Culture, socialisation and identity

  • Created by: holly6901
  • Created on: 05-03-20 13:47

What is culture

  • Culture is a key concept in sociology
  • It is often used in a narrow way to refer to artistic and intellectual activities e.g theatre and art
  • Sociologists tend to use the term to refer to the entire way of life of a society
  • Sociologists consider the whole system of beliefs of a society or group
  • This includes;
    • Knowledge
    • Language
    • Faith
    • Art
    • Music
    • Fashion
    • Morals 
    • Laws
    • Customs
    • Traditions
    • Lifestyles
    • And more
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Norms and values

  • What makes each culture distinctive are the norms and values associated with it
  • Values are beliefs and ideas that society sees as important and are accepted by the majority of society
    • Values are things we believe in, strive to achieve and guide our behaviour
    • For example, in the UK we value life, success, honesty, loyalty, hygiene, family e.c.t.
  • Norms are expected patterns of behaviour that are based on the values of a culture
    • For example, in the UK it is a norm to wear clothes because we value modesty
  • In UK culture, there is certain norms and values people follow
    • These may be different from norms and values in other cultures
  • In any culture, certain events have certain norms and values associated with them
    • For example, you raise your hand to ask a question at school
  • Norms are linked to values, we perform certain behaviours as we hold certain beliefs
  • The norms and values of any culture are relative 
    • This means they aren't fixed and aren't for everyone or every situation
      • For example, wearing clothes in public is the norm in the UK but you shouldn't wear clothes in the shower
  • Norms and values change over time
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Deviance and cultural diversity

  • Most people in society conform to the norms most of the time
  • Those who do not follow the norms are considered deviant
    • Deviance is behaviour that goes against the norms of a society or group
    • Deviance will often lead to consequences or sanctions
  • What is the norm in one culture may be seen as deviant in another
  • Diversity refers to variety or difference
    • Cultural diversity refers to the variety found in societies
  • Cultural diversity can be seen both between cultures (intercultural diversity) and within cultures (intracultural diversity)
  • The UK is culturally diverse
    • There is a diversity of norms and values within UK culture
      • This may include the culture of different ethnic groups but also the diversity of regional cultures e.g. Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish and diversity within these (North vs South), a diversity of age cultures, class cultures, sexual cultures and so on, adding to the range of things seen as normal
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Subcultures and types of culture

  • A subculture is often defined as 'a culture within a culture
    • A smaller grouping of people who share distinctive norms and values within a wider culture
      • For example, within UK culture, there are subcultures based on age (youth subcultures such as punks or emos), ethnicity, music/fashion, political beliefs and so on 
      • All of these are part of the wider UK culture, but also part of distinctive subcultures
  • This concept clearly links to cultural diversity - if a culture has many subcultures it is culturally diverse
  • Sociologists use terms such as high culture and popular culture to explain the different types of culture in society 
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Cultural hybridity

  • A hybrid is a cross or merging between two or more things
    • When cultures merge, it is referred to as cultural hybridity
  • UK culture is described as a hybrid as it contains aspects of English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish cultures but also influences from Asian, Caribbean, US and European cultures  and many more
  • In a global society, hybridity is more common.
  • Cultural hybridity can best be seen in aspects such as music, fashion and food
  • Cultural hybridity in the UK is often considered in relation to second or third-generation immigrants who adopt hybrid identities, mixing aspects of their parents' culture with aspects of British culture
    • One example of this is 'Brasians' which is a mix of British and Asian culture
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High culture and consumer culture

High culture

  • This refers to cultural products and activities that are very high status
  • What is considered cultured in this sense is based on those cultural products that represent the highest achievements
    • Examples may be Shakespeare plays, classical music, opera, ballet and art 
  • High culture is seen as superior to other forms of culture by some and is appreciated by those with high social status, those seen as cultured

Consumer culture

  • It is argued we have a consumer culture today as a result of the increasing availability of, and the emphasis on, the consumption of goods and services 
  • In a consumer culture, consumer goods are widely available, and excessive consumption and the debt associated with it are regarded as acceptable and normal
    • Shoopping is a leisure pursuit in its own right 
    • 'Conspicous consumption' - where individuals consume branded goods in ordder to create an identity and gain status
  • This is reinforced by the media, especially the advertising industry
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Popular culture

  • This refers to cultural products and activities enjoyed by the majority of the population such as watching TV, going to the cinema, playing or watching football and reading magazines or popular press
  • Some would argue these are more shallow activities, and therefore inferior to high culture but not everyone would agree
    • The term 'mass culture' is sometimes used to represent this shallowness and inferiority
  • Some feel popular culture is manufactured and fake or even a form of brainwashing or 'dumbing down' of the masses
    • However, some writers like Bordieu (1984) argue the distinction between high and popular culture and how worthy they are lies in the power of the group who support and access them
      • High culture is simply the culture of the higher economic classes
  • The media is usually partially credited with creating popular culture by providing mass access to things such as music, films and sports
  • It is also argued the distinction between high and popular culture is breaking down
    • The media gives everyone access to activities previously seen as high culture by turning Shakespeare into films and using classical music in pop songs but also raising the status of working-class pursuits such as football
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Global culture and globalisation

