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Culture as Problem Solving

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Daniel Glenday

Chapter 3 – Culture Culture as Problem Solving -sociologists define culture as the ideas, practices, and material objects that people create to deal w/ real-life problems -popular and mass culture is consumed by all classes, but high culture tends to be consumed by mainly upper class -tools and religion are also elements of culture -widely shared and passed from one generation to the next -shared culture is socially transmitted -thus, culture comprises the socially transmitted ideas, practices, and material objects that enable people to adapt to, and thrive in, their environments The Origins of Culture: -the human cultural survival kit consists of: -abstractionability to create general ideas or ways of thinking -ex. symbolsideas that carry meaning -cooperationcapacity to create a complex social life by establishing norms and values -by analyzing how people cooperate and produce norms and values we can learn much about what distinguishes one culture from another -productioninvolves making and using tools and techniques that improve our ability to take what we want from nature -uniquely human activity -material culture b/c it is tangible -symbols, norms, and values are non-material culture b/c they are intangible 3 types of norms: 1. Folkways: norms that specify social preferences. Punishment is minor. 2. Mores: norms that specify social requirements Punishment is modestly harsh. 3. Taboos: strongest and most central norm. When violated, it causes revulsion in the community and severe punishment Culture and Biology The Evolution of Human Behaviour: -biology sets broad human limits and potentials, including the potential to create culture -evolutionary psychology claims that genes account not just for physical characteristics but also for specific behaviours and social practices -based on Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest -most sociologists disagree Male promiscuity, Female fidelity, and other myths: -contemporary evolutionary psychologists use Darwin’s method to make similar arguments about human behaviour and social arrangements -they first identify and supposedly universal human behaviour trait -next offer explanation as to why this behaviour increases survival chances -final part is that the behaviour in question cannot easily be changed -the characteristics that maximize the survival chances of a species supposedly are encoded or “hardwired” in our genes Problems w/ their theory: -first, some behaviours discussed by evolutionary psychologists are not universal and some are not even that common -second, nobody have ever verified that specific behaviours and social arrangements are associated w/ specific genes -third, even if researchers eventually discover an association b/w particular genes and particular behaviours, it would be wrong to conclude that variations among people are due to their genes The Problem of Language Is Language Innate or Learned? -language is a system of symbols strung together to communicate thought -can share understanding; pass experience and knowledge from one generation to the next -allows culture to develop Steven Pinkercognitive scientist who says culture has little to do w/ our acquisition of language -based on observation that most people can easily create and understand sentences that have never been uttered before -develops this quickly w/o formal instruction at an early age -can also point seats of language in the brain -SLI=specific language impairmentthe gene FOXP2 has been found to be associated w/ this The social roots of language: -young children go through periods of rapid development and if they do not interact symbolically w/ others during their critical periods, their language skills remain permanently impaired -thus, language must be learned -the environment is a powerful influence on language acquisition The Sapir-Whorf Thesis: Experience 1 3 2 Verbalization Conceptualization (though) Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf: -proposed that experience, thought, and language interact -Sapir-Whorf theory holds that we experience certain things in our environment and form concepts about those things (12) -we then develop language to express our concepts (23) -language itself influences how we see the world (31) -Whorf saw speech patterns as “interpretations of experience” -terms that apparently refer to the same thing or people may change too -12 and 23 is uncontroversial -but 31 is controversial due to the question of how does language influence our experiences -researchers found some effects of language on perception -the gender of the noun influences how people see the thing to which the noun refers Culture and Ethnocentrism: A functionalist Analysis of Culture: -ethnocentrism is judging another culture exclusively by the standards of our own -this impairs sociological analysis Marvin Harris: anthropologist who analyzed cow worship in India Culture as Freedom -culture has 2 faces 1. Provides us w/ an opportunity to exercise our freedom 2. It constrains usexisting cultures put limits on what we can think and do Cultural production and symbolic interactionism: -culture used to be regarded as a “reflection” of societya dependent variable -recently, symbolic interactionists regard culture as an independent variable -people do not accept culture passively -we actively produce and interpret culture in accordance w/ our diverse needs -implies that to a degree, we are at liberty to choose how culture influences us Cultural diversity: -part of the reason we are increasingly able to choose how culture influences us is that there is more to choose from -ex. Canada is undergoing rapid cultural diversification b/c of increased immigration -marriage b/w different ethnic groups and interracial marriage is increasing Multiculturalism: -critics of multiculturalism say that multiculturalism has 3 negative consequences: 1. multicultural education hurts students who are members of minority groups by forcing them to spend too much time on noncore subjects 2. multicultural education causes political disunity and results in more interethnic and int
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