CULTURE

Definitions

A.  Society: The social relations and groups formed by a given population occupying a given territory.

            Also: Social relations in general.

B.   Institutions: Social arrangements that channel behavior in prescribed ways in important areas of life.

      Also: Fairly stable, relatively unchallenged social arrangements and practices that provide frameworks for social action.

      Henslin: The organized, usual, or standard ways by which society meets its basic needs.

            (This is a bad [functionalist] definition.

      Examples: The economy, the state (government, politics), family, church (especially denominations, sects, and organizations), education, the media, patterns of gift-giving….

C.  Culture:

      1.   Edward Tylor, 1891: The complex whole that includes knowledge, belief, art, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by human beings as members of a society.

      2.   “The way of life of a people.”

      3.   Alice Reich: A symbolically encoded system of beliefs that:

            a.   Is learned (not given biologically), and

            b.   Guides and interprets behavior, but does not determine it.

      4.   Henslin, 2006: The language, beliefs, values, norms, behaviors, and even material objects that are passed from one generation to the next.

D.  Culture and institutions are the opposite sides of the coin of society.

      Institutions refer to well-established patterns of behavior.

      Culture refers to the language, ideas, beliefs, assumptions, artifacts, tools, etc., that help us to make sense of the world, and which members of a society share.

 

 

Elements of Culture

A.  Symbols: Anything that conveys a meaning other than itself.

            (Henslin): Something to which people attach meanings and then use to communicate with others.

      Any sound, gesture, odor, object, etc., the meaning of which is not contained within it.

 

      1.   Examples:

            a.   A slap in the face.

                  As a slap it is just that, a gesture, a motion.

                  But is also conveys a meaning, and as such it is symbolic.

            b.   An automobile.

                  Non-symbolically, it is a means of transportation.

                  Symbolically, it conveys various meanings, such the status and taste of its owner/ driver, dominant values of the culture, and power relationships.

            c.   Applause.

            d.   A belch.


      2.   Some implications

            a.   Symbols make possible communication about abstractions.

                  An idea, intention, fictitious story, etc. can be told and understood.

            b.   The possibility of misunderstanding:

                  1)   We can’t always “say what we mean.”

                  2)   Actions, which are not intended to convey meaning, can convey meanings anyway.

                        Running into someone in the hallway.

                        Having your fly or a button on your blouse open.

                        Having difficulties in a foreign language.

                  3)   Fortunately, there are symbols by which we define previous symbols as unintended.

                        “Excuse me,” “Pardon me.”

                        “I’m sorry.”

                        “That’s not what I meant to say/do.”

                        A grimace or other gestures.

                  4)   The possibility of misunderstanding symbols does not mean that complete under­standing cannot be achieved.

                              It usually is.

            c.   The same action or sound can convey different meanings in different contexts.

                  1)   Running.

                  2)   A slap in the face (on stage or in “real life”).

                  3)   A spoken word, e.g., bear/bare, dear/deer/dear, to/too/two.

            d.   We make sense of symbols by understanding the meaning of the symbolic context in which we receive them.

      4.   All human interaction is in some way symbolic.

            a.   All human beings interact with each other in terms of, or on the basis of, symbols.

            b.   Without symbols, we are not human (except perhaps in a moral sense).

                   No thought is possible without symbols.

            c.   We always try to interpret what we perceive—to give it a meaning.

                   This means that we constantly use symbols, even when we are alone, talking to ourselves, watching a sunset, etc.

            d.   Human beings are “meaning-seeking” beings.

 

B.   Language: A system of symbols that evokes similar meanings in different people.

      Henslin: A system of symbols that can be combined in an infinite number of ways and can represent not only objects but also abstract thought.

      1.   Language shapes our perceptions of our surroundings.

      2.   Language changes as our environment changes.

            a.   New words are added, e.g., “automation,” “blog.”

            b.   Old words assume new meanings.

      3.   Language shapes out emotions.

            a.   Without a word for an emotion, it is not an emotion.

            b.   Emotions are not just physical sensations, but meanings attached to sensations.

