SOC 1100 Chapter Notes - Chapter 3: Making Money, The Postmodern Condition, Postmodern Culture

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10 Aug 2016
Week #3 – January 20-22nd, 2015
Chapter #3: Culture – page #60-86:
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. Crucial aspects of culture include the ability to think abstractly, cooperate, and make
tools and other artifacts
Although sociologists recognize that biology sets broad human limits and potentials, most
sociologists do not believe that specific human behaviours and social arrangements are
biologically determined
In some respects, the development of culture makes people freer. As cultures become more
diversified and consensus declines, people have more choice in how they live
In other respects, the development of culture puts limits on who we can become
Culture as Problem Solving:
Like all elements of culture, superstitions help people to solve challenges of life
Humans turn to their culture for solutions and at the root of culture is solving the problem of
Culture as Meaning Generator:
The power of culture is that it makes our sensory experiences meaningful
Once your cultural experience conditions you to interpret concrete experiences a certain way,
this becomes your reality
Culture Defined:
High Culture is culture consumed mainly by upper classes (opera, ballet, etc)
Popular Culture (or mass culture) is culture consumed by all classes
Culture consists of the shared symbols and their definitions that people create to solve real-
life problems
Symbols are concrete things or abstract terms that represent something else
The Origins of Culture:
Culture is the primary means by which humans adapt to their environments; that is why our
definition of culture emphasizes that we create culture to solve real-life problems
You can appreciate the importance of culture for human survival by considering the
predicaments of early humans about 100,000 years ago lived in harsh natural environments
and had poor physical endowments, but they prospered and survived mainly because they
were the smartest creatures around
Their sophisticated brains enabled them to create cultural “survival kits” of enormous
complexity and flexibility, containing 3 main tools
1. Abstraction is the ability to create general concepts that meaningfully organize
concrete, sensory experience
o Concepts allow humans to organize, classify, interpret, and generalize their
2. Cooperation is the capacity to create a complex social life by establishing generally
accepted ways of doing things and ideas about what is right and wrong
o Norms are generally accepted ways of doing things
o Values the ideas that identify desirable states (conditions that are good, true, or
3. Production is the human capacity to make and use tools. It improved our ability to take
what we want from nature
o Material culture comprises the tools and techniques that enable people to get
tasks accomplished
o Non-material culture is composed of symbols, norms, and other intangible
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Week #3 – January 20-22nd, 2015
Three Types of Norms: Folkways, Mores, and Taboos:
Folkways are the least important norms and they evoke the least severe punishment
Mores are core norms that most people believe are essential for the survival of their group
or their society
Taboos are among the strongest norms. When someone violates a taboo, it causes
revulsion in the community and punishment is severe
Culture and Biology:
The Evolution of Human Behaviour:
Biology sets broad human limits and potentials, including the potential to create culture
Male Promiscuity, Female Fidelity, and Other Myths:
Evolutionary psychologists employ a 3-step argument for their biological explanation of
human behaviour and social arrangements
1. They identify a supposedly universal human behavioural trait
2. They offer an explanation for why this behaviour increases survival chances through
3. They conclude that the behaviour in question cannot easily be changed
Changes in social environment produce physical and, to an even greater degree, behavioural
To determine the effects of the social environment on human behaviour, we have to abandon
the premises of evolutionary psychology and use sociological skills to analyze the effects of
social structure and culture
Language and the Sapir-Whorf Thesis:
A language is a system of symbols strung together to communicate thought
Equipped with language, we can share understandings, pass experience and knowledge
from one generation to the next, and make plans for the future
Language allows culture to develop and is a primary carrier of culture
The Sapir-Whorf Thesis holds that we experience certain things in our environment and
form concepts about those things. We then develop language to express our concepts.
Finally, language itself influences how we see the world
Culture as Freedom and Constraint:
A Functionalist Analysis of Culture Culture and Ethnocentrism:
Despite its central importance in human life, culture is often invisible it usually seems so
sensible and natural that people rarely think about it
In contrast, people are often startled when confronted by cultures other than their own
(culture shock) the ideas, norms, and techniques of other cultures frequently seem odd,
irrational, and even inferior
Ethnocentrism is the tendency for a person to judge other cultures exclusively by the
standards of his or her own; thinking that the beliefs, norms, and values of one’s culture are
superior to the beliefs, norms, and values of other cultures (which can hinder sociological
Culture as Freedom:
Culture provides us with an opportunity to exercise our own freedom
Culture also constrains us existing culture puts limits on what we can think and do
Symbolic Interactionism and Cultural Production:
Until the 1960s, it was argued that culture is a “reflection” of society regarded culture as a
dependent variable
Symbolic interactionist tradition has influenced many sociologists of culture view is that
people do not accept culture passively
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