An Outline about Culture

General Definition of “culture”

Culture is a total way of life shared by a people in a is a synergistic totality and each culture is unique, although it may have things in common with other cultures.

Culture contains customs, traditions, beliefs, norms, roles, skills, knowledge of the natural and social world, and values.

Culture gives meaning to our existence in essential to our “human-ness”...and “fills” or “directs” the kind of human-ness we exhibit.

Culture constrains not only behavior but also how people think about and interpret their world.

An Outline of Culture: The Knowledge that People Share
(from Instructor's Manual for Eitzen/Baca-Zinn's ON CONFLICT AND ORDER...9th Edition)
Fair Use

A. Characteristics of Culture.

1. Culture is an emergent process.

a. As individuals interact they exchange ideas that develop into common beliefs and common ways of doing things.
b. Interacting individuals thus create culture.
c. Culture, once it emerges, is always undergoing change.

2. Culture is learned behavior.

a. It is not instinctive or innate in the human species.
b. Humans are symbol-making creatures capable of attaching meaning to particular objects and actions and communicating those meanings.
c. Culture is acquired through socialization, which is the process of learning culture.

3. Culture channels human behavior.

a. Culture is essential to the maintenance of any social system because it provides two critical functions — predictability of action and stability.
b. To provide predictability and stability, culture must constrain individuals by restricting their freedom.
c. Through cultural patterns, the individual is expected to conform to the expectations of the group— culture is not freedom but rather constraint.
d. Culture operates not only outside humans but also inside them; through internalization, which is the process of society’s demands becoming part of the individual and acting to control his or her behavior. Internalization happens in 3 ways:

1) Culture becomes part of the human makeup through the social organization’s belief system.
2) Culture is internalized through members’ psychological identification with the group to which people belong or reference groups, which is a group to which they want to belong.
3) Culture is internalized by providing the individual with an identity, which is socially bestowed, socially sustained, and socially transformed

e. The paradox of culture, as Peter Berger points out, is that while society is like a prison to the people trapped in its cultural demands and expectations, it is not perceived as limiting to individual freedom.

4. Culture maintains boundaries by:

1) Limiting the range of acceptable behavior and attitudes.
2) Instilling a sense of naturalness about the alternatives peculiar to a given society.
3) Establishing a universal tendency for people to think other societies are wrong, inefficient, or immoral, and to think of one’s own group as superior-as the only right way, which is called ethnocentrism.

B. Types of shared knowledge - culture combines 6 types of shared knowledge:

1. Symbols

a. Language takes many forms: written, spoken, non-verbal signs and gestures.
b. Each form carries a socially constructed meaning; for instance, the “V” (for victory sign (when it exposes the back of the hand to the viewer) is the equivalent in Australia of flashing the middle finger in the U.S.

2. Technology refers to the information, techniques, and tools used by people to satisfy their needs and desires.

a. Material technology is the knowledge of how to make and use things.
b. Social technology is the knowledge that enables individuals to establish, maintain, and operate the technical aspects of a social organization.

3. Ideologies are shared beliefs about the physical, social and metaphysical worlds.

a. They help individuals interpret events.
b. They provide a rationale for action.

4. Societal norms are rules that specify appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

a. Ethnomethodology is the scientific study of the commonplace activities of daily life.

1) Its goal is to discover and understand the underpinnings of relationships, which is the shared meanings that implicitly guide social behavior.
2) The assumption is that much of social life is scripted; players act according to society’s rules (the script).

b. Societal norms vary in importance:

1) Folkways are relatively unimportant norms and are not severely punished if violated.
2) Mores are highly salient norms whose violation is considered important enough by society to merit severe punishment.

c. The criteria used to delineate types of norms-degree of importance and severity of punishments-are determined by the people in power.
d. Norms are situational and vary between and within cultures.

5. Values are the bases for norms. They are the criteria used in evaluating objects, acts, feelings, or events as to their relative desirability, merit, or correctness.

6. Roles are the behavioral expectations for the people who occupy particular social positions (statuses).

C. The “social construction of reality” refers to the process whereby people learn how to define reality from other people in interaction and by learning the culture.

1. Culture provides us with a framework for interpreting the social and physical world, particularly through language.

a. Language, in particular, influences how the members of society perceive reality.
b. Language helps us to make order out of what we experience.

2. Two contrasting views of reality:

a. Ontology accepts the reality of things because their nature cannot be denied - a chair, a tree, the wind, a society.
b. Epistemology (opposite of ontology) argues that all reality is socially constructed.

3. Cultural relativity is the argument that customs should not be evaluated by our standards but theirs.

a. Customs should be evaluated in light of society’s own culture and the customs serve for that society.
b. Customs should not be evaluated by an “absolute” standard.
c. The cultural relativity perspective is that meaning is socially bestowed.
d. The major barrier to cultural relativity is ethnocentrism, which makes it difficult for individuals to view other societies/groups in perspective.

