week 3 discussion

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3 Culture

Figure 3.1 People adhere to various rules and standards that are created and maintained in culture, such as giving a high five to someone. (Photo
courtesy of Chris Barnes/flickr)

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Learning Objectives
3.1. What Is Culture?

• Differentiate between culture and society

• Explain material versus nonmaterial culture

• Discuss the concept of cultural universalism as it relates to society

• Compare and contrast ethnocentrism and xenocentrism

3.2. Elements of Culture
• Understand how values and beliefs differ from norms

• Explain the significance of symbols and language to a culture

• Explain the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

• Discuss the role of social control within culture

3.3. Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change
• Discuss the roles of both high culture and pop culture within society

• Differentiate between subculture and counterculture

• Explain the role of innovation, invention, and discovery in culture

• Understand the role of cultural lag and globalization in cultural change

3.4. Theoretical Perspectives on Culture
• Discuss the major theoretical approaches to cultural interpretation

Chapter 3 | Culture 51

Introduction to Culture
What are the rules when you pass an acquaintance at school, work, in the grocery store, or in the mall? Generally, we do
not consider all of the intricacies of the rules of behavior. We may simply say, “Hello!” and ask, “How was your
weekend?” or some other trivial question meant to be a friendly greeting. Rarely do we physically embrace or even touch
the individual. In fact, doing so may be viewed with scorn or distaste, since as people in the United States we have fairly
rigid rules about personal space. However, we all adhere to various rules and standards that are created and maintained in
culture. These rules and expectations have meaning, and there are ways in which you may violate this negotiation.
Consider what would happen if you stopped and informed everyone who said, “Hi, how are you?” exactly how you were
doing that day, and in detail. You would more than likely violate rules of culture and specifically greeting. Perhaps in a
different culture the question would be more literal, and it may require a response. Or if you are having coffee with a good
friend, perhaps that question warrants a more detailed response. These examples are all aspects of culture, which is shared
beliefs, values, and practices, that participants must learn. Sociologically, we examine in what situation and context certain
behavior is expected, and in which situations perhaps it is not. These rules are created and enforced by people who interact
and share culture.

In everyday conversation, people rarely distinguish between the terms culture and society, but the terms have slightly
different meanings, and the distinction is important to a sociologist. A society describes a group of people who share a
community and a culture. By “community,” sociologists refer to a definable region—as small as a neighborhood
(Brooklyn, or “the east side of town”), as large as a country (Ethiopia, the United States, or Nepal), or somewhere in
between (in the United States, this might include someone who identifies with Southern or Midwestern society). To clarify,
a culture represents the beliefs and practices of a group, while society represents the people who share those beliefs and
practices. Neither society nor culture could exist without the other. In this chapter, we examine the relationship between
culture and society in greater detail and pay special attention to the elements and forces that shape culture, including
diversity and cultural changes. A final discussion touches on the different theoretical perspectives from which sociologists
research culture.

3.1 What Is Culture?
Humans are social creatures. Since the dawn of Homo sapiens nearly 250,000 years ago, people have grouped together
into communities in order to survive. Living together, people form common habits and behaviors—from specific methods
of childrearing to preferred techniques for obtaining food. In modern-day Paris, many people shop daily at outdoor
markets to pick up what they need for their evening meal, buying cheese, meat, and vegetables from different specialty
stalls. In the United States, the majority of people shop once a week at supermarkets, filling large carts to the brim. How
would a Parisian perceive U.S. shopping behaviors that Americans take for granted?

Almost every human behavior, from shopping to marriage to expressions of feelings, is learned. In the United States,
people tend to view marriage as a choice between two people, based on mutual feelings of love. In other nations and in
other times, marriages have been arranged through an intricate process of interviews and negotiations between entire
families, or in other cases, through a direct system, such as a “mail order bride.” To someone raised in New York City, the
marriage customs of a family from Nigeria may seem strange or even wrong. Conversely, someone from a traditional
Kolkata family might be perplexed with the idea of romantic love as the foundation for marriage and lifelong commitment.
In other words, the way in which people view marriage depends largely on what they have been taught.

Behavior based on learned customs is not a bad thing. Being familiar with unwritten rules helps people feel secure and
“normal.” Most people want to live their daily lives confident that their behaviors will not be challenged or disrupted. But
even an action as seemingly simple as commuting to work evidences a great deal of cultural propriety.

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Figure 3.2 How would a visitor from the suburban United States act and feel on this crowded Tokyo train? (Photo courtesy of simonglucas/flickr)

Take the case of going to work on public transportation. Whether people are commuting in Dublin, Cairo, Mumbai, or San
Francisco, many behaviors will be the same, but significant differences also arise between cultures. Typically, a passenger
will find a marked bus stop or station, wait for his bus or train, pay an agent before or after boarding, and quietly take a
seat if one is available. But when boarding a bus in Cairo, passengers might have to run, because buses there often do not
come to a full stop to take on patrons. Dublin bus riders would be expected to extend an arm to indicate that they want the
bus to stop for them. And when boarding a commuter train in Mumbai, passengers must squeeze into overstuffed cars
amid a lot of pushing and shoving on the crowded platforms. That kind of behavior would be considered the height of
rudeness in the United States, but in Mumbai it reflects the daily challenges of getting around on a train system that is
taxed to capacity.

In this example of commuting, culture consists of thoughts (expectations about personal space, for example) and tangible
things (bus stops, trains, and seating capacity). Material culture refers to the objects or belongings of a group of people.
Metro passes and bus tokens are part of material culture, as are automobiles, stores, and the physical structures where
people worship. Nonmaterial culture, in contrast, consists of the ideas, attitudes, and beliefs of a society. Material and
nonmaterial aspects of culture are linked, and physical objects often symbolize cultural ideas. A metro pass is a material
object, but it represents a form of nonmaterial culture, namely, capitalism, and the acceptance of paying for transportation.
Clothing, hairstyles, and jewelry are part of material culture, but the appropriateness of wearing certain clothing for
specific events reflects nonmaterial culture. A school building belongs to material culture, but the teaching methods and
educational standards are part of education’s nonmaterial culture. These material and nonmaterial aspects of culture can
vary subtly from region to region. As people travel farther afield, moving from different regions to entirely different parts
of the world, certain material and nonmaterial aspects of culture become dramatically unfamiliar. What happens when we
encounter different cultures? As we interact with cultures other than our own, we become more aware of the differences
and commonalities between others’ worlds and our own.

Cultural Universals
Often, a comparison of one culture to another will reveal obvious differences. But all cultures also share common
elements. Cultural universals are patterns or traits that are globally common to all societies. One example of a cultural
universal is the family unit: every human society recognizes a family structure that regulates sexual reproduction and the
care of children. Even so, how that family unit is defined and how it functions vary. In many Asian cultures, for example,
family members from all generations commonly live together in one household. In these cultures, young adults continue to
live in the extended household family structure until they marry and join their spouse’s household, or they may remain and
raise their nuclear family within the extended family’s homestead. In the United States, by contrast, individuals are
expected to leave home and live independently for a period before forming a family unit that consists of parents and their
offspring. Other cultural universals include customs like funeral rites, weddings, and celebrations of births. However, each
culture may view the ceremonies quite differently.

Anthropologist George Murdock first recognized the existence of cultural universals while studying systems of kinship
around the world. Murdock found that cultural universals often revolve around basic human survival, such as finding food,
clothing, and shelter, or around shared human experiences, such as birth and death or illness and healing. Through his
research, Murdock identified other universals including language, the concept of personal names, and, interestingly, jokes.
Humor seems to be a universal way to release tensions and create a sense of unity among people (Murdock 1949).

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Making Connections: Sociological Research

Sociologists consider humor necessary to human interaction because it helps individuals navigate otherwise tense

Is Music a Cultural Universal?
Imagine that you are sitting in a theater, watching a film. The movie opens with the heroine sitting on a park bench
with a grim expression on her face. Cue the music. The first slow and mournful notes play in a minor key. As the
melody continues, the heroine turns her head and sees a man walking toward her. The music slowly gets louder, and
the dissonance of the chords sends a prickle of fear running down your spine. You sense that the heroine is in danger.

Now imagine that you are watching the same movie, but with a different soundtrack. As the scene opens, the music is
soft and soothing, with a hint of sadness. You see the heroine sitting on the park bench and sense her loneliness.
Suddenly, the music swells. The woman looks up and sees a man walking toward her. The music grows fuller, and the
pace picks up. You feel your heart rise in your chest. This is a happy moment.

Music has the ability to evoke emotional responses. In television shows, movies, even commercials, music elicits
laughter, sadness, or fear. Are these types of musical cues cultural universals?

In 2009, a team of psychologists, led by Thomas Fritz of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain
Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, studied people’s reactions to music that they’d never heard (Fritz et al. 2009). The
research team traveled to Cameroon, Africa, and asked Mafa tribal members to listen to Western music. The tribe,
isolated from Western culture, had never been exposed to Western culture and had no context or experience within
which to interpret its music. Even so, as the tribal members listened to a Western piano piece, they were able to
recognize three basic emotions: happiness, sadness, and fear. Music, it turns out, is a sort of universal language.

Researchers also found that music can foster a sense of wholeness within a group. In fact, scientists who study the
evolution of language have concluded that originally language (an established component of group identity) and
music were one (Darwin 1871). Additionally, since music is largely nonverbal, the sounds of music can cross societal
boundaries more easily than words. Music allows people to make connections, where language might be a more
difficult barricade. As Fritz and his team found, music and the emotions it conveys can be cultural universals.

Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism
Despite how much humans have in common, cultural differences are far more prevalent than cultural universals. For
example, while all cultures have language, analysis of particular language structures and conversational etiquette reveal
tremendous differences. In some Middle Eastern cultures, it is common to stand close to others in conversation. North
Americans keep more distance and maintain a large “personal space.” Even something as simple as eating and drinking
varies greatly from culture to culture. If your professor comes into an early morning class holding a mug of liquid, what do
you assume she is drinking? In the United States, it’s most likely filled with coffee, not Earl Grey tea, a favorite in
England, or Yak Butter tea, a staple in Tibet.

The way cuisines vary across cultures fascinates many people. Some travelers pride themselves on their willingness to try
unfamiliar foods, like celebrated food writer Anthony Bourdain, while others return home expressing gratitude for their
native culture’s fare. Often, people in the United States express disgust at other cultures’ cuisine and think that it’s gross to
eat meat from a dog or guinea pig, for example, while they don’t question their own habit of eating cows or pigs. Such
attitudes are an example of ethnocentrism, or evaluating and judging another culture based on how it compares to one’s
own cultural norms. Ethnocentrism, as sociologist William Graham Sumner (1906) described the term, involves a belief or
attitude that one’s own culture is better than all others. Almost everyone is a little bit ethnocentric. For example,
Americans tend to say that people from England drive on the “wrong” side of the road, rather than on the “other” side.
Someone from a country where dog meat is standard fare might find it off-putting to see a dog in a French restaurant—not
on the menu, but as a pet and patron’s companion. A good example of ethnocentrism is referring to parts of Asia as the
“Far East.” One might question, “Far east of where?”

A high level of appreciation for one’s own culture can be healthy; a shared sense of community pride, for example,
connects people in a society. But ethnocentrism can lead to disdain or dislike for other cultures and could cause
misunderstanding and conflict. People with the best intentions sometimes travel to a society to “help” its people, because
they see them as uneducated or backward—essentially inferior. In reality, these travelers are guilty of cultural
imperialism, the deliberate imposition of one’s own cultural values on another culture. Europe’s colonial expansion,

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Making Connections: Sociology in the Real World

begun in the sixteenth century, was often accompanied by a severe cultural imperialism. European colonizers often viewed
the people in the lands they colonized as uncultured savages who were in need of European governance, dress, religion,
and other cultural practices. A more modern example of cultural imperialism may include the work of international aid
agencies who introduce agricultural methods and plant species from developed countries while overlooking indigenous
varieties and agricultural approaches that are better suited to the particular region.

Ethnocentrism can be so strong that when confronted with all of the differences of a new culture, one may experience
disorientation and frustration. In sociology, we call this culture shock. A traveler from Chicago might find the nightly
silence of rural Montana unsettling, not peaceful. An exchange student from China might be annoyed by the constant
interruptions in class as other students ask questions—a practice that is considered rude in China. Perhaps the Chicago
traveler was initially captivated with Montana’s quiet beauty and the Chinese student was originally excited to see a U.S.-
style classroom firsthand. But as they experience unanticipated differences from their own culture, their excitement gives
way to discomfort and doubts about how to behave appropriately in the new situation. Eventually, as people learn more
about a culture, they recover from culture shock.

Culture shock may appear because people aren’t always expecting cultural differences. Anthropologist Ken Barger (1971)
discovered this when he conducted a participatory observation in an Inuit community in the Canadian Arctic. Originally
from Indiana, Barger hesitated when invited to join a local snowshoe race. He knew he’d never hold his own against these
experts. Sure enough, he finished last, to his mortification. But the tribal members congratulated him, saying, “You really
tried!” In Barger’s own culture, he had learned to value victory. To the Inuit people, winning was enjoyable, but their
culture valued survival skills essential to their environment: how hard someone tried could mean the difference between
life and death. Over the course of his stay, Barger participated in caribou hunts, learned how to take shelter in winter
storms, and sometimes went days with little or no food to share among tribal members. Trying hard and working together,
two nonmaterial values, were indeed much more important than winning.

During his time with the Inuit tribe, Barger learned to engage in cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is the practice of
assessing a culture by its own standards rather than viewing it through the lens of one’s own culture. Practicing cultural
relativism requires an open mind and a willingness to consider, and even adapt to, new values and norms. However,
indiscriminately embracing everything about a new culture is not always possible. Even the most culturally relativist
people from egalitarian societies—ones in which women have political rights and control over their own bodies—would
question whether the widespread practice of female genital mutilation in countries such as Ethiopia and Sudan should be
accepted as a part of cultural tradition. Sociologists attempting to engage in cultural relativism, then, may struggle to
reconcile aspects of their own culture with aspects of a culture that they are studying.

