Ch. 2 Characteristics of Culture
 The Concept of Culture
 Culture is Learned
 Culture is Shared
 Culture is Based on Symbols
 Culture Gives Meaning to Reality
 Functions of Culture
 Culture and Change
 Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism
What is Culture?
Superstructure: A culture’s worldview,
including morals and values, oftentimes
grounded in religion
Social structure: The rule-governed
relationships—with all their rights and
obligations—that hold members of a society
together. This includes households, families,
associations, and power relations, including
Infrastructure: The economic
foundation of a society,
including its subsistence
practices and the tools and
other material equipment used
to make a living.
The Barrel Model
of Culture
What is Culture?
 The beliefs and behaviors of a society
 Culture consists of abstract ideas, values, and
perceptions of the world that inform and are
reflected in people’s behavior
 Culture is the lens through which we view our world, it
“invents” our reality
Iceberg example…
Culture is like an
Culture is Learned
 Rather than inherited biologically
 Enculturation: The transmission of culture from one generation to the
 Mammals in general display cultural behavior (I.e. we all have the urge
to eat/sleep, but when we do/with whom/in what order is determined
by our social relationships). With humans, our social rules are more
varied and complex.
 Ex: Social animals…Lions, dogs, chimpanzees… (Chimp Culture)
If animals display cultural behavior as do we, should we also view
animals through an Anthropological perspective? Sub disciplines of
Primate Behavior and Animal Communication deal with this question.
Culture is Shared
 By members of a society and produces behavior that is
intelligible (able to be understood) to other members of
that society
 Society vs. Culture
 Society: An organized group or groups of interdependent people
who generally share a common territory, language, and culture and
who act together for collective survival and well-being.
There can be no culture without a society, there are no known human
societies that do not exhibit culture.
Cultural Anthropologists focus on the Cultural aspect of society. The
study of society itself is Sociology (very closely related discipline to
Cultural Anthro).
Culture is Based on Symbols
 What are some symbols of U.S. pop culture? What do they
 Stereotypes levied at US Peace Corps employees
 Cultural variation between subgroups in societies that share an overarching
 Ex: Ethnic group (A type of subculture).
 People who collectively and publicly identify themselves as a
distinct group based on various cultural features such as shared
ancestry and common origin, language customs and traditional
 Ethnicity: The expression of the set of cultural ideas held by an
ethnic group
 Pluralistic Society: A society in which two or more ethnic groups or
nationalities are politically organized into one territorial state but
maintain their cultural differences
Sometimes can lead to some pretty nasty misunderstandings…
 Ex: Yearning for Zion Ranch Texas, Warren Jeffs, Polygamy
 Ex: Branch Davidians, Waco Texas
 Ex (book –pg 33): Shetland pony seller Salt Lake City/Tongan B-day
Cultures Change
 In response to environmental or societal pressures.
 Ex: North American apparel
 Capitalism, need market growth = fashion changes constantly.
Ideas about what is “proper” always evolving.
Compare to ancient Egypt: ~3,000 years style of dress pretty much the
same. No capitalism, instead a Theocracy. Balance, harmony,
emphasis on sameness and repetition of cycles.
 Ex: New symbols emerge or are invented to convey
changed cultural meanings
Ex: Religion Osiris + Zeus = Sarapis