Culture and Identity

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Culture is argued to be:

  • Functional - keeps society together 
  • Imposed - Money or Gender? 
  • Chosen from a range 
  • Increasingly subject to globalisation 

Culture can be used to: 

  • Unify
  • Control 
  • Resist
  • Make you appear or feel better than others 
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Functionalist - Durkheim argued we are socialised into our culture which creates social solidarity (meaning society stays in one piece) as we have value consensus (all have the same ideas about what is important). Cultures vary among the different classes in society which helps them fulfil their functions and be happy with positions in society. 

Marxist - Culture is one of the key ways that the Bourgeoisie (the small ruling class) dominates the rest of society. Marcuse says a Mass Culture is imposed on us & gives us norms & values which stop us from questioning the inequalities in society & make us accept the power of the bourgeoisie. 

The CCCS - Neo-marxists that argue that culture gives some people the power to resist hegemony (control of our ideas). They examine the way individuals or small groups use bits of culture in new ways to resist control by the powerful. It is argued any resistance is incorporated & becomes a part of the dominant culture. 

Feminist - Culture is patriarchal meaning it is dominated by norms & values that advantage men. The interests & opinions of men are put before those of women. However, PoMo's argue there is now much greater opportunity for women & no restrictions made upon gender. 

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Theories (2)

Post Modernist - Strinati argues our culture is a fun mix of many different things. In the wealthy society of today people have the ability to pick and mix all aspects of culture in order to be who ever they want. However other theories argue this ability is limited as not all have wealth or chances to choose. 

Interactionist - Culture is not something we have pushed upon us, as structure theorists would say. Instead it is a result of the many interactions between all the people in society. We share many norms and values but these are complex, negotiated and we don't necessarily take them all on board. 

New Right - Emphasise importance of traditional cultural values in producing a good society. Similar to Functionalists; they stress strong family ties, hard work, education & an acceptance that some people are more capable than others. They differ from Functionalists in arguing that meritocracy will produce losers who have to accept their position at the bottom. New Right also argue the reason why many people are at the bottom of society is a culture of dependency which prevents success. Other theories argue this is simply a way of justifying the power of those at the top of society. 

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What is it culture?

Culture can be seen as the thing which links the individual to society. It is a group with; 

Shared norms and values, norms are specific guidelines for action in particular social situations, values are general beliefs about what is right or wrong or worth fighting for. 

  • Common history, language, traditions and religion 
  • Food - this can get a bit stereotyped but has an underlying truth
  • Dress - Shaun Hides (1985) showed how Asian people in Leicester used clothes and home furnishings to emphasise their sense of ethnic identity. 
  • Sanctioned behaviour - simply means the things the culture tells you it is acceptable to do and clearly links to norms and deviance. Culture plays an important social control function. 

Sociologists argue that it has a powerful influence on the behaviour of individuals socialised into that culture. Marxists and Feminists argue that we appear to be victims of our socialisation. However, Post Modernists and Interactionists argue that we are not dupes of our socialisation but are capable of exercising agency in our behaviour. There is also a debate as to the extent to which our behaviour is a result of socialisation or natural instinct. Nature vs Nurture debate. Most sociologists fall firmly on the nurture side of this debate. 

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Subcultures are much smaller social groups who while sharing their own norms and values also go along with at least some of those of mainstream society. Subcultures are often described as being temporary, particular for young people for who it is a stage of rebellion they pass through as they get older. However, some subculture, such as ethnic or class based ones are much more stable & long term. Discussing the variety of subcultures in terms of stability & strength of identity may be helpful. 

  • Functionalists - Albert Cohen argue that subcultures develop as a way of coping with failure in society. In reaction to status frustration delinquent subcultures adapt their behaviour to achieve status in some other way. This produces a group with shared deviant norms & values. 
  • Neo Marxists - CCCS argue subcultures form a basis for resisting the power of hegemony. 
  • Interactionists - Becker argue that deviant subcultures are produced as a result of labelling which produces an outsider identity
  • New Right - Charles Murray explain poverty by using the concept of underclass (a group with shared norms and values of dependency). 
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High and Low Culture

These terms are often accused of being value laden (meaning that they are a result of the views of the person using them rather than a reflection of reality).

  • High culture is argued to be linked with the social elite and involve consumption of high quality cultural goods that are complex to understand and appreciate. It is not meant to be easily accessible to everyone. 
  • Low culture is meant to be the easiest to consume, "dumbed down", light entertainment that we often see on the TV or in the tabloid newspapers. This view is rejected by post modernists who refer to it as popular culture and argue it is part of the fun process of picking and mixing your identity that is central to the culture of today's society. 
  • However, Bourdieu argues that the high culture is classified as such because the elite have the power to persuade everyone else their knowledge is the best. This gives them cultural capital (a cultural advantage where their norms, values, knowledge and traditions is treated as the best). 
  • Berger, argues that all this high culture & art simply reflects the ruling class view of the world & justifies their powerful position in it. 
  • It has been suggested that high culture is being eroded by the spread of mass culture & that gradually it will go the way of folk culture. This process is referred to as dumbing down.
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Mass Culture

Characteristics of Mass Cultures: 

  • Created by commercial organisations
  • Manufactured - usually by a company that sells it to you
  • Passive - you buy it, watch it, consume it
  • Inauthentic - has not the reality of folk culture which has come out of everyday life
  • Associated with industial societies 
  • Produced for profit

A Marxist idea that suggests this form of culture is deliberately created to keep the lower end of society more concerned about the **** on TV than the fact they are at the bottom & being exploited. It is a form of hegemony that benefited the ruling class. 

