The Formation of Culture

  • Society- social group who share a sense of belonging to a common culture and set of institutions. 
  • Culture- way of life of a society/social group e.g. beliefs, values, norms rituals, language, history etc. 
  • Uk society characterised by cultural diversity- fragmented into subcultures. Based on social class, age, religion, ethnicity, either subscribe to cultural norms, values etc or deviate from majority. 
  • Multicultural society- cultural diversity is encouraged. Aspects of all cultures, accepted and celebrated. 
  • High culture- suggests some cultural creations have highest status e.g. opera, ballet etc.. 
  • Mass, popular culture- products of mass media in modern capitalist societies e.g. tv, films, music. 
  • Consumer culture- consumerism, consumption & materialism in modern capitalist societies i.e. advertising and shopping. 'conspicuous consumption'- people aquire status and identity through buying designer products etc.
  • Global culture- local cultures influenced by other cutlures, like USA. e.g culture of UK in 1958 largely shaped by home-grown influences. In 2008, British culture was influenced by globalisation e.g. Chinese takeaway.

Values, Norms, Roles and Status

Values are beliefs and goals relating to what members of a society or culture feel is morally important and desirable (guidelines for behaviour) 

  • Principal values of UK: respect for human life, free speech, achievement, eqality of opportunity, materialism, individualism and privacy. 
  • Norms- cultural expectations societies attach to certain behaviour, basis of sharing values e.g. people will generally not read somebodys diary. 
  • Customs- norms established by society for generations (part of their history), makes them culturally unique etc. e.g. in the UK, Bonfire Night 
  • Social roles - sets of norms that are culturally expected of individuals. E.g. role of a mother in contemporary UK involves expectations of what a 'good' mother is. 
  • Status- refers to prestige of which society values particular behaviour highly. Like doctors, they are highly regarded because they are directly concerned with saving lives. 

In some societies, roles and status can be ascribed i.e. fixed at birth. Or achieved through meritocracy i.e. working hard, securing higher status

A meritocratic society is one which rewards people on merit alone, open to all. All social groups are protected and regulated equally in the eyes of the law. 

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+Values, norms, roles and statuses are relative to particular historical periods, societies and subcultures, and consequently change. 

- Notion of meritocracy may be exaggerated, evidence of social inequality, particularly in some subcultues in the UK like the working class and some ethnic minority groups- regarded as 'inferior' by more powerful groups e.g. upper class. 

Conseqently, they are more likely to be discrimminated against and find it difficult to achieve the roles and status achieved by other groups.  

Key concepts

Society, culture, cultural diversity, subcultures, values, norms, roles, customs, ascribed status, achieved status, meritocracy, multiculturalism, globalisation, consumerism, consumption, materialism, high culture, popular culture.

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The Formation of Culture

A society is a social group that share a sense of belonging to a common culture and set of institutions. Culture- refers to the way of life of a social group or society. Individuals that share the same beliefs, values, norms, rituals language, history and knowledge generally conform to a similar cultural outlook. 

  • UK society is characterized by cultural diversity, fragmented into subcultures that are based on social class, age, religion, ethnicity that either subscribe or deviate to the values and norms of mainstream society. 
  • Multicultural society is where cultural diversity is encouraged. Aspects of all cultures are accepted and celebrated. Respecting one another's beliefs and customs. 
  • High culture suggests that some cultural creations should have the highest status because they are superior to other cultural products e.g. ballet, opera, classical music etc. 
  • Mass/Popular culture refers to products of the mass media in modern capitalist societies i.e. tv, films, music. 
  • Consumer culture refers to emphasis put on consumerism, consumption and materialism in modern capitalist societies i.e. advertising, shopping/buying. 'conspicuous consumption'- people can aquire identity and status through the purchase of designer products etc. 
  • Global culture refers to local cultures being influenced by the values, norms, fashions etc of other cultures. E.g. UK in 1958 was largely shaped by 'home-grown influences' but became influenced by globalisation in 2008 e.g. (Chinese takeaway). 
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Feral Children

A feral child is a human child who has lived isolated from human contact from a young age. 

Often used to counter Sociobiologist arguments (Nature vs Nurture argument)  

Sociologists found that children raised by animals acquired the instincts and behaviors of the species that raised them.

  • Oxama Malaya- 1991 brought up by dogs 
  • Genie-1970 kept in the darkness for 13 years

Experts agree that unless a child learns to speak by the age of five, the brain misses its window of opportunity to acquire language, a defining characteristic of being human.

Feral children show us that being human is about contact with other people. Without that contact we are reduced to basic and instinctive behaviour. 

Our own culture appears to be 'normal', while others may seem strange and ever inferior in some cases (known as ethnocentrism). 

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Culture and Society- Bauman (1990)

  • Bauman (1990) notes that socialization into culture is about introducing and maintaining social order in society. 
  • Indiviidual behaviour that lies outside the cultural norms is perceived as dangerous and worth opposing because it threatens to destabalize society. 
  • So, societies develop cultural mechanisms to control and repress such behaviour.

