Media is an all-encompassing term that refers to a collective of communicatory mediums used to
store or transmit information or data. Media is usually intended to inform or influence a wide
range of audiences.
The mass media are diversified media technologies that are intended to reach a large audience
by mass communication. The technology through which this communication takes place varies.
Broadcast media such as radio, recorded music, film and television transmit their information
electronically. Print media use a physical object such as newspaper, book, pamphlet or comics, to
distribute their information. Outdoor media is a form of mass media that comprises billboards,
signs or placards placed inside and outside of commercial buildings, sports stadiums, shops and
buses. Other outdoor media include flying billboards (signs in tow of airplanes), blimps,
skywriting, and AR Advertising. Public speaking and event organizing can also be considered as
forms of mass media. The digital media comprises both Internet and mobile mass
communication. Internet media provides many mass media services, such
as email, websites, blogs, and internet based radio and television. Many other mass media outlets
have a presence on the web, by such things as having TV ads that link to a website, or
distributing a QR Code in print or outdoor media to direct a mobile user to a website. In this
way, they can utilize the easy accessibility that the Internet has, and the outreach that Internet
affords, as information can easily be broadcast to many different regions of the world
simultaneously and cost-efficiently.
The organizations that control these technologies, such as television stations or publishing
companies, are also known as the mass media
A human society is a group of people involved in persistent interpersonal relationships, or a large
social grouping sharing the same geographical or social territory, typically subject to the same
political authority and dominant cultural expectations. Human societies are characterized by
patterns of relationships (social relations) between individuals who share a
distinctive culture and institutions; a given society may be described as the sum total of such
relationships among its constituent members. In the social sciences, a larger society often
evinces stratification or dominance patterns in subgroups.
The ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society
Mass Media and Its Importance
“Media” is one of the most useful essences of human life. We speak of mass media, of media
revolution and of living in a media society. We are overloaded with all these letters, sounds and
films, pixels, headlines, jingles. When we use the term media in this context we speak of print
and electronic media, the so called mass media. Media affect our modern life in nearly every
way. With a turn of a magazine page or an easy flip of the TV channel there at our disposal is a
huge array of potential identity replicas. In contemporary society, identity is continuously
unstable; it must be selected, constructed and created with reference to inevitable surrounding
media traditions. There are a variety of mediums from which people can pick and access
information from such as radio, TV, Internet, or even cell phones. Consequently, the media holds
a very powerful capacity to set a social issue for mass audience to assume and talk about. Often,
media do not intentionally set the agenda and resolve the pros and cons of that particular matter,
so it repeatedly causes terrible consequences towards public as well as establishes ‘moral
panics’, which can sometimes direct to mob violence. This writing will argue that identity is a
social construction, managed primarily by the contemporary media and created in relation. An
individual’s identity is formed by society in which media plays a predominant role. There is a
daily interactive relationship between the subject and the object, that is, human agents and the
conditions of their subsistence, respectively. Theories of the individual emphasize on differences
between people and deem these differences as natural. Individuals are “constituted” as the
possessors of positions throughout the effects of social relations. Alternatively, other theories of
the topic concentrate on people’s general experiences in society through watching TV, surfing
the internet or reading the newspaper. It is these general experiences that are the most significant
way of distinguishing who we are. Thus, subject identity is a social construction, not an ordinary
When we connect with the media, we act and are acted upon, use and are used by the system.
The following text deals with the importance of media to politics and society.
Main work of media is to inform the people. This relates to our form of government: In a
democracy the “demos” should know what goes on in the world as it is the one, that decides. A
modern democracy cannot work without the media which are an agent between public and state,
the Latin word “medius” describes a status in the middle and that is exactly where we can find
media: between two entities of communication. You could counter that nor the ancient Greeks
for example needed the media in their democracy, and it was a really excellent type of
democracy, when we look at its structure. Something like that is unimaginable for modern polity.
Since we cannot organize a meeting between 50 million people to inform them orally, we need
an instrument, the media. That is the precondition for political participation of the people.
Information as a main task of media sounds easy but in my opinion it is not that simple at all.
Information is always a balancing act between objectivity and subjectivity. On the one hand
media have to inform about all important happenings and keep the information as neutral as
possible. On the other hand media should also be a platform for groups and organizations that are
not mainstream. It should control and criticize not only political parties but also society.
Concerning this control function it is important to have a variety of media horizontal and
vertical, both different types of media such as TV and newspapers and different providers of
information. Due to the control function we call media the forth force in a contemporary
Media have also an economic side. The German TV system consists of public and private
stations. In my opinion it is necessary to have both, for both have advantages and disadvantages.
Private TV stations can decide freely what they want to present. As they live on advertisement
fees and earn the more the higher their ratings are, a market arises. That has the inescapable
consequence of a reign of market’s rules: We are talking about the law of supply and demand. To
reach good ratings private TV stations broadcast what people want, some problems can result
from this point: There is the danger of delivering stereotypes or superficiality and indifference in
general, TV becomes a dumping machine, as some people claim. “Infotainment” instead of
information, “politainment” instead of policy. Besides there are public TV stations, and the main
difference is that they are not really free, their program is created under a certain standard and
the directors are from different groups such as political parties or labour unions.
But then they do not have to look on ratings and can really achieve media’s aim of political
education. We need both, public TV stations not to become too superficial, and private ones to
be aware of a state TV monopoly which might exist in dictatorships for example, a historic
example is the Third Reich, where the Nazis’ most important propaganda machine was the
“Rundfunk”, controlled by propaganda minister Goebbels in person; a contemporary example
could be the situation in Tibet, where both internal and external media have no permission to
film and no access at all respectively. Not for nothing one of the basic principles of democracy is
freedom of press.
Media have two further important tasks: entertainment and creating topics of conversation. It
sounds sarcastic but this is a main reason why people for example watch TV: to be able to have
conversations with lots of people, even if they have no other similar hobbies. Furthermore it
raises your status if you are informed, to be subscriber. Sociologists warn against a so called
knowledge gap. This means that a gap develops between people who are informed and take part
in cultural and perhaps intellectual life and people who are not.
Perhaps you could compare this knowledge gap to the often recited poverty gap. Mass media
have big influence on our all day life, whether we want it or not. They set trends and spread
them, they influence our way of thinking in an enormous way and they have a long arm in
These characteristics are more positive than negative as long as some conditions are fulfilled:
first a wide diversity of media, second no oligopolies/monopolies and of course freedom of
press, third fulfillment of media’s main tasks information, political education and control.
“In former times politicians made policy and the media reported on it. Today media makes
policy and the politicians put it into execution.” In this manner mass media has many needs and
importance too in people’s daily life:
Mass media has become an integral part of our lives and can not be separated from our life.
Particularly for the urban people, the need for information is more important than ever. Our
values and way of life in the society in this information era are strongly influenced by the mass
media like newspapers, TV, radio, video, and the internet. Mass media’s influence on people’s
lives is even greater and deeper than many kinds of state indoctrination or priest’s sermons from
the pulpit in the church .The full range of unfiltered media is now available to most of us by
using a parabola and satellite transmission. We can buy many kinds of videos freely. Access to
the internet is easy and inexpensive almost everywhere. We can find many kinds of information
using the internet technology..It is worth remembering that there have been three important
revolutions in recent history, i.e. agrarian revolution in farming, industry revolution in mass
production and information revolution that provides global access.
We are now in the midst of the information revolution. Due to continuing developments in media
technology, we are flooded by a huge volume of non-stop information. Most of this information
comes to us without a filter or censor. The information can be positive and negative. It is
important for all, and particularly teenagers, to be able to look critically at the information and
the sources and make positive choices. Having a critical attitude means that we can distinguish
between positive and negative information and make choices that will give us information that
will benefit us and our society.
