Cultural Identity Essay

27 August, 2020

12 minutes read

Author:  Elizabeth Brown

No matter where you study, composing essays of any type and complexity is a critical component in any studying program. Most likely, you have already been assigned the task to write a cultural identity essay, which is an essay that has to do a lot with your personality and cultural background. In essence, writing a cultural identity essay is fundamental for providing the reader with an understanding of who you are and which outlook you have. This may include the topics of religion, traditions, ethnicity, race, and so on. So, what shall you do to compose a winning cultural identity essay?

Cultural Identity

Cultural Identity Paper: Definitions, Goals & Topics 

cultural identity essay example

Before starting off with a cultural identity essay, it is fundamental to uncover what is particular about this type of paper. First and foremost, it will be rather logical to begin with giving a general and straightforward definition of a cultural identity essay. In essence, cultural identity essay implies outlining the role of the culture in defining your outlook, shaping your personality, points of view regarding a multitude of matters, and forming your qualities and beliefs. Given a simpler definition, a cultural identity essay requires you to write about how culture has influenced your personality and yourself in general. So in this kind of essay you as a narrator need to give an understanding of who you are, which strengths you have, and what your solid life position is.

Yet, the goal of a cultural identity essay is not strictly limited to describing who you are and merely outlining your biography. Instead, this type of essay pursues specific objectives, achieving which is a perfect indicator of how high-quality your essay is. Initially, the primary goal implies outlining your cultural focus and why it makes you peculiar. For instance, if you are a french adolescent living in Canada, you may describe what is so special about it: traditions of the community, beliefs, opinions, approaches. Basically, you may talk about the principles of the society as well as its beliefs that made you become the person you are today.

So far, cultural identity is a rather broad topic, so you will likely have a multitude of fascinating ideas for your paper. For instance, some of the most attention-grabbing topics for a personal cultural identity essay are:

  • Memorable traditions of your community
  • A cultural event that has influenced your personality 
  • Influential people in your community
  • Locations and places that tell a lot about your culture and identity

Cultural Identity Essay Structure

As you might have already guessed, composing an essay on cultural identity might turn out to be fascinating but somewhat challenging. Even though the spectrum of topics is rather broad, the question of how to create the most appropriate and appealing structure remains open.

Like any other kind of an academic essay, a cultural identity essay must compose of three parts: introduction, body, and concluding remarks. Let’s take a more detailed look at each of the components:


Starting to write an essay is most likely one of the most time-consuming and mind-challenging procedures. Therefore, you can postpone writing your introduction and approach it right after you finish body paragraphs. Nevertheless, you should think of a suitable topic as well as come up with an explicit thesis. At the beginning of the introduction section, give some hints regarding the matter you are going to discuss. You have to mention your thesis statement after you have briefly guided the reader through the topic. You can also think of indicating some vital information about yourself, which is, of course, relevant to the topic you selected.

Your main body should reveal your ideas and arguments. Most likely, it will consist of 3-5 paragraphs that are more or less equal in size. What you have to keep in mind to compose a sound ‘my cultural identity essay’ is the argumentation. In particular, always remember to reveal an argument and back it up with evidence in each body paragraph. And, of course, try to stick to the topic and make sure that you answer the overall question that you stated in your topic. Besides, always keep your thesis statement in mind: make sure that none of its components is left without your attention and argumentation.


Finally, after you are all finished with body paragraphs and introduction, briefly summarize all the points in your final remarks section. Paraphrase what you have already revealed in the main body, and make sure you logically lead the reader to the overall argument. Indicate your cultural identity once again and draw a bottom line regarding how your culture has influenced your personality.

Best Tips For Writing Cultural Identity Essay

Writing a ‘cultural identity essay about myself’ might be somewhat challenging at first. However, you will no longer struggle if you take a couple of plain tips into consideration. Following the tips below will give you some sound and reasonable cultural identity essay ideas as well as make the writing process much more pleasant:

  • Start off by creating an outline. The reason why most students struggle with creating a cultural identity essay lies behind a weak structure. The best way to organize your ideas and let them flow logically is to come up with a helpful outline. Having a reference to build on is incredibly useful, and it allows your essay to look polished.
  • Remember to write about yourself. The task of a cultural identity essay implies not focusing on your culture per se, but to talk about how it shaped your personality. So, switch your focus to describing who you are and what your attitudes and positions are. 
  • Think of the most fundamental cultural aspects. Needless to say, you first need to come up with a couple of ideas to be based upon in your paper. So, brainstorm all the possible ideas and try to decide which of them deserve the most attention. In essence, try to determine which of the aspects affected your personality the most.
  • Edit and proofread before submitting your paper. Of course, the content and the coherence of your essay’s structure play a crucial role. But the grammatical correctness matters a lot too. Even if you are a native speaker, you may still make accidental errors in the text. To avoid the situation when unintentional mistakes spoil the impression from your essay, always double check your cultural identity essay. 

Best Essay Writing Services 2023

Student life can often be quite challenging because students have to deal with challenging college essay writing assignments. To facilitate the learning process, many services help you complete written work and get high scores. Now we will tell you about the best services that you can turn to and get high-quality papers. Essay Writing Service […]

A life lesson in Romeo and Juliet taught by death

A life lesson in Romeo and Juliet taught by death

Due to human nature, we draw conclusions only when life gives us a lesson since the experience of others is not so effective and powerful. Therefore, when analyzing and sorting out common problems we face, we may trace a parallel with well-known book characters or real historical figures. Moreover, we often compare our situations with […]

Ethical Research Paper Topics

Ethical Research Paper Topics

Writing a research paper on ethics is not an easy task, especially if you do not possess excellent writing skills and do not like to contemplate controversial questions. But an ethics course is obligatory in all higher education institutions, and students have to look for a way out and be creative. When you find an […]

Become a Writer Today

Essays about Culture and Identity: 9 Examples And Prompts

Writing essays about culture and identity will help you explore your understanding of it. Here are examples that will give you inspiration for your next essay.

Culture can refer to customs, traditions, beliefs, lifestyles, laws, artistic expressions, and other elements that cultivate the collective identity. Different cultures are established across nations, regions, communities, and social groups. They are passed on from generation to generation while others evolve or are abolished to give way to modern beliefs and systems.

While our cultural identity begins at home, it changes as we involve ourselves with other groups (friends, educational institutions, social media communities, political groups, etc.) Culture is a very relatable subject as every person is part of a culture or at least can identify with one. Because it spans broad coverage, there are several interesting cultural subjects to write about.

Our culture and identity are dynamic. This is why you may find it challenging to write about it. To spark your inspiration, check out our picks of the best culture essays. 

1. Sweetness and Light by Matthew Arnolds

2. how auto-tune revolutionized the sound of popular music by simon reynolds, 3. how immigration changes language by john mcwhorter, 4. the comfort zone: growing up with charlie brown by jonathan franzen, 5. culture and identity definition by sandra graham, 6. how culture and surroundings influence identity by jeanette lucas, 7. how the food we eat reflects our culture and identity by sophia stephens, 8. identity and culture: my identity, culture, and identity by april casas, 9. how america hinders the cultural identity of their own citizens by seth luna, 1. answer the question, “who am i”, 2. causes of culture shock, 3. your thoughts on dystopia and utopia, 4. gender inequality from a global perspective, 5. the most interesting things you learned from other cultures, 6. the relationship between cultural identity and clothes, 7. describe your culture, 8. what is the importance of honoring your roots , 9. how can a person adapt to a new culture, 10. what artistic works best express your country’s culture, 11. how has social media influenced human interaction, 12. how do you protect the cultures of indigenous peoples, 13. are k-pop and k-drama sensations effectively promoting korea’s culture , 14. what is the importance of cultural diversity.

“… [A]nd when every man may say what he likes, our aspirations ought to be satisfied. But the aspirations of culture, which is the study of perfection, are not satisfied, unless what men say, when they may say what they like, is worth saying,—has good in it, and more good than bad.”

Arnolds compels a re-examination of values at a time when England is leading global industrialization and beginning to believe that greatness is founded on material progress. 

The author elaborates why culture, the strive for a standard of perfection, is not merely driven by scientific passions and, more so, by materialistic affluence. As he esteems religion as “that voice of the deepest human experience” to harmonize men in establishing that ideal society, Arnolds stresses that culture is the effort to “make reason and the will of God prevail” while humanizing gained knowledge to be society’s source of “sweetness and light.”

“Few innovations in sound production have been simultaneously so reviled and so revolutionary. Epoch-defining or epoch-defacing, Auto-Tune is indisputably the sound of the 21st century so far.”

Reynolds shows how Auto-Tune has shaped a pop music genre that has cut across cultures. The article maps out the music landscape Auto-Tune created and examines its impact on the culture of song productions and the modern taste for music. While the author debunks accusations that Auto-Tune destroyed the “natural” process of creating music, he also points out that the technology earned its reverence with big thanks to society’s current custom of using technology to hide blemishes and other imperfections.

Looking for more? Check out these essays about culture shock .

“… [T]he heavy immigration that countries like Italy are experiencing will almost certainly birth new kinds of Italian that are rich with slang, somewhat less elaborate than the standard, and… widely considered signs of linguistic deterioration, heralding a future where the “original” standard language no longer exists.”

American linguist McWhorter pacifies fears over the death of “standard” languages amid the wave of immigration to Europe. On the contrary, language is a vital expression of a culture, and for some, preserving is tantamount to upholding a cultural standard. 

However, instead of seeing the rise of new “multiethnolects” such as the Black English in America and Kiezdeutsch in Germany as threats to language and culture, McWhorter sees them as a new way to communicate and better understand the social groups that forayed these new languages.

“I wonder why “cartoonish” remains such a pejorative. It took me half my life to achieve seeing my parents as cartoons. And to become more perfectly a cartoon myself: what a victory that would be.”

This essay begins with a huge fight between Franzen’s brother and father to show how the cultural generation gap sweeping the 60s has hit closer to home. This generation gap, where young adults were rejecting the elders’ old ways in pursuit of a new and better culture, will also be the reason why his family ends up drifting apart. Throughout the essay, Franzen treads this difficult phase in his youth while narrating fondly how Peanuts, a pop culture icon at the time, was his source of escape. 

“…Culture is… your background… and Identity is formed where you belong to… Leopold Sedar Senghor and Shirley Geok-Lin Lim both talks about how culture and identity can impact… society…”

In this essay, Graham uses “To New York” by Senghor and “Learning To Love America” by Lim as two pieces of literature that effectively describe the role of culture and identity to traveling individuals. 

The author refers to Sengho’s reminder that people can adapt but must not forget their culture even if they go to a different place or country. On the other hand, Lim discusses immigrants’ struggle to have double identities.

“Culture is something that surrounds all of us and progress to shape our lives every day… Identity is illustrated as the state of mind in which someone or something distinguishes their own character traits that lead to determining who they really are, what they represent.”

Lucas is keen on giving examples of how his culture and surroundings influence an individual’s identity. She refers to Kothari’s “If you are what you eat, then what am I?” which discusses Kothari’s search for her identity depending on what food she eats. Food defines a person’s culture and identity, so Kothari believes that eating food from different countries will change his identity.

Lucas also refers to “Down These Mean Streets” by Piri Thomas, which argues how different cultural and environmental factors affect us. Because of what we encounter, there is a possibility that we will become someone who we are not. 

“What we grow is who we are. What we buy is who we are. What we eat is who we are.”

Stephens’ essay teaches its readers that the food we grow and eat defines us as a person. She explains that growing a crop and harvesting it takes a lot of effort, dedication, and patience, which mirrors our identity. 

Another metaphor she used is planting rice: it takes skills and knowledge to make it grow. Cooking rice is more accessible than cultivating it – you can quickly cook rice by boiling it in water. This reflects people rich in culture and tradition but who lives simpler life. 

“Every single one has their own unique identity and culture. Culture plays a big role in shaping your identity. Culture is what made me the person I am today and determines who or what I choose to associate myself with.”

Casas starts her piece by questioning who she is. In trying to learn and define who she is, she writes down and describes herself and her personality throughout the essay. Finally, she concludes that her culture is a big part of her identity, and she must understand it to understand herself.

“When it comes to these stereotypes we place on each other, a lot of the time, we succumb to the stereotypes given to us. And our cultural identity is shaped by these expectations and labels others give us. That is why negative stereotypes sometimes become true for a whole group or community.”

In this essay, Luna talks about how negative stereotyping in the United States led to moral distortion. For example, Americans are assumed to be ignorant of other countries’ cultures, making it difficult to understand other people’s cultures and lifestyles. 

She believes that stereotyping can significantly affect an individual or group’s identity. She suggests Americans should improve their intellectual competence by being sensitive to other people’s cultures.

14 Prompts on Essays about Culture and Identity

You can discuss many things on the subject of culture and identity. To give you a starting point, here are some prompts to help you write an exciting essay about culture. 

If you are interested in learning more, check out our essay writing tips and our round-up of the best essay checkers .

Understanding your personality is vital since continuous interaction with others can affect your personality. Write about your culture and identity; what is your personality? How do you define yourself? Everyone is unique, so by writing an essay about who you are, you’ll be able to understand why you act a certain way and connect with readers who have the same values. 

Here’s a guide on writing a descriptive essay to effectively relay your experience to your readers.

Sometimes, people need to get out of their comfort zone and interact with other individuals with different cultures, beliefs, or traditions. This is to broaden one’s perspective about the world. Aside from discussing what you’ve learned in that journey, you can also focus on the bits that shocked you. 

You can talk about a tradition or value that you found so bizarre because it differs from your culture. Then add how you processed it and finally adapted to it.

Essays about Culture and Identity: Your Thoughts on Dystopia and Utopia

Dystopia and Utopia are both imagined worlds. Dystopia is a world where people live in the worst or most unfavorable conditions, while Utopia is the opposite. 

You can write an essay about what you think a Dystopian or Utopian world may look like, how these societies will affect their citizens, etc. Then, consider what personality citizens of each world may have to depend on the two worlds’ cultures.

Today, more and more people are fighting for others to accept or at least respect the LGBTQ+ community. However, countries, territories, and religions still question their rights.

In your essay, you can talk about why these institutions react the way they do and how culture dictates someone’s identity in the wrong way. Before creating your own, feel free to read other essays and articles to learn more about the global gender inequality issue. 

The world has diverse cultures, traditions, and values. When you travel to a new place, learning and writing about your firsthand experiences with unique cultures and rituals will always be an interesting read.

In this prompt, you’ll research other cultures and how they shaped their group’s identity. Then, write about the most exciting aspects you’ve learned, why you found them fascinating, and how they differ from your culture.

Those proud of their culture will wear clothes inspired by them. Some wear the same clothes even if they aren’t from the same culture. The debate over cultural appropriation and culture appreciation is still a hot topic. 

In this essay, you may start with the traditions of your community or observances your family celebrates and gathers for. Then, elaborate on their origins and describe how your community or family is preserving these practices. 

Learning about your roots, ancestors, and family cultures can help strengthen your understanding of your identity and foster respect for other cultures. Explore this topic and offer examples of what others have learned. Has the journey always been a positive experience? Delve into this question for an engaging and interesting essay.

When a person moves country, it can be challenging to adapt to a new culture. If there are new people at work or school, you can interview them and ask how they are coping with their new environment. How different is this from what they have been used to, and what unique traditions do they find interesting?

Focus on an art piece that is a source of pride and identity to your country’s culture, much like the Tinikling of the Philippines or the Matryoshka dolls of Russia. Explore its origins and evolution up to its current manifestation and highlight efforts that are striving to protect and promote these artistic works.

The older generation did not have computers in their teen years. Ask about how they dated in their younger years and how they made friends. Contrast how the younger generation is building their social networks today. Write what culture of socialization works better for you and explain why.

Take in-depth navigation of existing policies that protect indigenous peoples. Are they sufficient to serve these communities needs, and are they being implemented effectively? There is also the challenge of balancing the protection of these traditions against the need to protect the environment, as some indigenous practices add to the carbon footprint. How is your government dealing with this challenge?

A large population is now riding the Hallyu or the Korean pop culture, with many falling in love with the artists and Korea’s food, language, and traditional events. Research how certain Korean films, TV series, or music have effectively attracted fans to experience Korea’s culture. Write about what countries can learn from Korea in promoting their own cultures.

Environments that embrace cultural diversity are productive and innovative. To start your essay, assess how diverse your workplace or school is. Then, write your personal experiences where working with co-workers or classmates from different cultures led to new and innovative ideas and projects. Combine this with the personal experiences of your boss or the principal to see how your environment benefits from hosting a melting pot of cultures.

If you aim for your article to effectively change readers’ perspectives and align with your opinion, read our guide to achieving persuasive writing . 

View all posts

  • Subscriber Services
  • For Authors
  • Publications
  • Archaeology
  • Art & Architecture
  • Bilingual dictionaries
  • Classical studies
  • Encyclopedias
  • English Dictionaries and Thesauri
  • Language reference
  • Linguistics
  • Media studies
  • Medicine and health
  • Names studies
  • Performing arts
  • Science and technology
  • Social sciences
  • Society and culture
  • Overview Pages
  • Subject Reference
  • English Dictionaries
  • Bilingual Dictionaries

Recently viewed (0)

  • Save Search

Related Content

More like this.

Show all results sharing these subjects:

social custom

Quick reference.

An accepted, established, or expected pattern of behaviour. Social customs guide behaviour and can replace the need to make choices. For example, it is a social custom in many countries that a man should open a door for a woman. When two people meet at a door this custom solves the decision problem of who should open it approximately half of the time. The concept of social custom has been used to explain observations of behaviour that are otherwise not individually rational. Examples include the membership of a trade union when non-members also benefit from the gains secured by the union, and the decision not to evade tax even when the expected return from evasion is positive.

From:   social custom   in  A Dictionary of Economics »

Subjects: Social sciences — Economics

Related content in Oxford Reference

Reference entries.

View all related items in Oxford Reference »

Search for: 'social custom' in Oxford Reference »

  • Oxford University Press

PRINTED FROM OXFORD REFERENCE ( (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single entry from a reference work in OR for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice ).

date: 16 November 2023

  • Cookie Policy
  • Privacy Policy
  • Legal Notice
  • Accessibility
  • [|]

Character limit 500 /500

Logo for M Libraries Publishing

Want to create or adapt books like this? Learn more about how Pressbooks supports open publishing practices.

3.2 The Elements of Culture

Learning objectives.

  • Distinguish material culture and nonmaterial culture.
  • List and define the several elements of culture.
  • Describe certain values that distinguish the United States from other nations.

Culture was defined earlier as the symbols, language, beliefs, values, and artifacts that are part of any society. As this definition suggests, there are two basic components of culture: ideas and symbols on the one hand and artifacts (material objects) on the other. The first type, called nonmaterial culture , includes the values, beliefs, symbols, and language that define a society. The second type, called material culture , includes all the society’s physical objects, such as its tools and technology, clothing, eating utensils, and means of transportation. These elements of culture are discussed next.

Every culture is filled with symbols , or things that stand for something else and that often evoke various reactions and emotions. Some symbols are actually types of nonverbal communication, while other symbols are in fact material objects. As the symbolic interactionist perspective discussed in Chapter 1 “Sociology and the Sociological Perspective” emphasizes, shared symbols make social interaction possible.

Let’s look at nonverbal symbols first. A common one is shaking hands, which is done in some societies but not in others. It commonly conveys friendship and is used as a sign of both greeting and departure. Probably all societies have nonverbal symbols we call gestures , movements of the hands, arms, or other parts of the body that are meant to convey certain ideas or emotions. However, the same gesture can mean one thing in one society and something quite different in another society (Axtell, 1998). In the United States, for example, if we nod our head up and down, we mean yes, and if we shake it back and forth, we mean no. In Bulgaria, however, nodding means no, while shaking our head back and forth means yes! In the United States, if we make an “O” by putting our thumb and forefinger together, we mean “OK,” but the same gesture in certain parts of Europe signifies an obscenity. “Thumbs up” in the United States means “great” or “wonderful,” but in Australia it means the same thing as extending the middle finger in the United States. Certain parts of the Middle East and Asia would be offended if they saw you using your left hand to eat, because they use their left hand for bathroom hygiene.


The meaning of a gesture may differ from one society to another. This familiar gesture means “OK” in the United States, but in certain parts of Europe it signifies an obscenity. An American using this gesture might very well be greeted with an angry look.

d Wang – ok – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Some of our most important symbols are objects. Here the U.S. flag is a prime example. For most Americans, the flag is not just a piece of cloth with red and white stripes and white stars against a field of blue. Instead, it is a symbol of freedom, democracy, and other American values and, accordingly, inspires pride and patriotism. During the Vietnam War, however, the flag became to many Americans a symbol of war and imperialism. Some burned the flag in protest, prompting angry attacks by bystanders and negative coverage by the news media.

Other objects have symbolic value for religious reasons. Three of the most familiar religious symbols in many nations are the cross, the Star of David, and the crescent moon, which are widely understood to represent Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, respectively. Whereas many cultures attach no religious significance to these shapes, for many people across the world they evoke very strong feelings of religious faith. Recognizing this, hate groups have often desecrated these symbols.

As these examples indicate, shared symbols, both nonverbal communication and tangible objects, are an important part of any culture but also can lead to misunderstandings and even hostility. These problems underscore the significance of symbols for social interaction and meaning.

Perhaps our most important set of symbols is language. In English, the word chair means something we sit on. In Spanish, the word silla means the same thing. As long as we agree how to interpret these words, a shared language and thus society are possible. By the same token, differences in languages can make it quite difficult to communicate. For example, imagine you are in a foreign country where you do not know the language and the country’s citizens do not know yours. Worse yet, you forgot to bring your dictionary that translates their language into yours, and vice versa, and your iPhone battery has died. You become lost. How will you get help? What will you do? Is there any way to communicate your plight?

As this scenario suggests, language is crucial to communication and thus to any society’s culture. Children learn language from their culture just as they learn about shaking hands, about gestures, and about the significance of the flag and other symbols. Humans have a capacity for language that no other animal species possesses. Our capacity for language in turn helps make our complex culture possible.

Three kids talking on the street and smiling

Language is a key symbol of any culture. Humans have a capacity for language that no other animal species has, and children learn the language of their society just as they learn other aspects of their culture.

Bill Benzon – IMGP3639 – talk – CC BY-SA 2.0.

In the United States, some people consider a common language so important that they advocate making English the official language of certain cities or states or even the whole country and banning bilingual education in the public schools (Ray, 2007). Critics acknowledge the importance of English but allege that this movement smacks of anti-immigrant prejudice and would help destroy ethnic subcultures. In 2009, voters in Nashville, Tennessee, rejected a proposal that would have made English the city’s official language and required all city workers to speak in English rather than their native language (R. Brown, 2009).

Language, of course, can be spoken or written. One of the most important developments in the evolution of society was the creation of written language. Some of the preindustrial societies that anthropologists have studied have written language, while others do not, and in the remaining societies the “written” language consists mainly of pictures, not words. Figure 3.1 “The Presence of Written Language (Percentage of Societies)” illustrates this variation with data from 186 preindustrial societies called the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample (SCCS), a famous data set compiled several decades ago by anthropologist George Murdock and colleagues from information that had been gathered on hundreds of preindustrial societies around the world (Murdock & White, 1969). In Figure 3.1 “The Presence of Written Language (Percentage of Societies)” , we see that only about one-fourth of the SCCS societies have a written language, while about equal proportions have no language at all or only pictures.

Figure 3.1 The Presence of Written Language (Percentage of Societies)

The Presence of Written Language (Percentage of Societies): 39.2% no writing, 37.1% pictures only, 23.7% writing

Source: Data from Standard Cross-Cultural Sample.

To what extent does language influence how we think and how we perceive the social and physical worlds? The famous but controversial Sapir-Whorf hypothesis , named after two linguistic anthropologists, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, argues that people cannot easily understand concepts and objects unless their language contains words for these items (Whorf, 1956). Language thus influences how we understand the world around us. For example, people in a country such as the United States that has many terms for different types of kisses (e.g. buss, peck, smack, smooch, and soul) are better able to appreciate these different types than people in a country such as Japan, which, as we saw earlier, only fairly recently developed the word kissu for kiss.

Another illustration of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is seen in sexist language, in which the use of male nouns and pronouns shapes how we think about the world (Miles, 2008). In older children’s books, words like fire man and mail man are common, along with pictures of men in these jobs, and critics say they send a message to children that these are male jobs, not female jobs. If a teacher tells a second-grade class, “Every student should put his books under his desk,” the teacher obviously means students of both sexes but may be sending a subtle message that boys matter more than girls. For these reasons, several guidebooks promote the use of nonsexist language (Maggio, 1998). Table 3.1 “Examples of Sexist Terms and Nonsexist Alternatives” provides examples of sexist language and nonsexist alternatives.

Table 3.1 Examples of Sexist Terms and Nonsexist Alternatives

The use of racist language also illustrates the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. An old saying goes, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” That may be true in theory but not in reality. Names can hurt, especially names that are racial slurs, which African Americans growing up before the era of the civil rights movement routinely heard. According to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the use of these words would have affected how whites perceived African Americans. More generally, the use of racist terms may reinforce racial prejudice and racial stereotypes.

Sociology Making a Difference

Overcoming Cultural and Ethnic Differences

People from many different racial and ethnic backgrounds live in large countries such as the United States. Because of cultural differences and various prejudices, it can be difficult for individuals from one background to interact with individuals from another background. Fortunately, a line of research, grounded in contact theory and conducted by sociologists and social psychologists, suggests that interaction among individuals from different backgrounds can indeed help overcome tensions arising from their different cultures and any prejudices they may hold. This happens because such contact helps disconfirm stereotypes that people may hold of those from different backgrounds (Dixon, 2006; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2005).

Recent studies of college students provide additional evidence that social contact can help overcome cultural differences and prejudices. Because many students are randomly assigned to their roommates when they enter college, interracial roommates provide a “natural” experiment for studying the effects of social interaction on racial prejudice. Studies of such roommates find that whites with black roommates report lowered racial prejudice and greater numbers of interracial friendships with other students (Laar, Levin, Sinclair, & Sidanius, 2005; Shook & Fazio, 2008).

It is not easy to overcome cultural differences and prejudices, and studies also find that interracial college roommates often have to face many difficulties in overcoming the cultural differences and prejudices that existed before they started living together (Shook & Fazio, 2008). Yet the body of work supporting contact theory suggests that efforts that increase social interaction among people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds in the long run will reduce racial and ethnic tensions.

Cultures differ widely in their norms , or standards and expectations for behaving. We already saw that the nature of drunken behavior depends on society’s expectations of how people should behave when drunk. Norms of drunken behavior influence how we behave when we drink too much.

Norms are often divided into two types, formal norms and informal norms . Formal norms, also called mores (MOOR-ayz) and laws , refer to the standards of behavior considered the most important in any society. Examples in the United States include traffic laws, criminal codes, and, in a college context, student behavior codes addressing such things as cheating and hate speech. Informal norms, also called folkways and customs , refer to standards of behavior that are considered less important but still influence how we behave. Table manners are a common example of informal norms, as are such everyday behaviors as how we interact with a cashier and how we ride in an elevator.

Many norms differ dramatically from one culture to the next. Some of the best evidence for cultural variation in norms comes from the study of sexual behavior (Edgerton, 1976). Among the Pokot of East Africa, for example, women are expected to enjoy sex, while among the Gusii a few hundred miles away, women who enjoy sex are considered deviant. In Inis Beag, a small island off the coast of Ireland, sex is considered embarrassing and even disgusting; men feel that intercourse drains their strength, while women consider it a burden. Even nudity is considered terrible, and people on Inis Beag keep their clothes on while they bathe. The situation is quite different in Mangaia, a small island in the South Pacific. Here sex is considered very enjoyable, and it is the major subject of songs and stories.

While many societies frown on homosexuality, others accept it. Among the Azande of East Africa, for example, young warriors live with each other and are not allowed to marry. During this time, they often have sex with younger boys, and this homosexuality is approved by their culture. Among the Sambia of New Guinea, young males live separately from females and engage in homosexual behavior for at least a decade. It is felt that the boys would be less masculine if they continued to live with their mothers and that the semen of older males helps young boys become strong and fierce (Edgerton, 1976).

A gay couple kissing at a Lesbian and Gay parade

Although many societies disapprove of homosexuality, other societies accept it. This difference illustrates the importance of culture for people’s attitudes.

philippe leroyer – Lesbian & Gay Pride – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Other evidence for cultural variation in norms comes from the study of how men and women are expected to behave in various societies. For example, many traditional societies are simple hunting-and-gathering societies. In most of these, men tend to hunt and women tend to gather. Many observers attribute this gender difference to at least two biological differences between the sexes. First, men tend to be bigger and stronger than women and are thus better suited for hunting. Second, women become pregnant and bear children and are less able to hunt. Yet a different pattern emerges in some hunting-and-gathering societies. Among a group of Australian aborigines called the Tiwi and a tribal society in the Philippines called the Agta, both sexes hunt. After becoming pregnant, Agta women continue to hunt for most of their pregnancy and resume hunting after their child is born (Brettell & Sargent, 2009).

Some of the most interesting norms that differ by culture govern how people stand apart when they talk with each other (Hall & Hall, 2007). In the United States, people who are not intimates usually stand about three to four feet apart when they talk. If someone stands more closely to us, especially if we are of northern European heritage, we feel uncomfortable. Yet people in other countries—especially Italy, France, Spain, and many of the nations of Latin America and the Middle East—would feel uncomfortable if they were standing three to four feet apart. To them, this distance is too great and indicates that the people talking dislike each other. If a U.S. native of British or Scandinavian heritage were talking with a member of one of these societies, they might well have trouble interacting, because at least one of them will be uncomfortable with the physical distance separating them.

