Culture and Identity - AQA Sociology

Pusha Man


Key Terms

Cultural diversity - Describes a society in which many different cultures exist.

Culture - the way of life of a particular society or social group

Customs - traditional forms of behaviour associated with particular social occasions.

Deviance - rule breaking behaviour

Ethnocentrism - the beleif that one culture is 'normal' and others are inferior

Instinct - a genetic or biological code in animals that largely determines their behaviour

Internalise - accept something so that it becomes 'taken for granted'

Norms - rules of behaviour in social situations

Roles - positions in society

Sanctions - actions that encourage or discourage particular behaviour.

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Key Terms

Socialisation - the process by which we learn to acceptable cultural beliefs and behaviour

Primary socialisation - socialisation in the very early years of life, normally through parents

Secondary socialisation - socialisation that continues throughout life. Education, the media and religion are all important influences

Society - a social system made up of social institutions such as the family, education, law, politics, the media, religion, peer groups etc.

Sociobiology - the study of similarities between the natural and social worlds

Status - social position

Subcultures - a group within a larger culture that shares aspects of that culture but also has some of its own values, customs and so on

Values - widely accepted beliefs that something is worthwhile

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Different Types of Cultures

Culture: a way of life of a society, shared beliefs, values, norms, customs, rituals, language, symbols, history and knowledge.

Subculture: groups that exist within and alongside the wider majority culture.

Mass Culture: cultural products that are consumed by large numbers of people, products of the mass media in a modern capitalist society. Mass consumption.

Popular Culture: cultural products such as films, pop music etc. enjoyed by large numbers of people. It is suggested that this type of culture discourages critical thought. 

High Culture: cultural products and activities that are defined as superior in their creativity to those that makes up popular and mass culture. 

Folk Culture: traditional cultural products and activities that originate with ordinary people and are rooted in pre-industrial societies. 

Global Culture: culture influenced by globalization.

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Socialisation Process

Primary Socialisation - the socialisation in the very early years of life, normally through parents.

  • The family and specifically the parents are central to primary socialisation. Children learn language and basic norm and values
  • Children can imitate parents
  • Sanctions can reinforce approved behaviour and punish behaviour defined as unacceptable

Secondary Socialisation - socialisation that continues throughout life

Religion - in traditional society, families would learn norms and values form religion. But in modern society where secularisation has taken place, this means religion has become less significant.

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Education - Appears to be teaching the knowledge and skills that are specified in the formal curriculum. Some argue there is a hidden curriculum

Positive views on education: 

    • In school children are taught universalistic norms and values all children must stick to the same rules.
    • Children also learn that success is based in ability and that those who get best results will get the best and most successful careers (meritocracy)

Negative views on education:

    • Bowles and Gintis argue that through the hidden curriculum children are taught to respect authority and accept boredom
    • Success is not based on intelligence but is based on conformity to the rules.
    • Shools socialise children to accept that the way that society is organised is fair. This prevents working class rebellion.
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Mass Media

The mass media - we learn norms and values through the experience of reality. We can learn alot from mass media.

As such we can experience events thate we are not involved in personally through the forms of the mass media. Post modernists will argue that we live in a media saturated society.

One of the key ways that we learn is through observing the consequences of our actions of others.

Gaye Tunchmann suggests women are presented in media a way that is detrimental to their gender, they are symbolically annihilated. 


    • Catharsis - you live the violence through the film and so are less likely to copy it


    • Desensitization - gradually become less shocked by it.
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Consensus, culture and identity

Functionalism - is a structuralist theory. This means it sees the individual as less important than the social structure or organisation of society.

Soceity is more important because the individual is produced by society. People are the product if all the social influences on them: their family, friends, educational and religious background, their experiences at work, in leisure, and their exposure to the media.

For functionalists, society is a complex system made up of parts that all work together to keep the whole system going. The economic system (work), the political system, family and kinship and the cultural system., all have their part to play in maintaining a stable society.

Identity is the way we feel about ourselves, People's identity are controlled by value consensus.

Value consensus - an agreement among a majority of members of society that something is good and worthwhile.

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Criticism of functionalism

Functionalism has been criticised for over-emphasising consensus and order, and failing to explain the social conflicts that characterise the modern world.

Functionalism has also been accused of ignoring the freedom of choice enjoyed by individuals. People choose what to do - they do what make sense to them. Their behaviour and ideas are not imposed on them by structural factors beyond their control.

There may also be problems in the way functionalists view socialisation as a positive process that never fails. If this were the case then delinquency, child abuse and illegal drug taking would not be the social problems they are.

Finally, functionalism has been accused by marxists of ignoring the fact that power is not equally distributed in society 

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Conflict, culture and identity

Marxism - a socialogical perspective based on the writings of Karl Marx. It believes that societies are unequal and unfair

Society we live in is a capitalist society. Society divides us in two classes: Bourgeoisie (bosses) and Proletariat (workers). Bosses want to maximise labour at minimum costs.

