643 Wk 2: Basics of Culture

643 Wk 2: Basics of Culture


A good topic for the study of diversity
is the basics of culture from a sociological standpoint, Culture really
has a lot to do with much of the misperceptions and confusion that exists
in societies today, particularly those that are blending different cultures
into one society, and so it’s just a good idea to take a few moments to look at
some of the basic concepts of this so that we’re all talking about the same
thing. It’s a very important factor in understanding social behavior and
essentially culture is considered to be the sum of knowledge, ideas, values, and
material objects that are passed from generation to generation. Certain kinds
of behavior, patterns and behaviors, are established by the culture, and they’re
enforced by what we call norms, which are the shared expectations and rules that
guide our behavior. Now these norms oftentimes are explicit, at other times
they’re implicit, and understood. And oftentimes when persons violate norms, it
is because that perhaps that they haven’t been made as explicit as as they
should have been. Now there are different kinds of norms and and this list here
really looks at them from the – in terms of gradation, from the least
serious to the most serious. So a folkway is sometimes referred to as
customs, which really is a the least serious of the norms, although they’re
very pervasive but they’re very conventional rules of everyday life, and
violating a folkway generally carries the least amount of sanctions, although
it’ll probably get some attention, but not much in terms of consequence for a
violation. An example might be sitting at the dinner table and letting out a loud
belch, for instance – that’s generally not accepted in American culture. Also
another example of a folkway has to do with walking down the
hallway, or walking down a street. If you’ve ever noticed this, generally at
least, in our culture when two people are approaching each other and will collide
if they don’t change their path, they’ll tend to step to the right – and
that’s something that, if if you want to see what happens when you violate a
folkway, just step to the left sometime when that comes to you, and you see what kind of things occur. Another example of a folkway is men walking
around without shirts on. Now that depends upon the situation of course, but
generally speaking, shirtless males are considered acceptable in society.
Shirtless females, however, are not – and shirtless females would really fall
under the category of a more – which are much stronger norms that tend to reflect
what we consider to be moral values in a society, and the penalty for violating those mores tends to be much heavier. Another example is nudity – public
nudity. Now there are places where, like nude beaches for instance, where nudity
is acceptable, but by and large public nudity is a more in
our society and not acceptable. Oftentimes even within households,
for that matter, in other cultures nudity within a family is something that’s very
easily accepted and understood, but is less so I believe in American culture at
least. Now it’s an interesting little twist in this if you see at the bottom
what I say is what is considered deviant in one culture is considered acceptable
in others – and a good example that might be nudity within a family. But within
any culture also sometimes the context specifies whether something is
acceptable or not. An example of something, that is, nudity being an
example of something is generally never acceptable in public, but the
phenomena of streaking – if you’re familiar with that – which tends to occur
when there’s a lot going on in society and we need something to take our
off of it. You know when I was in my undergraduate training, the Vietnam War
was going on and there was all sorts of cultural chaos occurring, and everything
like this – there was a spike in streaking going on in public situations,
and you know suddenly in a cafeteria for instance, you know some some guy
would go running – usually he’d have, you know, a ski mask over his face so nobody
knew he was, but just go running through the crowd, and the response to that would
be people laughing and standing and cheering and clapping their hands. But
over time, that became less acceptable you know – and there was an example
actually at Skyview High School – this was a big item in the paper – in the
Peninsula Clarion some years ago, where somebody streaked during halftime of a football game and and they finally eventually figured out who it
was and and the student – it was a student – and he was suspended for a 15-day period.
It was a great debate in the community about whether or not he should have been
suspended or not, you know, and some people considered it to be a sexual
violation even, you know, exposing himself to little children who were
in attendance at the game. Other people just really laughed and thought it was funny.
Now take that kind of public nudity and put it in a situation like somebody
ambling down the hallway in your classroom building, in the middle of the
day, or walking into the post office with a ski mask on and no clothing otherwise.
The person will get arrested and hauled off. So you see, context has something
to do with what’s acceptable and what isn’t also as far as norms are
concerned, at least in terms of the response to violations of norms. A taboo
is a norm that really is much more serious than a more and feelings
are so strong about these behaviors that people are disgusted
when somebody breaks a taboo. And usually that person is really
considered to be banished from society, is not fit to live in society. An example
in American society would be, you know, sexual abuse of children for instance,
you know, and sexual molesters – many people in society would like to see them
put into prison just totally banished from society for life. You know it doesn’t happen, but that is the
response to that. Other examples of taboos might include incest, or
cannibalism. If you’ve ever listened to the – or saw – the movie “Alive” or read the
book, which is much better than the movie – about the soccer – the story of
the young soccer team, the players that crashed in the Andes and were stuck in
the mountains for, I don’t know, sixty to ninety days or something like that, and
and they had to result – had to resort eventually to eating the dead
people, that were people that were killed in the crash, in order to survive.