Sometimes when people attempt to rectify feelings of ethnocentrism and develop cultural relativism, they swing too far to
the other end of the spectrum. Xenocentrism is the opposite of ethnocentrism, and refers to the belief that another culture
is superior to one’s own. (The Greek root word xeno, pronounced “ZEE-no,” means “stranger” or “foreign guest.”) An
exchange student who goes home after a semester abroad or a sociologist who returns from the field may find it difficult to
associate with the values of their own culture after having experienced what they deem a more upright or nobler way of

Perhaps the greatest challenge for sociologists studying different cultures is the matter of keeping a perspective. It is
impossible for anyone to keep all cultural biases at bay; the best we can do is strive to be aware of them. Pride in one’s
own culture doesn’t have to lead to imposing its values on others. And an appreciation for another culture shouldn’t
preclude individuals from studying it with a critical eye.

Overcoming Culture Shock
During her summer vacation, Caitlin flew from Chicago to Madrid to visit Maria, the exchange student she’d
befriended the previous semester. In the airport, she heard rapid, musical Spanish being spoken all around her.
Exciting as it was, she felt isolated and disconnected. Maria’s mother kissed Caitlin on both cheeks when she greeted
her. Her imposing father kept his distance. Caitlin was half asleep by the time supper was served—at 10 p.m.! Maria’s
family sat at the table for hours, speaking loudly, gesturing, and arguing about politics, a taboo dinner subject in
Caitlin’s house. They served wine and toasted their honored guest. Caitlin had trouble interpreting her hosts’ facial
expressions, and didn’t realize she should make the next toast. That night, Caitlin crawled into a strange bed, wishing
she hadn’t come. She missed her home and felt overwhelmed by the new customs, language, and surroundings. She’d
studied Spanish in school for years—why hadn’t it prepared her for this?

Chapter 3 | Culture 55

What Caitlin hadn’t realized was that people depend not only on spoken words but also on subtle cues like gestures
and facial expressions, to communicate. Cultural norms accompany even the smallest nonverbal signals (DuBois
1951). They help people know when to shake hands, where to sit, how to converse, and even when to laugh. We
relate to others through a shared set of cultural norms, and ordinarily, we take them for granted.

For this reason, culture shock is often associated with traveling abroad, although it can happen in one’s own country,
state, or even hometown. Anthropologist Kalervo Oberg (1960) is credited with first coining the term “culture
shock.” In his studies, Oberg found that most people found encountering a new culture to be exciting at first. But bit
by bit, they became stressed by interacting with people from a different culture who spoke another language and used
different regional expressions. There was new food to digest, new daily schedules to follow, and new rules of
etiquette to learn. Living with this constant stress can make people feel incompetent and insecure. People react to
frustration in a new culture, Oberg found, by initially rejecting it and glorifying one’s own culture. An American
visiting Italy might long for a “real” pizza or complain about the unsafe driving habits of Italians compared to people
in the United States.

It helps to remember that culture is learned. Everyone is ethnocentric to an extent, and identifying with one’s own
country is natural.

Caitlin’s shock was minor compared to that of her friends Dayar and Mahlika, a Turkish couple living in married
student housing on campus. And it was nothing like that of her classmate Sanai. Sanai had been forced to flee war-
torn Bosnia with her family when she was fifteen. After two weeks in Spain, Caitlin had developed a bit more
compassion and understanding for what those people had gone through. She understood that adjusting to a new
culture takes time. It can take weeks or months to recover from culture shock, and it can take years to fully adjust to
living in a new culture.

By the end of Caitlin’s trip, she’d made new lifelong friends. She’d stepped out of her comfort zone. She’d learned a
lot about Spain, but she’d also discovered a lot about herself and her own culture.

Figure 3.3 Experiencing new cultures offers an opportunity to practice cultural relativism. (Photo courtesy of OledSidorenko/flickr)

3.2 Elements of Culture
Values and Beliefs
The first, and perhaps most crucial, elements of culture we will discuss are its values and beliefs. Values are a culture’s
standard for discerning what is good and just in society. Values are deeply embedded and critical for transmitting and
teaching a culture’s beliefs. Beliefs are the tenets or convictions that people hold to be true. Individuals in a society have
specific beliefs, but they also share collective values. To illustrate the difference, Americans commonly believe in the
American Dream—that anyone who works hard enough will be successful and wealthy. Underlying this belief is the
American value that wealth is good and important.

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Values help shape a society by suggesting what is good and bad, beautiful and ugly, sought or avoided. Consider the value
that the United States places upon youth. Children represent innocence and purity, while a youthful adult appearance
signifies sexuality. Shaped by this value, individuals spend millions of dollars each year on cosmetic products and
surgeries to look young and beautiful. The United States also has an individualistic culture, meaning people place a high
value on individuality and independence. In contrast, many other cultures are collectivist, meaning the welfare of the
group and group relationships are a primary value.

Living up to a culture’s values can be difficult. It’s easy to value good health, but it’s hard to quit smoking. Marital
monogamy is valued, but many spouses engage in infidelity. Cultural diversity and equal opportunities for all people are
valued in the United States, yet the country’s highest political offices have been dominated by white men.

Values often suggest how people should behave, but they don’t accurately reflect how people do behave. Values portray an
ideal culture, the standards society would like to embrace and live up to. But ideal culture differs from real culture, the
way society actually is, based on what occurs and exists. In an ideal culture, there would be no traffic accidents, murders,
poverty, or racial tension. But in real culture, police officers, lawmakers, educators, and social workers constantly strive to
prevent or repair those accidents, crimes, and injustices. American teenagers are encouraged to value celibacy. However,
the number of unplanned pregnancies among teens reveals that not only is the ideal hard to live up to, but the value alone
is not enough to spare teenagers the potential consequences of having sex.

One way societies strive to put values into action is through rewards, sanctions, and punishments. When people observe
the norms of society and uphold its values, they are often rewarded. A boy who helps an elderly woman board a bus may
receive a smile and a “thank you.” A business manager who raises profit margins may receive a quarterly bonus. People
sanction certain behaviors by giving their support, approval, or permission, or by instilling formal actions of disapproval
and nonsupport. Sanctions are a form of social control, a way to encourage conformity to cultural norms. Sometimes
people conform to norms in anticipation or expectation of positive sanctions: good grades, for instance, may mean praise
from parents and teachers. From a criminal justice perspective, properly used social control is also inexpensive crime
control. Utilizing social control approaches pushes most people to conform to societal rules, regardless of whether
authority figures (such as law enforcement) are present.

When people go against a society’s values, they are punished. A boy who shoves an elderly woman aside to board the bus
first may receive frowns or even a scolding from other passengers. A business manager who drives away customers will
likely be fired. Breaking norms and rejecting values can lead to cultural sanctions such as earning a negative label—lazy,
no-good bum—or to legal sanctions, such as traffic tickets, fines, or imprisonment.

Values are not static; they vary across time and between groups as people evaluate, debate, and change collective societal
beliefs. Values also vary from culture to culture. For example, cultures differ in their values about what kinds of physical
closeness are appropriate in public. It’s rare to see two male friends or coworkers holding hands in the United States where
that behavior often symbolizes romantic feelings. But in many nations, masculine physical intimacy is considered natural
in public. This difference in cultural values came to light when people reacted to photos of former president George W.
Bush holding hands with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in 2005. A simple gesture, such as hand-holding, carries great
symbolic differences across cultures.

Figure 3.4 In many parts of Africa and the Middle East, it is considered normal for men to hold hands in friendship. How would Americans react to
these two soldiers? (Photo courtesy of Geordie Mott/Wikimedia Commons)

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Making Connections: Sociological Research

So far, the examples in this chapter have often described how people are expected to behave in certain situations—for
example, when buying food or boarding a bus. These examples describe the visible and invisible rules of conduct through
which societies are structured, or what sociologists call norms. Norms define how to behave in accordance with what a
society has defined as good, right, and important, and most members of the society adhere to them.

Formal norms are established, written rules. They are behaviors worked out and agreed upon in order to suit and serve the
most people. Laws are formal norms, but so are employee manuals, college entrance exam requirements, and “no running”
signs at swimming pools. Formal norms are the most specific and clearly stated of the various types of norms, and they are
the most strictly enforced. But even formal norms are enforced to varying degrees and are reflected in cultural values.

For example, money is highly valued in the United States, so monetary crimes are punished. It’s against the law to rob a
bank, and banks go to great lengths to prevent such crimes. People safeguard valuable possessions and install antitheft
devices to protect homes and cars. A less strictly enforced social norm is driving while intoxicated. While it’s against the
law to drive drunk, drinking is for the most part an acceptable social behavior. And though there are laws to punish drunk
driving, there are few systems in place to prevent the crime. These examples show a range of enforcement in formal

There are plenty of formal norms, but the list of informal norms—casual behaviors that are generally and widely
conformed to—is longer. People learn informal norms by observation, imitation, and general socialization. Some informal
norms are taught directly—“Kiss your Aunt Edna” or “Use your napkin”—while others are learned by observation,
including observations of the consequences when someone else violates a norm. But although informal norms define
personal interactions, they extend into other systems as well. In the United States, there are informal norms regarding
behavior at fast food restaurants. Customers line up to order their food and leave when they are done. They don’t sit down
at a table with strangers, sing loudly as they prepare their condiments, or nap in a booth. Most people don’t commit even
benign breaches of informal norms. Informal norms dictate appropriate behaviors without the need of written rules.

Breaching Experiments
Sociologist Harold Garfinkel (1917–2011) studied people’s customs in order to find out how societal rules and norms
not only influenced behavior but also shaped social order. He believed that members of society together create a
social order (Weber 2011). His resulting book, Studies in Ethnomethodology, published in 1967, discusses people’s
assumptions about the social makeup of their communities.

One of Garfinkel’s research methods was known as a “breaching experiment,” in which the researcher behaves in a
socially awkward manner in order to test the sociological concepts of social norms and conformity. The participants
are not aware an experiment is in progress. If the breach is successful, however, these “innocent bystanders” will
respond in some way. For example, if the experimenter is, say, a man in a business suit, and he skips down the
sidewalk or hops on one foot, the passersby are likely to stare at him with surprised expressions on their faces. But
the experimenter does not simply “act weird” in public. Rather, the point is to deviate from a specific social norm in a
small way, to subtly break some form of social etiquette, and see what happens.

To conduct his ethnomethodology, Garfinkel deliberately imposed strange behaviors on unknowing people. Then he
observed their responses. He suspected that odd behaviors would shatter conventional expectations, but he wasn’t
sure how. For example, he set up a simple game of tic-tac-toe. One player was asked beforehand to mark Xs and Os
not in the boxes but on the lines dividing the spaces instead. The other player, in the dark about the study, was
flabbergasted and did not know how to continue. The second player’s reactions of outrage, anger, puzzlement, or
other emotions illustrated the existence of cultural norms that constitute social life. These cultural norms play an
important role. They let us know how to behave around each other and how to feel comfortable in our community.

There are many rules about speaking with strangers in public. It’s OK to tell a woman you like her shoes. It’s not OK
to ask if you can try them on. It’s OK to stand in line behind someone at the ATM. It’s not OK to look over his
shoulder as he makes his transaction. It’s OK to sit beside someone on a crowded bus. It’s weird to sit beside a
stranger in a half-empty bus.

For some breaches, the researcher directly engages with innocent bystanders. An experimenter might strike up a
conversation in a public bathroom, where it’s common to respect each other’s privacy so fiercely as to ignore other
people’s presence. In a grocery store, an experimenter might take a food item out of another person’s grocery cart,

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saying, “That looks good! I think I’ll try it.” An experimenter might sit down at a table with others in a fast food
restaurant or follow someone around a museum and study the same paintings. In those cases, the bystanders are
pressured to respond, and their discomfort illustrates how much we depend on social norms. Breaching experiments
uncover and explore the many unwritten social rules we live by.

Norms may be further classified as either mores or folkways. Mores (mor-ays) are norms that embody the moral views
and principles of a group. Violating them can have serious consequences. The strongest mores are legally protected with
laws or other formal norms. In the United States, for instance, murder is considered immoral, and it’s punishable by law (a
formal norm). But more often, mores are judged and guarded by public sentiment (an informal norm). People who violate
mores are seen as shameful. They can even be shunned or banned from some groups. The mores of the U.S. school system
require that a student’s writing be in the student’s own words or use special forms (such as quotation marks and a whole
system of citation) for crediting other writers. Writing another person’s words as if they are one’s own has a
name—plagiarism. The consequences for violating this norm are severe and usually result in expulsion.

Unlike mores, folkways are norms without any moral underpinnings. Rather, folkways direct appropriate behavior in the
day-to-day practices and expressions of a culture. They indicate whether to shake hands or kiss on the cheek when greeting
another person. They specify whether to wear a tie and blazer or a T-shirt and sandals to an event. In Canada, women can
smile and say hello to men on the street. In Egypt, that’s not acceptable. In regions in the southern United States, bumping
into an acquaintance means stopping to chat. It’s considered rude not to, no matter how busy one is. In other regions,
people guard their privacy and value time efficiency. A simple nod of the head is enough. Other accepted folkways in the
United States may include holding the door open for a stranger or giving someone a gift on their birthday. The rules
regarding these folkways may change from culture to culture.

Many folkways are actions we take for granted. People need to act without thinking in order to get seamlessly through
daily routines; they can’t stop and analyze every action (Sumner 1906). Those who experience culture shock may find that
it subsides as they learn the new culture’s folkways and are able to move through their daily routines more smoothly.
Folkways might be small manners, learned by observation and imitated, but they are by no means trivial. Like mores and
laws, these norms help people negotiate their daily lives within a given culture.

Symbols and Language
Humans, consciously and subconsciously, are always striving to make sense of their surrounding world. Symbols—such
as gestures, signs, objects, signals, and words—help people understand that world. They provide clues to understanding
experiences by conveying recognizable meanings that are shared by societies.

The world is filled with symbols. Sports uniforms, company logos, and traffic signs are symbols. In some cultures, a gold
ring is a symbol of marriage. Some symbols are highly functional; stop signs, for instance, provide useful instruction. As
physical objects, they belong to material culture, but because they function as symbols, they also convey nonmaterial
cultural meanings. Some symbols are valuable only in what they represent. Trophies, blue ribbons, or gold medals, for
example, serve no other purpose than to represent accomplishments. But many objects have both material and nonmaterial
symbolic value.

