3.1 Culture as Problem Solving
Superstitious practices of athletes put them at ease
Superstitions help people solve the challenges of life.
3.2 Culture as Meaning Generator
The concrete level of experience is composed of your empirical sensations of touch,
taste, smell, sound and sight.
Squiggles don’t mean anything because concrete, physical sensations by themselves
With meaningful English words, the culture gives concrete experience meaning.
The power of culture is that it makes our sensory experiences meaningful. Once
your cultural experience conditions you to interpret concrete experiences in a
certain way, this becomes a reality.
Everyday speech refers to
o High culture – culture consumed mainly by upper classes (opera, ballet, etc.)
o Popular culture – (or mass culture) – is culture consumed by all classes
Sociologically speaking culture – consists of the shared symbols and their
definitions that people create to solve real-life problems
o Symbol – concrete things or abstract terms that represent something else
o Eg. Ring represents marriage
Abstract feature of a symbol – what the “and their definitions” aspect
of culture refers to.
Symbols are shared – meaning shared among a large number of
Idiosyncratic symbols – not part of culture
o Eg. Psychotic person believe rain clouds represent
Culture is the “primary driver” of what people do because
individuals respond to the meaning of events – which is defined by
Culture intervenes between concrete experience and our responses
by assigning significance.
The Origins of Culture
Culture is the primary means by which humans adapt to their environments –
culture emphasizes hat we create culture to solve real life problems.
Humans survived for thousands of years because their sophisticated brains enabled
them to create cultural survival kits of complexity and flexibility. Three tools with
uniquely human talent and different element of culture:
o Abstraction – ability to create general concept that meaningfully organize
concrete, sensory experience.
Eg. Recognizing chairs o Cooperation – the capacity to create a complex social life by establishing
generally accepted ways of doing things and ideas about what is right and
Norms – generally accepted ways of doing things
Eg. Family members cooperate to raise children by developing
o Production – the human capacity to make and use tools. It improves our
ability to take what we want from nature
Material culture – comprises the tools and techniques that enable
people to get tasks accomplished
Non-material culture- composed of symbols, norms and other
Mainly human activity – able to manufacture tools and use them
The human capacity Abstraction Cooperation Production
Gives rise to these Ideas Norms and values Material culture
elements of culture
In medicine (Eg.) Theories are Experiments are Treatments are
developed about conducted to test developed on the
how a certain drug whether the drug basis of the
might cure a works as expected experimental results
Three types of Norms: Folkways, Mores, and Taboos
Folkways – 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 – among the strongest norms. When someone violates a taboo, it causes
revulsion in the community and punishment is severe.
3.3 Culture and Biology
The Evolution of Human Behaviour
Some evolutionary psychologists claim that chemical units carry traits from parents
to children account for psychical and behavioral and social characteristics.
Disregards sociological perspective
Male promiscuity, Female Fidelity, and other Myths
Three-step argument for their biological explanation of human behaviour and social
o 1. Universal claim
Eg. Men more likely to want sexual partners
o 2. Survival-value argument
Eg. Man’s sperm is plentiful in comparison to females, so he
improves his chance of reproducing his genes if he tries to
impregnate as many women as possible
o 3. Conclusion
Eg. The reproductive strategies are in our genes, it cannot be
changed Due to data, we know that:
o Men have more sex partners than women (10 % difference)
o But marital status plays a big role, decreasing difference to 4%
o Social arrangements, such as marriage, account for the measure for variation
in male promiscuity – no universal claim
o Still, data shows 11 % of men than women have more sex partners in a year
Men more likely than women to have same-sex sexual relations
Gay men more likely to have many sexual partners than lesbians are
Biologist claim is wrong that male promiscuity displays an adaptive reproductive
o Gay men do not have sex with other men to have babies
o Men tend to exaggerate sex partners because our culture puts a premium on
male sexual performance
Even if genes are liked to behavioral patterns, genes never develop without
Language and the Sapir-Whorf Thesis
o Important in culture
o A system of symbols strung together to communicate thought
o Allows our culture to develop
o Sociologists think it distinguishes humans from animals
1930s – Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf: the Sapir-Whorf thesis – holds that
we experience certain things in our environment and forms concepts about those
things. We then develop language to express our concepts. Finally language itself
influences how we see the world.