Different cultures also have different rituals , or established procedures and ceremonies that often mark transitions in the life course. As such, rituals both reflect and transmit a culture’s norms and other elements from one generation to the next. Graduation ceremonies in colleges and universities are familiar examples of time-honored rituals. In many societies, rituals help signify one’s gender identity. For example, girls around the world undergo various types of initiation ceremonies to mark their transition to adulthood. Among the Bemba of Zambia, girls undergo a month-long initiation ceremony called the chisungu , in which girls learn songs, dances, and secret terms that only women know (Maybury-Lewis, 1998). In some cultures, special ceremonies also mark a girl’s first menstrual period. Such ceremonies are largely absent in the United States, where a girl’s first period is a private matter. But in other cultures the first period is a cause for celebration involving gifts, music, and food (Hathaway, 1997).

Boys have their own initiation ceremonies, some of them involving circumcision. That said, the ways in which circumcisions are done and the ceremonies accompanying them differ widely. In the United States, boys who are circumcised usually undergo a quick procedure in the hospital. If their parents are observant Jews, circumcision will be part of a religious ceremony, and a religious figure called a moyel will perform the circumcision. In contrast, circumcision among the Maasai of East Africa is used as a test of manhood. If a boy being circumcised shows signs of fear, he might well be ridiculed (Maybury-Lewis, 1998).

Are rituals more common in traditional societies than in industrial ones such as the United States? Consider the Nacirema, studied by anthropologist Horace Miner more than 50 years ago (Miner, 1956). In this society, many rituals have been developed to deal with the culture’s fundamental belief that the human body is ugly and in danger of suffering many diseases. Reflecting this belief, every household has at least one shrine in which various rituals are performed to cleanse the body. Often these shrines contain magic potions acquired from medicine men. The Nacirema are especially concerned about diseases of the mouth. Miner writes, “Were it not for the rituals of the mouth, they believe that their teeth would fall out, their gums bleed, their jaws shrink, their friends desert them, and their lovers reject them” (p. 505). Many Nacirema engage in “mouth-rites” and see a “holy-mouth-man” once or twice yearly.

Spell Nacirema backward and you will see that Miner was describing American culture. As his satire suggests, rituals are not limited to preindustrial societies. Instead, they function in many kinds of societies to mark transitions in the life course and to transmit the norms of the culture from one generation to the next.

Changing Norms and Beliefs

Our examples show that different cultures have different norms, even if they share other types of practices and beliefs. It is also true that norms change over time within a given culture. Two obvious examples here are hairstyles and clothing styles. When the Beatles first became popular in the early 1960s, their hair barely covered their ears, but parents of teenagers back then were aghast at how they looked. If anything, clothing styles change even more often than hairstyles. Hemlines go up, hemlines go down. Lapels become wider, lapels become narrower. This color is in, that color is out. Hold on to your out-of-style clothes long enough, and eventually they may well end up back in style.

An old newspaper article featuring a picture of The Beatles

Some norms may change over time within a given culture. In the early 1960s, the hair of the four members of the Beatles barely covered their ears, but many parents of U.S. teenagers were very critical of the length of their hair.

U.S. Library of Congress – public domain.

A more important topic on which norms have changed is abortion and birth control (Bullough & Bullough, 1977). Despite the controversy surrounding abortion today, it was very common in the ancient world. Much later, medieval theologians generally felt that abortion was not murder if it occurred within the first several weeks after conception. This distinction was eliminated in 1869, when Pope Pius IX declared abortion at any time to be murder. In the United States, abortion was not illegal until 1828, when New York state banned it to protect women from unskilled abortionists, and most other states followed suit by the end of the century. However, the sheer number of unsafe, illegal abortions over the next several decades helped fuel a demand for repeal of abortion laws that in turn helped lead to the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973 that generally legalized abortion during the first two trimesters.

Contraception was also practiced in ancient times, only to be opposed by early Christianity. Over the centuries, scientific discoveries of the nature of the reproductive process led to more effective means of contraception and to greater calls for its use, despite legal bans on the distribution of information about contraception. In the early 1900s, Margaret Sanger, an American nurse, spearheaded the growing birth-control movement and helped open a birth-control clinic in Brooklyn in 1916. She and two other women were arrested within 10 days, and Sanger and one other defendant were sentenced to 30 days in jail. Efforts by Sanger and other activists helped to change views on contraception over time, and finally, in 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut that contraception information could not be banned. As this brief summary illustrates, norms about contraception changed dramatically during the last century.

Other types of cultural beliefs also change over time ( Figure 3.2 “Percentage of People Who Say They Would Vote for a Qualified African American for President” and Figure 3.3 “Percentage of People Who Agree Women Should Take Care of Running Their Homes” ). Since the 1960s, the U.S. public has changed its views about some important racial and gender issues. Figure 3.2 “Percentage of People Who Say They Would Vote for a Qualified African American for President” , taken from several years of the General Social Survey (GSS), shows that the percentage of Americans who would vote for a qualified black person as president rose almost 20 points from the early 1970s to the middle of 1996, when the GSS stopped asking the question. If beliefs about voting for an African American had not changed, Barack Obama would almost certainly not have been elected in 2008. Figure 3.3 “Percentage of People Who Agree Women Should Take Care of Running Their Homes” , also taken from several years of the GSS, shows that the percentage saying that women should take care of running their homes and leave running the country to men declined from almost 36% in the early 1970s to only about 15% in 1998, again, when the GSS stopped asking the question. These two figures depict declining racial and gender prejudice in the United States during the past quarter-century.

Figure 3.2 Percentage of People Who Say They Would Vote for a Qualified African American for President

Percentage of People Who Say They Would Vote for a Qualified African American for President

Source: Data from General Social Surveys, 1972–1996.

Figure 3.3 Percentage of People Who Agree Women Should Take Care of Running Their Homes

Percentage of People Who Agree Women Should Take Care of Running Their Homes

Source: Data from General Social Surveys, 1974–1998.

Values are another important element of culture and involve judgments of what is good or bad and desirable or undesirable. A culture’s values shape its norms. In Japan, for example, a central value is group harmony. The Japanese place great emphasis on harmonious social relationships and dislike interpersonal conflict. Individuals are fairly unassertive by American standards, lest they be perceived as trying to force their will on others (Schneider & Silverman, 2010). When interpersonal disputes do arise, Japanese do their best to minimize conflict by trying to resolve the disputes amicably. Lawsuits are thus uncommon; in one case involving disease and death from a mercury-polluted river, some Japanese who dared to sue the company responsible for the mercury poisoning were considered bad citizens (Upham, 1976).

Individualism in the United States

An empty courtroom

American culture promotes competition and an emphasis on winning in the sports and business worlds and in other spheres of life. Accordingly, lawsuits over frivolous reasons are common and even expected.

Clyde Robinson – Courtroom – CC BY 2.0.

In the United States, of course, the situation is quite different. The American culture extols the rights of the individual and promotes competition in the business and sports worlds and in other areas of life. Lawsuits over the most frivolous of issues are quite common and even expected. Phrases like “Look out for number one!” abound. If the Japanese value harmony and group feeling, Americans value competition and individualism. Because the Japanese value harmony, their norms frown on self-assertion in interpersonal relationships and on lawsuits to correct perceived wrongs. Because Americans value and even thrive on competition, our norms promote assertion in relationships and certainly promote the use of the law to address all kinds of problems.

Figure 3.4 “Percentage of People Who Think Competition Is Very Beneficial” illustrates this difference between the two nations’ cultures with data from the 2002 World Values Survey (WVS), which was administered to random samples of the adult populations of more than 80 nations around the world. One question asked in these nations was, “On a scale of one (‘competition is good; it stimulates people to work hard and develop new ideas’) to ten (‘competition is harmful; it brings out the worst in people’), please indicate your views on competition.” Figure 3.4 “Percentage of People Who Think Competition Is Very Beneficial” shows the percentages of Americans and Japanese who responded with a “one” or “two” to this question, indicating they think competition is very beneficial. Americans are about three times as likely as Japanese to favor competition.

Figure 3.4 Percentage of People Who Think Competition Is Very Beneficial

Percentage of People Who Think Competition Is Very Beneficial

Source: Data from World Values Survey, 2002.

The Japanese value system is a bit of an anomaly, because Japan is an industrial nation with very traditional influences. Its emphasis on group harmony and community is more usually thought of as a value found in traditional societies, while the U.S. emphasis on individuality is more usually thought of as a value found in industrial cultures. Anthropologist David Maybury-Lewis (1998, p. 8) describes this difference as follows: “The heart of the difference between the modern world and the traditional one is that in traditional societies people are a valuable resource and the interrelations between them are carefully tended; in modern society things are the valuables and people are all too often treated as disposable.” In industrial societies, continues Maybury-Lewis, individualism and the rights of the individual are celebrated and any one person’s obligations to the larger community are weakened. Individual achievement becomes more important than values such as kindness, compassion, and generosity.

Other scholars take a less bleak view of industrial society, where they say the spirit of community still lives even as individualism is extolled (Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, & Tipton, 1985). In American society, these two simultaneous values sometimes create tension. In Appalachia, for example, people view themselves as rugged individuals who want to control their own fate. At the same time, they have strong ties to families, relatives, and their neighbors. Thus their sense of independence conflicts with their need for dependence on others (Erikson, 1976).

The Work Ethic

Another important value in the American culture is the work ethic. By the 19th century, Americans had come to view hard work not just as something that had to be done but as something that was morally good to do (Gini, 2000). The commitment to the work ethic remains strong today: in the 2008 General Social Survey, 72% of respondents said they would continue to work even if they got enough money to live as comfortably as they would like for the rest of their lives.

Cross-cultural evidence supports the importance of the work ethic in the United States. Using earlier World Values Survey data, Figure 3.5 “Percentage of People Who Take a Great Deal of Pride in Their Work” presents the percentage of people in United States and three other nations from different parts of the world—Mexico, Poland, and Japan—who take “a great deal of pride” in their work. More than 85% of Americans feel this way, compared to much lower proportions of people in the other three nations.

Figure 3.5 Percentage of People Who Take a Great Deal of Pride in Their Work

Percentage of People Who Take a Great Deal of Pride in Their Work

Source: Data from World Values Survey, 1993.

Closely related to the work ethic is the belief that if people work hard enough, they will be successful. Here again the American culture is especially thought to promote the idea that people can pull themselves up by their “bootstraps” if they work hard enough. The WVS asked whether success results from hard work or from luck and connections. Figure 3.6 “Percentage of People Who Think Hard Work Brings Success” presents the proportions of people in the four nations just examined who most strongly thought that hard work brings success. Once again we see evidence of an important aspect of the American culture, as U.S. residents were especially likely to think that hard work brings success.

Figure 3.6 Percentage of People Who Think Hard Work Brings Success

Percentage of People Who Think Hard Work Brings Success

Source: Data from World Values Survey, 1997.

If Americans believe hard work brings success, then they should be more likely than people in most other nations to believe that poverty stems from not working hard enough. True or false, this belief is an example of the blaming-the-victim ideology introduced in Chapter 1 “Sociology and the Sociological Perspective” . Figure 3.7 “Percentage of People Who Attribute Poverty to Laziness and Lack of Willpower” presents WVS percentages of respondents who said the most important reason people are poor is “laziness and lack of willpower.” As expected, Americans are much more likely to attribute poverty to not working hard enough.

Figure 3.7 Percentage of People Who Attribute Poverty to Laziness and Lack of Willpower

Percentage of People Who Attribute Poverty to Laziness and Lack of Willpower

We could discuss many other values, but an important one concerns how much a society values women’s employment outside the home. The WVS asked respondents whether they agree that “when jobs are scarce men should have more right to a job than women.” Figure 3.8 “Percentage of People Who Disagree That Men Have More Right to a Job Than Women When Jobs Are Scarce” shows that U.S. residents are more likely than those in nations with more traditional views of women to disagree with this statement.

Figure 3.8 Percentage of People Who Disagree That Men Have More Right to a Job Than Women When Jobs Are Scarce

Percentage of People Who Disagree That Men Have More Right to a Job Than Women When Jobs Are Scarce

The last element of culture is the artifacts , or material objects, that constitute a society’s material culture. In the most simple societies, artifacts are largely limited to a few tools, the huts people live in, and the clothing they wear. One of the most important inventions in the evolution of society was the wheel. Figure 3.9 “Primary Means of Moving Heavy Loads” shows that very few of the societies in the SCCS use wheels to move heavy loads over land, while the majority use human power and about one-third use pack animals.

Figure 3.9 Primary Means of Moving Heavy Loads

Primary means of moving heavy loads: 57.5% human bearers, 30.6% pack animals, 11.8% wheel

Although the wheel was a great invention, artifacts are much more numerous and complex in industrial societies. Because of technological advances during the past two decades, many such societies today may be said to have a wireless culture, as smartphones, netbooks and laptops, and GPS devices now dominate so much of modern life. The artifacts associated with this culture were unknown a generation ago. Technological development created these artifacts and new language to describe them and the functions they perform. Today’s wireless artifacts in turn help reinforce our own commitment to wireless technology as a way of life, if only because children are now growing up with them, often even before they can read and write.

An iPhone being charged

The iPhone is just one of the many notable cultural artifacts in today’s wireless world. Technological development created these artifacts and new language to describe them and their functions—for example, “There’s an app for that!”

Philip Brooks – iPhone – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Sometimes people in one society may find it difficult to understand the artifacts that are an important part of another society’s culture. If a member of a tribal society who had never seen a cell phone, or who had never even used batteries or electricity, were somehow to visit the United States, she or he would obviously have no idea of what a cell phone was or of its importance in almost everything we do these days. Conversely, if we were to visit that person’s society, we might not appreciate the importance of some of its artifacts.

In this regard, consider once again India’s cows, discussed in the news article that began this chapter. As the article mentioned, people from India consider cows holy, and they let cows roam the streets of many cities. In a nation where hunger is so rampant, such cow worship is difficult to understand, at least to Americans, because a ready source of meat is being ignored.

Anthropologist Marvin Harris (1974) advanced a practical explanation for India’s cow worship. Millions of Indians are peasants who rely on their farms for their food and thus their existence. Oxen and water buffalo, not tractors, are the way they plow their fields. If their ox falls sick or dies, farmers may lose their farms. Because, as Harris observes, oxen are made by cows, it thus becomes essential to preserve cows at all costs. In India, cows also act as an essential source of fertilizer, to the tune of 700 million tons of manure annually, about half of which is used for fertilizer and the other half of which is used as fuel for cooking. Cow manure is also mixed with water and used as flooring material over dirt floors in Indian households. For all of these reasons, cow worship is not so puzzling after all, because it helps preserve animals that are very important for India’s economy and other aspects of its way of life.

A Cow on the streets in Mumbai

According to anthropologist Marvin Harris, cows are worshipped in India because they are such an important part of India’s agricultural economy.

Francisco Martins – Cow in Mumbai – CC BY-NC 2.0.

If Indians exalt cows, many Jews and Muslims feel the opposite about pigs: they refuse to eat any product made from pigs and so obey an injunction from the Old Testament of the Bible and from the Koran. Harris thinks this injunction existed because pig farming in ancient times would have threatened the ecology of the Middle East. Sheep and cattle eat primarily grass, while pigs eat foods that people eat, such as nuts, fruits, and especially grains. In another problem, pigs do not provide milk and are much more difficult to herd than sheep or cattle. Next, pigs do not thrive well in the hot, dry climate in which the people of the Old Testament and Koran lived. Finally, sheep and cattle were a source of food back then because beyond their own meat they provided milk, cheese, and manure, and cattle were also used for plowing. In contrast, pigs would have provided only their own meat. Because sheep and cattle were more “versatile” in all of these ways, and because of the other problems pigs would have posed, it made sense for the eating of pork to be prohibited.

In contrast to Jews and Muslims, at least one society, the Maring of the mountains of New Guinea, is characterized by “pig love.” Here pigs are held in the highest regard. The Maring sleep next to pigs, give them names and talk to them, feed them table scraps, and once or twice every generation have a mass pig sacrifice that is intended to ensure the future health and welfare of Maring society. Harris explains their love of pigs by noting that their climate is ideally suited to raising pigs, which are an important source of meat for the Maring. Because too many pigs would overrun the Maring, their periodic pig sacrifices help keep the pig population to manageable levels. Pig love thus makes as much sense for the Maring as pig hatred did for people in the time of the Old Testament and the Koran.

Key Takeaways

  • The major elements of culture are symbols, language, norms, values, and artifacts.
  • Language makes effective social interaction possible and influences how people conceive of concepts and objects.
  • Major values that distinguish the United States include individualism, competition, and a commitment to the work ethic.

For Your Review

  • How and why does the development of language illustrate the importance of culture and provide evidence for the sociological perspective?
  • Some people say the United States is too individualistic and competitive, while other people say these values are part of what makes America great. What do you think? Why?

Axtell, R. E. (1998). Gestures: The do’s and taboos of body language around the world . New York, NY: Wiley.

Bellah, R. N., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W. M., Swidler, A., & Tipton, S. M. (1985). Habits of the heart: Individualism and commitment in American life . Berkeley: University of California Press.

Brettell, C. B., & Sargent, C. F. (Eds.). (2009). Gender in cross-cultural perspective (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Brown, R. (2009, January 24). Nashville voters reject a proposal for English-only. The New York Times , p. A12.

Bullough, V. L., & Bullough, B. (1977). Sin, sickness, and sanity: A history of sexual attitudes . New York, NY: New American Library.

Dixon, J. C. (2006). The ties that bind and those that don’t: Toward reconciling group threat and contact theories of prejudice. Social Forces, 84, 2179–2204.

Edgerton, R. (1976). Deviance: A cross-cultural perspective . Menlo Park, CA: Cummings.

Erikson, K. T. (1976). Everything in its path: Destruction of community in the Buffalo Creek flood . New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Gini, A. (2000). My job, my self: Work and the creation of the modern individual . New York, NY: Routledge.

Hall, E. T., & Hall, M. R. (2007). The sounds of silence. In J. M. Henslin (Ed.), Down to earth sociology: Introductory readings (pp. 109–117). New York, NY: Free Press.

Harris, M. (1974). Cows, pigs, wars, and witches: The riddles of culture . New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Hathaway, N. (1997). Menstruation and menopause: Blood rites. In L. M. Salinger (Ed.), Deviant behavior 97/98 (pp. 12–15). Guilford, CT: Dushkin.

Laar, C. V., Levin, S., Sinclair, S., & Sidanius, J. (2005). The effect of university roommate contact on ethnic attitudes and behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41, 329–345.

Maggio, R. (1998). The dictionary of bias-free usage: A guide to nondiscriminatory language . Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press.

Maybury-Lewis, D. (1998). Tribal wisdom. In K. Finsterbusch (Ed.), Sociology 98/99 (pp. 8–12). Guilford, CT: Dushkin/McGraw-Hill.

Miles, S. (2008). Language and sexism . New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Miner, H. (1956). Body ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist, 58, 503–507.

Murdock, G. P., & White, D. R. (1969). Standard cross-cultural sample. Ethnology, 8, 329–369.

Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2005). Allport’s intergroup contact hypothesis: Its history and influence. In J. F. Dovidio, P. S. Glick, & L. A. Rudman (Eds.), On the nature of prejudice: Fifty years after Allport (pp. 262–277). Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Ray, S. (2007). Politics over official language in the United States. International Studies, 44, 235–252.

Schneider, L., & Silverman, A. (2010). Global sociology: Introducing five contemporary societies (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Shook, N. J., & Fazio, R. H. (2008). Interracial roommate relationships: An experimental test of the contact hypothesis. Psychological Science, 19, 717–723.

Shook, N. J., & Fazio, R. H. (2008). Roommate relationships: A comparison of interracial and same-race living situations. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 11, 425–437.

Upham, F. K. (1976). Litigation and moral consciousness in Japan: An interpretive analysis of four Japanese pollution suits. Law and Society Review, 10, 579–619.

Whorf, B. (1956). Language, thought and reality . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Sociology Copyright © 2016 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

Cultural Identity

Culture is the shared characteristics of a group of people, which encompasses , place of birth, religion, language, cuisine, social behaviors, art, literature, and music. Some cultures are widespread, and have a large number of people who associate themselves with those particular values, beliefs, and origins. Others are relatively small, with only a small number of people who associate themselves with that culture. However, the value of culture cannot be defined by its size. No matter if a culture is widespread or kept within a small region, is young or old, or has changed over time or stayed the same, every culture can teach us about ourselves, others, and the global community.

Anthropology, Sociology, Religion, Social Studies

Module 3: Culture

Culture, values, and beliefs, learning outcomes.

  • Compare material versus nonmaterial culture
  • Describe cultural values and beliefs

Humans are social creatures. Since the dawn of  Homo sapiens  nearly 250,000 years ago, people have grouped together into communities in order to survive. Living together, people form common habits and behaviors—from specific methods of childrearing to preferred techniques for obtaining food. In modern-day Paris, many people shop daily at outdoor markets to pick up what they need for their evening meal, buying cheese, meat, and vegetables from different specialty stalls. In the United States, the majority of people shop once a week at supermarkets, filling large carts to the brim. How would a Parisian perceive U.S. shopping behaviors that suburban Americans take for granted?

Note that in the above comparison we are looking at cultural differences on display in two distinct places, suburban America and urban France, even though we are examining a behavior that people in both places are engaged in. It’s important to note that geographical place is an important factor in culture—beliefs and practices, and society—the social structures and organization of individuals and groups.

Almost every human behavior, from shopping to marriage to expressions of feelings, is learned. In the United States, people tend to view marriage as a choice between two people, based on mutual feelings of love. In other nations and in other times, marriages have been arranged through an intricate process of interviews and negotiations between entire families, or in other cases, through a direct system, such as a “mail order bride.” To someone raised in New York City, the marriage customs of a family from Nigeria may seem strange or even wrong. Conversely, someone from a traditional Kolkata family might be perplexed with the idea of romantic love as the foundation for marriage and lifelong commitment. In other words, the way in which people view marriage depends largely on what they have been taught.

Behavior based on learned customs is not a bad thing. Being familiar with unwritten rules helps people feel secure and “normal.” Also, perhaps such cultural traditions are comforting in that they seem to have already worked well enough for our forebears to have retained them. Most people want to live their daily lives confident that their behaviors will not be challenged or disrupted. But even an action as seemingly simple as commuting to work evidences a great deal of cultural propriety and learned behaviors. 

A crowd of people behind closed subway car doors is shown.

Figure 1. How would a visitor from the suburban United States act and feel on this crowded Tokyo train? (Photo courtesy of simonglucas/flickr)

Take the case of going to work on public transportation. Whether people are commuting in Dublin, Cairo, Mumbai, or San Francisco, many behaviors will be the same, but significant differences also arise between cultures. Typically, a passenger will find a marked bus stop or station, wait for his bus or train, pay an agent before or after boarding, and quietly take a seat if one is available. But when boarding a bus in Cairo, passengers might have to run, because buses there often do not come to a full stop to take on patrons. Dublin bus riders would be expected to extend an arm to indicate that they want the bus to stop for them. And when boarding a commuter train in Mumbai, passengers must squeeze into overstuffed cars amid a lot of pushing and shoving on the crowded platforms. That kind of behavior would be considered the height of rudeness in the United States, but in Mumbai it reflects the daily challenges of getting around on a train system that is taxed to capacity.

In this example of commuting, culture consists of both intangible things like beliefs and thoughts (expectations about personal space, for example) and tangible things (bus stops, trains, and seating capacity).

The objects or belongings of a group of people are considered material culture . Metro passes and bus tokens are part of material culture, as are automobiles, stores, and the physical structures where people worship, or engage in other recognizable patterns of behavior.

Nonmaterial culture , in contrast, consists of the ideas, attitudes, and beliefs of a society. Material and nonmaterial aspects of culture are linked, and physical objects often symbolize cultural ideas. A metro pass is a material object, but it represents a form of nonmaterial culture, namely, capitalism, and the acceptance of paying for transportation. Clothing, hairstyles, and jewelry are part of material culture, but the appropriateness of wearing certain clothing for specific events reflects nonmaterial culture. A school building belongs to material culture, but the teaching methods and educational standards within it are part of education’s nonmaterial culture. These material and nonmaterial aspects of culture can vary subtly or greatly from region to region. As people travel farther afield, moving from different regions to entirely different parts of the world, certain material and nonmaterial aspects of culture become dramatically unfamiliar. What happens when we encounter different cultures? As we interact with cultures other than our own, we become more aware of the differences and commonalities between others’ symbolic and material worlds and our own.

Values and Beliefs

The first, and perhaps most crucial, elements of culture we will discuss are its values and beliefs. Values are a culture’s standard for discerning what is good and just in society. Values are deeply embedded and critical for transmitting and teaching a culture’s beliefs. Beliefs are the tenets or convictions that people hold to be true. Individuals in a society have specific beliefs, but they also share collective values. To illustrate the difference, Americans commonly believe in the American Dream—that anyone who works hard enough will be successful and wealthy. Underlying this belief is the American value that wealth is good and important.

Values help shape a society by suggesting what is good and bad, beautiful and ugly, to be sought or avoided. Consider the value that the United States places upon youth. Children represent innocence and purity, while an adult who is youthful in appearance signifies sexual vitality. Shaped by this value, individuals spend millions of dollars each year on cosmetic products and surgeries to look young and beautiful. The United States also has an individualistic culture, meaning people place a high value on individuality and independence. In contrast, many other cultures are collectivist, meaning the welfare of the group and group relationships is a primary value.

Living up to a culture’s values can be difficult. It’s easy to value good health, but it’s hard to quit smoking. Marital monogamy is valued, but many spouses engage in infidelity. Cultural diversity and equal opportunities for all people are valued in the United States, yet the country’s highest political offices have been dominated by white men.

Values often suggest how people should behave, but they don’t accurately reflect how people actually do behave. Values portray an ideal culture , the standards society would like to embrace and live up to. But ideal culture differs from real culture , the way society actually is, based on what occurs and exists. In an ideal culture, there would be no traffic accidents, murders, poverty, or racial tension. But in real culture, police officers, lawmakers, educators, and social workers constantly strive to prevent or repair those accidents, crimes, and injustices. American teenagers are encouraged to value celibacy. However, the number of unplanned pregnancies among teens reveals that not only is the ideal hard to live up to, but the value alone is not enough to spare teenagers the potential consequences of having sex.

Two male soldiers in uniform are shown from behind walking and holding hands.

Figure 2. In many parts of Africa and the Middle East, it is considered normal for men to hold hands in friendship. How would Americans react to these two soldiers? (Photo courtesy of Geordie Mott/Wikimedia Commons)

One way societies strive to put values into action is through sanctions : rewards and punishments that encourage people to live according to their society’s ideas about what is good and right. When people observe the norms of society and uphold its values, they are often rewarded. A boy who helps an elderly woman board a bus may receive a smile and a “thank you.” A business manager who raises profit margins may receive a quarterly bonus. People positively sanction certain behaviors by giving their support, approval, or permission, or negatively sanction them by invoking formal policies of disapproval and nonsupport. Sanctions are a form of social control , a way to encourage conformity to cultural norms. Sometimes people conform to norms in anticipation or expectation of positive sanctions: good grades, for instance, may mean praise from parents and teachers. From a criminal justice perspective, properly used social control is also inexpensive crime control. Utilizing social control approaches pushes most people to conform to societal rules, regardless of whether authority figures (such as law enforcement) are present.

When people go against a society’s values, they are punished. A boy who shoves an elderly woman aside to board the bus first may receive frowns or even a scolding from other passengers. A business manager who drives away customers will likely be fired. Breaking norms and rejecting values can lead to cultural sanctions such as earning a negative label—lazy, no-good bum—or to legal sanctions, such as traffic tickets, fines, or imprisonment.

Values are not static; they vary across time and between groups as people evaluate, debate, and change collective societal beliefs. Values also vary from culture to culture. For example, cultures differ in their values about what kinds of physical closeness are appropriate in public. It’s rare to see two male friends or coworkers holding hands in the United States where that behavior often symbolizes romantic feelings. But in many nations, masculine physical intimacy is considered natural in public. This difference in cultural values came to light when people reacted to photos of former president George W. Bush holding hands with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in 2005. An example of nonmaterial culture, the simple gesture of hand-holding carries great symbolic differences across cultures.


Improve this page Learn More

  • Modification, adaptation, and original content. Provided by : Lumen Learning. License : CC BY: Attribution
  • What is Culture?. Authored by : OpenStax CNX. Located at :[email protected]:-HOYsFU6@8/3-1-What-Is-Culture . License : CC BY: Attribution . License Terms : Download for free at[email protected]

Footer Logo Lumen Waymaker

  • Open supplemental data
  • Reference Manager
  • Simple TEXT file

People also looked at

Methods article, culture and social norms: development and application of a model for culturally contextualized communication measurement (mc 3 m).

  • 1 University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, United States
  • 2 Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, United States
  • 3 Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, United States
  • 4 Emory University, Atlanta, GA, United States
  • 5 Peking University, Beijing, China

Studies of social norms are common in the communication literature and are increasingly focused on cultural dynamics: studying co-cultural groups within national boundaries or comparing countries. Based on the review of the status quo in cross-cultural measurement development and our years of experience in conducting this research among a co-cultural group, this paper describes a Model for Culturally Contextualized Communication Measurement (MC 3 M) for intercultural and/or cross-cultural communication research. As an exemplar, we report on a program of research applying the model to develop a culturally derived measurement of social norms and the factors impacting the norm-behavior relationship for members of a unique population group (i.e., ethnically Tibetan pastoralists in Western China). The results provide preliminary evidence for the construct validity and reliability of the culturally derived measurements. The implications, benefits, and shortcomings of the MC 3 M model are discussed. Recommendations for advancing both conceptual and measurement refinement in intercultural and cross-cultural communication research are provided.