Media is the most powerful tool of communication. It helps promoting the right things on right
time. It gives a real exposure to the mass audience about what is right or wrong. Even though
media is linked with spreading fake news like a fire, but on the safe side, it helps a lot to inform
us about the realities as well.
The Role and Influence of Mass Media
Mass media is communication—whether written, broadcast, or spoken—that reaches a large
audience. This includes television, radio, advertising, movies, the Internet, newspapers,
magazines, and so forth.
Mass media is a significant force in modern culture, particularly in America. Sociologists refer to
this as amediated culture where media reflects and creates the culture. Communities and
individuals are bombarded constantly with messages from a multitude of sources including TV,
billboards, and magazines, to name a few. These messages promote not only products, but
moods, attitudes, and a sense of what is and is not important. Mass media makes possible the
concept of celebrity: without the ability of movies, magazines, and news media to reach across
thousands of miles, people could not become famous. In fact, only political and business leaders,
as well as the few notorious outlaws, were famous in the past. Only in recent times have actors,
singers, and other social elites become celebrities or “stars.”
The current level of media saturation has not always existed. As recently as the 1960s and 1970s,
television, for example, consisted of primarily three networks, public broadcasting, and a few
local independent stations. These channels aimed their programming primarily at two‐parent,
middle‐class families. Even so, some middle‐class households did not even own a television.
Today, one can find a television in the poorest of homes, and multiple TVs in most middle‐class
homes. Not only has availability increased, but programming is increasingly diverse with shows
aimed to please all ages, incomes, backgrounds, and attitudes. This widespread availability and
exposure makes television the primary focus of most mass‐media discussions. More recently, the
Internet has increased its role exponentially as more businesses and households “sign on.”
Although TV and the Internet have dominated the mass media, movies and magazines—
particularly those lining the aisles at grocery checkout stands—also play a powerful role in
culture, as do other forms of media.
What role does mass media play? Legislatures, media executives, local school officials, and
sociologists have all debated this controversial question. While opinions vary as to the extent and
type of influence the mass media wields, all sides agree that mass media is a permanent part of
modern culture. Three main sociological perspectives on the role of media exist: the
limited‐effects theory, the class‐dominant theory, and the culturalist theory.
The limited‐effects theory argues that because people generally choose what to watch or read
based on what they already believe, media exerts a negligible influence. This theory originated
and was tested in the 1940s and 1950s. Studies that examined the ability of media to influence
voting found that well‐informed people relied more on personal experience, prior knowledge,
and their own reasoning. However, media “experts” more likely swayed those who were less
informed. Critics point to two problems with this perspective. First, they claim that
limited‐effects theory ignores the media's role in framing and limiting the discussion and debate
of issues. How media frames the debate and what questions members of the media ask change
the outcome of the discussion and the possible conclusions people may draw. Second, this theory
came into existence when the availability and dominance of media was far less widespread.
The class‐dominant theory argues that the media reflects and projects the view of a minority
elite, which controls it. Those people who own and control the corporations that produce media
comprise this elite. Advocates of this view concern themselves particularly with massive
corporate mergers of media organizations, which limit competition and put big business at the
reins of media—especially news media. Their concern is that when ownership is restricted, a few
people then have the ability to manipulate what people can see or hear. For example, owners can
easily avoid or silence stories that expose unethical corporate behavior or hold corporations
responsible for their actions.
The issue of sponsorship adds to this problem. Advertising dollars fund most media. Networks
aim programming at the largest possible audience because the broader the appeal, the greater the
potential purchasing audience and the easier selling air time to advertisers becomes. Thus, news
organizations may shy away from negative stories about corporations (especially parent
corporations) that finance large advertising campaigns in their newspaper or on their stations.
Television networks receiving millions of dollars in advertising from companies like Nike and
other textile manufacturers were slow to run stories on their news shows about possible
human‐rights violations by these companies in foreign countries. Media watchers identify the
same problem at the local level where city newspapers will not give new cars poor reviews or
run stories on selling a home without an agent because the majority of their funding comes from
auto and real estate advertising. This influence also extends to programming. In the 1990s a
network cancelled a short‐run drama with clear religious sentiments, Christy, because, although
highly popular and beloved in rural America, the program did not rate well among young city
dwellers that advertisers were targeting in ads.
Critics of this theory counter these arguments by saying that local control of news media largely
lies beyond the reach of large corporate offices elsewhere, and that the quality of news depends
upon good journalists. They contend that those less powerful and not in control of media have
often received full media coverage and subsequent support. As examples they name numerous
environmental causes, the anti‐nuclear movement, the anti‐Vietnam movement, and the pro‐Gulf
While most people argue that a corporate elite controls media, a variation on this approach
argues that a politically “liberal” elite controls media. They point to the fact that journalists,
being more highly educated than the general population, hold more liberal political views,
consider themselves “left of center,” and are more likely to register as Democrats. They further
point to examples from the media itself and the statistical reality that the media more often labels
conservative commentators or politicians as “conservative” than liberals as “liberal.”
Media language can be revealing, too. Media uses the terms “arch” or “ultra” conservative, but
rarely or never the terms “arch” or “ultra” liberal. Those who argue that a political elite controls
media also point out that the movements that have gained media attention—the environment,
anti‐nuclear, and anti‐Vietnam—generally support liberal political issues. Predominantly
conservative political issues have yet to gain prominent media attention, or have been opposed
by the media. Advocates of this view point to the Strategic Arms Initiative of the 1980s Reagan
administration. Media quickly characterized the defense program as “Star Wars,” linking it to an
expensive fantasy. The public failed to support it, and the program did not get funding or
The culturalist theory, developed in the 1980s and 1990s, combines the other two theories and
claims that people interact with media to create their own meanings out of the images and
messages they receive. This theory sees audiences as playing an active rather than passive role in
relation to mass media. One strand of research focuses on the audiences and how they interact
with media; the other strand of research focuses on those who produce the media, particularly the
Theorists emphasize that audiences choose what to watch among a wide range of options, choose
how much to watch, and may choose the mute button or the VCR remote over the programming
selected by the network or cable station. Studies of mass media done by sociologists parallel
text‐reading and interpretation research completed by linguists (people who study language).
Both groups of researchers find that when people approach material, whether written text or
media images and messages, they interpret that material based on their own knowledge and
experience. Thus, when researchers ask different groups to explain the meaning of a particular
song or video, the groups produce widely divergent interpretations based on age, gender, race,
ethnicity, and religious background. Therefore, culturalist theorists claim that, while a few elite
in large corporations may exert significant control over what information media produces and
distributes, personal perspective plays a more powerful role in how the audience members
interpret those messages.
Cultural Values Shape Media; Media Shape Cultural Values
In a 1995 Wired magazine article, Jon Katz suggested that the Revolutionary War patriot
Thomas Paine should be held up as “the moral father of the Internet.” The Internet, Katz wrote,
“offers what Paine and his revolutionary colleagues hoped for—a vast, diverse, passionate,
global means of transmitting ideas and opening minds.” In fact, according to Katz, the emerging
Internet era is closer in spirit to the 18th-century media world than the 20th-century’s so-called
old media (radio, television, print). “The ferociously spirited press of the late 1700s…was
dominated by individuals expressing their opinions. The idea that ordinary citizens with no
special resources, expertise, or political power—like Paine himself—could sound off, reach wide
audiences, even spark revolutions, was brand-new to the world.” 