Marcuse and Adorno argued that traditional folk culture of the masses had been destroyed by culture industries that were all about making money and stopping people from thinking deeply about the world in which they live. 

Culture Industries create false needs in the masses; the latest gadgets, clothes etc. and that means they have to carry on working long hours in order to be able to afford them. 

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Popular Culture

Post Modenists such as Strinati argue that mass culture is an elitist approach to the culture of ordinary people. Marcuse says mass culture can be just as intelligent and complex as anything in high culture such as Opera or Shakespeare. 

Popular Culture is not just about ideological control & exploitation, it can also be used to help people express their frustration with society. 

Neo-Marxists such as Stuart Hall from the CCCS argue, are very creative and rebellious in their use of culture. They call this cultural resistance, in which they rejected commercial fashion & music & created their own. However, it can be argued that this cultural resistance took place only in a small group of young people & that eventually they settled into the mainstream.

**** Hebdige et al pointed out that rebellious youth cultures such as punk rapidly are commercialised & start to be part of global capitalism in a process they call incorporation.

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Folk Culture

This term is used to describe traditional cultures often of: older, smaller and more rural societies. It refers to the way in which culture is linked to the real lives of the people engaged in it rather than some mass produced & purchased product of capitalism that has little to do with the lives of the people doing the buying.

Characteristics of Folk Culture:


Created by ordinary people


Active participation

Associated with pre-industrial societies

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Globalisation is a powerful cultural & economic process argued to have produced a global culture that is largely influenced by the products & culture of the United States of America. E.g. watching US movies, listening to their music, wearing their clothes and even adopting their political ideas. This process of lots of agents pushing globalisation is sometimes called synergy; this means the way in which a product in one area will be promoted in another e.g. films pushed in newspapers with spin-off products  and a computer game.

  • However, it could be argued that just because individuals are consuming all this US dominated products it does not mean that they are having their core identities changed.
  • It is possible to describe the way many groups resist this or adopt hybrid versions of it
  • Arguably it gives access to a greater range of products from across the world
  • Greater choice from global media gives a range of cultural identities to choose from
  • This can be seen in a greater choice of religions,music or food

Marxists argues globalisation is a part of mass culture, the process of the Bourgeoisie using culture to control the rest of us - the Proletariat

Post Modernists are keen on globalisation as they argue it is what drives the increased wealth & wised range of choices we now have

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Globalisation (2)

The CCCS et al have argued that you can see many forms of cultural & subcultural resistance to Globalisation. Religions, musical, ethnic, language, regional & political groups have all expressed ideas that are against the process of globalisation.

The New Right although economically in favour of Globalisation can be critical of it as it undermines traditional values.

Global Culture - it is argued that the result of globalisation is a shared global culture. The UK is said to take much of its culture from this. Media products consumed & ideas about food, music, religion

Cultural Imperialism - used to describe the way Western, in particular USA culture is argued to be dominating the world. The idea is that they are using culture to conquer & control other countries.

Youth Culture - used to describe the idea that all young people have a shared cultural identity based on a global culture. Music, dress, technologies are all markers of identity of youth.

Youth Subcultures - sometimes referred to as spectacular youth subcultures these groups are argued to have appeared in the period of increased wealth after WW2 but are said to have faded in importance as contemporary youth have wider (or narrow) range of choices presented by the media.

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The Uses of Culture

Many sociologists have pointed out that groups & individuals use culture to achieve many things.

Social Control - Meaning as a way to enforce behaviour on members of a cultural group

Separation of Class Groups - Creating a strong sense of different identities and superiority

Resistance to Control - Subcultures use their difference as a way to resist authority e.g. street gangs

Hegemony - As a part of social control culture encourages people to accept the social world

Reinforce Identity - Individuals can take on a stronger identity by using their cultural heritage

Justify war or wrongdoing - The creation of an "us and them" mentality. This particularly applies to National Identity

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The agents of socialisation pass on culture to individuals and help create their identity.

