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Sociology Culture Needs Spell Check

Sociology: Culture /* Needs Spell Check /* Essay, Research Paper SOCIOLOGY 1301CULTURE Remember back to when I defined “society” for you. A society consists of people who live in a specific geographic area and who interact with one another more than they do with other individuals. They have interacted and lived together long enough that they have created a way of life that is unique to that group.

Sociology: Culture /* Needs Spell Check /* Essay, Research Paper

SOCIOLOGY 1301CULTURE Remember back to when I defined “society” for you. A society consists of people who live in a specific geographic area and who interact with one another more than they do with other individuals. They have interacted and lived together long enough that they have created a way of life that is unique to that group. What do I mean by “way of life”? “way of life” : they have interacted together over long enough period of time to have agreed upon sound symbols to label everything in their world. In other words they have developed their very own language so that they can communicate with each other. They have come up with a shared set of beliefs and values. They have reach general agreements about what is good and bad. What is desirable and not desirable, what is right and wrong. They have come up with their own unique way of doing things and getting things done that need to be done for these people to survive. They have come up with their own methods and technologies. For instance, how to get food, how to prepare food, how to shelter themselves. They have come up with rules about how to behave; rules that guide their interaction. Basically everyone in a society knows what is expected of him or her in any given situation they encounter in their daily lives. And they know what to expect from others as they go about their daily lives. And because they know what is expected of them and what to expect from others in the course of their daily lives, there is order and not chaos. A group of people who have interacted long enough together to have developed and passed on customs, habits, traditions. A way of life that is passed on from one generation to the next. A way of life that is comfortable and natural to them. It is the only way of life they know. And this sense of naturalness leads to a sense of unity, a feeling of unity, of belonging to the group. These are my people. We see ourselves as separate and distinct from people who make up other societies. This whole “way of life” that people create when they live and interact together over a period of time is their culture. We use the term culture in a different way than it is commonly used. In popular usage we tend to talk of people as being “cultured” or “uncultured”. For instance “cultured” people are well read and knowledgeable and enjoy literature, the arts, fine wine, and classical music. In a social scientific sense there are no “uncultured” people. The book defines culture as the values, beliefs, behavior and material objects that constitutes a peoples way of life. Another good definition of culture – a way of life that is learned and shared by groups of human beings and that is taught by one generation to the next. Society refers to people who live in a specific geographic area and who interact in patterned, recurrent and enduring ways. Culture is the product of that interaction. There are four major characteristics of culture: 1. Culture is a universal feature of human social life. 2. Culture is learned.3. Culture is shared.4. Culture is cumulative. Culture is a universal feature of human life. It is universal because it is essential to human existence; to say that culture is a universal feature of human social life is sort of like saying that a head is a universal feature of the human body. Well of course it is, without a head it wouldn’t be human. We depend on our cultures to survive. Human beings are unique among all the creatures of the animal kingdom in their capacity to create and sustain culture. Each society of men possesses its own distinctive culture so that members of one society behave differently in some significant respects from the members of every other society. There are thousand of examples of different ways folks from different cultures do things. One example of a simple behavior pattern that differs from culture to culture: The situation where one meets up with a friend or relative that he/she hasn’t seen for a long time. An Andaman Islander from the Indian Ocean, would, in a really dramatic, ceremonial way, start crying and sobbing. A Frenchman would kiss his friend on both cheeks. Americans are satisfied with taking each others right hand and pumping it up and down. Another way to see the variations cultures cause in human behavior throughout the world: compare to the way animals in different parts of the world do things. A dog in Texas just ain’t gonna act much different than a dog in China. Animal societies are patterned. Humans are not the only social animals. But the behavior of ants and chimpanzees, for example is not patterned by shared values, knowledge or other distinctive features of culture. In place of culture animals rely on strong instincts – fixed, biologically inherited, complex behavior patterns. Animal behavior is programmed genetically, and the social organization of any single species is alike from one place to the next and from one time period to the next. Depending only on their instincts, all beavers the world over build dams and raise their young in a very similar manner; all birds of a single species build the same kind of nests. So, culture is universal. Culture is a universal feature of all human societies, and without culture society would be impossible. But to say that culture is universal is not to say that man learns a general, world-standard