Culture and Society
• Postmodernism has many parents, teachers, politicians, religious leaders, and not a few university
• Given the eclectic mixing of cultural elements from different times and places, the erosion of authority,
and the decline of consensus around core values, how can we make binding decisions? How can we
govern? How can we teach children and adolescents the difference between right and wrong? How can
we transmit accepted literary tastes and artistic standards from one generation to the next?
• These are the kinds of issues that plague people in positions of authority today.
• All animals take from nature to subsist, and apes may sometimes use rocks to break other objects, or
walking sticks to steady themselves as they cross fast-flowing streams.
• But only humans are intelligent and agile enough to manufacture tools and use them to produce
everything from food to satellites; in this sense, production is a uniquely human activity.
• This line of thought gave rise to the field of cultural studies, which overlaps the sociology of culture
(Griswold, 1992; Long, 1997; Spillman, 2002).
• Image: Many Westerners find the Indian practice of cow worship bizarre; however, cow worship performs
a number of useful economic functions and is in that sense entirely rational.
• By viewing cow worship exclusively as an outsider (or, for that matter, exclusively as an insider), we fail to
see its rational core.
• By analyzing how people cooperate and produce norms and values, we can learn much about what
distinguishes one culture from another.
• Folkways are norms that specify social preferences, whereas mores are norms that specify social
• Incest is one of the most widespread taboos. Socialization:
• First, children learn to use language and other symbols by imitating important people in their lives, such
as their mother and father.
• Second, children pretend to be other people.; that is, they use their imaginations to role-play in games,
such as “house,”
• “school,” and doctor.”
• Third, by the time they reach the age of about seven, children learn to play complex games requiring that
they simultaneously take the role of several other people.
• Once a child can think in this complex way, she can begin the fourth stage in the development of the self.
This involves taking the role of what Mead called the generalized other.
• Years of experience may teach an individual that other people, employing the cultural standards of their
society, usually regard her as funny or temperamental or intelligent.
• A person’s image of these cultural standards and how they are applied to her is what Mead meant by the
• Socialization is the process by which people learn their culture; they do so by (1) entering and disengaging
from a succession of roles, and (2) becoming aware of themselves as they interact with others.
• Without childhood socialization, most of our human potential remains undeveloped.
• In other words, our feelings about who we are depend largely on how we see ourselves evaluated by
others; just as we see our physical body reflected in a mirror, so we see our social selves reflected in
people’s gestures and reactions to us (Cooley, 1902).
• The implications of Cooley’s argument are intriguing. Consider, for example, that the way other people
judge us helps determine whether we develop a positive or negative self-concept.
• Among other things, having a negative self-concept is associated with low achievement in school and
post-secondary institutions (Hamachek, 1995).
• George Herbert Mead (1934) took up and developed the idea of the looking-glass self.
• Like Freud, Mead noted that a subjective and impulsive aspect of the self is present from birth; Mead
called it simply the I.
• Again, like Freud, Mead argued that a repository of culturally approved standards emerges as part of the
self during social interaction; Mead called this objective, social component of the self the me.
• However, while Freud focused on the denial of the id’s impulses as the mechanism that generates the
self’s objective side, Mead drew attention to the unique human capacity to “take the role of the other” as
the source of the me. Slide 8
• Both institutions were hygienic and provided good food and medical care; however, while their mothers
cared for the babies in the nursing home, just 6 nurses cared for the 45 orphans; the orphans, therefore,
had much less contact with other people.
• Moreover, from their cribs, the nursing home infants could taste a slice of society; they saw other babies
playing and receiving care. They saw mothers, doctors, and nurses talking, cleaning, serving food, and
providing medical treatment.
• In contrast, it was established practice in the orphanage to hang sheets from the cribs to prevent the
infants from seeing the activities of the institution.
• Consequences noted in Spitz’s natural experiment amounts to quite compelling evidence for the
importance of childhood socialization in making us fully human; without childhood socialization, most of
our human potential remains undeveloped.
• The idea of childhood emerged when and where it did because of social necessity and social possibility.
• Prolonged childhood was necessary in societies that required better-educated adults to do increasingly
• That is because childhood gave young people a chance to prepare for adult life.
• Prolonged childhood was possible in societies where improved hygiene and nutrition allowed most people
to live more than 35 years, the average life span in Europe in the early seventeenth century.
• In other words, before the late seventeenth century, most people did not live long enough to permit the
luxury of childhood.
• Moreover, there was no social need for a period of extended training and development before the
comparatively simple demands of adulthood were thrust upon young people.
• In general, wealthier and more complex societies whose populations enjoy a long average life expectancy
stretch out the pre-adult period of life.
• Although we form our basic personality and sense of identity early in life, socialization continues in
• American Private Lynndie England became infamous when photographs were made public showing her
and other American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners in obvious contravention of international law.
• “She’s never been in trouble. She’s not the person that the photographs point her out to be,” said her
childhood friend Destiny Gloin (quoted in “Woman Soldier,” 2004).
• Ms. Gloin was undoubtedly right; Private England at Abu Ghraib prison was not the Lynndie England from
• As in the Palo Alto prison experiment, she was transformed by a structure of power and a culture of
intimidation that made the prisoners seem subhuman.
• People have always defined themselves partly in terms of their bodies; your self-conception is influenced
by whether you’re a man or a woman, tall or short, healthy or ill, conventionally good looking or plain.
• But our bodies used to be fixed by nature; now, however, thanks largely to various technological
innovations, you can change
• your body, and the