3. Verbalization Conceptualization
Eg. Arabs – different types of camel important, Inuit – different types of snow
important. Thus they create words to distinguish between it.
Eg. We refer to objects as left, right, etc – thinking is egocentrically. However some
people in southern Mexico don’t know these words they use geographical locations
such as North, South, East and West.
Eg. Income and power inequality between men and women encourage men to use
offensive words to refer to women.
3.4 Culture as Freedom and Constraint A Functionalist Analysis of Culture: Culture and Ethnocentrism
Ethnocentrism – the tendency for a person to judge other cultures exclusively by the
standards of his or her own
o Impairs sociological analysis
o Eg. Westerners think its crazy that Hindu peasants worship cows in India –
and the religious treatment of them. Westerners think in a place of poverty,
one must use cows for food, but Hindus cannot eat it because it is part of
Ethnocentrism misleads Western observers
o Eg. Cow worships is a economically rational practice in India:
Indian peasant cannot afford tractors, so cows are needed to give
birth to oxen, which plow. Cows provide fertilizer and cooking fuel,
which is in short supply. Cows don’t cost much to maintain, they eat
food that humans do not eat. Low ranks can dispose of dead cows –
they eat and use for leather.
Ethnocentrism analysis of cow worship interesting because:
o It shows how functionalist theory can illuminate otherwise mysterious
social practice – latent functions performed by cow worship showing how a
social practice has unintended and unobvious consequences that make
social order possible.
o We can learn an important lesson – refrain from taking your own culture for
granted and judging other cultures by the standards of your own
3.5 Culture as Freedom
Culture has two faces:
o Opportunity to exercise our freedom
Use and elaborate elements of culture in our lives
o Culture constrains us
Culture we create is built from raw materials of a culture that
Symbolic Interactionism and Cultural Production
1960s- sociologists say culture is a reflection of society (dependent)
o Eg. Protecting cows because cultural belief that cows are holy
Now culture seen as independent variable – we don’t passively accept culture, we
actively produce and interpret culture, creatively fashioning it and attaching
meaning to it in accordance with our diverse needs. We choose how culture
Canadian society has diversified – thus we are increasingly able to choose how
culture influences us
o Many immigrants – a third will be visible minorities by 2031
Political level – cultural diversity has become a source of conflict o Eg. Education system – students learned English and French importance
neglecting other immigrants. Books were written from the perspective of the
victors not the vanquished.
Now all school curricula should present a more balanced view of Canadian history,
society and culture.
o 1971- Canadian government declared that which bilingual, Canada has no
official culture – none above others
o 1988 – Multiculturalism Act
o However, many believe that the curricula is still bias,
Critics believe multiculturalism has negative effects:
o 1. Hurts students that are part of minority groups, by spending too much
time on non-core subjects. They need to develop skills in English, French,
math and science. However, it could develop self-esteem by stressing
o 2. Causes political disunity and results in a more interethnic and interracial
conflict. They want to stress common elements. However political unity and
interethnic and racial harmony maintains inequality in Canadian society.
o 3. It encourages the growth of cultural relativism – the belief that all cultures
have equal value (opposite of ethnocentrism). Some cultures oppose the
most deeply held values of most Canadians. It’ll encourage respect for
practices that are abhorrent to Canadians. We should instead encourage
moderate cultural relativism.
A Conflict Analysis of Culture: The Rights Revolution
The rights revolution – the process by which socially excluded groups struggled to
win equal rights under the law and in practice beginning in the second half of the