Chapter 3. CultureFigure 3.1. Graffiti’s mix the colourful drawings, words, and also symbols is a vibrant expression of culture—or, relying on one’s viewpoint, a mental expression that the creator’s absence of respect for a community’s common space. (Photo courtesy of aikijuanma/Flickr)

Learning Objectives

3.1. What Is Culture?

Differentiate between culture and society.Distinguish in between biological and cultural explanations of person behaviour.Compare and contrast social universalism, social relativism, ethnocentrism, and also androcentrism.Examine the plan of multiculturalism together a equipment to the problem of diversity.

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3.2. Facets of Culture

Understand the an easy elements of culture: values, beliefs, and norms.Explain the definition of symbols and language come a culture.Describe the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.Distinguish material and nonmaterial culture.

3.3. Culture as Innovation: pop Culture, Subculture, and an international Culture

Distinguish two settings of culture: innovation and also restriction.Discuss the distinction between high culture, popular music culture, and postmodern culture.Differentiate between subculture and also counterculture.Understand the duty of globalization in social change and also local lived experience.

3.4. Culture as Restriction: Rationalization and also Commodification

Describe society as a kind of border on social life.Explain the ramifications of rationalization and also consumerism.

3.5. Theoretical Perspectives top top Culture

Discuss the major theoretical philosophies to cultural interpretation.

Introduction to Culture

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

Are there rules for eating in ~ McDonald’s? Generally, we carry out not think around rules in a fast food restaurant because they are designed to it is in casual, quick, and also convenient. But if friend look roughly one top top a common weekday, you will certainly see civilization acting as if they to be trained for the function of rapid food customer. They stand in line, choose their items from overhead menus prior to they order, swipe debit cards come pay, and stand come one next to collection trays the food. After ~ a quick meal, customers wad increase their document wrappers and toss them into garbage cans. This is a food mechanism that has end up being highly rationalized in Max Weber’s terms. Customers’ activity through this fast food regimen is orderly and also predictable, even if no rules room posted and also no officials straight the process.

If you want more insight into these undeded rules, think around what would take place if friend behaved follow to some various other standards. (You would certainly be act what sociologists call a “breaching experiment” in ethnomethodology: deliberately disrupting social standards in order to learn about them.) because that example: speak to ahead for reservations; questioning the cashier comprehensive questions about the food’s ingredients or just how it is prepared; barter over the price of the burgers; questioning to have actually your meal served to friend at her table; or throw her trash ~ above the ground as you leave. Possibilities are you will elicit enemy responses from the restaurant employees and also your fellow customers. Although the rules space not composed down, girlfriend will have violated deep seated tacit norms that administer behaviour in quick food restaurants.

This instance reflects a broader theme in the society of food and also diet. What room the rules the govern what, when, and also how us eat? Michael Pollan (b. 1955), because that example, contrasts the north American society of rapid food through the undamaged traditions of eating sit-down, family members meals that still conquer in France and other european nations (2006). Despite eating foodstuffs that many North american think of as unhealthy — butter, wheat, triple-cream cheese, foie gras, wine, etc. — the French, together a whole, continue to be healthier and thinner than North Americans.


The French eat all sorts that supposedly unhealthy foods, however they carry out it according to a strict and stable collection of rules: castle eat small portions and don’t go ago for seconds; lock don’t snack; they hardly ever eat alone; and also communal meals are long, leisurely affairs. (Pollan, 2006)

Their social rules fix and also constrain what world consider as food and also how people consume food. The nationwide cuisine and also eating actions of France room well established, oriented come pleasure and tradition, and also as Pollan argues, well combined into French social life together a whole.