culture. Man learns the highly particular form of culture that evolves in his society. Each society possesses its own distinctive culture, where people have developed different beliefs, values, and behavioral patterns. But keep in mind – being born into, socialized into, enculturated into, a culture, a way of life, does not hardwire you so that you can only exist in that culture. Members of any particular culture have the ability to learn the essential understandings of any other culture. A noted anthropologist illustrated this by telling of a young man he met in New York once. “This young man did not speak a word of English and was obviously bewildered by American ways. By blood he was as American as you and I. His parents had gone from Indiana to China as missionaries. He was orphaned in infancy and reared by a Chinese family in a remote village. All who met him found him more Chinese than American. The facts of his blue eyes and blond hair were less impressive or noticeable than a Chinese style of gait, Chinese arm and hand movements, Chinese facial expression and Chinese modes of thought. The biological heritage was American, but the cultural heritage was Chinese. He returned to China.” And it goes without saying that even having been raised in one culture, we humans have the ability if need be to move into another culture and learn and adapt to another way of life. When we first encounter that other culture we may experience what is commonly called culture shock – a feeling of disorientation that occurs when one tries to adjust to another culture. But we have the capacity to learn, adapt, to understand. 2. Culture is learned. Because man has almost no instincts we need a culture to survive. You can see this most clearly in the human infant’s long dependence on adults. Other newly born animals have instincts that enable them to be on their own in a few hours or few days. instincts – fixed, biologically inherited, complex behavior patterns. instincts – biologically fixed traits (hardwired) that enable the carrier to perform complex tasks. Human infants must depend on adults for many years. They spend these years observing, imitating, being taught their culture, a way of life, how to live and survive in their world. The book says that humans are born with the ability to grasp, suck, and cry, but even these elementary responses disappear after a few weeks and must be replaced by learned responses if an infant is to survive. and we do inherit drives for sex, nourishment, self-preservation. These drives are apparently innate, we are born with them. But our biology provides no clear guidelines as to how we are to act in satisfying those drives. To illustrate let’s look at ants and contrast them to humans: Understand that humans are the only animal that has the ability to create culture and depends on culture for survival. We are not, however, the only animals who experience social life and possess social organization. Ants have a complex social organization; ants have societies. There is a fascinating division of labor among the queen, the workers, fighters, drones. But all that complexity of their social organization rests not on culture but upon instinct. Ant life is patterned, but it is not patterned by shared values and learned ways of behavior. It is patterned by instinct. In an ant colony, in an ant society, there is no transmission (so far as they have been able to tell) of behavior through learning. If you take a set of ant eggs, incubate them right, without the presence of any adult ants, you can produce a whole bunch of baby ants. Now there are no adult ants around, but these baby ants, as they mature, will re-create, re-enact in every detail exactly, all the behavior of all the generations of the species before them. In sum humans have to learn how to survive, we are not born knowing how; we do not inherit it. 3. Culture is shared. Every society requires some degree of common understanding of reality and common rules for behavior in order to function. Without this, people could not cooperate or even interact in a meaningful way, and nobody would know how to behave. What’s a good way to see this idea that “culture is shared”? By understanding a people’s culture, a group’s culture, you can go along way in understanding and predicting behavior of individuals. A good deal of human behavior can be understood, and predicted, if we know a peoples design for living. Many of our individual acts are neither accidental nor due to personal peculiarities, nor caused by supernatural forces, nor simply mysterious. Even most of us who pride ourselves on our individualism follow most of the time a pattern in our lives not of our own making. – we brush our teeth on arising – we put on pants, not a loincloth or grass skirt. – we eat 3 meals a day, not four or five or two. – we sleep in a bed, not a hammock or on a sheep pelt You do not have to know the individual to predict these and countless other regularities of all members of the American culture, for example. Culture regulates our lives at every turn. From the moment we are born until we die there is, whether we are conscious of it or not, constant pressure on us to follow certain types of behavior that other men have created for us. Those of us who have been involved in raising small children know how unnaturally most of this comes to the infant individual: Until we are “enculturalized” “socialized” most of us as infants and little children didn’t have much regard for the “proper” place, time and manner for certain acts such as eating, excreting, sleeping, getting dirty, and making loud noises. But by more or less adhering to a system of shared ways of carrying out all the acts of living, a group of men and women feel themselves linked together by a powerful chain of sentiments, an emotional thing. So you could say that your culture is that which binds us together. Couple of