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Introduction to Sociology

Ron Hammond, Paul Cheney, Raewyn Pearsey

Chapter 05 - Culture

It is estimated by the Encyclopedia of World Cultures that there are about 500+ unique cultures on the earth in our modern world (Gall, T. L. 1997 Gale Pub). This reference manual addresses the following unique characteristics of these cultures: historical origins; location; language; folklore; religion; major holidays; rites of passage; interpersonal relations; living conditions; family; clothing; food; education; heritage; work; sports; entertainment ; crafts and hobbies; and social problems. It is obvious that cultures are complex and require focused efforts to be properly understood. The US’s Central Intelligence Agency produces a free online book called the World Factbook (SOURCE). In 2014 the CIA estimated 267 world entities which make up the mosaic of existing countries worldwide.

What Paints The Cultural Canvas of Our World Today?

To better understand the diversity of the world we live in I have enclosed a summary from the CIA World Factbook. This shows you a quick snapshot of the social structures that underlie our very populated world and the 500+ cultures in it. In Table 1 you can see that collectively Christians make up about one-third of the world populations. But, for the first time ever, Muslims at 23 percent represent the largest religion having surpassed the Roman Catholic Church. The Muslim faith (Islam) grows rapidly because Muslims often practice polygamy and have a higher birthrate than parents in other religions.

Table 1: Religions of the World 2010 (Estimated by CIA)*
  • Christians all combined 33.39%
    • Roman Catholics 16.85%
    • Protestants 6.15%
    • Orthodox 3.96%
    • Anglicans 1.26%
  • Muslims 22.74%
  • Hindus 13.8%
  • Buddhists 6.77%
  • Sikhs 0.35%
  • Jews 0.22%
  • Baha’is 0.11%
  • Other 10.95%
  • Non-religious 9.66%
  • Atheists 2.01%
*Retrieved 16 June 2014 from World data found in CIA World Factbook In Table 2 you can see the commonality of Chinese, Spanish, and English. Although the 12.44 percent does not appear to be very high, keep in mind that it’s 12.44 percent of 7+ billion. China has 1.3 billion inhabitants and comprises roughly 1 out of 6 people on the planet (India has about 1.2 billion and almost the same percentage of the world population). Many languages are not listed because there are thousands of dialects and local variations on these major languages. China with 1.3 billion has two forms of Chinese language: Mandarin and Cantonese. Sheer massive numbers in populations speaking Chinese explain part of the data below.
Table 2: Languages of the World 2009 (Estimated by CIA)*
Language Percent who Speak it World-wide
Mandarin Chinese 12.44%  
Spanish 4.85%  
English 4.83%  
Arabic 3.25%  
Hindi 2.68%  
Bengali 2.66%  
Portuguese 2.62%  
Russian 2.12%  
Japanese 1.8%  
Standard German 1.33%  
Japanese 1.25%  
*Retrieved 16 June 2014 from World data found in CIA World Factbook

Table 3 shows that the world’s population has exploded in the last century and continues to grow rapidly. Never in the history of this world have so many numbers of people lived at the same time with so many co-existing and equally valid cultural heritages. World Population Grows 19.97 births per 1,000 - 8.32 deaths per 1,000= 11.65 natural increase (net growth) and you can see simulated real-time population growth chart at . The world’s population is continuing to grow.

I’d like to live long enough to see the year 2050. Many scientists have predicted the population growth to reach 9 billion worldwide by 2050 (SOURCE). This implies a continuation of increasing numbers of people belonging to the cultures of the world from this point forward.

There are clear patterns of growth in the world’s largest countries. For example, Figure 1 lists the 10 most populated countries of the world in 2013 with estimates for future population in 2050. The US ranks 3rd in 2013, but Nigeria makes a jump from 7th to 3rd in 2050 moving the US to rank 4th in population. Interestingly, in 2050, India will rank 1st and China 2nd. Also of interest is the fact that in 2050 the US is the only Western country in the list.

Figure 1. The Ten Most Populated Countries in the World, 2013 and 2050*
*Retrieved 21 May, 2014 from Population Reference Bureau Population Data Sheet SOURCE

Between 2013 and 2050 the top ten largest countries in the world will be non-Western in nature. Table 3 shows that the males and females are not equally distributed throughout the world’s population. In the childhood years there are more males (about 62 million more). In the working years of 15-64 there are 53 million more males. But, in the 65 and older age group, there are far more females with 65 million more. By the time people age into the later years males have died off sooner than females and we find that the worldwide aging experience is dominated more by the female rather than male experience.

