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Our culture is a major part of our socialization.  Our specific culture, whether it be the American culture or ethnic culture teaches us norms, values, andCharacteristics of culture - language, values, norms, material culture, non-material culture beliefs.  The most prominent aspect of our culture is language.  For, without language, we would not have culture as we would not be able to transmit our culture to the next generation, it allows for culture to exist (shared past and future, shared perspectives, common understandings).  In terms of language, I am referring to some type of communication tool.

Culture is defined as “language, beliefs, values, norms, behaviors, and material objects that are passed on from one generation to the next” (Henslin, 2016).  Culture affects our perceptions, values, ways of thinking, and our behaviors.

Culture is transmitted through our social institutions.  The main institutions our culture is transmitted through are: education, religion, and family (however, the other institutions also transmit culture: politics, media, etc.).  Our family is our first and primary transmitter of our culture.  Religion is the next culture transmitter and is often the basis of our specific values and beliefs.  But then we have education as another transmitting tool.  How do you think education acts as a transmitter of culture?  Reflect on the transmission of the American culture.  We can look at the values we are taught in the U.S. society through our education (patriotism, achievement, success, individualism).  Think about how the educational system transmits these values.

Social Theory and Culture

Structural Functionalism

Culture provides us with norms, order, and stability and allows our society to be functional and fulfill functions.  Social control is used as a means to enforce the norms of society.  There are formal and informal norms in every society that govern individuals’ behaviors.

Conflict Theory

Cultural norms reflects the interests of the rich and powerful (competition and productivity).

Symbolic Interactionism

Through our socialization and our interactions with our agents of socialization we learn and adopt cultural norms.  We have shared understandings of the cultural norms which guides social interaction and our behaviors.

United States Cultural Values

  • Achievement and success
  • Individualism
  • Activity and work (work hard)
  • Efficiency and practicality
  • Science and technology
  • Progress (applied science to control nature)
  • Material comfort
  • Humanitarianism (personal kindness, aid to those who experience natural disasters, organized philanthropy)
  • Freedom
  • Democracy (majority rule)
  • Equality
  • Racism and group superiority
  • Education
  • Religiosity (every true American out to be religious; “In God we Trust”; “one nation under God”
  • Romantic Love

Emerging Values: leisure, self-fulfillment, physical fitness, youthfulness, and concern for the environment

Culture Shock

What is culture shock?  Make sure you have read the definition of culture shock in the Openstax textbook.

Have you ever experienced culture shock?

When I first met my husband’s family I experienced culture shock.  My family consists of about ten people and when we greet each other we do not hug and kiss.  When I met my husband’s family, I believe it was “Good Friday” (Catholic holiday), I walked into a room of about forty people, which is about how many people my family has at weddings.  My husband took me around the room and introduced me to each person individually and each person hugged and kissed me!  Honestly, I actually thought I was having a heart attack, now I know it was culture shock that I was experiencing.  I couldn’t wait to get out of there but when we left we walked around the room and said goodbye and hugged and kissed everyone again!  It has taken me over twenty years to get used to this and even now sometimes it is hard.  What theory can you apply to this example?


What is ethnocentrism?  Make sure you read the definition of ethnocentrism in the OpenStax textbook.  Ethnocentrism does provide for group norms and group cohesion, this is considered the functional aspect of ethnocentrism.  However, overall we view ethnocentrism as judging another culture, comparing other cultures to our own culture and concluding that our culture is better.  Think of some examples of when you have been ethnocentric or experienced ethnocentrism against you/your culture.

Is This Ethnocentrism?

Before exchange students actually go to the country they are going to study in they are briefed on what to expect in that country.  Basically, the idea is to avoid as much culture shock as possible and inform them of how to get along in the specific country.  The following is quoted directly from a pamphlet given to German exchanged students coming to the United States to study in 2000.

  • Americans say “Hello” or “How are you?” when they see each other. A long answer is not expected; just answer “Thank you, fine.  How are you?”
  • Using deodorant is a must.
  • American women usually shave their legs and under their arms. Women who don’t like to do this should consider wearing clothes that cover these areas.
  • Try not to talk with other Germans in German if Americans are around; this could make them feel uncomfortable.
  • Please consider the differences in verbal communication styles between Americans and Germans. The typical German speaking style sounds abrupt and rude to Americans.  Keep this in mind when talking to Americans.
  • Be polite. Use words like “please” and “thank you.”  It is better to use these too often than not enough.  Also, be conscious of your voice and the expression on your face.  Your voice should be friendly, and you should wear a smile.
  • Keep yourself out of any discussions about race, sex, religion, or politics.
  • Be open-minded; don’t make judgments based on past experiences in Germany.
  • Be aware that there are a lot of different cultures in the United States. Don’t be quick to judge these cultures; this could hurt people’s feelings.
  • Do it the American way and try to intermingle with the Americans. Think positive.

Source: Parrillo, Vincent N. (2000).  Strangers to These Shores: Race and Ethnic Relations in the United States.  Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon Publishing. 

Now is this ethnocentrism?  Why?  What do you think about some of the bullet points?  Is it the wording what causes us to conclude that this is ethnocentric? 

How do we become ethnocentric?  What happens in our socialization that causes ethnocentric attitudes?  Do you recall anything in your socialization that specifically relates to some ethnocentric attitudes you have?

After reading “The Fierce People” article reflect on how you can apply the course material from this week (culture lecture, chapter 3) to the examples from the article.

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