Social norms research has rapidly garnered popularity in the past several decades in multiple disciplines, such as communication, social psychology, public health, and economics ( Chung and Rimal, 2016 ). Given the power of normative influence on perceptions and actions consistently shown in the body of literature ( Borsari and Carey, 2003 ; Rhodes et al., 2020 ), social norm theories, rooted in the U.S.-based research, are being applied in numerous cross-cultural contexts ( Mackie et al., 2015 ). Yet, problems persist with inconsistencies in the conceptual and operational definitions of norms ( Shulman et al., 2017 ), and findings of prior studies may be culturally bound ( Chung and Rimal, 2016 ).

To help fill this gap and advance scholarship on social norms and other culturally contextualized communication measurements, we combine qualitative and quantitative approaches to develop culturally derived measures of social norms in a unique population. 1 Specifically, we describe research that examines the nature of interpersonal communication as a basis for shaping social norms and normative perceptions ( Lapinski et al., 2021 ), using this information to derive a series of measures rooted in the cultural context. Data obtained from a multi-year project, including field visits, in-depth interviews, and household surveys about grassland conservation behaviors with ethnically Tibetan pastoralists on the Tibetan Plateau in Western China, are presented as the basis for conceptualization, scale development, and initial evidence for the validity of measures of social norms and related constructs from theories on the communication of social norms ( Rimal and Real, 2005 ; Lapinski et al., 2018 ). This population is the focus of our work because of their critical role in ecosystem conservation issues in Asia and as a marginalized cultural group ( Bessho, 2015 ; Bum, 2016 ). As the basis for this research, we offer a model derived from existing research and practice for the development or adaptation of constructs and measures for intercultural or cross-cultural communication research. The value of this paper is the presentation of a model for developing measures of social norms (and related scales in communication studies) accounting for cultural dynamics. This process is useful beyond the particular population studied here, as the detailed steps described in the model shed light on future research on similar issues (e.g., conservation and health) among marginalized groups or populations with unique historical and/or cultural backgrounds (e.g., indigenous people and ethnic minorities).

Conceptualizing and Measuring Social Norms in Cultural Context

Generally, social norms are “rules and standards that are understood by members of a group, and that guide or constrain social behavior without the force of law” ( Cialdini and Trost, 1998 , p. 152) shared through interpersonal and mediated communication ( Kincaid, 2004 ). Social norms can influence health, environmental, and philanthropic attitudes and behaviors and can be influenced through communication campaigns ( Shulman et al., 2017 ). International attention has focused on the use of social norm campaigns as key to social change on various issues (e.g., child marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting, food waste, vaccination) because these efforts involve changing beliefs and actions of an entire community or cultural group rather than those of individuals ( UNICEF, 2010 ).

Despite the growing popularity of social norms research, critical issues remain in literature, including vague conceptualizations of what constitutes a social norm and conflated definitions and inadequacies in the measures of different types of norms ( Shulman et al., 2017 ). These problems “impair our ability to understand what norms are, how they work, how they should be measured, and boundary conditions that dictate where norms should and should not be applied” ( Shulman et al., 2017 , p.1209). Meanwhile, the increasing trend of social norms research conducted as comparative studies or in countries other than the U.S. and Europe in recent years (e.g., Geber et al., 2019 ; Stamkou et al., 2019 ) has created a demand for new methods conceptualizing and measuring social norms and related constructs.

Indeed, what we know about norms may be impacted by the so-called WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) phenomenon documented in psychological research ( Henrich et al., 2010 ). Shulman et al.’s (2017) examination of 832 empirical studies in English language journals found that most studies of social norms (82.4%) were conducted in the U.S. and Western Europe; similar findings exist in global development where few international studies address measurement development or fundamental conceptualization of norms ( Mackie et al., 2015 ).

Constructing valid and reliable measures of key study concepts is regarded as one of the most critical steps in empirical research. No matter how well-designed a study is, poor measurement of study constructs can yield errors in interpreting the results. When studies are designed to compare two cultures or to study communication patterns and processes in a unique population or co-cultural group within a larger group, the measurement challenges are compounded ( Croucher and Kelly, 2019 , 2020 ). Differences in the conceptualization of core study ideas, languages, values, and other factors lead to substantial challenges when researchers try to maximize conceptual and measurement equivalence, reliability, and construct validity of measurement for samples from co-cultural groups within national boundaries or across national boundaries ( Herdman et al., 1997 ; Steenkamp and Baumgartner, 1998 ; Davidov et al., 2018 ).

Because of the culturally bound nature of social norms, it is crucial for researchers to establish and clearly describe conceptualizations and measurements of norms embedded in the appropriate cultural and social context. By culturally bound, in this case, we mean that although social norms, as unwritten codes of conduct, appear to exist in all human cultures, their form and function vary by group, complicating measurement. A lack of culturally valid measurement may hinder progress in theory building, especially in identifying boundary conditions for theories.

Studies of social norms and cultural dynamics have focused on nation/country (e.g., Cialdini et al., 1999 ) or race/ethnicity (e.g., LaBrie et al., 2012 ) as a delimiting concept. We recognize the benefits and limitations of using country or nation as the sole proxy or operationalization of culture, despite the prevalence of this practice in cross-cultural research (c.f., Schaffer and Riordan, 2003 ).

Using country, race, or ethnicity to identify cultural groups is convenient, clear, and tidy; most people can self-identify these characteristics when asked with valid indicators in the measures. Yet, country and culture are incongruent under most conditions. Generally, multiple co-cultural groups exist under the same overarching national identity ( Orbe, 1997 ). As such, culture may function at the level of a nation-state, a co-cultural group within a nation-state, or any collective of people who share deep or surface-level cultural elements (termed a unique population ). For the current study, we draw from the intercultural communication literature and use the term “culture” to include communities of people with uniquely shared communication characteristics, perceptions, values, beliefs, and practices . Shared practices, ethnicity, and language serve as indicators for the cultural group, which is the focus of the present study; ethnically Tibetan pastoralists . This group shares the following characteristics: they are historically nomadic and engage in animal husbandry, and they have Tibetan ethnicity with the Kham Tibetan dialect as their primary language.

Because, fundamentally, culture influences how people view the world, identifying within-culture conceptualizations of key study constructs should be the first step in empirical inquiry. As unwritten implicit rules, social norms are formed, shaped, and reinforced through observation and interpersonal and mediated communication among a collective. Normative perceptions may be formed about both the prevalence of behavior (i.e., commonly called descriptive norms ; what is done by most members of a group) and what most people think to be appropriate or inappropriate behaviors (i.e., injunctive norms ; what is socially approved or disapproved; Cialdini et al., 1990 ). Hence, it is critical to acknowledge the socially and culturally shared nature of social norms, as people relate to in-group members within a specific culture. That is, social norms, by their nature, emanate from collectives within a system. As such, it is necessary to identify the influential people and in-groups who are most connected to particular decisions or behaviors in order to contextualize norms.

Some research demonstrates the culturally bound nature of conceptualizations of social norms and their communication (e.g., Jensen and Bute, 2010 ; Lapinski et al., 2015 ). Using in-depth interviews and observation, the literature indicates that key conceptualizations developed in one cultural context (like injunctive norms with social prescriptions for appropriate behavior) may not exist in the same form when examined through a different cultural lens ( Jensen and Bute, 2010 ). Likewise, the nature of interpersonal and mediated communication about what is approved behavior is constrained by the nature of the social system (Elwood et al., 2000; Lapinski et al., 2015 ) and connected to cultural predispositions ( Lapinski et al., 2019 ).

Developing culturally derived social norms measures is also critical to enhance both the internal and external validity of the existing corpus of research to account for culturally-based concepts and processes ( Mollen et al., 2010 ). Surprisingly little is written about how to develop reliable and valid culturally derived measures of communication concepts like social norms; instead, one must go to the literature in cross-cultural and organizational psychology to find scholarship addressing some of these issues (c.f., Schaffer and Riordan, 2003 ). In public health, there is a robust literature on the cross-cultural adaptation of scales; yet, Epstein et al. (2015) reviewed 31 studies making recommendations for cross-cultural adaptation (CCA) and concluded there was no consensus on best practices for adapting measures across cultural contexts.

In sum, identifying and refining the culturally derived conceptualization of social norms is the first step in developing methods for measuring these constructs. Measurement development is critical for expanding social norms research to account for cultural similarities and differences in order to enhance both internal and external validity in the corpus of research to account for culturally-based concepts and processes ( Mollen et al., 2010 ; Lapinski et al., 2019 ).

Studies of Social Norms in Cultural Context: Absolutism, Universalism, and Relativism

Various approaches to studying cultural dynamics in social normative influence are evidenced in the literature (c.f., Fischer et al., 2009 ; Lee and Green, 1991 ; Park and Levine, 1999 ). Many of these studies have involved comparative research designs in which data from a U.S. sample are compared to a sample(s) of people from another nation ( Shulman et al., 2017 ). The predominant theories that address social norms, such as the theory of reasoned action (TRA; Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975 ), the theory of planned behavior (TPB; Ajzen, 1991 ), focus theory of normative conduct ( Cialdini et al., 1990 ), social norms approach (SNA; Berkowitz, 2004 ), and theory of normative social behavior (TNSB; Rimal and Real, 2005 ), have been developed and tested primarily in the U.S. with measures of the core theoretical concepts constructed in English. Studies using these theories sometimes provide evidence for measurement reliability and validity of the study measures using data from samples, often of college undergraduates, in various regions of the U.S. (e.g., Cialdini et al., 1999 ; Jang, 2012 ).

It is when these theories and measures are applied in new cultural contexts that challenges may arise. That is, by moving existing normative concepts and measures into new cultural contexts, studies may fail to account for the dynamics of normative influence unique to the new context . A framework in cross-cultural psychology that can be applied to communication research describes three orientations to the cross-cultural adaptation of theories and measures, including absolutism, universalism, and relativism ( Herdman et al., 1997 ; Berry et al., 2002 ). Based on this framework, there are roughly three approaches to studying social norms in cultural context: 1 ) adoption of the conceptualization and measures from existing theories and using them with no modification in a new cultural context (absolutism); 2 ) using conceptualization and measures developed in one cultural context (often in the language of the researcher) and translating the measures into the primary language of the study participants or making other adjustments for cultural context (universalism), and 3 ) developing the study concepts and measures based on data (or dialogue) from within the cultural context in the language of participants for each cultural group included in the study (relativism). In each of these cases, the nuances of the study procedures and the reporting of the processes are different for each study. For example, studies may or may not report on: the development of conceptual definitions, translation and back translation of items, evidence for scale reliability or validity, or measurement invariance. In the following, we review and summarize examples of these orientations from across disciplines 2 and then propose a series of recommended practices derived from the existing literature, for culturally derived measurement of communication constructs.

Absolutism orientation assumes a minimal impact of “culture” on the constructs being studied (i.e., they are culture-free) because of the species-wide similarities among all human beings. As a result, standard instruments measuring the focal constructs are considered appropriate to be used in different cultures. This practice may result in a construct conceptualized and operationalized in one culture that is “imposed” directly onto another culture ( Berry et al., 2002 ). It involves adopting the conceptual definitions, study materials, and measures directly from prior research without substantial modifications 3 . It may include using measures from prior research in a particular country without any translation procedures or evidence for measurement construct validity or equivalence (e.g., Thøgersen and Ölander, 2006 ; Abikoye and Olley, 2012 ; Nguyen and Neighbors, 2013 ; Savani et al., 2015 ).

For example, Bobek et al. (2007) conducted an experimental study with participants recruited from Australia, Singapore, and the U.S. to examine the effects of social norms on tax compliance using Cialdini and Trost’s (1998) taxonomy of social norms. Factor analysis and scale reliability analysis were performed to establish evidence for the scales’ validity and reliability before proceeding to test hypotheses. However, across the three national samples, the constructs and measures were assumed to be equivalent, and a translation process was not described. 4 Likewise, using measures from the theory of planned behavior (TPB; Ajzen, 1991 ), Wan et al. (2018) examined the moderating effect of subjective norms on the behavioral intention of using urban green spaces among Hong Kong residents. The convergent and discriminant validity and reliability of the measures were assessed before testing the structural model. But, no survey translation information was described, although most people in Hong Kong speak Cantonese as their primary language, and only 4.3% of the population use English regularly ( GovHK, 2020 ).


The universalism orientation acknowledges that culture substantially impacts how constructs are expressed and defined across cultures. Though this approach still assumes species-wide similarities (i.e., universal patterns), it accepts the idea that measurement needs to be adapted cross-culturally, given that the context-free constructs and measurements are difficult or impossible to obtain. In this approach, conceptual definitions and measures are developed in one cultural context, typically in English. Then the study materials and measures are translated into the country’s language in which the research is conducted. Evidence for back-translation, construct validity, and measurement equivalence may or may not be described. There are a few social norms studies that account for cultural dynamics using this method (e.g., Cialdini et al., 1999 ; Park and Levine, 1999 ; Boer and Westhoff, 2006 ; Fornara et al., 2011 ; Jang et al., 2013 ; Stamkou et al., 2019 ; Walter et al., 2019 ).

For example, Stamkou et al. (2019) examined the moderating effect of cultural collectivism and tightness on responses to norm violators in 19 countries. The conceptual definition of the key study constructs and the measures, including social norms, norm violations, individualism-collectivism, and tightness-looseness, were adapted from existing literature developed in the U.S and translated into each country’s official language following the procedures outlined by Brislin (1986) ; validity and reliability evidence was provided. Likewise, Jain et al. (2018) investigated the effect of descriptive and injunctive norms on condom use among young men in Ethiopia using norms measures from the TNSB ( Rimal and Real, 2005 ) translated into Amharic, Afan Oromo, and Tigrigna. Adaptations were made in the norm measures to account for cultural context, but measurement validity and reliability evidence was not presented. Limaye et al. (2012) reported similar process in Malawi; acceptable reliability of the scales was presented, but measurement validity evidence was not included.

The last orientation, relativism , assumes that because of the substantial role of culture in people’s cognitive thinking patterns and behaviors, it is impossible to use standard measurements across cultures; hence, local instruments developed within a specific culture should be adopted ( Herdman et al., 1997 ; Berry et al., 2002 ). In this approach, the conceptual definitions and measures are developed within the focal cultural group, often through collaborative processes and formative data collection. The language in which they are developed may be that of the focal country or region. Measurement construct validity and equivalence evidence may or may not be described (e.g., Babalola, 2007 ; Rimal et al., 2015 ; Yilma et al., 2020 ). For example, Rimal et al. (2019) developed a personal narrative-based intervention, including social norms messages targeting adolescent students in Serbia, to improve their driving behaviors using conceptual definitions and measurement based on theory and cultural context. Formative data (i.e., one-on-one interviews, focus groups, and reaction interviews) was conducted first to develop the intervention and the measures of core concepts, including descriptive and injunctive norms. Results showed acceptable reliability of the normative scales, but measurement validity evidence was not included.

In sum, the literature on social norms and cultural dynamics indicates a range of approaches to developing concepts and measurements in cultural context for both single and multi-culture studies.

Model for Culturally Contextualized Communication Measurement (MC 3 M)

Based on the research on culturally derived measurement (Hui and Triandis, 1985; Pedhazur and Schmelkin, 2013 ; Schaffer and Riordan, 2003 ; Steenkamp and Baumgartner, 1998 ), research on measurement model validation and equivalence ( Bollen, 2005 ), and our team’s international and cross-cultural research, we present a Model for Culturally Contextualized Communication Measurement (MC 3 M) containing a series steps for the development of quantitative measures in communication science taking a relativistic approach ( Figure 1 ) and use a variant of this model in the current research. Although we focus here specifically on social norms, we believe this model may benefit other communication research. In the following sections, we describe a series of studies to illustrate the process of applying the model to develop culturally derived social norm measures.

FIGURE 1 . Proposed model for communication measurement development in cultural context: model for culturally contextualized communication measurement (MC 3 M).

The program of research that we report here was conducted on the Tibetan Platea in the Tsangsum Yungyul (Tibetan) or Sanjiangyuan (Mandarin) area of China, located in southern Qinghai Province. This region is home to about 960,000 inhabitants, 90% of whom are ethnically Tibetan, and nearly 70% are pastoralists, sometimes nomadic, herding mainly yaks and sheep ( see Appendix A). Geographically, the territory is vast, with human settlements dispersed, making data collection in the region challenging. The terrain includes glaciers and high-altitude grasslands, which input to three of Asia’s major rivers, the Yellow, Yangtze, and Mekong providing freshwater to nearly a quarter of the world’s population. The population of this region is generally Tibetan Buddhist. Their position as a unique or co-cultural group within China makes Tibetan pastoralists an important group to study social influence processes. They play a key role in the future of this ecologically sensitive region, but studies conducted in this area are rare ( Shen and Tan, 2012 ).

Step 1: Identification of Key Constructs

Discussions with cultural informants, review of the scientific and gray literature about the study region, field visits, and collaborative discussions with project partners were the first stage of this project; Step 1 in the MC 3 M. The cross-cultural (U.S. multi-ethnic, Han, Tibetan team), cross-disciplinary (anthropology, communication, sustainability, conservation biology, economics) team shared an interest in interpersonal communication about social norms and their effects on conservation behavior and the role of financial incentives in promoting conservation behavior among ethnically Tibetan pastoralists.

The exploratory work conducted in Step 1 revealed results in many key activities and insights, two of which we highlight here. First, discussion with collaborators coupled with our searches of the scientific literature revealed little social science data on the population of interest. This is critical because it drove our approach to the methods we used throughout the remainder of the project. Second, the focal constructs, behaviors, core theory, and research questions/predictions were developed collaboratively based on this process. Animal husbandry behaviors and their impact on the grassland and water ecology were identified as both salient for the study population and conservation practice. Specifically, herding types of animals with less relative ecological impact, reducing herd size to have less impact on grassland quality, and modifying grazing patterns to protect sensitive areas were the behaviors examined; organized patrolling to reduce poaching of wild animals was also examined but is reported elsewhere.

Step 2: In-Depth Interviews

As the next step in developing measures of the normative dimensions and providing construct validity evidence in this cultural context, in-depth interviews were conducted (Step 2 in the MC 3 M). The purpose of the interviews was to determine whether or not and how normative information was communicated to members of our study population and the character of that information in order to identify conceptualizations of social norms. In addition, we sought to understand the conditions under which normative information was available, the people from whom normative information emanates, and expected outcomes for the focal behaviors. Eighty in-depth interviews were conducted with members of our study population; detailed results are reported in companion papers ( Lapinski et al., 2018 ; Lapinski et al., 2021 ). Interview data were analyzed via quantitative content analysis, thematic analysis, and network analysis.

The interviews provided the basis for understanding indigenous conceptualizations of injunctive and descriptive norms, outcome expectancies associated with the behaviors, important referent groups for information about our study topics. In brief, the findings from the interviews uncovered normative influence as one basis for social power ( Kelman, 1961 ) among members of the study community ( Lapinski et al., 2018 ) and three essential themes for conceptualizing social norms ( Lapinski et al., 2021 ): 1 ) a shared understanding of what the participants believe is typical in the community, particularly local herding groups or villages (descriptive norms); 2 ) what participants believe is approved and disapproved or expected in the community (injunctive norms), and the anticipated reactions of others to compliance or noncompliance with expectations; and 3 ) important referent groups for decisions about herding (normative referents). Key referents were identified as dependent on the nature of information (general information, advice-seeking, or problem-focused), including herding group members, other villagers, family, and people in positions of power (e.g., veterinarians, government officials, village leaders).

Step 3: Refining Conceptualizations

Based on the findings from the interviews, revised conceptual definitions (Step 3 in the MC 3 M) and quantitative items were developed (Step 4, described in the method) to investigate further the influences of social norms on behaviors guided by several existing theories of social norms ( Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975 ; Cialdini et al., 1990 ; Rimal and Real, 2005 ) and our prior research ( Lapinski et al., 2018 ). Based on the interview data, the conceptualizations of both normative constructs (i.e., perceived descriptive norms and perceived injunctive norms, provided earlier in this paper) have been modified slightly to be culturally appropriate. Consistent with prior research, perceived descriptive norms are conceptualized as pastoralists’ perceptions of the prevalence of referent others’ (herding group and village group member) behavior. Perceived injunctive norms are conceptualized as perceptions of the referent others’ opinions and expectations about behaviors. A common element in conceptualizations of social norms–that social sanctions exist for noncompliance with the norm–was not included in the definition because it was not evidenced in our data. The key referent groups for this behavior are the herding group (if the pastoralist belongs to one) or others from the same village (if the pastoralist does not herd with a herding group). Families have been incorporated into the herding group conceptualization, given the clear overlap revealed from the interview data between these two groups.

Outcome expectations, as well as group identification and group orientation, were considered as key constructs in the study because prior research has shown they enhance the influence of social norms and appear to be critical in studies of cultural dynamics ( Cruz et al., 2000 ; Lapinski et al., 2007 ) and conceptualizations were shaped based on the results of the in-depth interviews. Outcome expectation is conceptualized as beliefs of the potential losses or benefits related to the behavior and includes monetary and non-monetary outcomes. The types of outcomes identified in the interviews included changes to the grassland, changes to economic well-being, and changes to identity as a Tibetan ( Lapinski et al., 2021 ). Group identity refers to feelings of affinity with one’s social group and the desire to be connected to that group ( Rimal and Real, 2005 ). Group orientation refers to one’s connection to the collective (i.e., the extent to which one’s social groups are central to the decision-making process). Giving priority to group goals over personal goals may function to enhance the influence of social norms on behaviors since group-oriented individuals are guided by group goals and norms in order to maintain harmony within groups ( Lapinski et al., 2007 ). Finally, we conceptualized behavioral intention as a person’s readiness to perform a behavior ( Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975 ) and a possible outcome of normative influence.

These conceptualizations form the basis for the development of items designed to measure each of the constructs. A cross-sectional survey was conducted with our study population in order to complete Steps 4–7 in the MC 3 M: The hypothesis is proposed:

H: The measures of perceived descriptive norms (PDN), perceived injunctive norms (PIN), outcome expectations (OE), group identity (GID), group orientation (GO), and behavioral intentions (BI) will yield valid and reliable unidimensional scales.

Sampling and Participants

Participants were recruited from one city and three counties in the study region via network sampling by project partners ( see Appendix A). Yushu Prefecture is an area of 267,000 square kilometers, with a total population of 283,100 people (95.3 percent Tibetan). As of 2015, Yushu Prefecture has one city and five counties; our sample included: Yushu City, Zaduo County, Nangqian County, and Chengduo County. Because of the behaviors examined in this study, three filter questions were asked at the beginning of the survey to ensure that the participant 1 ) was a pastoralist, 2 ) with at least 10 yaks in their herd, and 3 ) was the primary decision-maker in the household (i.e., the head of the household). Only people who answered affirmatively to these questions were included in the sample. During data cleaning, one participant was removed from the data analysis because his household had fewer than 10 yaks.

In total, 360 Tibetan pastoralists (85% male) in 10 townships participated in the surveys 5 , with an average age of 45.85 ( SD = 12.29), ranging from 18 to 80. The average size of the household was 6.52 ( SD = 2.57), with an average number of 2.36 ( SD = 1.48) school-aged children and 2.31 ( SD = 1.48) family members who helped with herding. Regarding the level of education, on average, participants had 1.3 years ( SD = 2.36) of schooling (including public schools and monastery schools), ranging from 0 (illiterate; 68.1%) to 15 years. Nearly all (98.3%) reported owning only yaks; less than 1% had both yaks and sheep (three misssing responses). The average herd size of yaks was 40.87 ( SD = 28.27), ranging from 0 to 200. Approximately 20% of the participants ( n = 71) belonged to herding groups, and 9 (12.7%) of them reported themselves as the leader of the herding group.

Survey Instrument Development

Step 4: initial item development and cognitive interviews.

The survey items were developed by the project team based on the results of the in-depth interviews ( Lapinski et al., 2018 , 2021 ) and prior research on social norms-related variables (Step 4 in the MC 3 M). The scale items were developed via the procedures suggested by Hunter and Gerbing (1982) . Items were developed for each distinct dimension by examining the conceptual definitions of the constructs and by deriving content from the interviews. Multiple items were created for each construct in order to allow for subsequent statistical tests of construct validity ( Hunter and Gerbing, 1982 ). The item construction process resulted in a large pool of items reviewed for face validity by the researchers. To enhance conceptual equivalence ( Herdman et al., 1997 ), each question was discussed by study team members and revised based on the discussion. Items that matched the conceptual definition of the construct were retained. The measures were developed in English and Tibetan simultaneously, captured in English, and then translated into Tibetan with flexibility for local variations in the dialect. The instrument was then back-translated to English to check for accuracy in interpretation and to avoid cultural biases. Then, the study team members discussed the final version of questionnaire questions one by one ( see Appendix B for the detailed procedures of translation and back-translation).

Two groups of cognitive interviews (four participants per group) were conducted with local community members to pilot the survey instrument before the data collection. This qualitative approach, conducted prior to the quantitative data collection, helped researchers examine how the respondents process and interpret questions and identify the factors influencing their answers ( Cabral and Savageau, 2013 ). Due to the benefit of improving item interpretation and strengthening scale quality shown in numerous studies (e.g., Collins, 2003 ; Ryan et al., 2012 ), the cognitive interview has been recommended as a standard step in survey development, refinement, and adaptation.

During the cognitive interviews, participants were asked to evaluate the survey questions with the goal of increasing the clarity, meaningfulness, and cultural appropriateness of the questions. Modifications were made to question wording and question order, and some questions were eliminated. Although we developed the scales to use verbally administered Likert-type response scales ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), based on the suggestions from local collaborators and cognitive interview participants, we adopted the strategy of using fingers (digits; commonly used among people in the sample in everyday life) as a response scale when asking about Likert-type questions (e.g., thumb = strongly agree; the little finger = strongly disagree), to help participant better understand the options. A “Not Sure” option was added based on the suggestions from the local collaborator and the feedback generated from the cognitive interviews.

Surveys were conducted by four ethnically-Tibetan enumerators who were native speakers of the Kham Tibetan dialect and also fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Enumerators received training on survey skills, survey instruments, and the protection of human subjects by the study team (Step 5 in the MC 3 M). The enumerators verbally administered all questions using the digit response scale described above and recorded the responses in booklets due to the low level of literacy among our potential participants 6 based on the exciting literature (e.g., John, 2000 ; Bangsbo, 2008 ), the fieldwork of our community collaborators in our study area over the years, and data from our previous interviews. To minimize unintended enumerator effects on the survey data, enumerators were trained not to provide any explanations to the survey questions other than clarification or to provide verbal or nonverbal reactions toward participants’ answers. Statistical analysis was conducted to ensure that no significant differences existed in study variables for different enumerators.

Upon approaching a potential participant, each enumerator first introduced him/herself and the purpose of the survey briefly. If the individual agreed to answer the initial eligibility questions, the enumerator would record the sex of the respondent through observation first and then ask the three filter questions mentioned above (i.e., a pastoralist with at least 10 yaks who is the head of their household). Once the participant was determined as eligible for the survey, the enumerator proceeded with the informed consent process, adapted to be culturally appropriate while retaining the key elements of consent. Participants were also provided with opportunities to ask questions before deciding to participate or not. If they agreed to participate, the enumerator would proceed to the main survey questions. First, each participant was asked if he/she belonged to a herding group. Based on the participant’s answer to this question, he/she was directed to the subsequent questions associated with a specific referent group (people in my herding group vs people in my village), measuring their perceived descriptive norms, perceived injunctive norms, group orientation, group identity, perceived outcome expectation, behavioral intentions of reducing their herd size and demographics. Based on local norms, participants did not receive incentives for participation.

Surveys were conducted in semi-private settings in Kham Tibetan dialect and lasted approximately 30 min each. Participants’ responses to each question were recorded on the survey paper in Mandarin Chinese by the surveyors and manually entered into the computer later by two research assistants who were fluent in both Chinese and English. Each research assistant first entered all the survey data independently, and then their data entry files were carefully compared to identify any inconsistencies caused by human error during the data entry process. Following several days of data collection, data were reviewed, and procedures were discussed to determine whether modifications were necessary; all study procedures were retained. One researcher who was tri-lingual (Kham Tibetan, Mandarin, and English) was responsible for quality control of the procedures and data. All procedures were approved by a university institutional review board.


Likert-type scales ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) were adopted, with an additional option “Not Sure” added; response scales were administered using the enumerators’ fingers as a guide. All survey items ( see Appendix D), including factor loadings, are presented in Table 1 . Items either focused on herding group members or village group members as the referent, the 5 years prior to the survey as the time period, and herd size reduction as the behavior. Because of the nature of the study procedures, which were conducted in the field in naturalistic conditions, without incentives, every effort was made to streamline the questionnaire content and number of items per dimension in order to avoid attrition. For all scales, items retained following confirmatory factor analysis were summed such that higher scores indicated greater levels of the variable.

TABLE 1 . The Measurement Model of the Six Constructs.

Establishment of Measurement Model

Based on Hunter and Gerbing (1982) , the development and evaluation of a measurement model via factor analysis procedures included three steps: 1 ) construction of the model, 2 ) estimation of the observed correlations among the variables/items in the model, and 3 ) comparison of the observed correlations among variables with the correlations predicted by the model. The measurement model was specified first based on a theory of the relationships among the items. Thus, it was appropriate to use confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) procedures to estimate the parameters of the models and provide construct validity evidence. These procedures are included in Step 6 of the MC 3 M in Figure 1 ; all scale items are presented in Table 1 , with items removed following measurement analysis designated.

