Chapter 2 Culture: At-a-Glance…………………..……………………………….

1. Sociology Home



Key Terms

and Theorists

What is culture?

·        Culture has what two major components?

·        There is nothing “__” about culture.

·        Culture becomes ___?

·        Material culture.

·        Non-material culture

·        Culture Shock:

·        Ethnocentrism:

·        Cultural Relativism:

Components of Symbolic Culture

·        Also referred to as ___

·        Includes ? (7)

·        Gestures:

·        Language:

·        Values:

·        Norms:

·        Folkways:

·        Mores:

Many Cultural Worlds: Subcultures and Countercultures

·        Subculture:

·       Counterculture:

Values in U.S. Society

·        The U.S. is a ___ society.

·        Robin Williams identified __ core values for Americans (1965). Henslin identifies three more in 1975.

·        Cultures may clash, some to the extent that the difference is referred to as a ___.

·        Moral Holiday:

·        Pluralistic Society:

·        Value Cluster:

·        Value Contradiction:

·        A value cluster of four interrelated core values are emerging in the U.S.:

·        Ideal Culture:

·        Real Culture:


Technology in the Global Village

·        Technology sets a framework for a group’s ___

·        Human interaction increases ___.


·        Cultural Diffusion:

·        Cultural Leveling:

·        Cultural Lag:

Chapter Outline

I.          What is Culture?

A.     Culture is defined as the __ (6) passed from one generation to the next.

1.      __ is things such as jewelry, art, buildings, weapons, machines, clothing, hairstyles, and so on.

2.      __ is a group's ways of thinking (beliefs, values, and assumptions) and common patterns of behavior (language, gestures, and other forms of interaction).

B.     Culture provides a taken-for-granted orientation to life.

1.      We assume that our own culture is normal.  Is it natural?

2.      How does culture “provide the lens through which we evaluate things?”

3.      Culture provides implicit instructions that tell us what?

4.      What is "culture shock?"

5.      A consequence of internalizing culture is ethnocentrism.  Explain?

C.     What is Cultural relativism?

1.      How does this view helps us?

2.      Robert Edgerton argues what?

II.        Components of Symbolic Culture

A. Sociologists sometimes refer to nonmaterial culture as symbolic culture.

1.      A central component of culture is the use of symbols, something to which people attach meaning, which people use to communicate.

2.      Symbols include gestures, language, values, norms, sanctions, folkways, and mores.

B.   Gestures, using one's body to communicate with others, are shorthand means of communication.

1.      Gestures are used by people in every culture, although the meanings differ.

2.      There is disagreement over whether there are any universal gestures.

C.     Language consists of a system of symbols that can be put together in an infinite number of ways in order to communicate abstract thought.

1.      Each word is a symbol to which a culture attaches a particular meaning.  It is important because it is the primary means of communication between people.

2.      It allows human experiences to be cumulative; each generation builds on the body of significant experiences that is passed on to it by the previous generation, thus freeing people to move beyond immediate experiences.

3.      It allows shared perspectives or understandings of the past and the future.

4.      It allows humans to exchange perspectives, i.e. ideas about events and experiences.

5.      It allows people to engage in complex, shared, goal-directed behavior.

6.      The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that our thinking and perception not only are expressed by language but actually are shaped by language because we are taught not only words but also a particular way of thinking and perceiving. Rather than objects and events forcing themselves onto our consciousness, our very language determines our consciousness.

D.     Culture includes values, norms, and sanctions.

1.      Values are the standards by which people define good and bad, beautiful and ugly. Every group develops both values and expectations regarding the right way to reflect them.

2.      Norms are the expectations, or rules of behavior, that develop out of a group's values.

3.      Sanctions are the positive or negative reactions to the way in which people follow norms. Positive sanctions (a money reward, a prize, a smile, or even a handshake) are expressions of approval; negative sanctions (a fine, a frown, or harsh words) denote disapproval for breaking a norm.

                  E.   Norms vary in terms of their importance to a culture.

1.      Folkways are norms that are not strictly enforced, such as passing on the left side of the sidewalk. They may result in a person getting a dirty look.

