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Chapter 3: Culture & Norms. What Is Culture?. The knowledge, values, customs, and material objects passed from one group to another group or society (Culture is) “A toolkit for the survival of mankind” Society and Culture are independent, neither could exist without the other

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Chapter 3 culture norms

Chapter 3: Culture & Norms

What is culture
What Is Culture?

  • The knowledge, values, customs,

    and material objects passed from

    one group to another group or society

    • (Culture is) “A toolkit for the survival of mankind”

  • Society and Culture are independent, neither could exist without the other

    • In order for a society to survive there must be laws, rules, and guidelines, all of which are culture driven

      • Functionalists might call it a “symbiotic” relationship

  • Some cultures vary widely from others

    • For instance the “Horns” sign commonly used at sports events in the U.S. implies that your spouse is unfaithful in Italy

    • Even more diametric; the symbol for “ok,” in Tunisia means “I’ll kill you!”

      • I hope at least the “peace” sign is universal…

The importance of culture
The Importance of Culture

  • We (humans) are not born with the information necessary to survive, i.e. we have no instincts

    • Nurture and not Nature

      • An instinct is an unlearned biological behavior common to members of the same species (Spiders do not need to learn how to build webs, they just know instinctually)

    • Reflexes and Drives

      • A reflex is an involuntary response to physical stimuli

        • Sneezing and blinking when faced with an irritant

      • A drive is an unlearned impulse that satisfy basic needs

        • Sleep, food, water, and (ahem) “procreation”

    • Culture however can channel these reflexes and drives

      • For sneezing, the appropriate way to respond to a sneeze

Sub types of culture
Sub-types of Culture

  • Material and Non-Material culture

    • Material culture consists of the physical or tangible creations that can be made, used, or shared

      • Food, Books, … anything “touchable”

    • Technology is the knowledge, techniques, and tools to transform resources into usable forms

    • Non-Material culture consists of the abstract or intangible creations that influence people’s behavior

      • Language, Beliefs, Values, … anything of a mental construct

  • Cultural Universals

    • Customs and practices common to all societies

      • Sports, bodily adornment, social institutions, (and many more!)

Components of culture
Components of Culture

  • All cultures have four common components

    • Symbols, language, values, and norms

      • Ultimately, these four things cause either harmony or strife across societies

  • Symbols

    • Anything that meaningfully represents something else

      • (A Valentine’s heart : Love) (Swastika : Hate) (Siren : Warning)

      • Everything, arguably, could be considered symbolic of something

  • Language

    • A set of symbols that express ideas, and enables people to think and communicate with one another

      • Verbal, gestural, written, even smell (subconsciously)!

    • Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

      • Language shapes the view(s) of reality of its speakers

      • Language precedes thought, i.e. no language, no thought

Language and gender

  • The English language ignores women!

    • It uses masculine forms of words to refer to human beings in general

      • Chairman, mankind

  • Certain words carry connotations, either negative or positive

    • Connotationsare implied definitions, dictated by a persons opinion often

    • Denotationsare the accepted, dictionary definition of the word

Quite often in the English language people often inadvertently connote predispositions to men and women when asked to describe them.

For example:

Women are often described by their sexual objectivity as foxes, broads, babes, chicks, or miss/ mrs.

Men tend to be described by their sexual prowess as dudes, studs, or hunks

(Keep in mind connotations vary greatly from generation to generation)

Language and Gender

Male Term Female Term Neutral Term
















Flight attendant




Police officer



  • Values are collective ideas about right and wrong, good or bad, and desirable or undesirable in a particular culture

    • Do we have Core Values in the United States?

    • Ten Core Values identified by Robin M. Williams, Jr. in the 1970’s

      • Not THE Robin Williams, this guy is much less funny…

  • Individualism (ability, work ethic, responsibility)

  • Achievement and Success (do better in life)

  • Activity and Work (“work in play,” active lifestyle)

  • Science and Technology (expectations from…)

  • Progress and Comfort (goods, services, and necessities)

  • Efficiency and Practicality (bigger, better, faster things)

  • Equality (class equality and opportunity)

  • Morality and Humanitarianism (aiding others in need)

  • Freedom and Liberty (self explanatory)

  • Racism and Superiority (value group above others)

Value contradictions:

Mutually exclusive values

(We may want to help but it might be impossible to do so)

Ideal Culture

Values and standards in society profess to hold

Realistic Culture

Values and standards people actually follow

For example:

People claim to be very law abiding, yet smoke marijuana (hmm…)

People think themselves to be good drivers, yet constantly drive over the speed limit


Norms bad, and desirable or undesirable in a particular culture

  • Established rules of behavior or standards of conduct

    • Prescriptive Norms

      • What behavior is appropriate or acceptable

    • Proscriptive Norms

      • What behavior is inappropriate or unacceptable

  • Formal and Informal Norms

    • Formal norms are written down, and often carry specific punishments for violators

      • Positive or negative; praise and honors; versus, disapproval to the death penalty!