The six agents are:

  • Education
  • Family
  • Peer groups
  • Mass media
  • Work
  • Religion

The structure view is that socialisation is a very powerful process

The action view is that we are not "victims" of socialisation and can resist

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Theorists Views on Socialisation

Functionalists - Talcott Parsons argue socialisation is a process of preparing people for their role in society. They emphasise how this produces benefits for society helping us to accept the role we have to play. If we are not properly socialised then we will be like the feral (unsocialised) children who were brought up outside human society & couldn't function in communication, norms & values of ordinary society. However they are criticised by conflict theories for ignoring the way in which socialisation can be to the benefit of the powerful groups in society.

Marxists - They argue that socialisation is a process of getting us to accpet the rule of the bourgeoisie and our exploitation. It is a process that limits the conflict between the rich and poor mainly by stopping those at the bottom from dissenting. They emphasise that many of the agents of socialisation are part of a process of social control & hegemony (the control of ideas).

Post Modernist - Critical of structure theory approaches to socialisation & argue in our post modern world we can pick and mix identities from a wide range presented to us, particularly in the mass media. They suggest this leads to fluid identities not fixed in place or time. They emphasise the importance of new technology, particularly the Internet in creating these choices. However, in reality the economic & cultural environment we live in limits choices. If we have no money and are exposed to the same old gender roles how much choice do we really have?

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Theorists Views on Socialisation (2)

Neo Marxists - argue that some people do resist the power of this hegemonic control

Feminists - argue that socialisation reinforces a patriarchal society to control our identities. They also use the concept of hegemony to show how we have our ideas about gender shaped  by the agents of socialisation.

  • Liberal Feminists - emphasise change through the legal and political processes
  • Radical Feminists - argue for a complete change of gender relations in society
  • Marxist Feminists - combine feminism and Marxism, class and gender exploitation
  • Black Feminists - argue there is an overlap between ethnic and gender identity

However, PoMo's argue that in our post modern world there is now a pick and mix culture in which we can actively choose our gender identities from a range that are presented to us.

Interactionist - Socialisation is a 2 way process and individuals are not passively soaking up the norms and values they are socialised into. They argue the importance of socialisation has been over emphasised by structure theoritss & we play a very active role in creating our sense of self. We aren't dupes of our socialisation & who we interact with is more important. Conflict theories say that this theory ignores the role the powerful groups that control socialisation to control society.

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The Family

Class: Working and middle class families are socialised into different language patterns. Bernstein linked this to the concept of cultural capital. It is argued that middle class families emphasise educational achievement where working class parents are more likely to accept educational failure.

Gender: Oakley looked at the way it creates gender identity through processes manipulation and canalisation. Role models in families still often of conventional roles. Assumption women will do the emotional work in family. 


Ethnicity: Parents socialise children into their own culture & set expectations. Often a link between ethnicity & gender socialisation with girls being treated by family in a different way from boys. Code switching, young people adapt behaviour when with or away from their family. 

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The Family (2)

Sexuality: Family attitudes vary widely according to other identities. Highly stigmatised identity in some with great social pressure. 

Disability: Socialisation can lead to the internalisation of a disabled identity or learned helplessness as a consequence of the expectations of family members. 

Nationality: The family can be a very powerful force in developing a sense of national identity through banal nationalism. 


Age: Parents are increasingly encouraged to see their role as protecting children from the real world thus childhood is extended & increasingly made out to be a period of complete helplessness. Philippe Aries pointed out that in the past our society treated children in a very similiar way it did adults. Old people are now much less likely to remain in the family home & are often put in special homes. This varies according to social class and ethnic identity

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Education as an Agent of Socialisation

A secondary agent of socialisation that structure theorists argue plays an important role in identity.


  • The curriculum - working class expected to do vocational courses while middle class do the academic ones
  • Hidden curriculum - upper class kids are encouraged to exercise leadership skills even though it is not on the curriculum. For the bulk of state schools students doing what you are told is a key part of the hidden curriculum. Bowles and Gintis 1976 said the purpose of education is to teach us to obey and accept the inequalities of society
  • Labelling - teachers treat working and middle class children differently according to their stereotypical assumptions of their ability. This can lead to a self fulfilling prophecy, meaning that the labelling child lives up to the way they are expected to behave.
  • Cultural capital - Bourdieu suggests the family creates the level of cultural capital in an individual that influences school opinion of them

Age - Education in this country is largely age based. You move up though age, not ability grades

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Education (2)


  • Gender based subjects, this applies to working class girls doing vocational subjects, but can also be seen at A-level where high status subjects such as physics are more likely to be male dominated.
  • Hidden Curriculum creates gendered attitudes

Ethnicity - Anti school subcultures. Sewell 1996, black males used this to show their identity


  • Seperation of some children into special needs & even keeping them out of mainstream schools reinforces the identity of the group as not being normal
  • Socialisation can lead to the internalisation of a disabled identity or learned helplessness as a consequence of the expectations of family members

Nationality - Schudson pointed out that a great deal of education reinforces the sense of nationality as "us" (British/English) who are different from "them" (foreigners)

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Mass Media

Class - Stereotypes and Stigmatising of underclass e.g. Benefits Street


  • Symbolic annihilation of women. Tuchmann 1978 argues that the media often ignore or underplay the role of women and this leads females to see their role in society as being less important
  • Gender stereotypes
  • Male gaze, the idea that the mass media operated from a male dominated set of assumption


  • The white eye of television
  • Moral panics (the media gets worked up about a topic to the point where everyone thinks it is important, even thouhg it may well not be) about particular ethnic groups.