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

In phibìc America, ~ above the other hand, fast food is just the tip of an iceberg v respect come a larger situation of diet in which enhancing levels that obesity and also eating disorders are coupled with boosting profusion of wellness diets, weight reducing diets, and also food fads. If an alarming number of North American meals are consumed in cars (19 percent, according to Pollan), the counter-trend is the obsession with nutritional science. Rather of one orientation come food based on social tradition and also pleasure, civilization are oriented come food in regards to its biochemical constituents (calories, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, omega fat acids, saturated and unsaturated fats, etc.). There space Atkins diets, zone diets, Mediterranean diets, paleolithic diets, vegetable diets, gluten totally free diets, weight Watchers diets, raw food diets, etc.; an unlimited proliferation the Pollan qualities to a fundamental anxiety the North american have about food and health. While each kind of diet claims scientific evidence to support its health and other claims, proof which is disturbingly contradictory, essentially the an option of diet revolves around the cultural meanings attributed to food and also its nutritional components:


that taste is no a true overview to what should be eaten; the one should not simply eat what one enjoys; that the important components of food can not be checked out or tasted, yet are discernible just in clinical laboratories; and that speculative science has created rules that nutrition the will stop illness and also encourage longevity. (Levenstein together cited in Pollan, 2006)

It is crucial to keep in mind that food culture and diet room not infinitely malleable, however. There is an underlying organic reality of nutrition that defines the parameters of diet choice. In his documentary Super size Me (2004), Morgan Spurlock performed a variation of the sociological participant monitoring study by committing self to eating just McDonald’s food because that 30 days. Together a result, he acquired 24 pounds, boosted his cholesterol and also fat build-up in his liver, and experienced the atmosphere swings and sexual dysfunction. The is clear the one cannot make it through on rapid food alone; although many teenagers and university students have actually been recognized to try.

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

Sociologists would argue, therefore, the everything about fast food restaurants, choice of diet, and also habits of food consumption reflects culture, the beliefs and behaviours that a social group shares. Diet is a product the culture. The is a product the the different interpretations we attribute come food and also to the relationship we have with ours bodies. The far-ranging point is the while diet is a an answer to the basic conditions of biological life, diet is additionally a tremendous website of innovation and diversity. Society in basic is a website of two opposing tendencies: one is the means that cultures about the civilization lay down sets of rules or standards which constrain, restrict, habitualize, and also fix forms of life; the various other is the method that cultures create endlessly innovative and also diverse services to difficulties like nutrition. Cultures both constrain and also continually go past constraints.

This raises the difference between the terms “culture” and “society” and how sociologists conceptualize the relationship between them. In day-to-day conversation, human being rarely distinguish between these terms, yet they have actually slightly various meanings, and the difference is necessary to how sociologists research culture. If culture describes the beliefs, artifacts, and ways of life that a social group shares, a society is a group that interacts in ~ a typical bounded are or region. Come clarify, a society represents the beliefs, practices, and material artefacts of a group, when a culture represents the society structures, processes, and also organization the the world who share those beliefs, practices, and also material artifacts. Neither society nor culture could exist there is no the other, yet we can separate castle analytically.

In this chapter, we research the relationship between society and culture in higher detail, paying unique attention come the elements and forces that shape culture, including diversity and social changes. A final discussion touches on the various theoretical perspectives indigenous which sociologists research study culture.

3.1. What Is Culture?

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

Humans room social creatures. Since the dawn the Homo sapiens, practically 200,000 year ago, world have grouped with each other into neighborhoods in order come survive. Life together, people developed forms of participation which developed the typical habits, behaviours, and ways the life known as culture — from details methods the childrearing to desired techniques because that obtaining food. Peter Berger (b. 1929) said that this is the an outcome of a fundamental human predicament (1967). Unlike other animals, humans lack the organic programming come live on your own. They call for an extended period of exposed in bespeak to endure in the environment. The creation of society makes this feasible by giving a safety shield against the harsh impositions that nature. Culture provides the ongoing stability that enables human existence. This means, however, the the human environment is not nature per se but society itself.

