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SOC101Y1 Lecture Notes - Cultural Relativism, Ethnocentrism, International Communication

Course Code
Robert Brym

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Sept. 22, 2010
Ritualistic practices widespread – assumed that wearing particular
items/doing particular things would bring good luck
(Instances of the emergence of culture)
Culture is that sum total of ideas, symbols, practices that help us solve
everyday problems
Develop cultural responses to problems (i.e. building a canoe to get
across a river, rituals before writing an examination)
Elements of culture all try to solve some human problem, deal with
anxiety, death, etc.
Ritual becomes culture when it is socially transmitted and becomes
widely accepted and spread from one generation to the next, MUST be
widely shared before we can call it culture (fulfills a particular human
For ex. Computer became culture when there was a social need for it
(i.e. decoding Nazi messages in WW2)
Culture: sum of socially transmitted ideas, practices, and material objects
Have trouble understanding the cultures of other people, often startled
when we confront the ideas, etc., of other cultures
Often conclude that they are inferior to our own culture
Ethnocentrism: involves judging another culture exclusively by the
standards of one’s own.
Cultural relativism: is the belief that all cultures should be respected as
equally valid.
Ex. of Ethnocentrism versus cultural relativism
Cliterectomy: Women considered to be unclean if they have a clitoris in
some cultures; thought to display masculine levels; less likely to
remain virgins before marriage and faithful within marriages; however
multitude of health problems can come with this
Manifestation of gender-based oppression
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Cultural practices that deny universal values that transcend any
particular culture; a line must be drawn at certain points - when those
principles are violated
Paradox: Some aspects of culture make us freer, some can constrain us
Provides us with an opportunity to do as we wish, we create elements
of culture in our everyday lives to deal with particular problems, we do
so in a way that enhances our freedom
Raw materials for the culture that we create either existed before we
were born OR that other people created since we were born – can put
elements together in new ways
There are certain limits on what we can say or do; this is the paradox
One of the things that has taken place since about 1980 is an intense
globalization of the world
Amount of international travel that has taken place (as migrants,
tourists) has increased; volume of international trade has also
increased and so has communication
International communication has become inexpensive, and thus
Many transnational organizations have been created; such as the UN,
EU, etc. bringing people together from many different countries;
creating agreements that constrain the freedom of individual countries
We can take dress from different cultures and wear it in any way we
like, eat whatever we like – we are inclined to shape our styles of dress,
music we listen to, political beliefs as if we are in a smorgasbord
We are free to choose elements of culture that we like (30/40 years of
our culture)
Culture more fragmented: more culture diversity and less monolithic
(certain values which were once held to be core values that were never
questioned are now questioned) then it used to be (culture is now more
Key element of our culture was once that scientific advances would
help humanity (50 years ago for ex.)
Notion that the father is the supreme authority in the 60s has become
as fragmented as the idea that science is going to solve all of our
Postmodernism involves:
1) The eclectic mixing of cultural elements from different times and places
2) The erosion of authority; and
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