As we continue our introduction to understanding media and culture, Katz’s impassioned defense
of Paine’s plucky independence reminds us of how cultural values shape media. Paine’s values
led to his books and pamphlets that helped lead to a new nation. In all eras, cultural values shape
the way media are created, used, and controlled. Keeping Katz’s words in mind, we can ask
ourselves further questions about the role of cultural values in our media today. How do cultural
values shape our media and mass communication? And how, in turn, do media and mass
communication shape our values? We’ll start with a key American cultural value: free speech.
Free Speech as Cultural Value
The value of free speech is central to American mass communication, and has been since the
nation’s revolutionary founding. The U.S. Constitution’s very first amendment guarantees the
freedom of speech and of the press. Thanks to the First Amendment and subsequent statutes, the
United States has some of the broadest protections on speech of any industrialized nation. We
can see the value that American culture places on free speech. However, speech and the press are
not always free—cultural values have placed limits and those limits, like values, have shifted
Obscenity, for example, has not often been tolerated. Indeed, the very definition of obscenity has
shifted over time with the nation’s changing social attitudes. James Joyce’s Ulysses, ranked by
the Modern Library as the best English-language novel of the 20th century, was illegal to publish
in the United States between 1922 and 1934. The 1954 Supreme Court case, Roth v. The United
States, tried to lessen restrictions and defined obscenity more narrowly. It allowed for differences
depending on “community standards.” Obscenity became even more of an issue during the
sexual revolution of the 1960s. Cultural changes of that era made it even more difficult to pin
down just what was obscene and what was meant by “community standards.” Today, obscenity
continues its tug-of-war with cultural values. Sexually explicit magazines, such as Playboy, are
available in nearly every U.S. airport, but pornography on the Internet is still a subject of
Copyright law also puts limits on free speech. Here we see a conflict between cultural values of
free speech and the right to protect your creative rights. Intellectual property law was originally
intended to protect just that—the proprietary rights, both economic and intellectual, of the
originator of a creative work. Works under copyright can’t be reproduced without the
authorization of the creator, nor can anyone else use them to make a profit. Inventions, novels,
musical tunes, and even phrases can all be covered by copyright law. The first copyright statute
in the United States set 14 years as the maximum term for copyright protection. This number has
risen exponentially in the 20th century; some works are now copyright protected for up to 120
years. In recent years, an Internet culture that enables file sharing, mixing, mash-ups, and
YouTube parodies has raised questions about copyright. Can you refer to a copyrighted work?
What is fair use of a copyrighted work? The exact line between what expressions are protected
or prohibited by law are still being set by courts; and as the changing values of the U.S. public
evolve, copyright law—like obscenity law—will continue to change as well.
Persuasion and Cultural Values
Cultural values also shape mass media messages when producers of media content have vested
interests in particular social goals. The producers offer media content that promotes or refutes
particular viewpoints. Governments, corporations, nonprofits, colleges, indeed most
organizations, all try to shape media content to promote themselves and their values. In its most
heavy-handed form, at the level of government, this type of media influence can
become propaganda, communication that intentionally attempts to persuade its audience for
ideological, political, or commercial purposes. Propaganda often (but not always) distorts the
truth, selectively presents facts, or uses emotional appeals. In war time, propaganda often
includes caricatures of the enemy.
During World War I, for example, the U.S. government created the Creel Commission to act as a
sort of public relations agency for the American entry into the war. The commission used radio,
movies, posters, and in-person speakers to present a positive slant on the American war effort
and demonize the opposing Germans. George Creel, chairman of the commission, acknowledged
the committee’s attempt at influencing the public, but he shied away from calling its work
In no degree was the committee an agency of censorship, a machinery of concealment or
repression.…In all things, from first to last, without halt or change, it was a plain publicity
proposition, a vast enterprise in salesmanship, the world’s greatest adventures in
advertising…We did not call it propaganda, for that word, in German hands, had come to be
associated with deceit and corruption. Our effort was educational and informative throughout,
for we had such confidence in our case as to feel that no other argument was needed than the
simple, straightforward presentation of the facts. 
Of course, the line between the selective (but “straightforward”) presentation of the truth and the
manipulation of propaganda is not an obvious or distinct one. (Another of the commission’s
members was later deemed “the father of public relations” and authored a book
titled Propaganda.) Advertisers craft messages so viewers want to buy their products. Some
news sources, such as cable news channels or political blogs, have an explicit political slant. For
our purposes, we simply want to keep in mind how cultural values shape much media content.
The Cultural Value of Gatekeepers
In 1960, journalist A. J. Liebling wryly observed that “freedom of the press is guaranteed only to
those who own one.” Although he may not have put it in those terms, Liebling was talking about
the role of gatekeepers in the media industry, another way in which cultural values influence
mass communication.Gatekeepers are the people who help determine which stories make it to the
public, including reporters who decide what sources to use, and editors who pick what gets
published and which stories make it to the front page. Media gatekeepers are part of culture and
thus have their own cultural values, whether consciously or unconsciously. In deciding what
counts as newsworthy, entertaining, or relevant, gatekeepers use their own values to create and
shape what gets presented to the wider public. Conversely, gatekeepers may decide that some
events are unimportant or uninteresting to consumers. Those events may never reach the eyes or
ears of a larger public.
In one striking example of how cultural values shape gatekeeping, journalist Allan Thompson
points to the news media’s sluggishness in covering the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Almost one
million people were killed in ferocious attacks in just 100 days. Yet, as Thompson notes, few
foreign correspondents were in Africa, and the world was slow to learn of the atrocities in
Rwanda. Instead, the nightly news was preoccupied by the O. J. Simpson murder trial, Tonya
Harding’s attack on a fellow figure skater, or the less-bloody conflict in Bosnia (a European
country, where more reporters were stationed). Thompson argues that the lack of international
media attention allowed politicians to remain complacent. With little media coverage, there was
little outrage about the Rwandan atrocities, which contributed to a lack of political will to invest
time and troops in a faraway conflict. Richard Dowden, Africa Editor for the British
newspaper The Independentduring the Rwandan genocide, bluntly explained the news media’s
larger reluctance to focus on African issues: “Africa was simply not important. It didn’t sell
newspapers. Newspapers have to make profits. So it wasn’t important. Cultural values by
gatekeepers on the individual and institutional level downplayed the genocide at a time of great
crisis, and potentially contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.” 
Gatekeepers had an especially strong influence in old media, in which space and time were
limited. A news broadcast could only last for its allotted half hour, 22 minutes with commercials,
while a newspaper had a set number of pages to print. The Internet, in contrast, has room for
infinite news reports. The interactive nature of the medium also minimizes the gatekeeper
function of the media by allowing media consumers to have a voice as well. News aggregators
like Digg.comallow readers to decide what makes it on to the front page. That is not to say that
the wisdom or cultural values of the crowd is always wise—recent top stories on Digg have
featured headlines like “Top 5 Hot Girls Playing Video Games” and “The girl who must eat
every 15 minutes to stay alive.” Media expert Mark Glaser noted that the digital age hasn’t
eliminated gatekeepers; it’s just shifted who they are: “the editors who pick featured artists and
apps at the Apple iTunes store, who choose videos to spotlight on YouTube, and who highlight
Suggested Users on Twitter,” among others. And unlike traditional media, these new gatekeepers
rarely have public bylines, making it difficult to figure out who makes such decisions and on
what basis. 
Observing how distinct cultures and subcultures present the same story can be indicative of those
cultures’ various cultural values. Another way to look critically at today’s media messages is to
examine how the media has functioned in the world and in the United States during different
Society and Culture: Pattern of Human Behavior
Society and culture are, together, the sea of people and institutions all around us that we
sometimes call our "community." The society and culture of our local community might be made
up of all the ways of small-town or suburban life, or perhaps all the ways of city life, or even the
society and culture of a local neighborhood in which we live.
