Cultures- Elements, Sociology, and Components

Cultures – Elements, Sociology, and Components


Cultures are the most powerful and influential forces in human history. They profoundly impact all aspects of life, including politics, economy, family structure, and values. Cultures are created by people that interact with each other through language and trade.

The three main elements of culture include symbols/rituals/ traditions; beliefs; and social institutions (e.g., government). Social institutions can be further broken down into individual components such as religion or marriage customs.

Culture is constantly changing as it adapts to new technologies or influences from other cultures in neighboring areas. We will explore some of these concepts using examples from different cultures worldwide to illustrate how they work together to create our society today!

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What is Culture?

Culture is the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group. Culture is also the set of knowledge possessed by a collection of people.

It can be described as all of the following:

-A way for members of a society to communicate with each other (language)

-The total of all the learned behavior and ideas that a group of people has

-The way of life for a society or community and its customs and beliefs.

One example of culture is cuisine; recipes are passed from one generation to the next based on family heritage/traditions. Another example is music: The style of music created by a culture gives others a sense of how they should behave. It can teach people about traditions/ideals and even tell a story (much like the soundtrack of a movie).

Edward Sapir (1884 – 1939) was an American linguist credited with forming the idea of culture as a system for describing human behavior.  He also coined the words “sociolinguistics” and “semiotics.”  He is one of the founders of anthropology in the United States.

Benjamin Whorf (1897 – 1941) was a student of Sapir’s who performed extensive research on the relationship between language and culture. He proposed that cultural differences can be identified by studying a language.

When these men worked together, they noticed that a common understanding of human differences in behavior and thinking is based on the idea that there are many different ways of living in the world. Although there are only two basic ways to live – with nature or against it – people worldwide seem to find an incredible variety of ways to organize their lives.

Today, most sociologists would agree that culture is the shared beliefs and behaviors that define a group of people. The study of culture also explains how and why these ideas vary from one society to another.  Culture can be defined as: “the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, values, institutions.” (Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary, 1989 ed.)

Understanding cultural differences requires an examination of the values that are most strongly held in society. In Sapir’s view, individuals learn culture from the people around them, and this learning process is not based on rational thought or logic. Societies have to learn how to recognize the facts that are relevant and ignore those that aren’t. This learning process seems to be more of an unconscious process involving emotions than thought, although new information can change existing cultures.

That being said, Sapir’s view of culture means that it should not be taken for granted.  He felt that the values and ideals of society were at least as important as its physical setting.

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What Are the 12 Components of Culture?

A culture comprises 12 different components that help define the way people live their daily lives.  They include:

1) Symbols: Symbols are objects or images that represent a set of ideas, values, and concepts. Examples include flags (state symbols), statues, and names of individuals/groups (i.e., Martin Luther King Jr. Day).

2) Rites/Rituals: These are actions that represent cultural ceremonies. Examples include marriage, birthdays, and holidays (i.e., Christmas).

3) Traditions: These are the accepted practices of a culture passed down from one generation to the next, often within families or groups of people. Examples include certain gestures, the way people greet each other or wear certain clothing types.

4) Beliefs: A belief is a strongly held conviction about a particular topic. Within cultures, there are often multiple beliefs that exist at the same time about different topics (e.g., religion). 

5) Language: Language is a set of symbols and sounds that people use to communicate. It can also aid in expressing ideas, thoughts, and attitudes (i.e., slang).

6) Numbers/Measurements: These are sets of representations for numbers and measurements used within cultures. Examples include certain amounts of money (ex: $2) and time (ex: 6 o’clock).

7) Material Items: A material item is something humans produce/use to get the job done. Examples include certain clothing, tools/technology, and works of art (i.e., paintings).

8) Science & Technology: These are all of the knowledge and information about the physical and natural world around us. Examples include the science of physics, chemistry, or astronomy.

9) Work: This is the process of engaging in an activity to achieve a desired goal/outcome.  Examples include certain types of jobs that people have within communities (ex: computer programmer) and how they are compensated for their work (i.e., $10/hour).

