culture & the media - University of Idaho




DEFINING OF CULTURE • Culture is the complex system of meaning and behavior that defines the way of life for a given group or society. – It includes beliefs, values, knowledge, art, morals, laws, customs, habits, language, and dress, among other things. – Culture includes ways of thinking as well as patterns of behavior. – Observing culture involves studying what people think, how they interact, and the objects they use.


MATERIAL AND NONMATERIAL CULTURE • Culture is a glue that holds the society together. • It provides guidelines for right and wrong behavior. • Culture is both material and nonmaterial. • Material culture consists of objects created in the society, e.g. the desk or bed you sit at when studying. • Nonmaterial culture consists of non-tangible things such as norms, laws, customs, values, beliefs, and ideas of a group of people. • Believing in God, the language you speak, and how you sit when you eat are non-tangible aspects of culture.



2. 3.

Define material and nonmaterial culture and discuss the iPod, MP3, and video examples presented at the beginning of this chapter. Explain how use of these technological devices relates to the nonmaterial beliefs about these devices. Compare the use of these gadgets in the U.S. to that of a less industrialized society.


CHARACTERISTICS OF CULTURE • Andersen & Taylor discuss five universal aspects of culture that apply to all cultures everywhere. • Culture: 1. is shared 2. is learned 3. is taken for granted 4. is symbolic 5. varies across time and space


CULTURE IS SHARED • The fact that culture is collectively experienced and agreed upon is what makes human society possible. • Within the United States, there are people of all ages, races, genders, and even social classes. • Yet, there is a common cultural basis to life in the United States and in every other culture in the world. • People within a given culture use shared symbols, language patterns, belief systems, and ways of thinking. • This is true even when there is great cultural diversity within the society.


CULTURE IS LEARNED • People in any culture learn the ways of their culture. • We learn a culture’s ways so thoroughly that we are not aware these ways of thinking, believing, acting and living are learned. • Culture is learned indirectly through observation and imitation. • Sociologists say that culture is learned both informally and formally. • A person feels like an outsider until they’ve learned the ways of the culture.



Think of a time when you went to a new environment (such as off to college) and you didn’t know how you were expected to act or what you should do. How did you figure out what you should do to fit into the group?


CULTURE IS TAKEN FOR GRANTED • People engage unknowingly in hundreds of cultural practices every day; culture makes these practices seem “normal.” • We do what we do without stopping to ask, “Why am I doing this?” It is just the way it is done. • For example: In the U.S. people sleep on a mattress instead of a straw mat, and they use silverware when they eat and not their hands or chopsticks. Why? • Because that is what we do in the U.S.


CULTURE IS SYMBOLIC • The significance of culture lies in the meaning it holds for people. Different cultures assign different meanings to symbols. • For example: waving a Korean flag from an office building in

Delaware is unpatriotic, but doing the same in Korea is patriotic. • Symbols are things or behaviors to which people give meaning; the meaning is not inherent in a symbol but is bestowed by the meaning

people give it. • For example, in America: • the American Flag is a symbol of freedom.

• the white wedding dress is a symbol of purity. • the iPad is a symbol of status, being hip. 10

CULTURE VARIES ACROSS TIME & PLACE • Culture develops as humans adapt to the physical and social environment around them. • Solutions to everyday problems vary in different time periods. • Culture is a mix of the past and the present. • In the 21st century we speak of meeting the ever-increasing demand for food by genetic engineering. • In the 19th century these ideas were not even dreamed about, let alone practiced.


CULTURE VARIES ACROSS TIME & PLACE • Solutions to everyday problems also vary by place (where the people live). – The environment as well as religion help define how the cultural group lives and what the people do and think about. – For example: • In Alaska, the solutions for what to wear when it is cold are very different than it is in Hawaii. • Some cultures’ religion may consider genetic engineering of food as immoral and going against God’s will.


ELEMENTS OF CULTURE • Andersen & Taylor discuss the following elements of culture: 1. language 2. norms 3. beliefs 4. values – Every culture relies on these elements to provide its people with a way to live. • These vary from culture to culture, but they are cultural universals. • No culture can exist without them.


THE ELEMENT OF LANGUAGE • Language is a set of symbols and rules that, put together in a meaningful way, provide a complex communication system. • The formation of culture among humans is made possible by language. • Language is fluid and dynamic and evolves in response to social change.


EXAMPLES OF THE ELEMENT OF LANGUAGE • Children must learn the language of the people in order to acquire needed social skills. • Even as an adult, it is impossible to fully fit into a group until one knows and can speak the language of the group. • Text messaging and computer languages are a response to social change. – GTG = got to go, LOL = laughing out loud, etc. – Mac = Macintosh computers – Drive-up = use a motorized vehicle and drive up to a window to pick up food prepared to eat


SAPIR–WHORF HYPOTHESIS • Language shapes culture: • Sapir–Whorf hypothesis (Sapir, 1921 and Whorf, 1950) thought that language determines what people think because language forces people to perceive the world in certain terms. • This idea has met criticism, and contemporary linguists now believe in a two-way causality between language and culture. • Each shape and influence the other.