2.      Mores are norms that are believed to be essential to core values and we insist on conformity. A person who steals, rapes, and kills has violated some of society's most important mores.

3.      Norms that one group considers to be folkways another group may view as mores. A male walking down the street with the upper half of his body uncovered may be violating a folkway; a female doing the same thing may be violating accepted mores.

4.      Taboos are norms so strongly ingrained that even the thought of them is greeted with revulsion. Eating human flesh and having sex with one's parents are examples of such behavior.

III.       Many Cultural Worlds: Subcultures and Countercultures

                  A. Subcultures and countercultures are often found within a broader culture.

1.      Subcultures are groups whose values and related behaviors are so distinct that they set their members off from the dominant culture.

2.      Each subculture is a world within the larger world of the dominant culture, and has a distinctive way of looking at life, but remains compatible with the dominant culture.

B.  Countercultures are groups whose values set their members in opposition to the dominant culture. 

1.      While usually associated with negative behavior, some countercultures are not.

2.      Countercultures are often perceived as a threat by the dominant culture because they challenge the culture's values. For this reason the dominant culture will move against a particular counterculture in order to affirm its own core values.

IV.       Values in U.S. Society

A.  Identifying core values in U.S. society is difficult because it is a pluralistic society with many different religious, racial, ethnic, and special interest groups.

1.      Sociologist Robin Williams identified twelve core values:  achievement and success (especially, doing better than others); individualism (success due to individual effort); activity and work; efficiency and practicality; science and technology (using science to control nature); progress; material comfort; humanitarianism (helpfulness, personal kindness, philanthropy); freedom; democracy; equality (especially of opportunity); and racism and group superiority.

2.      Henslin updated Williams's list by adding education; religiosity (belief in a Supreme Being and following some set of matching precepts); and romantic love and monogamy.

B.     Some values conflict with each other.

1.      There cannot be full expressions of democracy, equality, racism, and sexism at the same time.

2.      These are value contradictions and as society changes some values are challenged and undergo modification.

C.     Values are not independent units.

1.               Value clusters are made up of related core values that come together to form a larger whole. In the value cluster surrounding success, for example, we find hard work, education, efficiency, material comfort, and individualism all bound together. 

2.               A cluster that is emerging within U.S. society, in response to fundamental changes in U.S. society, is one made up of the values of leisure, self-fulfillment, physical fitness, and youngness.

D.     Core values do not change without meeting strong resistance.

E.   Values and their supporting beliefs may blind people to other social circumstances.  Success stories blind many people in the United States to the dire consequences of family poverty, lack of education, and dead-end jobs.

F.   Ideal culture refers to the ideal values and norms of a people. What people actually do usually falls short of this ideal, and sociologists refer to the norms and values that people actually follow as real culture.

V.           Technology in the Global Village

A.      In its simplest sense, technology can be equated with tools.  In its broadest sense,    technology also includes the skills or procedures necessary to make and to use those tools. 

1.      The emerging technologies of an era, that make a major impact on human life, are referred to as new technologies.  The printing press and the computer are both examples of new technologies.

2.      The sociological significance of technology is that it sets the framework for the nonmaterial culture, influencing the way people think and how they relate to one another.

3.      Not all parts of culture change at the same pace.

4.      Cultural lag was William Ogburn's term for situations where the material culture changes first and the nonmaterial culture lags behind.

B.       Although for most of human history, cultures had little contact with one another, there has always been some contact with other groups, resulting in groups learning from one another.

1.      This transmission of cultural characteristics is cultural diffusion; it is more like to produce changes in material culture than the nonmaterial culture.

2.      Cultural diffusion occurs more rapidly today, given the technology.

3.      Travel and communication unite the world to such an extent that there almost is no "other side of the world." For example, Japan, no longer a purely Eastern culture, has adapted Western economic production, forms of dress, music, and so on.