10) Aesthetics: These are the principles involved in beautiful art and great forms. Examples include certain paintings, poetry, or sculptures (i.e., The Tate Modern Museum).

11) Dress: This is all of the clothing that people wear to cover their bodies. It can also reflect the status/identity of the wearer. 

12) Festivals: This is an occasion that celebrates certain occasions or events within a culture. Examples include festivals that celebrate holidays (i.e., Thanksgiving) and focus on cultural ideals (ex: a music festival).

How Are Cultures Created?

Cultures begin to take form when people from different groups/geographical locations come together and find a way to communicate with each other (i.e., language).  They begin to form various ways of understanding the world around them, often based on their experiences with nature (ex: hurricanes), our interactions with society (ex: feelings about money, rejection, etc.).

Cultures are also formed because of the goals/objectives people have in life. It’s not always easy to achieve these objectives, so they try different ways of doing things until they find one that works. As a result, cultures develop traditions around those methods (i.e., cooking). 

How Do Values and Beliefs Differ from Norms?

Values are premised on cultural beliefs. Values vary from culture to cultural beliefs. Values are the cultural beliefs that we have about what is good or bad and right or wrong.  Values incorporate cultural perspectives and cultural visions of how people should behave (i.e., students shouldn’t cheat on a test).

While values include cultural ideals, norms simply include cultural expectations (ex: it’s expected that students will do their homework every day).  Norms are cultural beliefs about how things should be. Values are cultural beliefs about what is good/bad or right/wrong.

How Does Culture Affect Human Values and Behaviors?  

To understand how cultural values affect behavior, we have to look at the cultural ideals of a culture.  For example, in our culture, it is a cultural idea that everyone should have equal access to education and other cultural resources. 

In some cultures, it’s a cultural idea for women to be submissive, while in others, it’s a cultural ideal for them to be strong leaders (ex: Hillary Clinton).

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How Does Language Play a Role in Defining the Categorization of Culture?

The language of culture can often play an important role in determining the categorization and definition of cultures.  When two separate cultures come together to create a new one, they will often try to find ways to communicate with each other. These different methods for communicating are sometimes sufficient enough to allow people from separate cultural backgrounds to categorize.

Role of Cultural Cognition in Cultural Differences

When cultural norms are instilled in very young children, they become cultural values. 

Cultural beliefs about what things mean are first transmitted by parents, teachers, and other adults when cultural norms exist. Once cultural values become associated with particular beliefs in a society, people can infer cultural values from cultural beliefs.

Values and norms are related to cultural cognition because cultural cognition is based on both cultural values and cultural norms.  For this very reason, the cultural difference often goes unnoticed even though people may be acting differently because of their different cultural beliefs (ex: example about a man who wore shorts to the office). 

Cultural differences will not become cultural cognition unless cultural beliefs are an element of cultural norms. 

The cultural beliefs within a culture can be based on either cultural values or cultural norms (ex: eating beef is seen as natural and healthy in India but unnatural and unhealthy in the U.S.). 

The cultural difference happens when people from cultural groups have cultural beliefs about something classified into cultural categories.  These cultural beliefs may, in turn, lead to cultural differences between those cultural groups (ex: age).

Cultural Cognition is the process by which values and norms combine with cultural beliefs to form cultural differences.  

Three steps must happen for the cultural difference to come about: cultural cognition, cultural beliefs, and cultural norms.  Cultural cognitions will not occur unless cultural beliefs are an element of cultural norms within a culture or society (ex: wearing shorts to the office).  

These differences can be detected in two ways: first, by non-cultural means such as observation of cultural behavior or cultural artifacts (ex: cultural clothing); second, cultural beliefs can be measured through direct questioning.

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What Are Formal Norms, and How Do They Relate to Culture?

Formal norms are cultural beliefs that have become formalized as institutional rules. These are the written laws, social contracts, and other explicit cultural agreements, for example, The Ten Commandments. They also include cultural behaviors which have been formalized in the form of cultural artifacts. Another example is a culture that has formalized the act of greeting another by shaking hands.

Are Cultural Norms Also Related to Social Contracts?