In a wider sense, our whole country is one big community.
One Big Family
In fact, some sociologists say that since the advent of television in the 1950's, our country really
has become one great community with many shared experiences--the same programs, clothes,
cars, beliefs, feelings, and hopes and doubts as expressed on the same television programming
from coast to coast and from Alaska to Mexico. This makes sense, if we consider that the
average person watches three to four hours of television per day: we in this country have become
one big community--one big society and one culture--much more so than we used to be when all
people had was radio and magazines.
"Society" is the sum of all the different social groups, social rules, and social interactions we
experience in living, working, and playing with our fellow humans, whether we want to or not.
The "culture" of a society is its own particular stage or level of refinement, especially in
intellectual and artistic pursuits.
A society or group that is highly cultured will have a highly refined--thought out and
experienced--level of intellectual and artistic sensitivity. An example of a more highly cultured
society is what you find on a college campus. Here people purposely are pursuing more
intellectual and artistic thoughts and sensitivities.
A society or group that is hardly cultured at all will have very little thought about abstract ideas,
nor will it have very much sensitivity to the arts. An example of a society with a very low level
of culture would be a group of cavemen and cavewomen at the beginning of human history, or
perhaps tribal people in modern-day countries where almost every minute of the day is taken up
in the pursuit to find, make, and eat enough food to survive.
In fact, this constant pursuit of food and of shelter-- constant work--is one thing about which
many intellectuals complain in our own society. These intellectuals say that we often must spend
so much time working at our that we have little time to experience intellectual or artistic
stimulation in our lives. And one time-honored remedy for this, however small, is to require a
humanities course in college so that we can at least learn how to pursue the intellectual and the
artistic a little better on our own.
Loners and Socializers
One popular theory of society and culture is that we can be divided, in general, into two groups
of people: those who are "inner-directed" and those who are "other- directed."
This theory was first developed by a sociologist named David Riesman in The Lonely Crowd,
and other sociologists have further developed the idea. Basically, inner-directed people can be
said to be those among us who keep our own counsel, work independently, go our own way, and
consider our individuality very important. Those of us who are other-directed can be said to seek
the counsel of others first, work best with others, travel in groups, and consider our ability to be
part of a group very important.
There are obvious strengths and weaknesses to both inner-directed and other-directed ways of
living. The great majority of us are neither entirely one way or the other, but rather have traits of
both in us.
Biology Versus Society
Another popular theory--or rather a popular argument-- is the fight that many intellectuals have
over "nature" versus "nurture."
The "nature" people often are in the "hard sciences" such as biology, neurology (the study of the
nervous system), and medicine. They believe that the genetic code we are naturally born with
usually determines what we will become. They say that even the smallest details of our
personalities, whom we marry, what we choose, or whether we get grumpy at breakfast when
we read the newspaper headlines, all may be determined by our DNA--by what genes we have in
our cells at birth.
One powerful proof of the "nature" argument is research done on identical twins who have not
known each other since birth. These twins have the exact same sets of genes. When studied,
these twins usually have extremely similar patterns in their lives, marrying, having children,
dying, and even choosing spouses and at similar times in similar ways, as if they were
preprogrammed to do so.
This research on twins, and other research, suggests that individuals, groups, and even whole
societies are deeply and thoroughly tied to our genetic codes.
The "nurture" people, on the other hand, often are more "soft science" or theory-oriented people
in the social sciences: sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists. They believe that our
personalities, social institutions and cultural patterns are determined by the way we are
"nurtured"--the way we are brought up as children--and by what we learn all around us as we
continue to grow as adults.
Those who believe in the nurture theory argue that we are somewhat blank at birth, like clean
blackboards, and our experiences mold us as we grow up. The most powerful argument in their
favor is, perhaps, that it is obvious to all of us that we can be deeply affected--and deeply
changed--by the kinds of jobs, money, friends, lovers, relatives, successes, disasters, and
accidental events we experience. Therefore, according to the nurture theory, society is free to
choose much of its rules and also the cultural level it will have.
Are society and culture more controlled by rigid genes from birth on? Or are society and culture
essentially free to choose what they will become?
It seems likely, at this point in time, that both sides of this argument have a large piece of the
truth: we are much more deeply affected by our genetic coding than we perhaps realize; but we
still are deeply affected, too, by the way we were brought up and what we continue to
experience. We as individuals and as a society are, to put it in another (more philosophical) way,
profoundly fated and profoundly free at the same time.
There are many theories about culture, too. One such theory that combines ideas about both
culture and society is that our society is divided into various socio-economic groupings:
These three groupings sometimes are further subdivided in ways such as this:
Upper: upper-upper class (extremely wealthy) middle-upper class (fairly wealthy) lower-upper
class (somewhat wealthy)
Middle: upper-middle class (very comfortable) middle-middle class (comfortable) lower-middle
class (barely comfortable)
Lower: upper-lower class (struggling) middle-lower class (poor but independent) lower-lower
class (poor and dependent)
And there are other class labels:
white collar: managerial office workers in middle or upper classes.
pink collar: female secretarial and managerial office workers in middle and lower classes.
Professional classes: people with salaries (rather than hourly wages) and, usually, requiring
little or no physical labor.
creative classes: professional artists, administrators, and teachers of the arts and crafts; those
whose living is directly related to such activities; and those who choose geographic locations
and because of the presence of the arts and crafts.
Working classes: lower to middle-lower classes doing semiskilled and skilled non-office labor.
It is hard to assign income levels to the three groups, especially because of widely varying
differences between city and country, differences between states and areas, and also a constant
rate of inflation. But in 2002, the year this chapter was most recently revised, the approximate
income, education, and artistic/ intellectual levels might run something like this for an average
family of two adults and one child in a small to average American city or average suburb:
Upper: $100,000-$200,000+; 4+ years of college education; cultural activities may include
attendance at or support of symphonies, dance (modern, ballet, etc.); hardbound books and more
expensive magazines, more costly restaurants, dinner parties, nightclubs, and/or the personal
computers and the Internet. More likely to be a middle-age couple with grown children.
Middle: $30,000 - $100,000; 1+ yrs. of post-high school ed.; cultural activities may include
movies, videos, clubs, dancing, paperback books, inexpensive restaurants, travel by camping or
by discounted air flight, popular magazines, churches or nightclubs, and/or personal computers.
More likely to be a couple with children at home or a single in a well paid profession.
Lower: $8000 - $30,000; 2-4 years of high school education; cultural activities may include TV
and videos, fast-food restaurants, churches or bars, relatives, street scenes, parks, and/or free or
low-cost computer services. (Note: This category includes poor families, most of whom are
eligible for a minimum of eight thousand dollars or more per year of financial, health, and food
support.) More likely to be a single parent with two or more children, an elderly adult living
alone, or a member of an economically disenfranchised group such as a minority, disabled
person, or recent immigrant.
Who Belongs To What Class?
