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The Components Of Culture And Symbols Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 3653 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Symbol defines as “anything that carries a particular meaning recognized by people who share a culture”. (Macionis 2005) It helps people who shared the same culture in that particular society to understand the actions was being taken by other parties without explaining or “explicating” the intention of them. (Peoples & Bailey 2006) There are different pattern of symbols in providing basis for the society everyday reality, it is in the form of written or unwritten or verbal and non verbal such as words, drawings, pictures and hand gestures. (Cliffsnotes.com 2010)

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Further, symbols give the significance thought of people on differentiate people social class or status. Types of clothing or brands, materials or objects that belong to a person can be used to determine the economic and position of that particular people in the society. Brand name or logo is an example of symbol of showing the status of the products. People intend to purchase it is to show their status in the society and capability in purchasing power rather than concern on the quality matters. (ibid)

Different perceptions, interpretations and experiences on its symbols would vary from culture to culture of a society. (Cliffsnotes.com 2010) Hence, symbols might have certain special meaning or “specific culture” for people who share same culture but not necessary confronted by other people within the society. For example, Chinese people wear in bright color such as red usually in the first day of Chinese New Year, thus it is not necessary follow by other races. Chinese believes that the bright color would always bring the happiness, prosperity and good luck toward them within the whole year.


Language is “the key to the world of culture and a system of symbols that allows people to communicate with one another”. (Macionis 2005) Chomsky (1965) stated that it had to be considered as an “innate” ability of human. Without language, communication of human being is seen as ineffective and human thought cannot be perceived. (library) Therefore, it allows the transmission process of cultural heritage pass through generation to generation. Continuity of language through generation allows people to understand among the other parties better who live 28 in the same society, it does show the identity in a culture. For example, English is used internationally as a medium of communication language. Hence, official language is to ensure the continuity of cultural identity, power and special characteristics of a country. For instance, Malaysian stated Malay is an official language of Malaysia, all the government documents, laws and regulation, local education uses Malay as the primary language in teaching and presenting. It is the accumulation of all the symbols that passed before us such as values, norms of our culture that help people to express in any situation and environment. (Macionis 2005)

Language shape the social reality

According to the hypothesis of Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf, they noted that language do influence the way of people think of reality while not only help us to express our intention and perception. People daily conversation uses various styles of languages from different society to share our experiences, feelings and knowledge with others. (Kendall 2007) Besides, language not only available for human used but for animals also use sounds, gestures, touch and smell to communicate and interact with other animals and human beings. (Macionis 2005) For example, Peacocks got the capability to learn from observing and listening the way people speak and express it to attract people attention on them.

Language in gender and occupation

Generally, language use “masculine” form to mean everything of human being while without ignoring the concern of women in the society. They use the word man which allegedly includes both men and women such as chairman and mankind. As the gender issues being more focus by the society and more women initiative activities took place. Numerous debates have been carried out from the pass till today society, some changes are took place to reduce the gap of gender between men and women in language to create equitability in society. Many institution and publication create rules and regulations of showing concern toward these issues. They ensure that “nonsexist language” is used to refer women and men individually without aggregate the status of any parties. For example, Chairman was amended to chairperson and manpower to labor power. (Kendall 2007)

Language in race, ethnicity and social class

As I stated above the official language reflects the nation and power of a country, in facts, it means to a significance of ethnicity as well. More than one language in nation would lead problems to the society because different race and ethnicity perceive differently on the “superiority” of one category over the other parties. (ibid) Besides, different background of culture on its race and ethnicity would affect the pronunciation of words differently. (Library) For example, most of the Malaysians speak Malay as their preference language, hence, English has been influenced and formed a new style of English in languages which known as “Manglish”. 20 The characteristic of “Manglish” are being noticed they usually end with the sounds like “la”, “leh”, “ma”, “neh” and others. In addition, language has created a social class value for people, sometimes certain category of people tend to demean the other parties by using “derogatory term” to certain class or group of people in their society. For example, the word of “black” in Black Americans in those days time is being used regard the status of different group in America. (Andersen & Taylor 2006)

Values and beliefs

Value is “an idea shared by the people in a society about what is good and bad, right or wrong, desirable and undesirable”. Kluckhohn stated that value involve sense of emotions and feelings and provide a guidance for people to make judgments on the behavior in the society. (Library) Value of culture affects the way of people live in the perspective of constructing their goals toward success, behavior on task capabilities which is motivation and speed and ideas about good life.

On the other hand, beliefs regard as “the specific statements that people hold to be true”. Thus, values being regard as the “standard of goodness” for people to follow, while beliefs are for that society of people to judge it is “true” or “wrong” based on their current or past surroundings and cultural heritage throughout the generation. (Macionis 2005) In reality, some belief may be improvement or logically impossible but yet it guides people through their lives. (Anderson & Taylor 2006) For example, most Chinese would visit cemeteries every year in the month of April in lunar calendar which known as “Ching Ming” festival to worship their ancestor or passed away families or friends. They believe that open burning those paper models in cemeteries which design in the paper form of electronic appliances, labor mates, house or other for them in hoping them would have a better life in another world and showing a sense of respect and miss of them. It is a good way of doing these among the Chinese society, if the refuse to do so, they being regard as deviant or disrespectful of their passed away loved ones.