If you follow up that story, there are books written by some of the survivors
about the – just the difficulty they had in readjusting to society, and the
guilt and shame they felt for having done this – even though that was the only
way they could survive. It’s an example of what happens when you break a taboo, and sometimes forced to do so, in order for survival’s sake. It’s a
story that’s worth following and looking into. Another example of a taboo, for
instance, within a Muslim religion you know, for many individuals are not allowed
to eat pork, and and there’s a strong response to that in the Muslim world as
well. And then – laws – which is something where we’re really of course quite familiar
with, which is really the formalization of mores and folkways in a society – things
such as, you know, driving while intoxicated, or breaking and entering.
and those kinds of things – where you know, it’s just there are limits
placed upon behaviors in order to protect individuals from the impulses of
others. But again I want to stress that deviant – and you should look at the word
from a sociological standpoint – and in the context of this discussion it’s helpful to
understand this, that the term “deviant” which generally has a very negative
connotation to it, is really a neutral term – and it means that an individual is you know, is varying from the
standards of behavior in a culture, and just doing something outside the norm,
that’s what a deviant behavior is, and doesn’t necessarily carry a negative,
it’s not innately a negative act, except as it is defined by the culture or the
group in which it occurs. So keeping that in mind sometimes, might help you
consider that in some cultures what we consider to be unacceptable behavior, in
others, may not be. Another concept of the study of cultures are subcultures, and
these are groups within a given culture whose beliefs, norms, and values differ
some from the primary culture, but they still remain a part of the larger
culture. Whereas a counterculture is a group within a culture that consciously
rejects features of the larger culture, and members will try to separate
themselves from the larger culture. Now an example of a subculture might be,
you know, a Chinatown or a Little Italy, and those kinds of things, where
there are differences in perhaps, in how things are done within that particular
culture, and yet they’re still a member of the larger culture. A good example of a
counterculture was the hippie movement of the 1960s, where they – where
the individuals involved in that movement really tried to separate
themselves from the larger culture and live on their own. When we look at other
cultures, we do tend to use our own culture as what is normal, is sort of
the standard, the yardstick by which we judge others persons’ cultures, and
this is what we call ethnocentrism. In its extreme form, ethnocentrism would be
xenophobia. And so virtually every culture, as this points out, has some
ethnic ethnocentricity in its thinking, you know, because each culture
tends to see themselves as superior and the correct way of seeing the world, and
judge other cultures measured against their own view of the
world. And of course this is the basis for the difference between groups – and dominant groups often use the tendency of ethnocentrism and even
xenophobia to discriminate and marginalize minority groups within a
culture. So norms, which can become a part of our being, as once we’re taught
this from an early age they’re enforced by both negative and positive sanctions –
that’s rewards and punishments – psychological terms, right? The sanction
is a reward or a punishment or a response to a behavior. It can be a
positive or a negative sanction, but when a new – when a person comes from a
different culture and comes into a new culture, there tends to be a good deal of
confusion about norms and expectations because they vary from culture to
culture – and the dominant culture tends to use negative sanctions as a result of
this confusion – the labeling of persons who engage in behaviors because
they’re confused about what is proper and what is correct – and the person new
to the culture may never come to understand why they experience the
negative sanctions. And so it’s important to keep this in mind again, that this is
how the majority culture tends to respond to violations of its norms by
individuals coming from other lands and other cultures. And as I mentioned
earlier, these norms vary from culture to culture, and also don’t always apply
equally to all groups in any one society as well. So these norms and values that
dictate what is normal for the culture must be taught to the younger generation –
and so the adult’s responsibility is to do what we call socializing – or teaching-
these norms and values to their children. Now this socialization in the norms of
society isn’t just about what parents do. It also has to do with what institutions
within the society preach and do, such as religion, such as education, such as the
media – all of these institutions within a society have a part in socializing the
young person as well. In fact it’s said oftentimes that the role of
the public school system in the educational system within America is
less about teaching knowledge and skills, and more about socializing the children
into culture. So if internalization and socialization
failed to produce conformity, that failure to produce – failure to conform –
of course, is deviance – then some form of social control is eventually needed – and
