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What are cultures? What do they have in common and how do they differ? Culture, in the broadest sense of the word, refers to the way of living of the members of a society. It is learnt, shared and transmitted across generations and each generation adds something to it before passing it on to their descendants. As such, culture is in constant permutation throughout the ages and is a relative concept, varying across time and societies.
Throughout the world, there are many different cultures which exist or which once existed. All of them are different in their own ways but they also share many things amongst them. For instance, marriage is a rite which is observed in all societies, albeit in different fashions. Across the globe, births and marriages are celebrated; deaths are mourned, certain beliefs, norms and values prized above all and so on. The list is endless but what we can glean from this is that even though cultures differ across societies and cultures, they still share important ways and means which are relevant to all societies.
Taking marriage as an example, we can see that it is celebrated across the world and through time. In most Western countries, a wedding is conducted in a church under the tutelage of a high priest who is ordained to conduct the ceremony. It is usually preceded by an engagement, a bachelor's and/or bachelorette's party. In India also, marriage is help with great pomp but the rites and ceremonies are different. They have the henna-applying ceremony, the wedding itself, the post-marriage ceremony and a few other ceremonies.
In all cultures, norms, values and beliefs are stressed upon; they form the basis of the culture itself. Honesty, integrity, trust, respect... these are only a few of the values that are taught to the adherents of a culture. However, it is possible to have norms and values which are not shared among the people of a society as alongside the mainstream culture, there are also the subcultures, which sometimes complement it while at other times, add to or go against the main culture. For instance, in the American culture, there are several subcultures: Goths, Rastafarians, Emos and so on. Some of them are very prominent while others are much more low-key.
Another factor which both binds and divides cultures is religion. Religions are present all over the world and some religions have over millions of followers. In every culture there is a predominant religion, that is, a religion which has much more weight and usually characterizes the culture at large. Many people over the world, irrespective of cultures and societies, share the same faith. However, there are also differences between people of the same religion, according to their cultures in different societies. For instance, in the majority of the Muslim community, circumcision is performed at birth while in Guinea, circumcision is held after 12 years to mark their passage from childhood to manhood.
Language is another variable: there are about 5000 to 10000 languages in the world, both extant and extinct. Different countries have different languages and even different cultures have different languages. Some cultures develop their own dialect or lingo, which they use as their primary source of communication among members. In Mauritius, there is the "Creole", which is their dialect while the official language is English (United Kingdom).
Apart from all these variables, the geographical position, climate and resources also play an important role in the shaping of a culture and its disparity from others. These three key factors contribute to not only their economic position but also their clothing and food habits. For instance, people living in coastal regions are prone to derive their economic profits by exploiting the sea and usually have a penchant for seafood.
Cultures, in other words, is "the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another."
How do people learn norms, values and rules and in so doing, become members of a culture?
The process through which people learn norms, values and rules and in so doing, become members of a culture is known as socialization. Socialization starts at birth and continues up to death; during their lifespan, people keep amassing knowledge which they then incorporate into their lifestyles.
As stated above, socialization starts at a very early age: from birth itself, the mechanism of socialization is put into motion. As the primary agency of socialization, parents teach them basic skills of life and things pertaining to their future. They are inculcated with norms, values, rules and so on. The first three things that parents teach them and which are essential to their further development are talking, walking and eating.
The absence of the primary agency of socialization can have repercussions: without it, we will be hard-pressed to proceed to the next step. The most well-known example of this is undoubtedly the case of feral children. Having been raised in the wild, left to their own devices, and probably raised by animals, these children, instead of behaving as normal children who have been under the care of human parents or guardians adopt the way of living of their surroundings, heeding the call of the wild. They are shaped in demeanour as those whom they have seen all their lives, that is, animals and wild beasts.
The next step in the ladder is called the second agency of socialization, which are schools and colleges. This step introduces the individuals to social interaction. During this step, the person learns his role in the society and starts "socializing", that is, interacting with his surroundings. During this time, the person begins to emulate and pick up little quirks and mannerisms from other people around him. For instance, if an individual is a fan of a certain celebrity, he will tend to adopt the ways and means of his idol by dressing up like him, talking like him and so on.
The second agency of socialization also acts as agency of social control. They train individuals from an early stage to grow up into a docile and disciplined workforce. This is a key component in the Marxist approach which stipulates that agencies of social control help keep the people in check and shape them to be an efficient and compliant workforce in the future, and thus, keeping them under the thumbs of those in power.
Religions also play a great role in the learning of norms, values and rules of the society. It has been described as "the opiate of the masses" by Karl Marx. Different religions preach different things but norms, values and rules are fundamentally the same. Religion is another way to regulate people and keep them in check.
