Culture is the core ideas, beliefs, values, language, and material objects that result from social life that
are transmitted from one generation to the next as the basis for the identity of a society and for the social
behavior within it.
Informal definition: culture are all the tricks we have learned in a society in order to survive.
Animals can survive in two ways:
Either know how to survive instinctually
Advantage: born knowing everything you need to know; efficient
Disadvantage: when circumstances change, it’s hard/almost impossible to adapt
Instinctual knowledge is ALWAYS specialized knowledge to a certain type of environment.
It is useful and efficient as long as the environment stays the same
Or they have to learn how to survive
Advantage: can adapt, can learn anything
Instinctual knowledge allows you to be a specialist, learned knowledge allows you to be a generalist. In the
long run, it is better to be a generalist. Mammals are generalists, insects are instinctual. More complex
animals tend to be generalists.
For our purposes, culture is composed of two elements:
Technology: tools, etc.
Our ideas influence the technology we develop Materialistic determinism (or: economic determinism)
Our tools condition our ideas (e.g. the gods we have)
Culture Lag Theory
In every human society, we have a lag in which our values and gods are always trying to catch up with our
Easy to change technology, not easy to change gods
In the long run, it is our values and morality that accommodate themselves to our conditions
Ex. Protestant ethic (for merchants), originally trains, moving fast were denounced as devilish
Our gods are never on the same page as our tools
Technology “drives the train” in the long run; could be ideology in the short run.
The tools that any society has for its survival determine everything else; everything else has to adjust to that
If you live by a screwdriver, you cannot have a religion that prohibits a screwdriver.
Culture is passed on through generations like a game of “telephone.” It changes slightly with each time is
passed on. NonMaterial Culture 9/14/12
NonMaterial Culture: four basic elements
First three regulate and create social life. Fourth is very important as well.
1: Values of the society
What is good and what is bad
Every society needs a moral matrix
Where do they come from in most societies?
Some are more important than others
Most important ones in most societies are the Ten Commandments
It is based on these values that people create norms (expression of the values of a society)
2: Norms of the society
The rules and regulations of the society; based on the values of the society.
3: Sanctions of the society
How society reacts to individuals’ behavior
Imposes punishments and rewards
Punishments for those who break the norms
Ultimate punishment is death
Rewards for those who exceed the norms
Most of us break little norms b/c they have little sanctions
If society doesn’t have sanctions, you no longer have a society, because everyone can just do whatever
they want to do. NonMaterial Culture 9/14/12
Vital to society
Without communication, you cannot have social behavior
Other animals work with signs
Sign is directly and intrinsically related to the thing with it signifies
Human beings work with symbols
Symbols have no direct correlation to what they signify; they are arbitrarily assigned
Language does not describe reality, language creates reality
We can only talk about things for which our language has a word
You can translate words, but it is very difficult to meaning e (the social reality that they refer to)
SapirWhorf or Whorfian Hypothesis
Our realities are bounded by our linguistic systems.
People who speak different languages live in different social realities.
Words are names associated with particular meanings which we know, but are different in different
We are limited in our social life to the things for which we have symbols. The Ties That Bind Us 9/17/12
Ties bind us not only horizontally (egalitarianism) but also vertically (interdependence but some more
important than others).
What is it that makes us social? Two kinds of bonds
Strongest between mother and child
Bond not as strong with father because not always sure who father is
Secondary kinship bonds:
Exogamy Rules: people with whom you cannot reproduce; mostly universal in all societies
You can’t marry anyone in your family
You can’t marry anyone in your village
Creates ties between families; villages
Arranged marriages – joining two families (opposed to today’s Western society where we have romantic
marriages, joining two individuals)
Social Division of Labor The Ties That Bind Us 9/17/12
A society in which all families are identical in class and function; linkages occur through marriages
Will survive even if parts die out
A society in which individuals all have different roles/functions and depend on other individuals for different
Specialization creates interdependence and increasing reliance on other specialists for group survival
But some skills are more important and/or more difficult to learn; some knowledge is offbounds for others
Unbalanced power and different classes develop based on ability and, to some degree, politics, because
different salaries reflect the relative importance of knowledge ▯ more power
Men tend to have most power
Women depend on men much more than men depend on women
Rational Exchange Theory
We exchange things for mutual benefit (i.e. money for dentistry)
We are constantly exchanging things with each other
Any interaction is an exchange, regar