Ways of Thinking…: 3SocStructure, Lesson 3: Culture

Ways of Thinking...: 3SocStructure, Lesson 3: Culture
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The influence of culture on social structure

Babies are born into culture. Culture is the overall meaning of people’s way of life. Culture surrounds us, so we don’t even notice it. There is no right or wrong culture, only different cultural meanings.

Culture shock

Because we are deeply rooted in culture, our reality is deeply constructed by culture. So when we experience a different culture, it can affect us emotionally. When we encounter a culture we have not lived in, we can experience culture shocka sense of wonder and disbelief upon experiencing a new culture.

1. What was an example of culture shock? From the movie? From your life?


If we are not shocked by cultural differences, we sometimes judge other cultures by our own standards. It is called ethnocentrism.

2. What is ethnocentrism? What is the ethnocentric approach of the film?

Cultural relativity
Instead of valuing other cultures, sociologists seek cultural relativity or trying to understand a culture by that culture’s standards. This will help us understand people better and be more empirical and less judgmental.

The following is a graphic called the Culture Iceberg, originally published in 1984. In the American Foreign Service Handbook (cited by sociologist Robin DiAngelo, 2016, digitized by Dr. Robert Sweetland on his website for educators).

Cultural universals and human nature

While the first sight of a new culture may prompt an emotional response such as culture shock or ethnocentrism, when sociologists (and anthropologists) take a step back, they find that many general aspects of culture are similar around the world. These similar cultural traits are called cultural universals. Many of the components of the iceberg mentioned above can generally be considered cultural universals, although the expression of those universals varies. Because cultural universals are ubiquitous among humans, they can be considered innate or part of our human nature. Many of these are related to human interaction. It is our human nature to be nurtured. We need others to survive, so we are wired to connect with other people.

3. Apply cultural universals and human nature to babies; what are some examples of cultural universals in a documentary? How are cultural universals an example of human nature and psychology?

Human education

Although cultural universals may be similar for people around the world, the specific way in which we express these universals may differ. These differences lead to different influences on us based on our culture; our shared meanings vary according to our culture. For example, what does bathing mean? To be clean? To eat? They all have different meanings depending on your culture, so individuals are educated differently depending on their culture.

4. Apply upbringing and socialization to babies. What are some examples of cultural differences in the documentary?

Material culture

What are the material objects that have common meaning in film culture?

Intangible cultureNorms

Norms are what a culture considers normal, especially the behaviors and roles we expect of people in our culture. Even before they start talking, babies learn norms. Norms can be simple, everyday expectations of life and behavior.

Language and shared meaning

Language is also an important part of culture. Language itself is a universality of culture and a part of human nature. However, the different meanings of language in each culture are an example of education. People learn different meanings from their language.

What is the importance of language?

Language is important because it influences how we think. When we think about something, we use language in our head, so if we use certain words or don’t have certain words, it can affect the way we think about things, especially how we categorize things. We even think based on how words sound. For example, takete and malunga. Takete sounds harsh and therefore angular. Malunga sounds softer and rounder. But these are just fancy words.

Form A Form B

What is the Saphir-Whorf hypothesis?

The importance of language was first emphasized by researchers Saphir and Whorf. Their hypothesis and conclusion was that language shapes people’s thinking, especially through categorization and naming. For example, in the color examples above, Native Americans usually group chips by blue and green, but the Tarahumara people do not have a word for blue and green, instead they have words for the color of water and the color of night. Since each group of people has different words with different meanings, it shapes their thinking.

The NY Times ran a story about how the idea of ​​language affects our minds. See that article here.

Another example of the effect of language on our thinking is here (see page 43 of this document), Carol Mukhopadhyay’s tutorial on classification in other cultures. For each of the following sets, choose the element that does not belong:

Set 1. Car, turtle, basket, bird

Students typically choose a car or a cart using the culturally familiar categorization machines vs. non-machines or moving vs. still. However, at least some non-Western cultural groups would see the birds as different because their culture emphasizes shape and the birds are relatively angular rather than round in shape. Our culture tends to emphasize usability or functionality. So justice would depend on the culture.

Set 2. Laundry, beer, clothes

Students usually choose beer as the most different with great confidence. Functionality combines clothes and washing machines. However, at least one culture views clothing as different, as laundry and beer are “foamy.” The visual appearance is the most striking. US beer slang (“suds”) also acknowledges the fizz feature.

Set 3. Chair, spear, couch

Again, students choose the ‘wrong’ answer – at least from the perspective of traditional West African cultures. In the US, Americans tend to emphasize use, so they put a sofa and a chair together as seating arrangements (ie “furniture”). Apparently, the Ashanti would see the “couch” as the most different, since both the chair and the spear can symbolize power.

Evidence that different languages ​​with gendered nouns shape people’s thinking about:

Lera Boroditsky, a professor of cognitive science and cultural psychology, published a study that suggests that language affects how we think. Its proof is the gender of nouns in different cultures. Here she explains her research to Ted. Here’s NPR’s explanation of Boroditsky’s research and how language shapes our description of bridges. This Psychology Today article explains more about the importance of gendering nouns in language. This NPR story highlights how language affects our thinking, especially for bilingual speakers.

More evidence for the effect of language on thinking:

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