Cultural norms are similar to social norms because they are both types of rules within society.  However, these two terms differ in one very important way.   Social norms are norms that are common throughout society.  On the other hand, cultural norms are specific to certain cultural groups and vary greatly from one culture to another.

What Are the Elements of Culture in Sociology?

Each culture is made up of four essential elements: norms, artifacts, values, and beliefs. By looking at these basic elements, you can understand what it means to be human and interact with one another. 

Norms form the basis for all stable societies. They are standards that people use to guide their behavior in day-to-day life.

– Values are associated with norms. They are the basic beliefs that society has about what is considered acceptable or unacceptable behavior. 

– Artifacts help define and reflect the values of a culture, for example, clothing styles, language, and architecture.  Understanding artifacts can be particularly useful when you try to understand how people think and feel.  Other examples of artifacts are holidays, rituals, and objects used in religion. 

– Beliefs are ideas or opinions about the way things ought to be. These beliefs can have a major influence on what types of behavior are considered acceptable in culture. 

It’s important to remember that cultures change over time as people react to the institutions around them and that these changes can have a big effect on all four elements of culture.

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How Can We Use Our Knowledge of Cultural Cognition to Better the World?

We could use cultural Cognition as a social cure for cultural prejudice.  This would entail teaching people how cultural Cognition works and then helping them understand cultural differences through cultural cognition rather than cultural prejudice (ex: by using cultural beliefs measured through direct questioning).  This would also mean that we would want cultural beliefs and cultural values to be measured and cultural beliefs about cultural norms.

Another solution would be to put cultural Cognition to good use by teaching people what cultural difference is and why cultural cognition occurs through cultural elements (ex: culture clothes). We could also use cultural Cognition in understanding other cultural differences which happen outside of the cultural norm (ex: cultural beliefs that are not formalized).

Using cultural cognition to understand cultural differences is useful because it allows us to see cultural differences in addition to cultural cognition.  This knowledge of cultural differences can help us see other cultural differences outside of cultural norms.

Through the study of cultural Cognition, cultural beliefs can be measured through direct questioning. These cultural beliefs about cultural norms can then be used to understand cultural cognition and cultural differences.

Using cultural Cognition helps us to better the world by providing social cures for cultural prejudice.

Cultural Cognition is one way that we can use our knowledge of cultural elements to better the world.

Cultural Cognition helps us to better the world by teaching cultural differences and cultural Cognition, allowing us to understand cultural cognition and cultural differences more effectively. Cultural Cognition is also a way of measuring cultural beliefs about cultural norms and cultural beliefs that are not formalized.

What is the Significance of Symbols and Language to a Culture?

Symbols are an important aspect of culture because they allow for complex meanings to become embedded daily.  A symbol’s meaning can attach itself to a physical object, occupation, or idea.

For example, a cross is a symbol of Christianity. Symbols that have attached themselves to physical objects, for example, the American flag, are called symbols in action. These are cultural items with non-physical content.

Symbols also have content that cannot be attached to physical objects.  This type of symbol is a cognitive symbol and is called a cultural icon. Cultural icons are developed through cultural cognition to represent non-physical ideas like justice or equality.

Words are also an important aspect of culture because they allow complex ideas to be communicated through a spoken or written medium.  A person’s knowledge of language defines what they know culturally. The way a word is used often holds greater meaning than its dictionary definition. For example, the word ‘pork’ in China, where pork is not consumed, signifies ‘things that are offensive to one’s culture.’

Language also allows people to communicate shared knowledge that has developed over time which we call cultural beliefs. Language can frame the idea of what to think about something by either including or excluding information. This does not mean that language can completely determine thoughts as other factors influence thought. It means that language is an important characteristic of culture.

Take the United States, for example; it has no official language. Although English is the most common language used in all aspects of American life, there are other languages spoken in the U.S.  English is spoken at home by more than 80 percent of the U.S. population. Some counties have declared English as their official language, though. 

Language and symbols are two of the most common ways for culture to influence a person’s thoughts.  By understanding how cultural cognition influences these items, we can understand their part in our beliefs about cultural norms.

