Page 10 - Flipbook: Sociology Shortcuts Issue 3
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What Is Culture?

        If the concept of culture is such a central one in Sociology, it would be useful to develop what
        we mean by it…

        In broad terms, a culture is a way of life           They also have cultural meanings: the kind of
        specific to a particular group or society.           phone you own, for example, says something
        More-specifically, it’s what Dahl (2001) calls about you to others, both intended (“look how
        “a collectively held set of attributes”and this      wealthy I am!”) and unintended (“that phone
        includes both the material things people             is so uncool”).
        value, such as cars and computers, and the
        non-material things: the knowledge, ideas            By extension, this tells us something about
        and beliefs that influence how and why               the symbolic nature of both cultures as a
        people behave as they do.                            whole and the artefacts they produce. There
                                                             is, for example, nothing inherent in “a phone”
        As you might expect, these things and ideas          that tells us its meaning, as opposed to its
        are dynamic, change over time and are                function (or purpose). It can mean different
        transmitted from one generation to the next          things to different people and groups within a
        through a mechanism called socialisation.            particular culture, just as it could mean
                                                             different things to different cultures.
        Put more-sociologically, cultures embody
        two main strands:                                    If you think about it, the problem of meaning
                                                             is potentially a real one in cultures as large
        1. Material culture consists of the physical         and complicated as our own.
        objects (“artefacts”) a society produces that
        reflect cultural knowledge, skills, interests        Take, for example, the idea of social status.
        and preoccupations.

        2. Non-Material culture involves
        ideas: the knowledge and beliefs
        that characterise a particular
        group of people at a particular
        time in their social development.
        This might, for example, involve
        things like rational and scientific
        beliefs about the world. Equally,
        it may involve irrational and non-
        scientific beliefs.

        Interestingly, of course, the
        objects of material culture - such
        as a mobile/cell phone - have
        cultural meanings for the people
        who produce and use them. A
        phone is not only a device for talking to
        people or browsing the Internet.

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