Scales and Items

Perceived descriptive norms (PDN). Participants’ perceived prevalence of others’ behavior of reducing the herd size among their referent group (herding group or people in the same village) was assessed with four items. One item directly asking about how many yaks they think the most households in their herding group/village own was dropped as it failed the internal consistency test with a low factor loading.

Perceived injunctive norms (PIN). Participants’ perceptions of the referent others’ opinions and anticipations of them reducing the size of their herds were assessed with four items initially. Two items, including a reverse-coded item, were eliminated due to low factor loadings.

Group identity (GID). Participants’ perceived attitudinal similarity and closeness with their referent group (their herding group or people in the same village) was assessed with four items derived from Rimal and Real (2005) . One item measuring participants’ perceived closeness to their herding group/village was dropped as it failed the internal consistency test with a low factor loading.

Outcome expectations (OE). Expectations about behavioral outcomes were measured by four items, including a reverse-coded item measuring the perceived benefits associated with herd reduction behavior. The results indicated small correlations among all the items ( see Table 1 ). Hence, it was deemed inappropriate to compose the variable by summing the items. This variable was removed from the rest of the analysis assessing the validity and reliability of the scales.

Group orientation (GO). The extent to which one is oriented toward group goals as opposed to individual goals was measured by a four-item scale derived from Triandis’ (1995) individualism-collectivism (INDCOL) scale and prior research ( Lapinski et al., 2007 ), which has been modified for this study based on the in-depth interviews.

Behavioral intention (BI). Participants’ intent to engage in the study behavior of reducing the number of yaks in their herds was measured with three items initially, including a reverse-coded item measuring the intention to increase the number of yaks in their herds. One item was eliminated due to its low factor loading.

Demographics. Participants’ demographic information was collected at the end of the survey, including biological sex (observed and recorded by the enumerator), age, number of people in their households, number of children, level of education, and residence location (county and township).

Missing Data and “Not-Sure” Responses

Missing data and responses of “not sure” (NS) were scrutinized for patterns ( Rubin, 1976 ) because the population under study is rarely surveyed, and the scales are newly developed ( see detailed results in Appendix C). The findings show that NS answers are more prevalent among village groups than herding groups, accounting for 93.62% of the total NS answers, suggesting the influential power of one’s herding group as the source of clearer normative information. For measurement validation in the subsequent analyses, both the missing and the NS data were eliminated, and the pairwise deletion was employed to retain sufficient statistical power.

Construct Validity Assessment

CFA was conducted using the lessR package developed by Gerbing (2021) within R programming environment to provide evidence that the observed scale items measured the same theoretical constructs. Both internal consistency and parallelism ( Hunter and Gerbing, 1982 ) were tested to evaluate the unidimensionality of the measurement model. The a priori specified criteria for item retention for tests of internal consistency include both the pattern and magnitude of the errors between predicted and obtained correlations between items ( e < 0.20) and examination of the size of the factor loadings. Once items were eliminated from a factor, factors were reanalyzed to test the unidimensionality of the new factor. Behavioral intentions with three items 7 was not included in this test.

In testing the internal consistency among items designed to measure PDN, item #4 was dropped as it failed the internal consistency test with a low factor loading and large error for predicted and obtained inter-item correlations ( e > 0.20). Since there were only three items left after the elimination, this factor was not tested again for internal consistency. When testing items measuring PIN, items #3 (reverse-coded) and #4 were eliminated due to the low factor loadings and large errors yielded. Two items were retained. Likewise, when testing items measuring group identity, item #4 was eliminated due to the low factor loading and large error. As such, no further internal consistency test was conducted. For the items measuring OE, the results showed insufficient factor loadings of all items developed in this scale with large errors. Hence, we deemed it was inappropriate to compose the variable by summing up the items and removed this variable from the rest of the analysis.

For the items measuring GO, the test of internal consistency via CFA indicated a plausible four-item solution for the scale; all items were retained. All errors for predicted and obtained inter-item correlations were small ( e < 0.20, goodness of fit RMSE = 0.06).

Tests of parallelism were next conducted to estimate how items measuring the same factor are distinct from other factors. Instead of assessing macro-level correlations between scales, tests of parallelism are conducted at the level of individual items with a low tolerance for errors (i.e., the discrepancy between the predicted correlations and the observed correlations). Results from the parallelism test showed that the four-factor model solution was acceptable: Comparative Fit Index (CFI) = 0.94, Tucker-Lewis Index (TLI) = 0.91, Root Mean Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA) = 0.07, Standardized Root Mean Square Residual (SRMR) = 0.06, χ 2 (67) = 228.01, p < 0.00, all errors were below the a priori specified value of 0.20. The factor loading for each scale item was reported in Table 1 , in which the five-factor solution was clearly demonstrated.

Discriminant Validity of the Constructs

After establishing the measurement model, the relationships among the four constructs were examined to assess the discriminant validity, which refers to measurement items within different constructs that should be unrelated ( Hunter and Gerbing, 1982 ). See Table 2 for the correlations among the variables in both herding and village groups. The mean and standard deviation for each variable were also reported in the table.

TABLE 2 . Zero-Order Correlations, Means, and Standard Deviations of Measured Variables for Both Herding Group and Village Group Participants.

To assess discriminant validity, average variance extracted (AVE) was analyzed, which measures the amount of variance captured by a construct in relation to the amount of variance due to measurement error ( Fornell and Larcker, 1981 ). The formula for calculating AVE is as below:

where λ i is the factor loading of each measurement item on its corresponding construct, and ε i is the error measurement. A widely used criterion to assess discriminant validity is Fornell-Larcker criterion ( Fornell and Larcker, 1981 ), which suggested that based on the corrected correlations from the CFA model, the square root of a construct’s AVE should be larger than the coefficient of correlations between the specific construct and other constructs in the model–that is to say, a latent construct should explain better the variance of its own indicator rather than the variance of other latent constructs. Therefore, the square root of each construct’s AVE should have a greater value than the correlations with other latent constructs. If that is the case, discriminant validity is established on the construct level. In Table 2 , evidence is provided for the construct validity of the scales.

Measurement Invariance Tests

Since the survey questions pertained to different referent groups (herding group vs people in the same village), multi-group confirmatory factor analysis (MGCFA) was conducted using Mplus following procedures recommended by Byrne (2013) . These tests provide evidence that the observed scale indicators/items under study measured the same theoretical constructs (latent variables or factors) across the two groups of the sample. Without established measurement invariance, comparative analyses do not produce meaningful results, and results of differences between groups cannot be unambiguously interpreted ( Milfont and Fischer, 2015 ).

Firstly, a baseline model (Model 1) was established from each group without constraints imposed across the groups for configural invariance (i.e., pattern invariance test). Next, Model 2 examining metric invariance was tested by constraining the factor loadings to be equal across the two groups (i.e., weak measurement invariance test). Model 3 tested scalar invariance by constraining both the factor loadings and indicator/item intercepts equal across the two groups (i.e., strong measurement invariance test; Byrne, 2013 ). Results showed no significant changes in Chi-squares across the three models, indicating a satisfactory measurement equivalence across the two groups. This enabled us to compare mean scores for the underlying factors across groups in the later analysis. The results were reported in Table 3 .

TABLE 3 . Fit Indices for Measurement Invariance Tests between the Herding Group Members vs Village Group Members.

Reliability Assessment

Following the establishment of scale dimensionality, parallelism, and invariance, reliability was assessed via calculation of Cronbach’s alpha for each scale using SPSS v.25, with both the split data file based on the referent group (i.e., herding group vs village group) and the combined dataset. Hunter and Gerbing (1982) suggested that when establishing new measures, validity and reliability should be treated separately. Hence, it was necessary to establish the dimensionality of the scales before examining scale reliability.

In addition to Cronbach’s alpha, composite reliability (sometimes called construct reliability) was assessed as an indicator of internal consistency in scale items ( Netemeyer et al., 2003 ). By measuring the total amount of true score variance relative to the total scale score variance ( Brunner and SÜβ, 2005 ), it serves as an indicator of the shared variance among the observed variables used as an indicator of a latent construct ( Fornell and Larcker, 1981 ). Thresholds for composite reliability are up for debate, but as a general guideline ( Fornell and Larcker, 1981 ; Netemeyer et al., 2003 ), composite reliability of the constructs should be higher than 0.7; The formula ( Netemeyer et al., 2003 ) is:

where: λ i = completely standardized loading for the i th indicator, V(δ i ) = variance of the error term for the i th indicator, and p = number of indicators.

Results ( see Table 1 ) showed that coefficient alphas ranged from 0.60 to 0.93. Considering the uniqueness of the target culture group in this study and the fact that this was the very first study ever in which the measures were developed, the relatively lower-alpha scores for group orientation (α = 0.68) and behavioral intentions (α = 0.60) suggest that future use of these scales should correct estimates for unreliability due to error of measurement. The composite reliability estimates ranged from 0.77 to 0.91, providing additional evidence for scale reliability.

Ground Truthing Results

Step 7 in the MC 3 M is “ground truthing” of process, method, and findings throughout the entire course of the research with stakeholders, including cultural insiders. In the current study, this was accomplished in several key ways. First, by conducting cognitive interviewing and ongoing data and procedural quality checks during the course of the study, we accounted for perceptions of cultural insiders. Second, we regularly presented our procedures and progress to our community collaborators and enumerators to gain their input; changes to procedures were made when possible without compromising study rigor or validity. Third, the findings of the study were presented to people working in this region and on these topics prior to publication to discuss the findings and learn about their understanding of the study findings relative to their experience. Fourth, our project partners who work in this region and one of whom is a member of the population from which we sampled, were included in all publications and reviewed the content for consistency with their experience and understanding of the cultural context.

Noting the critical role of reliable and valid culturally derived measures for social norms constructs and the lack of models for developing measures in cultural context, the present study was designed to propose and apply a model to guide intercultural and cross-cultural communication researchers developing quantitative measures of study constructs. Specifically, this study contributed to the existing corpus of communication literature by offering the Model for Culturally Contextualized Communication Measurement (MC 3 M) to describe the process of developing measures for communication research involving unique populations. This model, derived from prior research in disciplines outside of communication and applied over several years in a program of research among ethnically Tibetan pastoralists, provides a clear path forward for researchers conducting studies of communication processes across or within cultures among marginalized or co-cultural groups. In addition to proposing and applying the MC 3 M, the results of this study provide preliminary evidence for measurement validity and reliability of measures of key social norms constructs. We first discuss the measurement development and findings using the MC 3 M process and then describe the utility and limitations of the MC 3 M.

Social Norms Measures

The development of the culturally contextualized measures of social norms constructs began with significant informal and formal information gathering processes and data collection. Existing social norms theories and measures (e.g., Cialdini et al., 1990 ; Lapinski and Rimal, 2005 ) and the culturally-contextualized conceptual definitions served as the basis for new item development and testing using a cross-sectional survey. The content evaluation was conducted by discussions among the multi-lingual, multi-cultural team members, translation and back-translation, and through cognitive interviews among participants from the study population. As a result, we modified questions, revised the response scale, and decided to use finger-counting as a way to describe the response scale to respondents. Continuous process and data quality monitoring during data collection contributed to the development of the measures.

Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) provided initial evidence for the construct validity of the culturally derived social norm measures. Tests of internal consistency and parallelism indicated that the data were consistent with unidimensional factors measuring the two types of norms: descriptive norms and injunctive norms, as well as group identity, group orientation, and behavioral intentions. Notably, several items were removed from the scales for each of these constructs due to insufficient factor loadings suggesting the need for continued scrutiny of these items in future research. The items designed to measure outcome expectations failed to meet a priori standards, and as such, these items were removed from the final measurement analysis. Outcome expectations play a key role in enhancing the effects of social norms ( Chung and Rimal, 2016 ), and future research should consider improved measures of this construct appropriate to cultural context. The failure of these items is difficult to explain. The content of the items was derived from in-depth interviews, and the adoption of procedures described by Ajzen et al. (1995) for belief elicitation was included; the item administration followed the same procedures as other scales. Nonetheless, it is clear that the items appear to be measuring unique concepts and do not form a unidimensional scale.

Most of the scales exhibited reliability coefficients within generally accepted ranges. However, the scale measuring behavioral intentions is relatively low. Perhaps this is due to the small number of items measuring this dimension since alpha is a function of the number of items on a scale. Because of the study procedures and the need to keep the questionnaire to a reasonable length to recruit and retain study participants without incentives, minimal items per dimension were administered. The behavioral intention scale could benefit from additional item refinement in future research studying behaviors in a cultural context. As an important limitation: although we focused a great deal on identifying, conceptualizing, and understanding the behaviors under study in the in-depth interviews ( Lapinski et al., 2021 ), we did not focus our efforts on understanding our study community’s thinking about the concept of “intent.” This is something any legal scholar will remind us is complicated and perhaps culturally bound.

Because of the novelty of the study issue and information from our collaborators that most of our participants would not have the experience participating in research studies, a significant amount of time was spent reviewing and refining the item response scales. Ultimately, we decided to use digit counting and verbal descriptions of the responses. A “not sure” category was included in the scales, based on the cognitive interviewing process, and many participants used this option. The fact that many used this response option reinforces the importance of including it, but also makes the analysis and treatment of “not sure” responses complicated. It stands as a key limitation to our measures and will be explored carefully in future research. Reviewing the measurement literature for advice on how to handle these data, there was surprisingly little guidance. This represents an opening for future research on measurement and the development of response scales to be used when verbal administration of items is necessary, and populations may have little experience participating in research. This finding also highlights the utility of using cognitive interviewing to refine response scales and items.

Substantively, the “not sure” responses show that participants who were asked about village group members as the referent were more uncertain about what is considered normative behavior compared to those belonging to a herding group. These findings were consistent with the existing social norms and communication theories (e.g., Kincaid, 2004 ; Lapinski and Rimal, 2005 ; Mackie et al., 2015 ) on the critical role of physically or psychologically proximal groups in shaping, communicating, and maintaining normative information of certain behaviors.

The process described for developing, evaluating, and validating the culturally derived social norm measures presented in this study has valuable empirical and theoretical implications for researchers who intend to conduct studies of co-cultural groups or unique populations. The model delineating the specific steps in developing culturally derived communication measures, starting from identifying and refining culturally derived conceptualizations, is a major contribution of this paper. Although we focus specifically on social norms research among the Tibetan population, we believe this model may have relevance for other communication research issues targeting other populations.

The MC 3 M has a number of key benefits and limitations. First, it provides a roadmap to researchers who wish to combine qualitative and quantitative methods to study communication processes in cultural contexts by specifying a set of best practices for developing measures. It is particularly applicable for populations or issues with little existing communication research, such as what we describe here. Second, it is based on existing research and practice and meant to function as a nascent and evolvable model as research on measurement development in cultural context progresses in the field of communication. There are certain additions and changes that could be incorporated into this model, and it is the hope of the researchers that it will have heuristic value, evolving as new knowledge is generated. Third, it is directly designed to be applied to intercultural, cross-cultural, and global communication research, filling a gap in the literature that has been dominated by other disciplines.

The model is not without limitations. Most importantly, we recognize that implementing the entire model requires significant time, resources, and relationships in a community. Further, the measures developed using the model cannot be simply taken and used in other cultural contexts but can serve as a basis for adaptation in intercultural communication research among similar populations and for similar issues. The relativism approach taken in the MC 3 M represents a departure from some of the existing cross-cultural/intercultural research, in which absolutism or universalism approaches are commonly adopted, and measures are used in communities without adaptation. With this said, we acknowledge that absolutism or universalism may still be appropriate in certain study contexts, such as when the research constructs are likely to be less sensitive to the influence of cultural or social factors.

Nonetheless, it is crucial to recognize the substantial role of culture in people’s communication, cognitions, and behaviors ( Herdman et al., 1997 ; Berry et al., 2002 ). As such, we encourage researchers to develop quantitative measures derived within a specific cultural context following rigorous procedures. Measurement development and validation are critical for expanding social norms and other communication research accounting for cultural similarities and differences. Doing so can enhance both internal and external validity in the corpus of research to account for culturally-based concepts and processes ( Mollen et al., 2010 ; Croucher et al., 2019 ).

The continued increasing global interactions highlight the need for cross-cultural researchers to be particularly careful and attentive to the issues of adapting existing constructs, theories, and measures developed in one culture for use in other cultures, and such issues are applicable to a variety of research disciplines. Acknowledging that nuances of the research process are different for each study, we hope that the proposed Model for Culturally Contextualized Communication Measurement, as well as the case we have described in this study, could serve to stimulate advancement in both conceptual and measurement refinement in intercultural and cross-cultural communication research.

Data Availability Statement

The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.

Ethics Statement

The studies involving human participants were reviewed and approved by Michigan State University. Written informed consent for participation was not required for this study in accordance with the national legislation and the institutional requirements.

Author Contributions

All authors listed have made a substantial, direct, and intellectual contribution to the many years of collaborative work and approved it for publication. The authors would like to acknowledge Ariane Leclerq, Ed Glazer, and the team of interviewers, coders, and surveyors/enumerators for their assistance with this project.

This project would not have been possible without a grant from the Sustainable Michigan Endowed Project at Michigan State University # 2011001. Partial support was provided by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Hatch project numbers MICL02244, MICL02173, and MICL02362, and by National Science Foundation Award #SMA-1328503.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s Note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

Supplementary Material

The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at:

1 This study reports on a long-term program of research involving an interdisciplinary, intercultural team of scientists and non-governmental organization staff first supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation in 2013 and continuing with data collections from 2014 to 2016. The authors do not have financial conflicts of interest.

2 As a caveat, only studies published in English language journals are reviewed here. Further, we only use the information available about these studies in the published version of the paper which may be incomplete.

3 Minor adaptions of the scales may be involved to fit with the specific study scenarios or focal behaviors.

4 Although English is the dominant language in Australia and the U.S., Singapore’s national languages are English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil ( Department of Statistics Singapore, 2019 ).

5 The geographical distance between villages is very far with some hundreds of kilometers apart and the primary transportation relies on rough mountain roads, so obtaining the sample was challenging. The participants were recruited primarily through community events and snowball sampling strategies.

6 We were conducting research in a politically sensitive area in China (c.f., Huang, 2013 ) and participants were likely to be unfamiliar with surveys. As such, we used verbally administered surveys.

7 Based on the suggestions from our experienced local collaborators and cultural insiders, we had to keep the survey short by limiting the number of items for each scale as much as possible, due to the reasons that 1 ) our survey was verbally administered, which took a much longer time to complete compared to a written/online survey, and 2 ) our study group had never participated in any studies or completed any surveys. Items developed in each scale with closely shared meaning may confuse them when answering the questions.

Abikoye, G. E., and Olley, B. O. (2012). Social Network Characteristics, Perceived Drinking Norms and Hazardous Alcohol Use. Afr. J. Drug Alcohol Stud. 11 (1), 1. doi:10.4314/ajdas.v11i1

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Ajzen, I., Nichols, A. J., and Driver, B. L. (1995). Identifying Salient Beliefs about Leisure Activities: Frequency of Elicitation Versus Response Latency1. J. Appl. Soc. Pyschol 25 (16), 1391–1410. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1995.tb02623.x

Ajzen, I. (1991). The Theory of Planned Behavior. Organizational Behav. Hum. Decis. Process. 50 (2), 179–211. doi:10.1016/0749-5978(91)90020-T

Babalola, S. (2007). Readiness for HIV Testing Among Young People in Northern Nigeria: The Roles of Social Norm and Perceived Stigma. AIDS Behav. 11 (5), 759–769. doi:10.1007/s10461-006-9189-0

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Bangsbo, E. (2008). Schooling for Knowledge and Cultural Survival: Tibetan Community Schools in Nomadic Herding Areas. Educ. Rev. 60 (1), 69–84. doi:10.1080/00131910701794598

Berkowitz, A. D. (2004). The Social Norms Approach: Theory, Research and Annotated Bibliography. Available at: .

Google Scholar

Berry, J. W., Poortinga, Y. H., Segall, M. H., and Dasen, P. R. (2002). Cross-cultural Psychology: Research and Applications . 2nd Edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press .

Bessho, Y. (2015). Migration for Ecological Preservation? Tibetan Herders' Decision Making Process in the Eco-Migration Policy of Golok Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Qinghai Province, PRC). Nomadic Peoples 19 (2), 189–208. doi:10.3197/np.2015.190203

Bobek, D. D., Roberts, R. W., and Sweeney, J. T. (2007). The Social Norms of Tax Compliance: Evidence from Australia, Singapore, and the United States. J. Bus Ethics 74, 49–64. doi:10.1007/s10551-006-9219-x

Boer, H., and Westhoff, Y. (2006). The Role of Positive and Negative Signaling Communication by Strong and Weak Ties in the Shaping of Safe Sex Subjective Norms of Adolescents in South Africa. Commun. Theor. 16 (1), 75–90. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2885.2006.00006.x

Bollen, K. A. (2005). “Structural Equation Models,” in Encyclopedia of Biostatistics . Editors P. Armitage, and T. Colton (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons ). doi:10.1002/0470011815.b2a13089

Borsari, B., and Carey, K. B. (2003). Descriptive and Injunctive Norms in College Drinking: A Meta-Analytic Integration. J. Stud. Alcohol. 64 (3), 331–341. doi:10.15288/jsa.2003.64.331

Brislin, R. W. (1986). “The Wording and Translation of Research Instruments,” in Field Methods in Cross-Cultural Research . Editors W. J. Lonner, and J. W. Berry (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE ), 137–164.

Brunner, M., and SÜβ, H.-M. (2005). Analyzing the Reliability of Multidimensional Measures: An Example from Intelligence Research. Educ. Psychol. Meas. 65 (2), 227–240. doi:10.1177/0013164404268669

Bum, T. (2016). Guardians of Nature: Tibetan Pastoralists and the Natural World . Morrisville, North Carolina: Lulu Press, Inc., ( . Available at:

Byrne, B. M. (2013). Structural Equation Modeling with Lisrel, Prelis, and Simplis: Basic Concepts, Applications, and Programming . Lawrence: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates .

Cabral, L., and Savageau, J. (2013). Linda Cabral and Judy Savageau on Improve Your Surveys by Conducting Cognitive Interviews. Linda Cabral and Judy Savageau on Improve Your Surveys by Conducting Cognitive Interviews. Available at: .

Chung, A., and Rimal, R. N. (2016). Social Norms: A Review. Rev. Commun. Res. 4, 1–28. doi:10.12840/issn.2255-4165.2016.04.01.008

Cialdini, R. B., Reno, R. R., and Kallgren, C. A. (1990). A Focus Theory of Normative Conduct: Recycling the Concept of Norms to Reduce Littering in Public Places. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 58 (6), 1015–1026. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.58.6.1015

Cialdini, R. B., and Trost, M. R. (1998). “Social Influence: Social Norms, Conformity and Compliance,” in The Handbook of Social Psychology . Editors D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, and G. Lindzey. 4th Edn. (New York: McGraw-Hill ), 151–192.

Cialdini, R. B., Wosinska, W., Barrett, D. W., Butner, J., and Gornik-Durose, M. (1999). Compliance with a Request in Two Cultures: The Differential Influence of Social Proof and Commitment/consistency on Collectivists and Individualists. Pers Soc. Psychol. Bull. 25 (10), 1242–1253. doi:10.1177/0146167299258006

Collins, D. (2003). Pretesting Survey Instruments: An Overview of Cognitive Methods. Qual. Life Res. 12 (3), 229–238. doi:10.1023/A:1023254226592

Croucher, S., and Kelly, S. (2020). Introduction and the Need for Validity. Ann. Int. Commun. Assoc. 44 (3), 175–176. doi:10.1080/23808985.2020.1792788

Croucher, S. M., and Kelly, S. (2019). “Measurement in Intercultural and Cross-Cultural Communication,” in Communication Research Measures III: A Sourcebook . Editors E. E. Graham, and J. P. Mazer (London: Routledge ), 141–159. doi:10.4324/9780203730188-10

Croucher, S. M., Kelly, S., Rahmani, D., Jackson, K., Galy-Badenas, F., Lando, A., et al. (2019). A Multi-National Validity Analysis of the Personal Report of Communication Apprehension (PRCA-24). Ann. Int. Commun. Assoc. 43 (3), 193–209. doi:10.1080/23808985.2019.1602783

Cruz, M., Henningsen, D., and Williams, M. (2000). The Presence of Norms in the Absence of Groups? Hum. Comm Res 26 (1), 104–124. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2958.2000.tb00752.x

Davidov, E., Muthen, B., and Schmidt, P. (2018). Measurement Invariance in Cross-National Studies. Sociological Methods Res. 47 (4), 631–636. doi:10.1177/0049124118789708

Department of Statistics Singapore, (2019). Education, Language Spoken and Literacy—Publications and Methodology. Available at: .

Epstein, J., Santo, R. M., and Guillemin, F. (2015). A Review of Guidelines for Cross-Cultural Adaptation of Questionnaires Could Not Bring Out a Consensus. J. Clin. Epidemiol. 68 (4), 435–441. doi:10.1016/j.jclinepi.2014.11.021

Fischer, R., Ferreira, M. C., Assmar, E., Redford, P., Harb, C., Glazer, S., et al. (2009). Individualism-collectivism as Descriptive Norms. J. Cross-Cultural Psychol. 40 (2), 187–213. doi:10.1177/0022022109332738

Fishbein, M., and Ajzen, I. (1975). Belief, Attitude, Intention and Behavior: An Introduction to Theory and Research . Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley Publ. Co .

Fornara, F., Carrus, G., Passafaro, P., and Bonnes, M. (2011). Distinguishing the Sources of Normative Influence on Proenvironmental Behaviors. Group Process. Intergroup Relations 14 (5), 623–635. doi:10.1177/1368430211408149

Fornell, C., and Larcker, D. F. (1981). Evaluating Structural Equation Models with Unobservable Variables and Measurement Error. J. Marketing Res. 18 (1), 39–50. doi:10.2307/3151312

Geber, S., Baumann, E., Czerwinski, F., and Klimmt, C. (2019). The Effects of Social Norms Among Peer Groups on Risk Behavior: A Multilevel Approach to Differentiate Perceived and Collective Norms. Commun. Res. 48 (3), 319–345. doi:10.1177/0093650218824213

Gerbing, D. (2021). Package ‘lessR. ’ CRAN. Available at: .

GovHK, (2020). GovHK: Hong Kong – the Facts. Available at: .

Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., and Norenzayan, A. (2010). The Weirdest People in the World? Behav. Brain Sci. 33 (2–3), 61–83. doi:10.1017/S0140525X0999152X

Herdman, M., Fox-Rushby, J., and Badia, X. (1997). 'Equivalence' and the Translation and Adaptation of Health-Related Quality of Life Questionnaires. Qual. Life Res. 6 (3), 237–247. doi:10.1023/a:1026410721664

Huang, H. (2013). The Silence Around Tibet’s Ecological Crisis. The Atlantic . Available at: .

Hunter, J. E., and Gerbing, D. W. (1982). Unidimensional Measurement, Second Order Factor Analysis, and Causal Models. Res. Organizational Behav. Annu. Ser. Anal. Essays Crit. Rev. 4, 267–320.

Jain, A., Tobey, E., Ismail, H., and Erulkar, A. (2018). Condom Use at Last Sex by Young Men in Ethiopia: The Effect of Descriptive and Injunctive Norms. Reprod. Health 15, 164. doi:10.1186/s12978-018-0607-3

Jang, S. A., Rimal, R. N., and Cho, N. (2013). Exploring Parental Influences in the Theory of Normative Social Behavior. Commun. Res. 40 (1), 52–72. doi:10.1177/0093650211407061

Jang, S. A. (2012). Self-monitoring as a Moderator Between Descriptive Norms and Drinking: Findings Among Korean and American University Students. Health Commun. 27 (6), 546–558. doi:10.1080/10410236.2011.617242

Jensen, R. E., and Bute, J. J. (2010). Fertility-related Perceptions and Behaviors Among Low-Income Women: Injunctive Norms, Sanctions, and the Assumption of Choice. Qual. Health Res. 20 (11), 1573–1584. doi:10.1177/1049732310375619

John, G. (2000). Review of Education in Tibet. Policy and Practice since 1950 [Review of Review Of Education in Tibet. Policy And Practice since 1950 , by C. Bass]. Tibet J. 25 (2), 69–71. Available at:

Kelman, H. C. (1961). Processes of Opinion Change. Public Opin. Q. 25 (1), 57–78. doi:10.1086/266996

Kincaid, D. L. (2004). From Innovation to Social Norm: Bounded Normative Influence. J. Health Commun. 9 (Suppl. 1), 37–57. doi:10.1080/10810730490271511

LaBrie, J. W., Atkins, D. C., Neighbors, C., Mirza, T., and Larimer, M. E. (2012). Ethnicity Specific Norms and Alcohol Consumption Among Hispanic/Latino/a and Caucasian Students. Addict. Behaviors 37 (4), 573–576. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2012.01.007

Lapinski, M. K., Anderson, J., Cruz, S., and Lapine, P. (2015). Social Networks and the Communication of Norms About Prenatal Care in Rural Mexico. J. Health Commun. 20 (1), 112–120. doi:10.1080/10810730.2014.914605

Lapinski, M. K., Liu, R. W., Kerr, J. M., Zhao, J., and Bum, T. (2019). Characterizing Interpersonal Influence for Grassland Conservation Behaviours in a Unique Population. Environ. Commun. 13 (5), 664–680. doi:10.1080/17524032.2018.1436579

Lapinski, M. K., Liu, R. W., Kerr, J. M., Zhao, J., Bum, T., and Lu, Z. (2021). Culture and Social Norms: Behavioral Decisions About Grassland Conservation Among Ethnically Tibetan Pastoralists. J. Int. Intercultural Commun. 2021, 1–22. doi:10.1080/17513057.2021.1916569

Lapinski, M. K., and Rimal, R. N. (2005). An Explication of Social Norms. Commun. Theor. 15 (2), 127–147. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2885.2005.tb00329.x

Lapinski, M. K., Rimal, R. N., DeVries, R., and Lee, E. L. (2007). The Role of Group Orientation and Descriptive Norms on Water Conservation Attitudes and Behaviors. Health Commun. 22 (2), 133–142. doi:10.1080/10410230701454049

Lapinski, M. K., Silk, K., Liu, R. W., and Totzkay, D. (2018). “Models for Environmental Communication for Unique Populations,” in Environmental Communication Among Minority Populations . Editors B. Takahashi, and S. Rosenthal (Abingdon-on-Thames: Taylor & Francis ), 6–27. doi:10.4324/9781351127080-2

Lee, C., and Green, R. T. (1991). Cross-cultural Examination of the Fishbein Behavioral Intentions Model. J. Int. Bus Stud. 22, 289–305. doi:10.1057/palgrave.jibs.8490304

Limaye, R. J., Rimal, R. N., Mkandawire, G., Roberts, P., Dothi, W., and Brown, J. (2012). Talking About Sex in Malawi: Toward a Better Understanding of Interpersonal Communication for HIV Prevention. J. Public Health Res. 1 (2), 17–125. doi:10.4081/jphr.2012.e17

L. Milfont, T., and Fischer, R. (2015). Testing Measurement Invariance Across Groups: Applications in Cross-Cultural Research. Int. J. Psychol. Res. 3 (1), 111–130. doi:10.21500/20112084.857

Mackie, G., Moneti, F., and Shakya, H. (2015). What Are Social Norms? How Are They Measured? San Diego, CA: UNICEF/University of California . Available at: .