Age - stereotyping of age groups and Pearson argued media only put young people on TV these days

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Mass Media (2)


  • Gay identities appear in media as a stigmatised identity
  • Wider exposure of gay role models open discussion of gay relationships and civil partnerships


  • Longmore: disabled often portrayed as the 'baddies' or evil. Or comic
  • Cumberbatch and Negrine - disabled are not seen as individuals by the mass media. Just a disability
  • Wider coverage of disabled in a positive way, more positive role models


  • Banal nationalism in endless coverage of England sports teams "celebs", events and the royal family
  • Gaze. The media is dominated by an "English" view of the world, although this often only reflects the views of white middle class people living in London
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Peer Groups

Class - Pro and anti school subcultures - Sewell

Nationality - Banal Nationalism of sport and media

Age - Friendship groups often follow age groups. Youth subcultures help in establishing age identity

Disability - Playground bullying has a large role in creating disability as a stigmatised identity

Sexuality - Sue Lees - Policing of acceptable sexual identities. Using accusations of lesbianism to enforce a traditional female identity

Ethnicity - Ethnically divided peer groups in education and Tony Sewell pointed out how black lads formed macho anti-school subcultures which reinforced their ethnic identity

Gender - Sue Lees - Policing. The way in which playground culture leads to girls and boys having their gender identity controlled by those around them and boys are pushed into a hegemonic form of masculinity by their friends. Renold 2001 found that academically successful boys adopt strategies to disguise that they are working hard and try to appear more like "lads".

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  • Class - Marxists say the need to sell your labour through work is what defines you as working class. PoMo's say is no longer important in class identity as it is now based upon patterns of consumption.
  • Gender - Gendered jobs reflect the stereotypical gender expectations of patriarchal society
  • Ethnicity - Asian taxi drivers, pharmacist etc. reflect the way some jobs have developed ethnic stereotypes which channels different groups into different occupations
  • Sexuality - Especially in uniformed employment discrimination is still prevails. Some jobs are perceived as being gay as they are seen as an area in which gay sexuality would not be challenged.
  • Disability - Discriminated and likely to be unemployed. Finkelstein 1980 argued that the low quality work given to disabled people lead to them being stigmatized. Our society links work & status.
  • Age - Young people legally paid less. Middle age people often find employment harder since companies prefer image of youth and they are more expensive. Old people forced in retirement.
  • Nationality - Work is now part of globalisation and commit to company can be seen as more important than NI. Some companies are linked to a NI but this is superficial since they have international ownership
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  • Class - Major religions are accused of supporting the bourgeoisie by arguing that God created inequality so it is wrong to change it. The Protestant Work Ethic is the value that working hard is important. Many older traditional religions would view the moral value of working hard as silly.
  • Gender - Advocate traditional gender role & are sometimes accused of actively oppressing women.
  • Ethnicity - Several ethnic identities are clearly bound up with membership of a religion. Some people would identify themselves as Christian or Muslim more than any social class or ethnic group
  • Sexuality - Against homosexuality. This is changing in the COE but the Church is splitting into two. Also anti contraception, which has arguably allowed women to express their sexuality without the consequence of childbirth.
  • Disability - Being disabled is stigmatised some religions argue that it is a result of falling out of favour with God
  • Age - Stages of the ageing process are marked e.g. baptism & marriage. Many legal limits on behaviour linked to age have their origin in religion e.g. the age of consent
  • Nationality - Catholicism & Islam have been accused of being unenglish. Religions often take a major part in national celebrations. So many nations assume God is on their side.
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Social Control

Formal Agents - These are institutions such as the police or army. Education sets rules and regulations and punishs those who break the rules. These punishments are called formal sanctions and cover everything from detention at school to life in prison from a court. Some social groups are more likely to be subject to these sanctions than others. Applies to those stigmatised identities discussed by Interactionists. 

Informal Agents - These are institutions without set rules and regulations but clearly control our behaviour. The family, media, peer groups all come under this heading. They can control behaviour through socialisation. 

Positive Sanctions - Rewarding good behaviour. Simple praise to educational or financial success. 

Negative Sanctions - Charles Murray argue that the underclass has emerged as a result in the decline in the power of these informal agents of social control, particularly the family. However, Ann Oakley argue that the family is a powerful force on controlling the actions of women to the benefit of men. 