Cultural cognition is a way of understanding cultural cognition and how it influences thought. By better understanding cultural Cognition, we can understand the part culture plays in our everyday lives.

The basic difference between a symbol and a sign is that symbols have complex meanings which become attached to non-physical objects, while signs only have simple meanings like stop or no smoking.

Cultures use symbols to unite members of that culture.  While forming a symbol, there is a balance between competing meanings and their roles within society (a process called “negotiation”).  

Cultures are always changing and being influenced by outside forces that cause change (whether intentionally or unintentionally). They have many different types and components of cultural norms are rules of behavior that are seen as acceptable to a group of people.  They may be written or unwritten, formalized or informal, and can change with time.   

Cultural norms can be defined in many different ways. Folkways are informal norms that govern day-to-day interactions and etiquette. 

 Mores are mores that are considered to be universal. On the other hand, taboos are usually norms with negative connotations that everyone is aware of, but no one talks about or even alludes to. Cultural norms exist to help an individual navigate the belief system of a culture. 

As time and society change, so do cultural norms. For example, in the 1950s, smoking was considered normal, while today it is seen as very un-normative and taboo to smoke at work or

An example of a written cultural norm is the Ten Commandments. They are formalized norms that were set in stone and thus did not change over time. An example of an un-written cultural norm is taking off your shoes when you enter someone’s house. This is considered acceptable by many people in Western cultures but may be seen as rude.

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Nonverbal Communication across Cultures?

Cultural norms can influence us without being conscious of them.  Non-verbal communication does not use language but rather body language and eye contact.  In many Asian cultures, direct eye contact is seen as rude, while Westerners see this as a universal sign of respect. Cultural differences in non-verbal communication are of significance in the workplace and can be frustrating for employees who do not have this non-verbal communication style. 

We can also communicate different ideas using a universal sign in one culture but considered inappropriate or rude. For example, crossed arms may indicate that the sender is closed off to the message being communicated. While in Western cultures, this would indicate anger or frustration, in some Asian cultures, this could be a sign of respect or submission.

Cultural differences can also cause misinterpretation of emotions if an individual’s nonverbal communication style does not match that culture’s nonverbal communication style.   This can be a problem in the workplace and sometimes lead to misunderstandings. Cultural universals are ways of communicating that are common across various cultures, but cultural differences also exist. 

Some examples of cultural universals include smiling, laughing, and nodding your head as a sign for yes.  While most Western cultures do use these cultural universals, they may have very different meanings than intended. 

A negative effect of these cultural differences in non-verbal communication can be miscommunication which leads to conflict.  For example, if a woman living in America smiles at a man from Korea, it might be taken as flirting, whereas she was just being friendly and didn’t intend for him to take it as a flirtatious smile.

Cultural communication can be very difficult because we may have different meanings for non-verbal communication than other cultures.  This is especial the case when dealing with someone from another country or culture with vastly different cultural norms and beliefs than your own.  

Time and patience are necessary when communicating with a person from another culture to understand the meanings and intent of non-verbal communication.

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What is the Symbolic Element of Culture?

The elements of culture that can be used to identify a specific culture are often referred to as symbolic elements.  These symbols are categorized into four different categories which are material, nonverbal, verbal, and cognitive. 

Material Elements: The material aspect of a culture is the physical objects associated with a certain culture.  For example, if you were to look at the material aspect of a Native American tribe, it would include things like tee-pees, tomahawks, and buffalo hides.  These things are symbolic in that they represent the culture and its traditions.

Nonverbal Elements: Nonverbal elements of culture often include gestures or facial expressions that convey a specific message in a certain culture.  An example of this includes the “V sign” used by Brits, which is considered a positive symbol, but it has been an insult in other countries, like Italy.

Verbal Elements: Any language or dialect spoken by a group of people can be considered part of their verbal culture.  This includes the way that words are used, pronounced, and structured.  It also includes the use of non-verbal communication, as previously mentioned.

Cognitive Elements: This category deals with how people think or cognitive processes such as reasoning and problem-solving.  For example, Buddhism has different religious beliefs than Christianity. They use different reasoning patterns and reasoning to determine problem-solving.

