Chapter Study Outline

The Sociological Study of Culture

  • Culture consists of the values held by a given group, the norms they follow, and the material goods they create.
  • The sociology of culture has attracted renewed interest, a phenomenon known as the cultural turn. Attention focuses on culture as a set of scripts that shape our beliefs, values, and actions and on the many meanings of cultural symbols.

The Development of Human Culture

  • Human cultures, which evolved over thousands of years, reflect both human biology and the physical environment in which the cultures emerged. A defining feature of humankind is its inventiveness in creating new forms of culture.
  • Most sociologists acknowledge that biology helps shape human behavior, especially through the interaction between biology and culture. Sociologists' main concern, however, is with how behavior is learned from the individual's interaction with society.
  • Forms of behavior found in virtually all cultures are called cultural universals. Language, the prohibition against incest, institutions of marriage, the family, religion, and property are the main types of cultural universals—but within these categories are many variations in values and behaviors among societies.
  • We live in a world of symbols, or representations, and one of the most important forms of symbolization is language. The linguistic relativity hypothesis argues that language influences perception. Language is also an important source of cultural continuity, and the members of a culture are often passionate about their linguistic heritage.
  • Cultural diversity is a chief aspect of modern culture; in the United States it is evident in the large number of subcultures as well as in countercultures. Although some people advocate assimilating subcultures into one mainstream culture, others favor multiculturalism.
  • Sociologists avoid ethnocentrism and instead adopt a stance of cultural relativism, attempting to understand a society relative to its own cultural norms and values.

Premodern Societies

  • There are several types of premodern society. In hunting and gathering societies, people gain their livelihood from gathering plants and hunting animals. In pastoral societies, people raise domesticated animals as their major source of subsistence. Agrarian societies depend on the cultivation of fixed plots of land. Larger, more developed, urban societies form traditional states or civilizations.

Societies in the Modern World

  • The development of industrialized societies and the expansion of the West led to the conquest of many parts of the world through colonialism, which radically changed long-established social systems and cultures.
  • In industrialized societies, industrial production (whose techniques are also used in the production of food) is the basis of the economy. Industrialized countries include the nations of the West, plus Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. They now include industrialized societies ruled by communist governments. The developing world, where most of the world's population live, is almost all formerly colonized areas. The majority of the population works in agricultural production, some of which supplies world markets.

The Effect of Globalization

  • Increased global communications and economic interdependence represent more than the growth of world unity. Time and distance are being reorganized in ways that bring us all closer together; but even as globalization threatens to make all cultures seem alike, local cultural identifications are resurging. This is evident in the rise of nationalism, which can result in ethnic conflict as well as ethnic pride.