Sociology of Culture
Culture, as defined by Blackwell, is a set of laid down norms and traditions that are usually considered by a society as a symbol of their beliefs. It is a system of norms and values that are used to judge an individual’s action and decisions. It involves certain patterns, according to which people behave, their thoughts, and what they possess in terms of material wealth; these features determine the manner in which they live. There are five elements associated with culture namely symbols, language, values, beliefs, and norms. Symbols constitute a set of objects that have specific meanings to a group of people of common values. Language is usually used as a mean of communication; it involves different systems or objects that people use to pass information. Values are said to involve a range of widely accepted standards, which outline the way people should interact within their domain while beliefs are common utterances that people hold as truth. Norms, in turn, are rules or expectations pegged on specific actions. There can be either mores norms, which are widely accepted and held with high regard, or folkways norms that are casually observed and believed to be a feature of routine interactions. This study seeks to look at various perspectives of culture as advanced by different personalities and to evaluate the interaction between these views.
Weber studied culture and developed a critical theory that tried to explain the concept of cultural sociology. He advanced the argument that, in the larger community, people used to live in certain groups with specific status, and standards pegged on them. These groups were subgroups of the larger community. He argued that people categorized themselves on the basis of their race, gender, sexuality, and religious beliefs. As a group, they developed their own culture that differentiated them from other groups within the bigger culture. To Weber, interests of these subgroups were merely motivated by the amount of wealth one possessed. An individual with little wealth was considered to be of a low status as opposed to his wealthier partner, who was considered to be of a higher status. There were certain unique symbols that were developed to signify that a person belonged to a specific status group. The symbols were largely associated with the individual’s spirituality and were evident in the behavior and events organized by these groups.
Karl Marks developed a conflict theory that studied culture on the basis of cultural conflicts. He argued that the high and mighty in any society originated from the ruling class and made others their subjects (subordinates). These powerful members of the society were charged with the responsibility of advancing the general wellbeing of the people they ruled. They, therefore, set down the guiding principles of do’s and do-not’s that later evolved to become the culture of the people within their society. The subjects were supposed to adhere to the set principles, which varied depending on who formulated them. They had an economic inclination and the people’s economic status largely determined their values, as they had to follow and adhere to the economic ideologies developed. There were capitalists and socialists and their ideologies largely differed causing a serious conflict in the society.
Swidler, on the other hand, studied the interaction that existed between different cultures and institutions. She argued that people not only expressed what they believed in but also, in a way, derived teachings from them and transformed their values reflecting them in a simple manner that every person could understand. The transformation took place in the form of drama, music, and play. It allowed people to follow the same pattern of behavior and only changed their ways on encountering problems by deviating and varying their actions. The teachings, in the form of drama, play, and music, evolved to become a culture of the people, who believed in their teachings.
In any instance, there exists an interaction between the three theories. The arguments by Swidler attempts to modify those advanced by Weber. Swidler gives a progressive view of Weber’s arguments that culture is not static and changes with the changing dynamics. Her argument that people change their culture the moment they face challenges or problems in a way relates to Karl Marks’ conflict theory. Karl Marks, in turn, argues that, in developing cultures, a conflict must exist as it forces people to decide and move forward. This idea is further advanced by Wilder’s argument that people will always act in certain ways that will determine their culture and, in case they face challenges, they will alter or adjust their actions and behavioral patterns. Though there is no much difference when it comes to comparing the three theories, there exist some contradictions in the arguments by Karl Marks and Max Weber. Weber argues that the culture of a given society is influenced by a wide range of factors, like race, religion, sexuality, and gender. These factors play out in a manner that determines the principles, upon which a society’s culture is based. Karl Marks, on the other hand, argues that the only factor that determines or influences a society’s culture is economy. He believes that people’s interests on cultural development are triggered by economic quests and desire to possess wealth. This narrows down Weber’s argument that is broad based one.
In conclusion, therefore, culture can be said to be a dynamic phenomenon that will always evolve with time depending on the desires of the people involved. It is based on the free will and acceptability of the people’s chosen course of action that is captured in their mindsets. Different courses of actions are to be made available for a society to choose from and these actions become standards, which people should use as a guide in their operations and decisions.