 


C.  Values, Norms, and Sanctions

      1.   Values: The shared standards, goals, beliefs, etc., in terms of which judgments are made.

                  The criteria used in evaluating objects, acts, feelings, or events as to their relative desirability, merit, or correctness.

            Henslin: The standards by which people define what is desirable or undesirable, good or bad, beautiful or ugly.

            Values are the basis for norms.

      2.   Norms: Rules that specify appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

                  Shared expectations about behavior.

            a.   Folkways: Relatively unimportant rules that are not severely punished when broken.

            b.   Mores: Norms thought to be essential to basic values or societal well being, the violation of which usually brings severe punishment.

            c.   Laws: Norms officially encoded by a state and backed by officials endorsed by the state.

      3.   Sanctions: Rewards and punishments used to elicit compliance (conformity) with norms.

            Henslin: expressions of approval or disapproval … for upholding or violating norms.

            a.   Sanctions can be positive or negative.

            b.   Sanctions can be formal or informal.

                  Informal: approving or disapproving glances; teasing; gossiping; expressions of approval or derision; pat on the back, smile, applause, boos.

                  Formal: Detention, imprisonment, execution; presentation of an award.

            c.   Ostracism can be formal (shunning, Meidung), but it is usually informal.

      4.   Some implications

            a.   Not everyone in a society, especially a complex society, has the same values.

                  1)   Values vary according to peer groups, subcultures, reference groups (especially religious and occupational groups), regions, etc.

                  2)   Values often involve complex combinations of beliefs and standards, creating many possibilities for divergence even within a small group.

            b.   People may hold self-contradictory values, making it difficult to act consistently.

                  Weber: It’s impossible for a good Christian to be a capitalist.

                        He quotes John Wesley on this point.

            c.   Values and norms do not determine behavior, but merely guide it.

                  1)   Not everyone agrees with prevailing norms.

                  2)   Not everyone acts according to the norms even if she/he agrees with them.

                        This is a primary source of guilt and shame.

 

D.  Status and Role

      1.   Diagram (maybe).

      2.   Status: Socially defined position in a social organization.

            Henslin: Social ranking; the position that someone occupies in society or a social group.

      3.   Role: The behavioral expectations and requirements attached to a status.

            Roles are norms attached to a status.

      4.   Roles are reciprocal: they imply rights (privileged) and obligations.

      5.   Roles shape consciousness and identity.

            Refer to G.H. Mead’s theory of socialization.

 

E.   Other elements of culture

      1.   Technology

            a.   Material technology: how to make and use things.

            b.   Social technology: how to establish, maintain, and operate specialized units of social organization; i.e., skills.

                  For example, how to run a city or university, how to study, how to fill in forms of all kinds.

      2.   Ideology: “Beliefs about the way things [are or] ought to be that justify social arrangements” (Henslin) or programs for social change.

 

Additional characteristics and implications of culture

A.  Selectivity

      1.   Culture is a way of standardizing the choices available to us, or of prohibiting alternatives from being considered at all.

      2.   Alice Reich: As humans we have seemingly unlimited ways of organizing social life, and yet in order to become human we must learn one way fairly thoroughly.

B.   Culture as enabler

      1.   Culture not only limits (constrains) behavior and thought; it is the source of opportunity, invention, creativity, and empowerment.

      2.   New ideas and technologies are built on the shoulders of the thinking and creativity of previous generations.

      3.   Discuss “discipline” and “conformity.”

C.  Universals, alternatives, and specialties

      1.   Universals: Some things are known to all adult members of society.

      2.   Alternatives: There are usually several different ways of achieving the same thing.

      3.   Specialties: Not all aspects of a culture are known to all members.

            That is why we have schools, professional training, occupational skills, etc.

D.  Basic cultural assumptions are so taken for granted that they normally do not enter consciousness.

      E.g., are there only two sexes/genders?  Do we ever forget to put on clothes in the morning?

E.   Subcultures and counter cultures (Henslin, 43-45).

F.   Reference groups: Groups we use as standards by which to evaluate ourselves (Henslin, 112).

      Usually, they are groups to which we belong or would like to belong.