Monday, April 23, 2012




Sociology Revision Article Series

Culture consists of shared products of society. Society consists of interacting people who share a culture.


Culture: An Explanation

In the German, Scandinavian, and Slavic language groups, the word "culture" tends to mean a particular way of life, and it is applied to groups of people or  time periods. In Italian and French language, the word refers to art, learning, and a general process of human development. In English language, both meanings exist today. In Sociology, culture refers to the ways of living or customs of a group or society.

Conceptually culture and society can be distinguished. Culture consists of shared products of society. Society consists of interacting people who share a culture [1]. But the two are very closely interrelated. A society could not exist without culture, because there is no bond in the absence of ties that create the bond. Culture is the collection of ties that create society. A culture cannot exist or cannot be identified without a society.


The contents of culture are not genetically transmitted. They are learned during the growth of the person in the society.


Elements of Culture

Anthropologist, George Murdock identified cultural elements that are universally found in cultures. These universal elements include age grading, athletic sports, cooking, dancing, family, feasting, folklore, fod taboos, funeral ceremonies,  hospitality, hygiene, joking, personal names, religion,  mourning, and soul concepts. Even though these cultural features are universal, the specific content varies from society to society. For example, different societies use different languages and different types of names. Some of these elements are termed as social institutions and they are studied in detail and theories are developed regarding them in Sociology.

Sociologist William F. Ogburn made a useful distinction between elements of material and nonmaterial culture.


Some Important Elements of Culture



 Norms (they include folkways, mores and laws and values) are elements of culture, especially that of nonmaterial culture.

Norms or also termed social norms are guidelines that prescribe the behavior that is appropriate in a given situation. While some norms apply to all persons in a society, some apply to some people in particular situation. Norms that apply to students, religious preacher are etc. are norms applicable to some group of people in particular situations.




Folkways are norms for everyday life. The food people eat, the way they cook it, the way they dress are all folkways. Those who do not conform to the folkways are considered peculiar and eccentric. But they are not immoral.




Mores are norms that are much stronger than folkways. People believe that mores are crucial for the maintenance of a decent and orderly society, and the offender is strongly criticized, punched, or insulted. Some violations are almost unthinkable and they are termed taboos.




Laws are norms encoded in law. A law is a rule that have been formally enacted by a political authority and is backed by the power of the state.




The norms of a society are ultimately an expression of its values. The difference between values and norms is that values are abstract, general concepts, whereas norms are behavioral rules or guidelines in particular kinds of situations. Values influence the content of norms.


American values


Robin Williams (1970) identified fifteen basic values of American society [2].


1. Achievement and success

2. Activity and work

3. Moral orientation

4. Humanitarian mores

5. Efficiency and practicality

6. Progress

7. Material comfort

8. Equality

9. Freedom

10. External conformity

11. Science and rationality

12. Nationalism - patriotism

13. Democracy

14. Individual personality

15. Group-superiority theme.


Reasons for Cultural Variation

The Functionalist Approach: The functionalist approach advocates that certain cultural elements maintain social order in certain societies. They are absent in other societies as they are dysfunctional in them.
The Ecological Approach: This approach makes an attempt to explain the cultural elements in the context of environment in which the society exists.
Robertson gave the opinion that by combining the approaches, we gain a better overall understanding of cultural variation.
The human brain being creative, different societies adopt different solutions to similar functional requirements or ecological problems. Once a solution is adopted, it may persist for decades or centuries. The traditions may persist even after the origins for them are forgotten and the need for them has diappeared.

Cultural Change

All cultures do change, although in different ways and at different ways. With in a culture, change occurs due to discoveries and inventions. Discovery is the perception of an aspect of reality that already exists in the nature, the environment and the society. Invention is the combination of new use of existing knowledge to produce some man-made thing that did not exist before.
Diffusion is the process that facilitates spread of cultural elements from one culture to the other. Diffusion occurs as people of different cultures mix. It happens when societies interact through cooperative, competitive or conflict activities.


Ian Robertson, Sociology, Worth Publisher, Inc., New York, 1977

Robin Williams, American Society: A Sociological Interpretation, New York, Random House, 1970.

Persell, Caroline Hodges, Understanding Society, Harper and Row, New York, 1984.




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