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Chapter 3: Cultural Crossroads

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1 Chapter 3: Cultural Crossroads

2 What Is Culture? Culture is the entire way of life for a group of people. It is hard for us to see our own culture, so we may not recognize the extent to which it shapes and defines who we are. If you ask students to think about a fish in a pond, the fish can see things like other fish, rocks, and food, but it can’t really see the water. In the same way, people walk around in air all the time but don’t really see the air. Culture is similar; it’s all around us, but it’s so ingrained into our day-to-day lives that we don’t really see it unless we stop and look for it. [] []

3 What Is Culture? (cont’d.)
Culture includes things such as language, standards of beauty, hand gestures, styles of dress, food, and music. Culture is learned. It is passed from one generation to the next through communication—not genetics. It is important to understand that culture is passed from one generation to the next through communicative interaction. Culture is not inherited. For example, suppose a baby is born to a Chinese mother and a Chinese father in China, and when the baby is a week old, he or she is adopted by an American family and moves to the United States. The child may have Chinese features like hair color and eye shape but will grow up speaking English, eating pizza, playing video games, and doing other things that American children do. The baby can’t “automatically” speak Chinese and doesn’t “automatically” like to eat Chinese food because culture is learned and this baby is learning culture from American parents. [] [] [] []

4 Ethnocentrism Ethnocentrism occurs when people use their own culture as a standard to evaluate another group or individual, leading to the view, that cultures other than their own are abnormal. You may have experienced this yourself—if you’ve ever watched a program on television showing a remote tribe of people and their way of life seems very different you might have said something like, “Oh, that is so gross, I can’t believe those people eat that!” You’re assuming that your way of life is better than their way of life. Interestingly, if that tribe watched your daily life, they would question some of the things that you consider normal. For an in-class activity, ask your students to tell you some of the things that are part of their daily routine. You’ll probably get some responses like shaving, getting dressed, driving to work, going through the drive-thru, making coffee—things that seem very mundane to Americans. Ask them to try to explain the purpose of these activities to a Martian who is visiting Earth. You could even pretend to be the Martian, and press your students to try to explain why they do the things they do. It might get them to think more about how strange Americans would seem to an outside perspective. You can also discuss the Nacirema tribe described on p. 97.

5 For discussion: ask your students how the rituals of Americans are different from those in other countries or cultures. What rituals do Americans do that would seem very strange to outsiders?

6 Cultural Relativism Cultural relativism is the process of understanding other cultures on their own terms, rather than judging according to one’s own culture. When studying any group, it is important to try to employ cultural relativism because it helps sociologists see others more objectively. You can think about the importance of cultural relativism when thinking about studying distant or remote cultures, or even when studying different cultures within the United States. For instance, New Yorkers tend to communicate differently than people from Gatlinburg, Tennessee. If you’re a researcher from New York, you have to consider these differences when you’re conducting research in Gatlinburg.

7 Components of Culture Culture consists of two different categories: material culture and symbolic culture. The next slides will have definitions and examples of the two types of cultures. [] []

8 Components of Culture: Material Culture
Material culture includes the objects associated with a cultural group, such as tools, machines, utensils, buildings, and artwork. These are examples of physical objects that are important to a particular culture and are distinctive to that culture. [] []

9 Components of Culture: Symbolic Culture
Symbolic culture includes ways of thinking (beliefs, values, and assumptions) and ways of behaving (norms, interactions, and communication). One of the most important functions of symbolic culture is to allow us to communicate through signs, gestures, and language. Sometimes students confuse material culture and symbolic culture. One example of symbolic culture is the dollar bill—it is a material object, but the paper or cotton and ink that actually make the item aren’t what’s important here—the important part is what the dollar stands for. An American flag is similar—it’s not the material that makes the flag important, but the combination of stars and stripes in a particular pattern that makes the symbol of the flag meaningful and a part of American symbolic culture.