Table 3: The World by Age (Estimated by CIA)*
Age Categories Numbers of Males Numbers of Females
0-14 years: 26% male 956,360,171 female 893,629,520
15-24 years: 16.8% male 613,806,639 female 577,904,561
25-54 years: 40.6% male 1,478,739,525 female 1,447,244,791
55-64 years: 8.4% male 298,092,946 female 312,206,795
65 years and over: 8.2% male 265,453,689 female 331,172,947 (2013 est.)
*Retrieved 16 June 2014 from World data found in CIA World Factbook

Table 4 shows more detail of gender differences in the world by showing the Sex Ratio, the number of males per 100 females. Again the sex ratio is highest for newborns, children, and working ages. Yet, the older the age group the lower the sex ratio.

Table 4: The World by Sex Ratios (Estimated by CIA)*
Ages Ratio
At birth 1.07 male(s)/female
0-14 years 1.07 male(s)/female
15-24 years 1.06 male(s)/female
25-54 years 1.02 male(s)/female
55-64 years 0.96 male(s)/female
65 years and over 0.8 male(s)/female
Total population 1.01 male(s)/female (2013 est.)
*Retrieved 16 June 2014 from World data found in CIA World Factbook SOURCE

I hope that you can see some of the global picture in terms of who lives in the world today and which cultures they are a part of in their daily lives. In order to truly understand these varying cultures you must first understand the concept of one’s World-taken-for-granted, which is all of the assumptions about our fit into our social and physical environment. Each of us has a unique world-taken-for granted. Each has myriad interactions, experiences, interactions, and life course progressions that are too numerable to calculate. So, our world-taken-for-granted is unique, even though we may grow up in a society with 350 million others. The assumption is that our world-taken-for-granted works much the same way corrective lenses work on our vision—subtle; barely noticeable unless you are not wearing them; invisible unless your attention is focused on them; and since you’ve worn them for a while, hidden to your conscious mind.

Can We Learn To Appreciate Cultures?

I sometimes bring all my students who wear glasses down to the front of the room and have them rotate their glasses to the person on the left, rotate them again, and again until eventually they get their own pair back. Rarely does one student’s pair of glasses work for another. I ask them this rhetorical question, "What’s the last thing a fish would ever notice?" After a brief discussion, someone suggest, "The water they swim in." For humans the last thing we pay attention to is air. This is true for us and our world-taken-for-granted. It is so subtle to us, that it is often the last thing we notice until we travel and find ourselves in a foreign place where we encounter diverse cultures.

Cultures are part of the human social experience. They are comparable to ice-cream flavors, each tends to be sweet and desirable while still having a vast variety of ingredients and textures. To help my students understand the value of cultures, I often ask them to go to Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors and chose which flavor is the "Good" flavor and "which flavor is the ‘bad or evil" flavor. They tend to be confused because we typically don’t judge ice cream flavors. Yet, even though cultures tend to be universal and desirable, we often judge cultures as being "good, bad, or evil," with our own culture typically being judged good. We have to consider our perspective when engaging people from different cultures. Are we ethnocentric or culturally relativistic?

Ethnocentrism is the tendency to judge others based on our own experiences. In this perspective our culture is right while cultures which differ from our own are wrong. I once visited a beautiful Catholic cathedral, Cathédrale St. Jean in Lyon, France. I fell in love with this beautiful and historic monument to the religious devotion of generations of builders. I learned that it took about 300 years to build, that England’s King Henry the VIII married his Italian bride there, and that a few families had 9 generations of builders working on it. I left with such a deep sense of appreciation for it all.

On the bus back to our hotel, we met some American tourists who were angry about their vacation in France. The gentleman said, "these people will eat anything that crawls under the front porch, they never bathe, they dress funny, and they can’t speak one *#&@ word of English!"

I tried to redirect the conversation back to the cathedral and the things I really enjoyed in France. He was too frustrated to listen. If a person harbors these negative and judgmental feelings after considerable time has passed in the culture, then he may be ethnocentric. It’s not ethnocentric to need time for adjustment to a new and different culture. If he had just arrived and was transitioning to the diversity we call it culture shock. Culture Shock is the disoriented feeling which occurs in the context of being in a new culture. It tends to leave over a few days or weeks and the greater the familiarity with the culture the less the shock.