A police officer’s badge and uniform are symbols of authority and law enforcement. The sight of an officer in uniform or a
squad car triggers reassurance in some citizens, and annoyance, fear, or anger in others.

It’s easy to take symbols for granted. Few people challenge or even think about stick figure signs on the doors of public
bathrooms. But those figures are more than just symbols that tell men and women which bathrooms to use. They also
uphold the value, in the United States, that public restrooms should be gender exclusive. Even though stalls are relatively
private, most places don’t offer unisex bathrooms.

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(a) (b)

Figure 3.5 Some road signs are universal. But how would you interpret the signage on the right? (Photo (a) courtesy of Andrew Bain/flickr; Photo
(b) courtesy of HonzaSoukup/flickr)

Symbols often get noticed when they are out of context. Used unconventionally, they convey strong messages. A stop sign
on the door of a corporation makes a political statement, as does a camouflage military jacket worn in an antiwar protest.
Together, the semaphore signals for “N” and “D” represent nuclear disarmament—and form the well-known peace sign
(Westcott 2008). Today, some college students have taken to wearing pajamas and bedroom slippers to class, clothing that
was formerly associated only with privacy and bedtime. Though students might deny it, the outfit defies traditional
cultural norms and makes a statement.

Even the destruction of symbols is symbolic. Effigies representing public figures are burned to demonstrate anger at
certain leaders. In 1989, crowds tore down the Berlin Wall, a decades-old symbol of the division between East and West
Germany, communism, and capitalism.

While different cultures have varying systems of symbols, one symbol is common to all: language. Language is a
symbolic system through which people communicate and through which culture is transmitted. Some languages contain a
system of symbols used for written communication, while others rely on only spoken communication and nonverbal

Societies often share a single language, and many languages contain the same basic elements. An alphabet is a written
system made of symbolic shapes that refer to spoken sound. Taken together, these symbols convey specific meanings. The
English alphabet uses a combination of twenty-six letters to create words; these twenty-six letters make up over 600,000
recognized English words (OED Online 2011).

Rules for speaking and writing vary even within cultures, most notably by region. Do you refer to a can of carbonated
liquid as “soda,” pop,” or “Coke”? Is a household entertainment room a “family room,” “rec room,” or “den”? When
leaving a restaurant, do you ask your server for a “check,” the “ticket,” or your “bill”?

Language is constantly evolving as societies create new ideas. In this age of technology, people have adapted almost
instantly to new nouns such as “e-mail” and “Internet,” and verbs such as “downloading,” “texting,” and “blogging.”
Twenty years ago, the general public would have considered these nonsense words.

Even while it constantly evolves, language continues to shape our reality. This insight was established in the 1920s by two
linguists, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf. They believed that reality is culturally determined, and that any
interpretation of reality is based on a society’s language. To prove this point, the sociologists argued that every language
has words or expressions specific to that language. In the United States, for example, the number thirteen is associated
with bad luck. In Japan, however, the number four is considered unlucky, since it is pronounced similarly to the Japanese
word for “death.”

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is based on the idea that people experience their world through their language, and that they
therefore understand their world through the culture embedded in their language. The hypothesis, which has also been
called linguistic relativity, states that language shapes thought (Swoyer 2003). Studies have shown, for instance, that
unless people have access to the word “ambivalent,” they don’t recognize an experience of uncertainty from having
conflicting positive and negative feelings about one issue. Essentially, the hypothesis argues, if a person can’t describe the
experience, the person is not having the experience.

In addition to using language, people communicate without words. Nonverbal communication is symbolic, and, as in the
case of language, much of it is learned through one’s culture. Some gestures are nearly universal: smiles often represent

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Making Connections: Social Policy & Debate

joy, and crying often represents sadness. Other nonverbal symbols vary across cultural contexts in their meaning. A
thumbs-up, for example, indicates positive reinforcement in the United States, whereas in Russia and Australia, it is an
offensive curse (Passero 2002). Other gestures vary in meaning depending on the situation and the person. A wave of the
hand can mean many things, depending on how it’s done and for whom. It may mean “hello,” “goodbye,” “no thank you,”
or “I’m royalty.” Winks convey a variety of messages, including “We have a secret,” “I’m only kidding,” or “I’m attracted
to you.” From a distance, a person can understand the emotional gist of two people in conversation just by watching their
body language and facial expressions. Furrowed brows and folded arms indicate a serious topic, possibly an argument.
Smiles, with heads lifted and arms open, suggest a lighthearted, friendly chat.

Is the United States Bilingual?
In 1991, when she was six years old, Lucy Alvarez attended a school that allowed for the use of both English and
Spanish. Lucy’s teacher was bilingual, the librarian offered bilingual books, and many of the school staff spoke both
Spanish and English. Lucy and many of her classmates who spoke only Spanish at home were lucky. According to
the U.S. Census, 13.8 percent of U.S. residents speak a non-English language at home. That’s a significant figure, but
not enough to ensure that Lucy would be encouraged to use her native language in school (Mount 2010).

Lucy’s parents, who moved to Texas from Mexico, struggled under the pressure to speak English. Lucy might easily
have gotten lost and left behind if she’d felt the same pressure in school. In 2008, researchers from Johns Hopkins
University conducted a series of studies on the effects of bilingual education (Slavin et al. 2008). They found that
students taught in both their native tongue and English make better progress than those taught only in English.

Technically, the United States has no official language. But many believe English to be the rightful language of the
United States, and over thirty states have passed laws specifying English as the official tongue. Proponents of
English-only laws suggest that a national ruling will save money on translation, printing, and human resource costs,
including funding for bilingual teachers. They argue that setting English as the official language will encourage non-
English speakers to learn English faster and adapt to the culture of the United States more easily (Mount 2010).

Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) oppose making English the official language and claim
that it violates the rights of non-English speakers. English-only laws, they believe, deny the reality of our nation’s
diversity and unfairly target Latinos and Asians. They point to the fact that much of the debate on this topic has risen
since 1970, a time when the United States experienced new waves of immigration from Asia and Mexico.

Today, a lot of product information gets written in multiple languages. Enter a store like Home Depot and you’ll find
signs in both English and Spanish. Buy a children’s product, and the safety warnings could be presented in multiple
languages. While marketers are financially motivated to reach the largest number of consumers possible, this trend
also may help people acclimate to a culture of bilingualism.

Studies show that most U.S. immigrants eventually abandon their native tongues and become fluent in English.
Bilingual education helps with that transition. Today, Lucy Alvarez is an ambitious and high-achieving college
student. Fluent in both English and Spanish, Lucy is studying law enforcement—a field that seeks bilingual
employees. The same bilingualism that contributed to her success in grade school will help her thrive professionally
as a law officer serving her community.

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Figure 3.6 Nowadays, many signs—on streets and in stores—include both English and Spanish. What effect does this have on members of
society? What effect does it have on our culture? (Photo courtesy of istolethetv/flickr)

3.3 Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change
It may seem obvious that there are a multitude of cultural differences between societies in the world. After all, we can
easily see that people vary from one society to the next. It’s natural that a young woman from rural Kenya would have a
very different view of the world from an elderly man in Mumbai—one of the most populated cities in the world.
Additionally, each culture has its own internal variations. Sometimes the differences between cultures are not nearly as
large as the differences inside cultures.

High Culture and Popular Culture
Do you prefer listening to opera or hip hop music? Do you like watching horse racing or NASCAR? Do you read books of
poetry or celebrity magazines? In each pair, one type of entertainment is considered high-brow and the other low-brow.
Sociologists use the term high culture to describe the pattern of cultural experiences and attitudes that exist in the highest
class segments of a society. People often associate high culture with intellectualism, political power, and prestige. In
America, high culture also tends to be associated with wealth. Events considered high culture can be expensive and
formal—attending a ballet, seeing a play, or listening to a live symphony performance.

The term popular culture refers to the pattern of cultural experiences and attitudes that exist in mainstream society.
Popular culture events might include a parade, a baseball game, or the season finale of a television show. Rock and pop
music—“pop” is short for “popular”—are part of popular culture. Popular culture is often expressed and spread via
commercial media such as radio, television, movies, the music industry, publishers, and corporate-run websites. Unlike
high culture, popular culture is known and accessible to most people. You can share a discussion of favorite football teams
with a new coworker or comment on American Idol when making small talk in line at the grocery store. But if you tried to
launch into a deep discussion on the classical Greek play Antigone, few members of U.S. society today would be familiar
with it.

Although high culture may be viewed as superior to popular culture, the labels of high culture and popular culture vary
over time and place. Shakespearean plays, considered pop culture when they were written, are now part of our society’s
high culture. Five hundred years from now, will our descendants associate Breaking Bad with the cultural elite?

Subculture and Counterculture
A subculture is just what it sounds like—a smaller cultural group within a larger culture; people of a subculture are part of
the larger culture but also share a specific identity within a smaller group.

Thousands of subcultures exist within the United States. Ethnic and racial groups share the language, food, and customs of
their heritage. Other subcultures are united by shared experiences. Biker culture revolves around a dedication to
motorcycles. Some subcultures are formed by members who possess traits or preferences that differ from the majority of a
society’s population. The body modification community embraces aesthetic additions to the human body, such as tattoos,
piercings, and certain forms of plastic surgery. In the United States, adolescents often form subcultures to develop a shared
youth identity. Alcoholics Anonymous offers support to those suffering from alcoholism. But even as members of a
subculture band together, they still identify with and participate in the larger society.

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Making Connections: Big Picturethe

Sociologists distinguish subcultures from countercultures, which are a type of subculture that rejects some of the larger
culture’s norms and values. In contrast to subcultures, which operate relatively smoothly within the larger society,
countercultures might actively defy larger society by developing their own set of rules and norms to live by, sometimes
even creating communities that operate outside of greater society.

Cults, a word derived from culture, are also considered counterculture group. The group “Yearning for Zion” (YFZ) in
Eldorado, Texas, existed outside the mainstream and the limelight, until its leader was accused of statutory rape and
underage marriage. The sect’s formal norms clashed too severely to be tolerated by U.S. law, and in 2008, authorities
raided the compound and removed more than two hundred women and children from the property.

The Evolution of American Hipster Subculture
Skinny jeans, chunky glasses, and T-shirts with vintage logos—the American hipster is a recognizable figure in the
modern United States. Based predominately in metropolitan areas, sometimes clustered around hotspots such as the
Williamsburg neighborhood in New York City, hipsters define themselves through a rejection of the mainstream. As a
subculture, hipsters spurn many of the values and beliefs of U.S. culture and prefer vintage clothing to fashion and a
bohemian lifestyle to one of wealth and power. While hipster culture may seem to be the new trend among young,
middle-class youth, the history of the group stretches back to the early decades of the 1900s.

Where did the hipster culture begin? In the early 1940s, jazz music was on the rise in the United States. Musicians
were known as “hepcats” and had a smooth, relaxed quality that went against upright, mainstream life. Those who
were “hep” or “hip” lived by the code of jazz, while those who were “square” lived according to society’s rules. The
idea of a “hipster” was born.

The hipster movement spread, and young people, drawn to the music and fashion, took on attitudes and language
derived from the culture of jazz. Unlike the vernacular of the day, hipster slang was purposefully ambiguous. When
hipsters said, “It’s cool, man,” they meant not that everything was good, but that it was the way it was.

Figure 3.7 In the 1940s, U.S. hipsters were associated with the “cool” culture of jazz. (Photo courtesy of William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore
S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress)

By the 1950s, the jazz culture was winding down and many traits of hepcat culture were becoming mainstream. A
new subculture was on the rise. The “Beat Generation,” a title coined by writer Jack Kerouac, were anticonformist
and antimaterialistic. They were writers who listened to jazz and embraced radical politics. They bummed around,
hitchhiked the country, and lived in squalor.

The lifestyle spread. College students, clutching copies of Kerouac’s On the Road, dressed in berets, black
turtlenecks, and black-rimmed glasses. Women wore black leotards and grew their hair long. Herb Caen, a San
Francisco journalist, used the suffix from Sputnik 1, the Russian satellite that orbited Earth in 1957, to dub the
movement’s followers “Beatniks.”

As the Beat Generation faded, a new, related movement began. It too focused on breaking social boundaries, but it
also advocated freedom of expression, philosophy, and love. It took its name from the generations before; in fact,

Chapter 3 | Culture 63

some theorists claim that Beats themselves coined the term to describe their children. Over time, the “little hipsters”
of the 1970s became known simply as “hippies.”

Today’s generation of hipsters rose out of the hippie movement in the same way that hippies rose from Beats and
Beats from hepcats. Although contemporary hipsters may not seem to have much in common with 1940s hipsters, the
emulation of nonconformity is still there. In 2010, sociologist Mark Greif set about investigating the hipster
subculture of the United States and found that much of what tied the group members together was not based on
fashion, musical taste, or even a specific point of contention with the mainstream. “All hipsters play at being the
inventors or first adopters of novelties,” Greif wrote. “Pride comes from knowing, and deciding, what’s cool in
advance of the rest of the world. Yet the habits of hatred and accusation are endemic to hipsters because they feel the
weakness of everyone’s position—including their own” (Greif 2010). Much as the hepcats of the jazz era opposed
common culture with carefully crafted appearances of coolness and relaxation, modern hipsters reject mainstream
values with a purposeful apathy.

Young people are often drawn to oppose mainstream conventions, even if in the same way that others do. Ironic, cool
to the point of noncaring, and intellectual, hipsters continue to embody a subculture, while simultaneously impacting
mainstream culture.

Figure 3.8 Intellectual and trendy, today’s hipsters define themselves through cultural irony. (Photo courtesy of Lorena Cupcake/Wikimedia

Cultural Change
As the hipster example illustrates, culture is always evolving. Moreover, new things are added to material culture every
day, and they affect nonmaterial culture as well. Cultures change when something new (say, railroads or smartphones)
opens up new ways of living and when new ideas enter a culture (say, as a result of travel or globalization).