Society is based on an exploitative and unequal relationship between two economic classes.

Working class rarely challenge capitalism because those who control economy control all cultural institutions, these institutes legitimate class inequality.

Capitalism - an economic system associated with modern societies. Based on private ownership of business

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Criticism of Marxism

Ignores the freedom of chouce enjoyed by individuals - people choose what to do and think, not because they're 'brainwashed' by ideology.

Put too much emphasis on conflict, capitalism has improved most people's standard of livng.

Marxists neglect the fact that culture may reflect religious, patriarchal, nationalistic and ethnic interests

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Social action, culture and identity

Interactionism - a sociological perspective that focuses on the ways in which people give meaning to their own and others' actions.

Identity has three components according social action theory:

    • Personal identity refers to the aspects of individuality that identify peopleas unique and distinct from others.
    • Social identity refers to the personality characteristics and qualities that particular cultures associate with certain social roles or groups.
    • The individual has a subjective sense of his or her own uniqueness and identity. Sociologists call this the 'self'

Charles Cooley (Looking glass self) - We cannot develop a sense of ourselves without interpreting the message that we receive from others about our appearance and behaviour. Such influences include: religion, fashion, sports, music, celebrities etc.

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Labeling and critcism of social action theory

Criricism of interactionism/social action:

  • Tend to be very vague in explaining who is responsible for defining acceptable norms of behaviour
  • They do not explain who is responsible for making the rules that so-called defiant groups break.

Labelling – Becker argues that criminals are not evil people who engaged in wrong acts but as individual who had a criminal status placed upon them by both the criminal justice system and community at large. Deviant labels can radically alter a persons’ social identity. A reaction to a label makes it come true. Deliberately breaks down a persons’ sense of self through a process he calls ‘mortification’.

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Gender and Identity

Feminists believe that women are treated unfairly, and they want to change society so that there is equality between men and women.

Gender Identity:

    • Sex refers to the biological differences between males and female.
    • Gender refers to the expectations society places on males and femals. Gender expectations are transmitted to the next generation through gender role socialisation.

Gender role socialisation - form an early age, people are trained to conform to social expectations about their gender. Oakley (1982) identifies two processes:

    • Manipulation - in which parents encourage or discourage behaviour on the basis of appropriateness for the child's sex
    • Canalisation - parents channel children's interest into toys and activities that are seen as 'normal for that sex'
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Masculinity and Criticism on Gender Role

Criticism of the idea of gender role socialisation: 

  • The experience of men and women vary greatly. There are huge differences depending on ethnicity, race, area, class and age.
  • It assumes women passively accept the gender identity imposed on them.


Haemogenic masuclinity - traditional ideas about the role of men e.g. men being the bread winner

Complicit masculinity - men who believe that roles within families should be shared.

Subordinate masculinity - homosexuality

Marginalised masculinity - refers to decline of traditional masculinity

'New man' - a type of masculinity that is keen to explore feminine and sensitive side.

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Sociologists have identified four major characteristics of the modern world

  • Industrialisation
  • Urbanisation
  • Centralised government
  • Rational, scientific thinking

Post modernists believe society is heavily influenced by media and is a 'media saturated industry'

Our identities are now likely to be influenced by mainstream popular culture which celebrates diversity. consumerism and choice. Steve Taylor (1999) argues, society has been transformed in to 'an endless shopping mall where people now have a greater choice on how they look,  what they consume and what they believe in'

Society is always changing, sociologist can no longer claim to produce expert knowledge about society because relativity has replaced what is and should be 

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Class and Identity

Class - the way that people can be grouped in terms of their occupation, income, lifestyle and attitude.

Marxists argue that our social identity is rooted in the work we do and different classes develop different socil identities as a result of their different experiences in the workplace.

Post modern theory suggests that the workforce is becoming more diverse so that we have core (permenant contracts/high wage) and periheral workforce (temporary contract/low wage)

The idea that society is now stratified by spending patterns and habits rather than social class is called consumption cleavage

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Ethnicity and Identity

Ethnic identity -or ethnicity - revolves around the belief that there are shared origins or traditions within a group. People recognise themselves as part of this group and feel positively about others who share the same culture.

Skin colour - in summary young black men became identified as a threat in media reportings of mugging in the 70's

Religions - Jacobson (1997) notes that young pakistanis see Islam as crucial in creating their identity, interms of diet, behaviour, worship, dress and everyday routines

Gilroy (1993) notes that music such as gangsta rap and hip hop is used as an upbeat reaction to white oppression

Ethnicity - a shared identity based on common cultural and religious factors

Globalisation - a process whereby national boundaries become increasingly irrelevant

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