Ideal & Real Culture
This article will focus on ideal and real culture. Cultures around the world experience a discrepancy between the ideals a culture upholds and the realities of life within the culture. Sociologists recognize this discrepancy to be a location of cultural dissonance, negotiation, and tension. Sociologists study and compare the ideal and real cultural aspects of societies. Understanding conceptual categories of ideal and real culture is vital background for all those interested in the sociology of culture. This article explores ideal and real culture in four parts: (1) an overview of the ideal and real culture model; (2) a description of the history of Max Weber's ideal type concept; (3) an exploration of the ways in which sociologists apply the concepts of ideal and real culture to their study of different cultures as a means of gathering information about cultural values and cultural norms; and (4) a discussion of the issues related to cultural dissonance caused by gaps between ideal and real culture.
Keywords Cultural Dissonance; Culture; Ideal Culture; Ideal Type; Immaterial Culture; Mores; Norms; Real Culture; Society; Sociology; Values; Weber, Max
Cultures around the world experience a discrepancy between the ideals they uphold and the realities of life within them. Sociologists recognize this discrepancy to be a location of cultural dissonance, negotiation, and tension, and thus compare the ideal and real cultural aspects of societies. An understanding of the conceptual categories of ideal and real culture is vital for all those interested in the sociology of culture. This article explores ideal and real culture in four parts: (1) an overview of the basic principles of the ideal and real culture model; (2) a description of the history of Max Weber's ideal type concept; (3) an exploration of the ways in which sociologists apply the concepts of ideal and real culture to gather information about different cultures' values and norms; and (4) a discussion of the issues related to cultural dissonance caused by the gaps between ideal and real culture.
Basic Principles of Ideal
Ideal culture and real culture are concepts used by social scientists to study and compare the discrepancies between the values expressed by a culture and the behaviors exhibited by members of that culture. Sociologists define culture as the set of customs, attitudes, values, and beliefs that characterize one group of people and distinguish them from other groups. Culture also includes the products of a group of people. Culture is passed from one generation to the next through immaterial culture, such as values, norms, language, rituals, and symbols, and material culture, such as objects, art, and institutions. Ideal culture refers to the shared values that are accepted and expressed by a culture or its public norms and values. These are the values and norms the culture believes to be worth emulating. Real culture refers to the actions, behaviors, and practices of those who reside within the culture - in other words, the norms and values seen enacted by the members of society on a daily basis.
For example, American culture celebrates academic success and achievement, but in practice the majority of students in American school systems do not achieve academic honors. Similarly, American culture upholds the ideal of equal civil rights for all regardless of race, sex, language or religion. However, in practice, the majority of states ban same-sex marriages, and language barriers limit opportunities for cultural participation. Identity-based discrimination, bias, and profiling also occur throughout American society in public and private areas of life. The discrepancy, or gap, between ideal and real culture often leads to a state of cultural dissonance for members of a society. Eventually, this state may lead to political, social, or personal action directed at reconciling or addressing the differences between ideal and real culture (Dodson, 2001).
Cultural values refer to intangible qualities or beliefs accepted and endorsed by a given society. They are distinct from attitudes, traits, norms, and needs in that they tend to be unobservable, are easily confused with other social and psychological phenomena, and generally have historical and cultural variability. They express an idealized state of being, and can influence both individual and group behavior and action. Sociologists studying the mechanisms through which values inspire, motivate, and influence action in and by society have found that values must be activated in individual and group consciousness to effect action. Values, once activated, lead toward the privileging of certain actions over others. They impudence attention, perception, and interpretation within situations and ultimately impudence how individual and group actions are planned. Sociologists studying how individuals learn values currently speculate that an individual's values, which are shaped during late adolescence, tend to be stable across the life course (Hilting & Piliavin, 2004).
Norms refer to the conditions for social relations between groups and individuals, for the structure of society and the differences between societies, and for human behavior in general. Norms are the shared rules, customs, and guidelines that govern society and define how people should behave in the company of others. They may be applicable to all members of society or to only certain subsets of the population, such as students, teachers, clergy, police officers, or soldiers in warfare (Opp, 1979). Sociologists divide norms into four types: folkways, mores, taboos, and laws. These four types of norms are ranked from least restrictive to most compulsory. Folkways refer to norms that protect common conventions. Mores refer to stronger norms with associated moral values. Taboos refer to the strongest types of mores. Laws refer to the mores that are formally enforced by a political authority and backed by the power of the state. Ultimately, social norms are important, in part because they enable individuals to agree on a shared interpretation of a social situation and prevent harmful social interactions (Kiesler, 1967).
The History of Ideal Culture Concept
The concept of ideal culture is based on sociologist Max Weber's concept of the ideal type. Weber's ideal type, also referred to as a pure type, is one of the most influential conceptual tools in 20th century social science (Hekman, 1983). It refers to the idea of a phenomenon or a given situation. Weber considered an ideal type to be a conceptual construct, a mental picture, a mental construct, and a unified analytical construct. The ideal type has a conceptual purity and cannot, according to Weber, be found anywhere in reality or practice. The ideal type is a utopia rather than a historical or true reality. Social science researchers use the ideal type as a yardstick of sorts with which to compare real situations and behaviors. The ideal type is a heuristic device used to explore and define cultural meaning (Islam, n.d.).
Weber developed four categories of ideal types:
• Zweckrational behavior is characterized by the use of rational means to achieve rational ends.
• Wertrational behavior is characterized by the use of rational means to achieve irrational ends.
• Affektual behavior is guided by emotion.
• Traditional behavior is guided by habit.
There are two main problems with ideal types. First, the ideal type concept does not specify any criteria for deciding which features of a culture should be included as an ideal type. The concept of the ideal type, an abstraction or construct, is distinct from a stipulation or exact requirement. Second, the ideal type concept does not explain how ideal types are abstracted from the vast body of cultural values and norms (Hopfl, 2006).
Max Weber developed the ideal type concept to help social scientists study cultural, social, economic phenomena. A leader in social theory, he was a proponent of the interpretive method of sociological study, which studies the meanings...
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