Culture as Meaning Generator
The power of culture is that it makes our sensory experiences meaningful.
Once your cultural experience conditions you to interpret concrete experiences a certain
way, this becomes your reality ( such as words/ language)
high culture- upper class (opera, ballet, etc.)
popular culture- all social classes (movies, pop music, etc.).
culture consists of the shared symbols and their definitions that people create to solve real-
Symbols are concrete things or abstract terms that represent something else. (The gold
ring on my finger is an object that represents my marital status)
symbols are abstract and is what the culture refers to it as
A symbol's “definition” informs us what a symbol represents ( again the ring)
because of culture certain symbols are shared, Idiosyncratic symbols are not apart of culture
example: A psychotic person who believes that rain clouds represent happiness is using a symbol
that is not part of culture
Members of a community who acquire a set of shared, meaningful symbols participate in a
Culture intervenes between concrete experience and our responses by assigning
significance. ( a reason)
As a child, you looked at the night sky and only saw a pattern of twinkling lights. Over time, your
culture provided you with concepts like “star” and “Big Dipper.” Now, when you look up at night you
can distinguish stars, planets, comets, and constellations. The same holds for all your experiences.
First you “look” (the concrete behaviour part), then you “name” (the cultural part), and then
you “see” (the abstract understanding part).
The Origins of Culture
Culture is the primary means by which humans adapt to their environments
we create culture to solve real life problems
Tools in the culture survival kit
1. abstraction , the ability to create general concepts that organize sensory experience in
Concepts allow humans to organize, classify, interpret, and generalize their experiences (
example: a chair)
2. Cooperation, It is the capacity to create a complex social life by establishing norms , or
generally accepted ways of doing things and values
values , are ideas that identify desirable states (conditions that are true, good, or beautiful).
3. Production, It involves making and using tools and techniques that improve our ability to take
what we want from nature.
We call such tools and techniques material culture
symbols, norms, values, and other elements of non-material culture TABLE 3.1 The Building Blocks of Culture Adapted from Bierstedt (1963).
Three Types of Norms: Folkways, Mores, and Taboos
folkway, least important and evoke the least sever of punishment
more (MOR- ay)Mores are norms that specify social requirements,punishment is minimal
taboos, causes revulsion in the community, and punishment is severe. Incest is one of the
most widespread taboos.
Culture consists of the shared symbols and their definitions that people create to solve real-
life problems and that give human life meaning.
Culture supports human adaption to the environment by means of abstraction, coordination,
Culture and Biology
“Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”
— Rose Sayer
The Evolution of Human Behaviour
Biology, sets broad human limits and potentials, including the potential to create culture.
Male Promiscuity, Female Fidelity, and Other Myths
Evolutionary psychologists employ a three-step argument for their biological explanation of human
behaviour and social arrangements.
First, they identify a supposedly universal human behavioural trait.
Next, they offer an explanation for why this behaviour increases survival chances through
Finally, they conclude that the behaviour in question cannot easily be changed. For example,
they explain alleged male promiscuity and female fidelity as follows.
1. Universal claim: Men are more likely than women are to want many sexual partners.
2. Survival-value argument: Every time a man ejaculates, he produces hundreds of millions of
sperm, while fertile women typically release only one egg per month. Based on these sex
differences, men and women develop different strategies to increase the chances of reproducing
3. Conclusion: These biologically based reproductive strategies are encoded or “hardwired” in our
genes. Therefore, male promiscuity and female fidelity are necessary.
certain social arrangements, such as the institution of marriage, account in substantial
measure for va