SOCIAL INEQUALITY IN LANGUAGE • In a society where there is group inequality, language is likely to communicate assumptions and stereotypes about different social groups. • What people say, including what people are called, reinforces patterns of inequality in society. • For example: • A Cherokee Indian does not like to be called an “Indian” as it is a term assigned to them by their White conquerors. • African Americans do not like being called ‘negroes’ as this term was assigned to them by their white slave owners to designate inferiority and ownership.


THE ELEMENT OF NORMS • Norms are the specific cultural expectations for how to behave in a given situation. • Society without norms would be chaos; with norms in place, people know how to act, and social interactions are consistent, predictable, and learnable. • There are norms governing every situation. • Sometimes they are formal, sometimes informal.


THE ELEMENT OF NORMS • William Graham Sumner classified norms as being either folkways or mores (“more-ays”) • Folkways are the general standards of behavior adhered to by a group. • the ordinary customs of different group cultures • Wearing underwear is an appropriate thing to do in the U.S. • Fireworks on the 4th of July • Mores are strict norms that control moral and ethical behavior. • Mores are enforced by rules and laws. • Violating or breaking a more can result in formal sanctions or punishments. 19

SANCTIONS • Negative sanctions may be mild or severe, ranging from subtle mechanisms of control, such as ridicule, to overt forms of punishment, such as imprisonment, physical coercion, or death



Give examples of both folkways and mores that you personally experience. How was your behavior sanctioned? Who sanctioned it? How did you respond to the sanctions?


ETHNOMETHODOLOGY • Ethnomethodology is a subfield within functionalism developed by Harold Garfinkel (1967) while teaching Sociology at UCLA. • Garfinkel believed that the only way to understand a norm was to break it and watch what people did to re-establish social order. • He challenged his students to pretend to be a boarder in his/her own home, to cross dress before going into a public setting, or run the words upside down on a Scrabble board.



– Often the student could not complete the assignment as they feared the repercussions of not being an acceptable member of the group. • Ethnomethodological research teaches us that society proceeds on an “as if ” basis. – That is, society exists because people behave as if there were no other way to do so. – Usually people go along with what is expected of them. – Culture is actually “enforced” through the social sanctions applied to those who violate social norms.


THE ELEMENT OF BELIEFS • Beliefs are shared ideas held collectively by people within a given culture about what is true. • Shared beliefs are part of what binds people together in society. • Beliefs are also the basis for many norms and values of a given culture.


THE ELEMENT OF BELIEFS • Whether a belief stems from religion, myth, folklore, or science, it shapes what people take to be possible and true. • Examples of different cultural beliefs: • The Hindus and many Easterners are strong advocates of reincarnation and karma. • Christians believe in one life and sin. • Sociologists must remain value-free and not judge other belief systems.


THE ELEMENT OF VALUES • Values are the abstract standards in a society or group that define ideal principles. • Values define what is desirable and morally correct; thus, values determine what is considered right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, good and bad. • Values are abstract, yet they provide a general outline for behavior. • Values are ideals, forming the abstract standards for group behavior, but they are also ideals that may not be realized in every situation. • Values guide the behavior of people in society; they also shape the social norms in a given culture. 26

QUIZ QUESTION • Which is more important in determining the way the people in a group behave and live? a. folkways and mores b. the rights and wrongs taught by parents and teachers c. the values taught by the society’s religious leaders d. what parents and teachers teach the members e. all are equally important


CULTURAL DIVERSITY • As societies develop and become more complex, different cultural traditions appear. • The greater the society’s complexity the greater the internal variations and diversity. • Sociologists differentiate between dominant cultures and subcultures.


DOMINANT CULTURE • Dominant Culture: • Is the culture of the most powerful group in a society. • It is the cultural form that receives the most support from major institutions and that constitutes the major belief system.

• This is not determined by the size of the group but rather the power that the group has in determining the culture’s framework. • In the U.S., the white Anglo Saxon group defines the framework of this society.


SUBCULTURES • Definition: • Cultures whose values and norms differ to some degree from those of the dominant culture. • Traits: • Members of subcultures tend to interact frequently with one another and share a common worldview. • Subcultural styles of life can be integrated into the dominant culture, e.g. jazz and hip-hop. or • The group may elect to retreat from the dominant culture in order to maintain its unique cultural identity and lifestyle, e.g. the Amish. 30




• The United States is classified as a complex society comprised of many different cultural groups; i.e., it is a highly diverse society. • Our society is comprised of many religious, ethnic, and racial groups. • In addition, we have a wide range of people in all age brackets, gender groupings, and social classes. • More than 12.5% of our population are foreign born. • We house immigrants from more than 100 different countries.


