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Department of Sociology
Introduction to Sociology (SOCI 1001)
First Semester 2021-2022
Dr Travis Kong
9 Sept 2021
Lecture 2
Culture and Social Interaction in Everyday Life
Symbol, language, value, belief and norm; dominant culture, subculture and counter
culture; ethnocentrism; socialisation; identity, status and role; social construction of
reality; micro-sociology; symbolic interactionism; the self: I/me; dramaturgy;
impression management; emotional labour
Key questions:
Would social life be possible without shared background assumptions among members of a
Does each society have a single culture? How many cultures exist in our society? What are their
In what ways does socialisation differ from indoctrination or brainwashing?
What it meant by the social construction of reality? Is social reality the same as physical reality?
What are the main tenets of symbolic interactionism? What is the nature of everyday life for
The Definition of Culture
Culture refers to a way of life shared by members of a society, e.g., how we dress, our
marriage customs, family life, patterns of work, religious ceremonies, leisure activities such as
shopping, going to cinema, karaoke, etc. Several species display a limited capacity for culture,
but only human beings rely on culture for survival.
Culture usually consists of the following components:
Symbol refers to anything that carries a particular meaning recognised by people who share a
culture. Language is a system of symbols that allows people to communicate with one another.
Human history has shifted from an aural/oral culture (spoken language) to written culture
(written language) and to electronic culture (digital language).
Beliefs are statements that people hold to be true (e.g., ‘God created the world’, ‘All men are
equal’). Belief systems usually involve stories, or myths, whose interpretation can give people
insight into how they should live. The most prominent belief system tends to be formal religion
(e.g., Christianity, Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.), but other ‘loose’ forms of belief systems
are also present in our society, e.g., astrology, fortune telling, fung shui.
Values are culturally defined standards by which we think what is desirable or undesirable, what
is good or bad, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly, and so forth. They thus serve as broad
guidelines for social living.
Norms are rules and expectations by which a society guides the behaviour of its members. Just
like grammar which defines the ‘correctness’ of sentence structure, norms tell us how we should
Proscriptive: what we should NOT do, e.g., smoking, commercial sex, stealing
Prescriptive: what we should do, e.g., monogamy, filial obedience
norms that have great moral significance, e.g., incest taboo
norms for routine and casual interaction
Material culture and technology
Material culture includes a wide range of tangible human creations, which sociologists call
artefacts. Material culture usually reflects a society’s technological advancement.
Some other concepts about culture
Cultural relativism means that certain behaviours regarded as right or wrong are
culturally specific, whilst cultural universalism believes that some traits, values, or
practices are valid for all known cultures.
Ethnocentrism refers to the practice of judging other cultures using one’s own culture.
The most common form that is discussed by sociologists is eurocentrism, the dominance
of European or Western (particularly Anglo-Saxon) cultural patterns over other
non-Western cultures.
Cultural shock refers to the personal disorientation that comes from experiencing an
unfamiliar way of life, especially when one encounters another culture (e.g., travelling).
Cultural lag occurs when some parts of a cultural system change faster than others,
thereby disturbing a cultural system. This usually happens when technological
advancement generates new elements of material culture (e.g., test-tube babies, cloning)
faster than non-material culture (e.g., parenthood, posthuman). Recent examples? Male
A society seldom consists of one and only one culture, especially in modern times.
Cultural diversity recognises the existence of different cultures and that cultures change
over time. A dominant culture is a culture that is widely accepted in a society.
Counterculture is the cultural patterns that strongly oppose the dominant culture.
Subculture is the cultural patterns that set apart some segment of a society’s population.
The dynamics among different cultures become a new topic of investigation, which gives
rise to a newly emerging discipline called ‘cultural studies’.
*Miner’s article (1965) offers a very good and interesting example of how people in a
Nacirema society may be obsessed with their bodies.
Reproduction of Culture, or Socialisation (i.e., how we learn culture)
Many qualities of human life are transmitted genetically. My specific favourite of having a cup
of coffee and some cereal for breakfast, however, cannot be explained genetically; rather, it is a
learned (cultural) practice.
Culture, as a set of learned behaviours common to a given society, is somewhat like computer
software templates (i.e. having predictable forms, contents, and patterns), shaping behaviours
and consciousness of the members of a society from one generation to another.
The processes in which we learn culture is called socialization. There are a lot of socializing
agents, such as family (primary socialisation) and school, peers, church, the media, and
workplaces (secondary socialisation).