Values in conflicts

In facts, values create conflicts for people as well even though it is a standard of goodness in guiding people to behave ethically and normally. Conflicts happen when one value is upholding over the other value. (Macionis 2005) For instance, people uphold profit value exceed than family values which show less concern of their family members, behave bravely in making any decisions without interfere people’s feelings. While family values are more concerned than profit values, people tend to act people oriented, they think deeply before to take any actions that might hurt or disappoint their families.

22 Sometimes, personal interests could affect us to ignore the values in certain circumstances. (Peoples & bailey 2006) For example, business men tend to conceal the truth that poor quality products are selling to the other parties especially tourist. Most of the time, they only concern the purpose of making profit for their business without taking care of the user safety or health concerned toward the product.


Norms regard as the “rules and expectations by which a society guides the behavior of members”. (Macionis 2005) It provides guidance for people to act in that particular way which ensure that a harmony and systematic society is obtained. Thus, people have proper understood on dealing with their daily social interaction and act consistently till the end of life. (Andersen & Taylor 2006) For example, unethical manner such as stealing and murdering are considered serious offences in every society. Hence, people who ever commit this would be punished with serious sanctions such as death which depend on the seriousness of the wrong acts and the strictness of the norms is in that particular society. Further, social positions and roles are related with the most of the norms in society such as mother, worker or lawyer. (Library) For example, mother have a set of norms and responsible to educate and teach them until they have the ability of taking care themselves with the legal age of 18 years old and above.

There are two types of norms which is folkways and mores. Folkways are meant by “norms for routine interaction or social custom”. It is a standard of behavior that follows by a society or group of people. (Macionis 2005) For example, Muslim prayers visit mosque every Friday for praying matters while Chinese visit temple to pray every first and fifteen in a month according to lunar calendar. Mores are more strict control than folkways. It refers to the norms that are “widely observed and have great moral significance”. (ibid) Generally, norms use law or rules which are in the written form of guidelines to indicate the right or wrong act that happen in the society. (Andersen & Taylor 2006) For instance, appendix 2 which was a breaking new that happened in Malaysia which refer to the appendix ,it shows a Muslim lady who was drink beer in public and caught under Syariah law with sentence of “canned”. Other people view this issue was human being cannot punish such heavy sentences to a lady. She might able to withstand the pain and other effects after caning process. But, Syariah law has been stated clearly under the law. Hence, it creates difficulty on whether forgiving the lady or the holding true with the strictness of law.

Social control involves a mechanism which known as sanction are used to regulate people behavior and thought. Sanctions are divided into positive and negative. Positive sanctions are a reward for those acts and follow properly in the society whereas negative sanctions are available for those “deviant” who are not conforming to the rules or laws for the society. (Library) For example, children would receive positive sanction such as praise or money or object reward from their parent if they behave obedient where negative sanctions are proper strict guidance or advice and punishment such as soft caning is applicable on them.

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16 Material culture and technology

Material culture includes artifacts such as machines, tools, books or clothing which made by human being. With the synergy between “material culture” and “technoculture” in today society, experts use those artifacts to enhance technology advancement by using the availability of resources, level of technology, labor, skills and knowledge to improve human ability in enhancing productivity and shaping our society with their effort. (Sheumaker & Wajda 2008) For example, the formation of transportation such trains and planes has effectively reduced the duration of time taken for people travel from one place to the other place with a reasonable price.

It looks really a great interaction between the “material culture” and “technculture”. In facts, people from various cultural backgrounds, norms, languages and thought who live in the same society would create many problems. Due to this reason, the society has been affected and changes being take place on that particular society. Taking Malaysia as an example, population of foreigners from Bangladesh, Indonesia or Myanmar has increased tremendously in our society. Cheap and extensive labor is achieved to aid in developing the country, yet it brings a lot of social crimes and threatening the safety of residents toward the country.

Besides, artifacts would have different meanings in different societies as our culture is not the same as each other. (Library) For example, a piece of leave use by a group of people as the tool of writing, a pieces of paper, dress code to cover certain private part of their body or to carry out religious activities. But the other country people use it to keep as a sample or experiments by those botany students or it is just leaves fall on the ground which got nothing special meaning or use purpose for them.

