• Unit 3: Culture

    Our culture refers to our way of life or the framework we use to live in our community. Sociologists examine common characteristics of culture, such as our symbols, values, beliefs, and norms. As individuals, society influences us through its culture. We are born into a society and raised according to a culture that has defined values, beliefs, norms, and language.

    Most sociologists encourage us to practice cultural relativism and judge other cultures by their standards rather than by our guidelines or norms (ethnocentrism). This sympathetic mindset can be difficult to develop since the goal of any culture is to get its members to adopt or internalize values, beliefs, and norms as our own. Throughout our lives, we discover examples of different cultures which the media describes as high, pop, sub, and counter.

    Finally, we examine theoretical perspectives of culture: structural and social conflict and symbolic interaction. Notice the different focus each theory brings to the study of culture. Consider the impact your culture has had on you.

    Completing this unit should take you approximately 2 hours.

    • 3.1: What Is Culture?

      Culture describes the societal guidelines we follow throughout our lives. It is a tool or framework we use to help gain acceptance in our community. Every society constructs a culture that contains material and nonmaterial aspects, such as symbols, values, beliefs, and norms. Culture is passed down from one generation to the next through cultural transmission, where children are taught their culture's values, rules, and goals.

    • 3.2: Elements of Culture

      As sociologists, we avoid value judgments related to culture. Rather than say one culture is better than another, we examine what different cultures have in common as we explore the human condition. For example, all cultures contain symbols, values, beliefs, and norms, but the specifics vary widely. Every culture has ideals to follow, but we practice various flavors or varieties in real life. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis states that our language determines or influences our thoughts. In other words, we see the world through the lens of our language. Notice the importance of social control within a culture to maintain social order, which we will explore in more detail in Unit 4.

    • 3.3: Cultures and Cultural Change

      Every society has multiple cultural groups. In many societies, pop culture tries to emulate high culture. A subculture is a culture that is different from the mainstream in some way. Culture is constantly evolving, often responding to changes in technology. Material culture often changes first, and the nonmaterial aspects take a while to catch up.

    • 3.4: Theoretical Perspectives on Culture

      Theories give us a different lens to focus on when studying social phenomena. For example, we can ask functionalists what they think about culture and how it holds society together. We can look through the lens of conflict theory and ask how certain cultures promote conflict and inequality. We can adopt a symbolic interaction perspective to examine how cultural values and norms are being redefined. For example, a sociologist can use these perspectives to examine what a family is, who is included, and explore how its definition has changed over time.

    • Unit 3 Assessment

      • Receive a grade