Many theorists have made significant contributions to our understanding of the lifelong process
of socialization. For example,
Sigmund Freud’s personality structure (id-ego-superego)
Jean Piaget’s cognitive development
Lawrence Kohlberg’s moral development
Erik H. Erikson’s eight stages of development
Status, Role and Identity
1. Status is the social position that a person occupies that forms part of his/her identity.
Ascribed status: a social position a person receives at birth or assumes involuntarily later
in life.
Achieved status: a social position a person assumes voluntarily that reflects personal
ability and effort.
Master status: a social position that has special importance for an individual, often
shaping a person’s entire life.
Role is the behaviour expected of someone who holds a particular status. Role conflict involves
conflict among the roles corresponding to two or more statuses and role strain refers to tension
among the roles connected to a single status.
Identity usually defines as ‘who somebody is’ and we usually talk about it in terms of two
Social identity refers to the characteristics or statuses that are attributed to an individual by
others, a marker or a trait that indicates who that person is. People usually place that person with
others who share similar attributes or statuses, e.g., Chinese, student, father, doctor, lawyer,
Catholic, homeless, anorexic, married, gay. A person usually comprises more than one attribute
or status, e.g., a person can simultaneously be a female, a married woman, a wife, a mother, a
teacher, a Christian, and Chinese. Stigma is a negative identity. Social identity connects people
together with similar social experiences and situations and thus serves as a basis for social
movement, e.g., women movement, labour movement, gay and lesbian movement.
Self-identity or personal identity refers to the self-development process through which we
formulate a unique sense of ourselves and our relationship to the world around us that sets us
apart as distinct and unique individuals.
Sociological Perspectives on Social Structures in Everyday Life
Micro Sociology
 European tradition: Phenomenology - Alfred Schutz (1899-1959), The Phenomenology of
the Social World and his precedents, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s The Social
Construction of Reality (1966)
 American tradition: Symbolic interactionism – drawn from Max Weber (1864-1920) and
George H. Mead (1863-1931), with an emphasis on the subjective meaning of human
behaviour, the social process and pragmatism. Founder: Herbert Blumer (1900-1987, a
student of Mead)
 Other major precedents: Erving Goffman (1922-1982)’s Dramaturgy, and Harnold
Garfinkel (1917-)’s Ethnomethodology.
 Other micro-sociological theories: social exchange theory, rational choice theory.
The Social Construction of Reality (Berger and Luckmann, 1985)
We create our society. In everyday life, we interact with each other and tend to form
standardised ways of interaction in order to avoid chaotic and disordered social life. We
build up patterns of social action through several processes, e.g., typifications (i.e., mental
representations of ideal types), sedimentation (selective process of interactions). Over time,
these processes will eventually become habitualised into reciprocal roles played by the
actor in relation to others (e.g., role, status, norm, and value).
Once society is created (or externalised) and becomes real, it forms a series of ‘social
facts’. When these reciprocal roles are made available to other members of society, the
typified reciprocal interactions will be embedded into different institutions (e.g., family,
school, church, workplace, etc.). Where legitimation of this institutionalised process is
effectively enough, reification ensures the existing arrangements as completely acceptable,
or even as ‘natural’, as if they exist independently from our creation.
We, the creators of society, are social products. Once the structure is created, we
internalise it, i.e., it becomes part of our consciousness with meanings through
socialisation in various stages.
Typification, sedimentation,
externalisation, habitualisation
Human beings:
Society as an objective reality:
Creator of society
Objectivation, institutionalization,
Product of society
legitimation, reification
Internalisation, socialisation (in various stages)
producing finally a ‘taken for granted’ symmetry
Symbolic Interactionism:
 Charles Horton Cooley: Looking glass self
We imagine how we present ourselves to others
We imagine how others evaluate us
We develop some sort of feelings about ourselves as a result of these impressions
 Mead: The social self
 The self is part of an individual’s personality which is composed of self-awareness and
 The self develops only with social experience
 Social experience is the exchange of symbols
 Understanding intention requires imagining the situation from the other’s point of view.
 The self: The ‘I’ (the active side of the self) and the ‘me’ (the objectified self, i.e., how
we imagine ourselves as others see us)
The generalized other refers to the attitudes, viewpoints and expectations of society as a
whole that a person takes into account in his /her behaviour.
Herbert Blumer coined the term, ‘symbolic interactionism’ and summarised Mead’s ideas
into three premises:
 The way people view objects depends on the meaning these things have for them.
 This meaning comes about as a result of a process of interaction.
 The meaning of an object can change over time
The tenets of symbolic interactionism:
 Interactionists focus on the subjective aspects of social life, rather than on objective,
macro, and structural aspects of social systems.