Mollen, S., Rimal, R. N., and Lapinski, M. K. (2010). What Is Normative inHealth CommunicationResearch on Norms? A Review and Recommendations for Future Scholarship. Health Commun. 25 (6–7), 544–547. doi:10.1080/10410236.2010.496704

Netemeyer, R. G., Bearden, W. O., and Sharma, S. (2003). Scaling Procedures: Issues and Applications . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications .

Nguyen, M.-L., and Neighbors, C. (2013). Self-determination, Perceived Approval, and Drinking: Differences Between Asian Americans and Whites. Addict. Behaviors 38 (3), 1656–1662. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2012.10.001

Orbe, M. P. (1997). Constructing Co-cultural Theory: An Explication of Culture, Power, and Communication . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications .

Park, H. S., and Levine, T. R. (1999). The Theory of Reasoned Action and Self‐construal: Evidence from Three Cultures. Commun. Monogr. 66 (3), 199–218. doi:10.1080/03637759909376474

Pedhazur, E. J., and Schmelkin, L. P. (2013). Measurement, Design, and Analysis: An Integrated Approach . Hove, UK: Psychology Press .

Rhodes, N., Shulman, H. C., and McClaran, N. (2020). Changing Norms: A Meta-Analytic Integration of Research on Social Norms Appeals. Hum. Commun. Res. 46 (2–3), 161–191. doi:10.1093/hcr/hqz023

Rimal, R. N., and Real, K. (2005). How Behaviors Are Influenced by Perceived Norms. Commun. Res. 32 (3), 389–414. doi:10.1177/0093650205275385

Rimal, R. N., Sripad, P., Speizer, I. S., and Calhoun, L. M. (2015). Interpersonal Communication as an Agent of Normative Influence: A Mixed Method Study Among the Urban Poor in India. Reprod. Health 12, 71. doi:10.1186/s12978-015-0061-4

Rimal, R. N., Yilma, H., Ryskulova, N., and Geber, S. (2019). Driven to Succeed: Improving Adolescents' Driving Behaviors Through a Personal Narrative-Based Psychosocial Intervention in Serbia. Accid. Anal. Prev. 122, 172–180. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2018.09.034

Rubin, D. B. (1976). Inference and Missing Data. Biometrika 63 (3), 581–592. doi:10.1093/biomet/63.3.581

Ryan, K., Gannon-Slater, N., and Culbertson, M. J. (2012). Improving Survey Methods with Cognitive Interviews in Small- and Medium-Scale Evaluations. Am. J. Eval. 33 (3), 414–430. doi:10.1177/1098214012441499

Savani, K., Wadhwa, M., Uchida, Y., Ding, Y., and Naidu, N. V. R. (2015). When Norms Loom Larger Than the Self: Susceptibility of Preference-Choice Consistency to Normative Influence across Cultures. Organizational Behav. Hum. Decis. Process. 129, 70–79. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2014.09.001

Schaffer, B. S., and Riordan, C. M. (2003). A Review of Cross-Cultural Methodologies for Organizational Research: A Best- Practices Approach. Organizational Res. Methods 6 (2), 169–215. doi:10.1177/1094428103251542

Shen, X., and Tan, J. (2012). Ecological Conservation, Cultural Preservation, and a Bridge Between: The Journey of Shanshui Conservation Center in the Sanjiangyuan Region, Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, China. Ecol. Soc. 17 (4), 38. doi:10.5751/ES-05345-170438

Shulman, H. C., Rhodes, N., Davidson, E., Ralston, R., Borghetti, L., and Morr, L. (2017). The State of the Field of Social Norms Research. Int. J. Commun. 11, 1192–1213. Available at:

Stamkou, E., van Kleef, G. A., Homan, A. C., Gelfand, M. J., van de Vijver, F. J. R., van Egmond, M. C., et al. (2019). Cultural Collectivism and Tightness Moderate Responses to Norm Violators: Effects on Power Perception, Moral Emotions, and Leader Support. Pers Soc. Psychol. Bull. 45 (6), 947–964. doi:10.1177/0146167218802832

Steenkamp, J. B. E. M., and Baumgartner, H. (1998). Assessing Measurement Invariance in Cross‐National Consumer Research. J. Consum Res. 25 (1), 78–107. doi:10.1086/209528

Thogersen, J., and Olander, F. (2006). The Dynamic Interaction of Personal Norms and Environment-Friendly Buying Behavior: A Panel Study1. J. Appl. Soc. Pyschol 36 (7), 1758–1780. doi:10.1111/j.0021-9029.2006.00080.x

Triandis, H. C. (1995). Individualism and Collectivism (Vol. Xv) . Boulder, CO: Westview Press .

UNICEF, (2010). The Dynamics of Social Change: Towards the Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation/cutting in Five African Countries . New York, NY: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre . Available at: .

Walter, N., Murphy, S. T., Frank, L. B., and Ball-Rokeach, S. J. (2019). The Power of Brokerage: Case Study of Normative Behavior, Latinas and Cervical Cancer. Commun. Res. 46 (5), 639–662. doi:10.1177/0093650217718655

Wan, C., Shen, G. Q., and Choi, S. (2018). The Moderating Effect of Subjective Norm in Predicting Intention to Use Urban Green Spaces: A Study of Hong Kong. Sustain. Cities Soc. 37, 288–297. doi:10.1016/j.scs.2017.11.022

Yilma, H., Sedlander, E., Rimal, R. N., Pant, I., Munjral, A., and Mohanty, S. (2020). The Reduction in Anemia Through Normative Innovations (RANI) Project: Study Protocol for a Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial in Odisha, India. BMC Public Health 20, 203. doi:10.1186/s12889-020-8271-2

Keywords: unique populations, social norms, cross-cultural communication, culturally derived measures, measurement validation

Citation: Liu RW, Lapinski MK, Kerr JM, Zhao J, Bum T and Lu Z (2022) Culture and Social Norms: Development and Application of a Model for Culturally Contextualized Communication Measurement (MC 3 M). Front. Commun. 6:770513. doi: 10.3389/fcomm.2021.770513

Received: 03 September 2021; Accepted: 06 December 2021; Published: 03 January 2022.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2022 Liu, Lapinski, Kerr, Zhao, Bum and Lu. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Rain W. Liu, [email protected]

logo (1)

UoPeople president wins "Nobel Prize of Education" Learn More

UoPeople president wins "Nobel Prize of Education" >>

Tips for Online Students , Tips for Students

What Is Cultural Diversity And Why Is It Important?


The things you do and the practices you were taught inform who you become. Culture is a broad term that encompasses beliefs, values, norms, behaviors, and overall can be understood as our “way of being.” When you go out into the world, you will come into contact with people from different backgrounds and walks of life. It’s a good rule of thumb to honor cultural diversity with your actions. So, what is cultural diversity and why does it matter?

Let’s get into the details of how cultural diversity can take shape in professional settings, within educational institutions, and overall, in most aspects of life.

Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

Cultural diversity – defined.

Cultural diversity is synonymous with multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica as, “the view that cultures, races, and ethnicities, particularly those of minority groups, deserve special acknowledgment of their differences within a dominant political culture.”

The importance of cultural diversity can be interpreted on the basis of these related actions:

  • Recognizing that there is a large amount of cultures that exist
  • Respecting each other’s differences
  • Acknowledging that all cultural expressions are valid
  • Valuing what cultures have to bring to the table
  • Empowering diverse groups to contribute
  • Celebrating differences, not just tolerating them

So, what are some examples of cultural diversity?

Cultural diversity looks like this:

  • In A Workplace: Having a multilingual team, having a diverse range of ages working together, having policies that are vocally against discrimination, etc.
  • In A School Setting: Having students from all over the world (like at the University of the People ), being accepting of all religious practices and traditions that students part take in, supporting students to share their cultures with one another, etc.

The Importance Of Cultural Diversity In Education

Cultural diversity is important in every setting in life, but it can be even more pivotal when it happens within education. Students around the world have the right to equal access of quality education , and as such, there are many upsides that come along with it when institutions believe in the power of diversity.

Cultural diversity in education helps to support:

  • Deep Learning Learning happens within the curriculum and outside of it. With a diverse student population, students have the privilege of gaining more understanding about people and backgrounds from all over. This also contributes to diversity of thought and perspectives that make learning more interesting and dynamic.
  • Confidence And Growth When students participate with people from varied cultures, it provides them with more confidence in dealing with things outside of their comfort zones. It can build strength of character, pride, and confidence.
  • Preparation For The Future If a workplace has done the necessary work, it’s bound to be culturally diverse. Attending a culturally diverse institute of education will prepare students for their future in a workplace.
  • More Empathy Interacting with people who have diverse practices, beliefs, life experiences, and culture promotes empathy. While you can never fully understand someone’s life without being them, you can learn, listen, and understand.

Benefits Of Cultural Diversity

The world is naturally multicultural. Approaching cultural diversity with a mindset and actions that embrace this fact leads to many benefits, like:

  • Compassion: Communication and understanding of differences leads to increased compassion instead of judgment.
  • Innovation: Varied perspectives and lens of looking at the world lend to innovative thinking.
  • Productivity: People who come together and bring their own style of working together tend to support a more productive team.
  • New Opportunities: The diversity opens the door to new opportunities and the blending of ideas which would otherwise have been homogeneous.
  • Problem-Solving: Challenges are layered, so having people with different backgrounds can lead to better problem-solving with richness of opinions.

How To Support Cultural Diversity

Individuals and institutions alike have the agency to support cultural diversity. If you’re unsure how you can take action to do so, consider these ideas:

  • Interact with people outside of your culture
  • Be open-minded to listen and let go of judgment
  • If you see anyone who is being culturally insensitive, speak out against it
  • Accept that differences are beneficial and not harmful
  • Don’t force your beliefs on people with opposing views
  • Advocate to hire people or work with people who are not within your same culture
  • Travel the world as much as you can to take part in cultures and understand them from the source
  • Read literature and learn from different cultures
  • Absorb media and art from around the world
  • Learn a new language and communicate in a friend’s native language rather than your own

How UoPeople Supports Diversity

The University of the People was founded with the mission to offer accessible education that’s affordable to students from the entire globe. We believe that our differences bring strength and can help to promote world peace, just like education. That’s why we have a global student body with students attending our online degree programs from over 200 countries and territories.

While our institution is set up to be affordable to all because programs are tuition-free, we also extend specific scholarships that help to grow cultural diversity.

Some of our scholarships include :

  • Scholarship for Syrian Refugees
  • U.S. Embassy in Burkina Faso Scholarship
  • Viatnamese Scholarship Fund
  • Botari Women’s Scholarship Fund

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Cultural diversity is worth celebrating.

The world is filled with people who have different beliefs, religions, traditions, and ways of living. It is within our differences that we can find beauty. Both in educational and professional environments, cultural diversity benefits everyone. It paves the way to better problem-solving, more empathy and compassion, deepened learning, and approaches the world from various perspectives.

Related Articles

Privacy overview.

So What Is Culture, Exactly?

THEPALMER/Getty Images

  • Archaeology
  • Ph.D., Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • M.A., Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • B.A., Sociology, Pomona College

Culture is a term that refers to a large and diverse set of mostly intangible aspects of social life. According to sociologists, culture consists of the values, beliefs, systems of language, communication, and practices that people share in common and that can be used to define them as a collective. Culture also includes the material objects that are common to that group or society. Culture is distinct from social structure and economic aspects of society, but it is connected to them—both continuously informing them and being informed by them.

How Sociologists Define Culture

Culture is one of the most important concepts within sociology because sociologists recognize that it plays a crucial role in our social lives. It is important for shaping social relationships, maintaining and challenging social order, determining how we make sense of the world and our place in it, and in shaping our everyday actions and experiences in society. It is composed of both non-material and material things.

In brief, sociologists define the non-material aspects of culture as the values and beliefs, language, communication, and practices that are shared in common by a group of people. Expanding on these categories, culture is made up of our knowledge, common sense, assumptions, and expectations. It is also the rules, norms, laws, and morals that govern society; the words we use as well as how we speak and write them (what sociologists call " discourse "); and the symbols we use to express meaning, ideas, and concepts (like traffic signs and emojis, for example). Culture is also what we do and how we behave and perform (for example, theater and dance). It informs and is encapsulated in how we walk, sit, carry our bodies, and interact with others; how we behave depending on the place, time, and "audience;" and how we express identities of race, class, gender, and sexuality, among others. Culture also includes the collective practices we participate in, such as religious ceremonies, the celebration of secular holidays, and attending sporting events.

Material culture is composed of the things that humans make and use. This aspect of culture includes a wide variety of things, from buildings, technological gadgets, and clothing, to film, music, literature, and art, among others. Aspects of material culture are more commonly referred to as cultural products.

Sociologists see the two sides of culture—the material and non-material—as intimately connected. Material culture emerges from and is shaped by the non-material aspects of culture. In other words, what we value, believe, and know (and what we do together in everyday life) influences the things that we make. But it is not a one-way relationship between material and non-material culture. Material culture can also influence the non-material aspects of culture. For example, a powerful documentary film (an aspect of material culture) might change people’s attitudes and beliefs (i.e. non-material culture). This is why cultural products tend to follow patterns. What has come before in terms of music, film, television, and art, for example, influences the values, beliefs, and expectations of those who interact with them, which then, in turn, influence the creation of additional cultural products.

Why Culture Matters to Sociologists

Culture is important to sociologists because it plays a significant and important role in the production of social order. The social order refers to the stability of society based on the collective agreement to rules and norms that allow us to cooperate, function as a society, and live together (ideally) in peace and harmony. For sociologists, there are both good and bad aspects of social order.

Rooted in the theory of classical French sociologist Émile Durkheim , both material and non-material aspects of culture are valuable in that they hold society together. The values, beliefs, morals, communication, and practices that we share in common provide us with a shared sense of purpose and a valuable collective identity. Durkheim revealed through his research that when people come together to participate in rituals, they reaffirm the culture they hold in common, and in doing so, strengthen the social ties that bind them together. Today, sociologists see this important social phenomenon happening not only in religious rituals and celebrations like (some) weddings and the Indian festival of Holi but also in secular ones—such as high school dances and widely-attended, televised sporting events (for example, the Super Bowl and March Madness).

Famous Prussian social theorist and activist Karl Marx established the critical approach to culture in the social sciences. According to Marx, it is in the realm of non-material culture that a minority is able to maintain unjust power over the majority. He reasoned that subscribing to mainstream values, norms, and beliefs keep people invested in unequal social systems that do not work in their best interests, but rather, benefit the powerful minority. Sociologists today see Marx's theory in action in the way that most people in capitalist societies buy into the belief that success comes from hard work and dedication, and that anyone can live a good life if they do these things—despite the reality that a job which pays a living wage is increasingly hard to come by.  

Both theorists were right about the role that culture plays in society, but neither was exclusively   right. Culture can be a force for oppression and domination, but it can also be a force for creativity, resistance, and liberation. It is also a deeply important aspect of human social life and social organization. Without it, we would not have relationships or society.

Luce, Stephanie. " Living wages: a US perspective ." Employee Relations , vol. 39, no. 6, 2017, pp. 863-874. doi:10.1108/ER-07-2017-0153

  • Definition of Cultural Materialism
  • What is a Norm? Why Does it Matter?
  • The Concept of Collective Consciousness
  • All About Marxist Sociology
  • How Do Sociologists Define Consumption?
  • Introduction to Sociology
  • Understanding Political Culture
  • The Challenges of Ethical Living in a Consumer Society
  • The Sociology of Race and Ethnicity
  • The Importance Customs in Society
  • Overview of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft in Sociology
  • What Is the Meaning of Globalization in Sociology?
  • Understanding Diffusion in Sociology
  • Understanding Socialization in Sociology
  • Olmec Religion
  • How Emile Durkheim Made His Mark on Sociology

By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.

Logo for BCcampus Open Publishing

Want to create or adapt books like this? Learn more about how Pressbooks supports open publishing practices.

Chapter 3. Culture

Learning objectives.

3.1. What Is Culture?

  • Differentiate between culture and society
  • Explain material versus nonmaterial culture
  • Discuss the concept of cultural universalism as it relates to society
  • Compare and contrast ethnocentrism and xenocentrism

3.2. Elements of Culture

  • Understand how values and beliefs differ from norms
  • Explain the significance of symbols and language to a culture
  • Explain the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
  • Discuss the role of social control within culture

3.3. Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change

  • Discuss the roles of both high culture and pop culture within society
  • Differentiate between subculture and counterculture
  • Explain the role of innovation, invention, and discovery in culture
  • Understand the role of cultural lag and globalization in cultural change

3.4. Theoretical Perspectives on Culture

  • Discuss the major theoretical approaches to cultural interpretation

Introduction to Culture

Are there rules for eating at McDonald’s? Generally, we do not think about rules in a fast food restaurant, but if you look around one on a typical weekday, you will see people acting as if they were trained for the role of fast food customer. They stand in line, pick items from the colourful menus, swipe debit cards to pay, and wait to collect trays of food. After a quick meal, customers wad up their paper wrappers and toss them into garbage cans. Customers’ movement through this fast food routine is orderly and predictable, even if no rules are posted and no officials direct the process.

If you want more insight into these unwritten rules, think about what would happen if you behaved according to some other standards. (You would be doing what sociologists call ethnomethodology: deliberately disrupting social norms in order to learn about them.) For example, call ahead for reservations, ask the cashier detailed questions about the food’s ingredients or how it is prepared. Ask to have your meal served to you at your table. Or throw your trash on the ground as you leave. Chances are, you will elicit hostile responses from the restaurant employees and your fellow customers.

People have written entire books analyzing the significance of fast food customs. They examine the extensive, detailed physicality of fast food: the food itself, wrappers, bags, trays, those tiny ketchup packets, the tables and chairs, and even the restaurant building. Everything about a chain restaurant reflects culture , the beliefs and behaviours that a social group shares. Sociological analysis can be applied to every expression of culture, from sporting events to holidays, from education to transportation, from fashion to etiquette.

In everyday conversation, people rarely distinguish between the terms “culture” and “society,” but the terms have slightly different meanings, and the distinction is important to a sociologist. A society describes a group of people who share a common territory and a culture. By “territory,” sociologists refer to a definable region—as small as a neighbourhood (e.g., East Vancouver or “the west side of town”), as large as a country (e.g., Ethiopia, Canada, or Nepal), or somewhere in between (in Canada, this might include someone who identifies with the West Coast, the Prairies, or Atlantic Canada). To clarify, a culture represents the beliefs, practices and artifacts of a group, while society represents the social structures and organization of the people who share those beliefs and practices. Neither society nor culture could exist without the other. In this chapter, we examine the relationship between culture and society in greater detail, paying special attention to the elements and forces that shape culture, including diversity and cultural changes. A final discussion touches on the different theoretical perspectives from which sociologists research culture.

Humans are social creatures. Since the dawn of Homo sapiens nearly 250,000 years ago, people have grouped together into communities in order to survive. Living together, people form common habits and behaviours—from specific methods of childrearing to preferred techniques for obtaining food. In modern-day Paris, many people shop daily at outdoor markets to pick up what they need for their evening meal, buying cheese, meat, and vegetables from different specialty stalls. In the Canada, the majority of people shop once a week at supermarkets, filling large carts to the brim. The Parisian Roland Barthes disdainfully referred to this as “the hasty stocking up” of a “more mechanical civilization” (Barthes 1977).

Almost every human behaviour, from shopping to marriage to expressions of feelings, is learned. In Canada, people tend to view marriage as a choice between two people, based on mutual feelings of love. In other nations and in other times, marriages have been arranged through an intricate process of interviews and negotiations between entire families, or in other cases, through a direct system such as a “mail order bride.” To someone raised in Winnipeg, the marriage customs of a family from Nigeria may seem strange, or even wrong. Conversely, someone from a traditional Kolkata family might be perplexed with the idea of romantic love as the foundation for the lifelong commitment of marriage. In other words, the way in which people view marriage depends largely on what they have been taught.

Behaviour based on learned customs is not a bad thing. Being familiar with unwritten rules helps people feel secure and “normal.” Most people want to live their daily lives confident that their behaviours will not be challenged or disrupted. But even an action as seemingly simple as commuting to work evidences a great deal of cultural propriety.

Take the case of going to work on public transportation. Whether commuting in Dublin, Cairo, Mumbai, or Vancouver, many behaviours will be the same in all locations, but significant differences also arise between cultures. Typically, a passenger would find a marked bus stop or station, wait for the bus or train, pay an agent before or after boarding, and quietly take a seat if one is available. But when boarding a bus in Cairo, passengers might have to run, because buses there often do not come to a full stop to take on patrons. Dublin bus riders would be expected to extend an arm to indicate that they want the bus to stop for them. And when boarding a commuter train in Mumbai, passengers must squeeze into overstuffed cars amid a lot of pushing and shoving on the crowded platforms. That kind of behaviour would be considered the height of rudeness in Canada, but in Mumbai it reflects the daily challenges of getting around on a train system that is taxed to capacity.

In this example of commuting, culture consists of thoughts (expectations about personal space, for example) and tangible things (bus stops, trains, and seating capacity). Material culture refers to the objects or belongings of a group of people. Metro passes and bus tokens are part of material culture, as are automobiles, stores, and the physical structures where people worship. Nonmaterial culture , in contrast, consists of the ideas, attitudes, and beliefs of a society. Material and nonmaterial aspects of culture are linked, and physical objects often symbolize cultural ideas. A metro pass is a material object, but it represents a form of nonmaterial culture, namely, capitalism, and the acceptance of paying for transportation. Clothing, hairstyles, and jewellery are part of material culture, but the appropriateness of wearing certain clothing for specific events reflects nonmaterial culture. A school building belongs to material culture, but the teaching methods and educational standards are part of education’s nonmaterial culture. These material and nonmaterial aspects of culture can vary subtly from region to region. As people travel farther afield, moving from different regions to entirely different parts of the world, certain material and nonmaterial aspects of culture become dramatically unfamiliar. What happens when we encounter different cultures? As we interact with cultures other than our own, we become more aware of the differences and commonalities between others’ worlds and our own.

Cultural Universals

Often, a comparison of one culture to another will reveal obvious differences. But all cultures share common elements. Cultural universals are patterns or traits that are globally common to all societies. One example of a cultural universal is the family unit: every human society recognizes a family structure that regulates sexual reproduction and the care of children. Even so, how that family unit is defined and how it functions vary. In many Asian cultures, for example, family members from all generations commonly live together in one household. In these cultures, young adults will continue to live in the extended household family structure until they marry and join their spouse’s household, or they may remain and raise their nuclear family within the extended family’s homestead. In Canada, by contrast, individuals are expected to leave home and live independently for a period before forming a family unit consisting of parents and their offspring.

Anthropologist George Murdock first recognized the existence of cultural universals while studying systems of kinship around the world. Murdock found that cultural universals often revolve around basic human survival, such as finding food, clothing, and shelter, or around shared human experiences, such as birth and death, or illness and healing. Through his research, Murdock identified other universals including language, the concept of personal names, and, interestingly, jokes. Humor seems to be a universal way to release tensions and create a sense of unity among people (Murdock 1949). Sociologists consider humour necessary to human interaction because it helps individuals navigate otherwise tense situations.

Making Connections: Sociological Research

Is music a cultural universal.

Imagine that you are sitting in a theatre, watching a film. The movie opens with the heroine sitting on a park bench, a grim expression on her face. Cue the music. The first slow and mournful notes are played in a minor key. As the melody continues, the heroine turns her head and sees a man walking toward her. The music slowly gets louder, and the dissonance of the chords sends a prickle of fear running down your spine. You sense that the heroine is in danger.

Now imagine that you are watching the same movie, but with a different soundtrack. As the scene opens, the music is soft and soothing, with a hint of sadness. You see the heroine sitting on the park bench and sense her loneliness. Suddenly, the music swells. The woman looks up and sees a man walking toward her. The music grows fuller, and the pace picks up. You feel your heart rise in your chest. This is a happy moment.

Music has the ability to evoke emotional responses. In television shows, movies, even commercials, music elicits laughter, sadness, or fear. Are these types of musical cues cultural universals?

In 2009, a team of psychologists, led by Thomas Fritz of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, studied people’s reactions to music they’d never heard (Fritz et al. 2009). The research team travelled to Cameroon, Africa, and asked Mafa tribal members to listen to Western music. The tribe, isolated from Western culture, had never been exposed to Western culture and had no context or experience within which to interpret its music. Even so, as the tribal members listened to a Western piano piece, they were able to recognize three basic emotions: happiness, sadness, and fear. Music, it turns out, is a sort of universal language.

Researchers also found that music can foster a sense of wholeness within a group. In fact, scientists who study the evolution of language have concluded that originally language (an established component of group identity) and music were one (Darwin 1871). Additionally, since music is largely nonverbal, the sounds of music can cross societal boundaries more easily than words. Music allows people to make connections where language might be a more difficult barricade. As Fritz and his team found, music and the emotions it conveys can be cultural universals.

Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism

Despite how much humans have in common, cultural differences are far more prevalent than cultural universals. For example, while all cultures have language, analysis of particular language structures and conversational etiquette reveal tremendous differences. In some Middle Eastern cultures, it is common to stand close to others in conversation. North Americans keep more distance, maintaining a large “personal space.” Even something as simple as eating and drinking varies greatly from culture to culture. If your professor comes into an early morning class holding a mug of liquid, what do you assume she is drinking? In the United States, it’s most likely filled with coffee, not Earl Grey tea, a favourite in England, or Yak Butter tea, a staple in Tibet.

The way cuisines vary across cultures fascinates many people. Some travellers, like celebrated food writer Anthony Bourdain, pride themselves on their willingness to try unfamiliar foods, while others return home expressing gratitude for their native culture’s fare. Canadians often express disgust at other cultures’ cuisine, thinking it is gross to eat meat from a dog or guinea pig, for example, while they do not question their own habit of eating cows or pigs. Such attitudes are an example of ethnocentrism , or evaluating and judging another culture based on how it compares to one’s own cultural norms. Ethnocentrism, as sociologist William Graham Sumner (1906) described the term, involves a belief or attitude that one’s own culture is better than all others. Almost everyone is a little bit ethnocentric. For example, Canadians tend to say that people from England drive on the “wrong” side of the road, rather than the “other” side. Someone from a country where dogs are considered dirty and unhygienic might find it off-putting to see a dog in a French restaurant.

A high level of appreciation for one’s own culture can be healthy; a shared sense of community pride, for example, connects people in a society. But ethnocentrism can lead to disdain or dislike for other cultures, causing misunderstanding and conflict. People with the best intentions sometimes travel to a society to “help” its people, seeing them as uneducated or backward, essentially inferior. In reality, these travellers are guilty of cultural imperialism—the deliberate imposition of one’s own cultural values on another culture. Europe’s colonial expansion, begun in the 16th century, was often accompanied by a severe cultural imperialism. European colonizers often viewed the people in the lands they colonized as uncultured savages who were in need of European governance, dress, religion, and other cultural practices. On the West Coast of Canada, the aboriginal “potlatch” (gift-giving) ceremony was made illegal in 1885 because it was thought to prevent natives from acquiring the proper industriousness and respect for material goods required by civilization. A more modern example of cultural imperialism may include the work of international aid agencies who introduce modern technological agricultural methods and plant species from developed countries while overlooking indigenous varieties and agricultural approaches that are better suited to the particular region.