ETHNOCENTRISM & CULTURAL RELATIVISM • These are two very important topics of concern to both sociologists and anthropologists. • In this class you will discover how ethnocentric you are, and how your beliefs and values influence the way you view other people and other cultural groups. • One goal of this class is to help you develop a more culturally relative perspective of other groups and cultures.


ETHNOCENTRISM • Ethnocentrism is the habit of only seeing things from the point of view of one’s own group. • Judging one culture by the standards of another culture is ethnocentric. • Ethnocentrism is like a two-sided coin with a positive and a negative side. • It helps the society’s members have a common viewpoint of how to behave and think. • It also can lead to narrow-minded conclusions about the worth of diverse cultures.


DISCUSSION QUESTION • Give examples of your own ethnocentric views about people from different: – racial groups – nationality – political groups – social class groups – colleges or fraternal organizations • How do your viewpoints interfere with being open-minded and value-free?


CULTURAL RELATIVISM • Cultural relativism is the idea that something can be understood and judged only in relationship to the cultural context in which it appears. • This does not make every cultural practice morally acceptable. • It suggests that without knowing the cultural context, it is impossible to understand why people behave as they do. • Simply put, one must learn to view the behavior from the perspective of the social group in which it is practiced.


THE GLOBALIZATION OF CULTURE • The infusion of Western culture throughout the world seems to be accelerating as the commercialized culture of the United States is marketed worldwide. • The diffusion of a single culture throughout the world is referred to as global culture.


GLOBAL CULTURE • Elements of U.S. culture can be found in countries throughout the planet. – For example: • McDonald’s in Hong Kong • The Gap in South Africa • From films to fast food, the United States dominates international mass culture, largely through the influence of capitalist markets.


QUIZ QUESTION Which is incorrect? • Culture is: a. learned and shared b. taken for granted and depends on language for transmission c. both material and nonmaterial d. influenced by values, beliefs and emotions


QUIZ QUESTION • In the 21st century, when a student reads or learns about female genital mutilation, it is his/her responsibility to see it from: a. a cultural relative perspective b. a biased perspective c. the way the church teaches d. an ethnocentric perspective


MASS MEDIA & POPULAR CULTURE • The term mass media refers to the channels of communication that are available to wide segments of the population. • This includes print, film, and electronic media (radio and television), as well as the Internet. • The mass media has extraordinary power to shape culture, including what people believe and the information available to them. • The media is everywhere, both inside and outside buildings.


MASS MEDIA • Mass media is organized via powerful economic interests. • It is owned by a small number of companies that form huge media monopolies. • This means that a few very powerful groups, media conglomerates, are the major producers and distributors of culture. • Television is a powerful transmitter of culture, but it also portrays a very homogeneous view of culture. • It tells people what to do, think, and believe.


POPULAR CULTURE • Popular culture refers to the culture’s beliefs, practices, and objects that are part of everyday traditions. • The popular culture of the U.S. is one defined by its dominating usage and reliance on the mass media. • Popular culture is not the same as the “elite culture.” • Social class, race, and gender determined one’s access to the mass media. • The rich can buy $150 theatre tickets, the poor are fortunate to afford movie tickets.


TELEVISION & DISCRIMINATION • Television and even popular magazines define our standards of: • beauty • age and ageism • race • gender • morality • religion • political and economics • Media constructs are cultural standards that create and perpetuate stereotypes.


DISCUSSION TOPIC • Think about your favorite TV show and how the values and standards of such characteristics as beauty, strength, age, homosexuality, etc. are portrayed on the show. • Look for differences in the way gender, race, wealth, jobs, leisure, and religion are portrayed.


THE REFLECTION HYPOTHESIS • One important question for sociologists studying the mass media is whether these images have any effect on those who see them. • Does the media create popular values or reflect them? • The reflection hypothesis contends that the mass media reflects the values of the general population. • Media developers spend millions surveying all groups of the population to find out what they value; then they create characters that reflect the values of the society.


THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES ON CULTURE AND THE MEDIA • In order to understand culture and the media, sociologists examine these subjects from the different theoretical perspectives (Chapter 1). • Questions: 1. What are the theoretical perspectives discussed in Chapter 1? 2. How do functionalists, conflict theorists, and symbolic interactionists view culture? 3. How do they view mass media?


THE FUNCTIONALIST PERSPECTIVE ON CULTURE & THE MEDIA • Many sociologists study particular forms of culture and analyze the content of cultural artifacts, such as images in certain television programs or genres of popular music. • Max Weber looked at the impact of culture on the formation of social and economic institutions. • Weber argued that the Protestant faith rested on cultural beliefs that were highly compatible with the development of modern capitalism.



