Chapter 3. CultureFigure 3.1. Graffiti’s mix that colourful drawings, words, and also symbols is a vivid expression of culture—or, depending on one’s viewpoint, a psychic expression of the creator’s lack of respect because that a community’s shared space. (Photo courtesy that aikijuanma/Flickr)

Learning Objectives

3.1. What Is Culture?

Differentiate between society and society.Distinguish in between biological and social explanations of human being behaviour.Compare and contrast cultural universalism, cultural relativism, ethnocentrism, and androcentrism.Examine the plan of multiculturalism as a equipment to the trouble of diversity.

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3.2. Aspects of Culture

Understand the straightforward elements the culture: values, beliefs, and norms.Explain the significance of symbols and language to a culture.Describe the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.Distinguish material and nonmaterial culture.

3.3. Society as Innovation: pop Culture, Subculture, and global Culture

Distinguish two settings of culture: innovation and restriction.Discuss the difference between high culture, popular music culture, and postmodern culture.Differentiate between subculture and counterculture.Understand the function of globalization in cultural change and also local live experience.

3.4. Culture as Restriction: Rationalization and Commodification

Describe society as a kind of limit on social life.Explain the implications of rationalization and consumerism.

3.5. Theoretical Perspectives ~ above Culture

Discuss the major theoretical approaches to social interpretation.

Introduction to Culture

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Figure 3.2. Rapid food nation. (Photo courtesy of Jon Bunting/Flickr)

Are there rules because that eating at McDonald’s? Generally, we execute not think around rules in a rapid food restaurant because they are designed to be casual, quick, and convenient. However if you look roughly one on a common weekday, you will see human being acting as if they were trained because that the function of quick food customer. They was standing in line, choose their items from overhead menus before they order, swipe debit cards come pay, and also stand come one next to collect trays the food. After a rapid meal, customers wad increase their paper wrappers and also toss them right into garbage cans. This is a food mechanism that has become highly rationalized in Max Weber’s terms. Customers’ movement through this fast food routine is orderly and predictable, even if no rules room posted and also no officials straight the process.

If you want much more insight into these unwritten rules, think about what would occur if friend behaved follow to some various other standards. (You would certainly be law what sociologists speak to a “breaching experiment” in ethnomethodology: intentionally disrupting social standards in order come learn around them.) for example: speak to ahead for reservations; ask the cashier detailed questions around the food’s ingredient or just how it is prepared; barter end the price that the burgers; asking to have actually your meal offered to girlfriend at your table; or throw her trash top top the ground together you leave. Possibilities are you will certainly elicit hostile responses from the restaurant employees and also your other customers. Although the rules room not written down, friend will have actually violated deep seated tacit standards that administrate behaviour in fast food restaurants.

This example reflects a more comprehensive theme in the culture of food and diet. What are the rules that govern what, when, and how us eat? Michael Pollan (b. 1955), for example, contrasts the phibìc American society of fast food with the intact traditions of eating sit-down, family members meals that still conquer in France and also other europe nations (2006). Despite eating foods that numerous North americans think of together unhealthy — butter, wheat, triple-cream cheese, foie gras, wine, etc. — the French, as a whole, remain healthier and also thinner than North Americans.


The French eat every sorts that supposedly unhealthy foods, yet they execute it follow to a strict and also stable collection of rules: they eat tiny portions and also don’t go back for seconds; castle don’t snack; they seldom eat alone; and communal meals room long, leisurely affairs. (Pollan, 2006)

Their cultural rules fix and constrain what people consider together food and how civilization consume food. The national cuisine and also eating actions of France are well established, oriented come pleasure and also tradition, and also as Pollan argues, well incorporated into French cultural life as a whole.

