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Variations of the perception of culture and the differences

Variations of the perception of culture from one to another place forms a world view on the term of culture. (Parvis 2007) Culture is the complex system of meaning and behaviour includes the values, beliefs, language, customs, and material objects that form a human group’s or society’s way of life. The difference in culture gives them identities which makes them unique from people of other cultures. (Kartha 2009) For instance, Malaysia’s culture is unique with their mix of different ancient Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures such as the festivals celebrated, for example, Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Chinese New Year, Deepavali Day and etc. (Bradbury 2008)

According to Altman and Chemers, culture includes the belief of people about the truth of the world, their lives and the environment too. It also comprises people values, for example, what they perceived to be good and bad. (Altman & Chemers 1984) For example, respect and love their own parents are good values to be adopted. Besides that, culture is also one of the driving forces that translate rules and beliefs into people’s day to day behavior. They will easily be influenced and accept the cultural norms happened within their growth environment. If violence is bad in their belief, they will choose to use words to settle their disagreements rather than use their fists. (Marasco 2002)

Culture is a learned and shared phenomenon. Every culture has a meaning to be learned from one generation to another through the interaction with one’s cultural environment (Haviland et al 2007) and shared by the members of society too. It enables them to predict how others will think and behave and also designs them thought and action how to response accordingly such as the language, literature, dines with chopstick and etc. (Ferraro 2008)

In summary, culture works as a guide that provides the rules and how to be applied in playing the game of life for the members of the society. (Samovar et al 2009) Culture is significant and necessary to constitute a discipline and order society as it helps hold society with a sense of belonging and togetherness. (Andersen & Taylor 2006)

2) Contents of Culture

Part Two

Even though variation of cultures exists, all cultures share five common components: symbols, language, values and beliefs, norms and material culture, including technology. (Macionis 2005) The first four components are categorized as nonmaterial cultural components which are the intangible world of ideas of society that contribute to both harmony and strife in a society (Kendall 2010) while material culture are the creations of tangible things that reflect the meanings of nonmaterial culture, includes technology. (Popenoe 1989) Look at the symbols component at first as it underlines the other four. (Kendall 2010)

Symbols

A symbol is anything that itself carry a specific meaning to represent something else. (Popenoe 1989) Humans transform elements of the world into symbols which enables a very complex idea simplify into an understandable form that can arouse the whole original idea. (Rollings 2005) The simple act such as winking the eye also had shown the human capacity in creating such symbol to express varied connotations which may hinting their interest, understanding or insult. (Macionis 2005)

Symbols give shared meanings to those who share the same culture. (Kendall 2010) For example, Chinese who share the same culture will pay attention to the Chinese New Year food such as noodles which should be uncut as it symbolizes a long life. (Chinesenewyear.com 2008) This cultural symbol allows them to identify their cultural roots which connect back to their ancestry. (Tisdell 2003)

In addition, symbols also help to convey the messages such as regards to patriotism or love by using visible objects to express the abstract meanings. For instance, flags represent the spirit of patriotism. (Kendall 2010) Another example, during weddings, the couples will exchange rings which act as a symbol to prove the souls of both couple merged to be an item. The custom of exchanging rings between the couples represents a symbol of holy wedding brings up two hearts together and merged their souls into an item. (Stuart 2010) Gestures are also symbolic form of communication such as the movement of head represents and transmits certain messages to others instead of express verbally. There are symbols representing people’s social status that will affect others’ perceptions on their class. Their possessions of some branded luxury goods such as the cars they owned or their dressings marked as a symbol of higher social status within a society as these measures their economic position. (Kendall 2010)

Language

Language is the most important set of symbols that enables communication occurred among members of a society in a more meaningful way as their ideas can be expressed completely to each other beyond gesticulation. (Kendall 2010) The diversity of languages in the world is very obvious in different group in different society with different cultures. (Popenoe 1989) For example, there are different languages used by different ethnics in Malaysia include Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tamil, Hokkien and etc. (iProperty.com 2008)

