Chapter 2 – Culture
1) Culture as Problem Solving
Culture is the sum of shared ideas, practices, and material objects that people create to adapt
to, and thrive in, their environments.
- Languages, symbols, values, ideologies
People create rituals or wear lucky jewelry or clothing in order to deal with anxiety, pressure,
and stressful events.
- Methods we create to deal with real-life problems, like tools and religion.
High culture is culture consumed mainly by upper classes.
- Opera, ballet, art
Popular culture or mass culture is culture consumed by all classes.
What is a society? A number of people who interact, usually bin a defined territory, and share a
2) The Origins and Components of Culture
Humans have thrived in their environments because of their unique ability to think abstractly,
cooperate with one another, and make tools.
Despite certain predicaments, ancient humans survived and modern humans now dominate
nature because humans possess sophisticated brains that allowed them to create complex and
flexible cultural survival kits with tools that were uniquely human talent.
The first tool was abstraction: the human capacity to create general ideas or ways of thinking
that are not linked to particular instances.
What are symbols: important type of idea; anything that carries a particular meaning, including
the components of language, mathematical notations, and signs; allow us to classify experience
and generalize from it.
NORMS AND VALUES
The second tool was cooperation: the human capacity to create a complex social life by sharing
resources and working together.
What are norms: generally accepted ways of doing things.
PRODUCTION, MATERIAL CULTURE, AND NON-MATERIAL CULTURE
The third tool is production: the human capacity to make and use tools; improves our ability to
take what we want from nature.
What is material culture? The tools and techniques that enable people to accomplish tasks.
What is non-material culture? Symbols, norms, and other non-tangible elements of culture.
THREE TYPES OF NORMS: FOLKWAYS, MORES, AND TABOOS
What is a folkway? The least important norms – the norms that evoke the least severe
punishment when violated; social preferences.
- A shirtless man in public
What is a more? Core norms that most people believe are essential for the survival of their
group or their society; social requirements.
- A pant-less man in public
What are taboos? The strongest norms; when someone violates a taboo, it causes a revulsion in
the community and punishment is severe.
LANGUAGE AND THE SAPIR-WHORF THESIS
What is language? A system of symbols strung together to communicate thought; arguably the
most important part of culture. - Gives ability to share understandings, experiences, knowledge so it allows culture to
Sapir-Whorf thesis: 1930s, Edward Sapir & Benjamin Lee Whorf; holds that we experience
certain things in our environment and form concepts about those things; we then develop
language to express our concepts and language itself influences how we see the world.
3) Culture as Freedom and Constraint
In some respects, the development of culture makes people freer. For example, culture has
become more diversified and consensus has declined in many areas of life, allowing people
more choice in how they live.
In other respects, the development of culture puts limits on who we can become. For example,
the culture of buying consumer goods has become a virtually compulsory pastime. Increasingly,
therefore, people define themselves by the goods they purchase.
A FUNCTIONALIST ANALYSIS OF CULTURE: CULTURE AND ETHNOCENTRISM
People tend to take their own culture for granted and are startled when confronted by other
What is ethnocentrism? The tendency to judge other cultures exclusively by the standards of
Functionalist theory can illuminate otherwise mysterious social practices and claims that social
structures have consequences that make social order possible. Some of these consequences are:
- Manifest functions: visible and intended effects of social structures.
- Latent functions: the invisible and unintended effects of social structures.
Refraining from judging other societies by standards of your own aids in developing a
sociological understanding of culture.
4) Culture as Freedom
Culture has two faces: provides us with an opportunity to exercise our freedom (problem
solving, expression), but also constrains us in a sense (limitations).
SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM AND CULTURAL PRODUCTION
1960s: culture was regarded as a dependent variable.
- India: necessity to protect cows caused cultural belief that cows are holy.
- Recent decades: symbolic integrationists regard culture as an independent variable.
People creatively produce and interpret culture.
- To an extent, we choose how culture influences us.
Cultural diversity in Canada: 20% European, 70% Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Philippine
- Interracial marriage
- Influences music, clothing, food, architecture.
- However, conflict at political level.
History books were written from the