4.      This leads to cultural leveling, the process by which cultures become similar to one another.

Key Terms

___ a group whose values, beliefs, and related behaviors place its members in opposition to the broader culture (p. 47)

___: the spread of cultural characteristics from one group to another (p. 55)

___: Ogburn’s term for human behavior lagging behind technological innovations (p. 54)

___: the process by which cultures become similar to one another; especially refers to the process by which U.S. culture is being imported and diffused into other nations (p. 55)

___: not judging a culture but trying to understand it on its own terms (p. 38)

___: the language, beliefs, values, norms, behaviors, and even material objects that are passed from one generation to the next (p. 36)

___: the disorientation that people experience when they come in contact with a fundamentally different culture and can no longer depend on their taken-for-granted assumptions about life (p. 37)

___: the use of one’s own culture as a yardstick for judging the ways of other individuals or societies, generally leading to a negative evaluation of their values, norms, and behaviors (p. 37)

___: norms that are not strictly enforced (p. 46)

___: the ways in which people use their bodies to communicate with one another (p. 40)

___: the ideal values and norms of a people; the goals held out for them (as opposed to real culture) (p. 54)

___: a system of symbols that can be combined in an infinite number of ways and can represent not only objects but also abstract thought (p. 42)

___: the material objects that distinguish a group of people, such as their art, buildings, weapons, utensils, machines, hairstyles, clothing, and jewelry (p. 36)

___: norms that are strictly enforced because they are thought essential to core values

(p. 46)

___: an expression of disapproval for breaking a norm, ranging from a mild, informal reaction such as a frown to a formal reaction such as a prison sentence or an execution (p. 46)

___: an emerging technology that has a significant impact on social life (p. 54)

___ (also called symbolic culture): a group’s ways of thinking (including its beliefs, values, and other assumptions about the world) and doing (its common patterns of behavior, including language and other forms of interaction) (p. 36)

___: the expectations, or rules of behavior, that develop to reflect and enforce values (p. 46)

___ : a society made up of many different groups (p. 50)

___: a reward or positive reaction for following norms (p. 46)

___: expressions of approval or disapproval given to people for upholding or violating norms (p. 46)

 ___ : Edward Sapir’s and Benjamin Whorf’s hypothesis that language creates ways of thinking and perceiving (p. 45)

___: the values and related behaviors of a group that distinguish its members from the larger culture; a world within a world (p. 47)

___: something to which people attach meanings and then use to communicate with others  (p. 39)

___: another term for nonmaterial culture (p. 39)

___: a norm thought essential for society’s welfare, one so strong that it brings revulsion if violated  (p. 47)

___: in its narrow sense, tools; its broader sense includes the skills or procedures necessary to make and use those tools (p. 54)

___: a series of interrelated values that together form a larger whole (p. 52)

___: values that contradict one another; to follow the one means to come into conflict with the other (p. 52)

___: the standards by which people define what is desirable or undesirable, good or bad, beautiful or ugly (p. 46)

Discussion Topics to Encourage Student Participation

To further enhance Henslin’s presentation of culture and stimulate student participation you might invite your students to discuss the following topics:

§         Identify some of your taken-for granted, deeply held assumptions about social life and discuss how you learned them.  What functions do these assumptions serve?  What dysfunctions are present within them?

§         When you travel to another country, why is it important to have an awareness of the cultural practices found in that society? 

§         Identify emerging values.  Are any of them “core”?  Why do you think they are emerging in this society at this current point in time?

§         Cultural relativism is a value-free approach to understanding other cultures.  In this context, are all cultural practices equal, or are some superior to others?

§         Is it possible to evaluate other cultural practices without being ethnocentric?  How may one develop a “universal” yardstick?

§         How can gestures either reinforce or contradict an oral message?  What gestures should a foreign student coming to the United States know?

§         Language is an important political and social issue globally in any pluralistic or multicultural society.  Why? 

§         What is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? What are the arguments for and against this hypothesis?

§         Drawing on your own experiences, give some examples of subtle positive and negative sanctions that you have used or others have used to influence your behavior.

§         Compare the folkways from customers in fast-food restaurants with those for customers in expensive, elegant restaurants. How do you suppose these folkways were learned?