depends upon the culture, depends upon the situation, depends upon who’s in
charge and what the offense is, but this can take the form of discipline by
parents, it can take the form of fines and punishments and imprisonment, if
parents you know don’t intervene, or if the person’s too old to be managed by
parents, some societies in some cultures ostracize individuals for
violating the norms of their group, you know, for instance some Amish sects
will ostracize, will we call “shun” those individuals who refuse to join the
church after a certain period of time. Some societies will banish persons to
other lands for violations of norms. Native villages sometimes will banish
individuals from the community or banish – there have been
instances where societies in Southeast Alaska also use banishment as a form of
discipline or response to law violations. and it’s I think a more
traditional kind of response to such things among indigenous groups. We’ll be
reading about that later in the semester. Our values are another important part of
the culture and we’ve talked about values in the past weeks and we’ll
continue to do that during this semester. But some of the most universal American
values, some of those that were included in the discussion on the Phyllis Day
material, also include other things like freedom and equality, achievement,
hard work, charity, you know – another emerging American value is leisure – it’s
becoming something that’s important. But all of these values supposedly apply
equally to everybody – even though our talents and our personal circumstances
are very unequal in the society and really it may be less than our
talents are unequal, as it is our circumstances are unequal, the
opportunity doesn’t exist evenly among all members of society. And because this
uneven access to quality education, effective job training, good employment
opportunities that have advancement opportunities, those kinds of things, the
necessary resources in a society to be successful are often blocked – and so a
person is unable to live these values, and this of course applies particularly
for the populations that we’re studying this semester in many respects. A very
important part of any culture is its language. It’s been said that if there
isn’t a word for something, that “something” doesn’t exist. And so words are very important and this is something that well – they just, they carry a
significance to them that I think is becoming more and more apparent to
Americans in recent years as well. Culture itself is primarily transmitted
through the language we teach our young. We socialize our young with the use of
words and language and things, and so it can be in many respects as much a
determinant of culture – and therefore of reality – as it is a part of the culture.
Having hosted several exchange students from overseas over the years, one of the
one of the emphases of the exchange program that I hosted with – that was
Youth For Understanding – was that the exchange student was to use their native
language as little as possible during the course of the year. In order to
encourage this, one of the things they did was to try to limit the amount of
contact the student had with parents during the year – but that was less
successful than – and there are a lot of problems
associated with that – but, for instance, when we had gatherings where the
excuses we get together, there would almost always be a a fairly large number
of German students in the group, and there was always a rule that the Germans
were supposed to speak English to each other – not German – and that wasn’t because anybody was afraid that they were talking about other people, but because
they- that it was the feeling that in order to be immersed in the culture of
the American language, which was was the English language, was essential to that
immersion – and that was the whole point of the exchange, was to have the student
immersed in the culture during the course of the year. So that was an
acknowledgement of the importance of language. Studies say that the language
we speak predisposes us to interpret our world in very specific ways, and that the
population – the use of a language by a population – often reflects the unique
experiences of the population. And this is one of the things that leads to the
differences in our worldview. You know it’s there – the old standard
example in this particular area is the fact that, apparently at least, that in
some of the Alaska native languages there are over a hundred different terms
used to refer to snow. Now that may be an exaggeration – I don’t know students in
the class maybe you want to tell me differently – but that’s an example of
the fact that weather in the far north and and in rural areas where
there aren’t roads and the kinds of things that you know others are used to,
living in urban environments, that weather is so much more important, that
there are so many different ways to describe it, much more than there
are in many other languages in the area. Within any culture, there’s a
difference between what are the theoretical norms and values of society,
and what is actually applied, and that’s the difference between the ideal culture
and the real culture. And you know this conflict
between ideal culture and real culture is something that is is the basis for a
lot of discussion in the political and social conversations that are going on
at this time in America, as you know we find many things challenged in just
in the daily news for that matter. Cultural change results from such
phenomena as cultural borrowing – diffusion and discovery.