    • Informal norms are unwritten, often carry informal sanctions and are often not clearly defined (they often vary among sub-groups)

      • Informal sanctions may include but are not limited to: frowns, gestures, scoffs, remarks, etc.

Degrees of norms

  • Norms are often classified by their relative social importance

    • Folkways

      • Informal, everyday customs that if violated carry little consequences, and are not enforced

        • Lack of: deodorant, brushing teeth, or appropriate clothing

    • Mores

      • (“Mor-ays”) A particular cultures strongly held norms with moral and ethical connotations that may not be violated without serious consequences

        • May result in loss of employment, ridicule, or imprisonment

      • “Taboos,” strong mores that their violation is extremely offensive, and unmentionable

        • Incest is a widely accepted taboo

    • Laws

      • Formal, standardized norms enacted by legislatures and enforced throughout

The following are considered to be of increasing degree as one progresses downward

Degrees of Norms

Cultural change
Cultural Change importance

  • Cultures are not static, they often change over time

    • Typically, cultures change with the onset of major technology (and understanding), or a radical regime change

  • Cultural Lag

    • Cultural Lag (coined by William Ogburn) is the gap between technical development and its moral and legal institutions

      • Occurs when material culture changes faster than non-material culture

        • Onset of computers and personal privacy for instance

  • Changes that can alter culture:

    • Discovery, invention, and diffusion

      • Learning and recognizing, new technology, transmission of other culture

Cultural diversity
Cultural Diversity importance

  • The range of cultural differences within a nation

    • Nations can be homogenous or heterogeneous

      • Essentially same or different (Sweden compared to the U.S.A.)

  • Subcultures

    • Category of people who share distinguishing attributes, beliefs, values, and/or norms that set them apart from the primary culture in some way.

      • Significant age differences, the Amish, Native Americans, Ethnic groups in nation (like Chinatown or Little Havana)

  • Countercultures

    • Group that rejects dominant societal values and norms

      • Beatniks (‘50’s), Flower Children (‘60’s), Drug Enthusiasts (‘70’s)**, members of cults and sects

      • **How old is Professor Thomas?...

Culture shock ethnocentrism and relativism
Culture Shock, Ethnocentrism, and Relativism importance

  • Culture Shock refers to disorientation upon experiencing radically different cultures

    • See Napoleon Chagnon and the Yanomamö tribe (pg. 92)

  • Ethnocentrism

    • The practice of judging all other cultures by one’s own culture

      • Positive or negative; anthems and flags, to superiority and stereotypes

  • Cultural Relativism

    • The belief that the behaviors and customs of any culture must be analyzed by the culture’s own standards

      • See Hinduism and sacred cattle (pg. 93)

Global popular culture

  • High Culture versus Popular Culture importance

    • High Culture consists of classical music, opera, ballet, live theater, heavy European influence

      • Typically found among Upper and Upper-middle class persons

    • Popular Culture consists of activities, products, and services that are assumed to appeal to the middle and working class

      • Rock concerts, sports events, sit-coms, etc.

      • U.S. pop-culture is considered “homegrown”

  • Forms of Pop-Culture

    • Fad

      • A temporary but widely copied activity, followed enthusiastically by a large number of people

      • Four sub-categories: object, activity, idea, personality

    • Fashion

      • Currently valued style of behavior, thinking, or appearance, usually more widespread than a fad

    • Leisure Activity

      • Culturally accepted form of activity

Cultural Imperialism:

The extensive infusion of one nation’s culture into other nations

For Example

The widespread infusion of the English language

The second most exported item in the U.S. is its culture in the form of films, clothing, and pop-culture

Global Popular Culture

A sociological analysis of culture
A Sociological Analysis of Culture importance



  • Functionalist

    • Culture helps people meet their biological, instrumental, and expressive needs

  • Conflict

    • Ideas are a cultural creation of society’s most powerful members and can be used by the ruling class to affect the thoughts and actions of members of other classes

      • Control via cultural occupation of lower class

  • Symbolic-Interactionist

    • People create, maintain, and modify culture during their everyday activities; however, cultural creations can take on a life of their own and end up controlling people

  • Postmodern

    • Much of culture today is based on simulation of reality rather than reality itself

      • How television and internet depict reality

References and acknowledgements
References and Acknowledgements importance

Sociology In Our Times (Seventh Edition)

By: Diana Kendall

Notes incorporated

By: James V. Thomas, NIU Professor (Emeritus)

Formatted By: Jacob R. Kalnins, NIU student

Pictures Incorporated

Clip Art (PowerPoint: 2007)

Google Images: Sociology In Our Times