How can culture be viewed as a sociological concept?  What are some examples?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In order to understand this, we must first look at what culture is.  Having done that, we can connect the idea of culture to sociology.

To sociologists, a culture consists of a set of beliefs and behaviors (along with material objects) that members of a given group of people have in common.  Culture is one way that human beings have to create meaning in their worlds.  We can identify many things as being part of a given culture.  For example, in the United States, belief in the importance of the individual is a major part of our culture.  Behaviors are also part of culture.  For example, one aspect of our culture is that men typically wear their hair short while women can have long or short hair.  Our behavior in terms of how we cut and wear our hair is part of our culture.  Finally, objects can be part of culture.  The clothes that we wear are objects, but they are part of our culture.  The same is true of the kinds of houses we live in or the sorts of objects we find beautiful.  All of this is part of culture.

Culture is a sociological concept for two main reasons.  First, our society helps to define our culture.  Second, our culture helps to unify our society and to keep it stable.  Let us examine how these things work and why they matter to sociologists.

First, society helps to define our culture.  For example, why is it that American women are now free to wear pants where women in other countries (or American women 50 years ago) are much less free to do so?  This is because of our social values.  In the last 50 years, American women have become more economically important and have therefore been able to win themselves the right to engage in more behaviors that would once have been deemed “unladylike.”  This is an example of economic and social change (issues that matter deeply to sociology) affecting our culture.

Second, culture helps to unify us.  Since our society is made up of so many people, we need things that will unify us and make us feel connected to one another.  Culture can be used to do this.  We can identify with other Americans because they tend to share much of our culture.  Since sociologists are very interested in how society can remain unified and stable, culture is something that matters to them.

Thus, culture is an idea that is very important to sociologists and can properly be called a sociological concept.

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