Ethnocentrism can be so strong that when confronted with all the differences of a new culture, one may experience disorientation and frustration. In sociology, we call this “ culture shock .” A traveller from Chicago might find the nightly silence of rural Montana unsettling, not peaceful. An exchange student from China might be annoyed by the constant interruptions in class as other students ask questions—a practice that is considered rude in China. Perhaps the Chicago traveller was initially captivated with Montana’s quiet beauty and the Chinese student was originally excited to see an American-style classroom firsthand. But as they experience unanticipated differences from their own culture, their excitement gives way to discomfort and doubts about how to behave appropriately in the new situation. Eventually, as people learn more about a culture, they recover from culture shock.

Culture shock may appear because people aren’t always expecting cultural differences. Anthropologist Ken Barger (1971) discovered this when conducting participatory observation in an Inuit community in the Canadian Arctic. Originally from Indiana, Barger hesitated when invited to join a local snowshoe race. He knew he’d never hold his own against these experts. Sure enough, he finished last, to his mortification. But the tribal members congratulated him, saying, “You really tried!” In Barger’s own culture, he had learned to value victory. To the Inuit people, winning was enjoyable, but their culture valued survival skills essential to their environment: how hard someone tried could mean the difference between life and death. Over the course of his stay, Barger participated in caribou hunts, learned how to take shelter in winter storms, and sometimes went days with little or no food to share among tribal members. Trying hard and working together, two nonmaterial values, were indeed much more important than winning.

During his time with the Inuit, Barger learned to engage in cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is the practice of assessing a culture by its own standards rather than viewing it through the lens of one’s own culture. The anthropologist Ruth Benedict (1887–1948) argued that each culture has an internally consistent pattern of thought and action, which alone could be the basis for judging the merits and morality of the culture’s practices. Cultural relativism requires an open mind and a willingness to consider, and even adapt to, new values and norms . However, indiscriminately embracing everything about a new culture is not always possible. Even the most culturally relativist people from egalitarian societies—ones in which women have political rights and control over their own bodies—would question whether the widespread practice of female genital mutilation in countries such as Ethiopia and Sudan should be accepted as a part of cultural tradition.

Sociologists attempting to engage in cultural relativism may struggle to reconcile aspects of their own culture with aspects of a culture they are studying. Pride in one’s own culture doesn’t have to lead to imposing its values on others. And an appreciation for another culture shouldn’t preclude individuals from studying it with a critical eye.

Feminist sociology is particularly attuned to the way that most cultures present a male-dominated view of the world as if it were simply the view of the world. Androcentricism is a perspective in which male concerns, male attitudes, and male practices are presented as “normal” or define what is significant and valued in a culture. Women’s experiences, activities, and contributions to society and history are ignored, devalued, or marginalized.

As a result the perspectives, concerns, and interests of only one sex and class are represented as general. Only one sex and class are directly and actively involved in producing, debating, and developing its ideas, in creating its art, in forming its medical and psychological conceptions, in framing its laws, its political principles, its educational values and objectives. Thus a one-sided standpoint comes to be seen as natural, obvious, and general, and a one-sided set of interests preoccupy intellectual and creative work (Smith 1987).

In part this is simply a question of the bias of those who have the power to define cultural values, and in part, it is the result of a process in which women have been actively excluded from the culture-creating process. It is still common, for example, to use the personal pronoun “he” or the word “man” to represent people in general or humanity. Despite the good intentions of many who use these terms, and the grammatical awkwardness of trying to find gender neutral terms to replace “he” or “man,” the overall effect is to establish masculine values and imagery as normal. A “policeman” brings to mind a man who is doing a man’s job, when in fact women have been involved in policing for several decades now. Replacing “he” with “she” in a sentence can often have a jarring effect because it undermines the “naturalness” of the male perspective.

Making Connections: Sociology in the Real World

Overcoming culture shock.

During her summer vacation, Caitlin flew to Madrid to visit Maria, the exchange student she’d befriended the previous semester. In the airport, she heard rapid, musical Spanish being spoken all around her. Exciting as it was, she felt isolated and disconnected. Maria’s mother kissed Caitlin on both cheeks when she greeted her. Her imposing father kept his distance. Caitlin was half asleep by the time supper was served—at 10 pm! Maria’s family sat at the table for hours, speaking loudly, gesturing, and arguing about politics, a taboo dinner subject in Caitlin’s house. They served wine and toasted their honoured guest. Caitlin had trouble interpreting her hosts’ facial expressions, and didn’t realize she should make the next toast. That night, Caitlin crawled into a strange bed, wishing she hadn’t come. She missed her home and felt overwhelmed by the new customs, language, and surroundings. She’d studied Spanish in school for years—why hadn’t it prepared her for this?

What Caitlin hadn’t realized was that people depend not only on spoken words, but on subtle cues like gestures and facial expressions, to communicate. Cultural norms accompany even the smallest nonverbal signals (DuBois 1951). They help people know when to shake hands, where to sit, how to converse, and even when to laugh. We relate to others through a shared set of cultural norms, and ordinarily, we take them for granted.

For this reason, culture shock is often associated with traveling abroad, although it can happen in one’s own country, state, or even hometown. Anthropologist Kalervo Oberg (1960) is credited with first coining the term “culture shock.” In his studies, Oberg found that most people found encountering a new culture to be exciting at first. But bit by bit, they became stressed by interacting with people from a different culture who spoke another language and used different regional expressions. There was new food to digest, new daily schedules to follow, and new rules of etiquette to learn. Living with this constant stress can make people feel incompetent and insecure. People react to frustration in a new culture, Oberg found, by initially rejecting it and glorifying one’s own culture. An American visiting Italy might long for a “real” pizza or complain about the unsafe driving habits of Italians compared to people in the United States.

It helps to remember that culture is learned. Everyone is ethnocentric to an extent, and identifying with one’s own country is natural.

Caitlin’s shock was minor compared to that of her friends Dayar and Mahlika, a Turkish couple living in married student housing on campus. And it was nothing like that of her classmate Sanai. Sanai had been forced to flee war-torn Bosnia with her family when she was 15. After two weeks in Spain, Caitlin had developed a bit more compassion and understanding for what those people had gone through. She understood that adjusting to a new culture takes time. It can take weeks or months to recover from culture shock, and years to fully adjust to living in a new culture.

By the end of Caitlin’s trip, she’d made new lifelong friends. She’d stepped out of her comfort zone. She’d learned a lot about Spain, but she’d also discovered a lot about herself and her own culture.

Values and Beliefs

The first, and perhaps most crucial, elements of culture we will discuss are its values and beliefs. Values are a culture’s standard for discerning what is good and just in society. Values are deeply embedded and critical for transmitting and teaching a culture’s beliefs. Beliefs are the tenets or convictions that people hold to be true. Individuals in a society have specific beliefs, but they also share collective values. To illustrate the difference, North Americans commonly believe that anyone who works hard enough will be successful and wealthy. Underlying this belief is the value that wealth is good and important.

Values help shape a society by suggesting what is good and bad, beautiful and ugly, sought or avoided. Consider the value the culture North Americans place upon youth. Children represent innocence and purity, while a youthful adult appearance signifies sexuality. Shaped by this value, individuals spend millions of dollars each year on cosmetic products and surgeries to look young and beautiful.

Sometimes the values of Canada and the United States are contrasted. Americans are said to have an individualistic culture, meaning people place a high value on individuality and independence. In contrast, Canadian culture is said to be more collectivist, meaning the welfare of the group and group relationships are a primary value. Seymour Martin Lipset used these contrasts of values to explain why the two societies, which have common roots as British colonies, developed such different political institutions and cultures (Lipset 1990).

Living up to a culture’s values can be difficult. It’s easy to value good health, but it’s hard to quit smoking. Marital monogamy is valued, but many spouses engage in infidelity. Cultural diversity and equal opportunities for all people are valued in Canada, yet the country’s highest political offices have been dominated by white men.

Values often suggest how people should behave, but they do not accurately reflect how people do behave. As we saw in Chapter 1, Harriet Martineau’s basic distinction between what people say they believe and what they actually do are often at odds. Values portray an ideal culture , the standards society would like to embrace and live up to. But ideal culture differs from real culture , the way society actually is, based on what occurs and exists. In an ideal culture, there would be no traffic accidents, murders, poverty, or racial tension. But in real culture, police officers, lawmakers, educators, and social workers constantly strive to prevent or repair those accidents, crimes, and injustices. Teenagers are encouraged to value celibacy. However, the number of unplanned pregnancies among teens reveals that not only is the ideal hard to live up to, but that the value alone is not enough to spare teenagers from the potential consequences of having sex.

One way societies strive to put values into action is through rewards, sanctions, and punishments. When people observe the norms of society and uphold its values, they are often rewarded. A boy who helps an elderly woman board a bus may receive a smile and a “thank you.” A business manager who raises profit margins may receive a quarterly bonus. People sanction certain behaviours by giving their support, approval, or permission, or by instilling formal actions of disapproval and non-support. Sanctions are a form of social control , a way to encourage conformity to cultural norms. Sometimes people conform to norms in anticipation or expectation of positive sanctions: good grades, for instance, may mean praise from parents and teachers.

When people go against a society’s values, they are punished. A boy who shoves an elderly woman aside to board the bus first may receive frowns or even a scolding from other passengers. A business manager who drives away customers will likely be fired. Breaking norms and rejecting values can lead to cultural sanctions such as earning a negative label—lazy, no-good bum—or to legal sanctions such as traffic tickets, fines, or imprisonment.

Values are not static; they vary across time and between groups as people evaluate, debate, and change collective societal beliefs. Values also vary from culture to culture. For example, cultures differ in their values about what kinds of physical closeness are appropriate in public. It’s rare to see two male friends or coworkers holding hands in Canada where that behaviour often symbolizes romantic feelings. But in many nations, masculine physical intimacy is considered natural in public. A simple gesture, such as hand-holding, carries great symbolic differences across cultures.

So far, the examples in this chapter have often described how people are expected to behave in certain situations—for example, when buying food or boarding a bus. These examples describe the visible and invisible rules of conduct through which societies are structured, or what sociologists call norms. Norms define how to behave in accordance with what a society has defined as good, right, and important, and most members of the society adhere to them.

Formal norms are established, written rules. They are behaviours worked out and agreed upon in order to suit and serve the most people. Laws are formal norms, but so are employee manuals, college entrance exam requirements, and “no running” signs at swimming pools. Formal norms are the most specific and clearly stated of the various types of norms, and the most strictly enforced. But even formal norms are enforced to varying degrees, reflected in cultural values

For example, money is highly valued in North America, so monetary crimes are punished. It’s against the law to rob a bank, and banks go to great lengths to prevent such crimes. People safeguard valuable possessions and install antitheft devices to protect homes and cars. Until recently, a less strictly enforced social norm was driving while intoxicated. While it is against the law to drive drunk, drinking is for the most part an acceptable social behaviour. Though there have been laws in Canada to punish drunk driving since 1921, there were few systems in place to prevent the crime until quite recently. These examples show a range of enforcement in formal norms.

There are plenty of formal norms, but the list of informal norms—casual behaviours that are generally and widely conformed to—is longer. People learn informal norms by observation, imitation, and general socialization. Some informal norms are taught directly—“Kiss your Aunt Edna” or “Use your napkin”—while others are learned by observation, including observations of the consequences when someone else violates a norm. Children learn quickly that picking your nose is subject to ridicule when they see someone shamed for it by other children. But although informal norms define personal interactions, they extend into other systems as well. Think back to the discussion of fast food restaurants at the beginning of this chapter. In Canada, there are informal norms regarding behaviour at these restaurants. Customers line up to order their food, and leave when they are done. They do not sit down at a table with strangers, sing loudly as they prepare their condiments, or nap in a booth. Most people do not commit even benign breaches of informal norms. Informal norms dictate appropriate behaviours without the need of written rules.

Breaching Experiments

Sociologist Harold Garfinkel (1917–2011) studied people’s customs in order to find out how tacit and often unconscious societal rules and norms not only influenced behaviour but enabled the social order to exist (Weber 2011). Like the symbolic interactionists, he believed that members of society together create a social order. He noted however, that people often draw on inferred knowledge and unspoken agreements to do so. His resulting book, Studies in Ethnomethodology , published in 1967, discusses the underlying assumptions that people use to create “accounts” or stories that enable them to make sense of the world.

One of his research methods was known as a “breaching experiment.” His breaching experiments tested sociological concepts of social norms and conformity. In a breaching experiment, the researcher purposely breaks a social norm or behaves in a socially awkward manner. The participants are not aware an experiment is in progress. If the breach is successful, however, these “innocent bystanders” will respond in some way. For example, he had his students go into local shops and begin to barter with the sales clerks for fixed price goods. “This says $14.99, but I’ll give you $10 for it.” Often the clerks were shocked or flustered. This breach reveals the unspoken convention in North America that amount given on the price tag is the price. It also breaks a number of other conventions which seek to make commercial transactions as efficient and impersonal as possible. In another example, he had his students respond to the casual greeting, “How are you?” with a detailed and elaborate description of their state of health and well-being. The point of the experiments was not that the experimenter would simply act obnoxiously or weird in public. Rather, the point is to deviate from a specific social norm in a small way, to subtly break some form of social etiquette, and see what happens.

To conduct his ethnomethodology, Garfinkel deliberately imposed strange behaviours on unknowing people. Then he would observe their responses. He suspected that odd behaviours would shatter conventional expectations, but he was not sure how. He set up, for example, a simple game of tic-tac-toe. One player was asked beforehand not to mark Xs and Os in the boxes but on the lines dividing the spaces instead. The other player, in the dark about the study, was flabbergasted and did not know how to continue. The reactions of outrage, anger, puzzlement, or other emotions illustrated the deep level at which unspoken social norms constitute social life.

There are many rules about speaking with strangers in public. It is okay to tell a woman you like her shoes. It is not okay to ask if you can try them on. It is okay to stand in line behind someone at the ATM. It is not okay to look over their shoulder as they make the transaction. It is okay to sit beside someone on a crowded bus. It is weird to sit beside a stranger in a half-empty bus.

For some breaches, the researcher directly engages with innocent bystanders. An experimenter might strike up a conversation in a public bathroom, where it’s common to respect each other’s privacy so fiercely as to ignore other people’s presence. In a grocery store, an experimenter might take a food item out of another person’s grocery cart, saying, “That looks good! I think I’ll try it.” An experimenter might sit down at a table with others in a fast food restaurant, or follow someone around a museum, studying the same paintings. In those cases, the bystanders are pressured to respond, and their discomfort illustrates how much we depend on social norms. These cultural norms play an important role. They let us know how to behave around each other and how to feel comfortable in our community. Breaching experiments uncover and explore the many unwritten social rules we live by.

Norms may be further classified as either mores or folkways. Mores (mor-ays) are norms that embody the moral views and principles of a group. Violating them can have serious consequences. The strongest mores are legally protected with laws or other formal norms. In the United States, for instance, murder is considered immoral, and it is punishable by law (a formal norm). But more often, mores are judged and guarded by public sentiment (an informal norm). People who violate mores are seen as shameful. They can even be shunned or banned from some groups. The mores of the Canadian school system require that a student’s writing be in the student’s own words or use special forms (such as quotation marks and a whole system of citation) for crediting other writers. Writing another person’s words as if they are one’s own has a name—plagiarism. The consequences for violating this norm are severe, and can usually result in expulsion.

Unlike mores, folkways are norms without any moral underpinnings. Folkways direct appropriate behaviour in the day-to-day practices and expressions of a culture. Folkways indicate whether to shake hands or kiss on the cheek when greeting another person. They specify whether to wear a tie and blazer or a T-shirt and sandals to an event. In Canada, women can smile and say hello to men on the street. In Egypt, it’s not acceptable. In Northern Europe, it is fine for people to go into a sauna or hot tub naked. Typically in North America, it is not. An opinion poll that asked Canadian women what they felt would end a relationship after a first date showed that women in British Columbia were “pickier” than women in the rest of the country ( Times Colonist 2014). First date “deal breakers” included poor hygiene (82 percent), being distracted by a mobile device (74 percent), talking about sexual history and being rude to waiters (72 percent), and eating with their mouths open (60 percent). All of these examples illustrate breaking informal rules, which are not serious enough to be called mores, but are serious enough to terminate a relationship before it has begun.

Many folkways are actions we take for granted. People need to act without thinking to get seamlessly through daily routines; they can’t stop and analyze every action (Sumner 1906). People who experience culture shock may find that it subsides as they learn the new culture’s folkways and are able to move through their daily routines more smoothly Folkways might be small manners, learned by observation and imitated, but they are by no means trivial. Like mores and laws, these norms help people negotiate their daily life within a given culture.

Symbols and Language

Humans, consciously and subconsciously, are always striving to make sense of their surrounding world. Symbols —such as gestures, signs, objects, signals, and words—help people understand the world. Symbols provide clues to understanding experiences. They convey recognizable meanings that are shared by societies.

The world is filled with symbols. Sports uniforms, company logos, and traffic signs are symbols. In some cultures, a gold ring is a symbol of marriage. Some symbols are highly functional; stop signs, for instance, provide useful instruction. As physical objects, they belong to material culture, but because they function as symbols, they also convey nonmaterial cultural meanings. Some symbols are only valuable in what they represent. Trophies, blue ribbons, or gold medals, for example, serve no other purpose other than to represent accomplishments. But many objects have both material and nonmaterial symbolic value.

A police officer’s badge and uniform are symbols of authority and law enforcement. The sight of an officer in uniform or a squad car triggers reassurance in some citizens, and annoyance, fear, or anger in others.

It’s easy to take symbols for granted. Few people challenge or even think about stick figure signs on the doors of public bathrooms. But those figures are more than just symbols that tell men and women which bathrooms to use. They also uphold the value, in North America, that public restrooms should be gender exclusive. Even though stalls are relatively private, it is still relatively uncommon for places to offer unisex bathrooms.

Symbols often get noticed when they are used out of context. Used unconventionally, symbols convey strong messages. A stop sign on the door of a corporation makes a political statement, as does a camouflage military jacket worn in an antiwar protest. Together, the semaphore signals for “N” and “D” represent nuclear disarmament—and form the well-known peace sign (Westcott 2008). Internet “memes”—images that spread from person to person through reposting—often adopt the tactics of “detournement” or misappropriation used by the French Situationists of the 1950s and 1960s. The Situationists sought to subvert media and political messages by altering them slightly—“detouring” or hijacking them—in order to defamiliarize familiar messages, signs, and symbols. An ordinary image of a cat combined with the grammatically challenged caption “I Can Has Cheezburger?” spawned an internet phenomenon (LOL Cats) because of the funny, nonsensical nature of its non-sequitur message. An image of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a folksy sweater holding a cute cat, altered to show him holding an oily duck instead, is a detournement with a more political message.

Even the destruction of symbols is symbolic. Effigies representing public figures are beaten to demonstrate anger at certain leaders. In 1989, crowds tore down the Berlin Wall, a decades-old symbol of the division between East and West Germany, communism, and capitalism.

While different cultures have varying systems of symbols, there is one that is common to all: language. Language is a symbolic system through which people communicate and through which culture is transmitted. Some languages contain a system of symbols used for written communication, while others rely only on spoken communication and nonverbal actions.

Societies often share a single language, and many languages contain the same basic elements. An alphabet is a written system made of symbolic shapes that refer to spoken sound. Taken together, these symbols convey specific meanings. The English alphabet uses a combination of 26 letters to create words; these 26 letters make up over 600,000 recognized English words ( OED Online 2011).

Rules for speaking and writing vary even within cultures, most notably by region. Do you refer to a can of carbonated liquid as a “soda,” “pop,” or “soft drink”? Is a household entertainment room a “family room,” “rec room,” or “den”? When leaving a restaurant, do you ask your server for the “cheque,” the “ticket,” “l’addition,” or the “bill”?

Language is constantly evolving as societies create new ideas. In this age of technology, people have adapted almost instantly to new nouns such as “email” and “internet,” and verbs such as “downloading,” “texting,” and “blogging.” Twenty years ago, the general public would have considered these nonsense words.

Even while it constantly evolves, language continues to shape our reality. This insight was established in the 1920s by two linguists, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf. They believed that reality is culturally determined, and that any interpretation of reality is based on a society’s language. To prove this point, the sociologists argued that every language has words or expressions specific to that language. In Canada, for example, the number 13 is associated with bad luck. In Japan, however, the number four is considered unlucky, since it is pronounced similarly to the Japanese word for “death.”

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is based on the idea that people experience their world through their language, and that they therefore understand their world through the culture embedded in their language. The hypothesis, which has also been called linguistic relativity, states that language shapes thought (Swoyer 2003). Studies have shown, for instance, that unless people have access to the word “ambivalent,” they do not recognize an experience of uncertainty due to conflicting positive and negative feelings about one issue. Essentially, the hypothesis argues, if a person cannot describe the experience, the person is not having the experience.

In addition to using language, people communicate without words. Nonverbal communication is symbolic, and, as in the case of language, much of it is learned through one’s culture. Some gestures are nearly universal: smiles often represent joy and crying often represents sadness. Other nonverbal symbols vary across cultural contexts in their meaning. A thumbs-up, for example, indicates positive reinforcement in Canada, whereas in Russia and Australia, it is an offensive curse (Passero 2002). Other gestures vary in meaning depending on the situation and the person. A wave of the hand can mean many things, depending on how it is done and for whom. It may mean “hello,” “goodbye,” “no thank you,” or “I’m royalty.” Winks convey a variety of messages, including “We have a secret,” “I’m only kidding,” or “I’m attracted to you.” From a distance, a person can understand the emotional gist of two people in conversation just by watching their body language and facial expressions. Furrowed brows and folded arms indicate a serious topic, possibly an argument. Smiles, with heads lifted and arms open, suggest a lighthearted, friendly chat.

Making Connections: Social Policy & Debate

Is canada bilingual.

In the 1960s it became clear that the federal government needed to develop a bilingual language policy to integrate French Canadians into the national identity and prevent their further alienation. The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (1965) recommended establishing official bilingualism within the federal government. As a result, the Official Languages Act became law in 1969 and established both English and French as the official languages of the federal government and federal institutions such as the courts. The Trudeau governments of the late 1960s and early 1970s had an even broader ambition to make Canada itself bilingual. Not only would Canadians be able to access government services in either French or English, no matter where they were in the country, but also French or English education. The entire country would be home for both French or English speakers (McRoberts 1997).

However, in the 1971 census, 67 percent of Canadians spoke English most often at home, while only 26 percent spoke French at home and most of these were in Quebec. Approximately 13 percent of Canadians could maintain a conversation in both languages (Statistics Canada 2007). Outside Quebec, the highest proportion of French spoken at home was 31.4 percent in New Brunswick. The next highest were Ontario at 4.6 percent and Manitoba at 4 percent. In British Columbia, only 0.5 percent of the population spoke French at home. French speakers had widely settled Canada, but French speaking outside Quebec had lost ground since Confederation because of the higher rates of anglophone immigrants, the assimilation of francophones, and the lack of French-speaking institutions outside Quebec (McRoberts 1997). It seemed even in 1971 that the ideal of creating a bilingual nation was unlikely and unrealistic.

What has happened to the concept of bilingualism over the last 40 years? According to the 2011 census, 58 percent of the Canadian population spoke English at home, while only 18.2 percent spoke French at home. Proportionately the number of both English and French speakers has actually decreased since the introduction of the Official Languages Act in 1969. On the other hand, the number of people who can maintain a conversation in both official languages has increased to 17.5 percent from 13 percent (Statistics Canada 2007). However, the most significant linguistic change in Canada has not been French-English bilingualism, but the growth in the use of languages other than French and English. In a sense, what has happened is that the shifting cultural composition of Canada has rendered the goal of a bilingual nation anachronistic.

Today it would be more accurate to speak of Canada as a multilingual nation. One-fifth of Canadians speak a language other than French or English at home; 11.5 percent report speaking English and a language other than French, and 1.3 percent report speaking French and a language other than English. In Toronto, 32.2 percent of the population speak a language other than French and English at home; 8.8 percent of whom speak Cantonese, 8 percent Punjabi, 7 percent an unspecified dialect of Chinese, 5.9 percent Urdu, and 5.7 percent Tamil. In Greater Vancouver, 31 percent of the population speak a language other than French and English at home; 17.7 percent of whom speak Punjabi, followed by Cantonese (16.0 percent), unspecified Chinese (12.2 percent), Mandarin (11.8 percent), and Philippine Tagalog (6.7 percent).

Today, the government of Canada still conducts its business in both official languages. French and English are the dominant languages in the workplace and school. Labels on products are required to be in both French and English. But increasingly a lot of product information is available in  in multiple languages. In Vancouver and Toronto, and to a lesser extent Montreal, linguistic diversity has become increasingly prevalent. French and English are still the central languages of convergence and integration for immigrant communities who speak other languages—only 1.8 percent of the population were unable to conduct a conversation in either English or French in 2011—but increasingly Canada is linguistically diverse rather than bilingual.

It may seem obvious that there are a multitude of cultural differences between societies in the world. After all, we can easily see that people vary from one society to the next. It is natural that a young woman from rural Kenya would have a very different view of the world from an elderly man in Mumbai—one of the most populated cities in the world. Additionally, each culture has its own internal variations. Sometimes the differences between cultures are not nearly as large as the differences inside cultures however.

High Culture and Popular Culture

Do you prefer listening to opera or hip hop music? Do you like watching horse jumping or NASCAR? Do you read books of poetry or celebrity magazines? In each pair, one type of entertainment is considered high-brow and the other low-brow. Sociologists use the term high culture to describe the pattern of cultural experiences and attitudes that exist in the highest class segments of a society. People often associate high culture with intellectualism, aesthetic taste, political power, and prestige. In North America, high culture also tends to be associated with wealth. Events considered high culture can be expensive and formal—attending a ballet, seeing a play, or listening to a live symphony performance.

The term popular culture refers to the pattern of cultural experiences and attitudes that exist in mainstream society. Popular culture events might include a parade, a baseball game, or a rock concert. Rock and pop music—“pop” short for “popular”—are part of popular culture . In modern times, popular culture is often expressed and spread via commercial media such as radio, television, movies, the music industry, publishers, and corporate-run websites. Unlike high culture, popular culture is known and accessible to most people. You can share a discussion of favourite hockey teams with a new coworker, or comment on American Idol when making small talk in line at the grocery store. But if you tried to launch into a deep discussion on the classical Greek play Antigone , few members of Canadian society today would be familiar with it.

Although high culture may be viewed as superior to popular culture, the labels of “high culture” and “popular culture” vary over time and place. Shakespearean plays, considered pop culture when they were written, are now among our society’s high culture. In the current second “Golden Age of Television,” (the first Golden Age was in the 1950s and 1960s), television programming has gone from typical low-brow situation comedies, soap operas, and crime dramas to the development of “high-quality” series with increasingly sophisticated characters, narratives, and themes (e.g.,  The Sopranos , True Blood , Dexter , Breaking Bad , Mad Men, and Game of Thrones ).

Contemporary culture is frequently referred to as a “postmodern culture.” In the era of modern culture, or modernity, the distinction between high culture and popular culture framed the experience of culture in more or less a clear way. The high culture of modernity was often experimental and avant-garde, seeking new and original forms in literature, art, and music to express the elusive, transient, underlying experiences of the modern human condition. It appealed to a limited-but-sophisticated audience. Popular culture was simply the culture of “the people,” immediately accessible and easily digestible, either in the guise of folk traditions or commercialized mass culture. In postmodern culture this distinction begins to break down and it becomes more common to find various sorts of “mash ups” of high and low: serious literature combined with zombie themes, pop music constructed from samples of original “hooks” and melodies, symphony orchestras performing the soundtracks of cartoons, architecture that borrows and blends historical styles, etc. Rock and roll music is the subject of many high-brow histories and academic analyses, just as the common objects of popular culture are transformed and re-presented as high art (e.g., Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup cans and Marilyn Munro pictures). The dominant sensibility of postmodern popular culture is both playful and ironic, as if the blending and mixing of cultural references (in the television show The Simpsons , for example) is one big “in” joke.

Subculture and Counterculture

A subculture is just as it sounds—a smaller cultural group within a larger culture; people of a subculture are part of the larger culture, but also share a specific identity within a smaller group.

Thousands of subcultures exist within Canada. Ethnic groups share the language, food, and customs of their heritage. Other subcultures are united by shared experiences. Biker culture revolves around a dedication to motorcycles. Some subcultures are formed by members who possess traits or preferences that differ from the majority of a society’s population. Alcoholics Anonymous offers support to those suffering from alcoholism. The body modification community embraces aesthetic additions to the human body, such as tattoos, piercings, and certain forms of plastic surgery. The post-Second World War period was characterized by a series of “spectacular” youth cultures: Teddy boys, beatniks, mods, hippies, skinheads, Rastas, punks, new wavers, ravers, hip-hoppers, and hipsters. But even as members of a subculture band together, they still identify with and participate in the larger society.

Sociologists distinguish subcultures from countercultures , which are a type of subculture that rejects some of the larger culture’s norms and values. In contrast to subcultures, which operate relatively smoothly within the larger society, countercultures might actively defy larger society by developing their own set of rules and norms to live by, sometimes even creating communities that operate outside of greater society.

Cults, a word derived from culture, are also considered counterculture groups. They are usually informal, transient religious groups or movements that deviate from orthodox beliefs and often, but not always, involve allegiance to a charismatic leader. The group Yearning for Zion (YFZ) in Eldorado, Texas, existed outside the mainstream, and the limelight, until its leader was accused of statutory rape and underage marriage. The sect’s formal norms clashed too severely to be tolerated by U.S. law, and in 2008, authorities raided the compound, removing more than 200 women and children from the property.

