SOC 101 Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: Robert Neelly Bellah, Cultural Relativism, Nuclear Technology

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26 Sep 2016
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Sociology 101:
Principles of Sociology: Lecture 5 & 6
Intro: The Cultural Context of Social Life:
Culture refers to ways of thinking, believing and behaving or acting, that are shared by
members of a given society. Culture is produced by society but serves as a "social glue"
that holds society together.
Culture is universal, and represents a "blueprint" or "design" for living of a group of
people whose members share a common territory, language and recognize a common or
shared identity or ancestry.
Culture is learned and transmitted across generations through language and socialization
or social experience.
Culture consist of two components: material and non-material aspects or components as
follows:
A. Material culture - consists of things such as technology, cars, buildings,
weapons, art, machines, etc.
B. Non-material culture - includes words, values, beliefs, language, ideas, ideologies,
philosophies, gestures and other forms of symbolic communication or interaction.
Both components of culture are created by human beings interacting meaningfully.
"Culture" is a human construct.
Both material and non-material aspects or components of culture combine to produce
different societies at different historical periods in time. Both are are interconnected (Ex:
technology or buildings start as ideas. Buildings start as ideas and are represented or
expressed in an architectural design before they are constructed.)
Culture is always "in flux" (ever changing because it is a human construction)
Because culture is a product of human creation, it is expected to serve humanity rather
than control people.
In reality, human beings are either dependent on culture or are controlled by it. Human
beings are dependent on material aspects of culture such as modes of transport or
automobiles, cell phones for communicating, internet, airplanes, medical technology to
prolong human life or for survival; nuclear technology for peaceful purposes (providing
energy) or for war especially in the case of nuclear powers such as the United States,
China or Russia.
Symbolic Culture is important for symbolic interaction. Symbols and language are
important in understanding and studying culture. Symbols are given meaning through
consensus or shared values. Language is "a symbolic system" which depends on shared
or common meaning.
Through language, people share knowledge and communicate emotions and feelings.
Also, language guides and shapes people's perceptions of social reality. Language
creates ways of thinking and perceiving. Language is the basis of culture.
Radical Marxists view the purpose of language as shaping perceptions of power
relationships. When corporate America lays off workers, this is not viewed as unfair or
immoral, but rather praised as a prudent business decision.
Culture and "Taken-for-Granted Orientations to Life:
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Culture is not natural; rather it is socially constructed and learned or transmitted across
generations through language and socialization or social experience.
Culture enters people's lives so deeply that it is often taken for granted. Culture provides
the lens or mirror through which people evaluate things, including other people or other
cultures. This leads to ethno-centrism.
Ethno-centrism means using one's culture to evaluate other cultures or people. Such an
evaluation inevitably gives way to biased or negative evaluation of other people's values,
norms, and behaviors.
Cultural Relativism is the antidote or the antithesis of ethnocentrism. Cultural Relativism
means trying to understand and appreciate other people's ways of life in the context in
which they live or exist without passing judgment about whether they are inferior or
superior to your own culture. This helps individuals to understand and to appreciate
other people's ways of life. Furthermore, it requires that people suspend their own
perspectives in order to understand the perspectives of others.
Cultural Shock means coming to contact with a radically different culture or even sub-
culture which produces culture shock. This means the disorientation that people
experience when they come in contact with a radically different culture or sub-culture
and can no longer depend on what they take for granted in their own culture.
Values: are socially shared ideas in a society about what is good, right and desirable.They are
abstract or ideal standards of behavior. Through values, people define the good and bad, the
beautiful and ugly, justice and injustice, or fairness and unfairness.
Values influence the content of norms which guide the behavior or conduct of people in
specific social contexts or actual situations.
Every society has its own values.
Values are difficult to identify even in a relatively homogenous society
American Values: (See pp. 52-53 in the main text.)
In a multicultural/multiethnic or pluralistic society such as the United States, it is more
difficult to arrive at universally accepted values. As a result, American sociologists have
identified fifteen core values that appear to be shared by the majority of the American
population.
Such core values include: individualism, achievement and success, humanitarianism,
competition, democracy, fairness, or social justice.
Most of these core values tend to contradict with other. (Ex: individualism vs.
humanitarianism or volunteerism) (concern for others; social justice versus prevalence of
social injustice, unfairness or discrimination on the basis of gender, race and ethnicity or
class; democracy (Ex: the will of the majority) vs. special interest groups that dominate
the political process.
Emerging (new) American Values:
New or emerging American values include leisure and recreation, concern for the
environment, narcissism (Ex: obsession with self or self-absorption).
Some Americans, especially Baby Boomers or Yuppies stress the commitment to self-
fulfillment. Since the 1980s to the present, such values are observed with the
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