DIscovery is a sudden recognition, you know, they’re elements that have always
been there, but happened to put them together in different ways, and as a
discovery and invention in history. So borrowing, cultural borrowing, is
really an exchange of elements of a culture through trade. Oftentimes you
know we share culture, we spread our culture, through the use of trade and
exchange, And cultural diffusion is more the sharing of aspects of cultures
with other around the world. And the internet, for
instance, is considered to be a very important agent of cultural diffusion,
blurring many of the boundaries that have existed in societies, some
say making it more difficult for leaders to create us-against-them philosophies –
because with the use of the internet, at least as long as the
internet is is free and available, we’re able to reach around our leaders and
reach around the politicians, to communicate with persons from other
cultures and learn for ourselves. There’s some recognition of this, for instance, in
China, you know, where I know my Chinese exchange student contacted me
recently, and you know has really not been able to stay in close touch partly
because Facebook is outlawed in China and Google’s also outlawed in China, and
so it’s much more difficult for him to be able to reach into other
societies – and that tells you a little bit about the fact that their
leaders recognize just how – well they’re trying to keep control of their culture
over there in ways that, over time is I think not going to be possible. So we
talked a little bit about ethnocentrism earlier, that we tend to see our own
culture as superior, and this leads to strong feelings of nationalism, And one
of the things that this style of leadership does ,and I might say is doing,
is that it it promotes internal connections and supposedly stability. Now
this was a technique that was used by the Nazis, for instance. Hitler used this
in garnering the feelings of the Germans against the Jews, and
there were other groups that were becoming also ostracized by the
Nazis but didn’t go to the extreme that it did with the Jews. And what one of the
phenomena that occurred with that is that it strengthened the German community together, it caused them to tighten up and made it
easier for Hitler to lead them. There was a very famous study done by
sociologists some years back at a camp it was the – you look it up the Sherif S-H-E-R-I-F experiment. with creating in-group and out-group loyalties, and how the
impact that had upon leadership and getting things done. Ethnocentrism also at the same time then
creates barriers to cooperation with persons from outside the culture, and it
really tends to block our understanding about social and economic classes, ethnic
and racial groups, one generation to the next, all those kinds of things, because
we’re very much focused our own group, our own culture, our own
class. Cultural appropriation is another term that has become more
familiar to us lately, and it occurs when cultural elements are copied from a
minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and are used outside of
the original cultural context, sometimes even against the expressly stated wishes
and members of the originating culture. And an obvious example of that involves
the names of mascots of some of the professional sports teams like the
Washington Redskins, for instance, the use of terms that really are considered to
be derogatory, and yet are by the larger majority culture appropriated and
used in a way that isn’t intended necessarily to be derogatory, but
just kind of blows past the fact that it’s offensive to members of the minority
culture, and this is where where cultural appropriation comes into play. Now there
are a lot of people who have issue with the concept of cultural appropriation,
and you can bet that they’re mostly individuals of the majority culture as
well. And you know there’s another example that I – another book that I worked
out of once – referring to what was called “mock Spanish,” you know where
individuals made use of certain terms from the Spanish language, kind of making
it a part of the English exchange and somehow implying some sort of
superioritymin the ability to be able to use this term in a way that
necessarily wasn’t intended. Things like saying “no problemo” or “hasta la vista,
baby” and those kinds of things. Just things worth thinking about, that
members of the majority culture don’t necessarily tune in to, but can
sometimes be very troubling to individuals from minority cultures. So
cultural relativism is the recognition that each culture is unique and must be
judged in its own context, and that one’s own norms and values cannot be used to
measure the worth of another culture. What is considered deviant in one
culture is acceptable in others. There are those who believe that cultural
relativism can be taken too far, and an example of that is female genital
mutilation which is, you know, considered a norm in certain cultures, and we
would consider backwards cultures, in Africa and I think in some parts of the
Middle East. And yet is practiced by those cultures as a part of the their
control of genders, which again is considered unacceptable in other
cultures. There are those who say that such acts are are so reprehensible that
they shouldn’t be accepted, no matter what culture you live in. That’s a point
of discussion, but cultural relativism otherwise is really just the
understanding that we we have to understand social behavior in its own
cultural framework, in the context of its own society, and not judge it based upon
our own standards from within our own society, but but only the standards of
that particular society. You have the handout made available to you on “Dimensions of Culture,” which I find very useful and I really would encourage you to print it
out and keep it handy, or save a copy of it at least, because you can see how here
comparing individualist and collectivist cultures, how that really kind of ripples
through many different interactions that we have with each other – and I just find
that some of the specifics in here, in that particular piece of information, is
something that’s very useful and may help us understand some of the differences
between us. But of course you know our tendency is to view the world through
the lens of the context of our own culture or how we were raised, and
again as Phyllis Day would tell us, you know, things that are a part of the very
fabric of our existence and of our being, and unless we understand they’re there,
and also understand that what we see as reality, what we see as the truth, isn’t
necessarily what is reality and what is the truth for those who
come from other cultures and other ways of life. Unless we really decide to step
out of our own frame of reference and learn about other frames of references,
it’s going to be very difficult for us to work in our field. So this is really
the challenge you have ahead of you. Okay – that’s my little talk on culture. I hope you find some useful things to ponder here

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