Chapter 3. Culture

Chapter 3 Resources and Activites

Key Terms

androcentrism: A perspective in which male concerns, male attitudes, and male practices are presented as “normal” or define what is significant and valued in a culture.

beliefs: Tenets or convictions that people hold to be true.

binary opposition: A set of paired terms, considered as mutually exclusive and logical opposites, which structure a whole set or system of associated meanings.

breaching experiment: An experiment in which researchers purposely break a commonly accepted social norm or behave in a socially awkward manner to examine people’s reactions.

code: A set of cultural conventions, instructions, or rules used to combine symbols to communicate or interpret meaning.

commodity: An object, service, or good that has been produced for sale on the market.

commodity fetishism: Regarding commodities as objects with inherent qualities independent of their human creators and the social context of their production.

commodification: The process through which objects, services, or goods are turned into commodities.

consumerism: The tendency for people to define themselves in terms of the commodities they purchase.

counterculture: A group that rejects and opposes society’s widely accepted cultural patterns.

cultural imperialism: The deliberate imposition of one’s own cultural values on another culture.

cultural relativism: The practice of assessing beliefs or practices within a culture by its own standards.

cultural universals: Patterns or traits that are common to all societies.

culture: Shared beliefs, values, and practices in a whole way of life.

culture shock: An experience of personal disorientation when confronted with an unfamiliar way of life.

cultural practice: A way of doing things that expresses the customs and know-how of a particular culture.

detournement: The conscious subversion of messages, signs, and symbols by altering them slightly.

diaspora: The dispersion of a people from their original homeland.

diffusion: The spread of material and nonmaterial culture from one culture to another.

ethnocentrism: Evaluating another culture according to the standards of one’s own culture.

ethnomethodology: The study of tacit knowledges, methods and practical procedures people use to make sense of and orient action in everyday life.

folkways: Norms without any particular moral underpinnings.

formal norms: Established, written rules.

geneticism: A form of biological determinism that suggests the qualities of human life are caused by genes.

globalization: The process by which a global dimension of social relations emerges and spreads.

high culture: Forms of cultural experience characterized by formal complexity, eternal values, or creative authenticity.

hybridity: New forms of culture that arise from cross-cultural exchange and cultural blending.

informal norms: Rules of behaviour that are generally and widely followed but not codified in law or institutional policy.

iron cage: Max Weber’s metaphor for the modern condition of life circumscribed by the demand for maximum efficiency.

language: A symbolic system of communication.

modernity: The culture of constant change and transformation associated with the rise of capitalism.

mores: Norms based on social requirements which are based on the moral views and principles of a group.

new eugenics movement: Promotion of making new reproductive technologies and human genetic engineering available to consumers to enhance human characteristics and capacities.

norms: Rules of behaviour or conduct.

popular culture: Cultural experiences, practices and products that are widely circulated, produced by or well-liked by “the people.”

postmodern culture: Forms of contemporary culture characterized by a playful mixture of forms, pluralism, and the breakdown of centralized, modern culture.

Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: The idea that people understand the world based on their form of language.

sanctions: A way to authorize or formally disapprove of certain behaviours.

social control: A way to encourage conformity to cultural norms.

social facts: The external laws, morals, values, religious beliefs, customs, fashions, rituals, and cultural rules that govern social life.

society: The structures of a social group of people who interact within a definable territory and who share a culture.

socioeconomic formation: The concrete set of social structures that form around a specific mode of production or economic system.

structuralism: The study of deep unconscious rules or codes that govern cultural activities and constrain possibilities in different domains of social life.

subculture: A group that shares a specific identity apart from a parent culture, even as the members hold features in common with the parent culture.

symbol: Gesture, object, or component of language that represents a meaning recognized by people who share a culture.

taboos: Strong prohibitions based on deeply held sacred or moral beliefs.

values: A culture’s standard for discerning desirable states in society.

Section Summary

3.1 What Is Culture?
Though “society” and “culture” are often used interchangeably, they have different meanings. A society is a group of people sharing a community and culture, whereas culture generally describes the shared practices and beliefs of these people as a whole way of life. Culture exists in human societies because humans lack the biological programming of other species. The combined diversity of cultural practices and knowledges in the world is referred to as the ethnosphere. Experience of cultural difference is influenced by colonialism, ethnocentrism, androcentrism, and cultural relativism.

3.2 Elements of Culture
A culture consists of many elements, including the values, beliefs, norms, and practices of its society. Norms can be categorized into laws, taboos, mores, folkways. The symbols and language of a society are social facts that exist independently of individuals. They are key to developing and conveying culture.

3.3 Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change
Sociologists recognize a division between high culture and popular culture within societies, although this division tends to break down in postmodernity. Societies also comprise many subcultures — smaller groups that share an identity. Countercultures are subcultures which reject mainstream values and create their own cultural rules and norms.