We can determine people's class levels by a number of factors, as suggested above. However,
keep in mind that it is not only money, education, and cultural activities that suggest class. We
can look at people's style of living, type of work, and even their personality types, interests, and
feelings in understanding their class affiliations. There will, in short, be many crossovers in the
three categories above; in addition, it is a time-honored tradition in American culture for young
people to make their own way in the world, no matter from what class they come, such that they
experience having much less income when they are young adults than when they did as children
Indeed, deciding what class any one person belongs to can be very difficult. This can be true not
only when that person is a young adult and/or single, but also when he or she is part of a
marriage in which there are no children to support. Additional complications occur when--as is
happening in present-day United States--both individuals in a marriage or permanent pairing
have a professional income. Other hard-to- label people are poorly paid political or educational
workers, whose pay often is quite low but whose style of life places them in a "higher" class
designation; artists, whose cultural tastes and activities may be like those of the upper class but
whose income places them among the poorest; labor managers who have risen out of the labor
force to become upper-middle or even upper class in income, but whose activities and interests
remain working class; and many others. The United States (and other modern countries)
certainly are not free of class differences; however, there is a great degree of mixing of classes,
class traits, and upward and downward mobility.
A new type of class has been discussed in detail recently. Richard Florida of Carnegie Mellon
University calls it the "creative class" in his book The Rise of the Creative
Class (http://www.creativeclass.org), and _________ calls this group of people "cultural
creatives" in his book by the same name. Both authors argue that this group of people composes
up to 30% of the population of the United States. The core people in this group make their living
as artists and craftspersons of all kinds; a larger, secondary number service the arts and crafts as
administrators, teachers, and suppliers; a third and largest group participate in artistic, craft, and
related cultural events to such a degree that they choose where they live and work--and often
with whom--according to the the extent and diversity of arts, crafts, and cultural events found in
these places, jobs, and people.
In spite of such difficulties in labeling some people, the class system of understanding society
and culture can lead to a number of interesting observations about societal groups and
individuals, their habits, and their ways. However, it also remains important to remember that
many beliefs and feelings in a given society are cross-cultural: they continue through the strata of
several or all classes at once, and may be of no particular class origin or significance.
Are New Societies Always Better?
Socio-economic division of society by classes is only one theory about culture and society.
Another theory is one popularly assumed by many historians and anthropologists. It is the theory,
or assumption, that societies at the beginning of human history had a low level of culture, and
human history has shown a gradual progress of culture throughout the ages.
There are a few problems with this assumption, though. One is obvious--we have had times in
history, and may have more such times, when war, famine, disease, or other causes have set
cultural levels back to primitive levels. Periods of time in the middle ages are good examples,
times when the Plague swept through countries, destroying a third of European society, or times
such as World War II when the plague of racism called The Holocaust destroyed almost 90% of
the Jewish race in Europe--a race with one of the strongest records of intellect and artistic
achievement since almost the beginning of recorded human history.
Clearly, it is possible for culture to be set back. Often, the cultural level of a country is dependent
upon the length of time it has been at peace, and the relative wealth it has, allowing people time
to think and to be artistic about things other than mere day-to-day survival.
Another problem with the theory that culture has gradually been improving throughout the
history of humankind is that some societies were at their highest level of culture before written
records even were being kept. We imagine that humanity started with half-human apes gradually
learning to think and draw; however, the truth is that there is a great gap of time between the ape-
human who was our ancestor, and the earliest known histories of human endeavor. Some of the
earliest records, in fact, suggest even earlier races of human beings that had complex cultures,
evolved philosophies of thought, religion, and politics, and subtle and rich arts. Ancient Egypt,
early Vedic India, and possibly some of the earliest Indians in South or Central America all may
have been much more evolved civilizations than we understand or are able to study or know,
simply because ancient records of them do not adequately exist.
If such cultured nations did exist five or even ten thousand years ago, it might suggest that we do
not need to have a highly developed mechanical or technological civilization in order to have a
highly developed society or culture: our machines and inventions may not be necessary for us to
have high levels of thought and artistic feeling. Perhaps the flower of our being human--the
ability to reflect about life and experience artistic representations of life--is something that can
happen outside of technological advancement.
If such is the case, then we might find that society and culture are helped by technology only
because technology makes a safer, better living possible for a wider number of people--and thus
most of us can have more time to develop our thought and feeling.
In any case, the important thing for us to realize now is that in this country, at least, we are a
society with the time and money to pursue higher levels of culture. We may not have a lot of
time; but we actually do so without thinking about whenever we talk over ideas with friends, see
a better movie or appreciate music that makes us feel more deeply. We are a society that in some
ways takes a developed culture for granted. We enjoy our culture, our ideas and theories about
life, our arguments, our appreciation of music and dancing and the arts. And we would feel lost
as a society without these.
Some philosophers argue, in fact, that what makes our society and our civilization so special is
that culture is available to almost all of us universally. We are a nation and a civilization of
thinkers and feelers who ponder truth and take great pleasure in our arts. And this brings us far
more joy and meaning than those who struggle from day to day just to survive can have. It is
something for which we can all be thankful.
Culture: The Meaning, Characteristics, and Functions
by Saritha Pujari
The customs, traditions, attitudes, values, norms, ideas and symbols govern human behaviour
The members of society not only endorse them but also mould their behaviour accordingly. They
are the members of the society because of the traditions and customs which are common and
which are passed down from generation to generation through the process of socialisation. These
common patterns designate culture and it is in terms of culture that we are able to understand the
specific behaviour pattern of human beings in their social relations. Cultural ideas emerge from
shared social life.
Meaning of Culture:
Sometimes an individual is described as “a highly cultured person”, meaning thereby that the
person in question has certain features such as his speech, manner, and taste for literature, music
or painting which distinguish him from others. Culture, in this sense, refers to certain personal
characteristics of a individual. However, this is not the sense in which the word culture is used
and understood in social sciences.
Sometimes culture is used in popular discourse to refer to a celebration or an evening of
entertainment, as when one speaks of a ‘cultural show’. In this sense, culture is identified with
aesthetics or the fine arts such as dance, music or drama. This is also different from the technical
meaning of the word culture.
Culture is used in a special sense in anthropology and sociology. It refers to the sum of human
beings’ life ways, their behaviour, beliefs, feelings, thought; it connotes everything that is
acquired by them as social beings.
Culture has been defined in number of ways. There is no consensus among sociologists and
anthropologists regarding the definition of culture. One of the most comprehensive definitions of
the term culture was provided by the British anthropologist Edward Tylor. He defined culture as
” that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other
capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”.
There are some writers who add to this definitions some of the important” other capabilities and
habits” such as language and the techniques for making and using tools. Culture consists of all
learned, normative behaviour patterns – that is all shared ways or patterns of thinking and feeling
as well as doing.
Some of the thinkers include in culture only the nonmaterial parts. For instance, Sutherland and
Wood word say, “If culture exists only where there is communication then the content of culture
can be ideas or symbol patterns. Culture is then an immaterial phenomenon only, a matter of
thoughts and meanings and habits and not of visible and touchable material things or objects”.
The “material elements that are made and used in accordance with socially inherited tradition”
should be called culture objects. Others include in culture all the major social components that
bind men together in society. For instance, the British anthropologist Malinowski included
‘inherited, artifacts, implements and consumer goods’ and ‘social structure’ within his definition
It is, Cooley, Argell and Car say,
“The entire accumulation of artificial objects, conditions, tools, techniques, ideas, symbols and
behaviour patterns peculiar to a group of people, possessing a certain consistency of its own,
and capable of transmission from one generation to another.”
Some of the other important definitions of culture are as follows. “Culture is the expression of
our nature in our modes of living and our thinking. Intercourse in our literature, in religion, in
recreation and enjoyment, says Maclver.
According to E.A. Hoebel,
“Culture is the sum total of integrated learned behaviour patterns which are characteristics of
the members of a society and which are therefore not the result of biological inheritance.”
“Culture is the complex whole that consists of everything we think and do and have as members
of society”, says Bierstedt. “Culture is the total content of the physio-social, bio-social and
psycho-social universe man has produced and the socially created mechanisms through which
these social product operate”, According to Anderson and Parker.