Another more valuable and helpful perspective about differing cultures is the perspective called Cultural Relativism, or the tendency to look for the cultural context in which differences in cultures occur. Cultural relativists like all the ice-cream flavors, if you will. They respect and appreciate cultural differences even if only from the spectators’ point of view. They tend to be teachable, child-like, and open-minded. They tend to enjoy or learn to enjoy the many varieties of the human experience.

An ethnocentric thinks on the level of carrot soup: peel carrots, and water, and boil. The cultural relativist tends to think on the level of a complex stew: peel and prepare carrots, potatoes, onions, mushrooms, broth, tofu, and 10 secret herbs and spices and simmer for 2 hours. The diversity of the human experience is what makes it rich and flavorful.

But, do cultural relativists have to accept all versions of morality, ethics, values, and traditions in order to be teachable? No, of course not. Anyone who is planning a trip to another community, state, or country would be wise to do their cultural homework and prepare in advance how they will immerse themselves into the parts of the culture that fit their value system. They can begin their homework at: SOURCE and look up their destination and as many of the details that will help prepare them; or by studying on the Culture Gram Website at SOURCE. Always do your cultural homework before you travel even if you are just spending time across the state for a day. Remember that your best cultural skills may be antagonistic to those from other cultures (see box below)

Understanding the Nature of Culture

Also before traveling consider your own values and stereotypes. A Stereotype is a broad generalization about groups based solely on the group affiliation. Although it will be discussed more in the Race chapter, stereotypes have to be managed, especially among ethnocentric persons.

Culture is the shared values, norms, symbols, language, objects, and way of life that is passed on from one generation to the next. Culture is what we learn from our parents, family, friends, peers, and schools. It is shared, not biologically determined. In other words, you are only born with drives, not culture.

Humans have Biological Needs, which are the innate urges that require some action on our part if we are to survive. These include the need to urinate, breathe, eat, drink, and sleep or else we eventually collapse and die. If we urinate in enclosed bathrooms, behind a tree, or in an open air urinal depends as much on our cultural traditions as it does on our biology. Likewise, we may eat ground beef, snails, worms, fermented cabbage, fish eggs, or animal lard depending on our cultural assumptions.

Values are defined standards of what is good, bad, desirable, or undesirable for ourselves and others. Typical American values—considered for the entire nation and described by Williams, 1970 were: achievement and success ; equality; individualism; racism and group superiority; activity and work ; education; efficiency and practicality; religiosity; progress; romantic love/monogamy; science and technology; equal opportunity; material comfort; nationalism/patriotism; humanitarianism; external conformity; freedom; and democracy and free enterprise (see Williams, R. M. (1970). American Society: A Sociological Interpretation, 3rd Ed. NY; Knopf). Do these collective values apply to your own personal values? It helps to do your homework about your country and your own personal values before you experience another culture. After you’ve researched the cultures you will visit, compare them to your own using this continuum:

Not Very   Extremely
Morally ←---------------------→ Morally
Significant   Significant

Key Point: You should never, ever be required to forfeit your own values in the pursuit of teachability, cultural relativism, and skilled cross-cultural relationships. If the typical US culture is more like your world-taken-for-granted and you travel to an equatorial country where they behave in a different manner, then your enthusiastic hand shaking, personal questioning, and space intrusions might land you in hot water (see Table 5 below). It’s best not to assume that a polite American also makes a polite Costa Rican and vice versa.

Table 5: Aren’t My Best Cultural Skills (the ones that work so well for me at Home) Good Enough to Interact Successfully in Another Culture? Perhaps not.
Typical Mainstream US Cultural traits Typical Equatorial Cultural Traits
-Shake hands -Bow, Nod, or Gesture
-Ask personal questions about family, friends, and health -Ask only general questions about weather and business
-Speak informally by first names -Speak formally by titles and last names
-Stand close to the other person -Stand at a distance
-Pat other on back, shoulder, or arm -No touching at all
-Men and/or women may speak to anyone -Men speak to men and women to women
© 2008 Ron J. Hammond, Ph.D.

