What is the difference between macroculture and microculture?

A macroculture is a dominant culture in any given territory consisting of people with a shared language, values, and traditions. A microculture, on the other hand, is a cultural group that exists within the dominant culture but differs from it in relation to its distinct values, customs, and linguistic practices.

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The term macroculture is used to describe the overarching culture of a given society. A macroculture is made up of microcultures, which are distinctive cultures within a given society. We can picture a macroculture like a giant umbrella stretching over every person in a society. People under that big umbrella are standing in different small groups, and each small group is sharing an umbrella. Those umbrellas are the microcultures. Not everyone in the society is a part of the same ones, but they are all part of the larger macroculture.

For example, everyone living in France is a part of France’s macroculture. They are all aware of and impacted by the norms, traditions, and behaviors of the French culture, even if they themselves do not actively participate in all of them. But within France, there are many microcultures that not everyone is a part of. For instance, there are many Algerian immigrants in France who share a culture that not everyone in France does.

Sometimes the term microculture and subculture are used interchangeably, but most social scientists note a difference between the two terms, as subcultures tend to deviate from norms of the macroculture while microcultures exist regardless of what the macrocultural context is like.

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A macroculture is a dominant culture, the culture that dominates and shapes life across a large territory. It is seen as a unity, a culture that is based on shared values, norms, and a single language.

To illustrate this point, let us look at the United States. In the United States, the macroculture consists of common institutions, such as courts, government departments, and law enforcement agencies, that are available to everyone. The common language in the American macroculture is English, which is the official language of the United States.

A microculture exists within the larger population but differs from the macroculture considerably. For instance, in the United States, there are various Native American tribes that still maintain their own customs, rites, and traditions. These practices differ considerably from those of the dominant culture, which is generally derived from Protestantism.

Most of those who live in such a microculture also have a parallel existence in the macroculture. Someone from a Native American tribe may speak their traditional language at home, but when they engage with the macroculture, through work, for example, they will often adopt the dominant values, including the speaking of English. What this example illustrates is that macrocultures and microcultures are by no means mutually exclusive and that many people are able to live in both of them.

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A macro-culture is the dominant culture of a particular society and can be defined regionally or nationally.  In America, the predominant macro-culture would consist of those persons of European ancestry with English as the preferred language and Christianity as the religion of choice. This is because a majority of citizens in the United States would be represented by these characteristics.

In contrast, a micro-culture is a smaller subset of the macro-culture.  For instance, an area within a state made up of primarily Latin speaking residents would be a micro-culture to the larger macro-culture of the state or nation.  Micro-cultures can be divided into further subsets based on many different factors, from things like religion or occupation to specific sports teams followed. 

In a country with as much diversity as the United States, it is common for people to find themselves in a wide variety of micro-cultures. In larger American cities such as New York, thousands of micro-cultures exist within the larger context of the American macro-culture.

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Many micro-cultures may exist within one macro-culture. They operate under the macro-culture, but may have traits specific to them. Let’s use mainstream America as an example of a macro-culture. Americans as a whole share basic values such as human rights, liberty, and freedom. However, the United States is home to people of many backgrounds, beliefs, and lifestyles. Someone who is Jewish would be part of the Jewish micro-culture, but lives within the macro-culture of America. Someone whose parents immigrated from, say, Sicily will be integrated to some degree with the values, language, and traditions of that country while coexisting with the behaviors that are dominant in mainstream America. Micro-cultures can exist within micro-cultures as well. People living in New York state are a micro-culture to the entire country. Residents of NYC are a micro-culture to New York State. People living on Manhattan are part of a micro-culture to the whole of NYC. Neighborhoods like Harlem and Chelsea are micro-cultures to Manhattan. All the way down to the cultures of specific blocks, or households, or any group of people that distinguishes itself from the whole. To zoom out, a macro-culture is the most widely practiced in a given society. I used America as an example, but the society could be as large as a continent or as small as a place of work, or as abstract as a field of study. The micro-cultures, or subcultures, within those societies just have to have traits, behaviors, or beliefs that differ from the whole. 

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