Innovation: Discovery and Invention

An innovation refers to an object or concept’s initial appearance in society—it’s innovative because it is markedly new.
There are two ways to come across an innovative object or idea: discover it or invent it. Discoveries make known
previously unknown but existing aspects of reality. In 1610, when Galileo looked through his telescope and discovered
Saturn, the planet was already there, but until then, no one had known about it. When Christopher Columbus encountered
America, the land was, of course, already well known to its inhabitants. However, Columbus’s discovery was new
knowledge for Europeans, and it opened the way to changes in European culture, as well as to the cultures of the
discovered lands. For example, new foods such as potatoes and tomatoes transformed the European diet, and horses
brought from Europe changed hunting practices of Native American tribes of the Great Plains.

Inventions result when something new is formed from existing objects or concepts—when things are put together in an
entirely new manner. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, electric appliances were invented at an astonishing pace. Cars,
airplanes, vacuum cleaners, lamps, radios, telephones, and televisions were all new inventions. Inventions may shape a
culture when people use them in place of older ways of carrying out activities and relating to others, or as a way to carry

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out new kinds of activities. Their adoption reflects (and may shape) cultural values, and their use may require new norms
for new situations.

Consider the introduction of modern communication technology, such as mobile phones and smartphones. As more and
more people began carrying these devices, phone conversations no longer were restricted to homes, offices, and phone
booths. People on trains, in restaurants, and in other public places became annoyed by listening to one-sided
conversations. Norms were needed for cell phone use. Some people pushed for the idea that those who are out in the world
should pay attention to their companions and surroundings. However, technology enabled a workaround: texting, which
enables quiet communication and has surpassed phoning as the chief way to meet today’s highly valued ability to stay in
touch anywhere, everywhere.

When the pace of innovation increases, it can lead to generation gaps. Technological gadgets that catch on quickly with
one generation are sometimes dismissed by a skeptical older generation. A culture’s objects and ideas can cause not just
generational but cultural gaps. Material culture tends to diffuse more quickly than nonmaterial culture; technology can
spread through society in a matter of months, but it can take generations for the ideas and beliefs of society to change.
Sociologist William F. Ogburn coined the term culture lag to refer to this time that elapses between the introduction of a
new item of material culture and its acceptance as part of nonmaterial culture (Ogburn 1957).

Culture lag can also cause tangible problems. The infrastructure of the United States, built a hundred years ago or more, is
having trouble supporting today’s more heavily populated and fast-paced life. Yet there is a lag in conceptualizing
solutions to infrastructure problems. Rising fuel prices, increased air pollution, and traffic jams are all symptoms of culture
lag. Although people are becoming aware of the consequences of overusing resources, the means to support changes takes
time to achieve.

Figure 3.9 Sociologist Everett Rogers (1962) developed a model of the diffusion of innovations. As consumers gradually adopt a new innovation,
the item grows toward a market share of 100 percent, or complete saturation within a society. (Graph courtesy of Tungsten/Wikimedia Commons)

Diffusion and Globalization

The integration of world markets and technological advances of the last decades have allowed for greater exchange
between cultures through the processes of globalization and diffusion. Beginning in the 1980s, Western governments
began to deregulate social services while granting greater liberties to private businesses. As a result, world markets
became dominated by multinational companies in the 1980s, a new state of affairs at that time. We have since come to
refer to this integration of international trade and finance markets as globalization. Increased communications and air
travel have further opened doors for international business relations, facilitating the flow not only of goods but also of
information and people as well (Scheuerman 2014 (revised)). Today, many U.S. companies set up offices in other nations
where the costs of resources and labor are cheaper. When a person in the United States calls to get information about
banking, insurance, or computer services, the person taking that call may be working in another country.

Alongside the process of globalization is diffusion, or the spread of material and nonmaterial culture. While globalization
refers to the integration of markets, diffusion relates to a similar process in the integration of international cultures.
Middle-class Americans can fly overseas and return with a new appreciation of Thai noodles or Italian gelato. Access to
television and the Internet has brought the lifestyles and values portrayed in U.S. sitcoms into homes around the globe.
Twitter feeds from public demonstrations in one nation have encouraged political protesters in other countries. When this
kind of diffusion occurs, material objects and ideas from one culture are introduced into another.

Chapter 3 | Culture 65



Figure 3.10 Officially patented in 1893 as the “clasp locker” (left), the zipper did not diffuse through society for many decades. Today, it is
immediately recognizable around the world. (Photo (a) courtesy of U.S. Patent Office/Wikimedia Commons; Photo (b) courtesy of Rabensteiner/
Wikimedia Commons)

3.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Culture
Music, fashion, technology, and values—all are products of culture. But what do they mean? How do sociologists perceive
and interpret culture based on these material and nonmaterial items? Let’s finish our analysis of culture by reviewing them
in the context of three theoretical perspectives: functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism.

Functionalists view society as a system in which all parts work—or function—together to create society as a whole. In this
way, societies need culture to exist. Cultural norms function to support the fluid operation of society, and cultural values
guide people in making choices. Just as members of a society work together to fulfill a society’s needs, culture exists to
meet its members’ basic needs.

Functionalists also study culture in terms of values. Education is an important concept in the United States because it is
valued. The culture of education—including material culture such as classrooms, textbooks, libraries,
dormitories—supports the emphasis placed on the value of educating a society’s members.

Figure 3.11 This statue of Superman stands in the center of Metropolis, Illinois. His pedestal reads “Truth—Justice—The American Way.” How
would a functionalist interpret this statue? What does it reveal about the values of American culture? (Photo courtesy of David Wilson/flickr)

Conflict theorists view social structure as inherently unequal, based on power differentials related to issues like class,
gender, race, and age. For a conflict theorist, culture is seen as reinforcing issues of “privilege” for certain groups based
upon race, sex, class, and so on. Women strive for equality in a male-dominated society. Senior citizens struggle to protect
their rights, their health care, and their independence from a younger generation of lawmakers. Advocacy groups such as
the ACLU work to protect the rights of all races and ethnicities in the United States.

Inequalities exist within a culture’s value system. Therefore, a society’s cultural norms benefit some people but hurt
others. Some norms, formal and informal, are practiced at the expense of others. Women were not allowed to vote in the

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cultural imperialism:

cultural relativism:

United States until 1920. Gay and lesbian couples have been denied the right to marry in some states. Racism and bigotry
are very much alive today. Although cultural diversity is supposedly valued in the United States, many people still frown
upon interracial marriages. Same-sex marriages are banned in most states, and polygamy—common in some cultures—is
unthinkable to most Americans.

At the core of conflict theory is the effect of economic production and materialism: dependence on technology in rich
nations versus a lack of technology and education in poor nations. Conflict theorists believe that a society’s system of
material production has an effect on the rest of culture. People who have less power also have less ability to adapt to
cultural change. This view contrasts with the perspective of functionalism. In the U.S. culture of capitalism, to illustrate,
we continue to strive toward the promise of the American dream, which perpetuates the belief that the wealthy deserve
their privileges.

Symbolic interactionism is a sociological perspective that is most concerned with the face-to-face interactions between
members of society. Interactionists see culture as being created and maintained by the ways people interact and in how
individuals interpret each other’s actions. Proponents of this theory conceptualize human interactions as a continuous
process of deriving meaning from both objects in the environment and the actions of others. This is where the term
symbolic comes into play. Every object and action has a symbolic meaning, and language serves as a means for people to
represent and communicate their interpretations of these meanings to others. Those who believe in symbolic
interactionism perceive culture as highly dynamic and fluid, as it is dependent on how meaning is interpreted and how
individuals interact when conveying these meanings.

We began this chapter by asking what culture is. Culture is comprised of all the practices, beliefs, and behaviors of a
society. Because culture is learned, it includes how people think and express themselves. While we may like to consider
ourselves individuals, we must acknowledge the impact of culture; we inherit thought language that shapes our perceptions
and patterned behavior, including about issues of family and friends, and faith and politics.

To an extent, culture is a social comfort. After all, sharing a similar culture with others is precisely what defines societies.
Nations would not exist if people did not coexist culturally. There could be no societies if people did not share heritage and
language, and civilization would cease to function if people did not agree on similar values and systems of social control.
Culture is preserved through transmission from one generation to the next, but it also evolves through processes of
innovation, discovery, and cultural diffusion. We may be restricted by the confines of our own culture, but as humans we
have the ability to question values and make conscious decisions. No better evidence of this freedom exists than the
amount of cultural diversity within our own society and around the world. The more we study another culture, the better
we become at understanding our own.

Figure 3.12 This child’s clothing may be culturally specific, but her facial expression is universal. (Photo courtesy of Beth Rankin/flickr)

Chapter Review

Key Terms
tenets or convictions that people hold to be true

groups that reject and oppose society’s widely accepted cultural patterns

the deliberate imposition of one’s own cultural values on another culture

the practice of assessing a culture by its own standards, and not in comparison to another culture

Chapter 3 | Culture 67

cultural universals:


culture lag:

culture shock:





formal norms:


high culture:

ideal culture:

informal norms:




material culture:


nonmaterial culture:


popular culture:

real culture:


Sapir-Whorf hypothesis:

social control:






patterns or traits that are globally common to all societies

shared beliefs, values, and practices

the gap of time between the introduction of material culture and nonmaterial culture’s acceptance of it

an experience of personal disorientation when confronted with an unfamiliar way of life

the spread of material and nonmaterial culture from one culture to another

things and ideas found from what already exists

the practice of evaluating another culture according to the standards of one’s own culture

direct, appropriate behavior in the day-to-day practices and expressions of a culture

established, written rules

the integration of international trade and finance markets

the cultural patterns of a society’s elite

the standards a society would like to embrace and live up to

casual behaviors that are generally and widely conformed to

new objects or ideas introduced to culture for the first time

a combination of pieces of existing reality into new forms

a symbolic system of communication

the objects or belongings of a group of people

the moral views and principles of a group

the ideas, attitudes, and beliefs of a society

the visible and invisible rules of conduct through which societies are structured

mainstream, widespread patterns among a society’s population

the way society really is based on what actually occurs and exists

a way to authorize or formally disapprove of certain behaviors

the way that people understand the world based on their form of language

a way to encourage conformity to cultural norms

people who live in a definable community and who share a culture

groups that share a specific identification, apart from a society’s majority, even as the members exist
within a larger society

gestures or objects that have meanings associated with them that are recognized by people who share a

a culture’s standard for discerning what is good and just in society

a belief that another culture is superior to one’s own

Section Summary

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3.1 What Is Culture?
Though “society” and “culture” are often used interchangeably, they have different meanings. A society is a group of
people sharing a community and culture. Culture generally describes the shared behaviors and beliefs of these people, and
includes material and nonmaterial elements.. Our experience of cultural difference is influenced by our ethnocentrism and
xenocentrism. Sociologists try to practice cultural relativism.

3.2 Elements of Culture
A culture consists of many elements, such as the values and beliefs of its society. Culture is also governed by norms,
including laws, mores, and folkways. The symbols and language of a society are key to developing and conveying culture.

3.3 Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change
Sociologists recognize high culture and popular culture within societies. Societies are also comprised of many
subcultures—smaller groups that share an identity. Countercultures reject mainstream values and create their own cultural
rules and norms. Through invention or discovery, cultures evolve via new ideas and new ways of thinking. In many
modern cultures, the cornerstone of innovation is technology, the rapid growth of which can lead to cultural lag.
Technology is also responsible for the spread of both material and nonmaterial culture that contributes to globalization.

3.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Culture
There are three major theoretical approaches toward the interpretation of culture. A functionalist perspective
acknowledges that there are many parts of culture that work together as a system to fulfill society’s needs. Functionalists
view culture as a reflection of society’s values. Conflict theorists see culture as inherently unequal, based upon factors like
gender, class, race, and age. An interactionist is primarily interested in culture as experienced in the daily interactions
between individuals and the symbols that comprise a culture. Various cultural and sociological occurrences can be
explained by these theories; however, there is no one “right” view through which to understand culture.

Section Quiz

3.1 What Is Culture?
1. The terms _________________ and ______________ are often used interchangeably, but have nuances that
differentiate them.

a. imperialism and relativism
b. culture and society
c. society and ethnocentrism
d. ethnocentrism and xenocentrism

2. The American flag is a material object that denotes the United States of America; however, there are certain
connotations that many associate with the flag, like bravery and freedom. In this example, what are bravery and freedom?

a. Symbols
b. Language
c. Material culture
d. Nonmaterial culture

3. The belief that one’s culture is inferior to another culture is called:
a. ethnocentrism
b. nationalism
c. xenocentrism
d. imperialism

4. Rodney and Elise are U.S. students studying abroad in Italy. When they are introduced to their host families, the
families kiss them on both cheeks. When Rodney’s host brother introduces himself and kisses Rodney on both cheeks,
Rodney pulls back in surprise. Where he is from, unless they are romantically involved, men do not kiss one another. This
is an example of:

a. culture shock
b. imperialism
c. ethnocentrism
d. xenocentrism

Chapter 3 | Culture 69

5. Most cultures have been found to identify laughter as a sign of humor, joy, or pleasure. Likewise, most cultures
recognize music in some form. Music and laughter are examples of:

a. relativism
b. ethnocentrism
c. xenocentrism
d. universalism

3.2 Elements of Culture
6. A nation’s flag is:

a. A symbol
b. A value
c. A culture
d. A folkway

7. The existence of social norms, both formal and informal, is one of the main things that inform ___________, otherwise
known as a way to encourage social conformity.

a. values
b. sanctions
c. social control
d. mores

8. The biggest difference between mores and folkways is that
a. mores are primarily linked to morality, whereas folkways are primarily linked to being commonplace within a

b. mores are absolute, whereas folkways are temporary
c. mores refer to material culture, whereas folkways refer to nonmaterial culture
d. mores refer to nonmaterial culture, whereas folkways refer to material culture

9. The notion that people cannot feel or experience something that they do not have a word for can be explained by:
a. linguistics
b. Sapir-Whorf
c. Ethnographic imagery
d. bilingualism

10. Cultural sanctions can also be viewed as ways that society:
a. Establishes leaders
b. Determines language
c. Regulates behavior
d. Determines laws