At a very personal level, you might better understand your own values if you knew that most younger college students today share very similar values to others their age. In fact, you may be a "Generation Y" or "Millennial" aka "Millennials." This generation of today’s US and Canadian youth were born in the 1980s and 1990s (see fun Youtube Video on Millennials at ). They are also called "Screenagers" as opposed to teenagers because they grew up with: Cell/smart phones, tablets, Ipads, Netbooks, TV’s, computers, and video games. Collectively, Millennials are much better with computer-based technology than any generation that came before them. Odds are, that your children will be much better than you at a technology that has not yet emerged onto the market.

Millennials hold somewhat unique values in comparison to older members of our society. They tend to: seek for sense of purpose in what they have to do; desire a clear work-life balance; have a relatively short attention span; really enjoy having fun; enjoy variety; respect others; feel unlimited ambition; more demanding and will question everything; not do something they’re asked if they don’t see a good reason for it; want to make a difference; may want to quit what they committed to if some or all of these expectations are not met; and are very loyal to families, friends, and themselves (from Hira, N. A. May 15, 2007 Fortune).

One recent survey of Millennials found that: 97% own a computer; 94% own a cell phone; 76% can instant message; 15% are logged on to Instant messaging 24/7; 75% who are college students already have a Facebook account; and 60% have a portable music player (see Reynol Junco and Jeanna Mastrodicasa Connecting to the Net Generation: What higher education professionals need to know about today's students, NASPA; First edition (March 29, 2007)).

Interestingly your parents and perhaps your grandparents are probably Baby Boomers (Born between 1946-1964). They represent a huge segment of the US population today. The American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) created a report on them. They are people 50 years and older who are more than a third of the population, but … they own 80 percent of financial assets; and dispose of 50 percent of discretionary income; and the 50+ population is going to double in the next 35 years. AARP also reported that "We know a lot about the Boomers: They love choice: set up the smorgasbord and let them help themselves. They will. They want information-and the more sources the better because… …They are not afraid to make decisions-but only on their own clock and on their own terms. They want many things and they want them now. The ideal for typical Baby Boomers is to have something delivered before they even knew they wanted it… yesterday would be just fine. They lean more to independence than blending in to the crowd. They are usually fairly sophisticated buyers… of anything and everything. They love bells and whistles because they are bells and whistles" (See AARP taken from the Internet on 16 June 2014 from SOURCE - Type "Baby Boomers Aging Well" in the search box).

In understanding cultures (ours and others) you must realize how crucial values are to the overall culture. Our values are the basis of norms, which in turn are the basis for folkways and morés and eventually laws. It flows like this:

Values > Norms > Folkways/Morés > Laws

Norms are shared expectations or rules of behavior. Norms are what are normal in a given social circumstance. For example, I lived in France for a year or so as a young man. The beaches were filled with completely naked swimmers (this is common in many places throughout the world). In France, nude beaches are normal. In the US, that would still be considered not normal, or deviant, as will be discussed later. In the 1990’s a young Berkley U. student attended about half of his 4-year degree program with not much more than a bandana around his waist (Google "Berkley Naked Guy" for more information). Even at a very liberal university like Berkley, a male nude student was eventually ruled unacceptable.

Norms guide our countless interactions on a day to day basis. All the subtleties of everyday life, what we expect for ourselves and others, are found in our commonly shared norms. George Simmel claimed that outsiders (you in another culture or someone else new in our culture) appear "remote" to locals because they respond differently, having different norms (see Simmel, G. (1950). "The Stranger" in The Sociology of Georg Simmel, ed by Wolff, K. H.; NY Free Press).

Some norms are the basis of a Folkway, which is a traditional or customary norm governing everyday social behaviors. Folkways are the simple things in society such as how we eat our soup (with a spoon, chopsticks, or sipped from the edge of the bowl). They also include our greetings, clothing, rules of politeness, and hand gestures. Norms are also the basis for Morés, which are deeply held, informal norms that are strictly enforced.

Morés are much more important to people than folkways. They might include a strongly held belief against sexual exploitation of women and children; respect for religious edifices; abstaining from using street drugs; and in the cultures of millions of Muslims the clear boundaries between males and females which often prohibits average men from talking to women who are not their wives or in seeing the hands, feet, and face of women who are not their wives. Not following folkways may lead to ridicule while not following morés may lead to harsh punishments.