other things about culture being shared. Culture “channels” biological processes, the biological drives mentioned above. Take hunger and daily habits of food intake. When a man eats, he is reacting to an “internal” drive (hunger contractions caused by the lowering of blood sugar), But his precise reaction to these internal stimuli cannot be predicted by physiological knowledge alone. Whether an adult feels hungry twice, three times or four times a day and the hours at which this feeling occurs is a matter of culture. What he eats is of course influenced by availability, but it is to a large extent influenced by culture. It is a biological fact that some types of berries are poisonous; it is a cultural fact that a few generations ago, most Americans considered tomatoes to be poisonous and refused to eat them. 4. Culture is cumulative. We know that humans genetically identical to us have existed for tens of thousands of years. Humans just as wise, every bit as intelligent, just as capable, who worked, played, laughed, cried, felt the same emotions as we did. { There is a tendency of those living in the current era to look upon, or think of those who went before us as not being as intelligent or wise, that we are so much more advanced } That is just not true. The essential difference between those people and us today is that vast body of knowledge that societies have built up over the centuries. Knowledge that is transmitted from one generation to the next. Another good definition of culture would be: culture – the groups knowledge stored up in the memories of men, in books, and other objects for future use Mostly knowledge about the physical world and technological knowledge (technological knowledge – knowledge applied to practical purposes) Over the years and from generation to generation one discovery has led to another discovery, one invention leads to another invention, inventions and discoveries grow out of previous inventions and discoveries. A building process that started way back their. We humans do not have to start over each generation learning how to survive, how to live on this planet. What one generation learns is recorded in memory, in writing, in books (and now there are numerous other technologies to preserve our knowledge) This accumulation of this vast body of knowledge really took off when human cultures invented the written language. After that the store of knowledge no longer depended on memory alone.

The transmission of knowledge no longer depended on face to face oral communication or observation. Now societies could store and record a mass of knowledge in books, and through the written word one person could communicate to thousands and thousands of people (which in itself greatly speeded up the growth of the body of knowledge. Now have thousands and thousands of people instead of tens of people who can read that book, thousands who can start using that knowledge to build other knowledge. With the written word humans could start storing knowledge. So there you have the four major characteristics of culture: Culture is universal, culture is learned, culture is cumulative, and culture is shared. Culture is a universal attribute of human societies. Every society by necessity has to create, develop a culture, a way of life. Remember – create – we are not born knowing how to get by, we are not hardwired like the ant. Since every group of people has to “create” a culture, well, naturally, there are going to be a lot of variation in the cultures that develop over the world. To repeat: we should all be aware of the great diversity of cultures that have developed. Some examples of cultural differences that we find interesting: In Hawaii, there were once fattening houses to make young brides more beautiful; in America, there are thousands of spas to help people lose weight and thereby become “more attractive” Americans make a “fetish” out of breasts and that skin magazines make a fortune revealing them, but on some Pacific Islands, women go bare-breasted and men hardly notice. On the same islands, though, a woman’s legs must be covered at all times because women’s calves are considered highly erotic and should never be exposed in public. Some other cultural differences I gathered from other sources on culture, differences we probably find interesting: Among the Hopi Indians of the American Southwest and among the Alorese people of Indonesia, mothers often masturbate infants to pacify them. There are a group of people in Africa, called Ila, as well as the Trukese people on the Caroline Islands in the West Pacific, where boys and girls are encouraged to have sex once they reach age ten. Group of Eskimos, called Copper Eskimos, where the men occasionally have intercourse with live or dead animals. Among the the Keraki people of New Guinea the males customarily engages in homosexual activity during adolescence and in bisexual behavior after marriage. In the Banaro tribe of New Guinea woman are expected to conceive their first child by one of her husband’s friends rather than by her husband. These are some of many, many differences in customs, beliefs, foods, housing, dress, sexual practices, religions that different peoples all over the world have developed. And we find them interesting, these differences, interesting to compare cultural practices. But most of us probably find a lot of these things to be more than just a little interesting. We probably think of a lot of these cultural ways as backward, inferior, degenerate, perverted, disgusting. Sociologists call this kind of thinking ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is the tendency to evaluate and judge the customs and traditions of others according to one’s own cultural tastes, beliefs, morals, standards. People everywhere exhibit ethnocentrism – the practice of judging another culture by the standards of one’s own culture. Almost from