Starting Points Chapter 4 Notes
* Interpret culture as a symbolic environment in which humans live
* Connect micro and ,acro aspects of culture in several ways
* Consider the significance of cultural differences in our society and around the
* Our social environment is ‘symbolic’ as well as material, in the sense that every human
group produces meanings that remain in a society’s memory.
> ‘culture’ concretised in a society’s literature, arts and science is the group’s memory
* Sociologists and anthropologists focus on culture to get a sense of the whole
society,whether they are looking at small scale societies or large and complex ones.
* culture does matter to understand people
* George Murdock listed many cultural universals, including the following general
> athletics, cooking…
* The only universal is culture itself
> central role culture plays in trying people to their society through its connections with both
social structure and private experience.
Ways of looking at…. Culture Functionalism
* Functionalists view culture as having an integrative role in society
> because culture organises behaviour
* These sociologists conclude that a ‘civic culture’ - a culture of participation in everyday
social and political life by ordinary citizens is functional to the survival of democracy.
* The functional approach emerged from the work of Emile Durkheim.
* Instead of seeing culture as the mere reflection of economic interests, functionalists see
cultural elements, such as shared norms, values, and beliefs as arising out of the social
structure and influencing economic life.
> Thus as sociologists we can look at these elements as evidence of what is important for a
society, nor what the capitalistic enterprise seek to promote for its own gain.
* Unlike structural functionalists, critical theorists focus on group differences in power and
> strongly states values often indicate a conflict between two groups within a society.
* Formal disapproval of an action, such as drug use, prove that the behaviour is far more
common than people who would like to admit and that groups are in conflict over the issue.
* Critical perspective is based in part of the insights of Karl Marx.
* Marx critiqued Georg W.F Hegel for ignoring the role of material, chiefly economic
relations in shaping people;s thoughts and actions. > Marx focused his attention not on ideas and the culture within they are situated, but on
the mode of production that characterised a historical period and shapes the ideas that
develop in a society of that time.
* Marx argues that it is not culture and ideas that shape society and the beliefs and
decisions of its members, but rather than that it is the material relationships between
members of society that shape culture including beliefs, values, art and religion.
* Capitalism give rise to a dominant ideology
> a system of thoughts and beliefs that justify capitalism and encouraging support of a neo-
liberal consumer culture
* Antonio Gramsci argues that during the 1920s and 1930s intellectuals provided
knowledge and advice to the general public, which worked to subdue revolutionary
movements in an increasingly harsh economic development.
* Another example is provided by the Frankfurt school of theorists
> Including Mar Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse and Walter Benjamin
focused on analysing capitalist ideology, mass consumerism, and entertainment which
claimed promoted capitalist ideals.
* symbolic interactionists see culture through a microsociological lens.
> Culture arises put of the individual face to face interactions of social actors and the
symbols they communicate through the exchange of meaning.
* Culture shows itself in the creative use of values and norms in the course of everyday
interaction * Culture also shows itself in the decisions we make in choosing to communicate in the first
place, or to avoid doing so
> In what we say and what we don’t say, what we reveal and what we keep secret
Cultural Studies Perspective
* Cultural studies arose in the 1970s out of work theorists at the centre for contemporary
cultural studies at the University go Bermingham, who merged sociology with literary
> Theorists looked at how aubsultural groups at the margins of society lay claim to
elements of the dominant culture, redefine them through alternative meanings or ideas
> Thus shape their own cultures outside the dominant environment
* Cultural studies focuses on the role of meaning in culture
> Stuart Hall with his influential idea that all communication required encoding and
* Both encoding and decoding are subtle, often unconscious processes
* Hall points out that while the dominant group encodes this material, other people decode
it - interpret it - based on their own social and cultural position.
The production of culture perspective
* Cultural studies perspective has little to say about the origin of culture, except to assert it
serves the interests of the dominant class or classes.
> because of its Marxist and critical roots > it sees culture as arising out of economic relations and other divisions that create in
material culture such as media
* This perspective looks more closely at the concrete ways in which culture is produced,
rather than simply accepting that it somehow arises out of the underlying social structure.
* A good example of this approach is found in the book Canvases and Careers, by Harrison
White and Cynthia White.
> Their study of the rise of impressionism as a new art style in 19th century France
highlights the role of the artist and his or her need to make a living- to have a career
* In one sense, fine art is a very particular aspect of culture, because it requires highly
specialised culture producers who, in turn, require a market for their wares
> On the other hand, language is a more general form of culture
Language : A key cultural realm
* Symbolic interactionists are interested in how people work out patterns of action -
including conversation - often making tactical alignments or hammering out arguments in
order to do so.
> other theorists are also interested in language as a cultural element
* Feminist sociologists draw our attention to the way in which culture, through language,
shapes our perception of reality
> androcentric or sexist language not only illustrates gender inequality in our society, but
also helps to perpetuate the problem.
* there are names like policemen ad chairmen (gender inequality from the past) > now its police officer
* Our continues use of the masculine words implies that women are still absent from these
* At the most basic level, language is an abstract system of sounds, signs, and gestures
which members of a society express their thoughts, feelings, ideas, plans and desires.
> This means that language, whether spoken or written, verbal or non-verbal is the means
by which the achievements of one generation are passed on the next
* According to anthropologists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf, language expresses our
thoughts but also structures them.
> The way in which a language is structures has immense significance for the way we
experience the world.
* People create the language they need to transact their cultural business and make social
Classic Studies … The protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
* Cultural Values influence