3.4 Culture as Restriction: Rationalization and Commodification

Culture can be both innovative and restrictive. High culture, pop culture, subculture, and the globalization of culture are examples of how culture is innovative. Rationalization and commodification are examples of how culture can be restrictive.

3.5 Theoretical Perspectives on Culture
Three major theoretical approaches toward the interpretation of culture include structural functionalism, symbolic interactionism, and critical sociology. Functionalists view cultural processes in terms of the function they perform in reproducing shared values, norms and meanings. Symbolic interactionists are primarily interested in the ways symbols acquire meanings in say to day interactions. Critical sociologists examine the ways in which culture expresses inequalities and power relationships in societies based on factors like gender, class, race, and age. Debate between sociologists who seek to explain or interpret various cultural occurrences often returns to these foundational views in the discipline.

Questions

Quiz: Culture

3.1 What Is Culture?

  1. The terms                  and                  are often used interchangeably, but have nuances that differentiate them.
    1. Ethnocentrism and cultural relativism
    2. Culture and society
    3. Innovation and restriction
    4. Hybridity and subculture
  2. The Canadian flag is a material object that represents Canada; however, there are certain connotations that many associate with the flag, like patriotism and democracy. In this example, what is the flag?
    1. A symbol
    2. An element of language
    3. A deep structure
    4. A commodity
  3. The belief that one’s culture is the standard used to assess another culture is called?
    1. Universalism
    2. Cultural relativism
    3. Ethnocentrism
    4. Xenocentrism
  4. Rodney and Elise are students studying abroad in Italy. When they are introduced to their host families, the families kiss them on both cheeks. When Rodney’s host brother introduces himself and kisses Rodney on both cheeks, Rodney pulls back in surprise. Where he is from, unless they are romantically involved, men do not kiss one another. This is an example of                 .
    1. Culture shock.
    2. Homophobia.
    3. Cultural relativism.
    4. Xenophilia.
  5. Most cultures have been found to identify laughter as a sign of humour, joy, or pleasure. Likewise, most cultures recognize music in some form. Music and laughter are examples of                 .
    1. Cultural relativism.
    2. Biological determinism.
    3. Cultural practices.
    4. Cultural universals.

3.2 Elements of Culture

  1. Not bargaining for a better price in a shopping mall is a                         .
    1. Folkway.
    2. Breaching experiment.
    3. Belief.
    4. Value.
  2. The existence of social norms, both formal and informal, is one of the main things that inform                         , otherwise known as a way to encourage social conformity.
    1. Values
    2. Sanctions
    3. Social control
    4. Mores
  3. The biggest difference between mores and folkways is that                         .
    1. Mores are primarily linked to morality, whereas folkways are more informal cultural patterns.
    2. Mores are permanent, whereas folkways are temporary.
    3. Mores refer to acts that are absolutely forbidden, whereas folkways refer to unspoken or tacit agreements.
    4. Mores refer to eating eels, whereas folkways refer to traditional dance patterns.
  4. The notion that people cannot feel or experience something that they do not have a word for can be explained by                         .
    1. Structuralism.
    2. Sapir-Whorf.
    3. Biological programming.
    4. Cultural frames.
  5. Cultural sanctions can also be viewed as ways that society                         .
    1. Praises accomplishments.
    2. Codifies language.
    3. Regulates behaviour.
    4. Determines laws.

3.3 Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change

  1. An example of high culture is                         , whereas an example of popular culture would be                         .
    1. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment; American Idol winners.
    2. Medical marijuana; Catholic liturgy.
    3. Folk music; hip hop music.
    4. Postmodernism; modernism.
  2. The Ku Klux Klan is an example of what part of culture?
    1. Counterculture
    2. Ethnicity
    3. Post-multiculturalism
    4. Postmodernity
  3. Modern-day hipsters are an example of                         .
    1. Ethnocentricity.
    2. Counterculture.
    3. Subculture.
    4. High culture.
  4. Bhangra was originally a type of traditional folk dance in Punjab. In contemporary Canada it would be seen as an example of                         .
    1. A folk culture.
    2. A subculture.
    3. Hybridity.
    4. All of the above.
  5. Some jobs today advertise in multinational markets and permit telecommuting in lieu of working from a primary location. This broadening of the job market and the way that jobs are performed can be attributed to                         .
    1. Cultural lag.
    2. Innovation.
    3. Discovery.
    4. Globalization.
  6. That people follow Indian cricket in almost every country around the world is an example of                         .
    1. Technoscapes.
    2. Mediascapes.
    3. Financescapes.
    4. Ideoscapes.

3.4 Culture as Restriction: Rationalization and Commodification

  1. A major difference between rationalization and consumerism is                         .
    1. Rationalization is based on technology, whereas consumerism is based on efficiency.
    2. Rationalization produces stress, whereas consumerism produces identity.
    3. Rationalization refers to the perception of underlying forms, whereas consumerism refers to the perception of fashionability.
    4. Rationalization is typically used to explain away lapses in behaviour, whereas consumerism is a lapse of behaviour.

