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Cultural Worlds

By jl18923123908 May 07, 2013 1997 Words
 Many Cultural Worlds: Subcultures and Countercultures

A subculture can be defined as a set of cultural characteristics shared among a group within a society that (1) are distinct in some ways from the larger culture within which the group exists, but (2) also have some features in common with the larger culture. Some case studies can include: Hip-Hop, Computer Geeks, Dead Heads, Bikers, Ravers, Skaters, and Goths Subcultures are groups whose values and related behaviors are so distinct that they set their members off from the general culture. Each subculture is a world within the larger world of the dominant culture, and has a distinctive way of looking at life, but remains compatible with the dominant culture. • U.S. society contains thousands of subcultures, some as broad as the way of life we associate with teenagers, others as narrow as body builders or philosophers. • Ethnic groups often form subcultures with their own language, distinctive food, religious practices and other customs. A counterculture exists when a subculture adopts values and beliefs that are in opposition to those of larger society. Some examples include: Hare Krishnas, KKK, Aryan Nation, Hells’ Angels, Neo Nazi Skin Heads Countercultures are groups whose values set their members in opposition to the dominant culture. • Countercultures challenge the culture's core values. • Countercultures are usually associated with negative behavior -- heavy metal adherents who glorify Satanism, hatred, cruelty, rebellion, sexism, violence, and death, but some countercultures are not -- the Mormons would be an example of a counterculture because they challenged the core value of monogamy, and yet they were not seen as negative. RELIGIONS AND PRIMARY IDENTITY SUBCULTURES

Sociologists have defined religion as being the "ultimate reality" that people believe in, or the primary motivating factor in their lives. Not everybody who supports a particular movement or engages in a particular activity is considered an "adherent" in a socio-religious sense. Many people read science fiction or play sports, but for only a few do these activities constitute their primary source of socialization, goals, and/or philosophy. Many people support feminism in general, or many of the social ideas articulated by the feminist movement. For only a minority of people who consider themselves feminists does feminism constitute their primary philosophical system and outlet for volunteerism and social action, i.e., their religion.  Religions and other primary-identity sub-cultures fill an identical sociological niche because they:   1. Provide a source of group identity, individual identity, and social interaction

2. Provide a philosophical and ethical framework, and the language through which philosophy, ethics and community issues can be discussed

3. Inspire imagination, art, literature and other creative outlets

4. Serve as a source of goals, effort, volunteerism and accomplishment for individuals and the group

5. Provide a source of unity necessary for defense of the community and the community ideals

6. Address universal experiences such as death, sexuality, family life, etc. 

7. The movement or sub-culture forms the primary cultural identity for a large number of people. It fulfills a sociological niche similar to that filled by religion, tribe or ethnicity by contributing to the beliefs, philosophy, behavior, artistic expression, social interaction and goals of its adherents.

8. The sub-culture is not already included among lists of movements traditionally recognized as religions (Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, New Age, Neo-Pagan, etc.)

9. Participation in the sub-culture is voluntary, and not merely a function of non-voluntary conditions such as geography (Welsh, Mexican); ethnicity (Mayan, Black, Han Chinese); economic status ("the poor", "middle-class"); or biology (old, children, cancer patient, schizophrenic, blind, short, overweight, male, female, sexual orientation).

10. Participation in the sub-culture is not simply a function of occupation. Participants/adherents represent diverse occupational background. All professions form occupational cultures ("writer culture", "politician culture", "teacher culture", etc.), but that is not the subject of this list, and that phenomenon is sociologically distinct from religion. Some differences between traditional "religions," and other primary-identity subcultures.

|Traditionally Recognized Religions |Other Primary-Identity Sub-cultures | |Usually calls itself a church or religion. Outsiders usually call it a |Those within & without the movement do not call it a religion | |church or religion | | |Provides rituals and other markers to observe universal "life-cycle" |Do not mark life-cycle events | |events, such as birth, coming-of-age, marriage, and death | | |Usually have a single, identifiable founder or prophet |Recognize persons of historical or contemporary importance to the movement, but | | |usually do not recognize a single worldwide founder. | |Address the nature of deity and the afterlife as central components of |Primarily "religious" topics such as deity, and the afterlife are not central to | |their overall philosophy |the philosophy. | |Written scriptures or oral tradition are important source of authority |Sources of authority and direction in the community are primarily contemporary | |and overall philosophy |and philosophical | |Involvement with laws and the broader culture may be present, but is |Some groups or movements strongly desire to influence the laws, behaviors, | |secondary. Primary focus is their own membership. |policies, etc. of the entire geographical population, not just within their | | |sub-culture. | |Expansion of influence occurs primarily through expansion of the group's|Expansion of influence occurs primarily through the spread of specific ideas and | |voluntary membership and/or natural increase and retention of adherents.|policies into the broader culture (government, mass media, academia, corporate | | |practices) | |Distinctive artistic traditions, which may include music, writing, |Successfully convey their message through art forms and mediums found in the | |oratory, drama, etc. |broader cultures, | |Affiliation with the religion is marked with a formal ceremony or |Affiliation less formal, no ceremony to mark affiliation with the movement; | |recognition of affiliation; distinction between adherents and |levels of participation are extremely varied; many supporters and peripheral | |non-adherents fairly clear, although levels of participation vary |participants whose primary-identity culture or religion is elsewhere |  


1. Culture and Society
Culture is the totality of learned, socially transmitted behavior. It includes the ideas, values, and customs (as well as the sailboats, comic books, and birth control devices) of groups of people. A fairly large number of people are said to constitute a society when they live in the same territory, are relatively independent of people outside their area, and participate in a common culture. Members of a society share a common language, which facilitates day-to-day exchanges with others.