Over the background of humanity, this has lead to an tremendous diversity in just how humans have imagined and lived life on Earth, the sum total of which walking Davis (b. 1953) has dubbed the ethnosphere. The ethnosphere is the entirety of every cultures’ “ways that thinking, methods of being, and also ways of orienting oneself ~ above the Earth” (Davis, 2007). The is our collective cultural heritage as a species. A single culture, as the sphere of meanings shared by a single social group, is the way by which that group makes feeling of the world and of each other. Yet there are numerous cultures and also many methods of making feeling of the world. With a multiplicity of cultural inventions, person societies have adapted to the environmental and also biological problems of person existence in plenty of different ways. What perform we find out from this?

Firstly, practically every person behaviour, from shopping to marital relationship to expressions of feelings, is learned. In Canada, human being tend come view marriage as a selection between 2 people based on mutual feeling of love. In various other nations and in other times, marriages have been arranged with an intricate process of interviews and also negotiations between entire families, or in various other cases, v a direct system such as a mail-order bride. Come someone raised in Winnipeg, the marriage custom-mades of a household from Nigeria might seem weird or also wrong. Conversely, who from a timeless Kolkata family could be perplexed v the idea that romantic love together the foundation for the lifelong meeting of marriage. In other words, the method in which people view marriage depends mostly on what they have been taught. Being familiar with these written and unwritten rules of culture helps civilization feel secure and “normal.” Most world want to live their everyday lives confident that their behaviours will not be challenged or disrupted. Behaviour based upon learned customizeds is, therefore, no a bad thing, yet it does raise the problem of just how to answers to cultural differences.

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Figure 3.6. The social norms governing public transportation vary in Canada, Austria, Mumbai, and also Tokyo. Exactly how would a visitor native a landscape Canadian town act and also feel top top this crowded Tokyo train? (Photo courtesy of simonglucas/Flickr)

Secondly, culture is innovative. The existence of different social practices expose the method in which societies find various solutions to actual life problems. The different forms of marriage are miscellaneous solutions come a typical problem, the difficulty of organizing families in order come raise children and reproduce the species. The basic problem is common by the various societies, but the options are different. This illustrates the allude that culture in general is a method of solving problems. The is a tool composed the the capacity to abstract and also conceptualize, to cooperate and coordinate facility collective endeavours, and to modify and construct the civilization to suit human purposes. It is the repository of creative solutions, techniques, and technologies humans draw on as soon as confronting the an easy shared difficulties of person existence. Culture is, therefore, crucial to the method humans, as a species, have actually successfully adjusted to the environment. The visibility of different societies refers come the different way by which people use invention to totally free themselves native biological and environmental constraints.

Thirdly, society is also restraining. Societies retain their distinctive patterns with time. In an international capitalism, back Canadian culture, French culture, Malaysian society and Kazakhstani society will share specific features favor rationalization and also commodification, they additionally differ in regards to languages, beliefs, dietary practices, and also other ways of life. They adapt and also respond to capitalism in distinct manners according to their details shared heritages. Local social forms have the capacity to restrain the alters produced by globalization. ~ above the various other hand, the diversity the local cultures is increasingly limited by the homogenizing pressure of globalization. Economic practices that prove inefficient or uncompetitive in the global market disappear. The interpretations of social practices and knowledges adjust as they space turned into products for tourist consumption or room patented by medicine companies. Globalization increasingly restrains social forms, practices, and possibilities.

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There is a dynamic within society of innovation and also restriction. The cultural fabric of common meanings and also orientations that enables individuals to make sense of the world and their location within it have the right to either change with call with other societies or with changes in the socioeconomic formation, allowing people come reinvision and also reinvent themselves, or it can remain rigid and restrict change. Many modern-day issues to execute with identity and also belonging, from multiculturalism and also hybrid identities to spiritual fundamentalism, can be understood within this dynamic of innovation and also restriction. Similarly, the impacts of social adjust on methods of life, indigenous the brand-new modes that electronic communication to failures come respond come climate change, show off a tension between innovation and restriction.