What is the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis?

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that language will influence the way people think and how they view the world.   An example of this is with the Navaho language, which only has three numbers 1, 2, and many. Because these are the only words for numbers in their language, they cannot accurately use numbers to quantify objects and are limited to describing objects in terms of groups. 

They cannot count the number of trees but instead would use words to describe how many people could fit around them. This example shows the difference between how language is used in different cultures. The word “culture” can mean many things, but the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis directly applies to the culture of the language. 

Anthropologists Carl Jung believed that all humans have a collective unconscious as a part of their unconsciousness. A person’s collective unconscious is their personal beliefs about human behavior.  These “archetypes” in a person’s mind contain images, thoughts, and memories passed down from generation to generation within that person’s culture.

Jung also believed that the collective unconscious is where archetypes come from. An archetype is an image or symbol within our minds which has an abstract meaning.  For example, an archetype such as the “father” symbolizes authority and experience. 

Each culture contains its shared archetypes that members of that culture can relate to. Each person has their own set of archetypes in their collective unconsciousness. The way a group interacts with one another is through a common vocabulary.  It is possible to see someone’s cultural background through their vocabulary because every culture has a set of specific words. This is known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (the term was coined by linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf). The hypothesis states that language plays an important role in molding how we think about the world.

The hypothesis also suggests a limit to how we can express ourselves through language, and beyond this limit, our thought process cannot keep up.   The only way for us to understand what lies beyond these limits in a language is through our thoughts passed down from generation to generation as part of our collective unconscious.

Jung believed that a collective unconscious is a place where archetypes are stored.   Archetypes are symbols and images which have an abstract meaning within our minds. Because Jung was such a strong believer in the theory of archetypes, he believed that they could influence our lives through dreams. He thought some dreams were brought on by people not being in tune with what their archetypes were telling them.  This is where the phrase “follow your dreams” comes from; it’s to find out what you’re striving for in life through your dreams and use that to motivate yourself.

Jung also believed that people who do not live up to their potential would suffer from psychological problems (an idea he called “pathology of the unconscious”).  He believed that a person would have trouble reaching their potential if they were not living up to their archetype. Jung also said we are all born with an archetype, but it will change and develop into something different based on your experiences as you grow older.

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What is Sociology?

Although there are many definitions for sociology, it is generally defined as the scientific study of society and social behavior. 

Sociology is a field of study that looks at how people interact with one another with their culture.  It examines human behavior within its cultural context. Sociologists often look closely at organizations such as schools, companies, governments, and neighborhoods.  They believe that by understanding how people interact with each other in these organizations, we can understand society.

Society refers to groups of people who share similar values and beliefs. This leads to them developing a set of norms that will govern their behavior. The social structure is how people are arranged in a society.  

We can see the social structure by looking at its class system. It is determined by dividing people based on their wealth and power (the upper/upper-middle/middle/lower-middle/lower classes).  The economy also plays an important role in the social structure, if it is a capitalist or a communist society.

Society is also divided up between people of different races, cultures, and genders.  This division is called stratification. There are two types of stratification: vertical and horizontal. 

Vertical stratification refers to the hierarchy in a given society; its social classes are listed from highest to lowest. 

Horizontal stratification is a difference in status between individuals of equal rank (for example, people who work within the same company or those who live close to one another).

What Are Some Different Cultures?

There are many different cultures in the world.  A culture is a group of people who share similar traits and form a distinct society with its norms, values, and beliefs.   Some well-known global cultures include American, European (Western), African, and Native American.

Some other more specific cultures might be familiar with our African culture, Japanese culture, and Middle Eastern culture.

Many cultures develop their stereotypes because of how they have been portrayed in media (movies, TV shows, etc.) over time.  For example, you might think that all Asian people like to study math and all African Americans like rap music.   Some other commonly held cultural stereotypes include:

1. People from the Middle East are terrorists.  

2. A Hispanic person is always someone who was born in Mexico or spoke Spanish.

3. All Native Americans live on a reservation and drive pickup trucks with feathers hanging on them.  (This stereotype is hard to believe, but sadly this is a common stereotype that I hear all the time)

What Are the Five Elements of a Culture Quizlet?

