Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Culture: My understanding of how to "get" it

As part of teaching culture, I begin with this "lecture reading" along with the graphic showing the relationship among the four key concepts to understanding any culture/group.  As I work with my kids in understanding the connections and interrelations among these concepts, they learn a more complete view of cultural understanding.

To me, it is impossible to understand culture without examining these concepts together.

Values, Norms, Roles and Sanctions Lecture

            Values are important aspects of a culture that a group feels are either desirable or undesirable.  These standards are shared criteria for distinguishing good from bad, acceptable from unacceptable.  Values are not something that can be decided by scientific experiment, but rather are matters of collective preference.  Many values are connected with intense sensations of attraction or repulsion, approval or disapproval, which we have learned to feel about them. 
            Values have the following qualities:
                                    A.     Chosen freely
                                    B.     Chosen among alternatives
                                    C.     Chosen after thoughtful consideration of the consequences of each alternative
                                    D.     Prized and cherished
                                    E.      Publicly affirmed
                                    F.      Acted upon
                                    G.     Consistently acted upon

            If one knows the values of a culture, one can make certain predictions concerning the way its members will behave.  Values are the link between beliefs and the rules of a culture, called norms.
            Norms are shared rules of conduct, directing what should and should not be done by certain individuals under certain specified conditions.  It is through norms that values are put into action.  There are two kinds of norms.  Folkways, which are connected to daily behavior for what to do, customs and fashions, the violation of which will not produce a major problem.  However, a more (pronounced moor-ay) is a norm, that when broken, will produce a strong public outrage.  Examples of these include rape, incest, murder, etc. 
            Norms are very closely related to roles, which are the parts we play in society.  In our daily lives, we are putting on different masks, all of which reflect a part of us.  Some look upon this as "posing," but it is really a just a way to cope with the changing demands of a variety of situations.  Each role is built up from many norms.  Therefore, norms can be thought of as the building blocks of roles.  Each part we play has a series of expectations or norms.  As a student, you have a part to play with many expectations associated with it.  These expectations can be considered norms or rules for how you should and shouldn't behave.
            To enforce norms, cultures and other groups create sanctions, rewards or punishments that are designed to keep deviant behavior at a minimum.  They may range from a harsh look or a hug, to the silent treatment, incarceration, or even the end of life.  It will depend on the norm broken, the role of the person, and the value that was threatened.  


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