Mlinowlski defines culture” as the handiwork of man and the medium through which he achieves
According to H.T. Mazumadar,
“culture is the sum total of human achievements, material as well as non-material, capable of
transmission, sociologically, i.e., by tradition and communication, vertically as well as
Combining several of these definitions, we may define culture as the sum-total of human
achievements or the total heritage of man which can be transmitted to men by communication
and tradition. It is a way of life of the people in a certain geographical area. Life style and social
pattern of a society being the direct consequence of the accumulated heritage of ages past
distinguish and differentiate one community from another.
Culture therefore, is moral, intellectual and spiritual discipline for advancement, in accordance
with the norms and values based on accumulated heritage. It is imbibing and making ours own,
the life style and social pattern of the group one belongs to. Culture is a system of learned
behaviour shared by and transmitted among the members of the group.
Culture is a collective heritage learned by individuals and passed from one generation to another.
The individual receives culture as part of social heritage and in turn, may reshape the culture and
introduce changes which then become part of the heritage of succeeding generations.
Characteristics of Culture:
From various definition, we can deduce the following characteristics:
1. Learned Behaviour:
Not all behaviour is learned, but most of it is learned; combing one’s hair, standing in line,
telling jokes, criticising the President and going to the movie, all constitute behaviours which had
to be learned.
Sometimes the terms conscious learning and unconscious learning are used to distinguish the
learning. For example, the ways in which a small child learns to handle a tyrannical father or a
rejecting mother often affect the ways in which that child, ten or fifteen years later, handles his
relationships with other people.
Some behaviour is obvious. People can be seen going to football games, eating with forks, or
driving automobiles. Such behaviour is called “overt” behaviour. Other behaviour is less visible.
Such activities as planning tomorrow’s work (or) feeling hatred for an enemy, are behaviours
too. This sort of behaviour, which is not openly visible to other people, is called Covert
behaviour. Both may be, of course, learned.
2. Culture is Abstract:
Culture exists in the minds or habits of the members of society. Culture is the shared ways of
doing and thinking. There are degrees of visibility of cultural behaviour, ranging from the
regularised activities of persons to their internal reasons for so doing. In other words, we cannot
see culture as such we can only see human behaviour. This behaviour occurs in regular,
patterned fashion and it is called culture.
3. Culture is a Pattern of Learned Behaviour:
The definition of culture indicated that the learned behaviour of people is patterned. Each
person’s behaviour often depends upon some particular behaviour of someone else. The point is
that, as a general rule, behaviours are somewhat integrated or organized with related behaviours
of other persons.
4. Culture is the Products of Behaviour:
Culture learnings are the products of behaviour. As the person behaves, there occur changes in
him. He acquires the ability to swim, to feel hatred toward someone, or to sympathize with
someone. They have grown out of his previous behaviours.
In both ways, then, human behaviour is the result of behaviour. The experience of other people
are impressed on one as he grows up, and also many of his traits and abilities have grown out of
his own past behaviours.
5. Culture includes Attitudes, Values Knowledge:
There is widespread error in the thinking of many people who tend to regard the ideas, attitudes,
and notions which they have as “their own”. It is easy to overestimate the uniqueness of one’s
own attitudes and ideas. When there is agreement with other people it is largely unnoticed, but
when there is a disagreement or difference one is usually conscious of it. Your differences
however, may also be cultural. For example, suppose you are a Catholic and the other person a
6. Culture also includes Material Objects:
Man’s behaviour results in creating objects. Men were behaving when they made these things.
To make these objects required numerous and various skills which human beings gradually built
up through the ages. Man has invented something else and so on. Occasionally one encounters
the view that man does not really “make” steel or a battleship. All these things first existed in a
Man merely modified their form, changed them from a state in which they were to the state in
which he now uses them. The chair was first a tree which man surely did not make. But the chair
is more than trees and the jet airplane is more than iron ore and so forth.
7. Culture is shared by the Members of Society:
The patterns of learned behaviour and the results of behaviour are possessed not by one or a few
person, but usually by a large proportion. Thus, many millions of persons share such behaviour
patterns as Christianity, the use of automobiles, or the English language.
Persons may share some part of a culture unequally. For example, as Americans do the Christian
religion. To some persons Christianity is the all important, predominating idea in life. To others
it is less preoccupying/important, and to still others it is of marginal significance only.
Sometimes the people share different aspects of culture. For example, among the Christians,
there are – Catholic and Protestant, liberal or conservation, as clergymen or as laymen. The point
to our discussion is not that culture or any part of it is shred identically, but that it is shared by
the members of society to a sufficient extent.
8. Culture is Super-organic:
Culture is sometimes called super organic. It implies that “culture” is somehow superior to
“nature”. The word super-organic is useful when it implies that what may be quite a different
phenomenon from a cultural point of view.
For example, a tree means different things to the botanist who studies it, the old woman who
uses it for shade in the late summer afternoon, the farmer who picks its fruit, the motorist who
collides with it and the young lovers who carve their initials in its trunk. The same physical
objects and physical characteristics, in other words, may constitute a variety of quite different
cultural objects and cultural characteristics.
9. Culture is Pervasive:
Culture is pervasive it touches every aspect of life. The pervasiveness of culture is manifest in
two ways. First, culture provides an unquestioned context within which individual action and
response take place. Not only emotional action but relational actions are governed by cultural
norms. Second, culture pervades social activities and institutions.
According to Ruth Benedict, “A culture, like an individual is a more or less consistent pattern of
thought and action. With each culture there come into being characteristic purposes not
necessarily shared by other types of society. In obedience to these purposes, each person further
consolidates its experience and in proportion to the urgency of these drives the heterogeneous
items of behaviour; take more and more congruous shape”.
10. Culture is a way of Life:
Culture means simply the “way of life” of a people or their “design for living.” Kluckhohn and
Kelly define it in his sense, ” A culture is a historically derived system of explicit and implicit
designs for living, which tends to be shared by all or specially designed members of a group.”
Explicit culture refers to similarities in word and action which can be directly observed. For
example, the adolescent cultural behaviour can be generalized from regularities in dress,
mannerism and conversation. Implicit culture exists in abstract forms which are not quite
11. Culture is a human Product:
Culture is not a force, operating by itself and independent of the human actors. There is an
unconscious tendency to defy culture, to endow it with life and treat it as a thing. Culture is a
creation of society in interaction and depends for its existence upon the continuance of society.
In a strict sense, therefore, culture does not ‘do’ anything on its own. It does not cause the
individual to act in a particular way, nor does it ‘make’ the normal individual into a maladjusted
one. Culture, in short, is a human product; it is not independently endowed with life.
12. Culture is Idealistic:
Culture embodies the ideas and norms of a group. It is sum-total of the ideal patterns and norms
of behaviour of a group. Culture consists of the intellectual, artistic and social ideals and
institutions which the members of the society profess and to which they strive to confirm.
13. Culture is transmitted among members of Society:
The cultural ways are learned by persons from persons. Many of them are “handed down” by
one’s elders, by parents, teachers, and others [of a somewhat older generation]. Other cultural
behaviours are “handed up” to elders. Some of the transmission of culture is among
For example, the styles of dress, political views, and the use of recent labour saving devices. One
does not acquire a behaviour pattern spontaneously. He learns it. That means that someone
teaches him and he learns. Much of the learning process both for the teacher and the learner is
quite unconscious, unintentional, or accidental.
14. Culture is Continually Changing:
There is one fundamental and inescapable attribute (special quality) of culture, the fact of
unending change. Some societies at sometimes change slowly, and hence in comparison to other
societies seem not to be changing at all. But they are changing, even though not obviously so.