D. Values

1. Humans are valuing beings - they are continually evaluating themselves and others.

2. The quickest way to understand a culture is to examine its values.

3. There are a number of ways of determining a society’s values:

a. What preoccupies people in their conversations and actions.
b. What choices do people make consistently.
c. What do people say is good, bad, moral, immoral, desirable, or undesirable.

1) What people do and what they say are not always the same.
2) People will generally respond in ways they feel are appropriate and this will indicate the values of the society

d. Observe the reward-punishment system of the society.
e. What causes guilt, shame, or ego enhancement.
f. Examine the principles that are held as part of the so-called American way of life by inspecting historical documents or political speeches.

E. Values are sources of societal integration and social problems

1. The value system in the United States is unique.

a. Geographically, the United States has been relatively isolated for most of its history

1) It has had an abundance of natural resources
2) Because of this abundance, conservation seemed unnecessary and resources were wasted

b. Historically, the U.S. has been unique:

1) It began through revolution.
2) Its populace originally consisted mostly of immigrants.

c. Religiously, the U.S. has a unique heritage:

1) The Judeo-Christian ethic has prevailed throughout U.S. history.
2) The emphasis on the following has had a significant effect on how Americans evaluate each other

a) Humanitarianism.
b) The inherent worth of all individuals.
c) Morality based on the Ten Commandments.
d) The biblical injunction to “have dominion over all living things.”

3) The Protestant ethic

a. The religious belief emphasizing hard work and continual striving to prove that one is saved.
b. It has been an important determinant of the values believed to typify most people in the U.S.

2. Three caveats are cited as regards values:

1) The diversity of the U.S. precludes any universal values.
2) Values are not always consistent with behavior.
3) Values are not always consistent.

F. The authors examine the most dominant American values:

1. Success (individual achievement).

a. The self-made person is highly valued in American society.
b. Economic success is the most commonly used measurement of success.
c. There is evidence that today’s parents are putting more and more pressure on their children to succeed.
d. Parents are pushed toward structured activities for their children.

1) This is in part because both parents are in the work force and adult supervision of children is important.
2) Parents want their children to find their niche and specialize early so they can get college scholarships and get on the road to success in an increasingly competitive society.

2. Competition is highly valued because it is believed that:

a. It motivates individuals and groups to be discontented with second best.
b. It fosters a belief in the survival of the fittest.
c. It can encourage illegal activities so people can “get ahead.”

3. There are 3 highly valued means to achieve success in U.S. society:

a. People who are industrious are valued, and people who are not are denigrated; most people believe this explains the condition of poor people.
b. Continual striving - a person should never be content with what he or she has; there is always new land to own, new money to make, more books to write.
c. Deferred gratification - the willingness to deny immediate pleasure for later reward, is the hallmark of the successful person in the U.S.; This has been used as the point that distinguishes the poor from the non-poor.

4. Progress-a brighter tomorrow, a better job, a bigger home, etc.-is always good.

a. Americans are not satisfied with the status quo and thus are prone to emphasize the future
b. Progress also involves a faith in technology:

1) Scientific knowledge will solve problems.
2) However, technology creates unanticipated problems.

5. Material progress creates a belief among people that “work pays off’; in addition, “having things” has become a way of life.

6. Individual freedom is highly valued by Americans.

a. Americans value individualism and believe in individual responsibility for success or failure.
b. Individual freedom is related to capitalism and private property and is not to be restricted; this line of thinking has led to:

1) Unfair competition.
2) A caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) philosophy.
3) The ecology crisis results from our neglect conservation of natural resources.

G. Values and behavior - The discrepancy between values and behavior has always existed in the U.S. Some examples include:

1. Although behavior may differ from expressed values, values still provide the standards by which we are evaluated.

2. Americans glorify individualism and self-reliance; however, individualism is not rewarded in bureaucracies where one has to go along and be a “team player’

3. Americans proclaim that they place a high value on equality but do not practice it.

4. Americans value “law and order’ but when the laws are inconvenient, they are ignored

5. Americans display pride in solving difficult technical problems, yet avoid confronting chronic social problems

H. Cultural diversity

1. While certain values are generally held by the U.S. population, there is never total agreement on any of them.

2. U.S. cultural diversity is due to differences in sex, age, race, region, class, ethnicity, religion, rural/urban residence, etc.

3. A subculture is a relatively cohesive cultural system that vary in form and substance from the dominant culture.

a. Some subcultures exists because they has not been fully assimilated.
b. Under the rubric of subculture are ethnic groups, delinquent gangs, and religious sects