From our Values, Norms, Folkways, and Morés we derive our laws. Laws are codified norms or norms written and recorded from which the behavior of society’s members can be judged. The US Law Code is available on the Internet and can be downloaded free. Your state laws are probably not as large, but are also on the Internet for you to study if so desired. Laws come in two varieties: Prescriptive Laws are laws that state what must be done and Proscriptive Laws are laws which state what is forbidden. If you want to drive, set up a small business, or not be in trouble with the IRS for failing to file taxes, then you must follow prescriptive laws. They tell you the rules of how things must be done.

Proscriptive laws tell us what we cannot do such as murder, rape, steal, etc. Violating these laws brings negative sanctions. A Negative Sanction is a punishment or negative reaction toward breaking codified norms (laws). Jail time, criminal record, fines, and penalties are just of few of the sanctions available to law breakers. Remember that folkways rarely become laws while many morés are codified.

Why are city, state, and national laws so different? The answer is simply that values vary from city, to city; state to state, and country to country. Because values change over time, laws change with them. Go to SOURCE and see if you can find a city which gives a $500 dollar fine for detonating a nuclear weapon within city limits; a city which made it illegal to carry an ice-cream cone in one’s pocket; or a city which made it illegal to have sex in the back of an ambulance while it’s on a rescue call.

Older laws prohibiting women from voting, driving, and owning businesses have been changed over the last century because our values today find such oppressive laws unreasonable and unacceptable. The values are socially agreed upon and are communicated via language.

Another interesting and indirect measure of cultural values, norms, folkways, and morés can be found on . Go there and search the phrase "family history". Type it then hit search trends. Now go to the first box on the bar and select United States as a region. As of 16 June 2014, Utah was the state with the highest search of this phrase with Salt Lake City being the highest city.

Search the following phrases and see which states and cities score in the top 10: Ice cream; Pepsi; American idol; Mohammed; Jesus Christ; Dali Lama; Face Book; My Space, and dirt bikes. Indirectly you can measure the values and norms of a state or city by identifying their common search phrases.

Does Language Shape our Cultural Understandings?

One very powerful tool used by human beings is our capacity for language. Language is a complex set of symbols which allow us to communicate verbally, nonverbally, and in written form. Chinese, Spanish, English, Arabic, Hindi, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, Japanese, Standard German, and Wu Chinese comprise about 40 percent of the spoken languages in the world. How you view the world around you, your social construction of reality, and your world-taken-for-granted all stem in part from the language you learn to speak. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis claims that when we learn a language, we also learn a framework for understanding and interpreting our social reality and environment. That means that your rules of conjugation, sentence structure, math, etc. shape your thought patterns. For example, in English (a language which descended from German) we describe our physical condition using the "to be" verb of "I am."

We say "I am: cold, hot, hungry, tired, 22 years old, or fat." In many Latin-derived languages such as Spanish and French, they describe their physical condition using the "to have" verb. "I have: cold, hot, hunger, fatigue, 22 years, or extra weight." Given the enormous pressure felt by women to be thin and to conform to unrealistic beauty standards, the "To have" verb is much more palatable. Since the language is the vehicle that facilitates socialization of the culture, it becomes a crucial factor in either the survival or eventual death of a culture—if the language disappears, so does the culture (Google search "Dalmatian language" for an example).

In Quebec, Canada the French language was suppressed after Napoleon agreed to the Louisiana Purchase. The British systematically deported the Arcadian French speakers to Baton Rouge, Louisiana (they later became known as the "Cajuns"). The French speakers who remained in Quebec found themselves oppressed by the dominant English speaking rulers. For decades the French struggled to keep their language alive—and thereby keep their cultural traditions alive. In the 1960’s social conditions lead to the formation of a political terrorist group which used terror to advance the cause of the French language and culture in Quebec.

The Quebec Sovereignty Movement (French: Mouvement Souverainiste du Québec) was in full swing and efforts were being made to formally create an independent nation state in Quebec. A series of legislative pieces and referendum ballots on the succession of Quebec (and therefore sovereignty of Quebec) ultimately lead to a 1995 vote in which only 50.56% voted "No" and a close 49.44% voted "YES" out of 94% of the 5 million registered voters voting ( see Wiki at ).

