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Culture and Society

Our relationships with others, as well as our norms and values, are primarily dependent on what we call “culture”—a large and diverse set of values, beliefs, language, and practices shared by a social group or institution. Conventions considered socially acceptable in one society may be inappropriate in another.

Last updated: Aug 13, 2022

Editorial responsibility: Stanley Oiseth, Lindsay Jones, Evelin Maza

Symbols

Symbols are an important part of culture. A symbol is meaningless when taken out of context, or it may have a completely different meaning in another culture. The actual meaning of a symbol may differ from its apparent meaning. Flags can symbolize religion, nationalism, or patriotism depending on the context and the meaning that is conferred to them by a particular culture. Gestures, too, can have very different meanings depending on the cultural context. For example, a hand Hand The hand constitutes the distal part of the upper limb and provides the fine, precise movements needed in activities of daily living. It consists of 5 metacarpal bones and 14 phalanges, as well as numerous muscles innervated by the median and ulnar nerves. Hand: Anatomy gesture that means you are excited in one culture can mean Mean Mean is the sum of all measurements in a data set divided by the number of measurements in that data set. Measures of Central Tendency and Dispersion, in another, that you received a phone call.

Language

While different societies can share a language, certain terms and expressions are usually specific to particular cultures. Language can be verbal, written, or gestural (e.g., sign language). When someone visits a society and does not use the local language, they may be labeled as an outsider.

In certain cultures, language and gender Gender Gender Dysphoria interact with each other. People use different specific pronouns, suffixes, and prefixes based on their sex Sex The totality of characteristics of reproductive structure, functions, phenotype, and genotype, differentiating the male from the female organism. Gender Dysphoria, and certain expressions and idioms can be gender-specific. These differences are an essential part of the culture. Someone who learns a new language might understand the fundamentals of it but may not understand cultural differences unless immersed in the society that uses that language.

In societies that predominantly speak English, such differences are minimal. Most words come in a neutral form that is genderless. For example, the words “policeman” and “policewoman” are gender-specific in English, but the term “police officer” is neutral. Other languages assign a gender Gender Gender Dysphoria to nouns and adjectives.

Language differences can also be related to race or ethnicity. For example, slang words referring to people from specific backgrounds or cultures may be common among people from those cultures but are considered disrespectful if used by a  person of a different background.

Values

Values are a collective of shared ideas, norms, and morals that differentiate right from wrong. Values can also relate to what is desirable and what one should avoid.

In the United States, sociologists have identified 10 important values that define the American set of shared values. These values can be extrapolated to any society, and one can argue that for a society to be functional, its citizens must share several of these values.

  • Individualism: Also referred to as independence, individualism advocates an individual’s liberty, rights, or independent actions.
  • Equality: Equality means being treated equally without regard to race, social class, or gender Gender Gender Dysphoria.
  • Materialism: Materialism is historically represented optimism and forward-thinking people, or transforming one’s life through hard work and wealth accumulation.
  • Diversity: Diversity relates to respecting and accepting the many cultures found in the US.
  • Philanthropy: Philanthropy means altruistic concern for human welfare and advancement, participating in charity events, or donating time or money to social causes.
  • Science and technology: The practice of science and social dimensions of technology play a significant role in society and influence social values.
  • Strong work ethic and enjoyment of recreation: Achievement and success, gained through work, are highly valued, and they are rewarded by leisure activities.
  • Respect for democracy: This refers to the ability to speak the truth and participate in resolving problems.
  • Good health: This refers to physical fitness and mental stability.

Other terms used to describe American values are privacy, informality, competition, time efficiency, work-life balance, and unity.

Norms, Mores, and Laws

When values are strong enough to guide one’s daily life, they become norms. Norms are standards of behavior expected of each member of a social group.

Mores are values that are based on a culture’s moral and ethical beliefs. Taboos are very strong mores that, if violated, can be highly offensive to people in that culture.

Laws are formal norms that cannot be violated without legal consequences. For example, stealing violates the norms of most societies and is punishable by law.

Cultural Change and Cultural Shock

While cultural values, norms, and beliefs may seem difficult to change, cultures do change over time. Non-material culture (norms, values, and beliefs) takes longer to change than material culture (objects related to culture).

People who travel a lot can sometimes develop culture shock Shock Shock is a life-threatening condition associated with impaired circulation that results in tissue hypoxia. The different types of shock are based on the underlying cause: distributive (↑ cardiac output (CO), ↓ systemic vascular resistance (SVR)), cardiogenic (↓ CO, ↑ SVR), hypovolemic (↓ CO, ↑ SVR), obstructive (↓ CO), and mixed. Types of Shock when they enter a society with an unfamiliar culture. Cultural differences can make it difficult for people to socialize in a new community. What is considered an aberration in one culture might be regarded as entirely normal in another. Sometimes, culture shock Shock Shock is a life-threatening condition associated with impaired circulation that results in tissue hypoxia. The different types of shock are based on the underlying cause: distributive (↑ cardiac output (CO), ↓ systemic vascular resistance (SVR)), cardiogenic (↓ CO, ↑ SVR), hypovolemic (↓ CO, ↑ SVR), obstructive (↓ CO), and mixed. Types of Shock can lead to anxiety Anxiety Feelings or emotions of dread, apprehension, and impending disaster but not disabling as with anxiety disorders. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, frustration, or depression.

Culture shock Shock Shock is a life-threatening condition associated with impaired circulation that results in tissue hypoxia. The different types of shock are based on the underlying cause: distributive (↑ cardiac output (CO), ↓ systemic vascular resistance (SVR)), cardiogenic (↓ CO, ↑ SVR), hypovolemic (↓ CO, ↑ SVR), obstructive (↓ CO), and mixed. Types of Shock often manifests as a feeling of freedom from one’s values and norms; this stage is called the honeymoon phase. It is usually followed by a frustration phase, in which the individual experiences difficulty integrating into the new society.

The individual then undergoes an adjustment phase, in which their norms, values, and beliefs change. Eventually, the individual enters the mastery phase, in which they integrate entirely into the new culture.

Diverse societies are becoming more common around the world because of immigration and the relative ease of international travel. Ideally, people of different ethnicities and cultures learn to work and live together and accept one another within a society.

References

  1. Kendall, D. Sociology in our times. 10th Edition. Chapter 3: Culture.
  2. Varnum, MEW, & Grossmann, I. (2017). Cultural change: The how and the why. Perspectives on Psychological Science: A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 12(6), 956–72.

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