3.3 Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change
11. An example of high culture is ___________, whereas an example of popular culture would be ____________.

a. Dostoevsky style in film; “American Idol” winners
b. medical marijuana; film noir
c. country music; pop music
d. political theory; sociological theory

12. The Ku Klux Klan is an example of what part of culture?
a. Counterculture
b. Subculture
c. Multiculturalism
d. Afrocentricity

13. Modern-day hipsters are an example of:
a. ethnocentricity
b. counterculture
c. subculture
d. high culture

14. Your eighty-three-year-old grandmother has been using a computer for some time now. As a way to keep in touch, you
frequently send emails of a few lines to let her know about your day. She calls after every email to respond point by point,
but she has never emailed a response back. This can be viewed as an example of:

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a. cultural lag
b. innovation
c. ethnocentricity
d. xenophobia

15. Some jobs today advertise in multinational markets and permit telecommuting in lieu of working from a primary
location. This broadening of the job market and the way that jobs are performed can be attributed to:

a. cultural lag
b. innovation
c. discovery
d. globalization

16. The major difference between invention and discovery is:
a. Invention is based on technology, whereas discovery is usually based on culture
b. Discovery involves finding something that already exists, but invention puts things together in a new way
c. Invention refers to material culture, whereas discovery can be material or theoretic, like laws of physics
d. Invention is typically used to refer to international objects, whereas discovery refers to that which is local to

one’s culture

17. That McDonald’s is found in almost every country around the world is an example of:
a. globalization
b. diffusion
c. culture lag
d. xenocentrism

3.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Culture
18. A sociologist conducts research into the ways that Hispanic American students are historically underprivileged in the
U.S. education system. What theoretical approach is the sociologist using?

a. Symbolic interactionism
b. Functionalism
c. Conflict theory
d. Ethnocentrism

19. The Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 grew to be an international movement. Supporters believe that the
economic disparity between the highest economic class and the mid to lower economic classes is growing at an
exponentially alarming rate. A sociologist who studies that movement by examining the interactions between members at
Occupy camps would most likely use what theoretical approach?

a. Symbolic interactionism
b. Functionalism
c. Conflict theory
d. Ethnocentrism

20. What theoretical perspective views society as having a system of interdependent inherently connected parts?
a. Sociobiology
b. Functionalism
c. Conflict theory
d. Ethnocentrism

21. The “American Dream”—the notion that anybody can be successful and rich if they work hard enough—is most
commonly associated with which sociological theory?

a. Sociobiology
b. Functionalism
c. Conflict theory
d. Ethnocentrism

Short Answer

3.1 What Is Culture?
1. Examine the difference between material and nonmaterial culture in your world. Identify ten objects that are part of
your regular cultural experience. For each, then identify what aspects of nonmaterial culture (values and beliefs) that these
objects represent. What has this exercise revealed to you about your culture?

Chapter 3 | Culture 71

2. Do you feel that feelings of ethnocentricity or xenocentricity are more prevalent in U.S. culture? Why do you believe
this? What issues or events might inform this?

3.2 Elements of Culture
3. What do you think of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? Do you agree or disagree with it? Cite examples or research to
support your point of view.

4. How do you think your culture would exist if there were no such thing as a social “norm”? Do you think chaos would
ensue or relative peace could be kept? Explain.

3.3 Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change
5. Identify several examples of popular culture and describe how they inform larger culture. How prevalent is the effect of
these examples in your everyday life?

6. Consider some of the specific issues or concerns of your generation. Are any ideas countercultural? What subcultures
have emerged from your generation? How have the issues of your generation expressed themselves culturally? How has
your generation made its mark on society’s collective culture?

7. What are some examples of cultural lag that are present in your life? Do you think technology affects culture positively
or negatively? Explain.

3.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Culture
8. Consider a current social trend that you have witnessed, perhaps situated around family, education, transportation, or
finances. For example, many veterans of the Armed Forces, after completing tours of duty in the Middle East, are
returning to college rather than entering jobs as veterans as previous generations did. Choose a sociological
approach—functionalism, conflict theory, or symbolic interactionism—to describe, explain, and analyze the social issue
you choose. Afterward, determine why you chose the approach you did. Does it suit your own way of thinking? Or did it
offer the best method to illuminate the social issue?

Further Research

3.1 What Is Culture?
In January 2011, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of
America presented evidence indicating that the hormone oxytocin could regulate and manage instances of ethnocentrism.
Read the full article here: http://openstaxcollege.org/l/oxytocin (http://openstaxcollege.org/l/oxytocin)

3.2 Elements of Culture
The science-fiction novel, Babel-17, by Samuel R. Delaney was based upon the principles of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.
Read an excerpt from the novel here: http://openstaxcollege.org/l/Babel-17 (http://openstaxcollege.org/l/Babel-17)

3.3 Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change
The Beats were a counterculture that birthed an entire movement of art, music, and literature—much of which is still
highly regarded and studied today. The man responsible for naming the generation was Jack Kerouac; however, the man
responsible for introducing the world to that generation was John Clellon Holmes, a writer often lumped in with the group.
In 1952 he penned an article for the New York Times Magazine titled, “This Is the Beat Generation.” Read that article and
learn more about Clellon Holmes and the Beats: http://openstaxcollege.org/l/The-Beats (http://openstaxcollege.org/l/The-

Popular culture meets counterculture in this as Oprah Winfrey interacts with members of the Yearning for Zion cult. Read
about it here: http://openstaxcollege.org/l/Oprah (http://openstaxcollege.org/l/Oprah)


3.1 What Is Culture?
Barger, Ken. 2008. “Ethnocentrism.” Indiana University, July 1. Retrieved May 2, 2011 (http://www.iupui.edu/~anthkb/
ethnocen.htm (http://www.iupui.edu/~anthkb/ethnocen.htm) ).

Darwin, Charles R. 1871. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. London: John Murray.

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DuBois, Cora. 1951. “Culture Shock.” Presentation to Panel Discussion at the First Midwest Regional Meeting of the
Institute of International Education.” November 28. Also presented to the Women’s Club of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August
3, 1954.

Fritz, Thomas, Sebastian Jentschke, Nathalie Gosselin, et al. 2009. “Universal Recognition of Three Basic Emotions in
Music.” Current Biology 19(7).

Murdock, George P. 1949. Social Structure. New York: Macmillan.

Oberg, Kalervo. 1960. “Cultural Shock: Adjustment to New Cultural Environments.” Practical Anthropology 7:177–182.

Sumner, William G. 1906. Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and
Morals. New York: Ginn and Co.

Swoyer, Chris. 2003. “The Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by E. N.
Zalta, Winter. Retrieved May 5, 2011 (http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2003/entries/davidson/
(http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2003/entries/davidson/) ).

3.2 Elements of Culture
Mount, Steve. 2010. “Constitutional Topic: Official Language.” USConstitution.net, last modified January 24. Retrieved
January 3, 2012 (http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_lang.html (http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_lang.html) ).

OED Online. 2011. Oxford University Press. Retrieved May 5, 2011 (http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/260911
(http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/260911) ).

Passero, Kathy. 2002. “Global Travel Expert Roger Axtell Explains Why.” Biography July:70–73,97–98.

Slavin, R. E., A. Cheung, C. Groff, and C. Lake. 2008. “Effective Reading Programs for Middle and High Schools: A
Best-Evidence Synthesis.” Reading Research Quarterly 43(3):290–322.

Sumner, William G. 1906. Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and
Morals. New York: Ginn and Co.

Swoyer, Chris. 2003. “The Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by E. N.
Zalta, Winter. Retrieved May 5, 2011 (http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2003/entries/relativism/supplement2.html
(http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2003/entries/relativism/supplement2.html) ).

Vaughan, R. M. 2007. “Cairo’s Man Show.” Utne Reader March–April:94–95.

Weber, Bruce. 2001. “Harold Garfinkel, a Common-Sense Sociologist, Dies at 93.” The New York Times, May 3. Retrieved
February 10, 2012 (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/us/04garfinkel.html?_r=2 (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/
us/04garfinkel.html?_r=2) ).

Westcott, Kathryn. 2008. “World’s Best-Known Protest Symbol Turns 50.” BBC News, March 20. Retrieved January 3,
2012 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7292252.stm (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/
7292252.stm) ).

3.3 Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change
Greif, Mark. 2010. “The Hipster in the Mirror.” New York Times, November 12. Retrieved February 10, 2012
(http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/14/books/review/Greif-t.html?pagewanted=1 (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/14/
books/review/Greif-t.html?pagewanted=1) ).

Ogburn, William F. 1957. “Cultural Lag as Theory.” Sociology & Social Research 41(3):167–174.

Rogers, Everett M. 1962. Diffusion of Innovations. Glencoe: Free Press.

Scheuerman, William. 2010. “Globalization.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by E. N. Revised 2014.
Zalta, Summer. Retrieved February 10, 2012 (http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2010/entries/globalization/
(http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2010/entries/globalization/) ).


Chapter 3 | Culture 73

5 Socialization

Figure 5.1 Socialization is the way we learn the norms and beliefs of our society. From our earliest family and play experiences, we are made
aware of societal values and expectations. (Photo courtesy of woodleywonderworks/flickr)

Chapter 5 | Socialization 93

Learning Objectives
5.1. Theories of Self-Development

• Understand the difference between psychological and sociological theories of self-development

• Explain the process of moral development

5.2. Why Socialization Matters
• Understand the importance of socialization both for individuals and society

• Explain the nature versus nurture debate

5.3. Agents of Socialization
• Learn the roles of families and peer groups in socialization

• Understand how we are socialized through formal institutions like schools, workplaces, and the

5.4. Socialization Across the Life Course
• Explain how socialization occurs and recurs throughout life

• Understand how people are socialized into new roles at age-related transition points

• Describe when and how resocialization occurs

Introduction to Socialization
In the summer of 2005, police detective Mark Holste followed an investigator from the Department of Children and
Families to a home in Plant City, Florida. They were there to look into a statement from the neighbor concerning a shabby
house on Old Sydney Road. A small girl was reported peering from one of its broken windows. This seemed odd because
no one in the neighborhood had seen a young child in or around the home, which had been inhabited for the past three
years by a woman, her boyfriend, and two adult sons.

Who was the mystery girl in the window?

Entering the house, Detective Holste and his team were shocked. It was the worst mess they’d ever seen, infested with
cockroaches, smeared with feces and urine from both people and pets, and filled with dilapidated furniture and ragged
window coverings.

Detective Holste headed down a hallway and entered a small room. That’s where he found the little girl, with big, vacant
eyes, staring into the darkness. A newspaper report later described the detective’s first encounter with the child: “She lay
on a torn, moldy mattress on the floor. She was curled on her side . . . her ribs and collarbone jutted out . . . her black hair
was matted, crawling with lice. Insect bites, rashes and sores pocked her skin . . . She was naked—except for a swollen
diaper. … Her name, her mother said, was Danielle. She was almost seven years old” (DeGregory 2008).

Detective Holste immediately carried Danielle out of the home. She was taken to a hospital for medical treatment and
evaluation. Through extensive testing, doctors determined that, although she was severely malnourished, Danielle was
able to see, hear, and vocalize normally. Still, she wouldn’t look anyone in the eyes, didn’t know how to chew or swallow
solid food, didn’t cry, didn’t respond to stimuli that would typically cause pain, and didn’t know how to communicate
either with words or simple gestures such as nodding “yes” or “no.” Likewise, although tests showed she had no chronic
diseases or genetic abnormalities, the only way she could stand was with someone holding onto her hands, and she
“walked sideways on her toes, like a crab” (DeGregory 2008).

What had happened to Danielle? Put simply: beyond the basic requirements for survival, she had been neglected. Based on
their investigation, social workers concluded that she had been left almost entirely alone in rooms like the one where she
was found. Without regular interaction—the holding, hugging, talking, the explanations and demonstrations given to most
young children—she had not learned to walk or to speak, to eat or to interact, to play or even to understand the world
around her. From a sociological point of view, Danielle had not been socialized.

Socialization is the process through which people are taught to be proficient members of a society. It describes the ways
that people come to understand societal norms and expectations, to accept society’s beliefs, and to be aware of societal
values. Socialization is not the same as socializing (interacting with others, like family, friends, and coworkers); to be
precise, it is a sociological process that occurs through socializing. As Danielle’s story illustrates, even the most basic of
human activities are learned. You may be surprised to know that even physical tasks like sitting, standing, and walking had
not automatically developed for Danielle as she grew. And without socialization, Danielle hadn’t learned about the
material culture of her society (the tangible objects a culture uses): for example, she couldn’t hold a spoon, bounce a ball,

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or use a chair for sitting. She also hadn’t learned its nonmaterial culture, such as its beliefs, values, and norms. She had no
understanding of the concept of “family,” didn’t know cultural expectations for using a bathroom for elimination, and had
no sense of modesty. Most importantly, she hadn’t learned to use the symbols that make up language—through which we
learn about who we are, how we fit with other people, and the natural and social worlds in which we live.

Sociologists have long been fascinated by circumstances like Danielle’s—in which a child receives sufficient human
support to survive, but virtually no social interaction—because they highlight how much we depend on social interaction
to provide the information and skills that we need to be part of society or even to develop a “self.”

The necessity for early social contact was demonstrated by the research of Harry and Margaret Harlow. From 1957 to
1963, the Harlows conducted a series of experiments studying how rhesus monkeys, which behave a lot like people, are
affected by isolation as babies. They studied monkeys raised under two types of “substitute” mothering circumstances: a
mesh and wire sculpture, or a soft terrycloth “mother.” The monkeys systematically preferred the company of a soft,
terrycloth substitute mother (closely resembling a rhesus monkey) that was unable to feed them, to a mesh and wire
mother that provided sustenance via a feeding tube. This demonstrated that while food was important, social comfort was
of greater value (Harlow and Harlow 1962; Harlow 1971). Later experiments testing more severe isolation revealed that
such deprivation of social contact led to significant developmental and social challenges later in life.