the time we are born, we are taught that our way of life, the life in this culture is good, moral, civilized, natural. We take for granted, we feel it in our bones, that the way we live is right, is good. And there is nothing wrong with that at all. This is our element. We have internalized this culture, our values, our beliefs, our sense of self, we get from the culture that raises us. You bet it is our natural element, like the water is to a fish. The thought of having to live outside of our “water” is uncomfortable and unnatural. Ethnocentrism functions to enhance morale and solidarity among members of a society So there is nothing wrong with feeling that your culture is good and right. What probably is wrong is to believe, that because yours is good and right, therefore that other peoples way of life is wrong and inferior. I believe that is what ethnocentrism is – considering ones own values “natural” and right and those of others inferior and wrong. This kind of attitude can dangerous and wrong because it so often has led in the world to discrimination by one group against another, ethnic conflict and war, and even genocide. (Tasmanians) One important way that we can guard against ethnocentric biases is by adopting a position that is called cultural relativism. Cultural relativism – the practice of judging a culture by its own standards. Trying to imagine unfamiliar cultural traits from the point of view of others rather than ourselves. Cultural relativism is a difficult attitude to assume because it requires not only understanding the values and norms of another society but also suspending cultural standards we have known all our lives. Cultural relativity has problems of its own. One can find virtually any kind of behavior somewhere in the world; does that mean that anything and everything has equal claim to being morally right Yanomamo (Chagnon), one of most technologically primitive societies on earth along the border between Venezuela and brazil. Yanomamo men routinely offer their wives sexually to younger brothers and friends. From the Yanomamo men’s point of view this practice symbolizes friendship and generosity. But by our cultural standards, however, this behavior smacks of moral perversity and gross unfairness to women. Yanomamo men also violently punish a woman who displeases them. Should we pronounce such practices morally O.K. simply because the Yanomamo themselves accept them. Since we are all members of a single species, we might assume there must be universal standards of conduct for everyone? But what are they? In trying to figure out what is really good, how can we avoid imposing our own standards on everyone else? There are no simple answers. The Elements of Culture Generally speaking, talk about culture as a “way of life”, a “learned way of living”. A pretty broad phrase. What is involved in a peoples “way of life”? What are some of the things that make up a way of life? That complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, customs and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of a society. Book breaks it down into: Symbols language being the most important type or use of symbols in any culture beliefs values norms – expectations and rules for proper conduct that guide the behavior of the members of a society all the material “things” we have created, all the material objects a culture has created. Symbols Symbols are the building blocks of culture, make the development of cultures possible Symbols have no intrinsic meaning. They get there meaning, they carry meaning only because a group of people have agreed that that particular symbol, whether it be a type of mark (something we have agreed to call a “letter”), a sound, a gesture, has a particular meaning. There is usually no natural relationship between any symbol and its referent, (the thing it refers to). The most important use of symbols in any culture is to create a language. Language is a complex system of symbols with agreed upon meanings, used by members of a society for communication. Usually when we think of “language” we think of the spoken language, but in its broadest sense, language contains verbal, nonverbal, and written symbols. Whereas complex cultures like ours use all three kinds of symbols in communication, simpler(what we call preliterate societies, those that have not developed a written language) typically lack written symbols. Estimated three thousand to five thousand languages on earth today. Most spoken languages make use of between 15 and 60 distinct sounds to communicate messages. English uses 44 distinct sounds. With these 44 sounds we have come up with a sound symbol, a sound label for every blessed thing in our known universe, for every action, for every kind of feeling or emotion Humans are biologically predisposed to learn language. (Not so the other animals) That is not to say that we are born with language, we have to learn it. Infants are born with the ability to produce many sounds, to hear subtle differences among those sounds, and to process this information in the brain These few sounds together with the rules for combining them into words, sentences and more complex structures is what language is. Like all symbols, the sounds chosen by a culture, and the arrangement of these sounds in a way that produce meaning are decided strictly by agreement (the group of sounds put together to sound out “window” stands for this because we have agreed that it does, not because it is inherent in the sound) Non-verbal symbols – the use of gestures, eyes, posture, space, “body language” to communicate. Beliefs and values. A close relationship between beliefs and values. Beliefs are a society’s truths. Values are shared ideas about what is socially desirable. Read what the book has to say about beliefs and values but don’t spend too much mental energy trying to nail down the distinction between