What was the big deal? The big deal was that if a political body wants to eliminate a sub-culture, it can effectively do so by eliminating the language spoken by members of the sub-culture. Likewise members of the sub-culture can unite their efforts in preserving their heritage as the French speakers did in Quebec.

You see, in each society you have the Main Stream Culture, or the culture shared by the dominant groups, coinciding with the culture shared in the main social institutions (government, education, religion, family, technology, media, and the economy). Then within a larger society there are always sub- and counter-cultures. A Subculture is one in which groups which have different folkways, mores, and norms, exist within but are not completely a part of the larger society. Whereas a Counterculture occurs when a group's values, norms, and beliefs are in conflict or opposition to those of the larger society and mainstream culture.

The Amish are an example of a sub-culture while the Branch Davidians are an example of a counter-culture. Counter-cultural groups often come into conflict with authority and typically one dominates the other. But, sometimes, authority is misused against sub-cultural groups. This was the case in Japan with the Ainu people.

On the Japanese island of Hokkaido a group of indigenous people named the Ainu once flourished in their traditional culture (Ainu people called themselves "Utari" which means comrade since Ainu has negative connotations for them; see also Navajo and Diné for similar cultural rejection of dominant group imposed negative labels). The Ainu are a historical component of the early history of Japan, but few live the traditional cultural, tribal, and religious traditions of this formally noble civilization.

What diffused this culture? Japan forced all its citizens claiming to be Japanese to attend public schools. Tremendous pressure came to bear on the Ainu people and many continue to hide their ethnicity to this day because of fear of racism. Even though some Ainu lived in Russia, the average Japanese Ainu seeks invisibility among other Japanese citizens (see SOURCE or SOURCE ).

It is very common for sub-cultural and main stream cultural groups to co-exist. Often their cultural traits and traditions spread back and forth between one another. Cultural Diffusion is when certain aspects of one culture are spread to another culture. An example in the US is the consumption of salsa. According to Wolfe and Ferland (2000), salsa was rarely consumed in the US, but in the mid 1990’s salsa consumption surpassed ketchup consumption and remains in the lead today with over $1 billion in annual sales (see ). Salsa is a food traditional to the Spanish and Portuguese speaking nations of the Americas. Its move northward coincided with shifts in immigration patterns including more Mexican, Central, and South American immigrants to the US.

Interestingly ketchup is still consumed as much as it was in the past. Salsa was added to the American diet, rather than adopted as a replacement to ketchup. Food is only one area where cultural diffusion can be readily observed. Clothing, music, television shows, movies, cars, technologies and many other aspects of cultures spread throughout the world today, diffusing cultures to a great extent. Cultural Leveling is the process in which cultures of the world become similar. As yet, we do not have a world-wide mainstream culture; however, there are those who’ve argued that oil is one aspect of our daily lives that is leveled throughout much of the world.

Culture In the Larger Social Context

In Figure 2, you can see what typically happens when people have grown into adulthood in their own cultures outside of the US then later migrate here? Can they hold onto the culture of their homeland? Before we answer this let’s dispel one very entrenched myth that the US has a melting pot of cultures. The Melting Pot Theory is an ideology which suggested that all the diverse people coming to the U.S. as immigrants would blend biologically and culturally in order to form a new unique breed of "Americans." The US has never had a melting pot. Those who’ve migrated here (numbering 10s of millions) have found themselves pressured to accept the Anglo-Saxon (British) version of the main stream culture. Acculturation is the process by which immigrant people adjust and adapt their way of life to the host culture. The map below shows the major migratory routes of many immigrants to the US over the course of US history.

Figure 2. How Do Immigrants Experience the Mainstream Culture Once Here?
© 2009 UVU & Ron J. Hammond, Ph.D.

Once in the US they realize that they have to make some adjustments in order to experience success in their daily interactions with members of the mainstream society. Assimilation is the process by which people from different cultures are acculturated and ultimately absorbed into the mainstream culture. In much of the US history of immigration throughout the 18th, 19th, and early 20th Centuries assimilation was more or less forced toward the deeply British-influenced mainstream culture.

Forced Assimilation is where those in power in the mainstream refuse to allow immigrants to maintain their various cultures. Since the US immigration policy switched in favor of more non-European immigrants being allowed to migrate here, much of the assimilation is voluntary and considered permissible. Permissible Assimilation permits newcomers to adapt to the mainstream culture naturally.