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Sources & Conceptions of the Self, Identity & Diff

The Sources of Identity - Structural 

Functionalist - Given to create social solidarity 
Feminist - Imposed by patriarchy 
Marxist - Imposed by bourgeoisie
CCCS - Subcultural creation 

The Sources of Identity - Agency

  • Cooley
  • Goffman
  • Becker
  • Cicoural 
  • Post Modernists
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Action Theory Explanations

The Self 

Interactionists focus on ourselves as an internal picture of who we are and how we should behave. It is the way we interact with others that create this inner picture. Others have an external view of us which we can never see. A number of social problems are a result of a mismatch between these versions of our identity. 

The Looking Glass Self - Charles Cooley (1964)

The world is a social mirror & adjust our behaviour according to the way people react to us. If they disapprove then we change to an acceptable form. If they approve that reinforces our behaviour. This is a passive approach as all our behaviour is governed by what other people think of us.

The Presentation of Self - Erving Goffman (1959)

Identity is shaped by a process of impression management & choosing to adopt particular roles (actors in a play). We use markers of identity such as, dress code, speech & behave. However, stucture theorists would argue that there is a limit to how much we can change the role we play. E.g. you can act out being the Queen but it is not going to get you very far.

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Stigma - Goffman (1963)

Stigma - Goffman (1963)

Some identities are stigmatized by wider society & it is possible to react to these identities in different ways.

Acceptance - often involving an acceptance of society's disapproval

Hide it - by disguising your origins or physical appearance

Rejection - not accepting the stigma as has been done by gay, disabled and old age groups

However, the process of stigmatisation of powerless groups is often with the powerful & it can be hard to change. E.g. being a chav is a hard stigma to lose & becomes a reason to treat them bad.

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Labelling Theory - Howard Becker (1971)

Labelling people makes them define themselves as deviant or failures. Labels such as criminal are Master Labels which are hard to shake off. 

Labelled > Label Internalised > Individual associates with others labelled the same > develops an outsider status/subculture > Self fulfilling prophecy results as they live up to the master status

Cicourel pointed out middle class parents can negotiate their way through the justice system to avoid the power of the label. E.g. Parents with strong cultural and social capital can use this to stop their children being labelled as thick. 

Structure theorists argue the real issue is powerful groups who can enforce the labels in the first place 

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Other Influences

* Identity is being influenced by global economic and social structures 

* The rise of virtual worlds allows people to choose different identities, communicating around the world, virtual friends, gaming etc. This has been a long process as Hollywood movies have played an important role in global culture for the last 100 years. 

* PoMo's argue identities are changing and they can't be simply categorised. Identities overlap, shift rapidly according to place and time and are impossible to clearly label. 

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Identity = Sense of Self as: 

1. An individual                 2. As viewed by others              3. As a group

  • Age 
  • Social Class
  • Disability
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Sexuality 

Key Questions: 

1. Structure or choices

2. Changing/not changing

3. Strengthen/weaken

4. How identities overlap and interact

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Age is social construct. The youth and the old are viewed negatively in society. They have stigmatised identities 'hoodies' and 'wrinkles'. However, the experience of youth & old age is heavily influenced by social class. If you have money both periods have great opportunities and freedom, if not then of poverty. 

Bradley 1996 - Five Major Generational Stages: Childhood, Adolescence or Youth, Young Adulthood, Mid Life and Old Age 

Old Age - Featherstone and Hepworth (1989) argue old people are forced to wear a mask of old identity through the ageist stereotypes and labelling that they experience. PoMo's argue that old age is a matter of choice & many old people are adopting a whole range of different identities. Marxists suggest that the majority of old people are constrained by poverty limiting choices.

Youth - A global identity of young people which is based on American consumerist values. Subcultures appeared during the wealth of WW2 but faded as contemporary youth have a wider/narrower range of choices presented by the media. PoMo's argue that youth culture is as fragmented as all other identities while structure theorists emphasise that they still have a clear link to broader identities of class, gender and ethnicity. 

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Theories of Youth Culture

Marxist - Mass culture imposed on young people to make them forget their position of inequality & exploitation. Adorno argued that the values of youth were shallow & lacked any incentive to make people think about the world around them. 
CCCS - Hebdige argued that YC becomes incorporated with mainstream culture and loses its resistance against capitalism. 
Functionalist - Eisenstadt see YC as part of the rite if passage gone through by young people before they settle down to adulthood. 
Feminist - Critical of the research into YC due to the men that did it wanted to reflect a malestream view of society. Girls have a different experience due to being home centred and having greater control exercised over them by their parents. McRobbie argues that girls have a bedroom culture based on staying at each other's houses and a disinclination to spend time in public spaces due to the male dominated nature of them.
PoMo - Steve Redhead argues that different individuals of all ages make their own identity choices, YC is not clear. They form temporary groups called neo tribes which revolve around style & taste rather than rebellion or politics. 
Interactionist - Becker suggested some YC as examples of outsider groups who were negatively labelled and so banded together. The YC is stigmatised (Goffman). Evidence - negative stories in the mass media.