Culture & Identity

  • Identity is made up of two components- self portrayal and how we think others see us. 
  • Culture links an individual and their sense of self to society because who we think we are links to what society says we should be like. 
  • We are born into particular cultural positions or statuses. i.e. we cannot choose our gender, ethnicity, age, religion and nationality groups. 
  • But we can actively identify with aspects of our culture with regard to particular groups or activities e.g. football team 
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Theoretical perspectives on culture


Sociobiologists believe that culture is the product of nature. This contrasts with the sociological view that culture is the product of social learning or nurture. (Nature vs Nurture)

  • Morris (1968) argued that biology shapes culture because, because sharing culture is based on the in-built or genetic need to survive. 

Most sociologists reject this view, they say.. 

  • If human behaviour was determined, we would not see such variation in behaviour. 

Sociologists argue that if human behaviour is influenced by biology it is only on a physical level e.g. we feel hungry

However biological influences also shaped by culture, i.e. cultural norms and values determine what we eat (insects are not popular among British cuisines) 

Cultural norms also determine 'how' we eat, for example 'table manners' in Britain. What times we eat at etc. 

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Culture as a system-Functionalism

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) believed that society and culture were more important than the individual. This belief is based on the observation that: 

  • society exists before the individual is born into it and continues after their death. 

Durkheim (1893) noted that modern industrial societies are characterised by social order rather than chaos or anarchy. 

  • people's behaviour is generally patterned or predictable
  • societies members were united by a value consensus i.e. they shared the same cultural values, goals and norms. 

Functionalists see culture as the cement that bonds individuals together in the form of society and allows people to interact successfully with each other. 

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Culture in pre-industrial societies

Durkheim argued that the purpose of social institutions i.e. family, education, religion, was to socialize people into the value consensus

He noted that in pre-industrial societies socialization agencies such as religion were extremely powerful influences over the way people behaved. 

In these societies.. 

  • individual identity was secondary to cultural conformity. 
  • i.e. they did what was expected of them without complaint. 

And so, these societies demonstrated high levels of solidarity or social belonging because people felt similar to each other. 

Social order was a natural outcome.  

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Culture in modern societies

Durkheim notes that industrial societies are more complex. 

During the 18th & 19th century people began to experience a great deal more choice in beliefs and actions. As a result we become less like each other. 

This is potentially disruptive, people can become confused as to what values, norms etc to follow and come into conflict with each other. Durkhein called this 'anomie'.

However Durkheim believed social order would be maintained due to institutions continuing to socialize people into a shared clture, in particular the idea of working hard to take place in the 'specialized division of labour' i.e. the wat the economy organizes work. 

  • reinforces social order 
  • jobs do not exist in isolation from each other, one is needed for the other e.g. teachers need supermarket workers, plumbers, bus drivers and vise versa
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Criticizing Durkheim


  • exaggerates cultural consensus, thus social order. 
  • social conflict between groups within the same society is generally ignored. 

Interpretivist sociologists are critical of Durkheim because he sees people less important than society and culture, i.e. as if their actions and choices are solely shaped on social and cultural forces/socialization. 

  • little consideration that people may play an active role in shaping culture


Durkheim is correct to suggest that there is a core culture that is widely shared by a majority of people in society. 

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Culture as a system-Marxism

Marxism- economic organization of modern societies. 

social class refers to the amount of economic power, i.e. wealth that some social groups have.

Karl Marx (1818-83) saw capitalist societies as characterized by class inequality and conflict. With two groups: 

  • the bourgeoisie- owned and controlled the means of production i.e. the factories, raw materials and exploited the labour power of another group 
  • the proleteriat/working class 
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Culture as ideology

Marx noted that the bourgeoisie used their wealth to acquire political and cultural power to protect their own interests. Cultural ideas and values are dominated by the ruling class ideas and values. Marx called this 'ideology'. 

He argued.. 

  • social institutions socialized individuals, particularly the working class into accepting ruling class culture and to see their own low status and lack of opportunities as 'normal'- a product of their own shortcomings. 


  • Overemphasises social class as the main source of conflict in modern societies- gender, religion, ethnicity and nationalism are just as important in causing inequality.
  • Assumes the working class are passive victims (puppets) of ruling class culture and ideology.
  • Surveys suggest the working class are aware of their exploitation but choose to live with it due to the benefits capitalism beings in the form of living standards and materialism. 
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Functionalist and Marxist theories on culture are probably correct in their assumption that culture is gerenally shared. The majority of people get married, have children, see education as a good thing and respect the law. 

However both theories are guilty of overstating this sharing of culture and fail to note that modern societies are now characterized by cultural diversity. 

Interprevists are critical of both functionalism and marxism for ignoring the role of human agency in the construction of culture and identity. 

They argue that..

  • culture is created by people via social interaction. 
  • culture is not static, it is constantly evolving 
  • people interpret the actions of others and make their own choics about their response/behaviour 
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