It is fascinating to observe the assimilation and acculturation of adult migrants to the US who have children born here and who have children enrolled in public school systems. Many adult immigrants hold dear their homeland cultures and adapt as little as possible to the main-stream US cultural norms. Because of this they experience marginalization. Marginalization is the tendency for adult immigrants to be rendered powerless in comparison to native-born adults because they live as a half citizen not fully capable of realizing the individual opportunities often found available to average native-born adults.

Their US born children find themselves living in a culturally transitioning family structure. Their parents are more like permanent tourists here while they become fully "Americanized" (for better or for worse) because public schools are tremendous socialization agencies which effectively acculturate most children into the main-stream. These children often serve as cultural liaisons to their parents and the main-stream culture.

There are three other levels of consideration for assimilation for adults who immigrate to the US: Cultural (acculturation into the host culture); Marital (vast intermarriage between mainstream members and newcomers); and Structural (large scale entrance into the various parts of the social structure including clubs, religions, workplace, schools, etc...).

Regardless of which culture a person grows up in, there are cultural universals which are for the most part common to all cultures. Cultural Universals are certain aspects of cultures which are found among peoples of all cultures throughout the world. All societies have universal social tasks which include the meeting of basic human needs such as breathing, eating, sleeping, drinking, having sex, and remaining safe. These universals include: adapting to and coping with physical environment; assigning of roles; controlling reproduction and relations between the sexes; communicating; maintaining some form of authorized government; and socializing children.


In the history of sociology, there were early scientists who applied evolutionary thought to the evaluation of cultures. Sociobiology claims that human behavior is the result of natural selection. Suffice it to say here that most studies do not support this approach—specifically; human agency proves to be much more potent than genetic determinism. Also, genes are not grouped neatly with the various cultures in such a way as to biologically distinguish one culture’s members from another.

One final issue for discussion is the fact that technology moves and advances so quickly that often our values, norms, folkways, and morés evolve at a much slower pace. Cultural Lag is the process whereby one part of culture changes faster than another part to which it is related. Thus, we find ourselves with a dilemma. We have technological advances being developed like; euthanasia, and congenital birth defect detection that have emerged faster than the ethical considerations that go along with them.

What might happen if in our day and age a small group of people lived isolated from the rest of the world? Seems impossible, huh? It’s not. Today there are an estimated 100 "uncontacted tribes" of people living in various remote corners of the world (see SOURCE). They have no cell phones, TV’s, Internet, cars, sinks, toilets, or beds as we know them. And they have no idea that such technologies even exist. An Uncontacted Tribe is a native tribe, typically a small group of people, living in a remote and isolated place who have not yet had contact with members of a technologically advanced society.

On 30th May, 2008 CNN News reported that an uncontacted tribe of Brazilian Indians were photographed from a small airplane and the news story spread quickly around the world (see SOURCE). The Website, "Survival: The Movement of Tribal People" reported that these tribal people had to be photographed in order to deter illegal loggers from Peru and Brazil from coming into contact with them and chasing them away in armed conflict (which always ends with modern guns winning out over traditional spears and arrows; SOURCE ).

Brazil constantly monitors its 200 tribal communities and keeps track of all their tribal people via their governmental agency FUNAI. The government has to make efforts to protect them from opportunists looking to obtain immense national resources located near their villages (see SOURCE). Previous encounters between tribal people and main stream civilization has left vast numbers of tribal people dead or exploited from diseases, slave labor, prostitution, racism and discrimination, or lost armed conflicts.

The irony about the news story mentioned above is that the men of this tribe shot arrows at the plane and threatened the plane with spears…they now have been exposed to contact with more civilized societies and therefore are not technically uncontacted anymore. One of my students wondered what they must have thought about the small airplane that threatened their safety. It must have looked like a dragon, evil spirit, or omen of some sort. Yet, had the photos not been taken and had the loggers been allowed to run these people off, the results certainly would have ended in lost lives.

Additional Reading

Search the keywords and names in your Internet browser

  • Wikipedia LINK or LINK or subcultures LINK Every Culture (World Cultures) LINK Culture Crossing LINK
  • List of Cultures
  • Culture Wars
  • Social Facts
  • Symbolic Cultures
  • Cultural Gap

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