Figure 5.2 Baby rhesus monkeys, like humans, need to be raised with social contact for healthy development. (Photo courtesy of Paul Asman and
Jill Lenoble/flickr)

In the following sections, we will examine the importance of the complex process of socialization and how it takes place
through interaction with many individuals, groups, and social institutions. We will explore how socialization is not only
critical to children as they develop but how it is also a lifelong process through which we become prepared for new social
environments and expectations in every stage of our lives. But first, we will turn to scholarship about self-development,
the process of coming to recognize a sense of self, a “self” that is then able to be socialized.

5.1 Theories of Self-Development
When we are born, we have a genetic makeup and biological traits. However, who we are as human beings develops
through social interaction. Many scholars, both in the fields of psychology and in sociology, have described the process of
self-development as a precursor to understanding how that “self” becomes socialized.

Psychological Perspectives on Self-Development
Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) was one of the most influential modern scientists to put forth a theory about
how people develop a sense of self. He believed that personality and sexual development were closely linked, and he
divided the maturation process into psychosexual stages: oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital. He posited that people’s
self-development is closely linked to early stages of development, like breastfeeding, toilet training, and sexual awareness
(Freud 1905).

According to Freud, failure to properly engage in or disengage from a specific stage results in emotional and psychological
consequences throughout adulthood. An adult with an oral fixation may indulge in overeating or binge drinking. An anal
fixation may produce a neat freak (hence the term “anal retentive”), while a person stuck in the phallic stage may be
promiscuous or emotionally immature. Although no solid empirical evidence supports Freud’s theory, his ideas continue to
contribute to the work of scholars in a variety of disciplines.

Chapter 5 | Socialization 95

Making Connections: Sociological Research

Sociology or Psychology: What’s the Difference?
You might be wondering: if sociologists and psychologists are both interested in people and their behavior, how are
these two disciplines different? What do they agree on, and where do their ideas diverge? The answers are
complicated, but the distinction is important to scholars in both fields.

As a general difference, we might say that while both disciplines are interested in human behavior, psychologists are
focused on how the mind influences that behavior, while sociologists study the role of society in shaping behavior.
Psychologists are interested in people’s mental development and how their minds process their world. Sociologists
are more likely to focus on how different aspects of society contribute to an individual’s relationship with his world.
Another way to think of the difference is that psychologists tend to look inward (mental health, emotional processes),
while sociologists tend to look outward (social institutions, cultural norms, interactions with others) to understand
human behavior.

Émile Durkheim (1958–1917) was the first to make this distinction in research, when he attributed differences in
suicide rates among people to social causes (religious differences) rather than to psychological causes (like their
mental wellbeing) (Durkheim 1897). Today, we see this same distinction. For example, a sociologist studying how a
couple gets to the point of their first kiss on a date might focus her research on cultural norms for dating, social
patterns of sexual activity over time, or how this process is different for seniors than for teens. A psychologist would
more likely be interested in the person’s earliest sexual awareness or the mental processing of sexual desire.

Sometimes sociologists and psychologists have collaborated to increase knowledge. In recent decades, however, their
fields have become more clearly separated as sociologists increasingly focus on large societal issues and patterns,
while psychologists remain honed in on the human mind. Both disciplines make valuable contributions through
different approaches that provide us with different types of useful insights.

Psychologist Erik Erikson (1902–1994) created a theory of personality development based, in part, on the work of Freud.
However, Erikson believed the personality continued to change over time and was never truly finished. His theory includes
eight stages of development, beginning with birth and ending with death. According to Erikson, people move through
these stages throughout their lives. In contrast to Freud’s focus on psychosexual stages and basic human urges, Erikson’s
view of self-development gave credit to more social aspects, like the way we negotiate between our own base desires and
what is socially accepted (Erikson 1982).

Jean Piaget (1896–1980) was a psychologist who specialized in child development who focused specifically on the role of
social interactions in their development. He recognized that the development of self evolved through a negotiation
between the world as it exists in one’s mind and the world that exists as it is experienced socially (Piaget 1954). All three
of these thinkers have contributed to our modern understanding of self-development.

Sociological Theories of Self-Development
One of the pioneering contributors to sociological perspectives was Charles Cooley (1864–1929). He asserted that
people’s self understanding is constructed, in part, by their perception of how others view them—a process termed “the
looking glass self” (Cooley 1902).

Later, George Herbert Mead (1863–1931) studied the self, a person’s distinct identity that is developed through social
interaction. In order to engage in this process of “self,” an individual has to be able to view him or herself through the eyes
of others. That’s not an ability that we are born with (Mead 1934). Through socialization we learn to put ourselves in
someone else’s shoes and look at the world through their perspective. This assists us in becoming self-aware, as we look at
ourselves from the perspective of the “other.” The case of Danielle, for example, illustrates what happens when social
interaction is absent from early experience: Danielle had no ability to see herself as others would see her. From Mead’s
point of view, she had no “self.”

How do we go from being newborns to being humans with “selves?” Mead believed that there is a specific path of
development that all people go through. During the preparatory stage, children are only capable of imitation: they have no
ability to imagine how others see things. They copy the actions of people with whom they regularly interact, such as their
mothers and fathers. This is followed by the play stage, during which children begin to take on the role that one other
person might have. Thus, children might try on a parent’s point of view by acting out “grownup” behavior, like playing
“dress up” and acting out the “mom” role, or talking on a toy telephone the way they see their father do.

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Making Connections: Sociology in the Real World

During the game stage, children learn to consider several roles at the same time and how those roles interact with each
other. They learn to understand interactions involving different people with a variety of purposes. For example, a child at
this stage is likely to be aware of the different responsibilities of people in a restaurant who together make for a smooth
dining experience (someone seats you, another takes your order, someone else cooks the food, while yet another clears
away dirty dishes).

Finally, children develop, understand, and learn the idea of the generalized other, the common behavioral expectations of
general society. By this stage of development, an individual is able to imagine how he or she is viewed by one or many
others—and thus, from a sociological perspective, to have a “self” (Mead 1934; Mead 1964).

Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development

Moral development is an important part of the socialization process. The term refers to the way people learn what society
considered to be “good” and “bad,” which is important for a smoothly functioning society. Moral development prevents
people from acting on unchecked urges, instead considering what is right for society and good for others. Lawrence
Kohlberg (1927–1987) was interested in how people learn to decide what is right and what is wrong. To understand this
topic, he developed a theory of moral development that includes three levels: preconventional, conventional, and

In the preconventional stage, young children, who lack a higher level of cognitive ability, experience the world around
them only through their senses. It isn’t until the teen years that the conventional theory develops, when youngsters become
increasingly aware of others’ feelings and take those into consideration when determining what’s “good” and “bad.” The
final stage, called postconventional, is when people begin to think of morality in abstract terms, such as Americans
believing that everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. At this stage, people also recognize that
legality and morality do not always match up evenly (Kohlberg 1981). When hundreds of thousands of Egyptians turned
out in 2011 to protest government corruption, they were using postconventional morality. They understood that although
their government was legal, it was not morally correct.

Gilligan’s Theory of Moral Development and Gender

Another sociologist, Carol Gilligan (1936–), recognized that Kohlberg’s theory might show gender bias since his research
was only conducted on male subjects. Would females study subjects have responded differently? Would a female social
scientist notice different patterns when analyzing the research? To answer the first question, she set out to study
differences between how boys and girls developed morality. Gilligan’s research demonstrated that boys and girls do, in
fact, have different understandings of morality. Boys tend to have a justice perspective, by placing emphasis on rules and
laws. Girls, on the other hand, have a care and responsibility perspective; they consider people’s reasons behind behavior
that seems morally wrong.

Gilligan also recognized that Kohlberg’s theory rested on the assumption that the justice perspective was the right, or
better, perspective. Gilligan, in contrast, theorized that neither perspective was “better”: the two norms of justice served
different purposes. Ultimately, she explained that boys are socialized for a work environment where rules make operations
run smoothly, while girls are socialized for a home environment where flexibility allows for harmony in caretaking and
nurturing (Gilligan 1982; Gilligan 1990).

What a Pretty Little Lady!
“What a cute dress!” “I like the ribbons in your hair.” “Wow, you look so pretty today.”

According to Lisa Bloom, author of Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed Down World, most of
us use pleasantries like these when we first meet little girls. “So what?” you might ask.

Bloom asserts that we are too focused on the appearance of young girls, and as a result, our society is socializing
them to believe that how they look is of vital importance. And Bloom may be on to something. How often do you tell
a little boy how attractive his outfit is, how nice looking his shoes are, or how handsome he looks today? To support
her assertions, Bloom cites, as one example, that about 50 percent of girls ages three to six worry about being fat
(Bloom 2011). We’re talking about kindergarteners who are concerned about their body image. Sociologists are
acutely interested in of this type of gender socialization, by which societal expectations of how boys and girls should
be—how they should behave, what toys and colors they should like, and how important their attire is—are reinforced.

Chapter 5 | Socialization 97

One solution to this type of gender socialization is being experimented with at the Egalia preschool in Sweden, where
children develop in a genderless environment. All the children at Egalia are referred to with neutral terms like
“friend” instead of “he” or “she.” Play areas and toys are consciously set up to eliminate any reinforcement of gender
expectations (Haney 2011). Egalia strives to eliminate all societal gender norms from these children’s preschool

Extreme? Perhaps. So what is the middle ground? Bloom suggests that we start with simple steps: when introduced to
a young girl, ask about her favorite book or what she likes. In short, engage with her mind … not her outward
appearance (Bloom 2011).

5.2 Why Socialization Matters
Socialization is critical both to individuals and to the societies in which they live. It illustrates how completely intertwined
human beings and their social worlds are. First, it is through teaching culture to new members that a society perpetuates
itself. If new generations of a society don’t learn its way of life, it ceases to exist. Whatever is distinctive about a culture
must be transmitted to those who join it in order for a society to survive. For U.S. culture to continue, for example,
children in the United States must learn about cultural values related to democracy: they have to learn the norms of voting,
as well as how to use material objects such as voting machines. Of course, some would argue that it’s just as important in
U.S. culture for the younger generation to learn the etiquette of eating in a restaurant or the rituals of tailgate parties at
football games. In fact, there are many ideas and objects that people in the United States teach children about in hopes of
keeping the society’s way of life going through another generation.

Figure 5.3 Socialization teaches us our society’s expectations for dining out. The manners and customs of different cultures (When can you use
your hands to eat? How should you compliment the cook? Who is the “head” of the table?) are learned through socialization. (Photo courtesy of Niyam

Socialization is just as essential to us as individuals. Social interaction provides the means via which we gradually become
able to see ourselves through the eyes of others, and how we learn who we are and how we fit into the world around us. In
addition, to function successfully in society, we have to learn the basics of both material and nonmaterial culture,
everything from how to dress ourselves to what’s suitable attire for a specific occasion; from when we sleep to what we
sleep on; and from what’s considered appropriate to eat for dinner to how to use the stove to prepare it. Most importantly,
we have to learn language—whether it’s the dominant language or one common in a subculture, whether it’s verbal or
through signs—in order to communicate and to think. As we saw with Danielle, without socialization we literally have no

Nature versus Nurture
Some experts assert that who we are is a result of nurture—the relationships and caring that surround us. Others argue
that who we are is based entirely in genetics. According to this belief, our temperaments, interests, and talents are set
before birth. From this perspective, then, who we are depends on nature.

One way researchers attempt to measure the impact of nature is by studying twins. Some studies have followed identical
twins who were raised separately. The pairs shared the same genetics but in some cases were socialized in different ways.
Instances of this type of situation are rare, but studying the degree to which identical twins raised apart are the same and
different can give researchers insight into the way our temperaments, preferences, and abilities are shaped by our genetic
makeup versus our social environment.

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For example, in 1968, twin girls born to a mentally ill mother were put up for adoption, separated from each other, and
raised in different households. The adoptive parents, and certainly the babies, did not realize the girls were one of five
pairs of twins who were made subjects of a scientific study (Flam 2007).

In 2003, the two women, then age thirty-five, were reunited. Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein sat together in awe, feeling
like they were looking into a mirror. Not only did they look alike but they also behaved alike, using the same hand
gestures and facial expressions (Spratling 2007). Studies like these point to the genetic roots of our temperament and

Though genetics and hormones play an important role in human behavior, sociology’s larger concern is the effect society
has on human behavior, the “nurture” side of the nature versus nurture debate. What race were the twins? From what
social class were their parents? What about gender? Religion? All these factors affected the lives of the twins as much as
their genetic makeup and are critical to consider as we look at life through the sociological lens.

The Life of Chris Langan, the Smartest Man You’ve
Never Heard Of
Bouncer. Firefighter. Factory worker. Cowboy. Chris Langan spent the majority of his adult life just getting by with
jobs like these. He had no college degree, few resources, and a past filled with much disappointment. Chris Langan
also had an IQ of over 195, nearly 100 points higher than the average person (Brabham 2001). So why didn’t Chris
become a neurosurgeon, professor, or aeronautical engineer? According to Macolm Gladwell (2008) in his book
Outliers: The Story of Success, Chris didn’t possess the set of social skills necessary to succeed on such a high
level—skills that aren’t innate but learned.

Gladwell looked to a recent study conducted by sociologist Annette Lareau in which she closely shadowed 12
families from various economic backgrounds and examined their parenting techniques. Parents from lower income
families followed a strategy of “accomplishment of natural growth,” which is to say they let their children develop on
their own with a large amount of independence; parents from higher-income families, however, “actively fostered and
accessed a child’s talents, opinions, and skills” (Gladwell 2008). These parents were more likely to engage in
analytical conversation, encourage active questioning of the establishment, and foster development of negotiation
skills. The parents were also able to introduce their children to a wide range of activities, from sports to music to
accelerated academic programs. When one middle-class child was denied entry to a gifted and talented program, the
mother petitioned the school and arranged additional testing until her daughter was admitted. Lower-income parents,
however, were more likely to unquestioningly obey authorities such as school boards. Their children were not being
socialized to comfortably confront the system and speak up (Gladwell 2008).

