CHAPTER 3: SOCA01: REVIEW NOTES
Culture is a shared set of symbols and their definitions
Humans thrive in their environments because of their unique ability to generate
and use culture. CULTURE includes the ability to think abstractly, cooperate and
make tools and other artifacts.
The development of culture makes people freer, people have more choice in how
The development of culture puts limits on who we can become.
Culture As Meaning Generator
Side note: chapter 2 introduced concrete/abstract levels of experience. Concrete level
focuses on your empirical sensations of touch, taste, smell, sound and sight.
Culture allows our sensory experiences to become meaningful.
Once your cultural experience conditions you to interpret concrete experiences a
certain way, this becomes your reality.
Culture refers to high culture (culture consumed by upper classes: ex: Ballet, opera) OR
popular culture/mass culture (culture consumed by all classes)
Sociological definition: shared symbols and their definitions that people create to
solve real life problems
Symbols: concrete things or abstract terms that represent something else. Symbols fill
Example: the ring on my finger represents my marital status
The meaning of a symbol resides in what it refers to
Symbols have an abstract dimension: this abstract feature of a symbol’s definition
tells us what aspect of culture it refers to.
Symbols are shared, one person cannot just view a symbol.
Culture is composed of symbols whose meanings are shared among a substantion
number of people
Members who acquire a set of shared, meaningful symbols participate in
Culture is the primary driver of what people do because individuals respond to the
meaning of events, and the meaning of events derive from our culture.
CULTURE INTERVENES BETWEEN CONCRETE EXPERIENCE and US ASSIGNING ITS
SIGNIFICANCE. The Origins of Culture
Culture is the primary means where humans adapt to their environments: this is why
our definition of culture emphasizes that we create culture to solve real life problems.
1. Abstraction: is the ability to create general concepts that organize concrete,
sensory experience that means something to you.
Concepts that result from abstraction: most universal type of symbols in human
Concepts allow humans to organize, classify and generalize their experiences
Ex of a concept: we can sit on many things, however “chairs” have four legs, a
back… therefore the concept of a chair is generalized through experience
2. Cooperation: capacity to create a complex social life by establishing norms, or
generally accepted ways of doing things, and ideas about what are right and
wrong/ desirable states.
Different times and places give rise to different norms and values.
3. Production: involves making and using tools and techniques that improve our
ability to take what we want from nature.
These tools have a name: material culture: tangible items that comprise the
tools and techniques that enable people to get tasks accomplished
Non-material culture: intangible: symbols, norms, values
Three Types of Norms
Folkways: least important norms, they evoke the least severe punishment. They
are social preferences
Mores: are core norms that most people believe are essential for the survival of
their group or their society. They are social requirements
Taboos: among the strongest norms. When someone violates a taboo, it causes
revulsion in the community and punishment is severe. Example: Incest
Culture and Biology
Evolution of Human Behaviour
Biology sets broad human limits and potentials including the potential to create culture.
Male promiscuity, Female Fidelity, Myths
1. Universal claim: Men are more likely than women are to want many sexual
2. Survival-value argument: Fertile women typically release only one egg per
month. These differences allow men and women to develop different strategies
to increase the chances of reproduction.
3. Conclusion: these biologically based reproductive strategies are encoded or
hardwired in our genes. Therefore, male promiscuity and female fidelity are
necessary. EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGIST THREE STEP ARGUMENT Process: universal human
behavioral trait, offered explanation of why this behavior increases survival chances,
conclusion that it cannot be changed
Problem: many of these psychologist’s “universal claims” are false. Your genes do
not hardwire your behavior patterns (male or female)
Must abandon evolutionary psychology and use sociological skills to analyze the
effects of social structures in order for understanding of social environment on
Language and the Sapir-Whorf Thesis
Language: system of symbols strung together to communicate thought
Language provides us with shared understandings allowing us to pass experience and
knowledge down from generations.
SAPIR-WHORF THESIS: holds that we experience certain things in our environment and
form concepts about those things. Then we develop language to express our concepts.
Then language itself influences our views.