I. Culture – The language, beliefs, values, norms, behaviors, and even material objects
passed from one generation to the next.
1. Material Culture – things such as jewelry, art, buildings, weapons, machines, clothing,
2. Nonmaterial culture – a group’s ways of thinking (beliefs, values, and assumptions) and
common patterns of behavior (language, gestures, and other forms of interaction)
B. Culture provides a taken-for-granted orientation to life.
1. We assume that our own culture is normal or natural; in fact, it is not natural, but rather is
learned. It penetrates our lives so deeply that it is taken for granted and provides the lens
through which we perceive and evaluate things.
2. It provides implicit instructions that tell us what we ought to do and a moral imperative
that defines what we think is right and wrong.
3. Coming into contact with a radically different culture produces “culture shock,”
challenging our basic assumptions.
Ex. People today do not experience “culture shock” as much because in today’s culture,
we’re familiar with all the technology that we utilize and surround us.
4. Aconsequence of internalizing culture is ethnocentrism, using our own culture (and
assuming it to be good, right, and superior) to judge other cultures.
• It is functional when it creates in-group solidarity
• But can be dysfunctional if it leads to discrimination against those who are
different (saying they are inferior instead of different)
The opposite of ethnocentrism is Cultural Relativism.
• Consists of trying to appreciate other groups’ways of life in the context in which
they exist, without judging them as superior or inferior to our own.
1. Because we tend to use our own culture as the standard, cultural relativism presents a
challenge to ordinary thinking.
2. At the same time, this view helps us appreciate other ways of life.
3. Robert Edgerton suggests developing a scale for evaluating cultures on their “quality of
life.” He argues that those culture practices that result in exploitation should be judged as
morally inferior to those that enhance people’s lives.
II. Components of Symbolic Culture
A. Sociologists sometimes refer to nonmaterial culture as symbolic culture.
1. Acentral component of culture is the symbol—something to which people attach
meaning and use in communications
2. Symbols include gestures, language, values, norms, sanctions, folkways, and
more. • Gestures, or using one’s body to communicate with others, are shorthand means
• Language consists of a system of symbols that can be put together in an infinite
number of ways in order to communicate abstract thought.
• Each word is a symbol to which a culture attaches a particular meaning. It is
important because it is the primary means of communication between people.
• It allows human experiences to be cumulative; each generation builds on the body
of significant experiences that is passed on to it by the previous generation, thus
freeing people to move beyond immediate experiences.
• It allows for a social or shared past (tradition, customs). We are able to discuss
past events with others.
• Language allows us to plan future activities (key embodiment of culture)
• It allows the exchange of perspectives (i.e. ideas about events and experiences).
• It allows people to engage in complex, shared, goal-directed behavior.
• The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis states that our thinking and perception not only are
expressed by language, but actually are shaped by language because we are taught
not only words, but also a particular way of thinking and perceiving.
o The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis revolves around the idea that you can
control language and can control how you see the world. Language is a
guide to your reality, structuring your thoughts. It provides the framework
through which you make sense of the world.
o To understand the S-W Hypothesis, it helps to be unaware that there
are two opposing ideas about language and culture.
1. Language mirrors reality: People have thoughts first, then put them into words. Words
record what is already there.All humans think the same way, but we use different
words to label what we sense.
• This is an example of the cloak theory: that language is a cloak that conforms
to the customary categories of thoughts of its speakers.
• This is NOT the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
2. Language dictates how we think. The vocabulary and grammar (structure) of a
language determines the way we view the world (“worlds shaped by words”).
• This is an example of the mold theory: that language is a mold in terms of
which thought categories are cast.
• *This IS the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
Linguistic determinism: the language we use to some extent determines the way in
which we view and think about the world around us.
• Culture includes values, norms, and sanctions.
• Values are the standards by which people define good and bad, beautiful and ugly.
• Every group develops both values and expectations regarding the right way to
• Norms are the expectations, or rules of behavior, that develop out of a group’s
values. • Sanctions are the positive or negative reactions to the way in which people follow
norms. (shushing at movie, etcetera)
• Positive sanctions (a money reward, a prize, a smile, or even a handshake) are
expressions of approval; negative sanctions (a fine, a frown, or harsh words)
denote disapproval for breaking a norm.
!! Faceless sanctions (pirating using UB Internet, not taking the cab you reserved)
• Folkways are norms (traditional of particular community or group of people) that
are not strictly enforced, such as passing on the left side of the sidewalk. They
may result in a person getting a dirty look.
• Mores are norms that are believed to be essential to core values and we insist on
conformity. Aperson who steals, rapes, and kills has violated some of society’s
most important mores.
• Norms that one group considers to be folkways another group may view as mores.
Amale walking down the street with the upper half of his body uncovered may be
violating a folkway; a female doing the same thing may be violating mores.
!! Folkways – professor walks in and sees screens and laptops everywhere
• Taboos are norms so strongly ingrained that even the thought of them is greeted
with revulsion. Eating Human flesh and having sex with one’s parents are
examples of such behavior.
• Subcultures are groups whose values and related behaviors are so distinct that
they set their members off from the dominant culture.
• There are two types of subculture groups:
oThe Aesthetic Subculture one that simply differs from the wider culture.
Each subculture is a world within the larger world of the dominant culture,
and has a distinctive way of looking at life, but remains compatible with
the dominant culture.
EX. Hybrid cars, vegetarians
U.S. society contains tens of thousands of subcultures. Some are
quite broad (teenagers), while others are narrow (body builders).
Some ethnic groups form subcultures, as do certain occupational
oOppositional Subcultures resist particular social institutions or practices
(may also be labeled counterculture).
Counter cultures are groups whose values set their members in
opposition to the dominant culture.
While usually associated with negative behavior, some
countercultures are not negative in their outlook (actually positive).
Countercultures are often perceived as a threat by the dominant
culture because they challenge the culture’s values.
For this reason the dominant culture will move against a particular
counterculture in order to affirm its own core values.
For example, the Mormons in the 1800s challenged the dominant
culture’s core value of monogamy. • Subcultures can live within dominant society or outside of it:
o Subculture as Total Institution – a social space in which members live
and work with like-minded people- cut off from the wider-society. They
lead an internalized, secessionist lifestyle. This is an escape from society.
EX. People moved out of Western New York to the North
oSubculture in Operation in Society – the members share distastes with
dominant societal norms but remain operational with the wider-society
• Why do subcultures form?
oBirmingham School of Cultural Studies, or, more generally, British
cultural studies. Dick Hebdige wrote a seminal work, Subculture: The
Meaning of Style
oDominant explanation: deviant and portray
oResolving the contradictions between their paren