  • This refers to the growing trend of cultural products and activities becoming universal - where brands, food, films and other cultural products are identical across many different countries and national cultures lose their distinctiveness.
  • This is linked to the trend of globalisation - the process by which the world becomes more interconnected and activities in different countries influence each other
  • McDonald's, Microsoft, Nike and Coca-cola are all examples of global brands, instantly recognisable around the world and thus part of a global culture
  • McLuhan (1964) - The world has become a smaller place - we now live in a 'global village' which has been driven by industry, travel, a globally accessible media and the internet
  • A number of sociologists have noticed the emergence of global culture, a product of globalisation - which implies cultures can no longer be seen as separate 
    • What happens in one society is increasingly influenced by others
  • Even in remote parts of the world people can be seen drinking Coca-Cola, eating Mcdonalds and watching Western sitcoms
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  • Nature/nurture has been debated for many years
  • Most sociologists would argue nurture is more important than nature as some aspects of culture are clearly learnt such as norms and values which vary between place and time
  • However other human characteristics, personality traits and gender differences may be due to nature
  • It is very hard to prove what is caused by nature and what is proved by nurture

Key studies

  • Bouchard: Twin studies
  • Isabel the Chicken Girl
  • Kamal and Amala - wolf children
  • Oxana Malaya
  • Genie Wiley
  • Bruce and Brian Reimer
  • Margaret Mead's tribal studies
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  • Socialisation is the process by which we learn the norms and values of society
  • In other words, socialisation is the way we learn to be members of society
  • It can be divided into;
    • Primary socialisation - the first and most important stage of socialisation
    • Secondary socialisation - the continuation of learning

Agencies of socialisation

  • These are the groups or institutions that play a part in socialisation
    • Primary socialisation
      • Family
    • Secondary socialisation
      • Peer group
      • Education
      • Media
      • Religion
      • Workplace
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Primary socialisation

  • The early years of life (0-5) are very important in the learning process
  • This is the stage of primary socialisation when we are normally in intimate and prolonged contact with their family
  • Our family plays a key part in teaching us basic norms and values
  • It is primary socialisation that feral children such as Oxana and Genie didn't experience
  • Learning from parents
  • One way children learn from their parents is through imitation
    • For example, they may copy the way their parents talk or their table manners
  • They will see their parents as role models and model their behaviour on that of their parents
  • They also learn what is acceptable and what is unacceptable through trial and error
    • Parents will apply sanctions to behaviour to show whether it is desirable or not. This is a form of social control
  • As well as teaching us basic norms and values, the family make a considerable contribution to our identity
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Peer group

  • Peers are those of a similar age group. They will include your friends, but not just them
  • The peer group is an important agent of socialisation during school years (4-18) since an individual spends a lot of time with their peers.
  • An individual will learn a lot about acceptable behaviour from peers, due to the desire to fit in, or conformity
  • It may be that peers are more influential than parents during these school years. Within peer groups, there are often hierarchies - some individuals will be leaders and have higher status than the others
  • Peer groups can also be a source of rebellion - youth subcultures such as goths, emos and punks are peers who share norms and values and influence each other to resist the norms and values of society
    • This rebellion was studied by a group of sociologists from the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University 
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Education and Media


  • This overlaps with peer groups however, education is a separate agent of socialisation
  • At school, everyone learns the formal curriculum, which is based on the language and culture of society and reflects its values 
  • However, sociologists argue we also learn the informal curriculum or 'hidden curriculum' which is all the other norms learnt at school outside of formal lessons


  • The influence of media is growing all the time and is arguably the most important source of secondary socialisation
  • Use of the media has exploded with new technology. We tend to claim we are not influenced by the media and solely use it to communicate and discover things, however, most sociologists would disagree
  • One way the media socialises us is through its representation of certain groups
  • Jock Young argues the media has created a 'bulimic society' with the motto of 'get rich or die trying
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Religion and workplace


  • The importance of religion is in decline for some of us due to secularisation
  • However, our laws, customs and traditions are based on Christianity and attitudes towards some issues such as homosexuality and euthanasia are shaped by religion
  • In a multi-faith society, some groups are affected by religion more than others, such as ethnic minorities


  • It's a key agent of socialisation for adults and there is a concept of 'resocialisation' for individuals who start a new job
  • In a similar way to education, the socialisation can be split into formal and informal
    • Formal - learning the code of conduct, acceptable dress, behaviour and other expectations
    • Informal - re socializing an individual similar to the peer group
  • Canteen culture - Waddington (1999) - describes the set norms and values in a particular organisation which socialise individuals to accept certain behaviour e.g. racism in the police
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Social control

Formal agents of social control

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