 Human beings are pragmatic actors who adjust behaviour to the actions of other
actors. We can do this because we are able to interpret others’ actions, i.e., to treat the
actions and the actors as symbolic objects. This process of adjustment is aided by our
capacity to rehearse imaginatively alternative lines of action before we act, which is
further aided by our capacity to imagine ourselves and our actions as symbolic objects.
The interactionist theorists thus see humans not as passive and conforming products of
socialization, but rather as active and creative participants who construct their own
reality and social world.
 Society consists of organized and patterned interactions among individuals, which can
be seen through observable face-to-face interactions, rather than macro-level structural
relationships involving social institutions. Moreover, ‘the definition of the situation’
(i.e., meanings that we give to actions) shifts our attention away from stable norms and
values to more changeable, continually readjusting social processes. Whilst
macro-sociologists (e.g., functionalists, Marxists) may argue that socialization creates
stability in the social system, micro-sociologists (e.g., interactionists) view it as a
‘negotiation among members of society that creates temporary, socially constructed
relations, which remain in constant flux, despite relative stability in the basic
framework governing those relations’ (
Study of Society = Study of Everyday Life
 Non-verbal communication
 The exchange of meaning through facial expression, gestures, and movement of the
 The face, gestures, and emotion: it is widely held that basic aspects of the facial
expressions of emotion (e.g., happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, fear, surprise) are
 Face can also be understood in a broader sense to refer to the esteem in which an
individual is held by others. In our interaction with other people, we tend to ‘save
face’ – protect our self-esteem.
 Social rules and talk
 Ethnomethodology = study of the ‘ethnomethods’ (Garfinkel) – the folk, or lay,
methods – people use to make sense of what others do, and particularly what they say.
 Meaningfulness of our daily social life depend on the sharing of unstated shared cultural
assumptions about what is said and why.
 Conversational analysis: a methodology that examines all facets of a conversation for
meaning – from the smaller ‘filler’ words (such as ‘umm’ and ‘ah’) to the precise timing
of interchanges (including pauses, interruptions, and overlaps).
 Interaction in time and space
 All interaction is situated – it occurs in a particular place and has a specific duration in
time, e.g., work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and during weekdays (Time-space convergence).
 Goffman’s dramaturgy (social life as being a theatre drama)
 Definition of situation: Setting (scenery, props and location) and the purpose/meaning of
the situation
 Front stage: social occasions or encounters in which individuals act out formal
roles. The ‘personal front’
 Back stage: people assemble the ‘props’ and prepare themselves for interaction in
the more formal settings
 Role, identity and performance
 Appearance (dress, props) and manner
 Impression management: expression given and expression given off.
 Interactions with other people: actors/audiences
Encounters (focused interaction), markers (or brackets, distinguish episodes of focused
interaction from the one before, and from unfocused interaction taking place in the
background) and role distance.
The Managed Heart (Hochschild 1983): The case of emotional labour
 From 19th C factory boy to a 20th C flight attendant
 Three types of labour:
 Physical labour
 Mental labour
 Emotional labour – management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and
bodily display
 Feelings and emotion: Feelings are not ‘stored’ inside us, and they are not independent of
acts of management. In managing feeling, we contribute to the creation of it.
 Acts of emotion management are not simply private acts, they are used in exchanges under
the guidance of feeling rules. Feeling rules are standards used in emotional conversation to
determine what is rightly owed and owing in the currency of feeling.
 From private to commercial uses of feeling: What happens when the managing of emotion
comes to be sold as labor?
 When it works, the work risks losing the signal function of feeling
 When it does not work, the risk is losing the signal function of display
 From flight attendant to other labour in the service industry: Sales, waiter/waitress, tour
guide, travel agent, etc.
Key references
Giddens & Sutton, Ch. 8; Croteau & Hoynes, Ch. 3, 6-7; Haralabmos & Holborn, Ch.11; Henslin, Ch.
2-4; Macionis, Ch. 3, 5-6; Schaefer, Ch. 3-5
Other suggested readings:
 Berger, Peter L., and Thomas Luckman. 1985 [1966]. The Social Construction of Reality: A
Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, Chapter 1 ‘The
Foundation of Knowledge in Everyday Life’.
 Goffman, Erving. 1971. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Harmondsworth: Penguin,
Chapter 1 ‘Performances’.
 Miner, Horace. 1956. Body Ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist 58 (3): 503-507.
 Hochschild, A.R. 1983. The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling, Berkeley:
University of California Press, Chapter 1 ‘Exploring the Managed Heart’.