People make and maintain culture through symbols, customs, rules, art, communication, knowledge and understanding, memories, and collective identities. How people understand themselves and what they believe are deeply rooted in culture. The power structure of a society is both reflected and maintained by the surrounding culture. Values, norms, and beliefs that shape social behavior are connected to cultural traditions, practices, and expectations. Culture is embedded in society. The cultures of preindustrial, industrial, and postindustrial societies are influenced by patterns related to labor.

Within a broad culture, smaller cultural groups also exist, including subcultures and countercultures. When people enter into a foreign culture, they often experience culture shock, due to an inability to understand and interpret the symbols of the foreign culture. Sociologists encourage the exploration and appreciation of all cultures, including subcultures, countercultures, and foreign cultures, striving to take a perspective of cultural relativism, rather than one based on ethnocentrism.

At A Glance

  • Culture is the learned set of symbols, beliefs, values, norms, practices, and material goods shared by members of a group.
  • Beliefs are the ideas that people hold to be unwaveringly true and are rooted in the shared values of a culture.
  • Power and authority are social relations that occur within the context of a culture.
  • A symbol carries meaning to the people who share a culture because it is created and maintained by the members of the culture.
  • Culture shock occurs when people encounter unfamiliar symbols, norms, and practices and are keenly aware of their inability to interpret and follow them.
  • Values, beliefs, and norms are key components that define and characterize a culture.
  • Ethnocentrism and cultural relativism are opposite perspectives and serve to shape judgments about different cultures.
  • Subcultures are small groups within a larger culture. Countercultures are groups opposing widely accepted cultural patterns in society.
  • Multiculturalism promotes respect for all cultures, asserts the equal value of all cultural traditions, and values cultural diversity.
  • The culture of preindustrial societies is closely tied to patterns of labor and built around kinship ties.
  • Industrial societies are characterized by the technological advances brought about by the Industrial Revolution and the social and cultural changes sparked by the widespread use of industrial technology.
  • Postindustrial societies rely on digital technology for the production and distribution of knowledge.
  • Functionalism focuses on shared cultural values, conflict theory focuses on cultural power, and symbolic interactionism focuses on how culture is produced.
  • Cultural hegemony is the dominance of one cultural group, maintained through social institutions.
  • Cultural change is caused by innovation, discovery, globalization, and the diffusion of one culture into another.
  • Popular culture and mass media influence one another, creating and reflecting cultural norms, values, and beliefs.