In addition, language is the key to cultural transmission from one generation to the next generation and they can generate ideas to plan for their future. (Brym & Lie 2007) It allows the children to learn about their cultural heritage through the language of their parents, teachers and friends which they can maintain the solidarity identify their own roles and interests within the group. (Kendall 2010) People who want to become member of any group or society have to learn the language that they use in order to fully involve themselves in the culture. For instance, becoming a sociologist or doctor is essential to learn the terminology that they used to convey their messages and ideas. (Andersen & Taylor 2007)

Two anthropologists, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf with their Sapir-Whorf thesis hold that language not only influences the manner of people’s thoughts and behaviours but also affect their way to view reality. (Kramsch 2003) They argues that language and thought are closely related which the thought of people of one language may distinct with the people with other language. For example, as what pointed by Whorf, English speakers will think of time in a more objective way compared to Hopi speakers as English divide the time more linear and systematic into past, present and future tenses whereas Hopi Indians did not do so. (Popenoe 1989)

They also argued that language can evoke the issue such as racism and sexism as it lays down a sense of truth. It can used to reproduce social stereotypes or change the thoughts of social groups. (Andersen & Taylor 2007) For example, the racism slurs issue provoked by the headmistress, Siti Inshah Mansor. She had allegedly told Chinese students to return to China and also said that the strings tied around Indian prayers’ necks and wrists look like dog leashes. (Peterson 2010) Her misuse of language caused to racism slander and as a result, an ethnic Chinese rapper, Wee Meng Chee opposed and criticized her with obscene language too by creating an anti-racism and anti-discrimination video clip named “Nah”. (YAHOO! NEWS 2010) (See Appendix 1 and 2)

Values and Beliefs

Values are culturally defined standards and principles that most people in a society assess desirability, goodness and beauty. (Macionis 2005) They always used as guidance by people in societies in the matter of resolving their problems, choices or dilemmas that come across their life as they involve judgements on what should people hold and follow. It helps to shape the goals of a society but they do not tell the proper way to behave in any given social situation. (Mohanty 2005) For example, happy marriage is desirable by society members; however, there is no specific method mentioned for them in building up a happy marriage. (Brinkerhoff et al 2008)

On the other hand, values are stem from beliefs, convictions that people hold to be true collectively within a given culture which are usually without actual evidence. Beliefs are learned through socialization and grow from what people see, hear, experience, read and think about too. (Rachel 2010) No matter the belief is derived from religion, folklore, art, science or mythology which might illogically and without further evidence, it nonetheless works as the basis of people in their perceptions to surroundings and also in explanations and predictions for their lives. (Rollings 2005)

For example, different societies will values and sticks with different cultures such as in the aspect of traditional male and female roles. (MindTools.com 2010) Most societies now share the value of providing equalities for all genders. As in United States, the adults believe that the president of the country could be a qualified woman. (Macionis 2005) Nevertheless, in Japan, the equality has not been fully implemented and achieved in practice as there is still a big gap occurred between men and women. They are mostly highly masculine where they appointed a male to be the team leader rather than a woman as they are still deeply rooted in traditional concept which women are to stay at home. (MindTools.com 2010)

In addition, values also bring out the ideas that made important for humans who are willing to fight, work or give up something that they own in order to exchange for their preservation. (Fuchs et al 2003) However, values and beliefs can be the sources of conflict. This conflict causes tension and often leads to awkward or dilemma situation which can make people go right or wrong way in their beliefs. (Macionis 2005) For example in the case of euthanasia which is the intentionally act of killing a person to relieve his suffering. Indeed it posed dilemma as many people against it because it had gone against the societal values that they hold and believe which include disrespect to one human life except in the situation when people act self-defence. (Somerville 2006)