10 Components of Culture (cont’d.)
Signs (or symbols), such as a traffic signal or product logo, are used to meaningfully represent something else. Gestures are the signs that we make with our body, such as hand gestures and facial expressions; it is important to note that these gestures also carry meaning. Signs have meanings that make sense to people who are part of that particular culture. For instance, in the United States, if you see a stop sign you know that it means to stop driving your car, to look both ways, and then resume driving when everything is clear. If you weren’t a part of the culture that knows that, you might stop talking, stop driving all together, or get out of your car and leave. If you live in the United States and someone holds up their middle finger, you know that they are making a gesture that expresses disapproval or frustration. This gesture has derogatory connotation, and it is intended to be insulting. In another culture, this same signal could be meant as information, for example, to tell another person that their significant other may be cheating on them.

11 For discussion: ask your students what these gestures mean
For discussion: ask your students what these gestures mean. Has anyone traveled to another country or culture where they mean something different?

12 Components of Culture (cont’d.)
Finally, language is a system of communication using vocal sounds, gestures, and written symbols. This is probably the most significant component of culture because it allows us to communicate. Language can actually include the verbal component (the words we use), which includes paralinguistics, like our tone and vocal inflections, as well as the visual component (the gestures and expressions) and written text.

13 Components of Culture (cont’d.)
Language is so important that many have argued that it shapes not only our communication but our perceptions and how we see things as well. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which is the idea that language structures thought and that ways of looking at the world are embedded in language, is based on this premise. If I made up a word right now, told you that the word I just made up is an animal, and then asked you to picture that animal, could you do it? If I said, “Picture a cow,” you could probably think of a cow. Sapir-Whorf tells us that if we don’t have language, or the words to describe something, we can’t even think of it. In other words, language shapes our thoughts.

14 Culture Includes Values and Norms
Values are shared beliefs about what a group considers worthwhile or desirable; they guide the creation of norms. Norms are the formal and informal rules regarding what kinds of behavior are acceptable and appropriate within a culture. For instance, in the United States, we value our privacy. Therefore, it would be considered a breach of a norm to spy on another person. Some norms are so important to us that we codify them into laws. We’ll talk about that in a moment.

15 Norms Norms are specific to a culture, time period, and situation.
Norms can be either formal, such as a law or the rules for playing soccer, or informal—not written down and unspoken. Norms about smoking and drug use have changed over time, and they are different in the United States than in other countries. This shows how norms are specific to a culture, time period, and situation. Laws are basically norms that were considered so important to our society that they were codified into formal norms. Informal norms include things like not burping in public. It’s not against the law, but doing it will generally get you a negative reaction, indicating that you broke an informal norm.

16 Types of Norms Types of norms can also be distinguished by the strictness with which they are enforced. If you are in an elevator, you know that there are few acceptable behaviors. You are following norms if you look at the doors or the buttons or stare at the floor. However, if you turn and stare at the person standing beside you, you’re likely to make that person feel very uncomfortable. You can tell that you violated a norm because that person will step aside, press the “door open” button, and possible leave the elevator. If you violate a more important norm, you might make someone gasp or physically react to your action, and you would be able to tell that the norm that you violated was a more important one. This happens very commonly by accident with people who are traveling abroad (or even to a different region within the United States) if they aren’t familiar with the norms of that specific culture. Your students can probably provide examples from their own experiences. [] []

17 Types of Norms: Folkways
A folkway is a loosely enforced norm that involves common customs, practices, or procedures that ensure smooth social interaction and acceptance. Folkways include things like using the correct fork for eating salad, coming to class prepared, and so on. []

18 Types of Norms: Mores A more is a norm that carries greater moral significance, is closely related to the core values of a group, and often involves severe repercussions for violators. Mores include things that society values as significantly important norms. You can think of the word morals to help remind you of this concept. For instance, there are mores against lying, cheating, and similar acts.