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An identity based on the legal status of nationality. Different countries construct different ideas of national identity. They are imposed from a central point to give a uniform appearance to a country e.g. the imposition of English in all schools in the UK. 

Main debate: 

Structure theories vs Post Modernism and Globalisation

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National Identity is still important

Legal Status


Banal Nationalism - Dowds & Young (1996) argues there is a lot of very ordinary everyday nationalism in the media but it is often inclusive rather than exclusive nationalism. 

Multiculturalism - Mirza (2007) argues there is a new sense of Englishness. Multicultural but strongly English. 

"Little Englanders" - Curtice & Heath (2000) argue there has been a rise in those who identify themselves as English rather than British & describes them as having an exclusive form of nationalism. 

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National Identities are weakening

Globalisation - The spread of GC is undermining a sense of "Englishness" in favour of a more general western American identity.

Migration - Higher rates of immigration and emigration are changing the nature of the population & their attitude towards national identity. Mainly applies to large urban areas. 

Varied & Hybrid identities - Mark Urban (1999) argues that your sense of English identity varies according to social class, region, ethnicity and age. 

Rise of smaller national identities and regional identities. This can be Welsh, Scottish or even Yorkshire.

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A set of social identities based on place of origin, physical appearance, language, religion, history, dress, music, food and much more.  Clear ethnic identities vs pick and mix hybrid identities

PoMo's - Steve Taylor says identity is part of a pick and mix process. Increasing cultural hybridity is leading to a breakdown in clear barriers between ethnic identities. However, PoMo's recognise that this varies according to the ethnic groups under discussion. There is little intermarriage between those of Pakistani origin & other groups. But they would argue that the notion of Pakistani is constantly changing as influences of globalisation take place. 

Functionalist - Argue that migrant ethnic groups undergo a process of assimilation into the main culture. However, this assumes there is a clear main culture that migrant groups can be assimilated into; it is worth thinking which social class they can be socialised to. 

Interactionist - Goffman argues that identity is an active creation. Claire Alexander discusses how individuals adopt symbolic markers of identity to display their ethnic identity to others. Labelling. Stigmatised identities. 

Marxist - Reserve Army of Labour some ethnic groups are used as cheap labour by the rich.

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Resistant identities - Modood (1994) young black males show strong sense of ethnic identity as a way of combating racism. 

Islamic identities become an important global sense of self

White Flight - The departure of white people from areas where non-White are settling

Faith schools. Yaseen points out that muslim schools offer a clear ethnic role model

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Cultural Hybridity 


Dual Identities

Code Switching

 Wider acceptance of ethnic diversity. Mirza (2007) shows that multiculturalism is changing our national sense of who we are

Generational Change 

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Identities based on biological sex. Each society constructs different identities for the different sexes. Also related to identities based on sexuality. Feminism vs PoMo's 

Feminism - Argue gender is an excuse for treating women as sex objects who are useful for the domestic role. Use the concept patriarchy. This is still relevant in the 21st century. 
PoMo's - We live in a wealthy contemporary society we can choose, If women are more home centered that is because they are choosing to be. They emphasise Agency. Connell argues that it is possible to identify a range of gender identities. As well as hegemonic masculinity and femininity other versions of gender identity exist. 
Functionalism - Parsons says the smooth running of society means men and women need to adopt different roles. These are of equal importance but functionally different. Men go to work and have the instrumental role whilst women have the affective role; caring & nurturing. 
Marxism - Women are used as cheap labour who are brought to work and pushed back home when they are needed. Provide free labour in the home and bring children up to be workers. 
Interactionism - People try to establish how they should behave according to their gender
New Right - Traditional family values are important. Women should stick to traditional roles for the benefit of the family 


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Feminist arguments that patriarchy still dominates society

Mass media dominated by patriarchal culture 


Range of contemporary gender identities

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An identity based on sexual orientation. Argued there is a wide range of gay, transsexual and bisexual identities

Closely linked to the debate around gender identity

Stigmatised identites

There is still a negative cultural attitude in much of today's society

Evidence of change 

Media role models

Legal changes, legalisation of homosexuality, Civil Partnerships 

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Social Class

Identities based on economic position. Those at the top use their economic, social & cultural capital to keep their place in hierarchy. Structure theories vs Post Modernism

PoMo's - Pakulski & Waters argue people have the ability to choose their own identity. It is consumption which is important in defining class. This opposes the traditional view that your job defines your class identity. However, you only buy what you can afford which depends on your job.

Marxist - Argue the bourgeoisie want to exploit the lower classes. Westergaard argues class inequality is getting stronger as a process of social closure surrounds the top of society & social mobility is in decline for the rest of society. PoMo's say this is too simplistic because there are large differences of identity for those in the proletariat. However, they argue class inequality is global & the very poor and exploited are working in factories in Indonesia rather than in Huddersfield.

Functionalist - Davies and Moore point out that a process of role allocation is one of the benefits.

New Right - Peter Saunders says society is a meritocracy & the clever & hardworking will do well. Marxists would say it is limited to the inequalities of the education & class system in society.