What does this have to do with Chris Langan, deemed by some the smartest man in the world (Brabham 2001)? Chris
was born in severe poverty, moving across the country with an abusive and alcoholic stepfather. His genius went
largely unnoticed. After accepting a full scholarship to Reed College, he lost his funding after his mother failed to fill
out necessary paperwork. Unable to successfully make his case to the administration, Chris, who had received
straight A’s the previous semester, was given F’s on his transcript and forced to drop out. After he enrolled in
Montana State, an administrator’s refusal to rearrange his class schedule left him unable to find the means necessary
to travel the 16 miles to attend classes. What Chris had in brilliance, he lacked in practical intelligence, or what
psychologist Robert Sternberg defines as “knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how
to say it for maximum effect” (Sternberg et al. 2000). Such knowledge was never part of his socialization.

Chris gave up on school and began working an array of blue-collar jobs, pursuing his intellectual interests on the side.
Though he’s recently garnered attention for his “Cognitive Theoretic Model of the Universe,” he remains weary of
and resistant to the educational system.

As Gladwell concluded, “He’d had to make his way alone, and no one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not
software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone” (2008).

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Figure 5.4 Identical twins may look alike, but their differences can give us clues to the effects of socialization. (Photo courtesy of D. Flam/flickr)

Sociologists all recognize the importance of socialization for healthy individual and societal development. But how do
scholars working in the three major theoretical paradigms approach this topic? Structural functionalists would say that
socialization is essential to society, both because it trains members to operate successfully within it and because it
perpetuates culture by transmitting it to new generations. Without socialization, a society’s culture would perish as
members died off. A conflict theorist might argue that socialization reproduces inequality from generation to generation by
conveying different expectations and norms to those with different social characteristics. For example, individuals are
socialized differently by gender, social class, and race. As in Chris Langan’s case, this creates different (unequal)
opportunities. An interactionist studying socialization is concerned with face-to-face exchanges and symbolic
communication. For example, dressing baby boys in blue and baby girls in pink is one small way we convey messages
about differences in gender roles.

5.3 Agents of Socialization
Socialization helps people learn to function successfully in their social worlds. How does the process of socialization
occur? How do we learn to use the objects of our society’s material culture? How do we come to adopt the beliefs, values,
and norms that represent its nonmaterial culture? This learning takes place through interaction with various agents of
socialization, like peer groups and families, plus both formal and informal social institutions.

Social Group Agents
Social groups often provide the first experiences of socialization. Families, and later peer groups, communicate
expectations and reinforce norms. People first learn to use the tangible objects of material culture in these settings, as well
as being introduced to the beliefs and values of society.


Family is the first agent of socialization. Mothers and fathers, siblings and grandparents, plus members of an extended
family, all teach a child what he or she needs to know. For example, they show the child how to use objects (such as
clothes, computers, eating utensils, books, bikes); how to relate to others (some as “family,” others as “friends,” still others
as “strangers” or “teachers” or “neighbors”); and how the world works (what is “real” and what is “imagined”). As you are
aware, either from your own experience as a child or from your role in helping to raise one, socialization includes teaching
and learning about an unending array of objects and ideas.

Keep in mind, however, that families do not socialize children in a vacuum. Many social factors affect the way a family
raises its children. For example, we can use sociological imagination to recognize that individual behaviors are affected by
the historical period in which they take place. Sixty years ago, it would not have been considered especially strict for a

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father to hit his son with a wooden spoon or a belt if he misbehaved, but today that same action might be considered child

Sociologists recognize that race, social class, religion, and other societal factors play an important role in socialization. For
example, poor families usually emphasize obedience and conformity when raising their children, while wealthy families
emphasize judgment and creativity (National Opinion Research Center 2008). This may occur because working-class
parents have less education and more repetitive-task jobs for which it is helpful to be able to follow rules and conform.
Wealthy parents tend to have better educations and often work in managerial positions or careers that require creative
problem solving, so they teach their children behaviors that are beneficial in these positions. This means children are
effectively socialized and raised to take the types of jobs their parents already have, thus reproducing the class system
(Kohn 1977). Likewise, children are socialized to abide by gender norms, perceptions of race, and class-related behaviors.

In Sweden, for instance, stay-at-home fathers are an accepted part of the social landscape. A government policy provides
subsidized time off work—480 days for families with newborns—with the option of the paid leave being shared between
mothers and fathers. As one stay-at-home dad says, being home to take care of his baby son “is a real fatherly thing to do.
I think that’s very masculine” (Associated Press 2011). Close to 90 percent of Swedish fathers use their paternity leave
(about 340,000 dads); on average they take seven weeks per birth (The Economist, 2014). How do U.S. policies—and our
society’s expected gender roles—compare? How will Swedish children raised this way be socialized to parental gender
norms? How might that be different from parental gender norms in the United States?

Figure 5.5 The socialized roles of dads (and moms) vary by society. (Photo courtesy of Nate Grigg/flickr)

Peer Groups

A peer group is made up of people who are similar in age and social status and who share interests. Peer group
socialization begins in the earliest years, such as when kids on a playground teach younger children the norms about
taking turns, the rules of a game, or how to shoot a basket. As children grow into teenagers, this process continues. Peer
groups are important to adolescents in a new way, as they begin to develop an identity separate from their parents and
exert independence. Additionally, peer groups provide their own opportunities for socialization since kids usually engage
in different types of activities with their peers than they do with their families. Peer groups provide adolescents’ first major
socialization experience outside the realm of their families. Interestingly, studies have shown that although friendships
rank high in adolescents’ priorities, this is balanced by parental influence.

Institutional Agents
The social institutions of our culture also inform our socialization. Formal institutions—like schools, workplaces, and the
government—teach people how to behave in and navigate these systems. Other institutions, like the media, contribute to
socialization by inundating us with messages about norms and expectations.


Most U.S. children spend about seven hours a day, 180 days a year, in school, which makes it hard to deny the importance
school has on their socialization (U.S. Department of Education 2004). Students are not in school only to study math,
reading, science, and other subjects—the manifest function of this system. Schools also serve a latent function in society
by socializing children into behaviors like practicing teamwork, following a schedule, and using textbooks.

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Figure 5.6 These kindergarteners aren’t just learning to read and write; they are being socialized to norms like keeping their hands to themselves,
standing in line, and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. (Photo courtesy of Bonner Springs Library/flickr)

School and classroom rituals, led by teachers serving as role models and leaders, regularly reinforce what society expects
from children. Sociologists describe this aspect of schools as the hidden curriculum, the informal teaching done by

For example, in the United States, schools have built a sense of competition into the way grades are awarded and the way
teachers evaluate students (Bowles and Gintis 1976). When children participate in a relay race or a math contest, they
learn there are winners and losers in society. When children are required to work together on a project, they practice
teamwork with other people in cooperative situations. The hidden curriculum prepares children for the adult world.
Children learn how to deal with bureaucracy, rules, expectations, waiting their turn, and sitting still for hours during the
day. Schools in different cultures socialize children differently in order to prepare them to function well in those cultures.
The latent functions of teamwork and dealing with bureaucracy are features of U.S. culture.

Schools also socialize children by teaching them about citizenship and national pride. In the United States, children are
taught to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Most districts require classes about U.S. history and geography. As academic
understanding of history evolves, textbooks in the United States have been scrutinized and revised to update attitudes
toward other cultures as well as perspectives on historical events; thus, children are socialized to a different national or
world history than earlier textbooks may have done. For example, information about the mistreatment of African
Americans and Native American Indians more accurately reflects those events than in textbooks of the past.

Controversial Textbooks
On August 13, 2001, twenty South Korean men gathered in Seoul. Each chopped off one of his own fingers because
of textbooks. These men took drastic measures to protest eight middle school textbooks approved by Tokyo for use in
Japanese middle schools. According to the Korean government (and other East Asian nations), the textbooks glossed
over negative events in Japan’s history at the expense of other Asian countries.

In the early 1900s, Japan was one of Asia’s more aggressive nations. For instance, it held Korea as a colony between
1910 and 1945. Today, Koreans argue that the Japanese are whitewashing that colonial history through these
textbooks. One major criticism is that they do not mention that, during World War II, the Japanese forced Korean
women into sexual slavery. The textbooks describe the women as having been “drafted” to work, a euphemism that
downplays the brutality of what actually occurred. Some Japanese textbooks dismiss an important Korean
independence demonstration in 1919 as a “riot.” In reality, Japanese soldiers attacked peaceful demonstrators, leaving
roughly 6,000 dead and 15,000 wounded (Crampton 2002).

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Although it may seem extreme that people are so enraged about how events are described in a textbook that they
would resort to dismemberment, the protest affirms that textbooks are a significant tool of socialization in state-run
education systems.

The Workplace

Just as children spend much of their day at school, many U.S. adults at some point invest a significant amount of time at a
place of employment. Although socialized into their culture since birth, workers require new socialization into a
workplace, in terms of both material culture (such as how to operate the copy machine) and nonmaterial culture (such as
whether it’s okay to speak directly to the boss or how to share the refrigerator).

Different jobs require different types of socialization. In the past, many people worked a single job until retirement. Today,
the trend is to switch jobs at least once a decade. Between the ages of eighteen and forty-six, the average baby boomer of
the younger set held 11.3 different jobs (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). This means that people must become
socialized to, and socialized by, a variety of work environments.


While some religions are informal institutions, here we focus on practices followed by formal institutions. Religion is an
important avenue of socialization for many people. The United States is full of synagogues, temples, churches, mosques,
and similar religious communities where people gather to worship and learn. Like other institutions, these places teach
participants how to interact with the religion’s material culture (like a mezuzah, a prayer rug, or a communion wafer). For
some people, important ceremonies related to family structure—like marriage and birth—are connected to religious
celebrations. Many religious institutions also uphold gender norms and contribute to their enforcement through
socialization. From ceremonial rites of passage that reinforce the family unit to power dynamics that reinforce gender
roles, organized religion fosters a shared set of socialized values that are passed on through society.


Although we do not think about it, many of the rites of passage people go through today are based on age norms
established by the government. To be defined as an “adult” usually means being eighteen years old, the age at which a
person becomes legally responsible for him- or herself. And sixty-five years old is the start of “old age” since most people
become eligible for senior benefits at that point.

Each time we embark on one of these new categories—senior, adult, taxpayer—we must be socialized into our new role.
Seniors must learn the ropes of Medicare, Social Security benefits, and senior shopping discounts. When U.S. males turn
eighteen, they must register with the Selective Service System within thirty days to be entered into a database for possible
military service. These government dictates mark the points at which we require socialization into a new category.

Mass Media

Mass media distribute impersonal information to a wide audience, via television, newspapers, radio, and the Internet.
With the average person spending over four hours a day in front of the television (and children averaging even more
screen time), media greatly influences social norms (Roberts, Foehr, and Rideout 2005). People learn about objects of
material culture (like new technology and transportation options), as well as nonmaterial culture—what is true (beliefs),
what is important (values), and what is expected (norms).

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Girls and Movies

Figure 5.7 Some people are concerned about the way girls today are socialized into a “princess culture.” (Photo courtesy of Jørgen Håland/

Pixar is one of the largest producers of children’s movies in the world and has released large box office draws, such
as Toy Story, Cars, The Incredibles, and Up. What Pixar has never before produced is a movie with a female lead
role. This changed with Pixar’s newest movie Brave, which was released in 2012. Before Brave, women in Pixar
served as supporting characters and love interests. In Up, for example, the only human female character dies within
the first ten minutes of the film. For the millions of girls watching Pixar films, there are few strong characters or roles
for them to relate to. If they do not see possible versions of themselves, they may come to view women as secondary
to the lives of men.

The animated films of Pixar’s parent company, Disney, have many female lead roles. Disney is well known for films
with female leads, such as Snow White, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and Mulan. Many of Disney’s movies star a
female, and she is nearly always a princess figure. If she is not a princess to begin with, she typically ends the movie
by marrying a prince or, in the case of Mulan, a military general. Although not all “princesses” in Disney movies play
a passive role in their lives, they typically find themselves needing to be rescued by a man, and the happy ending they
all search for includes marriage.

Alongside this prevalence of princesses, many parents are expressing concern about the culture of princesses that
Disney has created. Peggy Orenstein addresses this problem in her popular book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter.
Orenstein wonders why every little girl is expected to be a “princess” and why pink has become an all-consuming
obsession for many young girls. Another mother wondered what she did wrong when her three-year-old daughter
refused to do “nonprincessy” things, including running and jumping. The effects of this princess culture can have
negative consequences for girls throughout life. An early emphasis on beauty and sexiness can lead to eating
disorders, low self-esteem, and risky sexual behavior among older girls.

What should we expect from Pixar’s new movie, the first starring a female character? Although Brave features a
female lead, she is still a princess. Will this film offer any new type of role model for young girls? (O’Connor 2011;
Barnes 2010; Rose 2011).

5.4 Socialization Across the Life Course
Socialization isn’t a one-time or even a short-term event. We aren’t “stamped” by some socialization machine as we move
along a conveyor belt and thereby socialized once and for all. In fact, socialization is a lifelong process.

In the United States, socialization throughout the life course is determined greatly by age norms and “time-related rules
and regulations” (Setterson 2002). As we grow older, we encounter age-related transition points that require socialization
into a new role, such as becoming school age, entering the workforce, or retiring. For example, the U.S. government
mandates that all children attend school. Child labor laws, enacted in the early twentieth century, nationally declared that

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childhood be a time of learning, not of labor. In countries such as Niger and Sierra Leone, however, child labor remains
common and socially acceptable, with little legislation to regulate such practices (UNICEF 2012).

Gap Year: How Different Societies Socialize Young

Figure 5.8 Age transition points require socialization into new roles that can vary widely between societies. Young adults in America are
encouraged to enter college or the workforce right away, students in England and India can take a year off like British Princes William and Harry
did, while young men in Singapore and Switzerland must serve time in the military. (Photo courtesy of Charles McCain/flickr)

Have you ever heard of gap year? It’s a common custom in British society. When teens finish their secondary
schooling (aka high school in the United States), they often take a year “off” before entering college. Frequently, they
might take a job, travel, or find other ways to experience another culture. Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge,
spent his gap year practicing survival skills in Belize, teaching English in Chile, and working on a dairy farm in the
United Kingdom (Prince of Wales 2012a). His brother, Prince Harry, advocated for AIDS orphans in Africa and
worked as a jackeroo (a novice ranch hand) in Australia (Prince of Wales 2012b).