There are five elements of culture that are considered to be essential for a society to exist:

1. Society is composed of individuals and groups who have specific roles and responsibilities within the group. (Social Structure)

2. There is some economic activity in place, whether gathering food or taxes from citizens. (Economic System)

3. There is a set of common values, customs, and beliefs shared by society (Norms)

4. There is communication between members of the society through language or other forms of communication such as body language or gesture. (Language)

5. Society has some sort of government that determines what happens within the society and controls its citizens’ actions. (Government)

What Are the 7 Major Cultural Hearths?

Seven major cultural hearths have had an important impact on the development of society:

1. The Near East- also known as the Middle East, includes Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.  A few examples of early influential cultures that developed from this area include Sumerian, Egyptian and Assyrian.

2. The Chinese are people from the East Asian nation of China, one of the oldest civilizations in all recorded history. Many Chinese inventions such as paper and the compass have become staples in our everyday lives.  China also has a rich literary tradition that includes some well-known figures like Confucius, Lao-Tzu, and Li Bai.

3. India is a South Asian country located on the Indian peninsula, known for its various religions such as Sikhism, Hindu, and Jainism.  The caste system has been a significant part of Indian culture for centuries (where people follow their fathers’ profession and belong to a certain group or caste) but has been watered down since India’s independence.  Also, the Indian subcontinent is known for its large population and diverse culture.

4. Mesoamerica is an area in Mexico and Central America that was home to many early civilizations, such as the Mayan civilization, which is well-known for its use of hieroglyphic writing, unique calendar systems, and the mysterious disappearance of 1/3rd of the population in just 25 years.  They are famous for having a rich cultural heritage, which includes human sacrifice and ritual ball games. 

5. The Mediterranean is an area that includes Italy, Spain, France, and Greece. These countries are known for their contributions to culture like Greek democracy and the concept of human rights.  Art forms such as theater were also popular in this region.

6. Western Europe – This area was influenced by the rise of Christianity and its numerous religious conflicts between Catholic and Protestant sects.    This area is also known for its cultural influence in the arts and sciences.  

7. The Middle East is a region that includes Israel, Iraq, Iran, and Egypt.  It’s known for having many civilizations throughout time, such as Mesopotamia (“the land between two rivers”) and ancient Egypt, where great pyramids still exist.  

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What Are the Dimensions of Culture?

The two dimensions considered most important for understanding someone’s culture are WEIRD vs. non-WEIRD and individualistic vs. collectivist. Still, there are many more ways that psychologists have tried to organize people into different cultures:

1. WEIRD vs. non-WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic) vs. Non-WEIRD

2. Individualistic vs. collectivist

3. Traditional vs. secular  (or modern )

4. Harmony seeking vs. Mastery seeking

5. Long term orientation: East Asian countries such as Japan are characterized by being long term oriented (focus on the future), whereas Western countries are more short term oriented (focus on the present)

6. Masculine vs. feminine: Scandinavia is very masculine, emphasizing qualities like competitiveness and independence.  They also have a low birth rate because it’s not considered important for women to be mothers. 

7. Individualistic vs. interdependent: people from individualistic countries emphasize “I” identity, whereas people from interdependent countries emphasize “we” identity and are less likely to differentiate between in-groups and out-groups

8. Independent vs. interdependent: independent cultures such as the United States and England value independence and self-reliance and are more likely to value individual freedom.   Dependent cultures such as Greece and Germany are more likely to emphasize social cohesion

9. Dominance vs. prestige: Some countries have a culture of dominance, in which people get respect by showing power over others (as in the U.S., where we use the term “to be the boss”). In other countries, people gain respect through prestige (as in Japan).

10. Central vs. peripheral: some cultures are more central and focus on a core set of values for living, such as Confucianism or Islam. Other cultures are more peripheral and focus on a broad range of cultural elements like Hinduism or Judaism.

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