Culture & Conformity
This article will focus on culture and conformity. Societies desire and work to achieve cultural conformity within their population as a means of promoting harmony, diminishing social unrest, eliciting agreement and cooperation and ensuring the reproduction of cultural norms and values in the future. This article explores the sociology of culture and conformity in four parts: (1) an overview of the basic principles and mechanisms of cultural conformity; (2) a description of the socialization process; (3) a discussion of the ways in which sociologists study cultural conformity; and (4) an explanation of the issues associated with non-conformity. Understanding the role that culture and conformity play in social life is vital background for all those interested in the sociology of culture and social influence.
Keywords: Compliance; Conformity; Individualistic Culture; Mores; Norms; Obedience; Sanctions; Social Influence; Socialization; Values; Collectivist Culture
Culture is the mechanism through which societies promote and achieve conformity of behavior, dress, language, expectations, and laws. Culture includes the collection of customs, attitudes, values and beliefs that characterizes one group of people and distinguishes them from other groups. Culture is passed from one generation to succeeding generations through immaterial culture, such as values, norms, language, rituals, and symbols, and material culture, such as objects, art, and institutions. Societies desire and work to achieve cultural conformity within their populations as a means of promoting harmony, diminishing social unrest, eliciting agreement and cooperation and ensuring the reproduction of cultural norms and values in the future. Conformity refers to a change in an individual's behavior made in response to a real or imagined external influence.
The socialization process, in particular, creates conformity by conveying society's values, norms and laws to the individual. Socialization refers to the process of transmitting one's cultural values and norms to one's children. The socialization process occurs in two interconnected ways: family socialization and cultural socialization (Romero, et al., 2000). Understanding the role that culture and conformity play in social life is vital background for all those interested in the sociology of culture and social influence. This article explores the sociology of culture and conformity in four parts:
(1) An overview of the basic principles of cultural conformity;
(2) A description of the socialization process;
(3) A discussion of the ways in which sociologists study cultural conformity; and
(4) An explanation of the issues associated with nonconformity.
Conformity refers to the adapting of an individual's behavior in response to a real or imagined external influence. Types of conformity include public and private conformity. Conformity is influenced by the unanimity, decisiveness and cooperation of the group (Asch, 1956). Private conformity refers to instances in which individuals change their private beliefs in response to the position of others. Public conformity refers to instances in which individuals display a superficial change of opinions in response to external pressure.
Conformity may occur in response to an informational influence or a normative influence. Informational social influences produce conformity through the need for and spread of information. Experts of all kinds exert informational influence on society. Informational social influence often results in private conformity in which individuals internalize expert opinions and beliefs. Normative social influences produce conformity through fear of social embarrassment. Individuals experiencing a normative influence conform to escape the potential negative consequences of deviant behavior. Normative influence is strongly affected by the size of the group and the unanimity of group opinion. Individuals resist normative social influence through self-awareness and like-minded peers or role models.
Groups most likely to conform include adolescents, women, people with low self-esteem and collectivist cultures. Factors that effect conformity include gender, group cohesion, reinforcement, social approval, cultural norms and values and psychological disposition (Endler, et al., 1973). Different cultures facilitate and promote different levels of conformity. For instance, collectivist cultures, such as those found in Asian, Latin American, and African nations, promote and value high levels of conformity. In contrast, individualistic cultures, such as those found in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, tend to value individuality and allow some degree of cultural transgression and rebellion. Social science research has demonstrated that individuals from collectivist cultures value and display conformity more than individuals from individualistic cultures (Cinnirella & Green, 2007).
Cultural socialization, which refers to the process of transmitting cultural values and norms to one's children, is the mechanism that teaches and produces cultural conformity. Socialization, which shapes individuals and social groups alike, is a subject of particular interest to psychologists and sociologists. Sources of socialization include family, peers, school, work, community, media, legal system, and cultural belief system. In some instances, as in the case of immigrant families, individuals can be socialized partially or completely into two or more cultures. Individuals socialized into two cultures are considered to be bicultural (Romero, et al., 2000).
For many individuals and cultures, families serve as the primary source of socialization. Families, both primary and extended, transmit individual and group values to the next generation of adults. In 1955, sociologists Talcott Parsons and Robert Bales published a book, entitled "Family, Socialization and Interaction Process," which provided a functionalist explanation for the family socialization process. The family's functions included socialization of children and stabilization of adult personality. According to Parsons and Bales, the nuclear family, with its gender-based social roles, functioned to support the economy and society and the marriage becomes the source of feminine and masculine role socialization. The family socialization process does not stop after childhood. For instance, marriage and parenting socialize adults through expectations, impulse control and meaning making.
Cultural socialization has three main goals:
- Impulse control;
- Role preparation and performance; and
- Meaning making.
Examples of social roles include occupational roles and gender roles. Meaning making refers to the adoption of shared cultural symbols (Arnett, 1995). Human society depends on the successful belief in and reproduction of shared cultural symbols. Shared symbols, which require a high level of conformity to be effective, facilitate communication and cultural reproduction over time. Conformity-enhancing or...
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