Ch. 2: Culture
• Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values,
attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations,
concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of
people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.
Theory of Cultural Determinism
• The notion that the ideas, meanings, beliefs, and values that people learn as members of
society are what determine human nature.
• In other words, people are what they learn.
• Optimistic versions of cultural determinism place no limits on the abilities of human
beings to do or to be whatever they want.
• Most anthropologists suggest that there is no universal "right way" of being human.
"Right way" is almost always "our way"—“our way" in one society almost never
corresponds to "our way" in any other society.
• Proper attitude of an informed human being could only be that of tolerance.
• The pessimistic version of cultural determinism maintains that people are what they are
conditioned to be, something over which they have no control—i.e., human beings are
passive creatures and do whatever their culture tells them to do.
• This explanation leads to behaviorism* that locates the causes of human behavior in a
realm that is totally beyond human control.
* (Behaviorism is a learning theory that only focuses on objectively observable behaviors and discounts any
independent activities of the mind. Behavior theorists define learning as nothing more than the acquisition of new
behavior based on environmental conditions.)
• Different cultural groups think, feel, and act differently. There are no scientific standards
for considering one group as intrinsically superior or inferior to another.
• Studying differences in culture among groups and societies presupposes a position of
cultural relativism. It does not imply normalcy for oneself, nor for one's society.
• It is important to try to understand other cultures on their own merits.
• Look at how the pieces of the culture fit together without judging the elements as
superior or inferior to your own.
• A condition of disorientation affecting someone who is suddenly exposed to an
unfamiliar culture or way of life or set of attitudes.
• Ethnocentrism is the belief that one's own culture is superior to that of other cultures.
• It is a form of reductionism that reduces the "other way" of life to a distorted version of
• Positive: Creates bond with one’s own culture.
• Negative: Can cause discrimination against those from other cultures.
Material and Non‐Material Culture
Sociologists describe two interrelated aspects of human culture: the physical objects of
the culture and the ideas associated with these objects.
• Refers to the physical objects, resources, and spaces that people use to define their culture
• Includes homes, neighborhoods, cities, schools, churches, synagogues, temples, mosques,
offices, factories and plants, tools, means of production, goods and products, stores, etc.
• Help to define its members' behaviors and perceptions
• For example, American students must learn to use computers to survive in college and
business, in contrast to young adults in the Yanomamo society in the Amazon who must
learn to build weapons and hunt
• Refers to the nonphysical ideas that people have about their culture, including beliefs,
values, rules, norms, morals, language, organizations, and institutions
• For instance, the non-material cultural concept of religion consists of a set of ideas and
beliefs about God, worship, morals, and ethics; these beliefs, then, determine how the
culture responds to its religious topics, issues, and events.
• When considering non-material culture, sociologists refer to several processes that a
culture uses to shape its members' thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Four of the most
important of these are: symbols, language, values, and norms.
*Culture becomes the lens through which we perceive and evaluate what is going on around
• Motion of hands or body to emphasize or help to express a thought or feeling
• Allows culture to exist
• Symbols that can be combined in an infinite number of ways for the purpose of
communicating abstract thought
• Allow human experience to be cumulative—we can pass ideas, knowledge, and attitudes
onto next generations
• Allows us to have a common, shared past
• Provides a common, social future
• Provides a shared perspective
• Allows for shared, goal-oriented behavior
• What makes us different from animals: Allows culture to develop over generations
Standards of Beauty
• Vary greatly from one culture to another
• See pg. 41
• Due to ethnocentrism, each culture believes that their beauty ideal is the best
Cultural Diversity in the U.S.
Hot topic today!
• “Learn to speak English!”
• Many see it as a sign of respect
• Some immigrants see it as being forced to give up their heritage
• Should we embrace our diversity, or work more toward a homogenous country?
Values, Norms, and Sanctions
• A concept that describes the beliefs of an individual or culture.
• A set of values may be placed into the notion of a value system.
• Values are considered subjective and vary across people and cultures.
• Types of values include ethical/moral values, doctrinal/ideological (political, religious)
values, social values, and aesthetic values.
• It is debated whether some values are innate.
• The rules of behavior that are part of the ideology of the group.
• Norms tend to reflect the values of the group and specify those actions that are proper and
those that are inappropriate, as well as rewards for adherence and the punishment for
• The reactions people receive in society for following or breaking norms
• Sanctions can be positive (approval for following a norm), such as a trophy, prize,
money, a raise, a bonus, a smile, a hug, high five, etc.
• Or they can be negative (disapproval for breaking a norm), such as being fired, receiving
a ticket, fine or jail time, a dirty look, or the middle finger.
Folkways and Mores
• The patterns of conventional behavior in a society
• Unquestioned conventions and habits learned from childhood
• Conformity to folkways is insured by gentle social pressure and imitation.
• Similar to folkways, but more strictly enforced
• Folkways that are considered conducive to the welfare of society and so, through general
observance, develop the force of law, often becoming part of the formal legal code
• Pronounces more-ays
• A strong social prohibition relating to any area of human activity or social custom
declared as sacred and forbidden; breaking of the taboo is usually considered
objectionable or abhorrent by society
• Incest, sex with minors, bestiality, etc.
• Sub- means under
• Identifiably separate social groups within a larger culture, especially those regarded as
existing outside mainstream society.
• These groups can have their own beliefs, norms and values, but they are generally able to
exist within mainstream culture.
• Members of subcultures’ political beliefs may not be as outspoken as those of a counter
culture. Their beliefs or manner of being may be different enough to make them stand
out, but they are not at odds with society.
• Examples: Goths, emos, surfers, skateboarders, stoners, gangstas, etc.
• Counter- means against
• Members of countercultures have ideas and ways of behaving that are consciously and
deliberately very different from the cultural values of the larger society in which they
• Countercultures work directly against the mainstream culture in place to cause societal
• Examples: Suffrage, feminist, hippie, and punk movements. All of these counter cultures
had specific beliefs and values that fought to affect some kind of essential change to
• The U.S. is a pluralistic society, meaning we are made up many different groups. Despite
our diversity, there tend to be certain underlying core values that Americans share:
1. Achievement and success
3. Hard work
4. Efficiency and practicality
5. Science and technology
6. Material comfort
10. Group superiority
13. Romantic love
• Some of these values work together naturally in a cluster (hard work, education, and
• Some of these values seem to contradict one another (group superiority, democracy, and
• A value cluster of four emerging interrelated core values is now emerging in the U.S.:
3. Physical fitness
5. Concern for the environment
Be aware of the ways in which cultures can clash, how our values distort the way in which we
see other cultures, and “ideal” vs. “real” culture. (p. 53)
Technology & the Global Village
• Technology is core to a society’s material culture
• It is a tool, as are the skills and procedures needed to make it work
• New Technology: Technological development that has a large impact on human life
• Understand the impact of technology on society
Cultural Lag & Cultural Change
• A slower rate of change in one part of a culture or one society compared with another
• Not all parts of society change at the same time; when one part changes, other parts lag
• In some cases, certain parts may never catch up (see school/farming example in text, p.
Technology and Cultural Diffusion & Leveling
• Cultural diffusion is the spreading of ideas or products from one culture to another.
• As cultures become exposed to one another, they learn from each other.
• Over time, however, each culture becomes “watered down,” so to speak.
• Globally, cultures become similar to one another as a result of travel and communication.
• Example: One can find a McDonalds just about anywhere in the world.
Understand how technology impacts cultural diffusion and leveling.
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