Making Connections: Careers in Sociology

The evolution of american hipster subculture.

Skinny jeans, chunky glasses, ironic moustaches, and T-shirts with vintage logos—the hipster is a recognizable figure in contemporary North American culture. Predominantly based in metropolitan areas, hipsters seek to define themselves by a rejection of mainstream norms and fashion styles. As a subculture, hipsters spurn many values and beliefs of North American society, tending to prefer a bohemian lifestyle over one defined by the accumulation of power and wealth.

When did hipster subculture begin? While commonly viewed as a recent trend among middle-class youth, the history of the group stretches back to the early decades of the 1900s. In the 1940s, black American jazz music was on the rise in the United States. Musicians were known as “hepcats” and had a smooth, relaxed style that contrasted with more conservative and mainstream expressions of cultural taste. Norman Mailer, in his essay, “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster,” defined those who were “hep” or “hip” as largely white youth living by a jazz-inspired code of resistance, while those who were “square” lived according to society’s rules and conventions.

As hipster attitudes spread and young people were increasingly drawn to alternative music and fashion, attitudes and language derived from the culture of jazz were adopted. Unlike the vernacular of the day, hipster slang was purposefully ambiguous. When hipsters said, “It’s cool, man,” they meant not that everything was good, but that it was the way it was.

By the 1950s, the influence of jazz was winding down and many traits of hepcat culture were becoming mainstream. A new subculture was on the rise. The “Beat Generation,” a title coined by Quebecois-American writer Jack Kerouac, was defined as an age that was nonconformist and anti-materialistic. Prominent in this movement were writers and poets who listened to jazz and embraced radical politics. They bummed around, hitchhiked the country, sought experience, and lived marginally.

College students, questioning the relevance and vitality of the American dream in the face of post-war skepticism, clutched copies of Kerouac’s On the Road , dressed in berets, black turtlenecks, and black-rimmed glasses. Women wore black leotards and grew their hair long. Herb Caen, a San Francisco journalist, used the suffix from Sputnik 1 , the Russian satellite that orbited Earth in 1957, to dub the movement’s followers as “beatniks.”

As the Beat Generation faded, a new, related movement began. It too focused on breaking social boundaries, but also advocated freedom of expression, philosophy, and love. It took its name from the generations before; in fact, some theorists claim that the beats themselves coined the term to describe their children. Over time, the “little hipsters” of the 1970s became known simply as “hippies.”

Contemporary expressions of the hipster rose out of the hippie movement in the same way that hippies evolved from the beats and beats from hepcats. Although today’s hipster may not seem to have much in common with the jazz-inspired youth of the 1940s, an apparent emphasis on nonconformity persists. The sociologist Mark Greif set about investigating the hipster subculture of the United States and found that much of what tied the group together was not a specific set of fashion or music choices, nor a specific point of contention with the mainstream. What has emerged rather is a culture of consumer capitalism that seeks authenticity in and of itself.

In his New York Times article, “The Hipster in the Mirror” (2010), Greif wrote, “All hipsters play at being the inventors or first adopters of novelties: pride comes from knowing, and deciding, what’s cool in advance of the rest of the world.” And what tends to be cool is an ironic pastiche of borrowed styles or tastes that signify other identities or histories.

Young people are often drawn to oppose mainstream conventions. Much as the hepcats of jazz era opposed common culture with carefully crafted appearances of coolness and relaxation, modern hipsters reject mainstream values with a purposeful apathy. Ironic, cool to the point of non-caring, and intellectual, hipsters continue to embody a subculture, while simultaneously impacting mainstream culture.

Cultural Change

As the hipster example illustrates, culture is always evolving. Moreover, new things are added to material culture every day, and they affect nonmaterial culture as well. Cultures change when something new (say, railroads or smartphones) opens up new ways of living and when new ideas enter a culture (say, as a result of travel or globalization).

Innovation: Discovery and Invention

An innovation refers to an object or concept’s initial appearance in society—it’s innovative because it is markedly new. There are two ways to come across an innovative object or idea: discover it or invent it. Discoveries make known previously unknown but existing aspects of reality. In 1610, when Galileo looked through his telescope and discovered Saturn, the planet was already there, but until then, no one had known about it. When Christopher Columbus encountered America, the land was, of course, already well known to its inhabitants. However, Columbus’s discovery was new knowledge for Europeans, and it opened the way to changes in European culture, as well as to the cultures of the discovered lands. For example, new foods such as potatoes and tomatoes transformed the European diet, and horses brought from Europe changed hunting practices of Native American tribes of the Great Plains.

Inventions result when something new is formed from existing objects or concepts—when things are put together in an entirely new manner. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, electric appliances were invented at an astonishing pace. Cars, airplanes, vacuum cleaners, lamps, radios, telephones, and televisions were all new inventions. Inventions may shape a culture when people use them in place of older ways of carrying out activities and relating to others, or as a way to carry out new kinds of activities. Their adoption reflects (and may shape) cultural values, and their use may require new norms for new situations.

Consider the introduction of modern communication technology such as mobile phones and smartphones. As more and more people began carrying these devices, phone conversations no longer were restricted to homes, offices, and phone booths. People on trains, in restaurants, and in other public places became annoyed by listening to one-sided conversations. Norms were needed for cell phone use. Some people pushed for the idea that those who are out in the world should pay attention to their companions and surroundings. However, technology enabled a workaround: texting, which enables quiet communication, and has surpassed phoning as the chief way to meet today’s highly valued ability to stay in touch anywhere, everywhere.

When the pace of innovation increases, it can lead to generation gaps. Technological gadgets that catch on quickly with one generation are sometimes dismissed by a skeptical older generation. A culture’s objects and ideas can cause not just generational but cultural gaps. Material culture tends to diffuse more quickly than nonmaterial culture; technology can spread through society in a matter of months, but it can take generations for the ideas and beliefs of society to change. Sociologist William F. Ogburn coined the term culture lag to refer to this time that elapses between when a new item of material culture is introduced and when it becomes an accepted part of nonmaterial culture (Ogburn 1957).

Culture lag can also cause tangible problems. The industrial economy of North America was built on the assumption that the resources available to exploit and the ability for the environment to sustain industrial activity were unlimited. The concept of sustainable development did not enter into the public imagination until environmental movement of the 1960s and the Limits to Growth report of the Club of Rome in 1972. Today it seems easier to imagine global catastrophe as a result of climate change than it does to implement regulatory changes needed to stem carbon emissions or find alternatives to fossil fuels. There is a lag in conceptualizing solutions to technological problems. Exhausted groundwater supplies, increased air pollution, and climate change are all symptoms of culture lag. Although people are becoming aware of the consequences of overusing resources and of neglecting the integrity of the ecosystems that sustain life, the means to support changes takes time to achieve.

Diffusion and Globalization

The integration of world markets and technological advances of the last decades have allowed for greater exchange between cultures through the processes of globalization and diffusion . Beginning in the 1970s, Western governments began to deregulate social services while granting greater liberties to private businesses. As a result of this process of neo-liberalization, world markets became dominated by unregulated, international flows of capital investment and new multinational networks of corporations. A global economy emerged to replace nationally based economies. We have since come to refer to this integration of international trade and finance markets as “globalization.” Increased communications and air travel have further opened doors for international business relations, facilitating the flow not only of goods but of information and people as well (Scheuerman 2010). Today, many Canadian companies set up offices in other nations where the costs of resources and labour are cheaper. When a person in Canada calls to get information about banking, insurance, or computer services, the person taking that call may be working in India or Indonesia.

Alongside the process of globalization is diffusion, or, the spread of material and nonmaterial culture. While globalization refers to the integration of markets, diffusion relates a similar process to the integration of international cultures. Middle-class North Americans can fly overseas and return with a new appreciation of Thai noodles or Italian gelato. Access to television and the internet has brought the lifestyles and values portrayed in Hollywood sitcoms into homes around the globe. Twitter feeds from public demonstrations in one nation have encouraged political protesters in other countries. When this kind of diffusion occurs, material objects and ideas from one culture are introduced into another.

Hybridity in cultures is one of the consequences of the increased global flows of capital, people, culture, and entertainment. Hybrid cultures refer to new forms of culture that arise from cross-cultural exchange, especially in the aftermath of the colonial era. On one hand, there are blendings of different cultural elements that had at one time been distinct and locally based: fusion cuisines, mixed martial arts, and New Age shamanism. On the other hand, there are processes of indigenization and appropriation in which local cultures adopt and redefine foreign cultural forms. The classic examples are the cargo cults of Melanesia in which isolated indigenous peoples “re-purposed” Western goods (cargo) within their own ritualistic practices in order to make sense of Westerners’ material wealth. Other examples include Arjun Appadurai’s discussion of how the colonial Victorian game of cricket has been taken over and absorbed as a national passion into the culture of the Indian subcontinent (Appadurai 1996). Similarly, Chinese “duplitecture” reconstructs famous European and North American buildings, or in the case of Hallstatt, Austria, entire villages, in Chinese housing developments (Bosker 2013). As cultural diasporas, or emigrant communities, begin to introduce their cultural traditions to new homelands and absorb the cultural traditions they find there, opportunities for new and unpredictable forms of hybrid culture emerge

Music, fashion, technology, and values—all are products of culture. But what do they mean? How do sociologists perceive and interpret culture based on these material and nonmaterial items? Let’s finish our analysis of culture by reviewing them in the context of three theoretical perspectives: functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism.

Functionalists view society as a system in which all parts work—or function—together to create society as a whole. In this way, societies need culture to exist. Cultural norms function to support the fluid operation of society, and cultural values guide people in making choices. Talcott Parsons referred to the function of culture as “latent pattern maintenance” meaning that the cultural practices that reproduce and circulate symbolic meanings and codes serve the function of maintaining social patterns of behaviour and facilitating orderly pattern change. Culture functions to ensure that the “meaning of life” remains stable.

By focusing on the function that culture plays in maintaining the stable equilibrium of society as a whole, functionalism can often provide interesting insights into cultural activities that seem irrational and bizarre on the surface. Bronislaw Malinowski (1925) described the way that the Trobriand Islanders of New Guinea used magic at each stage of preparation in fishing. From a rationalized, calculative point of view, magic ritual has nothing to do with the ability to catch fish. Fishing is a practical activity. However, as Malinowski pointed out, fishing for the Trobriand Islanders was also a risky and uncertain activity. It was dangerous, weather was unpredictable, the whereabouts of fish variable. Magic provided the fishers with a sense of control over their environment and a sense of confidence that enabled them to venture out into the dangerous waters day after day. Whether magic “worked” or not, it performed an important and rational function in the economic life of the Islanders. It provided a stable pattern of meaning that empowered the fishers to bring back an essential food resource.

Functionalists argue that cultural practices play a similar role in modern societies. The game of hockey for example, in which highly skilled men and women chase a disk of rubber around a frozen sheet of ice risking injury and expending energy for nonproductive purposes, is on the surface of it, an irrational and crazy activity. Yet millions of people watch hockey, millions of dollars are spent on it, millions of people’s identities are defined by their fandom, and millions of people’s collective sense of self-worth can hang on the fortunes and failures of their favourite hockey teams. Hockey is both, practically speaking, useless and yet clearly a highly valued activity. Why? As Durkheim argued with respect to religious rituals and totems, when people come together and focus their attention on a common object—in this case, a disk of rubber— thoughts and feelings pass back and forth between them until they take on a supra-individual force, detached from individuals themselves. A pre-rational collective consciousness emerges that provides the basis for group solidarity or a moral sense of group togetherness. Hockey functions as a site of collective convergence in a society that otherwise threatens to dissolve into incoherence as people’s everyday lives diverge in pursuit of individual self-interests.

In addition, many people point to the latent functions of hockey in that it provides an outlet for energies that might otherwise be directed to negative activities; it provides the basis for the cultivation of the self in the pursuit of excellence; it provides important lessons on the value of team play; and it provides an exercise activity that contributes to the health of the population. As many Canadians know, it is often easier to get a good physical workout when you are chasing a puck or a hockey ball than it is to convince yourself to go out into the cold to go for a jog or to do another repetition down at the gym.

Symbolic interactionism is a sociological perspective that is most concerned with the face-to-face interactions between members of society. Interactionists see culture as being created and maintained by the ways people interact and how individuals interpret each other’s actions. Proponents of this theory conceptualize human interactions as a continuous process of deriving meaning from both objects in the environment and the actions of others. This is where the term “symbolic” comes into play. Every object and action has a symbolic meaning, and language serves as a means for people to represent and communicate their interpretations of these meanings to others. Those who believe in symbolic interactionism perceive culture as highly dynamic and fluid, as it is dependent on how meaning is interpreted and how individuals interact when conveying these meanings.

A symbolic interactionist approach to fashion for example would emphasize that fashion is a language that we use to interpret who others are and communicate who we are. Clothing fashions in particular represent an extremely intricate language of interpersonal communication, as anyone who has gone shopping with a friend for clothes is well aware. What are the variables involved in the question, “Does this look good on me?” Clothes are never simply “functional,” because even the most functional and practical Mountain Equipment Co-op style clothing makes a statement about the wearer. Georg Simmel (1904) noted that, while extremely transitory, the establishment of fashions always has to contend with two seemingly contradictory tendencies—the desire of individuals to fit in and conform to what is fashionable and the desire of individuals to stand out as individuals. Being fashionable involves a highly nuanced negotiation between these two poles.

Critical sociologists view social structure as inherently unequal, based on power differentials related to issues like class, gender, race, and age. For a critical sociologist, culture is seen as reinforcing and perpetuating those inequalities and differences in power. Unlike the functionalists who examine culture in terms of the general interests it supports, or symbolic interactionists who emphasize how people come to mutual understandings through cultural practices and interactions, critical sociologists examine how inequalities and power relationships are maintained by a culture’s value system.

Some norms, formal and informal, are practised at the expense of others. After Confederation in 1867, women were not allowed to vote in federal elections in Canada until 1919 and it was not until 1940 that they could vote in provincial elections in Quebec. (Women had been able to vote, as property owners, prior to Confederation.) It was not until 1947 and 1948 that Canadians of Japanese, Chinese, and South Asian origins were permitted to vote. Native Canadians, who had been able to vote in some regions up until 1898, had their rights revoked and were not permitted to vote federally again until 1960. In each case of discrimination, it was dominant cultural attitudes toward the subordinate groups that served as the rationale for refusing them the franchise. For example, in 1898 the member of Parliament for Saint John argued that “Indians knew no more of politics ‘than a child two years old’” (Elections Canada 2014). Because of prevailing paternalistic and racist attitudes, it was argued that aboriginal people would somehow be more susceptible to manipulation by politicians than other Canadians.

A key focus of cultural analysis in critical sociology is the critique of ideology. An ideology is a set of ideas that serve to support, justify or conceal existing power relationships in society. Classical liberalism for example is a set of ideas that emphasize the freedom of the individual to pursue his or her own self-interest without the interference of others, or of the state, unless the individual impinges on the right of others to do the same. The idea espoused by Enlightenment thinkers, utilitarians, and other early advocates of liberal thought was that the aggregate of freely made decisions would lead to the best and most rational outcomes—“the greatest good for the greatest number”—whether in democratic politics or in the operation of supply and demand in markets. Liberalism is also the source of the mythical notion of the “self-made man,” the individual who through determination, intelligence, and good decision making rises up from poverty and becomes a millionaire. As in all ideology, there is a kernel of truth in liberalism. However, to the degree that liberalism supports not only personal freedoms but also the property rights of corporations, it is clear that it is an ideology that perpetuates the power of capital. By focusing on the individual—individual rights, individual self-interest, individual responsibility—liberalism also makes it difficult to see that power structures are not the product of individual initiative but of historical, structural inequalities based on class, gender, race, and colonization. In the liberal culture of capitalism, we continue to strive on an individual basis toward the promise of success, which perpetuates the belief that the wealthy deserve their privileges.

We began this chapter by asking what culture is. Culture comprises all the practices, beliefs, and behaviours of a society. Because culture is learned, it includes how people think and express themselves. While we may like to consider ourselves individuals, we must acknowledge the impact of culture; we inherit thought language that shapes our perceptions and patterned behaviour, including about issues of family and friends, and faith and politics.

To an extent, culture is a social comfort. After all, sharing a similar culture with others is precisely what defines societies. Nations would not exist if people did not coexist culturally. There could be no societies if people did not share heritage and language, and civilization would cease to function if people did not agree to similar values and systems of social control. Culture is preserved through transmission from one generation to the next, but it also evolves through processes of innovation, discovery, and cultural diffusion. We may be restricted by the confines of our own culture, but as humans we have the ability to question values and make conscious decisions. No better evidence of this freedom exists than the amount of cultural diversity within our own society and around the world. The more we study another culture, the better we become at understanding our own.

beliefs  tenets or convictions that people hold to be true

countercultures  groups that reject and oppose society’s widely accepted cultural patterns

cultural imperialism the deliberate imposition of one’s own cultural values on another culture

cultural relativism the practice of assessing a culture by its own standards, and not in comparison to another culture

cultural universals patterns or traits that are globally common to all societies

culture shared beliefs, values, and practices

culture lag the gap of time between the introduction of material culture and nonmaterial culture’s acceptance of it

culture shock an experience of personal disorientation when confronted with an unfamiliar way of life

diffusion the spread of material and nonmaterial culture from one culture to another

discoveries things and ideas found from what already exists

ethnocentrism to evaluate another culture according to the standards of one’s own culture

folkways norms that direct appropriate behaviour in the day-to-day practices and expressions of a culture

formal norms established, written rules

globalization  the integration of international trade and finance markets

high culture the cultural patterns of a society’s elite

ideal culture  consists of the standards a society would like to embrace and live up to

informal norms  casual behaviours that are generally and widely conformed to

innovations new objects or ideas introduced to culture for the first time

inventions a combination of pieces of existing reality into new forms

language a symbolic system of communication

material culture the objects or belongings of a group of people

mores the moral views and principles of a group

nonmaterial culture the ideas, attitudes, and beliefs of a society

norms the visible and invisible rules of conduct through which societies are structured

popular culture mainstream, widespread patterns among a society’s population

real culture the way society really is based on what actually occurs and exists

Sapir-Whorf hypothesis the idea that people understand the world based on their form of language

sanctions a way to authorize or formally disapprove of certain behaviours

social control a way to encourage conformity to cultural norms

society people who live in a definable community and who share a culture

subcultures groups that share a specific identification, apart from a society’s majority, even as the members exist within a larger society

symbols gestures or objects that have meanings associated with them that are recognized by people who share a culture

values  a culture’s standard for discerning what is good and just in society

Section Summary

3.1. What Is Culture? Though “society” and “culture” are often used interchangeably, they have different meanings. A society is a group of people sharing a community and culture. Culture generally describes the shared behaviours and beliefs of these people, and includes material and nonmaterial elements. Our experience of cultural difference is influenced by our ethnocentrism and androcentrism.

3.2. Elements of Culture A culture consists of many elements, such as the values and beliefs of its society. Culture is also governed by norms, including laws, mores, and folkways. The symbols and language of a society are key to developing and conveying culture.

3.3. Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change Sociologists recognize high culture and popular culture within societies. Societies also comprise many subcultures—smaller groups that share an identity. Countercultures reject mainstream values and create their own cultural rules and norms. Through invention or discovery, cultures evolve via new ideas and new ways of thinking. In many modern cultures, the cornerstone of innovation is technology, the rapid growth of which can lead to cultural lag. Technology is also responsible for the spread of both material and nonmaterial culture that contributes to globalization.

3.4. Theoretical Perspectives on Culture There are three major theoretical approaches toward the interpretation of culture. A functionalist perspective acknowledges that there are many parts of culture that work together as a system to fulfill society’s needs. Functionalists view culture as a reflection of society’s values. An interactionist is primarily interested in culture as experienced in the daily interactions between individuals and the symbols that make up a culture. Critical sociologists see culture as inherently unequal, based on factors like gender, class, race, and age. Various cultural and sociological occurrences can be explained by these theories; however, there is no one “right” view through which to understand culture.

Section Quiz

3.1. What Is Culture? 1. The terms _________________ and ______________ are often used interchangeably, but have nuances that differentiate them.

  • imperialism and relativism
  • culture and society
  • society and ethnocentrism
  • ethnocentrism and xenocentrism

2. The American flag is a material object that denotes the United States of America; however, there are certain connotations that many associate with the flag, like bravery and freedom. In this example, what are bravery and freedom?

  • material culture
  • nonmaterial culture

3. The belief that one’s culture is inferior to another culture is called?

  • ethnocentrism
  • nationalism
  • xenocentrism
  • imperialism

4. Rodney and Elise are American students studying abroad in Italy. When they are introduced to their host families, the families kiss them on both cheeks. When Rodney’s host brother introduces himself and kisses Rodney on both cheeks, Rodney pulls back in surprise. Where he is from, unless they are romantically involved, men do not kiss one another. This is an example of:

  • culture shock

5. Most cultures have been found to identify laughter as a sign of humour, joy, or pleasure. Likewise, most cultures recognize music in some form. Music and laughter are examples of:

  • universalism

3.2. Elements of Culture 6. A nation’s flag is:

7. The existence of social norms, both formal and informal, is one of the main things that inform ___________, otherwise known as a way to encourage social conformity.

  • social control

8. The biggest difference between mores and folkways is that:

  • mores are primarily linked to morality, whereas folkways are primarily linked to being commonplace within a culture
  • mores are absolute, whereas folkways are temporary
  • mores refer to material culture, whereas folkways refer to nonmaterial culture
  • mores refer to nonmaterial culture, whereas folkways refer to material culture

9. The notion that people cannot feel or experience something that they do not have a word for can be explained by:

  • linguistics
  • Sapir-Whorf
  • ethnographic imagery
  • bilingualism

10. Cultural sanctions can also be viewed as ways that society:

  • establishes leaders
  • determines language
  • regulates behaviour
  • determines laws

3.3. Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change 11. An example of high culture is ___________, whereas an example of popular culture would be ____________.

  • Dostoevsky style in film; American Idol winners
  • medical marijuana; film noir
  • country music; pop music
  • political theory; sociological theory

12. The Ku Klux Klan is an example of what part of culture?

  • Counterculture
  • Multiculturalism
  • Afrocentricity

13. Modern-day hipsters are an example of:

  • ethnocentricity
  • counterculture
  • high culture

14. Your 83-year-old grandmother has been using a computer for some time now. As a way to keep in touch, you frequently send emails of a few lines to let her know about your day. She calls after every email to respond point by point, but she has never emailed a response back. This can be viewed as an example of:

  • cultural lag

15. Some jobs today advertise in multinational markets and permit telecommuting in lieu of working from a primary location. This broadening of the job market and the way that jobs are performed can be attributed to:

  • globalization

16. The major difference between invention and discovery is:

  • invention is based on technology, whereas discovery is usually based on culture
  • discovery involves finding something that already exists, but invention puts things together in a new way
  • invention refers to material culture, whereas discovery can be material or theoretic, like laws of physics
  • invention is typically used to refer to international objects, whereas discovery refers to that which is local to one’s culture

17. That McDonald’s is found in almost every country around the world is an example of:

  • culture lag

3.4. Theoretical Perspectives on Culture 18. A sociologist conducts research into the ways that Hispanic American students are historically underprivileged in the American education system. What theoretical approach is the sociologist using?

  • symbolic interactionism
  • functionalism
  • conflict theory

19. The Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 grew to be an international movement. Supporters believe that the economic disparity between the highest economic class and the mid to lower economic classes is growing at an exponentially alarming rate. A sociologist who studies that movement by examining the interactions between members at Occupy camps would most likely use what theoretical approach?

20. What theoretical perspective views society as having a system of interdependent inherently connected parts?

  • sociobiology

21. The “American Dream”—the notion that anybody can be successful and rich if they work hard enough—is most commonly associated with which sociological theory?

Short Answer

  • Examine the difference between material and nonmaterial culture in your world. Identify ten objects that are part of your regular cultural experience. For each, then identify what aspects of nonmaterial culture (values and beliefs) that these objects represent. What has this exercise revealed to you about your culture?
  • Do you feel that feelings of ethnocentricity or xenocentricity are more prevalent in U.S. culture? Why do you believe this? What issues or events might inform this?
  • What do you think of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? Do you agree or disagree with it? Cite examples or research to support your point of view.
  • How do you think your culture would exist if there were no such thing as a social “norm”? Do you think chaos would ensue or relative peace could be kept? Explain.
  • Identify several examples of popular culture and describe how they inform larger culture. How prevalent is the effect of these examples in your everyday life?
  • Consider some of the specific issues or concerns of your generation. Are any ideas countercultural? What subcultures have emerged from your generation? How have the issues of your generation expressed themselves culturally? How has your generation made its mark on society’s collective culture?
  • What are some examples of cultural lag that are present in your life? Do you think technology affects culture positively or negatively? Explain.
  • Consider a current social trend that you have witnessed, perhaps situated around family, education, transportation, or finances. For example, many veterans of the Armed Forces, after completing tours of duty in the Middle East, are returning to college rather than entering jobs as veterans as previous generations did. Choose a sociological approach—functionalism, conflict theory, or symbolic interactionism—to describe, explain, and analyze the social issue you choose. Afterwards, determine why you chose the approach you did. Does it suit your own way of thinking? Or did it offer the best method to illuminate the social issue?

Further Research

3.1. What Is Culture? In January 2011, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America presented evidence indicating that the hormone oxytocin could regulate and manage instances of ethnocentrism. Read the full article here:

3.2. Elements of Culture The science-fiction novel, Babel-17 , by Samuel R. Delaney was based upon the principles of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Read an excerpt from the novel here:

3.3. Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change The Beats were a counterculture that birthed an entire movement of art, music, and literature—much of which is still highly regarded and studied today. The man responsible for naming the generation was Jack Kerouac; however, the man responsible for introducing the world to that generation was John Clellon Holmes, a writer often lumped in with the group. In 1952 he penned an article for the New York Times Magazine titled “This Is the Beat Generation.” Read that article and learn more about Clellon Holmes and the Beats:

Popular culture meets counterculture as Oprah Winfrey interacts with members of the Yearning for Zion cult. Read about it here:

3.1. What Is Culture? Barger, Ken. 2008. “Ethnocentrism.” Indiana University, July 1. Retrieved May 2, 2011 ( ).

Barthes, Roland. 1977. “Rhetoric of the Image.” Pp. 32-51 in Image, Music, Text . New York: Hill and Wang.

Darwin, Charles R. 1871. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex . London: John Murray.

DuBois, Cora. 1951. “Culture Shock.” Presentation to Panel Discussion at the First Midwest Regional Meeting of the Institute of International Education .” November 28. Also presented to the Women’s Club of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 3, 1954.

Fritz, Thomas, Sebastian Jentschke, Nathalie Gosselin, et al. 2009. “Universal Recognition of Three Basic Emotions in Music.” Current Biology 19(7).

Murdock, George P. 1949. Social Structure . New York: Macmillan.

Oberg, Kalervo. 1960. “Cultural Shock: Adjustment to New Cultural Environments.” Practical Anthropology 7:177–182.

Smith, Dorothy. 1987. The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology . Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Sumner, William G. 1906. Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals. New York: Ginn and Co.

3.2. Elements of Culture Lipset, Seymour Martin. 1990. Continental Divide: The Values and Institutions of the United States and Canada . New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall.

McRoberts, Kenneth. 1997. Misconceiving Canada: The Struggle for National Unity . Toronto: Oxford University Press .

OED Online . 2011. Oxford University Press. Retrieved May 5, 2011 ( ).

Passero, Kathy. 2002. “Global Travel Expert Roger Axtell Explains Why.” Biography July:70–73,97–98.

Statistics Canada 2007. Languages in Canada: 2001 Census . Catalogue no. 96-326-XIE. Retrieved April 10, 2014, from

Sumner, William G. 1906. Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals . New York: Ginn and Co.

Swoyer, Chris. 2003. “The Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy , edited by E. N. Zalta, Winter. Retrieved May 5, 2011 ( ).

Times Colonist (Victoria, B.C.). 2014. “Poll: B.C. Women pickier than most in Canada on romance.” February 16:A2.

Weber, Bruce. 2011. “Harold Garfinkel, a Common-Sense Sociologist, Dies at 93.” The New York Times , May 3. Retrieved February 10, 2012 ( ).

Westcott, Kathryn. 2008. “World’s Best-Known Protest Symbol Turns 50.” BBC News , March 20. Retrieved January 3, 2012 ( ).

3.3. Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change Appadurai, Arjun. 1996. Modernity At Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization . Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Bosker, Bianca. Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China . Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Greif, Mark. 2010. “The Hipster in the Mirror.” New York Times , November 12. Retrieved February 10, 2012 ( ).

Ogburn, William F. 1957. “Cultural Lag as Theory.” Sociology & Social Research 41(3):167–174.

Rogers, Everett M. 1962. Diffusion of Innovations . Glencoe: Free Press.

Scheuerman, William. 2010. “Globalization.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy , edited by E. N. Zalta, Summer. Retrieved February 10, 2012 ( ).

3.4. Theoretical Perspectives on Culture Elections Canada. 2014. “A History of the Vote in Canada.” Elections Canada Resource Centre . Retrieved February 19, 2014 ( ).

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1954 (1925). Magic, Science and Religion . NY: Doubleday.