In the United States, this life transition point is socialized quite differently, and taking a year off is generally frowned
upon. Instead, U.S. youth are encouraged to pick career paths by their mid-teens, to select a college and a major by
their late teens, and to have completed all collegiate schooling or technical training for their career by their early

In yet other nations, this phase of the life course is tied into conscription, a term that describes compulsory military
service. Egypt, Switzerland, Turkey, and Singapore all have this system in place. Youth in these nations (often only
the males) are expected to undergo a number of months or years of military training and service.

How might your life be different if you lived in one of these other countries? Can you think of similar social
norms—related to life age-transition points—that vary from country to country?

Many of life’s social expectations are made clear and enforced on a cultural level. Through interacting with others and
watching others interact, the expectation to fulfill roles becomes clear. While in elementary or middle school, the prospect
of having a boyfriend or girlfriend may have been considered undesirable. The socialization that takes place in high school
changes the expectation. By observing the excitement and importance attached to dating and relationships within the high
school social scene, it quickly becomes apparent that one is now expected not only to be a child and a student, but also a
significant other. Graduation from formal education—high school, vocational school, or college—involves socialization
into a new set of expectations.

Educational expectations vary not only from culture to culture, but also from class to class. While middle- or upper-class
families may expect their daughter or son to attend a four-year university after graduating from high school, other families
may expect their child to immediately begin working full-time, as many within their family have done before.

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The Long Road to Adulthood for Millennials
2008 was a year of financial upheaval in the United States. Rampant foreclosures and bank failures set off a chain of
events sparking government distrust, loan defaults, and large-scale unemployment. How has this affected the United
States’s young adults?

Millennials, sometimes also called Gen Y, is a term that describes the generation born during the early eighties to
early nineties. While the recession was in full swing, many were in the process of entering, attending, or graduating
from high school and college. With employment prospects at historical lows, large numbers of graduates were unable
to find work, sometimes moving back in with their parents and struggling to pay back student loans.

According to the New York Times, this economic stall is causing the Millennials to postpone what most Americans
consider to be adulthood: “The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain untethered to
romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding
commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America
jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life” (Henig 2010). The term Boomerang Generation describes recent college
graduates, for whom lack of adequate employment upon college graduation often leads to a return to the parental
home (Davidson, 2014).

The five milestones that define adulthood, Henig writes, are “completing school, leaving home, becoming financially
independent, marrying, and having a child” (Henig 2010). These social milestones are taking longer for Millennials to
attain, if they’re attained at all. Sociologists wonder what long-term impact this generation’s situation may have on
society as a whole.

In the process of socialization, adulthood brings a new set of challenges and expectations, as well as new roles to fill. As
the aging process moves forward, social roles continue to evolve. Pleasures of youth, such as wild nights out and serial
dating, become less acceptable in the eyes of society. Responsibility and commitment are emphasized as pillars of
adulthood, and men and women are expected to “settle down.” During this period, many people enter into marriage or a
civil union, bring children into their families, and focus on a career path. They become partners or parents instead of
students or significant others.

Just as young children pretend to be doctors or lawyers, play house, and dress up, adults also engage in anticipatory
socialization, the preparation for future life roles. Examples would include a couple who cohabitate before marriage or
soon-to-be parents who read infant care books and prepare their home for the new arrival. As part of anticipatory
socialization, adults who are financially able begin planning for their retirement, saving money, and looking into future
healthcare options. The transition into any new life role, despite the social structure that supports it, can be difficult.

In the process of resocialization, old behaviors that were helpful in a previous role are removed because they are no
longer of use. Resocialization is necessary when a person moves to a senior care center, goes to boarding school, or serves
time in jail. In the new environment, the old rules no longer apply. The process of resocialization is typically more
stressful than normal socialization because people have to unlearn behaviors that have become customary to them.

The most common way resocialization occurs is in a total institution where people are isolated from society and are forced
to follow someone else’s rules. A ship at sea is a total institution, as are religious convents, prisons, or some cult
organizations. They are places cut off from a larger society. The 6.9 million Americans who lived in prisons and
penitentiaries at the end of 2012 are also members of this type of institution (U.S. Department of Justice 2012). As another
example, every branch of the military is a total institution.

Many individuals are resocialized into an institution through a two-part process. First, members entering an institution
must leave behind their old identity through what is known as a degradation ceremony. In a degradation ceremony, new
members lose the aspects of their old identity and are given new identities. The process is sometimes gentle. To enter a
senior care home, an elderly person often must leave a family home and give up many belongings which were part of his
or her long-standing identity. Though caretakers guide the elderly compassionately, the process can still be one of loss. In
many cults, this process is also gentle and happens in an environment of support and caring.

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anticipatory socialization:

degradation ceremony:

generalized other:

hidden curriculum:

moral development:



peer group:




In other situations, the degradation ceremony can be more extreme. New prisoners lose freedom, rights (including the right
to privacy), and personal belongings. When entering the army, soldiers have their hair cut short. Their old clothes are
removed, and they wear matching uniforms. These individuals must give up any markers of their former identity in order
to be resocialized into an identity as a “soldier.”

Figure 5.9 In basic training, members of the Air Force are taught to walk, move, and look like each other. (Photo courtesy of Staff Sergeant
Desiree N. Palacios, U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons)

After new members of an institution are stripped of their old identity, they build a new one that matches the new society. In
the military, soldiers go through basic training together, where they learn new rules and bond with one another. They
follow structured schedules set by their leaders. Soldiers must keep their areas clean for inspection, learn to march in
correct formations, and salute when in the presence of superiors.

Learning to deal with life after having lived in a total institution requires yet another process of resocialization. In the U.S.
military, soldiers learn discipline and a capacity for hard work. They set aside personal goals to achieve a mission, and
they take pride in the accomplishments of their units. Many soldiers who leave the military transition these skills into
excellent careers. Others find themselves lost upon leaving, uncertain about the outside world and what to do next. The
process of resocialization to civilian life is not a simple one.

Chapter Review

Key Terms
the way we prepare for future life roles

the process by which new members of a total institution lose aspects of their old identities
and are given new ones

the common behavioral expectations of general society

the informal teaching done in schools that socializes children to societal norms

the way people learn what is “good” and “bad” in society

the influence of our genetic makeup on self-development

the role that our social environment plays in self-development

a group made up of people who are similar in age and social status and who share interests

the process by which old behaviors are removed and new behaviors are learned in their place

a person’s distinct sense of identity as developed through social interaction

the process wherein people come to understand societal norms and expectations, to accept society’s
beliefs, and to be aware of societal values

Chapter 5 | Socialization 107

Section Summary

5.1 Theories of Self-Development
Psychological theories of self-development have been broadened by sociologists who explicitly study the role of society
and social interaction in self-development. Charles Cooley and George Mead both contributed significantly to the
sociological understanding of the development of self. Lawrence Kohlberg and Carol Gilligan developed their ideas
further and researched how our sense of morality develops. Gilligan added the dimension of gender differences to
Kohlberg’s theory.

5.2 Why Socialization Matters
Socialization is important because it helps uphold societies and cultures; it is also a key part of individual development.
Research demonstrates that who we are is affected by both nature (our genetic and hormonal makeup) and nurture (the
social environment in which we are raised). Sociology is most concerned with the way that society’s influence affects our
behavior patterns, made clear by the way behavior varies across class and gender.

5.3 Agents of Socialization
Our direct interactions with social groups, like families and peers, teach us how others expect us to behave. Likewise, a
society’s formal and informal institutions socialize its population. Schools, workplaces, and the media communicate and
reinforce cultural norms and values.

5.4 Socialization Across the Life Course
Socialization is a lifelong process that reoccurs as we enter new phases of life, such as adulthood or senior age.
Resocialization is a process that removes the socialization we have developed over time and replaces it with newly learned
rules and roles. Because it involves removing old habits that have been built up, resocialization can be a stressful and
difficult process.

Section Quiz

5.1 Theories of Self-Development
1. Socialization, as a sociological term, describes:

a. how people interact during social situations
b. how people learn societal norms, beliefs, and values
c. a person’s internal mental state when in a group setting
d. the difference between introverts and extroverts

2. The Harlows’ study on rhesus monkeys showed that:
a. rhesus monkeys raised by other primate species are poorly socialized
b. monkeys can be adequately socialized by imitating humans
c. food is more important than social comfort
d. social comfort is more important than food

3. What occurs in Lawrence Kohlberg’s conventional level?
a. Children develop the ability to have abstract thoughts.
b. Morality is developed by pain and pleasure.
c. Children begin to consider what society considers moral and immoral.
d. Parental beliefs have no influence on children’s morality.

4. What did Carol Gilligan believe earlier researchers into morality had overlooked?
a. The justice perspective
b. Sympathetic reactions to moral situations
c. The perspective of females
d. How social environment affects how morality develops

5. What is one way to distinguish between psychology and sociology?
a. Psychology focuses on the mind, while sociology focuses on society.
b. Psychologists are interested in mental health, while sociologists are interested in societal functions.
c. Psychologists look inward to understand behavior while sociologists look outward.

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d. All of the above

6. How did nearly complete isolation as a child affect Danielle’s verbal abilities?
a. She could not communicate at all.
b. She never learned words, but she did learn signs.
c. She could not understand much, but she could use gestures.
d. She could understand and use basic language like “yes” and “no.”

5.2 Why Socialization Matters
7. Why do sociologists need to be careful when drawing conclusions from twin studies?

a. The results do not apply to singletons.
b. The twins were often raised in different ways.
c. The twins may turn out to actually be fraternal.
d. The sample sizes are often small.

8. From a sociological perspective, which factor does not greatly influence a person’s socialization?
a. Gender
b. Class
c. Blood type
d. Race

9. Chris Langan’s story illustrates that:
a. children raised in one-parent households tend to have higher IQs.
b. intelligence is more important than socialization.
c. socialization can be more important than intelligence.
d. neither socialization nor intelligence affects college admissions.

5.3 Agents of Socialization
10. Why are wealthy parents more likely than poor parents to socialize their children toward creativity and problem

a. Wealthy parents are socializing their children toward the skills of white-collar employment.
b. Wealthy parents are not concerned about their children rebelling against their rules.
c. Wealthy parents never engage in repetitive tasks.
d. Wealthy parents are more concerned with money than with a good education.

11. How do schools prepare children to one day enter the workforce?
a. With a standardized curriculum
b. Through the hidden curriculum
c. By socializing them in teamwork
d. All of the above

12. Which one of the following is not a way people are socialized by religion?
a. People learn the material culture of their religion.
b. Life stages and roles are connected to religious celebration.
c. An individual’s personal internal experience of a divine being leads to their faith.
d. Places of worship provide a space for shared group experiences.

13. Which of the following is a manifest function of schools?
a. Understanding when to speak up and when to be silent
b. Learning to read and write
c. Following a schedule
d. Knowing locker room etiquette

14. Which of the following is typically the earliest agent of socialization?
a. School
b. Family
c. Mass media
d. Workplace

5.4 Socialization Across the Life Course
15. Which of the following is not an age-related transition point when Americans must be socialized to new roles?

a. Infancy

Chapter 5 | Socialization 109

b. School age
c. Adulthood
d. Senior citizen

16. Which of the following is true regarding U.S. socialization of recent high school graduates?
a. They are expected to take a year “off” before college.
b. They are required to serve in the military for one year.
c. They are expected to enter college, trade school, or the workforce shortly after graduation.
d. They are required to move away from their parents.

Short Answer

5.1 Theories of Self-Development
1. Think of a current issue or pattern that a sociologist might study. What types of questions would the sociologist ask, and
what research methods might he employ? Now consider the questions and methods a psychologist might use to study the
same issue. Comment on their different approaches.

2. Explain why it’s important to conduct research using both male and female participants. What sociological topics might
show gender differences? Provide some examples to illustrate your ideas.

5.2 Why Socialization Matters
3. Why are twin studies an important way to learn about the relative effects of genetics and socialization on children?
What questions about human development do you believe twin studies are best for answering? For what types of questions
would twin studies not be as helpful?

4. Why do you think that people like Chris Langan continue to have difficulty even after they are helped through societal
systems? What is it they’ve missed that prevents them from functioning successfully in the social world?

5.3 Agents of Socialization
5. Do you think it is important that parents discuss gender roles with their young children, or is gender a topic better left
for later? How do parents consider gender norms when buying their children books, movies, and toys? How do you
believe they should consider it?

6. Based on your observations, when are adolescents more likely to listen to their parents or to their peer groups when
making decisions? What types of dilemmas lend themselves toward one social agent over another?

5.4 Socialization Across the Life Course
7. Consider a person who is joining a sorority or fraternity, attending college or boarding school, or even a child beginning
kindergarten. How is the process the student goes through a form of socialization? What new cultural behaviors must the
student adapt to?

8. Do you think resocialization requires a total institution? Why, or why not? Can you think of any other ways someone
could be resocialized?

Further Research

5.1 Theories of Self-Development
Lawrence Kohlberg was most famous for his research using moral dilemmas. He presented dilemmas to boys and asked
them how they would judge the situations. Visit http://openstaxcollege.org/l/Dilemma (http://openstaxcollege.org/l/
Dilemma) to read about Kohlberg’s most famous moral dilemma, known as the Heinz dilemma.

5.2 Why Socialization Matters
Learn more about five other sets of twins who grew up apart and discovered each other later in life at
http://openstaxcollege.org/l/twins (http://openstaxcollege.org/l/twins)

5.3 Agents of Socialization
Most societies expect parents to socialize children into gender norms. See the controversy surrounding one Canadian
couple’s refusal to do so at http://openstaxcollege.org/l/Baby-Storm (http://openstaxcollege.org/l/Baby-Storm)

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5.4 Socialization Across the Life Course
Homelessness is an endemic problem among veterans. Many soldiers leave the military or return from war and have
difficulty resocializing into civilian life. Learn more about this problem at http://openstaxcollege.org/l/Veteran-
Homelessness (http://openstaxcollege.org/l/Veteran-Homelessness) or http://openstaxcollege.org/l/NCHV


5.0 Introduction to Socialization
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5.3 Agents of Socialization
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5.4 Socialization Across the Life Course
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