SOC101Y1 Lecture Notes - Cultural Relativism, Ethnocentrism, Consumerism

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11 Jan 2011
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INTRODUCTION TO SOCIOLOGY (SOC101)
Professor Robert Brym
DATE: September 16
LECTURE 2: Culture
Culture: The sum of socially transmitted ideas, practices, and material objects that people
create to overcome real-life problems. It gives us guidelines for how to act.
Ex 1: Hero`s Aelopile was invented around the 1
st
century CE, used as a means of opening
doors. The idea then died until the late 18
th
century w hen the Industrial Revolution was taking
place.
Ex 2: The Atanasoff-Ber r y Digital Computer was invented in early 1939. The idea died off
until it was needed during WWII.
Inventions like these became part of culture when there was a widespread social need for
them.
Society: Exists when people interact and share culture, generally in a geographically delimited
area
Ethnocentrism: judging other cultures exclusively by the standards of your own culture
Cultural Relativism: the belief that all elements of all cultures should be respected as equally
valid
Ex. Cliterectomy- Should this practice be allowed?
Basically, we should reject cultural practices that take away universal values like dignity,
freedom and justice
Culture provides an oppor tunity for us to exercise our freedoms, solve problems, and express
ourselves
But it also constrains us- existing culture puts limits on what people say and do
People today are much less isolated than they used to be
However, people are freer now to fashion their own identities from the global culture
The term postmodernism is used to describe the state of Western society today, characterized
by:
1-The eclectic mixing of culture from different times and places- globalization makes this
more possible
2-The erosion of various for ms of author ity
Ex 1: A few decades ago most people had confidence in scientific progress and its
benefits for humankind. Today, people are more likely to believe that science will harm
us in the long run.
Ex 2: Societys changing views of the role of the father as an author ity f igure can be
expressed through popular TV shows at different points; Father Knows Best of the
1950s shows an authoritative, respected figure, while this generations Homer Simpson
is depicted as quite the opposite.
3-The decline of consensus around core values
Two aspects of contemporary culture that restrain us:
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