Simmel, Georg. 1971 [1904]. “Fashion.” Pp. 294–323 in On Individuality and Social Forms , edited by Donald Levine. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Solutions to Section Quiz

1. B | 2. D | 3. C | 4. A | 5. D | 6. A | 7. C | 8. A | 9. B | 10. C | 11. A | 12. A | 13. C | 14. A | 15. D | 16. B | 17. B | 18. C | 19. A | 20. B | 21. C

Image Attributions

Figure 3.3.  Ruth Benedict ( ) is in the public domain ( )

Figure 3.7. Multilingual City by Michael Gil ( ) used under CC-BY 2.0 license ( )

Figure 3.13.  Canadian nurses voting 1917 by William Rider-Rider ( ) is in public domain

Introduction to Sociology - 1st Canadian Edition by William Little and Ron McGivern is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book

write an article describing your social customs

Articles on Cultural diversity

Displaying 1 - 20 of 38 articles.

write an article describing your social customs

What is Mondiacult? 6 take-aways from the world’s biggest cultural policy gathering

Ribio Nzeza Bunketi Buse , University of Kinshasa

write an article describing your social customs

‘You have to beg for help’: how our welfare system pressures people to perform vulnerability

Emma Mitchell , Western Sydney University

write an article describing your social customs

Research and patient services need to reflect that Canadians from diverse communities are living with dementia

Roger Wong , University of British Columbia and Saskia Sivananthan , McGill University

write an article describing your social customs

Census data shows we’re more culturally diverse than ever. Our institutions must reflect this

Sukhmani Khorana , Western Sydney University

write an article describing your social customs

Nigeria has failed to marry its rich cultural diversity and democracy. Can it be done?

Felix Chidozie , Covenant University

write an article describing your social customs

We’re about to have Australia’s most diverse parliament yet – but there’s still a long way to go

Tim Soutphommasane , University of Sydney

write an article describing your social customs

Former South African president predicts the end of the ruling party: history is on his side

Roger Southall , University of the Witwatersrand

write an article describing your social customs

The workforce in the child protection system needs urgent reform

Erica Russ , Southern Cross University ; Bob Lonne , Queensland University of Technology ; Daryl Higgins , Australian Catholic University ; Louise Morley , University of New England ; Maria Harries , The University of Western Australia , and Mark Driver , University of New England

write an article describing your social customs

Is Ukrainian a language or a dialect? That depends on whom you ask and how the war ends

Joshua Holzer , Westminster College

write an article describing your social customs

What is biocultural diversity, and why does it matter?

Peter Bridgewater , University of Canberra and Suraj Upadhaya , Iowa State University

write an article describing your social customs

Reuters’ Hot List of climate scientists is geographically skewed: why this matters

Nina Hunter , University of KwaZulu-Natal ; Andrew Emmanuel Okem , University of KwaZulu-Natal ; Catherine Sutherland , University of KwaZulu-Natal ; Debra Roberts , University of KwaZulu-Natal ; Marlies H Craig , University of KwaZulu-Natal ; Michelle A. North , University of KwaZulu-Natal , and Rob Slotow , University of KwaZulu-Natal

write an article describing your social customs

Who are you? What the standard questions about birth and background don’t tell us

Dimitria Groutsis , University of Sydney

write an article describing your social customs

What’s private depends on who you are and where you live

Richard Wilk , Indiana University

write an article describing your social customs

Why are so many languages spoken in some places and so few in others?

Marco Túlio Pacheco Coelho , Universidade Federal de Goias (UFG) and Michael Gavin , Colorado State University

write an article describing your social customs

Populist alliances of ‘cowboys and Indians’ are protecting rural lands

Zoltan Grossman , Evergreen State College

write an article describing your social customs

Nearly 1 in 4 of us aren’t native English speakers. In a health-care setting, interpreters are essential

Sarah Verdon , Charles Sturt University

write an article describing your social customs

Australia’s ethnic face is changing, and so are our blood types

Tanya Davison , Swinburne University of Technology ; James Daly , Queensland University of Technology , and Robert Flower , University of Sydney

write an article describing your social customs

You can’t characterize human nature if studies overlook 85 percent of people on Earth

Daniel Hruschka , Arizona State University

write an article describing your social customs

Higher density and diversity: apartments are Australia at its most multicultural

Christina Ho , University of Technology Sydney ; Edgar Liu , UNSW Sydney , and Hazel Easthope , UNSW Sydney

write an article describing your social customs

White men may be biggest winners when a city snags Amazon’s HQ2

Amy Bhatt , University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Dillon Mahmoudi , University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Related Topics

  • Cities & Policy
  • Ethnic diversity
  • Multiculturalism
  • Racial diversity
  • Social cohesion

Top contributors

write an article describing your social customs

Scientia Associate Professor, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW Sydney

write an article describing your social customs

Senior Research Fellow, SPHERE's Sustainability Platform / City Futures Research Centre, UNSW Sydney

write an article describing your social customs

Associate professor, University of Technology Sydney

write an article describing your social customs

Emeritus professor, Monash University

write an article describing your social customs

Senior Lecturer, School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University

write an article describing your social customs

Lecturer in Journalism, University of Technology Sydney

write an article describing your social customs

Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture, UNSW Sydney

write an article describing your social customs

Visiting Fellow, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University

write an article describing your social customs

Professor, ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, Australian National University

write an article describing your social customs

Adjunct Professor, University of Canberra

write an article describing your social customs

Professor of Race Relations, Deakin University

write an article describing your social customs

Professor, University of Stavanger

write an article describing your social customs

Senior Honorary Research Fellow, The University of Western Australia

write an article describing your social customs

PhD student, Centre for Human Resource Management, University of South Australia

write an article describing your social customs

Director of Religion and Society Research Cluster, Western Sydney University

  • Unfollow topic Follow topic

  • Follow us on Twitter
  • Follow us on Facebook
  • Subscribe To Rss Feed
  • Follow Us On Google+



Posted By Firdaus on Dec 29, 2020 | 0 comments

write an article describing your social customs

W riting an essay is like telling a story or expressing your ideas on a certain topic. So what happens when it is related to culture, the way of life of a people? That is definitely the idea on what a cultural essay looks like. Have you ever been given an essay that relates to culture? What are those ideas that can help you write a perfect culture essay? These are some of the questions we intend to address in the article. Let us get an understanding of the background term “culture”.

Culture can simply be defined as the characteristic of a group of people which is defined by certain factors such as religion, dressing, language, lifestyle etc. Culture differs in the world from place to place and there are similarities that exist between the cultures of different groups of people. Different things such as foods, clothing, and marriage bring about these differences.


1) culture is shared.

Culture is something that is shared among people. There is this general trend of people carrying the culture of another. This means culture can be passed through different tribes, regions, and countries. The process of sharing the culture of another place, people or group is called “enculturation”. Language for example is a typical example; it’s a process of communication among different people and can be transferred in scenarios such as group discussions, public speaking or informal communication.

2) Culture is learnt

Some culture is inherited, while we learn others. Eating, dressing are common cultural norms that people learn and adopt. Small children and babies learn about the culture of their families by watching and learning from their parents or older ones. So in our daily lives, we see and get interested in learning other people’s culture.

3) It is continuous

Culture is a continuous process; it keeps on growing and existing. It is also adaptive to change i.e. past and present history affects culture.

4) Culture varies

The elements that make up culture definitely vary from place to place. Language, dressing, eating, speaking are elements that differ in different places.


There are different types of culture which includes:

1) Material culture

Material culture refers to things that people create and give meaning to it

2) Dressing

Dressing cannot be ignored when it comes to culture. It is the identity of a particular person. Dressing particularly differentiates a person from another.

3) Language

Language is one of the most popular forms of material culture. No language means there is no concept for culture. Different cultures speak different languages. Even if an area or group of people speaks the same language, there may still be some cultural differences between them. Language is the first element of culture we learn right from birth before other elements like dressing, food etc. So this highlights the importance of language to culture.

4) Religion

Religion is another important aspect of culture; religion cuts across all aspects of the society because it has to do with the beliefs of people about the supernatural existence of a being. We have Christianity, Islam, African traditional religions, Buddhism etc. These different religions are associated with different people and some are commonly practiced in different regions than others. Religion is a cultural identity.


Writing a cultural essay may be one of the things that would make most college students buy research papers online because they do not understand the concept of a cultural essay. What is a cultural essay? This is the big question we need to answer before we even talk about how we can write it and good ideas that will give us the best cultural essays.

A cultural essay is simply an essay that has “culture” as its main theme. It could be narrative, descriptive, and expository. A narrative cultural essay can be an author’s personal experience about another culture i.e. writing about the culture of another place you visited.

A descriptive cultural essay can be one in which you write about the culture of a people you find fascinating or interesting. E.g A descriptive essay about ancient Egypt.

A cultural essay could also be an expository where you present facts and information based on your cultural research. You could also persuade a reader to accept your point of view about a particular cultural related concept or cultural practice in a particular place.


The structure of a cultural identity essay basically comprises three main sections i) Introduction ii) Body paragraph iii) conclusion. Just like other essays, the writer should be able to address a specific issue based on the subject matter he/she is discussing.

1) Introduction

Introduction is the first paragraph of a cultural essay. Introduction presents the opportunity to introduce your topic to the readers. Also it requires brief background information about the cultural identity you are writing on. It should also contain your thesis statement.

The body of your cultural essay takes the largest part and is an important part of your essay. In cultural essays, different paragraphs are used to address and explain important aspects of a cultural identity. The topic plays a major role in determining how many paragraphs will make up your essay. Ensure that there is a logical flow of ideas and concepts explained from one paragraph to the other.

3) Conclusion

Conclusion is the last part of your cultural essay where you restate your thesis statement and summarize your main points contained in your body paragraphs. Closing statements about your topic can also be made in the conclusion.


After the general knowledge about what a culture, the concepts of a cultural essay, its structure and outline. Let us discuss the best ideas that can help you get that perfect cultural essay written if you don’t wish to hire a writer from .

1) Know where to focus

The term culture is a very broad topic, so you must know which aspect of culture you intend writing on. Language, religion, dressing, food are different elements that make up culture. So decide on what your topic is going to focus on.

2) Carry out intensive research

It is very important to do extensive research especially when you are writing about the culture of another region or place you aren’t familiar with. Go online, read books and bring out facts that concern them. This will give you enough materials to work with.

3) Brainstorm

Brainstorming is important in order to reflect the experiences you had that would provide readers with a clear picture of their cultural identity.

4) Show but don’t give details

In accomplishing your objectives tell the readers about what they would want to know but don’t give details except in your body paragraphs. That means your introduction should be clear and interesting.

5) Transitions can help

Making use of transitions such as “additionally, “thus”, “therefore” can help enhance a natural and logical flow among your paragraphs and throughout your essay.

6) Remain personal

Make use of the first person pronoun “I” in describing your experiences throughout your essay.

7 ) Don’t discriminate

When writing a cultural essay avoid giving your readers a discriminating tone about other cultures. Even if you don’t understand the reasons for some behaviors or norms, do not criticize them but rather ensure you give your readers a better understanding and let them know the important differences between cultures.

8) Proofread, revise and edit

Finally you need to proofread your written essay to check and eliminate spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Share this:

' src=

Author: Firdaus

I work as an IT consultant in the Toronto area and I love to write blogs about a variety of subjects. My passion for writing stems from the desire that everyone should have access to meaningful information. Whether it is a blog about society, culture, technology, or social media, I don’t want to miss the opportunity of sharing my thoughts with my friends and audience. Since I believe in mutual exchange of ideas, I am always on the lookout for a feedback on my writings.


Our sponsor, recent from social media news.

Qualcomm Terminates Iridium Smartphone Partnership

  • Write for us
  • Advertise With Us!

Elegant Themes | Powered by WordPress -->A Venture Geeks project

404 Not found

National Art of African American History & Culture

  • Plan Your Visit
  • Group Visits
  • Repeatedly Asked Questions
  • Accessibility Options
  • Sweet Home Café
  • Museum Store
  • Museum Maps
  • Our Mobile Applications
  • Finding the Collection
  • Exhibitions
  • Initiatives
  • Museum Centers
  • Publications
  • Differential Resources Guide
  • The Searchable Museum
  • Freedmen's Bureau Scan Portal
  • Early Childhood
  • Being Antiracist
  • Community Building
  • Historical Groundwork of Track
  • Race and Racial Id
  • Social Identities and Services of Oppression
  • Why States? Why Now?
  • Digital Learning
  • Strategic Partnerships
  • Ways toward Give
  • Internships & Fellowships
  • Available at the Museum
  • Upcoming Events
  • Ongoing Round & Activities
  • Past Events
  • Hosting an Event at NMAAHC
  • About the Museum
  • The Building
  • Meet Our Curators
  • Found Donors
  • Corporate Guidance Councils
  • NMAAHC Annual Reports

write an article describing your social customs

For the National Museum of African American My and Culture, we believe that any highly speak on run must start are honesty, respect for additional, press an candidness to ideas and information that provide new perspectives.  

We hope that this portal will exist on ever-evolving placed that will continue to grown, develop, and ensure that we hear to of another the a spirit by civility and common cause. 

Whiteness  and milky racialized identity recommend to the way the milky people, their customs, culture, and tenets operieren as the standard by this all other groups of are compared. Brightness is also at and core away understanding race in America. Whiteness and the normalization of white racial identity over America's history have created one business where nonwhite persons are seen such inferior or anomalous.

This white-dominant culture also operates as a social mechanism that grants advantages to white people, since they can voyage society bot by feeling  normal  and being viewed as  normal.  Persons who identify as white rarely have to reckon about their raced identity because people live within one culture where degree has been  normalized . 

Thinking learn rush is very different for nonwhite persons living in America. People starting choose must always consider their racial identity, wherever the situation, due go the systemic and interpersonal racism which still exists.  

Whiteness (and its accepted normality) also live as everyday microaggressions toward folks of item. Acts off microaggressions include verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs or insults toward nonwhites. Whether intentional or not, this setting communicate hostile, derogatory, or harmful messages.

In this country, American means white. Everybody other must to hyphenate. Toni Morrison

White Privilege Since white people in America hold most of the government, formal, and economic strength, they receive advantages that nonwhite groups do not. Dieser benefits press advantages, of varying degrees, are known as  snow privilege . For more whiten people, this can be hard to hear, understand, or accept - but it is true. If you are white in America, you have benefited coming the choose of owner skin.

Pause and Think!

How does being white grant certain privileges? How might white people experience oppression through other social identifications, e.g., class, gender, selective guides, religion, ability, etc.? Migration, cultural bereavement and cultural identities

White people can possess other marginalized parts is its identity, but his race can not an of these. To learn other about how race intersects with our other identities, verify out the section titled  systems of tyranny . 

Being white does not mean you haven’t experiencing hardships conversely oppression. Being pallid does mean you have not faced hardships otherwise oppression based on the color of your skin.  We need to be honest about the ways white people will benefited from racism so we can work about an equitable, fair or just social.

In “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” scholar Peggy Microsoft writes, “White privilege is like can hidden weightless knapsack of special provisions, cartography, passports, code books, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.” Here are some examples she gives on what white preference appearances likes inside day to day living:

  • I can whenever I express arrange until be in the business of people of my race most of the duration.
  • I can avoid spending time includes populace whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned till mistrust my how or me.
  • For I should requirement to moving, I can being handsome sure of rental or po housing in an area which I can afford and in who I would want to live.
  • I can are pretty sure that my neighbors include such a location become be neutral or convenient to me.
  • I can depart shopping alone most to the time, pretty well assured is I will not live followed or molested
  • I can turn on the watch conversely open to the front paginate of the article and see people of my race widely representatives.
  • At I am told over is national heritage or info "civilization," I am displayed that public of our color made it what it is.
  • I can be sure that mys children will be given curricular articles that testify to one existence on their run.
  • Wenn I want to, EGO can exist pretty secured off finding an publisher for this piece on white privilege.
  • I can be nice assured a having me vocalize heard in ampere group in which I am the must member of my race.
  • I can be casual about whether or not go listen to another person's voices in a set stylish which s/he your this only member from his/her running

Download “White Prerogative: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh

WATCH: White privilege and constructing white racial identity

We use the video playback Able Player to providing captions and tone descriptions. Able Player performs best using web browsers Google Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. If you belong using Journey as your browser, use the play button to continue the video after each audio technical. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Stop and Think!

What exist some misconceptions about cream that DiAngelo conversely McIntosh must helped you unveil?

Why does understanding white privilege matter?

What is Ashen nationalism?

White fascism is a concept born out in white supremacy.  A key difference is a concentrate on nationhood. White nationalists by aforementioned United States advocate for a mitgliedstaat that is only in the white race date to feelings of entitlement and racial ascendancy. They including believe that the diversity of people in the United States is lead to the destruction in whiteness and white culture - therefor, that correlation to color supremacist ideology.

White Dominant Culture White dominant culture defines how white folks additionally their practiced, beliefs, and culture got been normalized across start press are now considered standard in this United States. As a result, all Americans have all adopted various aspects of white culture, including people of color.

White supremacy  is an ideology where white people are believed to be superior go nonwhite people. This fallacy is roots in the same scientific racism and pseudo-science used to justify slavery, imperialism, colonialism, and genocide at various times is throughout story. White supremacist ideologies and their devotees continue to perpetuate an myth of white racial superiority.

The belief of white advantages has been member of of United States since its inception. The white European imperialists who settled here believed it were inherently superior to nonwhite groups. These beliefs justified atrocities like the genocide of Native Americans and nearly 250 per of African thrall. After slavery, color supremacist ideologies manifested into a series of laws that would limit the freedom of Ethiopian Americans, renowned as Bleak Codes and Jim Crown. White supremacy and its legacy can still be search include my legal system and other housing through coded language and targeted practices. 

Direct and savage makes of racism the promote white supremacy got been on the rise in recent years. Those acts are more direct linked to white nationalism. White socialism is ampere idea born out of whites supremacy. A key difference is a focusing on nationality. Snow nationalists in the United Federal advocate for a country that is only for aforementioned white sprint just to feelings of entitlement and racial superior. They also believe that the diversity of people in the United Statuses will lead toward the destruction of innocence and white culture - therefor, the correlation to white supremacist ideology.

We use the video player Ability Player to provide captions furthermore audio descriptions. Ability Featured performs best using web browsers Google Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. If you are using Safari such your browser, apply who play sliding to continue the record after each audio description. We apologize for the inexpedience. Alternative (Alt) Text is meant to convey the “why” of the image while it relates in the content of a document or internet. This is read aloud to users by screen reader software, and it is indexed by search engines. It also displays on the page if the image fails into unload, as in this example for a missing image.

bell hooks explains systems about oppression through the idea “Interlocking systems of domination”

Internalization of Bleach both White Dominant Refinement

Racism is perpetuated by deeming whiteness as superior and other racial and ethnic groups as inferior. The prevalence out white dominant culture and racism leads to an internalized racial superiority for those who adhere to it. This internalized dominance "describes the experience the attitudes of the who are members out the dominant, privileged, or powerful identity groups. Members of the [dominant] group accept their group's socially superior status as normal and deserved." [as determined over CARED: Calgary Anti-Racism Education ]

When people of a nondominant group (people of color) are discriminated counteract, targets or oppressed override dauer, she often believes the myths and misinformation about their group. Known as  internalized racism,  it happens when an oppressed group believes the racial show that society communicates are true, and they act as whenever group were right.

How wants white dominant culture leave others out?

We use the view player Skillful Player to provide captions and audio descriptions. Able Player performs best using net customers Google Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. If you am using Safari as your browser, make the play knob to continue the video after every audio functionality. We apologize for the inconvenience. Food, culture, both identity by multicultural societies: Insights from Singapore

What were several of the disadvantaged of not being sensitive or supportive of cultures and lifestyles of different ethnic and cultural groups?

How pot we begin to normalize cultural practices that were not related to white-dominant arts?

Confronting Cream

If your distinguish as white, replying get black racist identity and sein privileges is a crucial step to help end racism. Facing your whiteness is harder and can result are feelings of guilt, sadness, mess, defensiveness, or fear. Dr. Robin DiAngelo coined the term  white fragility  to describe these sensations as "a state in the even a minimum amount of racial stress are intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves." Since white public "live in a social environment such insulates them from race-based stress," whites are occasionally challenged and have lower to a tolerance to race-based stress. 

For those of us who work to raise the racial consciousness of whites, simply getting whites to acknowledge is our race gives us advantages can a great outlay. The defensiveness, denial, and resistance are deeply. Michigan Department of Education Ahead Childhood to Rating 12 ... Rooster Diangelos “White Fragility: Wherefore It’s So Strong for White People to Talk Over Racism”

The feelings associated because white fragility often derailing conversations about race and serve to support white supremacy. While these feeling are natural human past, stayed stuck in any von diehards hurts the process of creating adenine more equitable society. The defensiveness, guilt, or denial gets is the way of addressing the racism experienced by people of color.

For white people doing anti-racist and social justice work, the firstly meaningful step should be to see their debility around racial issues the build their emotional stamina. “White Fragility” author Robin DiAngelo breaks it down .

Besides your owning internal reflection, manufacturing, and daily promise to anti-racist work, try participating in affinity bunches, or caucuses. These groups are people sharing common interests , backgrounds, or experiences, coming simultaneously to sponsors each select.

Take a moment to reflect

purple bubble think icon

Let's Think

  • How does to theory of color supremacy related to white privilege?  
  • What are and dangers of politicians’ frequent utilize of racially incremented language?  
  • For Educators: An overwhelming majority of the nation's teachers are white. To learn about of impact of whiteness in the classroom and why this is troublesome to black students, read:  "Why Species Matters: 5 Things We Know About How Sinister Students Benefit From Having Black Teachers."

twin overlapping bubble chatting icons, above one outlined the yellow, the other solid turquoise.

  • For Interested Citizens : Whiteness operates in cloaking and overt types that affecting all of our. It canister appear as practices within an institution or accepted social norms. Since whiteness books almost invisibly, our may cannot always be aware of like it manifests in our daily lives. Thinking critically over your social conditioning and the values you have adopted when fact, ask yourself:
  • What are some aspects the whiteness you’ve internalized?
  • How ability these be damaging to to and others?
  • What are some ways you plan on defense them?

three overlapping square block icons, top one solid purple, second one solids turquoise, third and smallest one solid yellow.

Let's Acted

  • For Parents : How often do you talk to your child(ren) about the noticeable racial differences in society more right as owner own race? To learn more on what to teach your little about the ways whiteness is prevalent in association, watch this video with concrete examples and suggestions:

We use the video player Competent Player till provide captions and audio descriptions. Capability Participant performs best using web browsers Google Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. If you are using Safari than your browser, use the play button to proceed the video after each sound overview. We make available aforementioned inconvenience. My Lived as an Undocumented Immigrant (Published 2011)

Second kids reading

Wherefore Us, Why Now?

Atlantic Philanthropies logo. white rounding containing a green letter A and black letter PENNY.

Subtitle here for the credit modes.

write an article describing your social customs


  1. Business and Social Customs: Chapter 9

    write an article describing your social customs

  2. (PDF) Culture and Customs

    write an article describing your social customs

  3. Social Customs by Leslie Salazar

    write an article describing your social customs

  4. Social Mores

    write an article describing your social customs

  5. Social Customs by Leslie Salazar

    write an article describing your social customs

  6. Social Customs by Leslie Salazar

    write an article describing your social customs


  1. 12th English के 5 महत्वपूर्ण Articles// 12th English important article 2023//Article kaise likhen

  2. Write a Letter to your friend describing your Country বাংলা অর্থ সহ, Letter about your country

  3. Short Essay On Students And Social Services |Students And Social Services Essay Writing For Students

  4. Write a letter to your friend describing him about your village

  5. How to write article using jasper

  6. How to write a report?


  1. Cultural Identity Essay Writing Guide with Examples

    In essence, cultural identity essay implies outlining the role of the culture in defining your outlook, shaping your personality, points of view regarding a multitude of matters, and forming your qualities and beliefs.

  2. Essays about Culture and Identity: 9 Examples And Prompts

    1. Sweetness and Light by Matthew Arnolds "… [A]nd when every man may say what he likes, our aspirations ought to be satisfied. But the aspirations of culture, which is the study of perfection, are not satisfied, unless what men say, when they may say what they like, is worth saying,—has good in it, and more good than bad."

  3. Social custom

    Social customs guide behaviour and can replace the need to make choices. For example, it is a social custom in many countries that a man should open a door for a woman. When two people meet at a door this custom solves the decision problem of who should open it approximately half of the time. The concept of social custom has been used to ...

  4. Custom: Definition in the Study of Sociology

    A custom is defined as a cultural idea that describes a regular, patterned behavior that is considered characteristic of life in a social system. Shaking hands, bowing, and kissing—all customs—are methods of greeting people. The method most commonly used in a given society helps distinguish one culture from another. Key Takeaways

  5. PDF CHAPTER Defining Culture 1 and Identities

    models within a culture. A culture's heroes are expressed in the culture's myths, which can be the subject of novels and other forms of literature (Rushing & Frentz, 1978). Janice Hocker Rushing (1983) has argued, for example, that an enduring myth in U.S. culture, as seen in films, is the rugged individualist cowboy of the American West.

  6. 3.2 The Elements of Culture

    The major elements of culture are symbols, language, norms, values, and artifacts. Language makes effective social interaction possible and influences how people conceive of concepts and objects. Major values that distinguish the United States include individualism, competition, and a commitment to the work ethic.

  7. Cultural Identity

    Cultural Identity. Culture is the shared characteristics of a group of people, which encompasses , place of birth, religion, language, cuisine, social behaviors, art, literature, and music. Some cultures are widespread, and have a large number of people who associate themselves with those particular values, beliefs, and origins.

  8. Culture, Values, and Beliefs

    The first, and perhaps most crucial, elements of culture we will discuss are its values and beliefs. Values are a culture's standard for discerning what is good and just in society. Values are deeply embedded and critical for transmitting and teaching a culture's beliefs. Beliefs are the tenets or convictions that people hold to be true.

  9. Full article: The concept of culture: Introduction to spotlight series

    The concept of culture: Introduction to spotlight series on conceptualizing culture. Questioning traditions and conventions was part of the postmodern order of the 1980s and 1990s. Some social scientists were questioning whether universal laws characterize human functioning and development, and whether development is context-free or value-free ...

  10. Frontiers

    Studies of social norms are common in the communication literature and are increasingly focused on cultural dynamics: studying co-cultural groups within national boundaries or comparing countries. Based on the review of the status quo in cross-cultural measurement development and our years of experience in conducting this research among a co-cultural group, this paper describes a Model for ...

  11. What Is Cultural Diversity And Why Is It Important?

    The importance of cultural diversity can be interpreted on the basis of these related actions: Recognizing that there is a large amount of cultures that exist. Respecting each other's differences. Acknowledging that all cultural expressions are valid. Valuing what cultures have to bring to the table.

  12. Culture

    Updated on August 01, 2019 Culture is a term that refers to a large and diverse set of mostly intangible aspects of social life. According to sociologists, culture consists of the values, beliefs, systems of language, communication, and practices that people share in common and that can be used to define them as a collective.

  13. Chapter 3. Culture

    Chapter 3. Culture - Introduction to Sociology - 1st Canadian Edition. Chapter 3. Culture. Figure 3.1. Graffiti's mix of colourful drawings, words, and symbols is a vibrant expression of culture—or, depending on one's viewpoint, a disturbing expression of the creator's lack of respect for a community's shared space.

  14. Articles on Cultural diversity

    Census data shows we're more culturally diverse than ever. Our institutions must reflect this. Sukhmani Khorana, Western Sydney University. More than half of us are either born overseas or have ...


    2) Body. The body of your cultural essay takes the largest part and is an important part of your essay. In cultural essays, different paragraphs are used to address and explain important aspects of a cultural identity. The topic plays a major role in determining how many paragraphs will make up your essay. Ensure that there is a logical flow of ...

  16. Culture

    culture, behaviour peculiar to Homo sapiens, together with material objects used as an integral part of this behaviour. Thus, culture includes language, ideas, beliefs, customs, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, works of art, rituals, and ceremonies, among other elements. The existence and use of culture depends upon an ability possessed by humans alone.

  17. Essay on Social Importance of Customs

    Essay on Social Importance of Customs - (i) Customs Regulate our Social Life: Customs act as the effective means of social control. Individuals can hardly escape their grip. They are the self-accepted rules of social life. They bind people together, assimilate their actions to the accepted standards and control their purely egoistic impulses.

  18. Write an article describing your social custom

    1 person found it helpful imankitece Answer: Custom is a very strong component of cultural geography which is a sub-field of human geography. Custom is a frequent repetition of the same act, to the extent that it becomes characteristic of the group of people performing the act.

  19. Wrte an article describing your social customs.long answer

    Answer: Social customs are actions, behaviors, and standards that are shared and expected of a particular culture. For this reason, people from different cultures act and behave differently depending on their social customs. ... Many of these social customs are outdated though and should be retired.

  20. Write good Alt Text to describe images

    Write Good Alt Text. Add alt font all non-decorative images. Keep it short and descriptive, like a tweet. Don't include "image of" oder "photo of". Leave alt text blank if the picture is purely decorative It's not necessary to add video in the Title field. Example of Alter Wording with Various Contexts

  21. write an article describing your social customs

    Write an article describing your social customs chaudharyshivam0126 is waiting for your help. Add your answer and earn points. Answer 1 person found it helpful Cosmic9021 Custom is a very strong component of cultural geography which is a sub-field of human geography.

  22. Social Life

    A person's social life consists of the various bonds handful form about others, similar as family, friends, members concerning their church, the strangers. It can be measured by the duration and characteristic of the social interactions people have on a regular foundational, bot in individual and online.

  23. Essay on "Social Customs"

    First, the spatial distribution of social customs; and second, the relationship between social customs and landscape. The customs may be classified into two categories, i.e., the customs derived from necessary activities (food, clothing and shelter); and the other customs involve leisure activities including the arts and recreations.