Sociology- Culture and Identity

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This essay will aim to critically analyse and evaluate the contribution of modern and post modern perspectives to a sociological understanding of culture and identity. This will be achieved by analysing similarities and differences between three contrasting sociological theories and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses. Studies will be included as the debate is developed further and their contributions will also be explained. Culture is defined simply as the way of life of a group of people. This relates to how they live their lives, the patterns of social organisation and the ‘norms’ they are expected to follow. Culture varies between societies and across time. It is an extremely important part of everyday life and is the focal point in the study of sociology. Therefore, sociologists are interested in how culture is patterned, maintained and why it is the way it is. American Anthropologist, Ralph Linton states that, ‘The culture of a society is the way of life of its members, the collection of ideas and habits which they learn, share and transmit from generation to generation’ (Haralambos & Holborn, 2008, p.2). There are various other ways in which to define culture, with many more complex definitions. However, the above definitions provide a useful starting point from which to explore. Although culture may be shared within a society, there is often more than one culture which results in smaller ‘subcultures’. Different types of culture have been identified by sociologists. These include high culture, low culture, folk culture, mass culture, popular culture, subculture and global culture. Further analysis of these concepts has led Sociologists to examine to what extent culture constrains the individual and to question if humans are puppets of culture or if they have free will (Livesey, 2008). Identity is different from culture, although they are inextricably linked. While culture focuses on how humans behave as a group, identity relates to how we think of ourselves as people, how we think about others, and what other people think about us (Haralambos & Holborn, 2008). Culture often establishes our sense of identity. However, sociologically, they are seen as two separate concepts. Culture is representative of society as a whole and is macro in origin, whereas identity represents the smaller, micro aspects of us as individuals. As with culture, identity can be linked to the socialisation process that occurs from birth. Sources of identity include nationality, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and social class. Although identity is individual, it also relates to the social and cultural groups people become part of and identify with. Therefore, social and cultural identity may become a key aspect of the individuals’ personal identity. A person’s social identity may also conflict with their personal identity. For example someone perceived by others as a heterosexual male, may see himself as homosexual. In contemporary sociology, the concept of identity allows humans to be seen as taking an active role in their lives within the cultural constraints of the society they live in. Early, sociologists, such as Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Auguste Comte and Max Weber were interested primarily in social class identities. Their initial interest in social change came as a result of industrialisation. In addition, this era, known as Modernity was characterised by the enlightenment of the 18th century and the progression of scientific rationalism. Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim agreed that culture and identity are shaped by the structure of society. They also believed that society was developing progressively. For Marx, towards a communist utopia, while for Durkheim, society was moving towards organic solidarity (Haralambos & Holborn 2008, p.666-667)....
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