Sociology: The Core, 6/e
Culture and Social Structure
Components of Culture
Culture provides individuals with a set of common understandings that
they employ in fashioning their actions, and makes society possible by providing
a common framework of meaning.
Norms. Norms are social rules that specify appropriate
and inappropriate behavior in given situations. They afford a means by which
we orient ourselves to other people. Folkways, mores, and laws
are types of norms.
Values. Values are broad ideas regarding what
is desirable, correct, and good that most members of a society share. Values
are so general and abstract that they do not explicitly specify which behaviors
are acceptable and which are not.
Symbols and Language. Symbols are acts or objects
that have come to be socially accepted as standing for something else. Symbols
assume many different forms, but language is the most important of these.
Language is the chief vehicle by which people communicate ideas, information,
attitudes, and emotions, and it serves as the principal means by which human
beings create culture and transmit it from generation to generation.
Cultural Unity and Diversity
Cultural Universals. Cultural universals are
patterned and recurrent aspects of life that appear in all known societies.
All people confront many of the same problems; culture represents an accumulation
of solutions to the problems posed by human biology and the human situation.
Cultural Integration. The items that form a culture
tend to constitute a consistent and integrated whole. For example, societies
that value universal education also usually have norms and laws about schools,
organize education into a collective activity, and create symbols and share
meanings about the value of education and educational organizations.
Ethnocentrism. The cultural ways of our own society
become so deeply ingrained that we have difficulty conceiving of alternative
ways of life. We judge the behavior of other groups by the standards of our
own culture, a phenomenon sociologists term ethnocentrism.
Cultural Relativism. In studying other cultures,
we must examine behavior in the light of the values, beliefs, and motives of
each culture, an approach termed cultural relativism.
Subcultures and Countercultures.
Cultural diversity may be found within a society in the form of subcultures.
When the norms, values, and lifestyles of a subculture are at odds with those
of the larger society, it is a counterculture.
People's relationships are characterized by social ordering. Sociologists apply
the term social structure to this social ordering-the interweaving of
people's interactions and relationships in recurrent and stable patterns.
Statuses. Status represents a position within
a group or society. It is by means of statuses that we locate one another
in various social structures. Some are assigned to usascribed statuses;
others we secure on the basis of individual choice and competitionachieved
Roles. A status carries with it a set of culturally
defined rights and duties, what sociologists term a role.
A role is the expected behavior we associate with a status. Role performance
is the actual behavior of the person who occupies a status. Role conflict
arises when individuals are confronted with conflicting expectations stemming
from their occupancy of two or more statuses. Role strain arises
when individuals find the expectations of a single role incompatible.
Groups. Statuses and roles are building blocks
for more comprehensive social structures, including groups of two
or more people. Roles link us within social relationships. When these relationships
are sustained across time, we frequently attribute group properties to them.
Sociologists distinguish groups from aggregates and categories.
Institutions. Institutions are the principal social
structures used to organize, direct, and execute the essential tasks of
social living. Each institution is built around a standardized solution
to a set of problems and encompasses the notions of both cultural patterns
and social structure.
Societies. Societies represent the most comprehensive
and complex type of social structure in today's world. By virtue of their
common culture, the members of a society typically possess similar values
and norms and a common language. One particular approach for classifying
societies is based on the way people derive their livelihood: hunting and
gathering societies, horticultural societies, agrarian societies, industrial
societies, and postindustrial societies. Another approach rests on the distinction
between traditional and modern types.