• Functionalist theorists believe that norms and values create or disrupt social bonds that attach people to society. • Cultural stability is affected by social activities: our activities provide coherence and stability, or create disorder in society. • Robert Putnam examines this idea in his book, Bowling Alone. • He shows a decline in civic engagement, participation in voluntary organizations, religious activities, and other forms of public life, in recent years.



• Conflict theorists analyze culture as a source of power in society. • History is filled with examples of conflict between different cultures where the conflict has actually shaped the course of world affairs.

• Saddam Hussein ordered the execution of over 180,000 people in Kurdish villages in an effort to cleanse the population of this undesirable ethnic group (mostly Sunni Muslims).


THE CONFLICT PERSPECTIVE ON CULTURE & THE MEDIA • Conflict theorists see contemporary culture as produced within institutions that are based on inequality and capitalist principles. • Our studies of mass media show what the public views and are created by those with an economic stake in distributing their products. • Conflict theorists show that the items and products sold in a culture are consistent with the values, needs, and interests of the most powerful groups in society, those who profit from the product’s development and sale.


THE SYMBOLIC INTERACTION PERSPECTIVE ON CULTURE & THE MEDIA • Symbolic interactionists are concerned with the meaning that people give to behavior and how social interaction produces and changes culture and cultural behavior. • Symbolic interaction also emphasizes that culture, like all other forms of social behavior, is socially constructed.



• Culture is produced through social relationships and in social groups, such as the media and other organizations. • People make, interpret, and respond to the culture around them. • Culture is not one-dimensional; people can select from a wide and diverse range of choices to choose how they will behave. (Swidler 1986).


CONTEMPORARY THEORISTS: CULTURAL STUDIES • Cultural Studies is a new theoretical viewpoint in sociology; it is critical of the classical perspectives. • Cultural studies theorists view material culture as increasingly important in modern society. • This includes cultural forms that are recorded through print, film, artifacts, or the electronic media.


CULTURAL THEORISTS • Unlike classical theorists who examine the unifying characteristics of a culture, cultural theorists see culture as more fragmented and unpredictable. • Our rapidly changing quality of life in contemporary culture is reflective of the highly technological and consumer-based culture on which our modern economy rests. • Cultural theorists are concerned with the meaning assigned to material objects and cultural practices and behaviors of everyday people.


CAPITALISM & CULTURAL HEGEMONY • Recently, as capitalism has spread throughout the world (a process called globalization), cultural studies have begun to analyze local and global forms of resistance to Western hegemony. • Hegemony is the pervasive and excessive influence of one culture on the rest of the world.


CULTURE LAG • Sometimes cultures adjust slowly to changing cultural conditions, resulting in culture lag. • Rapid technological change is often accompanied by some aspects of culture “lagging” behind and/or resisting potential changes. • For example: • Our society has the technological ability to develop efficient, less-polluting rapid transit and better national health but society resists these changes.


CULTURE CHANGE • There are several causes of cultural change examined by sociologists. • These include: • changes in the societal conditions • cultural diffusion • innovation • imposition by an outside agency or source



• Economic changes, population changes, and other social transformations all influence the development of culture. • Changes in society’s population may transform the culture. • The U.S. has had high rates of immigration in recent years causing many changes in U.S. culture. • The supermarkets in both rural and urban areas sell Asian, Mexican, and Middle Eastern foods.


CULTURE CHANGE AND CULTURAL DIFFUSION • Cultural diffusion is the transmission of cultural elements from one society or cultural group to another.

• This is swift and widespread in societies with instantaneous communication and ease of rapid travel. • Cultural diffusion also occurs when subcultural influences enter the dominant group.


CULTURE CHANGE & INNOVATION • Cultural innovations can create dramatic changes in society. • Trolleys, subways, and automobiles changed the character of cities. • People no longer walk to work; instead, cities expanded outward to include suburbs. • Technology is currently changing the U.S. culture at a faster rate than previously experienced in recorded history.


CULTURE CHANGE AND IMPOSITION FROM OUTSIDE • Change can occur when a powerful group takes over a society and imposes itself on another culture. • The dominating group may arise internally, as in a political revolution, or it may appear from outside, perhaps as an invasion. • Manipulating the culture of a group is a way of exerting social control. • Example: • Newly settled Europeans forced the Native American cultural groups to conform, or they were annihilated or moved to less desirable areas of the country.



culture & the media - University of Idaho

CULTURE & THE MEDIA CHAPTER 2 1 DEFINING OF CULTURE • Culture is the complex system of meaning and behavior that defines the way of life for a giv...

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