3.5 Theoretical Perspectives on Culture

  1. A sociologist conducts research into the ways that Indigenous cultures were suppressed under colonial rule. What theoretical approach is the sociologist probably using?
    1. Symbolic interactionism
    2. Functionalism
    3. Critical sociology
    4. Ethnomethodology
  2. The office culture in a downtown office building is cold and formal, whereas the office culture in a suburban office complex is much more informal and personable. A sociologist who studies the difference between the cultures of these two settings would most likely use what theoretical approach?
    1. Symbolic interactionism
    2. Breaching experiments
    3. Structural functionalism
    4. Ethnomethodology
  3. What theoretical perspective views the role of culture in society as “latent pattern maintenance”?
    1. Sociobiology
    2. Functionalism
    3. Conflict theory
    4. Structuralism
  4. Malinowski’s analysis of the importance of magic rituals among Trobriand Islander fishermen was based on which theoretical paradigm?
    1. Ethical relativism
    2. Functionalism
    3. Spiritualism
    4. Ethnocentrism

[Quiz answers at end of chapter]

Short Answer

3. What Is Culture?

  1. Consider your eating patterns. Identify the elements which you would consider cultural. How do they compare with eating patterns from someone from another culture?
  2. Do you feel that attitudes of ethnocentricity or multiculturalism are more prevalent in Canadian culture? Why do you believe this? What issues or events inform your opinion?

3.2 Elements of Culture

  1. What do you think of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? Do you agree or disagree with it? Are there elements of experience which are non-linguistic?
  2. Why do you think Garfinkel’s breaching experiments were upsetting for people, even if the norms that were violated were relatively trivial? What is the role of unspoken or tacit norms in everyday life do you think?

3.3 Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change

  1. Identify several examples of popular culture and describe how they inform the larger culture. How central are these examples in your everyday life?
  2. Consider some of the specific issues or concerns of your generation. Are any ideas countercultural? What subcultures have emerged from your generation? How have the issues of your generation expressed themselves culturally? How has your generation made its mark on society’s collective culture?
  3. What are some examples of cultural diffusion that are present in your life? Do you think they are positive or negative? Explain.

3.4 Culture as Restriction: Rationalization and Commodification

  1. Contrast the issues involved in the “rationalization” of culture and “consumerism” and apply the sociological imagination (see Chapter 1). Which issue seems more significant in your personal life? Which issue seems more significant in Western society or global culture as a whole?

3.5 Theoretical Perspectives on Culture

  1. Consider a social issue that you have witnessed in Canadian society, perhaps situated around family, politics, health practices, or Indigenous culture. Can you identify cultural differences that inform the issue? For example, consider different interpretations of public health measures during the Covid-19 pandemic. Do the responses represent differences in culture? Choose a sociological approach—functionalism, critical sociology, or symbolic interactionism—to describe, explain, and analyze the social issue you choose. Which paradigm is the best for illuminating the social issue?

Further Research

3.1 What Is Culture?

Getting your genome mapped is becoming increasingly popular. But why? What do people hope to understand about themselves this way? From CBC’s How to Think about Science – Part 15, listen to Barbara Duden and Silya Samerski discuss the “pop gene” and other aspects of the turn to genetics in popular understandings of self and society.

3.2 Elements of Culture
The science-fiction novel, Babel-17, by Samuel R. Delaney was based upon the principles of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Read an excerpt from Babel-17.

3.3 Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change
The Beats were a counterculture that birthed an entire movement of art, music, and literature—much of which is still highly regarded and studied today. The author responsible for naming the generation was Jack Kerouac; however, the man responsible for introducing the world to that generation was John Clellon Holmes, a writer and friend of Kerouac’s. In 1952, he penned an article for the New York Times Magazine titled “This Is the Beat Generation”. Read that article and learn more about the Beat subculture.

Popular culture meets counterculture as Oprah Winfrey interacts with members of the Yearning for Zion cult.

3.4 Culture as Restriction: Rationalization and Commodification

Review the history of consumerism in this School of Life video: History of ideas – Consumerism

Max Weber’s concept of rationalization was based on the observation that modern society differed from traditional society in its integration of rationality into social organization and everyday life, specifically with respect to calculability, methodical behaviour and reflexivity. See this Crash Course video summary: Max Weber & Modernity: Crash Course Sociology #9

References

3.0 Introduction to Culture

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3.1. What Is Culture?

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3.2. Elements of Culture

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3.3. Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change

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Solutions to Quiz: Culture

1 B, | 2 D, | 3 C, | 4 A, | 5 D, | 6 A, | 7 C, | 8 A, | 9 B, | 10 C, | 11 A, | 12 A, | 13 C, | 14 D, | 15 D, | 16 B, | 17 B, | 18 C, | 19 A, | 20 B, | 21 C, [Return to Quiz]

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Introduction to Sociology – 3rd Canadian Edition by William Little is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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