SOCA01- Lecture 2 (09/17/09)
SOCA01 – Lecture 2
Some people call sociologist’ jobs sociological engineering.
Origins of Culture
Culture is social forces in action
It shapes what we think and do
Two types of usage
1. Popular everyday usage
2. Sociological usage of the term
Culture is the total way of life of a group of people, the way they think, behave, and their
Materialistic: the tools, objects and materials that people use in various cultures
(physical objects that are specific to that culture). In today’s society, that would be
things such as pcs, ipods, etc.
Symbolic culture: ideas, values, beliefs, norms
Power of culture can be seen when we observe a team, group, family, classroom, nation, etc.
We note that behaviour is patterned, orderly, and predictable; not haphazard and
E.g. lecture hall manners: listening, not talking, taking notes, etc. Culture shapes these
beliefs of what to do, individuals have little to do this despite popular belief.
Culture is responsible for behavioural regularity.
It is the most powerful force that molds social forces and the mind.
Culture is a Paradox: Freedom & Constraint
Paradox: culture has two contrasting faces- one gives you freedom and one constraints.
Culture and social forces constrain you from doing the forbidden.
It limits freedom, but also gives us freedom. How? Through:
Bureaucratization: growth of large organizations such as businesses and unions.
Slide 6 (You can escape this by getting educated, becoming a professional, and opening
your own business, so you are not under anyone.)
Multiculturalism: can practise your own culture without prosecution
Postmodernism/Globalisation: breakdown of old ways of thinking and is replaced by
relativistic thinking. The way people behave is broadened and widened, and tolerance is
increased, so people go about doing their own thing.
Feral children: see things differently and act differently because they are deprived of cultural
exposure, and it is culture that reaches us what to see and think.
Culture teaches you to see things from the standpoint of your culture.
Social Interactionism (slide 7)
Don’t accept it like they did socialism
Consumerism (slide 9)
Today, the idea “I am what I buy” is most prominent. SOCA01- Lecture 2 (09/17/09)
Although consumerism is a constraint, it does shape our wants, desires, etc. (paradox on its
Advertising plays on people’s self worth (if you don’t have this specific product, you are
old-fashioned and uncool)
Subcultures: smaller cultures within larger cultures
E.g. adolescent subculture: listen to certain music, have certain icons and role models,
dress a certain way.
Adolescents are looking for a social identity, and this subculture gives them the
subculture they are seeking.
For the most part though, consumerism is a constraint.
Capitalist society: everyone’s livelihood is dependent on everyone buying something.
In America, the government introduced the ‘Junk for Clunkers’ program → citizens
would be paid $10,000 to ditch an old car in a junkyard and buy a new one. This was a
ploy to encourage consumerism.
From Counterculture to Subculture
Consumerism is a social control mechanism that prevents countercultures from becoming too
It does this by buying people off
Thus, it neutralizes counterculture
Often popular culture says: (slide 11)
McDonalds, movies, etc. = uncultured
Sociologists do not agree
Opera, art gallery = cultured
Popular culture is spread by mass media
Consumed by all classes
How do we get Culture?
Social scientists: knowledge people have morality, art, ideas people have
Culture tells you what to do and what not to do
Culture must be Shared
If ideas are peculiar to an individual (or small group) we call that idiosyncratic; that CANNOT be
When people behave in ways that we do not recognize, they may be labelled as “emotionally
The cause? They have not learned the socially or culturally correct ways, and thus just
act out of ignorance.
Mental disturbances can be attributed to this.
Sharing culture is critical, because it means that collective action is possible, and people can
cooperate, because they share values, beliefs, and language.
Humans are a special species, as they are good at cooperation.
We can do this because we possess the tool of language which gives us the ability to
communicate about sophisticated ideas.
Culture must be Transmitted
It must be passed on from others (usually from older people to younger people) SOCA01- Lecture 2 (09/17/09)
However, modern societies are different than traditional societies in that often the
youngsters can possess more knowledge than the elders (e.g. technological knowledge)
In traditional societies, elders had monopoly on knowledge, since it did not change
rapidly at all. Today, this is all different mainly due to the fact that everything is
changing so rapidly, and the youngsters are able to keep up.
Culture as Perception
Culture shapes perception
We see the world through cultural spectacles. We see what and how it wants us to.
It has a big influence on our views and perspectives.
Culture gives people a window on the world
Selective perception: e.g. when a Torontonian looks at frozen water, he/she sees ICE,
but when an Inuit (of Nunavut) sees frozen ice, he/she sees 200 different kinds of ice
(such as pack ice, sea ice, etc.)
This level of discrimination is unique to Inuits, because their culture has it within
it, but our culture does not deem this worthy of knowing. Therefore, the only
way we can get this knowledge is by learning it through external means.
Culture tells us what to see and what not to see
Culture is Arbitrary
As we are socialized, we lose touch with how arbitrary it is.
However, young kids have a grasp on this.
E.g. MacKinnon told a child he was fixing a broken object, and the child asked why you
fix broken things, but MacKinnon had no explanation but: because that’s what you are
supposed to do! (This is dictated