Norms

Values and norms are closely related concepts but they do differ. Unlike values that do not state how should behave, norms are cultural phenomena that do have specific behavioural expectations in a given situation. (Hechter & Opp 2001) There would be a chaos if norms are absent in a society as they provide a blueprint for living and pattern to follow for people in their actions and social interactions. (Brinkerhoff et al 2008) As such, they exist in order to create social control. (Fuchs et al 2003) Norms are reinforced through sanctions which either in the form of rewards for conformity or punishments for deviance. They may apply to certain or all people depend on the situation. (Pearson Education 2010) In Britain, the “alcohol norm” would be those who under the age of 18 (not legally an adult) are prohibited to drink alcohol in a pub. In Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, the ban on drinking alcohol is related to religious values too. (Mohanty 2005) The case happened onto a Muslim model in Malaysia, Kartika who being caught drinking beer in a nightclub and been the first woman to be caned under Islamic law. This punishment is to show her wrong commitment of serious offense not only to herself but to other Muslims too. (Associated Press 2009) (See Appendix 3)

An early U.S. sociologist, William Graham Sumner has identified two kinds of norms: folkways and mores. Folkways are the usual customs and general standards of behaviour adhered by a group in everyday life. (Andersen & Taylor 2007) A key characteristic of folkways is that there are no serious negative sanctions for its violations and they simply just follow the usual way of doing things. (Brinkerhoff et al 2008) For instance, it would be considered rude for failing to say “thank you” but will not get any harsh penalty for violation of norm. (Stolley 2005)

Mores are stricter norms than folkways and are associated with strong feelings of right and wrong and violations will lead to serious punishments. (Brinkerhoff et al 2008) The examples of violations include taboos and prohibition of incest. (Kendall 2010) For instance, it would be a taboo for women who required by Islamic fundamentalists to appear in public with their bodies cloaked and faces veiled but failed to conform it. (Andersen & Taylor 2007) Besides, a 73-year-old Austrian father was found committing incest with his daughter by imprisoned and raped her repeatedly for 24 years and had seven children with her. (Koay 2008) (See Appendix 4) When mores are enforced and sanctioned by the state, they are known as laws which are enacted to regulate human conduct. (Brinkerhoff et al 2008)

Material Culture and Technology

Material culture consists of all the natural and tangible human creations to which people have attached meaning. (Ferrante 2008) Sociologists call them as artifacts that shape the lives of particular society members. Material culture includes buildings, clothing, and so on. (Newman 2010) Also, the eating utensils are part of material culture and varied among different cultures where the Chinese will eat with chopsticks rather than knives and forks which normally use by western people. (Macionis 2005)

From the artifacts, it can reconstruct some of the nonmaterial values and norms of the culture. For example, dragon dance which is the material culture plays an important part in Chinese culture as the Dragon itself has been considered as a sacred creature, symbolizing power, courage, integrity and dignity whereas the dance denotes the welcoming of a new year which was believed to bring good fortune by the society members. (Dragon of The South 2010)

Many of the elements of material culture are technological achievements, which are the knowledge, techniques and tools that people utilize to transform resources into usable forms (Kendall 2010) and also the skills that people use to adapt to these changing social, economic, or environmental conditions. (Newman 2010) One example is the invention of personal computer, which has become an integral part of the material culture of most industrialized societies today as it enables people to do work more efficient and easier to access information. (Ajami et al 2006) Similarly, the advent of automobile has changed the way of people lived as it gives them mobility to take advantage of economic and other opportunities which they can progress and travel to further places to expand their knowledge. (Newman 2010)

Part Three

One of the major macro-sociological theoretical analyses of culture is social-conflict analysis, which is the original work of Karl Marx and Max Weber. (Stolley 2005) This framework views society as having social relations between culture and inequality. (Macionis 2005) According to conflict theorists, the competition between groups for scarce and unequally distributed resources, such as wealth, power, status, all creating conflicts, with each group seeking to benefit their own interests at the expense of others. (Stolley 2005)

