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3. Culture and Culture Change .docx

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University of Waterloo
SOC 101
Barry Mc Clinchey

Chapter 3: Culture and Culture Change Why Study Culture?  Culture --- a powerful social force that influences events as diverse as whom we marry and whether we go to war  Influences how we relate to others  Includes preferences and ideas and notions o Allow us to in our daily lives to feel connections to other people  Cultural similarities influence our decisions not only about getting married but about all kinds of connections  Culture can play a role in creating and worsening the divisions between groups or societies that can lead to war  Culture plays a role in dividing us from others  Social groups --- culture is important since it’s the key to understanding how we relate to each other What is Culture?  Recognize that culture is those elements of social life that have meaning that social actors interpret and can also convey  Culture --- languages, symbols, discourses, texts, knowledge, values, attitudes, beliefs, norms, world views, folkways, art, music, ideas and ideologies  Structural aspects of society --- enduring patterns of social relations and social institutions through which society is organized and through which individual and collective actions are carried  Cultural elements --- carry meaning and can be interpreted  E.G. segregation is structural aspect, gender beliefs is cultural aspect  Culture in Place and Time: o Culture can refer to the entire social reality of particular social and geographical groups in comparison to other social groups o E.G. Toronto’s urbanism is often cited for its impersonality and inward looking character and contracts with the habits, manners, and interaction styles of St. John’s o Such local cultural variations exist in a broader cultural environment of greater similarities than differences o Cultures vary according to social space or according to social groups o Social boundaries ---- age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, social class, etc. o Dimensions of physical and social space are relatively but not entirely independent of each other  E.G. studying culture of retirement communities --- see that these are physical spaces populated mostly by a specific social group defined by age o Cases in which the physical and the social spatial dimensions of culture intersect to the exclusion of other social groups are fairly narrowly circumscribed o Different subcultures interact with each other  E.G. the young visit their grandparents at the retirement home  Various social classes use the same room for different functions o Borrowing across cultures happens  Often happens without anyone noticing  Sometimes can happen in ways that are thought to be illegitimate - -- leads to cultural appropriation (which can offend a group’s sense of identity and cultural heritage) o Culture is never static  Always developing new features and characteristics  Varies throughout time  Temporal dimension of culture is independent of its physical and social locations  Many observers say that the rate of cultural change is increasing in the recent time periods The Role of Culture in Social Theory  Orthodox Marxist and Neo-Marxist Theories: o Karl Marx was responding directly to previous philosophical arguments about the central role of ideas in determining the path of history and the nature of social reality o The general cultural environment worked at the level of ideas to shape people’s thought and actions and so was in principle the root cause behind events and social change o Marxism argues that the nature of society is determined primarily by the prevailing mode of economic production --- evolving through history from agrarian societies to slave ownership to feudalism then to industrial capitalism  Structural --- argues that all social change is a result of the economic organization of society  Economic mode of production forms the ‘base’ of society on which the ‘superstructure’ rests, which includes everything else (including cultural elements of society) o Neo-Marxist perspectives do not adhere so strictly to the view that culture is entirely dependent on society’s mode of production  Borrow extensively from it, but they modify these insights and provide a significantly different view of culture  Perspectives share with Marxism a focus on the role of culture in maintaining and supporting capitalism and inequality, but differ in their view of culture as more than simply the reflection of the underlying economic base  Argument that our current economic mode of production is accompanied by a dominant ideology --- system of thoughts, knowledge and beliefs that serves to legitimate and perpetuate capitalism  Mental lives and thought modes are shaped to minimize criticism of capitalism and to maximize participation in and support of capitalism o Specific insight that cultural studies borrow from neo-Marxists is that culture can be shaped and manipulated by dominant groups and employed to maintain hegemony ---common-sense understanding that inequality and domination of elites is natural and inevitable  Cultural studies practitioners agree with neo-Marxists that culture can function to maintain social division, keeping some groups dominant over other  Differ in the recognition that class conflict is only one of many sites of ideological dominance  Dominant groups can be defined not only by class position but also by race, gender, geography, and sexual orientation o Hall explains that communication of meaning requires both encoding and decoding --- such things as an ad or TV show are created in such a way as to convey a particular perspective  Predominant beliefs of the creators are encoded into these cultural productions in subtle and subconscious ways  Meaning does not simply exist as part of cultural creations but instead is constructed by individuals through the process of receiving and interpreting culture  Neo-Marxists see culture as a mere artefact of the economic base  Culture supports dominant groups in their efforts to maintain their dominance  Cultural functionalism: o Émile Durkheim --- Durkheimian sociology  Focus on the integrative ability of culture  Paid attention to the role of religion as a motivating force in society o Identified the way in which culture can create social stability and solidarity, focusing on how culture unites us ra
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