Reading – Ch 2
Ch 2: Culture
Culture: ideas, practices, and material objects that people create to deal with real-life problems
Religion helps people give meaning to life and come to terms with death. Tools and religion are elements of
High culture: activities consumed mainly by upper classes (opera, ballet, art)
Popular/mass culture: activities consumed by all classes
Culture is socially transmitted and it requires a society to persist.
Society: a number of people who interact, usually in a defined territory, and share a culture.
The Origins and Components of Culture
Brains enabled them to create cultural survival kits of enormous complexity and flexibility. 3 main tools:
1) Abstraction: the capacity to create general ideas or ways of thinking not linked to particular instances
1 important type of idea: Symbols: things that carry particular meanings and allow us to classify
experience and generalize from it.
2) Cooperation: capacity to create a complex social life by sharing resources and working together
this is accomplishing by establishing norms: generally accepted ways of doing things, and values
about what’s right/wrong, good/bad
By analyzing how people cooperate and produce norms and values, we can learn much about what
distinguishes one culture from another.
3) Production: the human capacity to make and use tools. It improves our ability to take what we want
material culture: tangible tools/techniques
non-material culture: intangible (symbols, norms, value)
3 Types of Norms
folkway: norms that evoke the least severe punishment when violated (least important)
mores: core norms most people believe are essential for the survival of their group/society
taboos: when someone violates a taboo, it causes a revulsion in the community and punishment is severe
Language and the Sapir-Whorf Thesis
Language: a system of symbols strung together to communicate thought and allows culture to develop,
In the 1930s, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf proposed an influential argument about the connection
between experience, thought and language, known as the Sapir-Whorf Thesis.
We form concepts about things that we experience (path 1-2) and develop language to express our concepts (2-
3) Language then influences how we see the world (3-1)
The controversial part is path 3-1 SOC100
Reading – Ch 2
In the 1908s & 1990s, researchers found that language itself can affect perception. Eg. German word for key is
masculine (hard, heavy, jagged). In Spanish it’s feminine.
Gender of noun influences how people see the thing to which the noun refers
Culture as Freedom and Constraint
Culture is often invisible people tend to take their own culture for granted.
Ethnocentrism: judging another culture exclusively by the standards of your own
Manifest functions: Visible & intended effects of social structures
Latent functions: invisible & unintended effects of social structures
Culture provides us with an opportunity to exercise our freedom. The raw materials for the culture we create
consist of cultural elements that either existed before we were born or that other people have created since our
birth. We may put these elements together in ways that produce something genuinely new.
Symbolic Interactionism and Cultural Production
Until 1960s, many sociologists argued that culture is a “reflection” of society.
Symbolic interactionists regard culture as an independent variable.
people don’t just accept culture passively, we produce and interpret culture; fashioning it to suit our diverse