Derived from Karl Marx’s and Weber’s work, contemporary society was depicted as motivated by economic resources which guaranteed their interests of capitalist power that can used to dominate other groups with no consensus and control over the rules set of social order. Thus, it then resulted in many inequality issues. (Siegel & Welsh 2009) It was seen in the inspiration from Marx which the two social classes were identified- bourgeoisie (the capitalist class) and proletariat (the workers). Conflicts occurred due to the exploitation of bourgeoisie on proletariat by paying them a little or even no reward for their labor. (Ferrante 2008) It had shown an ongoing struggle between the classes- the “haves” and the “have-nots”. (Stolley 2005) This will resulted in poverty and also social problems that harm the social system, for instance, environmental pollution which is a negative aftermath of activities conducted by controlling groups in pursuit of their own financial success. Once they obtained the advantages they want with their social mobility, they neglect any solutions for pollution that may cause harmfulness to others’ health as the expenses to eliminate the pollution are too costly. (Cortese 2003)

On the other hand, the good example of a conflict theory perspective on crime is showed by Reiman’s “The Rich Get Richer and The Poor Get Prison”. The poor and powerless are normally put into justice as the law stated are said to be designed for protecting those richer against the criminals acted by poorer such as theft. (Unc.edu. 2010) Conflict also can be based on skin color which is the racial and ethnic prejudice that the people view on those minorities in the community. (Cortese 2003) For example, the Blacks and African Americans are mostly be the target by police stops of automobiles and assumed to conduct criminal acts than they were Whites. (Greene & Gabbidon 2009) Even in education or workplace, individuals with darker skin tones have found to be discriminated too, as shown in Appendix 5 which happened in Mexico. (Artificial Intelligence 2010)

In addition, McLeod’s “Ain’t No Makin’ It” is a good example of conflict theory as applied to education- the division of classes into lower, middle and upper class. It is said that lower class students are less competent (Unc.edu. 2010) and upper class students are told that they are more talent and therefore deserve for their wealth. (Macionis 2005) According to the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, cultural capital is the social assets in culture such as attitudes and knowledge that essential for characterizing the upper social class. Students are grouped and assigned into classes based on their amount of cultural capital rather than their aptitude. Therefore richer students are conferred with more cultural capital such as knowledge about art, music and also socially approved dress and manners in order to sustain their elite’s position and thus the chance for those poorer to succeed is low. (Kendall 2010)

Besides that, social-conflict theory also stresses on the feminist theory, which gender roles as reflecting systems of unequal power arrangements in society. (Brinkerhoff et al 2008) More advantages and power from the aspects of economic (Marxist feminism), political and social (liberal feminism) are tend to favor men than women who are being oppressed and perceived to be less important role within a society. (Cortese 2003) Surprisingly women still experience gender discrimination in China workplace although gender equality was began to approach in early twentieth century. (See Appendix 6) (Zhou 2009) Even in families, radical feminism also argues that male dominator exercises violation on women include sex violation as a way of controlling them and discriminate women as a society’s stigma, as shown in Appendix 7. (Stolley 2005)

The persistence of cultural values and norms may perpetuate social inequalities and this paradigm is criticized to not address the human needs equally as what defined in structural-functional analysis. All these generate tension to highlight the needs of change. In a nutshell, it can consider to bind the ideas of both analysis- social-conflict and structural-functional analysis to achieve a more balance and integrated society. (Macionis 2005)

3) Conclusion

In a summary, culture depicts the way of life of a people in the most general sense. For sure, people will experience the material and nonmaterial components of the culture that exist in their life. It acts a framework that shaped and formed their attitude and behavior based on the culture that they shared, learned, and inherited from one generation to next generation through symbols, language, values and beliefs, norms and material culture. Culture provides a limitless menu of cultural options that allow them to select from. (Ferrante 2008)

Social-conflict analysis did brought a lesson to all members in the society that hardworking people are deserve to enjoy their wealth and privileges than those who did not work harder at all. The power that those capitalists exercise on those weaker and poorer can be accomplished as a driving force that push them up to the level where they wish to achieve and obtain more than the status that they possess now. Keep in mind on “shape up or ship out,” said by captain. It claimed that the people who willing to improve their performance by working harder and getting out of any bad behavior will only able to stand a firm position in the battlefield to compete with others and achieve triumph in their life. Their changes made in what they value and believe in culture will determine their own future. (Macionis 2005)

Word Count: 3141 words

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