2. Cultural Universals
Cultural universals, such as language, are general practices found in every culture. Anthropologist George Murdock compiled a list of such universals, including athletic sports, cooking, courtship, dancing, family, games, music, religion, and sexual restrictions. The cultural practices listed by Murdock may be universal, but the manner in which they are expressed vary from culture to culture. 3. Material and Nonmaterial Culture.

Material culture refers to the physical or technological aspects of our daily lives, including food items, houses, factories, and raw materials. Nonmaterial culture refers to ways of using material objects and to customs, beliefs, philosophies, governments, and patterns of communication. Generally, the nonmaterial culture is more resistant to change than the material culture is. 4. Language

Language is an abstract system of word meanings and symbols for all aspects of culture. Language includes speech, written characters, numerals, symbols, and gestures of nonverbal communication. In contrast to some other elements of culture, language permeates all parts of society. While language is a cultural universal, differences in the use of language are evident around the world. 5. Types of Norms

Formal norms have generally been written down and involve strict rules for punishment of violators. By contrast, informal norms are generally understood but are not precisely recorded. Mores are norms deemed highly necessary to the welfare of a society, often because they embody the most cherished principles of a people. Folkways are norms governing everyday behavior whose violation raises comparatively little concern. Taboos are norms deemed central to the values of a society, whose violation brings revulsion. 6. Sanctions

Sanctions are penalties and rewards for conduct concerning a social norm. Conformity to a norm can lead to positive sanctions such as a pay raise, a medal, a word of gratitude, or a pat on the back. Negative sanctions include fines, threats, imprisonment, and even stares of contempt. The most cherished values of a culture are most heavily sanctioned, while matters regarded as less critical will carry light and informal sanctions. 7. Values

Values are collective conceptions of what is considered good, desirable, and proper (or bad, undesirable, and improper) in a culture. Values influence people's behavior and serve as a criterion for evaluating the actions of others. There is often a direct relationship between the values, norms, and sanctions of a culture. 8. Cultural Integration

Cultural integration refers to the bringing together of conflicting cultural elements, resulting in a harmonious and cohesive whole. In a well-integrated culture, various norms, values, and customs support one another and fit together well. Often the process of cultural integration is enforced from the top; less powerful members of society have little choice but to accept the dictates and values of those in control. 9. Subcultures

A subculture is a segment of society which shares a distinctive pattern of mores, folkways, and values which differ from the pattern of the larger society. The existence of many subcultures is characteristic of complex societies such as the United States. Members of a subculture participate in the dominant culture, while at the same time engaging in unique and distinctive forms of behavior. Frequently, a subculture will develop an argot, or specialized language, which distinguishes it from the wider society. 10. Culture Shock

All of us, to some extent or other, take for granted the cultural practices of our society. As a result, it can be surprising and disturbing to realize that other cultures do not follow the American way of life. Culture shock can be set off either by the physical items of an unfamiliar culture or by the ways that people act. Yet we can experience culture shock even in our own society. 11. Ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism refers to the tendency to assume that one's culture and way of life are superior to all others. The ethnocentric person sees his or her own group as the center or defining point of culture and views all other cultures as deviations from what is "normal." Ethnocentric value judgments may serve to devalue groups and contribute to denial of equal opportunities. 12. Cultural Relativism

While ethnocentrism evaluates foreign cultures using the familiar culture of the observer as a standard of correct behavior, cultural relativism views people's behavior from the perspective of their own culture. It places a priority on understanding other cultures, rather than dismissing them as "strange" or "exotic." Unlike ethnocentrism, cultural relativism is value neutral. 13. Culture and the Dominant Ideology

Functionalists maintain that stability requires a consensus and the support of society's members; consequently, there are strong central values and common norms. Conflict theorists agree that a common culture may exist, but they argue that it serves to maintain the privileges of some groups while keeping others in a subservient position. The term dominant ideology is used to describe a set of cultural beliefs and practices that help to maintain powerful social, economic, and political interests. From a conflict perspective, the social significance of the dominant ideology is that a society's most powerful groups and institutions control not only wealth and property; even more importantly, they control the means of producing beliefs about reality through religion, education, and the media. 14. Multiculturalism

Advocates of multiculturalism insist that school and college curricula should be give greater emphasis to the contributions and experiences of African Americans, other racial and ethnic minorities, women, and nonwestern peoples. Viewed from a functionalist perspective, the traditional canon of western culture promotes stability, social solidarity, and consensus by helping to define the common values of the United States. By contrast, conflict theorists might view the western canon as central to a dominant ideology that serves the interests of society's most powerful groups and institutions.

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