§         What are some core values of U.S. culture? Do different groups have different core values? Can different groups share core values? How do core values vary by ethnicity, social class, and gender?

§         What additional values might be added to those proposed by Williams?

§         What core values conflict with the emerging value cluster of physical fitness, leisure, self-fulfillment, and concern for the environment?  How can a society hold such apparently contradictory values?

§         What is the basis for arguing that biology and culture interact in determining human behavior? How might this argument apply to sexual orientation versus sexual behavior? What are the implications of purely sociological explanations of homosexual behavior?

§         What in your mind constitutes the most important technological discoveries in the history of the twentieth century?  Why are they the most important? To what extent have modern technologies affected the form and content of our culture?

§         Provide some examples of cultural lag.  Why might changes in one aspect of a culture lag behind another?  What are some examples of cultural lag in relation to the newest technologies?

§         How is the Internet beneficial to people, social groups, and societies? How might it be detrimental to others?

§         Provide some examples of cultural diffusion in the United States.  To what extent has this diffusion impacted our culture?  Is cultural leveling through diffusion inevitable? What role does new technology play in cultural diffusion?

Chapter Summary: Culture

            What is culture? The concept is sometimes easier to grasp by description than definition. Culture is universal. All human groups create a design for living that includes both material and nonmaterial culture.  Ideal culture, a group's ideal norms and values, exists alongside its real culture, the actual behavior which often falls short of the cultural ideals. 

            All people perceive and evaluate the world through the lens of their own culture. People are naturally ethnocentric, that is, they use their own culture as a standard against which to judge other cultures. Sociologists refer to this innate tendency to take culture for granted as “the culture within us.” In comparison, cultural relativism tries to understand other peoples within the framework of their own culture.

            The central component of nonmaterial culture is symbols. These include gestures, language, values, norms, sanctions, folkways, and mores.  Language is essential for culture because it allows us to move beyond the present, sharing with others our past experiences and our future plans. According to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, language not only expresses our thinking and perceptions but actually shapes them.

            All groups have values and norms. Values underlie our preferences, guide our choices, and indicate what we hold worthwhile in life. Norms are the expectations that develop to reflect and enforce values. Positive and negative sanctions are used to show approval or disapproval of those who do or don't follow the norms.

            A subculture is a group whose values and behaviors set it apart from the general culture. Subcultures develop based on a wide variety of factors. These include race, ethnicity, religion, occupation, geographic location, and status. A counterculture holds values that stand in opposition to the dominant culture.

            Although the U.S. is a pluralistic society made up of many groups, each with its own set of values, certain core values dominate.  Some values cluster together to form a larger whole.  Core values that contradict one another indicate areas of social tension and are likely points of social change.

      Cultural universals are values, norms or other cultural traits that are found in all cultures.


Learning Objectives

2.1            Define culture and explain its material and nonmaterial components. 

2.2            Explain why ethnocentrism is a natural tendency and why this orientation towards your own and other cultures can lead to culture shock.

2.3            State what cultural relativism is and discuss why it is a worthwhile goal even

though it presents challenges to us.

2.4            Discuss the components of symbolic culture.

2.5            Explain the importance of gestures for communications, and discuss how gestures relate to culture.

2.6            Identify the different ways in which language makes human life possible.

2.7            Define the following terms: values, norms, sanctions, folkways, mores, and taboos.

2.8            Compare and contrast dominant culture, subcultures, and countercultures.

2.9            List core values in United States society as identified by James         Henslin.

2.10          Explain what is meant by value clusters and value contradictions.

2.11          Explain what the author of your text means when he says values can act as blinders.

2.12          Explain the difference between "ideal" and "real" culture, providing examples.

2.13          State what technology is and how it is changing cultures.

2.14          Define cultural lag and explain its role in relationship to cultural change.

2.15          Discuss the link between technology, cultural diffusion, and cultural leveling.

Classroom Activities and Student Projects

§         Think of someone with travel experience to compare U.S. and International cultures. Discuss language, gestures, family structure, money, religion, courtship, love, use of space, and so forth.  