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Figure 3.3. French dessert that raspberry crème brulee. Does a nation’s cuisine represent a rule-bound tradition, an innovative and inventive art, or both? (Photo courtesy the Йоана Петрова/Flickr)

In north America, ~ above the other hand, quick food is just the tip of an iceberg with respect come a larger dilemm of diet in which boosting levels the obesity and also eating disorders space coupled with an increasing profusion of wellness diets, weight reducing diets, and food fads. While an alarming variety of North American meals are consumed in cars (19 percent, according to Pollan), the counter-trend is the obsession v nutritional science. Rather of one orientation to food based on social tradition and also pleasure, people are oriented to food in terms of its biochemical ingredient (calories, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, omega fatty acids, saturated and also unsaturated fats, etc.). There room Atkins diets, zone diets, Mediterranean diets, paleolithic diets, vegetable diets, gluten cost-free diets, load Watchers diets, life food diets, etc.; an limitless proliferation the Pollan attributes to a fundamental anxiety that North americans have about food and also health. While each form of diet claims scientific evidence to support its health and other claims, evidence which is disturbingly contradictory, basically the choice of diet revolves approximately the cultural meanings attributed to food and also its nutritional components:


that taste is not a true guide to what should be eaten; the one have to not just eat what one enjoys; the the important contents of food can not be watched or tasted, however are discernible only in scientific laboratories; and also that experimental science has developed rules the nutrition that will avoid illness and also encourage longevity. (Levenstein together cited in Pollan, 2006)

It is necessary to keep in mind that food society and diet room not infinitely malleable, however. There is one underlying biological reality of nutrition that specifies the parameters of dietary choice. In his documentary Super dimension Me (2004), Morgan Spurlock conducted a version of the sociological participant observation study by committing himself to eating just McDonald’s food because that 30 days. As a result, he acquired 24 pounds, increased his cholesterol and fat buildup in his liver, and also experienced the atmosphere swings and also sexual dysfunction. The is clear that one cannot survive on fast food alone; although many teens and college students have actually been recognized to try.

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Figure 3.4. Kentucky Fried Chicken immediate mashed potato, 1974. (Photo courtesy that Roadsidepictures/Flickr)

Sociologists would certainly argue, therefore, that everything about fast food restaurants, selection of diet, and also habits that food intake reflects culture, the beliefs and behaviours the a social team shares. Diet is a product that culture. That is a product the the different interpretations we attribute come food and to the connection we have actually with our bodies. The far-ranging point is the while diet is a solution to the basic conditions of organic life, diet is also a tremendous site of innovation and also diversity. Society in general is a site of two opposing tendencies: one is the means that cultures roughly the civilization lay under sets of rules or norms which constrain, restrict, habitualize, and fix develops of life; the other is the way that cultures create endlessly innovative and diverse services to troubles like nutrition. Cultures both constrain and continually go beyond constraints.

This raises the difference between the terms “culture” and “society” and also how sociologists conceptualize the relationship in between them. In day-to-day conversation, civilization rarely distinguish in between these terms, but they have actually slightly various meanings, and the difference is essential to exactly how sociologists examine culture. If culture describes the beliefs, artifacts, and also ways the life the a social team shares, a society is a group that interacts in ~ a common bounded territory or region. To clarify, a culture represents the beliefs, practices, and also material artifacts of a group, while a culture represents the society structures, processes, and organization of the people who share those beliefs, practices, and also material artifacts. Neither society nor society could exist there is no the other, however we can separate them analytically.

In this chapter, we research the connection between culture and culture in greater detail, paying one-of-a-kind attention to the elements and forces that form culture, including diversity and social changes. A final discussion touches top top the various theoretical perspectives indigenous which sociologists research culture.

3.1. What Is Culture?

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Figure 3.5. What is culture? (Image courtesy of chris Jones/Flickr)

Humans space social creatures. Due to the fact that the dawn of Homo sapiens, virtually 200,000 years ago, human being have grouped with each other into communities in order come survive. Living together, people emerged forms of participation which created the common habits, behaviours, and also ways of life known as society — from specific methods of childrearing to preferred techniques because that obtaining food. Peter Berger (b. 1929) suggested that this is the result of a an essential human predicament (1967). Unlike various other animals, humans lack the organic programming come live on their own. They require an extended period of exposed in order to make it through in the environment. The development of culture makes this feasible by giving a security shield versus the harsh impositions that nature. Culture provides the continuous stability that enables human existence. This means, however, the the human atmosphere is not nature per se but culture itself.