19 Types of Norms: Taboos A taboo is a norm engrained so deeply that even thinking about violating it evokes strong feelings of disgust, horror, or revulsion for most people. A common example of a taboo is incest. Incest is a nearly universal taboo, and the fact that there is little cross-cultural variation in the reaction indicates that it may have a biological component.

20 How Do We Enforce Norms? Sanctions are positive or negative reactions to the ways that people follow or disobey norms, including rewards for conformity and punishments for norm violators. Sanctions help to establish social control, the formal and informal mechanisms used to increase conformity to values and norms and thus increase social cohesion. Sanctions could include providing candy for a child who did well in school for the day or punishing a child who misbehaved. Behaviorists believe that our actions are based on the desire to get more rewards and to avoid punishments, so it is possible that using sanctions will provide incentives for people to follow the standards and expected behaviors in society.

21 Variations in Culture Multiculturalism values diverse racial, ethnic, national, and linguistic backgrounds and thus encourages the retention of cultural differences within society, rather than assimilation. Although much research focuses on the differences between cultures, there is also tremendous variation within a culture. In the United States there is a trend that encourages multiculturalism, however, we still often see the dominant culture as the norm, and therefore many minority cultures feel pressure to conform.

22 Dominant Culture The dominant culture refers to the values, norms, and practices of the group within society that is most powerful in terms of wealth, prestige, status, and influence. In the United States, the dominant culture is often referred to as WASP (for white Anglo-Saxon Protestant), and the dominant culture also typically includes males rather than females. The dominant culture varies from society to society.

23 Subcultures A subculture is a group within society that is differentiated by its distinctive values, norms, and lifestyle. Subcultures tend to exist harmoniously within the larger society. They interact with the dominant group, but maintain their distinctive values, norms, and lifestyles. Subcultures include skateboarders, vegetarians, and college students. []

24 Countercultures A counterculture is a group within society that openly rejects, and may actively oppose, society’s values and norms. Countercultures tend to exist separately from the dominant culture in many ways. They generally openly reject society’s values, so it would be difficult for them to interact within that culture. Example include religious extremists and white supremacists. [] []

25 Cultural Change Cultures usually change slowly and incrementally, though change can also happen in rapid and dramatic ways. At times, a subculture can influence the mainstream and become part of dominant culture, or something that is dominant can change to a counterculture. One of the key ways that material culture can change is through technology. Advances like the internet have helped to disseminate information and create social movements. Culture is constantly changing, and the norms within the society will change as well. For instance, at one point, tattoos were considered appropriate only for servicemen, but now many college students and many others in society have tattoos. The subculture influenced the norms of the dominant culture and the dominant culture changed.

26 “melting pot” (cultural leveling) “tossed salad” (cultural diffusion)
Chapter 3: Participation Questions Many different cultures are present in America. Do you think America is a “melting pot” or a “tossed salad?” “melting pot” (cultural leveling) “tossed salad” (cultural diffusion) These questions can be used with “clickers,” cell phones, or other audience response systems to increase participation in your classes. They can also be used to encourage discussion without technological input.

27 Technology’s impact on American culture has been mainly positive.
Chapter 3: Participation Questions Technology’s impact on American culture has been mainly positive. negative. These questions can be used with “clickers,” cell phones, or other audience response systems to increase participation in your classes. They can also be used to encourage discussion without technological input.

28 Chapter 3: Participation Questions
In your opinion, which of the following gestures has the strongest meaning in American culture? a b c c. These questions can be used with “clickers,” cell phones, or other audience response systems to increase participation in your classes. They can also be used to encourage discussion without technological input. Images: a. b. c.

29 Chapter 3: Participation Questions
Which of the following gestures has the strongest meaning in a “trekkie” (Star Trek fans) subculture? a b c. Students who are Star Trek fans will recognize “A” as the Vulcan gesture meaning “live long and prosper.” These questions can be used with “clickers,” cell phones, or other audience response systems to increase participation in your classes. They can also be used to encourage discussion without technological input. Images: a. b. c.

30 This concludes the Lecture PowerPoint presentation for Chapter 3

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