15. Culture is Variable:
Culture varies from society to society, group to group. Hence, we say culture of India or
England. Further culture varies from group to group within the same society. There are
subcultures within a culture. Cluster of patterns which are both related to general culture of the
society and yet distinguishable from it are called subcultures.
16. Culture is an integrated system:
Culture possesses an order and system. Its various parts are integrated with each other and any
new element which is introduced is also integrated.
17. Language is the Chief Vehicle of Culture:
Man lives not only in the present but also in the past and future. He is able to do this because he
possesses language which transmits to him what was learned in the past and enables him to
transmit the accumulated wisdom to the next generation. A specialised language pattern serves as
a common bond to the members of a particular group or subculture. Although culture is
transmitted in a variety of ways, language is one of the most important vehicles for perpetuating
To conclude culture is everything which is socially learned and shared by the members of a
society. It is culture that, in the wide focus of the world, distinguishes individual from individual,
group from group and society.
Functions of Culture:
Among all groups of people we find widely shared beliefs, norms, values and preferences. Since
culture seems to be universal human phenomenon, it occurs naturally to wonder whether culture
corresponds to any universal human needs. This curiosity raises the question of the functions of
culture. Social scientists have discussed various functions of culture. Culture has certain
functions for both individual and society.Following are some of the important functions of
1. Culture Defines Situations:
Each culture has many subtle cues which define each situation. It reveals whether one should
prepare to fight, run, laugh or make love. For example, suppose someone approaches you with
right hand outstretched at waist level. What does this mean? That he wishes to shake hands in
friendly greeting is perfectly obvious – obvious, that is to anyone familiar with our culture.
But in another place or time the outstretched hand might mean hostility or warning. One does not
know what to do in a situation until he has defined the situation. Each society has its insults and
fighting words. The cues (hints) which define situations appear in infinite variety. A person who
moves from one society into another will spend many years misreading the cues. For example,
laughing at the wrong places.
2. Culture defines Attitudes, Values and Goals:
Each person learns in his culture what is good, true, and beautiful. Attitudes, values and goals are
defined by the culture. While the individual normally learns them as unconsciously as he learns
the language. Attitude are tendencies to feel and act in certain ways. Values are measures of
goodness or desirability, for example, we value private property, (representative) Government
and many other things and experience.
Goals are those attainments which our values define as worthy, (e.g.) winning the race, gaining
the affections of a particular girl, or becoming president of the firm. By approving certain goals
and ridiculing others, the culture channels individual ambitions. In these ways culture determines
the goals of life.
3. Culture defines Myths, Legends, and the Supernatural:
Myths and legends are important part of every culture. They may inspire, reinforce effort and
sacrifice and bring comfort in bereavement. Whether they are true is sociologically unimportant.
Ghosts are real to people who believe in them and who act upon this belief. We cannot
understand the behaviour of any group without knowing something of the myths, legends, and
supernatural beliefs they hold. Myths and legends are powerful forces in a group’s behaviour.
Culture also provides the individual with a ready-made view of the universe. The nature of
divine power and the important moral issues are defined by the culture. The individual does not
have to select, but is trained in a Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or some other religious
tradition. This tradition gives answers for the major (things imponderable) of life, and fortuities
the individual to meet life’s crises.
4. Culture provides Behaviour Patterns:
The individual need not go through painful trial and error learning to know what foods can be
eaten (without poisoning himself), or how to live among people without fear. He finds a ready-
made set of patterns awaiting him which he needs only to learn and follow. The culture maps out
the path to matrimony. The individual does not have to wonder how one secures a mate; he
knows the procedure defined by his culture.
If men use culture to advance their purposes, it seems clear also that a culture imposes limits on
human and activities. The need for order calls forth another function of culture that of so
directing behaviour that disorderly behaviour is restricted and orderly behaviour is promoted. A
society without rules or norms to define right and wrong behaviour would be very much like a
heavily travelled street without traffic signs or any understood rules for meeting and passing
vehicles. Chaos would be the result in either case.
Social order cannot rest on the assumption that men will spontaneously behave in ways
conducive to social harmony.
Culture and Society:
The relationship between society, culture and personality is stressed by Ralph Linton: “A society
is organised group of individuals. A culture is an organised group of learned responses. The
individual is living organism capable of independent thought, feeling and action, but with his
independence limited and all his resources profoundly modified by contact with the society and
culture in which he develops.
A society cannot exist apart from culture. A Society is always made of persons and their
groupings. People carry and transmit culture, but they are not culture. No culture can exists
except as it is embodied in a society of man; no society can operate without, cultural directives.
Like matter and energy, like mind and body, they are interdependent and interacting yet express
different aspects of the human situation.
One must always keep in mind the interdependence and the reciprocal relationship between
culture and society. Each is distinguishable concept in which the patterning and organisation of
the whole is more important than any of the component parts.
The word culture has many different meanings. For some it refers to an appreciation of good
literature, music, art, and food. For a biologist, it is likely to be a colony of bacteria or other
microorganisms growing in a nutrient medium in a laboratory Petri dish. However, for
anthropologists and other behavioral scientists, culture is the full range of learned human
behavior patterns. The term was first used in this way by the pioneer English Anthropologist
Edward B. Tylor in his book, Primitive Culture, published in 1871. Tylor said that culture is
"that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other
capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society." Of course, it is not limited to
men. Women possess and create it as well. Since Tylor's time, the concept of culture has
become the central focus of anthropology.
Culture is a powerful human tool for survival, but it is a weak phenomenon.
It is constantly changing and easily lost because it exists only in our minds. Our written
languages, governments, buildings, and other man-made things are merely the products of
culture. They are not culture in themselves. For this reason, archaeologists cannot dig up culture
directly in their excavations. The broken pots and other artifacts of ancient people that they
uncover are only material remains that reflect cultural patterns--they are things that were made
and used through cultural knowledge and skills.
Layers of Culture
There are very likely three layers or levels of culture that are part of your learned behavior
patterns and perceptions. Most obviously is the body of cultural traditions that distinguish your
specific society. When people speak of Italian, Samoan, or Japanese culture, they are referring
to the shared language, traditions, and beliefs that set each of these peoples apart from others. In
most cases, those who share your culture do so because they acquired it as they were raised by
parents and other family members who have it.
The second layer of culture that may be part of your identity is a subculture. In complex,
diverse societies in which people have come from many different parts of the world, they often
retain much of their original cultural traditions. As a result, they are likely to be part of an
identifiable subculture in their new society. The shared cultural traits of subcultures set them
apart from the rest of their society. Examples of easily identifiable subcultures in the United
States include ethnic groups such as Vietnamese Americans, African Americans, and Mexican
Americans. Members of each of these subcultures share a common identity, food tradition,
dialect or language, and other cultural traits that come from their common ancestral background
and experience. As the cultural differences between members of a subculture and the dominant
national culture blur and eventually disappear, the subculture ceases to exist except as a group of
people who claim a common ancestry. That is generally the case with German Americans and
Irish Americans in the United States today. Most of them identify themselves as Americans
first. They also see themselves as being part of the cultural mainstream of the nation.
