own perspective. Sociologist William Graham Sumner (1906) coined the term ethnocentrism to refer to the tendency to assume that ones own culture and way of life represent the norm or are superior to all others. The ethnocentric person sees his or her own group as the center or defining point of culture and views all other cultures as deviations from what is normal. Ethnocentrism is a natural result of the fact that a society creates its own beliefs, values, and norms. It also promotes a sense of we-ness that holds societies together. Ethnocentrism, however, can get out of control and become destructive. Especially when one group feels threatened by another, those under threat tend to become more ethnocentric, developing increased dislike for the threatening group and establishing more social distance from them. Too often, a groups belief in its own superiority leads to racism, persecution, exploitation, and even genocide. The Nazi treatment of Jews and the treatment of Native Americans by the American government are two vivid examples.

Conflict theorists point out that ethnocentric value judgments serve to devalue groups and to deny equal opportunities. Functionalists, on the other hand, point out that ethnocentrism serves to maintain a sense of solidarity by promoting group pride. Cultural relativism While ethnocentrism is the evaluation of foreign cultures using the familiar culture of the observer as a standard of correct behavior, cultural relativism is the evaluation of a peoples behavior from the perspective of their own culture. Cultural relativism places a priority on understanding other cultures rather than dismissing them as strange or exotic. Unlike ethnocentrism, cultural relativism employs a kind of value neutrality in scientific study, which Max Weber saw as being extremely important. While cultural relativism does not suggest that we must unquestionably accept every cultural variation, it does require a serious and unbiased effort to evaluate norms, values, and customs in light of their distinctive culture.

Multiculturalism Multiculturalism is a perspective recognizing the cultural diversity of the United States and promoting equal standing for all cultural traditions. Multiculturalism represents a sharp change from the past, when U.S. society downplayed cultural diversity, defining itself in terms of its European and especially English immigrants. Today there is spirited debate about whether we should continue to focus on historical traditions or highlight contemporary diversity. Historians have reported events from the point of view of the English and others of European ancestry, paying little attention to the perspectives and accomplishments of Native Americans and people of African and Asian descent. Multiculturalists criticize this as Eurocentrism, the dominance of Euro- pean (especially English) cultural patterns. Molefi Kete Asante, a supporter of multiculturalism, argues that like "the fifteenth-century Europeans who could not cease believing that the Earth was the center of the universe, many [people] today find it difficult to cease viewing European culture as the center of the social universe" Cultural Change Perhaps the most basic human truth is that "all things shall pass." Change in one dimension of a cultural system usually sparks changes in others. For example, today's college women are far more interested in making money because women are much more likely to be in the labor force than their mothers or grandmothers were. Working for income may not change their interest in having a family, but it does increase their age at first marriage and the divorce rate. Such connections illustrate the principle of cultural integration, the close relationships among various elements of a cultural system. Some parts of a cultural system change faster than others. William Ogburn observed that technology moves quickly, generating new elements of material culture (such as test-tube babies) faster than nonmaterial culture (such as ideas about parent- hood) can keep up with them. Ogburn called this inconsistency cultural lag, the fact that some cultural elements change more quickly than others, disrupting a cultural system. In a

world in which a woman can give birth to a child by using another woman's egg, which has been fertilized in a laboratory with the sperm of a total stranger, how are we to apply traditional ideas about motherhood and fatherhood? Cultural changes are set in motion in three ways. The first is invention, the process of creating new cultural elements, such as the telephone (1876), the airplane (1903), and the computer (late 1940s), each of which changed our way of life. Discovery, a second cause of change, involves recognizing and understanding more fully something already in existence, from a distant star to the foods of another culture to women's athletic ability. Many discoveries result from painstaking scientific research, and others hap- pen by a stroke of luck, as in 1898 when Marie Curie unintentionally left a rock on a piece of photographic paper, noticed that emissions from the rock had exposed the paper, and thus discovered radium. The third cause of cultural change is diffusion, the spread of objects or ideas from one society to another. Because new technology sends information around the globe in seconds, cultural diffusion has never been greater than it is today.

End note to Culture Culture also affects us by shaping our values, our moral beliefs. The majority of us have been taught that everybody should have an equal shot at the American dream: going to college, obtaining a job, and becoming economically self-sufficient. In America, we have a very individualistic culture, meaning that we hold dear the idea that everyone should have the opportunity to advance, but we believe people should do it on their ownpull yourself up by your bootstraps, as we say. Americans hold tightly to the rags-to-riches dream of triumph over adversity, of coming from nothing and becoming a success despite hardship. The problem with this cultural trope is that, as sociologists like to point out, the larger, structural, macro-level forcesgeneral social stratification, racial segregation, sexism, differential access to health care and educationkeep the concept of equal opportunity more fiction that reality. As a culture, Americans tend to suffer a bit from historical amnesia. Our notion of equal opportunity often fails to take into account the very unequal starting positions from which people set out to achieve their goals. This will be covered in greater detail in later chapters.