CHAPTER 3 CULTURE AND CULTURE CHANGE
***Why study culture?
Culture is an amazingly powerful social force that influences events as diverse as whom we
marry and whether we go to war.
While a conflict of material interests usually sets the stage for war, culture can play a large
role in determining whether war is waged.
Culture also plays a role in various social cleavages between many social groups within the
***What is culture?
Languages, symbols, discourses, texts, knowledge, values, attitudes, beliefs, norms, world
views, folkways, art, music, ideas, and ideologies are all ‘culture’, as are the practices through
which these things are often performed or put into concrete form.
Structural aspects of society are the enduing patterns of social relations and social
institutions through which society is organized and through which individual and collective
actions are carried out. (Ex. political system, economic system)
A high degree of occupational segregation by gender is not culture but structural. It is an
enduring pattern of social behavior, existing primarily not at a mental level but at a level of
The idea that it is normal or proper for men to be principals and women to be elementary
school teachers is a cultural value. (The fact is structural property, but the gender beliefs that
underlie this pattern are culture)
In Canada, the widely held preference for representative democracy and a belief that it is a
legitimate and necessary form of self-government represent a deep-rooted aspect of
Known in the sociological literature as the state, our democratic government is a structural
dimension of social life
One does not qualify as culture because it is not in itself a symbol; it does not exist to be
received and understood as having a meaning.
The national anthem and the Canadian flag are both explicit political symbols (The
parliament buildings in Ottawa are symbols too)
---Culture in place and time
Culture can vary systematically between nations, even in ways we are commonly unaware of.
Local cultural variations exist in a broader cultural environment of greater similarities than
differences. (I.e. they are share a Canadian culture)
Age and gender are just two of man y social boundaries that can differentiate between
cultures. Other social lines along which cultural elements may fall include race and ethnicity,
sexual orientation, religion, and many other ways that people see fit to distinguish
Another social space with important cultural implications is social class
The cultures of different social groups within a society likewise share more similarities than
differences The dimensions of physical and social space are relatively but not entirely independent of
each other (There are overlaps between cultures)
Different subcultures interact with each other all the time
Borrowing across cultures happens all the time. Sometimes, the borrowing of culture across
social boundaries can offend a group’s sense of identity and cultural heritage.
Culture varies over time. It is very static and always developing new features and
***The role of culture in social theory
---Orthodox Marxist and neo-Marxist theories
One of the most influential theoretical perspectives in sociology is Marxism.
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 and then to industrial capitalism.
In Marxist terminology, the economic mode or production forms the ‘base’ of society on
which the ‘superstructure’ rests, which includes everything else, including all cultural
elements of society
Neo-Marxist perspectives do not adhere so strictly to the view that culture is entirely
dependent on society’s mode of production. These perspectives share with Marxism a focus
on the role of culture in maintaining and supporting capitalism and inequality, but they differ
from Marxism insofar as they view culture as more than simply the reflection of the
underlying economic base.
One particularly important neo-Marxist perspective on culture is the argument that our
current economic mode of production is accompanied by a dominant ideology. (This
ideology is a system of thoughts, knowledge, and beliefs that serves to legitimate and
perpetuate capitalism) Neo-Marxist recognizes that culture can be shaped by specific groups
and individuals who seek to achieve certain social outcomes.
The groups responsible for the creation and promotion of popular culture within the
entertainment industry are themselves significant members of the bourgeoisie.
Growing out of a neo-Marxist perspective, the cultural studies tradition is a field with roots
in British literary scholarship and in sociology.
The specific insight that cultural studies borrows from neo-Marxists is that culture can be
shaped and manipulated by dominant groups and employed to maintain hegemony, which is
a common-sense understanding that inequality and domination by elites is natural and
Dominant groups can be defined not only by class position but also by race, gender,
geography, and sexual orientation.
Stuart Hall:communication of meaning requires both encoding and decoding Another significant insight of Hall’s is that meaning does not simply exist as part of cultural
creations but instead is constructed by individuals through the process of receiving and
Culture not merely reflective of things in society, it also helps to shape it
A significant continuity between Marxist and neo-Marxist views of culture is that culture is
implicated in the essentially conflictual nature of society. Culture supports dominant groups
in their efforts to maintain their dominance
Emile Durkheim: the views on culture that are based on Durkheimian sociological insights
focus on the integrative ability of culture
He identified the ways in which culture can create social stability and solidarity, focusing on
how culture unites us rather than how culture divides us
The cultural elements are generated according to the needs of society by its form as a more
or less complex system
Culture rises out of a particular society’s social structure to produce a general consensus
about the goals and nature of society
Culture serves a necessary function: through common values and beliefs, society is able to
remain coherent, and all the different parts of society can effectively carry out their specific
Durkheim paid special attention to the role of religion—made possible the affirmation of
collective sentiments and ideas and one that could therefore play an important role in
strengthening social bonds that then strengthened and reinforced the fabric of society
---Symbolic interactionist and dramaturgical perspectives
A third important perspective treats culture as a product of individuals’ interactions.
In symbolic interactionist thought, culture plays the role of a vehicle for meaning and is
generated by individuals in face-to-face encounters.
Body languages, the decisions we make and carry out to reveal or to suppress certain pieces
of information about ourselves are also cultures
In terms of its view on culture, the symbolic interactionist approach contrasts with Marxist
and functionalist approaches insofar as it attributes more responsibility to individuals as the
active creators and implementers of culture.
One of the most influential theorists to write about the interactions of individuals was Erving
Goffman. He developed an analytical framework that analogizes social interaction to what
goes on in a theatre. It is known as dramaturgical perspective. When we interact with people,
we assume a role for the situation we find ourselves in and perform that role according to a
well-known script that defines the boundaries of what is expected and acceptable for the
role. (Front-stage and back-stage: let down our guard and behave informally and in ways that
would embarrass us)
Social order is constituted by the creation and use of meanings embodied in interaction Rather than culture playing a fundamental role in shaping individuals’ very consciousness, as
the functionalist perspective would argue, the dramaturgical perspective sees culture as a
tool for creati