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SOC103H1 Chapter Notes -Symbolic Interactionism, Cultural Universal, Cultural Capital

Course Code
Lorne Tepperman

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SOC103 Starting Points
Chp. 4 Notes 17/07/2012 4:16:00 PM
Cultural differences
-cultural differences underlie many of the misunderstandings that arise in the interactions between people
and are behind many of the challenges societies face in reconciling how some groups of humans live
versus others
-only the study of history and anthropology makes us aware of how widely cultures have varied over time
and spaceof how very strange other people can seem to be. This variation tells us that people are able to
create a huge variety of social relationships and forms of social organization
-we are born with very few predispositions to any particular forms of social behaviour or organization
(can see this in part by studying animals)
-animal behaviour (since it is largely genetic or inborn) does not vary much within species or change
within generations
- in contrast few of our humans ways of interacting or thinking are ―natural‖ or genetic (we change our
environment, learn from experiences, and pass on our knowledge to our children giving us the ability to
create complex social structures)
Is there anything that limits who widely human cultures can vary: if so, what is it?
-led to the search of cultural universals
-George Murdock listed many cultural universals (athletic sports, cooking, dancing, gift giving etc.) each
dealing with a fundamental and general social issue
-if certain cultural concerns are universal, can say they meet universal human needs, however ―natural‖
these needs might be, people meet them in a variety of cultural ways
-the only real universal is culture itself: the central role culture plays in tying people to their society
through its connections with both social structure and private experience
-at macro levelthe dominant values of a culture are expressed in its social institutions, at micro level
culture works to shape personalities through socialization (culture is an important link between macro
and micro perspectives on society)
Ways of looking at CULTURE
-culture has an integral role in societyit organizes behaviour, and is used to explain consensus and
-―civic culture‖ is functional to the survival of democracy ex. the police is your best friend
-functional approach emerged from work of Emile Durkheim

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-identifies ways in which culture creates social solidarity, provides stability and assurance, and units
members f a social group or society
-sees culture as shared norms, values, beliefs as arising out of the social structure and influencing
economic life (cultural elements signify consensus and mutual approval in society)
-ex. F’s would say the importance of education in our modern culture have emerged in response to a
modernized society that to function properly, requires more highly educated individuals
-culture serves as the essential purposes of ensuring that through shared values and beliefs, society
remains coherent and that each constituent part of the society can carry out its respective functions
Critical Theory:
-focus on group difference in power and belief (ex. point out strongly stated valueswhich suggest value
consensusoften indicate conflict between two groups within society
-overly stated ―general values‖ often work to benefit some people at he expense of others
-based in part on the insights of Karl Marx:
-argued against Gerg W.F Hegel and his ideas of the role of culturally based ideas in shaping society,
critiqued it for ignoring the role of material (economic relations shaping people’s thoughts and actions)
-focused on the mode of production that characterizes a historical period and shapes the ideas that develop
in a society of that timeit is not culture and ideas that shape society and the beliefs and decisions but
rather it is the material relationship between members of society that shape culture
-culture and it constituents are elements rooted in the economic relations of industrial capitalism
-capitalism gives rise to a dominant ideology
- critical perspective since Marx has rigidly focused on economic relations as the foundation for culture
and its elements and focused on other sources of domination
-perspective believes culture of modern industrial societies perpetuates capitalism but also recognizes the
role of other factors such as the state, the role of ideology and the political role of intellectualsex.
public intellectuals subduing revolutions in the harsh economic times of the 1920s and 30s
-collectively view culture as a part of the generally conflictual nature of society and view it as helping
powerful social groups maintain their domination
Symbolic Interactionism:
-see culture through a micro-sociological lensbelieve culture arises out of the individual face-to-face
interactions of social actors and the symbols they communicate though the exchange of meaning
-culture as a creative use of values and norms in the course of everyday life
-ex. culture as a dictionary of words, actions and symbols form which a conversation is builtsentences
and paragraphs built are intelligible to one another but not predetermined

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-by interacting every day with otherschoosing when to speak and howpeople can learn new ways of
using and through this interaction add to it.
-believe social actors play a bigger role in managing and changing their own culture by participating
within them
Cultural Studies Perspective:
-theorists looked at how subcultural groups at the margins of society lay claim to elements of the
dominant culture, redefine them through alternate meanings and thus shape their own culture outside the
dominant environment
-similar to critical perspective in the notion that dominant groups in society use ides to justify and
perpetuate their domination over less-powerful groups
-argues culture is shaped by dominant economic groups to maintain their advantagethe status quo
-culture not only maintains class divisions but also divisions of many other kinds (gender, race, sexual
orientation etc.)
-focuses on the role of meaning in culture (like social interactionism)
-Stuart Hall: all communication requires encoding and decoding (subtle, often unconscious processes)
but while the dominant groups encodes the material other people decode it and interpret it based on their
own social and cultural position
-thus, culture originated in the ideological actions of dominant individual but its effects depend on the
characteristics of the individualculture is both unifying and fragmenting
The Production of Culture Prospective
-originating of culture in material cultureincluding the mass media, technology, art, and other material
domains that produce symbolsand in social action around this material culture
-looks ore closely at the concrete ways in which culture is produced, rather than simply accepting it arose
from out of the underlying social structure
ex. would look at the labour processes by which cultural elements were communicated and perpetuated in
regards to modern art
-take into account day-to-day production of cultural elements, provide a better understanding of cultural
contentesp. where it comes from and how it changes
-Canvases and Careers: study the rise of impressionism as a new art style in 19th century France and
highlights the role of ―the artist‖ and his or her need to make a living/career which led to a breakdown of
the traditional Royal Academy system left room for the growth of a new system.
Language: a Key Cultural Realm
-SI are interested in how people work out patterns of action
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