Society and Culture
The Interaction of Cultures
What Is a Society?
- A society is a group of people with shared territory, interaction, and
culture. Some societies are made up of people who are united by friendship or common
interests. Some societies are merely social groups, two or more people who interact and
identify with one another.
- Every society must have territory, or an area to call its own.
- Members of a society must interact with one another on a regular basis.
Culture is a defining element of a society.
- Some societies are pluralistic societies composed of many different
kinds of people, some of whom belonged to other societies. The United States is a pluralistic
- In a pluralistic society, members retain some ethnic traditions and beliefs from
their old society. In order to fit into their new society, however, members must give up some
of these original traditions. This process is called assimilation.
- In a truly pluralistic society, no one group is officially considered more
influential than another.
Types of Societies
- Societies have evolved over many millennia. The different types of societies include
hunting and gathering, horticultural, pastoral,
agricultural or agrarian, industrial, and
- In hunting and gathering societies, members survive by gathering plants
and hunting for food.
- Members of horticultural societies use hand tools to raise crops.
- Members of pastoral societies rely on domestication and breeding of
animals for food.
- Members of agricultural or agrarian societies raise crops
by harnessing an animal to a plow.
- In industrial societies, members use machinery to replace human labor in
the production of goods. As fewer people are needed for agriculture, societies become
urbanized, which means that the majority of the population lives within
commuting distance of a major city.
Postindustrial societies feature an economy based on services and
technology rather than production.
- A mass society is a large, impersonal society that values individual
achievement over kinship ties.
Norms are guidelines, standards of behavior that change depending on
context and location. The four types of norms are
folkways, mores, laws, and taboos.
Deviance is the violation of a norm, whether for good or bad.
- Societies discourage deviance with social controls, such as
positive sanctions (rewards for approved behavior) and negative sanctions
(punishments for disapproved behavior).
Status and Roles
- We all occupy several statuses, or positions in particular settings, and
play roles based on them.
- A role is a set of norms, values, and behaviors attached to a status.
- When we are expected to fulfill more than one role at the same time, we can
experience role conflict.
Culture is everything made, learned, or shared by the members of a
- Although cultures vary dramatically, they all are composed of material
culture (physical things) and nonmaterial culture (intangible aspects such
as beliefs and values).
- A dominant culture is the culture held by the majority or the most
powerful. It usually maintains economic, political, and cultural power.
- A subculture is a culture within the dominant culture. The subculture
does not oppose the dominant culture but does have its own material and nonmaterial cultures
that the dominant culture does not share.
- A counterculture actively opposes the dominant culture.
Ethnocentrism is the tendency to view other cultures by the standards of
one’s own culture. Ethnocentrists often consider their cultures superior to other cultures.
- The opposite of ethnocentrism, cultural relativism, means interpreting
other cultures based on one’s own standards.
- We experience culture shock when the practices of other cultures seem
unfamiliar, scary, or shocking.
William Ogburn coined the term culture lag, which occurs
when material and nonmaterial culture develop at different rates. For example, culture lag
sometimes leaves us with technology we’re not yet sure how to use.
Cultural diffusion occurs when an item of culture spreads throughout a
culture or from one culture to another.