In addition, material culture is quite similar to non material culture. For example, church or temple is an example of material culture, which is a place for the religious to interact and transmit values, norms and art (example of non- material) throughout the generation and ensure the continuity and consistency of the religion exist in the world. (Brym & Lie 2007)

42 Part c

Theoretical analysis of culture that I choose is structural- functional analysis. Structural functional theory which known as structural functionalism, it gives the society an understanding of culture as an organized system use to meet human needs. In theoretical perspectives view on the natural science for this theory, there is an “analogy” between society and an organism. In the analysis of a living organism, the natural scientist tries to identify the various parts such as structures and to determine how they function. (Brinkerhoff et al 2005)

In other words, it also known as consensus theory, which views a society form in an orderly manner, interrelated and balancing among every part which ensure that it works and maintains the smoothness process of the whole system for society. (Unc.edu. 2010)

There are few variables that are assumed behind the structural functionalism which are stability, the pattern of any social pattern in maintaining the society. Whereby, harmony, organism is the central of the society which control every of its parts effectively and efficiently. Lastly, evolution, people adapt to the news forces or demand and eliminate useless or not necessaries structure. (Brinkerhoff et al 2005)

According to my research, there are various anthropologists or functionalists has its own or similar views on the abovementioned theory. Firstly, Bronislaw Malinowski stated that culture allows people to meet human needs like biological needs such as food, shelter and reproduction, instrumental needs such as law and education and integrative needs such as social, religion and art. A harmonious and peaceful society is achieved where everyone is sharing the common norms and values. (Kendall 2007)

He comments that every cultural aspect has its own meaning and it is useful to perform the function for the people and society. Every cultural aspect is inter- related, they are not function individually toward a specific action. Based on his studies on “kula ring” which is a trading system that undertaken by the Trobriand Islanders in Papua New Guinea. (Ferraro 2006) This system is often viewed as an economic exchange, in fact is ceremonial. According to Malinowski, “The main principle underlying the regulations of actual exchange is that the kula consists in the bestowing of a ceremonial gift, which has to be repaid by an equivalent counter- gift after a lapse of time, be it a few hours or even minutes though sometimes as much as a year or more may elapse between the payments. (Ram & Rajendra 1997) For instance, ceremonial necklaces and bracelet and commodities are the items usually involved in the exchange of trading business. Alvin Gouldner stated that both trading parties are holding a morally right behavior in ensuring a good correlation between them. Thus, Kula ring has been effectively functioning as a social control and retaining peaceful contact and communication around the trading areas. (Ferraro 2006)

Secondly, Emile Durkheim is one of the fathers of sociology, his concept which known as collective conscience, it includes the common values or norms that bring individual to society. He emphasizes that it does not exist when we are birth, we must be learnt within one another and “internalized” it in order to form a bond that pull the whole society align it from throughout the generation. The key issue found here was Durkheim said that education plays an important step in the development of collective conscience and educate children more on moral values and norms that guide their behavior, perception and knowledge in a proper standard. Society would become part of us through the process of education and thus people will held strong values of society in preventing any constraints take place. (Global sociology 20010)

Besides, as he afraid of the appearance of “anomic” where people are being detached and a social change take place in forming a society as well as the moral system which based on individual and not collective needs anymore. He has an idea to preserve the existing collective needs within the society by using periodic collective ritual. These kinds of rituals or activities help to motivate a person towards one society. (ibid) For instance, Malaysians celebrate national day on 31st of August every year and it is a public holiday for whole society to celebrate and interact with one another. Besides, it is a memorable day for them to show their appreciation on those warriors who successfully maintain a harmonious country which lead the formation of Malaysia today.

Thirdly, Robert Merton also have the another view on structural functionalism which is the relationship of structures and functions in reference to the whole society. (Ritzer 2010) He differentiates between the manifest and latent functions. Manifest is those recognized and intended with the actors in the social system indicating motives for their action. Whereby, latent is those unrecognized and unintended by the actors. (McClelland Kent 2000) His implications on this theory involving all parts of the system are functional, highly integrated and indispensable. On the other hand, dysfunction regard as stress and imbalance in a cultural system where it might have negative consequences towards the society. (Ritzer 2010) Moreover, empirical research regard as a solvent to a cultural trait which is functional or dysfunctional. (Ferraro 2006) Hence, he asserted all sort of analysis perform at various level of functional analysis, it appears that dysfunction can exist within systems, depending on their relationship to other systems. Thus not all structures are positive, nor are all of them indispensable. (Ritzer 2010)

For this theoretical of analysis on culture, various sociologists or functionalists has the similar idea that culture is the “strategy” that bring the society together and they would see any obstacles as “threat” in preventing them from being a whole society with proper system. Hence, a cultural universal is exists since the common pattern of culture is found around the world. George Murdock has been made comparison between hundred of cultures and he could identify dozens of cultural universals in his findings. (Macionis 2005) For example, religion is one of the elements as it enhances social cohesion and group solidarity. It also helps in searching for moral identity and gives proper meaning and explanations for human being and keeps as a record which transmit it through generation to generation. Political provides laws and regulations to ensure the stability of the society by establishing various types of sanctions, human being safety is being protected and numerous services such as health care and education are implemented. (SocioQuest 2005)


In a nutshell, three of the structural functionalists have got its own positive views on culture where it is a good thing for human beings which leads harmonious and to preserve the identity of the country in order to ensure that all the aspects of cultural values are transfer from generation to generation. As part of the citizen of the society, we have the responsibility in playing our individual roles properly even though numerous roles that we need to be concerned on. Further, our behavioral would change accordingly with the environment factors where we are living and situations or problems that we are facing with. Thus, it is important for us to control and manage our behavior properly. Because it would inevitably influence the other parties especially those children who well on observation and learn whatever from adults.

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