Interactionist - Internalised identity through labelling but others say throught the change of our presentation of self we can change the way others see us. However, class can be seen as a stigmatised identity, particularly for the underclass.

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Upper Class

Wealthy, distinctive accents, socialised by public schools, geographically & socially separate from the rest of society. Scott used the term elite social networks to suggest that they are looking out for themselves to maintain their advantage over the rest of us.

Economic - Lord, Rich

Cultural - Hunting, Polo, Public Schools

Political - Conservative, House of Lords

They attempt "social closure" by marrying off their children to other upper class people.

They promote their class identity by:

  • Naming their children with posh names and having nannies and other domestic help present
  • Socialisation into high culture such as opera and art
  • Participation in blood sports and the "social season"
  • A concern with etiquette
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Middle Class

Ladder model of society, Individualism, Deferred gratification, Extrinsic satisfaction from work, Non manual work

Savage describes 3 types of middle class:

  • Traditional - Managers & civil servants have non-distinctive lifestyles. E.g. may like bowls, not too keen on squash
  • Post Modern - Solicitors, accountants. "Extravagant excess". Health & body maintenance - binge drinking. Classical music & disco dancing. Foreign food. Holidays. Private sector
  • Ascetic - Public sector. "Standard bearers of healthy lifestyle". Organic, climbing, yoga, hiking.

Social aspiration - Conspicuous consumption - to achieve status. The use of the right language.

Social anxiety - Tend to be reserved & distant due to fear of people's opinions

Conservatism - Suburban lifestyle is traditional & conservative in though & action

Social comparability - Fear employers (upper) will take away their jobs and moving upward of the working class who will take away their jobs in the future

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Working Class

Traditional or Old Working Class

  • Us and Them model - keen sense of social solidarity & consciousness.
  • Immediate gratification - live for the moment
  • Collectivism
  • Instrumental attitude to work
  • Large scale industrial manual work
  • Distinctive regional accents
  • Strong family values
  • Support Labour Party and Trade Union membership

New Working Class

  • Individualism
  • Instrumental collectivism
  • High geographical and social mobility
  • Work in new industries and service sector
  • Less committed to Labour Party & only Trade Union members for pragmatic (meaning what they can get for themselves) reasons.
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Underclass - A controversial term for the bottom end of the working class

Charles Murray argues the poorest in society are in that position because the norms and values of their culture prevent them from doing anything apart from remaining poor. They are dependent on welfare benefits to the extent that they have developed a dependency culture. They have negative attitudes towards: work, education, poor family values which lead to immoral behaviour & many unwanted pregnancies. However, studies have shown that members of the "underclass" have conventional cultural ideas. They want; jobs, nice homes, good family life but they lack money & the chaotic nature of poverty makes this difficult to achieve. 

Marxists say the term is unfair as it is used to blame the poor for being poor. The poorest in society form a reserve army of labour who can be easily hired & fired when employers need them. They are also scapegoats to blame when they lose their jobs i.e. call them "chavs" when there is no work about 

Feminists say the underclass are mainly women. This is because they take such a big part of the various care roles (children, partners, elderly) in society so they are less likely to earn more and more likely to dependent on benefits. 

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Class Identities are still important

Self identification - a large proportion of people still identify themselves with a particular class grouping. 

Financial inequality - the gap between rich and poor is increasing, but you can argue that everyone is gradually becoming richer. 

Elite self recruitment - there is a clear process of those at the top end of society using their social capital to get jobs. Places like the BBC are dominated by people from Oxford & Cambridge and people who attended public schools fill top positions in Government and many other areas. 

Inequality of education system - educational success is closely linked to class background

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Class Identities are weakening

Production to consumption - Pakulski & Waters' argument: Social Class is now identified by what you buy not the job you have. 

Individualism - People are more concerned about themselves rather than larger collective groups such as social class. 

Social and geographical mobility - It is now more possible to move social classes and area you live. However, social mobility has decreased in recent years and people were always geographically mobile. 

Increasing wealth of society 

Increasing importance of other identities; ethnicity, region, religion etc 

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Disability is an identity based on physical features 

The Medical Model of Disability suggests that disability is a fixed thing clearly linked to a recognised medical condition. Disability is a terrible thing that happens to an individual & medicine tries to improve it the best it can. However, this approach has been criticised by campaigners for the disabled. 

The Social Model of Disability suggests the way a medical condition is acted out by the person who has it is very much a social construction. It can be a way to develop new skills to adapt to life or it can become a process of learned helplessness in which the individual changes their internal identity into one of limited capability. 

Cumberbatch & Negrine say media representations are stereotypical, reinforce ideas of disabled people as objects of pity, charity, fear or derision. 

Anderson & Kitchin 2000 researched the attitudes of medical professionals to disabled people & found they saw the sex lives of disabled people as problematic. 