Through constant drilling and both conscious and unconscious picking of quirks, people learn the norms, values and rules reigning in their culture. These then help to build their character and define them as belonging to a certain culture. This differentiates them from others and gives them their own identity, both individual and cultural.
How do the processes of socialization and social control go together?
Socialization is an important aspect of human civilization: it is the lifelong process through which humans transform from physical beings into social ones by acquiring culture of his society through learning. Social control forms another important aspect of human civilization. It is needed to keep people in check.
Socialization and social control are often said to go together. It is so because without one, the other can't stand; it will simply collapse. The first step towards social control is socialization of individuals and for socialization to take place, social control is necessary. As such, the two are co-dependent and each one requires the other to be able to maintain a balance.
Social control is mostly exercised through secondary socialization. Schools, peer groups and religions are some of the ways and means through which social control takes place alongside socialization. Schools are the government's agency to exercise social control on its population. The time during which people are still learning about their social surroundings is considered a proper time to influence them and sway them to work towards the "betterment" of their society through discipline and being a meek workforce in the future.
Peer groups are the social circles which a person frequents. These can exert a considerable amount of pressure on individuals and push them towards accomplishing their duty as responsible citizens of their society. By meeting peers, people are often influenced by their views and ways and this can swing both ways: towards being a docile workforce as well as going against conventional rules and opposing those in power.
Religions have their own means of ensuring social control: they make use of Scriptures and other Holy Relics to strike fear in people's hearts and promise them a better future by following their guidelines to the line. This is often in the form of threats for wrong behaviour and glad tidings for proper behaviour. For instance, Christianity and Judaism have their Ten Commandments and Wiccans have the Wiccan Rede.
The concept of social control plays an important role in the Marxist approach to socialization and society itself. According to Marxism, social control is exercised by those in power to keep the working class under their thumbs, to remain under them and work for them while not being satisfactorily remunerated. Here, social control is presented as a way designed to hold people in the hands of those who have clout.
As mentioned above, socialization and social control go hand in hand to build up a society; without one, the other cannot stand. However, there are different perspectives on the essence of social control itself and the role it plays in a society.
To what extent do biology and genes shape human behaviour?
It has long since been debated whether biology or socialization has the upper hand in the shaping of an individual. The nature vs. nurture debate has been around for eons and yet, nobody has been able to find a definite conclusion to it. They are both very well backed up by theories and evidences amassed over the ages; each one stresses important details and powerful explanations on the subject.
Nature, or genetic heredity, is believed to be what determines our physical traits and to some extent, our personalities. Experimentations and tests run at the University of Wisconsin (America) have shown that the temperament of an infant may be influenced by their genetic codes and as such, children do not really have a completely blank slate of personality at birth. Nature determines our physical traits, such as hair colour, eye colour and the form of the body.
Many socio-biologists, those who are in favour of the nature argument, have put forward many theses that purport that genes have the upper hand in the shaping of an individual. Most notable, and probably most criticized, is the 18th century Italian Cesare Lombroso. His theory is called anthropological criminology. According to this theory, criminals are born thus and can be recognized by certain physical abnormalities. In his lifetime, he conducted experiments on the corpses of criminals and found a total of fourteen irregularities which linked them. His work was the object of much speculation and controversy in the beginning but by the 1930's, it had been revoked.
Two other socio-biologists, Tiger and Fox, for their part, purported that there is a division between the sexes and that their physiognomy prompted them towards their behaviour. According to it, man is the stronger sex while women the weaker one. However, it was negatively received by the rising numbers of feminists and as Lombroso's theory, was revoked.
On the other hand, we have nurture, which is the way the individual has been brought up. Nurture can complement some of our innate tendencies but can also irrevocably alter it. Sociologists have carried a plethora of tests and experiments to test this theory and have received quite a lot of circumstantial proof.
Their most conclusive evidence is undoubtedly the cases of feral children. Feral children are children who have been raised in the wild without any human parents or guardians. Over the centuries, there have been countless cases of feral children all over the world. The most cited, and controversial, is that of Amala and Kamala, purportedly found by a Reverend Singh in Calcutta, India. These two lived in the wild until they were collected by the Reverend and cared for in his orphanage. They displayed a myriad of wolfish habits and generally behaved like wild beasts but they quietened down a little later in life.
However, it is the belief of many that neither overrides the other but rather, they are complementary: while nature is a type of genetic endowment, nurture is the experience we undergo throughout our lifetimes. Nature and nurture are tied in together in many ways that many of us do not see. Nature and nurture are both important influences to a person as they are developing their traits.
Nature and nurture are both important to acquiring or altering traits in a person. One or the other doesn't dominate; there needs to be both heredity and environment to answer this long winded debate. This battle between these two can last forever as both sides can easily be backed up with supporting information. Despite everything, whether we notice it or not, nature and nurture are mixed in with each other, influencing traits of everyone.