the two concepts. They are so often used interchangeably, used to mean the same thing. It’s o.k. belief – what the people of a culture “know” about the workings of the world. Some of the “core” values and beliefs of American culture that kind of drive our lives: Individualism self-reliance competition – self-interest, that each individual looks out for his ownself, that by nature man competes against others for scarce resources, you look out for number 1. achievement – each individual desires to get ahead. This goal requires that each person compete with others for society’s limited prizes. To seek gain and profit is proper. consequently we expect that there will be “winners” and “losers” Materialism, individual accumulation of wealth and material things, and consumerism are values and goals that are accepted and taught in our culture as right. In America success and personal wealth are measured in large part by the quality and quantity of one’s material possessions. For many Americans material possessions, such as autos, homes, clothes and other goods, are important measures of personal identity and self-worth. Recall when we talked about ethnocentrism. Members of each culture feel their values and beliefs are natural and right. We are so immersed in our culture that we think that our way is the natural way the right way the way it has always been the only way it can ever be. Our whole free market capitalist economic system is based on the belief that man is by nature self-interested. By nature he will first, foremost, and inevitably look out for himself. We believe that competing for individual gain and profit is right and good. It is hard for us to imagine it ever being different, or imagining any other system. And that is ethnocentrism at play. Now recall also about cultural differences, the great variation in ways of life, in beliefs and values. There are a whole bunch of different ways of life out there and one of the possible benefits of understanding and learning about other cultures, well, maybe we can learn something from them that would approve upon our culture. Maybe learning about other ways will, in a sense, remove our cultural blinders. Is our way of life the best way? It certainly couldn’t hurt to ask that question. It wouldn’t hurt to question and re-think some of our basic values. We should always be interested in creating a better way of life, a more meaningful, more full, existence. In our attempt to design a better future for ourselves, there is a whole lot to be learned from other cultures. Is individualism and competition natural to the human condition? Is man naturally a self-interested individual? Is individual accumulation universally looked upon as a good thing? Studying different cultures and looking back in history you find the answer to those three questions is no. Examples and illustrations: There are some cultures where individualism and self interest could get you killed. The story of the clash of two value systems. In Papua New Guinea, a center was set up in a small village to get the villagers to use modern technology to start small businesses, in other words, to introduce entrepreneurship and capitalism to these cultures. And some of the villagers did this. Using technologies they had established small businesses and were gaining personal wealth. One was, for example, sending shredded coconut to Port Moresby, one of the larger port cities in Papau New Guinea. One was exporting cane furniture. Another solar dried tropical fruits, another was selling hemp rope. But one day, in 1983, all these “successful” persons in this particular village were found dead. It turned out that they had all been killed by the local witch doctor, or shaman, at the urging of the village elders, or village leaders. Why? The village elders only saw the technological innovations and the encouragement of entrepreneurship as creating individualism. And they believed that “successful” individuals were no longer contributing to the common good. The Papua New Guinea society was based on community and cooperation. The new economic system that they were trying to introduce was based on individualism and competition. Community/cooperation Individualism/competition As a general rule other cultures value “community” and “cooperation” much more than our culture. One village in Fiji was harvesting, drying, exporting sea cucumbers to Japan. But all the proceeds of the coop went to the village elders for community projects. A dance group performing for a tourist hotel in Tonga did the same with all proceeds from an evening entertaining tourists. None of the participants personally received anything for the work done. In Papua New Guinea, roads were maintained by “youth clubs”, all young men who had reached puberty but were not yet married. Payment did not go to workers but to the common house in which they lived together and was spent for the common good. Anthropologist have described the economy of the African !Kung. The !Kung function as guardians , not possessors, of resources and are guided by the motivation of service to others.Rather than assuming that resources are scarce and that individuals must compete for them, they believe that a greater whole is created by working together, by combined, cooperative action. Collaboration, rather than competition makes more available to all. This is an example of a “synergistic economy” an economy wherein combined cooperative action is the rule as opposed to a “scarcity” economy” wherein competition against each other is the rule. The Japanese place more emphasis on good human relationships than they do on money. The Japanese say that the individual must be submerged in society. In traditional Japanese culture the individual should not stand out, and they should neither expect nor demand recognition for their special talents

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