Sept. 24 – Culture I
Culture is the sum of traditions, practices, languages, symbols, beliefs, values, ideologies, and material
objects that people create to deal with real-life problems.
Culture is a part of what defines society. A society is not just thought of in terms of locale but also in
terms of culture; a group that shares culture(s). Canada for example is a multicultural society.
Culture is not just material objects but the general kind of ideas and language that is shared in a
To think of culture sociologically, is to think about it deliberately and how it structures our day-to-day
activities. It is to look at how it may link people or divide communities.
Three Components of Culture
a. Material culture
b. Non-material culture
Symbols: Anything that carries a particular meaning, including the components of language,
mathematical notations, and signs. Symbols allow us to classify experience and generalize from it.
E.g. MCDs logo, the peace sign, crucifix (Christianity), Leafs logo (sports), Apple logo
Symbols are anything that carries meaning therefore language itself is considered a symbol.
Language as a Symbol
These letters put together represent this physical image, thus, language is symbolic of our culture and it
carries meaning within a particular culture.
o Right and wrong, good and bad, beautiful and ugly
They are ideas that individuals deem as important. These are in the realm of our beliefs and our ideas. - Norms: generally accepted ways of doing things – the rules of behavior; how we act
Norms are culturally defined rules that outline appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Our guidelines
for behavior are related to our cultural values.
For example, if the value is that we find racial discrimination to be wrong, we would ensure that our
actions are not to be segregate people, etc. If your country values universal healthcare, this is the idea
and belief that you will have, so then the norm that you would be guided by is the fact that you do not
want to take advantage of the system.
The most important distinction between the different norms listed is that they each have different kinds
of social reactions for the guideline of behaviour.
Folkways – least important norms
- The social reaction will not be that strong; the least reaction or severe punishment
- E.g. When walking on the sidewalk, people generally walk to the right side so that both sides do
not bump. When someone walks in the middle, this is a violation of this social norm but it does
not provoke a great reaction.
- E.g. Swearing
Mores – core norms believed to be essential for survival
- They are seen as crucial for a culture to work well. They are more serious.
- E.g. Extra-marital affair: this is not against the law but it will bring about a strong reaction. This
will tell you how this culture values the family, the exchange of vows, fidelity.
- E.g. Divorce: again, not against the law but would provoke a big reaction.
(Laws) – Norms that are legislated and enacted by government bodies
- The moment something is written into law, it becomes a norm that functions as a law.
- At certain points in time, there may have been particular mores that moved into the law
category (stealing for example).
- This is a kind of behavior that a particular culture deems as important and deserves to be
regulated in a specific way.
Taboos – the strongest norms
- They have the strongest reactions, the greatest reactions.
- This is behavior that is strongly prohibited.
- E.g. Incest, suicide
- There are not many taboos (there is often overlap with the law)
*Keep in mind that a folkway can get progressively stronger and be enacted into law.
Understanding Cultural Difference
- Ethnocentrism o The tendency to judge other cultures according to the standards of one’s own culture.
o It is usually a negative judgement where we view our own culture as superior to others
– interpreting our own culture as superior to others.
o E.g. The foundations of Canada: mostly British settlers of Canada. They believed their
culture, the English language, their religion (Anglo-Saxon) as superior and they used this
to judge the culture of the Aboriginals. The British settlers believed it was their role to
assimilate Aboriginal Canadians of their culture and impose the British ways onto them.
Children were placed into residential schools where they were not allowed to speak
their own language, wear their traditional clothing, etc. They were told that the
Aboriginal culture was inferior.
- Cultural relativism
o This is the opposite of ethnocentrism.
o This is the idea that all cultures have equal values. They are all equally important. No
one culture is superior or inferior; they all have value.
o E.g. This is often discussed in regards to Canadian immigration.
Immigrants to Canada are allowed to retain their culture and religion, to
practice it and not be forced to adjust it in any way to adopt a Canadian identity.
This is referred to as a mosaic (the model) of being culturally accepting.
- Canadian culture
o What is it? Canadians often define themselves by what they are not:
Canadian tend to be more elitist – we are inclined to believe that people are
born into the upper-class. Americans have the “American dream” - endless
opportunities and need to work hard at it.
Canadians are more community-centric.
Appreciative of racial and ethnic variation.
o The idea that we can appreciate multiculturalism and that we can integrated different
cultures into our society.
Freedom v. Constraint
- Culture as Freedom
We can freely express our beliefs, be ourselves.
It enriches our Canadian culture, challenges us to be accepting.
We avoid ethnocentrism by being a multicultural society.
It is inclusive.
- Culture as Constraint
It can be an imposition on our lives, be a restraint.
Using the most efficient means to get to a desired end or outcome but there is
often these unintended negative consequences.
E.g. The Fast Food Industry: First part (efficient process to reach desired end): when you order a
meal, each person is doing a particular task to complete the production
of your meal (person making fries, making burger, etc.). This is an
efficient process to get your meal on a tray.
Second part (negative consequence): Researchers have found that those
individuals who complete those tasks feel isolated and alienated from
their coworkers and the production of that meal.
Sept. 26 – Culture Part II
- Example one: Food!
- High culture
o Consumed mainly by upper classes
E.g. attending the opera or ballet, these are activities that are typically associated with the
upper class. Another example is the sport polo.
- Popular culture
o Consumed by all classes
o Also called MASS CULTURE
E.g. Tim Horton’s is a part of popular culture.
Generally speaking, high culture carries more status because it is associated with the upper classes.
The image on the left is associated with high culture – nicer presentation vs.burger.
The image on the left is associated with high culture – fillet mignon vs. Kraft dinner. When you Google the “most expensive burger” or “most expensive macaroni and cheese”, this is what
you will get. Why would these fine dining restaurants create higher-end version of mass consumer food?
Example One: “Foodies” Baumann and Johnston