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Goffman 1968 said disability is a spoiled identity which is stigmatised. 

Scott 1969 studied the social interaction between blind people & medical professionals. The blind adopted a blind personality as a result of internalising the label given to them by medical professionals resulting in a self fulfilling prophecy. 

Olney and Kim 2001 said the disabled identity and resistance found disabled people rejecting the medical labels of them and had a positive self image. 


Finkelstein argued that in our society, status and identity are heavily dependent on work and this is one of the reasons why disabled people are perceived in a negative way. 

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Leisure, Consumption and Identity

Leisure and Consumption are argued to be a key form of expressing culture and identity. 

Consensus view:

Leisure is freely chosen as a way to show who we are 

Created identity through agency

Conflict view: 

Leisure is imposed in a way that gets us to ignore problems. We consume to forget .. but consuming stops us remembering that we are being exploited. 

Imposed identity through hegemonic control

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Theorists on Leisure

PoMo's - Pakulski and Waters argue leisure is part of the pick and mix pattern of consumption because people are not fixed to their traditional identities of class, age, gender or ethnicity. People have become wealthier since the WW2 so it has become possible for them to exercise an increasing range of choices. Recent changes in technology, especially the Internet, have opened up a whole range of diverse & previously unimaginable leisure activities which are accessible to people with a wide range of different activities. People can create new identities via virtual worlds online.

Marxist - Marcuse and Adorno say leisure is part of hegemonic control which is exercised by the bourgeoisie over the rest of us. Leisure in a capitalist society is largely spent in watching meaningless TV, worrying about rich men playing sports and trying to forget how miserable life is at work, school and in the real world in general.

Feminist - Argue leisure is often male dominated because family work is divided in such a way that men have a great deal less to do than women who get primary responsibility for housework and childcare. This is all part of patriarchy.

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Leisure and Links


Stanley Parker (1976) - Extension pattern of work (leisure activities are a development of work either as networking or further education) for the middle classes. He links this to the intrinsic satisfaction (there is a reward from the pleasure of doing the job) the middle classes are said to gain from their work. Working class jobs are done simply for the money (instrumental reasons or extrinsic satisfaction) so leisure time is seen as an escapism from work. However, Pakulski and Waters argue that this link doesn't exist anymore since people of all social classes exercise a wide range of agency in choosing their leisure activities.


  • Marxist view
  • Clarke and Crichter
  • Adorno - Mass Culture
  • Youth Culture linked to social class
  • PoMo's production to consumption
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Leisure and Gender

Main debate is Feminist Views vs Post Modernist

Feminists point to Gendered Leisure Patterns:

  • Women have less leisure time & less money to spend on leisure
  • Women are less likely to participate in sporting activity
  • Women are less likely to go to pubs
  • Womens leisure is more family based
  • Women have domestic duties whereas men don't
  • Women carry the dual burden
  • Women have less disposable income than men leading to dependence on their husbands
  • Social attitudes make it easier for men to spend large amounts of time on leisure pursuits
  • Women's leisure options are limited to sociallt accepted pastimes that reflect traditional female roles
  • More public money is put into the provision of male leisure facilities

However, PoMo's argue that these old gender identities have broken down, pick and mix etc.

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Leisure and Links

Sexuality - Gay subculture from the 70's onwards has been argued to be a more visible expression of identity. The 'Pink Pound' has influenced the development of leisure and culture.

Ethnicity - PoMo's say ethnicity is not relevant because cultural hybridity breaks down the ethnic barriers & all ethnic groups can exercise the same level of agency. Leisure activities reflect and express the culture of ethnic groups.

Age - Bradley stages of ageing are expressed through leisure activities and youth subcultures.

PoMo's - Pakulski & Waters: Production to consumption and social class. John Urry says tourism leads to many ways of viewing the world. Media is now highly fragmented e.g. the number of tv channels. It is possible to avoid the mass culture of the past. However, the restrictions of money, choice and domination of the media by the bourgeoisie can criticise this. Link to class & mass culture.

Cultural capital - Bourdieu argued that leisure for the middle and upper classes is often bound up with gaining the cultural advantages that allow them to present their identity as superior to that os the working class. Their leisure time to develop cultural capital is how they can oppress the WC.

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Leisure and Links

Projections of the Self - Giddens says leisure is how people today express who they are. Like markers of identity we use our leisure activities to show others who we are or aspire to be.

Globalisation - The same types of leisure patterns are emerging all over the world. Can link this to the mass culture debate.

Technology - PoMo's emphasise leisure is now part of the process of consumption in which we pick and mix our class, gender and ethnic identity. Applies to computers providing alternate identities.

Corporation - It is suggested large companies influence culture and leisure by:

  • Making leisure something we buy
  • Influencing the consumer through advertising
  • Provision of facilities such as cinemas, shopping, nightclubs etc
  • Closing down facilities and reducing choices
  • Producing cheap mass-produced leisure products
  • Determining their leisure time via work contracts and expectations
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