The concept of culture is sometimes easier to grasp by description rather than definition. All human groups possess culture, which consists of the language, beliefs, values, norms, and material objects that are passed from one generation to the next. Although the particulars of culture may dffer from one group to another, culture Itself Is universal-all societies develop shared, learned ways of percelvlng and partlclpaung In the world around them. culture can be subdlvlded Into material culture and nonmaterial culture.
Material culture consists of tools and the technology required to use them that members of society create and utilize. This includes art, buildings, weapons, Jewelry, and all other manmade objects. Nonmaterial culture includes a group’s ways of thinking (beliefs, values, and other assumptions about the world) and patterns of behavior (language, gestures, and other forms of social Interaction). Culture’s effects are profound and pervasive, touching almost every aspect of peoples lives.
However, most people are generally unaware of their own ulture; it is so engrained into their beings that it is otten taken tor granted. People often become more aware of their own culture when their cultural assumptions are challenged by exposure to other people’s culture. particularly those with fundamentally different ways of believing and doing. When people come into contact with cultures that significantly differ from their own, they often experience cultural shock-a condition of disorientation that requires them to question their taken-for granted cultural assumptions.
Culture shock Is Influenced by ethnocentrism-the ractice of vlewlng one’s own culture as preferable while using that culture as a yardstick for Judging other people’s cultures. Although all groups practice some forms of ethnocentrism, people can also employ cultural relativism-the practice of understanding a culture on its own terms without assessing its elements as any better or worse than one’s own culture Cultural relativism presents a challenge to ordinary thinking because we tend to use our own culture to judge others.
Sociologists sometimes refer to nonmaterial culture as symbolic culture, since the entral component of nonmaterial culture Is symbols. symbols Include gestures, language, values, norms, sanctions, folkways, and mores. Gestures involve the ways in which people use their bodies to communicate with one another. Although people in every culture use gestures, the gestures people use and the meanings they associate with those gestures vary greatly from one culture to another. The primary way people communicate with each other is through language: a system of symbols that can be strung together In an infinite number of ways.
Like gestures, all human groups have anguage. And Ilke gestures, the meanings that people associate with different sounds and symbols can vary greatly from one culture to another. Language Is the basis of culture. It is critical to human life and essential for cultural development. Among other things, language allows human experience to be cumulative; give people the capacity to share understandings about the past and develop common perceptions about the future; and provides for complex, shared. goal-directed behavior.
According to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, language not only expresses our ‘ Of2 an-and do-influence how we see other objects, other people, and ourselves. All groups have values (beliefs regarding what is desirable or undesirable, good or bad, beautiful or ugly), which they channel into norms (expectations, or rules of behavior, that develop out of values). Norms include folkways (norms that are not strictly enforced), mores (norms that are strictly enforced), and taboos (norms so strong that thought of violating them is “universally” revolting).
Norms can be enforced through both positive sanctions (rewards ranging from approving looks and gestures to aterial compensation) and negative sanctions (punishment ranging from disapproving looks and gestures to imprisonment and execution). Cultures may contain, within them, numerous subcultures and countercultures. A subculture is a group whose values and related behaviors set it apart from the larger culture; a counterculture is a group whose values and related behaviors stand in opposition to the dominant culture.
Because the United States is a pluralistic society made up of many different groups, competing value systems are common. Some sociologists, owever, have tried to identify some underlying core values in the U. S. These core values (values shared by many groups that make up American society) include value clusters (a series of interrelated values that together form a larger whole) and value contradictions (values that contradict one another). Social change often occurs when a society is forced to face, and work through, its value contradictions.
Cultural universals are values, norms, or other cultural traits that are found in all cultures. Although anthropologists and sociologists have identified some universal human ctivities, they have also found that the ways of carrying out these activities differ from one group to another. Technology is central to a group’s material culture, while also setting the framework for its nonmaterial culture. The term “new technology” refers to any emerging technologies of an era that have a significant impact on social life. The current “new technology” includes computers, satellites, and various other forms of the electronic media.