Class: Culture, Part 1

Understanding Societies lecture notes - Culture, Part 1

Class Notes

Culture is the language, values, beliefs, rules, behaviors and artifacts that characterize a society, and it passes from one generation to the next (Newman 32).  Culture works like a lens through which people view the world, resulting in problems of ethnocentrism and cultural relativism.

Culture is often comprised of material culture and symbolic culture.  Examples of material culture would be tools, buildings, objects-- things that are associated with a cultural group.  The American Flag, for example, would be associated with the American culture.  Examples of symbolic culture would be beliefs, morals, values, as well as language or gestures.

Within cultural groups, people often share similar ideas about what is right and wrong.  These ideas are called norms and values.  Values are abstract ideas about what people think are right and wrong. Norms concern the rules about what sorts of behavior that are acceptable. The rule systems include laws, folkways, mores, and taboos. In response to normative behavior or violations, people often experience sanctions (positive or negative reactions to behavior). For example, if someone breaks a law, they will often be negatively sanctioned with a ticket or arrest. However, if someone rescues a child from drowning, they may receive positive sanctions of praise or an honorary award.


Required Reading: 

"Children are Our Most Precious Commodity," Ruane and Cerulo (Second Thoughts, pp. 23-38)

"Body Ritual Among the Nacirema," Miner (Sociology Reader, pp. 57-60)

Recommended Reading

"Building Order: Culture and History," Newman (Sociology, pp. 91-123)


Keywords: culture, ethnocentrism, cultural relativism, material and symbolic culture, values, norms, sanctions, ideal culture, real culture, cultural inconsistency.


Citation: Collett, J. (2009, June 02). Class: Culture, Part 1. Retrieved October 30, 2014, from Notre Dame OpenCourseWare Web site:
Copyright 2012, by the Contributing Authors. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Creative Commons License