The third layer of culture consists of cultural universals. These are learned behavior patterns
that are shared by all of humanity collectively. No matter where people live in the world, they
share these universal traits. Examples of such "human cultural" traits include:
1. communicating with a verbal language consisting of a limited set of
sounds and grammatical rules for constructing sentences
2. using age and gender to classify people (e.g., teenager, senior citizen,
3. classifying people based on marriage and descent relationships and
having kinship terms to refer to
them (e.g., wife, mother, uncle, cousin)
4. raising children in some sort of family setting
5. having a sexual division of labor (e.g., men's work versus women's
6. having a concept of privacy
7. having rules to regulate sexual behavior
8. distinguishing between good and bad behavior
9. having some sort of body ornamentation
10. making jokes and playing games
11. having art
12. having some sort of leadership roles for the implementation of
Culture and Society
While all cultures have these and possibly many other universal traits, different cultures have
developed their own specific ways of carrying out or expressing them. For instance, people in
deaf subcultures frequently use their hands to communicate with sign language instead of verbal
language. However, sign languages have grammatical rules just as verbal ones do.
Culture and society are not the same thing. While cultures are complexes of learned behavior
patterns and perceptions, societies are groups of interacting organisms. People are not the
only animals that have societies. Schools of fish, flocks of birds, and hives of bees are societies.
In the case of humans, however, societies are groups of people who directly or indirectly interact
with each other. People in human societies also generally perceive that their society is distinct
from other societies in terms of shared traditions and expectations.
While human societies and cultures are not the same thing, they are inextricably connected
culture is created and transmitted to others in a society.
Cultures are not the product of lone individuals. They are the continuously evolving products of
people interacting with each other.
Cultural patterns such as language and politics make no sense except in terms of the interaction
of people. If you were the only human on earth, there would be no need for language or
Is Culture Limited to Humans?
There is a difference of opinion in the behavioral sciences about whether or not we are the only
animal that creates and uses culture. The answer to this question depends on how narrow culture
is defined. If it is used broadly to refer to a complex of learned behavior patterns, then it is clear
that we are not alone in creating and using culture. Many other animal species teach their young
what they themselves learned in order to survive. This is especially true of the chimpanzees and
other relatively intelligent apes and monkeys. Wild chimpanzee mothers typically teach their
children about several hundred food and medicinal plants. Their children also have to learn
about the dominance hierarchy and the social rules within their communities. As males become
teenagers, they acquire hunting skills from adults. Females have to learn how to nurse and care
for their babies. Chimpanzees even have to learn such basic skills as how to perform sexual
intercourse. This knowledge is not hardwired into their brains at birth. They are all learned
patterns of behavior just as they are for humans.
SOCIETY AND CULTURE
What Is a Society?
According to sociologists, a society is a group of people with common territory, interaction, and
culture. Social groups consist of two or more people who interact and identify with one another.
Territory: Most countries have formal boundaries and territory that the world recognizes
as theirs. However, a society’s boundaries don’t have to be geopolitical borders, such as
the one between the United States and Canada. Instead, members of a society, as well as
nonmembers, must recognize particular land as belonging to that society.
Example: The society of the Yanomamo has fluid but definable land boundaries. Located
in a South American rain forest, Yanamamo territory extends along the border of Brazil
and Venezuela. While outsiders would have a hard time determining where Yanomamo
land begins and ends, the Yanomamo and their neighbors have no trouble discerning
which land is theirs and which is not.
Interaction: Members of a society must come in contact with one another. If a group of
people within a country has no regular contact with another group, those groups cannot be
considered part of the same society. Geographic distance and language barriers can
separate societies within a country.
Example: Although Islam was practiced in both parts of the country, the residents of East
Pakistan spoke Bengali, while the residents of West Pakistan spoke Urdu. Geographic
distance, language differences, and other factors proved insurmountable. In 1971, the
nation split into two countries, with West Pakistan assuming the name Pakistan and East
Pakistan becoming Bangladesh. Within each newly formed society, people had a common
culture, history, and language, and distance was no longer a factor.
Culture: People of the same society share aspects of their culture, such as language or
beliefs. Culture refers to the language, values, beliefs, behavior, and material objects that
constitute a people’s way of life. It is a defining element of society.
Example: Some features of American culture are the English language, a democratic
system of government, cuisine (such as hamburgers and corn on the cob), and a belief in
individualism and freedom.
The United States is a society composed of many groups of people, some of whom originally
belonged to other societies. Sociologists consider the United States apluralistic society, meaning
it is built of many groups. As societies modernize, they attract people from countries where there
may be economic hardship, political unrest, or religious persecution. Since the industrialized
countries of the West were the first to modernize, these countries tend to be more pluralistic than
countries in other parts of the world.
Many people came to the United States between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries.
Fleeing poverty and religious persecution, these immigrants arrived in waves from Europe and
Asia and helped create the pluralism that makes the United States unique.
Pluralism in the Neighborhood
Both cities and regions reflect pluralism in the United States. Most major American cities have
areas in which people from particular backgrounds are concentrated, such as Little Italy in New
York, Chinatown in San Francisco, and Little Havana in Miami. Regionally, people of Mexican
descent tend to live in those states that border Mexico. Individuals of Cuban descent are
concentrated in Florida. Spanish-speaking people from other Caribbean islands, such as Puerto
Rico and the Dominican Republic, are more likely to live in the Northeast.
Some practices that are common in other societies will inevitably offend or contradict the values
and beliefs of the new society. Groups seeking to become part of a pluralistic society often have
to give up many of their original traditions in order to fit in—a process known as assimilation.
Example: When people arrive in the United States from other countries, they most likely speak a
foreign language. As they live here, they generally learn at least some English, and many
become fluent. Their children are most likely bilingual, speaking English as well as the language
of their parents. By the third generation, the language originally spoken by their grandparents is
In pluralistic societies, groups do not have to give up all of their former beliefs and practices.
Many groups within a pluralistic society retain their ethnic traditions.
Example: Although Chinese immigrants started arriving in the United States 150 years ago,
Chinese-American communities still follow some traditions, such as celebrating the Lunar New
The United States is commonly referred to as a melting pot, a society in which people from
different societies blend together into a single mass. Some sociologists prefer the term
“multicultural,” pointing out that even if a group has been in this country for many generations,
they probably still retain some of their original heritage. The term “multiculturalism”
recognizes the original heritages of millions of Americans, noting that Americans who are
originally from other societies do not necessarily have to lose their individual markers by melting
into the mainstream.
In a truly pluralistic society, no one group is officially considered more influential than another.
In keeping with this belief, the United States does not, for example, put a legal quota on how
many Italian Americans can vote in national elections, how many African Americans may run
for public office, or how many Vietnamese Americans can live on a certain street. However,
powerful informal mechanisms, such as prejudice and discrimination, work to keep many groups
out of the political process or out of certain neighborhoods.
What is the difference betweenculture andsociety?
Pulling some definitions from Merriam-Webster*, we get the following:
the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social
group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life}
shared by people in a place or time
the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or
the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or
an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns
of relationships through interaction with one another
a community, nation, or broad grouping of people having common traditions, institutions, and
collective activities and interests
From an anthropological perspective, culture is what it means to be a member of a certain group.
It is the underlying characteristics that the people in that particular subset share. This can include
values, standards, religion, language, and all sorts of other things.
Society is a different animal. You can think of it as the people in a given group and as the sum-
total of interactions between people in a given group. Society relies on culture, because culture
determines how people react to certain things. Generally, people who share a culture constitute a
society (although defining a society is necessarily fluid).
Culture is the underlying shared characteristics (values, religion, etc.) of a given subset of
people; society refers to the people of a group and their interactions with each other.
John David Ward, is more human that he at first... (more)
Let's say you've got a bunch of computer networked together.
They might be running Linux, or Mac OSX, or Windows Server 2012, or something else. This is
They might be connected through a wired LAN or a wireless LAN. They might be arranged in
series or in parallel, or in a master-slave relationship. This is their society.
Culture is the software individuals have in common. Society is how they're all connected to each