§         Break into small groups and attempt the following without the use of language: (a) get directions to the nearest hospital (b) learn to change the oil in a car (c) make a paper airplane.  What is the most difficult thing about this task?  What role do gestures play in your communication?

§         Read a number of business-oriented publications, such as Fortune and Forbes, and analyze the “virtues” that are extolled for getting ahead.  Have them look at the biographical data for highly successful individuals, such as Michael Jordan, Bill Gates, or other corporate “tycoons.”  How these individuals are used to reinforce the importance of America’s core values?  According to the “ideal” culture, is success available to everyone?  How does this compare with the “real”culture? 

§         Apply the concepts of ethnocentrism and cultural relativism to social issues such as Female Genital Mutilation, Bride Burning, and Arranged Marriages.

Suggestions for Guest Speakers and Service Learning Projects

§         Ask a person from a non-Western culture to discuss various aspects of social life that they have observed. 

§         Invite a hearing-impaired student from the campus to discuss the challenges innate in non–verbal communication. Invite Disability Student Services to speak as well. 

§         Ask a tattoo artist to visit the classroom and discuss the occupation, the perceived judgment surrounding the lifestyle, and the symbolism surrounding tattoos and body modification.

§         Find a member of a religious, ethnic, or occupational subculture to talk about his or her group and how it relates to dominant culture

§         Attend a meeting, religious service, or other activity that demonstrates the beliefs and values of a group other than their own and report back to the class.

§         Have you visited a section of a large city that has a “Chinatown,” “Little Italy,” “Germantown,” or similarly identified ethnic area? Do you remember the advertisements, the merchandise advertised in the shop windows, the characteristics of the people who operate the shops and those who patronize them. Eating in a restaurant in the area, do you remember the variety of cuisine, its similarities and differences from Western food.


Suggested Films

Culture. Allyn and Bacon Interactive Video for Introductory Sociology. Allyn and Bacon. 1998, 3 minutes (Video). This short segment introduces the student to culture. It is a useful aide to use to begin the lecture on culture.

Culture. Insight Media. 1991, 30 min. (Video).  This video examines culture in the Cajun society, the Cherokee tribe, and Chinese society in the South.

Mr. Baseball. MCA Universal. 1992. 102 minutes, (Video). This comedy starring Tom Selleck is the story of an arrogant and aging          professional baseball player and his adjustment to Japanese culture when traded from the New York Yankees to Chunichi Dragons. The film provides an excellent illustration of cultural borrowing and reformulation.

The Measure of America. Aims Media. 1985, 27 min. (16mm). This films looks at Americans expressing enthusiasm for basic American values.

Value Diversity. Insight Media. 1994, 49 min. (Video). This video demonstrates how to overcome cross-cultural communications barriers.

Web Sites

What is culture?Key Objective 2.1: Define Culture

This site is a general outline that defines culture and includes segments on the influence environment has on culture, learned behavior, social organizations, values, and beliefs.

Female Genital Mutilation Key Objective 2.3: Cultural Relativism

This site provides access to information about Female genital mutilation (FGM). Where FGM is carried out as part of an initiation ceremony, as is the case in societies in eastern, central and western Africa, it is more likely to be carried out on all the girls in the community who belong to a particular age group.

Social Issues Research Center – Guide to Flirting  Key Objective 2.5: Gestures

Flirting is much more than just a bit of fun: it is a universal and essential aspect of human interaction. Research shows that flirting is to be found, in some form, in all cultures and societies around the world. Native Web – Key Objective 2.8: Comparing Dominant Cultures and Subcultures

Native Web is a newsletter on resources for indigenous cultures from around the world. It includes a featured home site on the American Indian language and issues of local and national concern for Native Americans including involvement in civil actions.

Technology, Adoption, and Diffusion – Key Objective 2.15: The Link between Technology and Cultural Diffusion

This review examines that process and the social and other factors influencing the diffusion of Internet/World Wide Web technology. Attributes of Internet technology that differ from those of traditional instructional technologies and that modify the adoption and diffusion process are discussed, as are characteristics of the potential adopters and strategies that contribute to successful technology adoption and integration within an organization.