Over the background of humanity, this has lead come an tremendous diversity in how humans have imagined and lived life top top Earth, the sum full of which wade Davis (b. 1953) has referred to as the ethnosphere. The ethnosphere is the whole of all cultures’ “ways of thinking, methods of being, and also ways that orienting oneself top top the Earth” (Davis, 2007). It is our collective social heritage together a species. A solitary culture, as the sphere of definitions shared by a solitary social group, is the way by which that team makes sense of the world and also of each other. But there are countless cultures and also many methods of making sense of the world. Through a multiplicity of social inventions, person societies have adapted to the environmental and also biological problems of human existence in plenty of different ways. What execute we find out from this?

Firstly, almost every human behaviour, from shopping to marital relationship to expression of feelings, is learned. In Canada, human being tend to view marriage as a an option between two people based on mutual feeling of love. In various other nations and also in other times, marriages have actually been arranged through an intricate process of interviews and also negotiations between entire families, or in various other cases, through a direct system such as a mail-order bride. To someone increased in Winnipeg, the marriage customizeds of a family members from Nigeria may seem strange or even wrong. Conversely, who from a timeless Kolkata family might be perplexed with the idea of romantic love together the structure for the lifelong appointment of marriage. In other words, the way in which people view marital relationship depends largely on what they have been taught. Being familiar with this written and also unwritten rules of society helps world feel secure and “normal.” Most people want to live their everyday lives confident that their behaviours will not be challenged or disrupted. Behaviour based upon learned personalizeds is, therefore, not a negative thing, but it go raise the trouble of how to answers to cultural differences.

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Figure 3.6. The social norms administer public transport vary in Canada, Austria, Mumbai, and also Tokyo. Just how would a visitor indigenous a rural Canadian town act and also feel top top this overfilled Tokyo train? (Photo courtesy the simonglucas/Flickr)

Secondly, society is innovative. The presence of different social practices discover the method in which cultures find different solutions to actual life problems. The different forms of marital relationship are various solutions come a usual problem, the problem of organizing households in order to raise children and also reproduce the species. The basic problem is mutual by the different societies, yet the remedies are different. This illustrates the allude that society in general is a means of resolving problems. It is a device composed of the volume to abstract and also conceptualize, come cooperate and also coordinate complex collective endeavours, and also to modify and construct the people to suit human being purposes. It is the repository of creative solutions, techniques, and technologies humans attract on when confronting the simple shared difficulties of human being existence. Culture is, therefore, an essential to the means humans, as a species, have actually successfully adjusted to the environment. The existence of different societies refers to the different method by which human beings use innovation to cost-free themselves from biological and also environmental constraints.

Thirdly, culture is likewise restraining. Societies retain your distinctive patterns through time. In an international capitalism, back Canadian culture, French culture, Malaysian culture and Kazakhstani culture will share details features favor rationalization and also commodification, they likewise differ in regards to languages, beliefs, diet practices, and also other ways of life. Lock adapt and respond to capitalism in distinctive manners according to their certain shared heritages. Local social forms have actually the capacity to restrain the transforms produced through globalization. On the other hand, the diversity that local cultures is increasingly restricted by the homogenizing pressure of globalization. Economic practices that prove inefficient or uncompetitive in the worldwide market disappear. The definitions of cultural practices and also knowledges change as they are turned into commodities for tourist usage or room patented by pharmaceutical companies. Globalization significantly restrains social forms, practices, and also possibilities.

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There is a dynamic within society of innovation and also restriction. The cultural fabric of mutual meanings and also orientations that allows individuals come make sense of the world and also their place within it have the right to either change with call with other cultures or with changes in the socioeconomic formation, enabling people come reinvision and reinvent themselves, or it deserve to remain rigid and also restrict change. Many modern issues to do with identity and also belonging, native multiculturalism and also hybrid identities to religious fundamentalism, have the right to be construed within this dynamic the innovation and restriction. Similarly, the effects of social adjust on means of life, indigenous the brand-new modes the electronic communication to failures to respond come climate change, involve a tension between innovation and restriction.