Sociological Culture

How Sociologists Define Culture?

Sociology is based on the concept of culture. An individual or group's culture includes their beliefs, values, practices, and artefacts. Culture is defined differently by sociologists according to their theoretical perspectives. Culture, according to functionalists, maintains social order and stability by helping to maintain social order. Individuals' culture shapes their behaviour and guides their interactions with others by providing shared norms and values. Culture, by contrast, is viewed by conflict theories as a tool used by the powerful to maintain their control over the weak. Subordinate groups are imposed on by dominant groups through culture.

In addition to material culture, sociologists distinguish non-material culture from material culture. Art, clothing, and technology are all examples of material culture. Language, religion, and customs are examples of non-material culture, which refers to the ideas, beliefs, and values common to a society. Social interactions and individual behaviour are shaped by both material and non-material culture.

Why Culture Matters to Sociologists?

Culture matters to sociologists for several reasons. First, culture provides individuals with a sense of identity and belonging. People often define themselves in relation to the cultural group to which they belong. Culture also helps to establish social order by providing individuals with shared norms and values that guide their behaviour. For instance, norms around punctuality, personal space, and respect for authority help to regulate social interactions and maintain order.

Social inequality is also influenced by culture. Subordinate groups use culture to resist dominance and create alternative identities, while dominant groups use culture to reinforce their power and privilege. For instance, ethnic and racial minorities often use their cultural practices and traditions to resist assimilation and assert their distinct identities.

Finally, culture is an important source of social change. As culture evolves, so do social norms and values. New cultural practices and ideas can challenge traditional ways of thinking and lead to social change. For instance, the rise of feminist ideas and the LGBTQ rights movement have challenged traditional gender and sexuality norms and led to greater acceptance of non-traditional gender and sexual identities.

Methodological Approaches to the Sociological Study of Culture

There are several methodological approaches to the sociological study of culture. These include

  • Ethnography − This involves studying a particular culture by immersing oneself in it and observing its practices and beliefs. This approach is useful for gaining a deep understanding of a culture but can be time-consuming and expensive.

  • Content analysis − This involves analysing cultural artefacts such as books, movies, or music to understand the values and beliefs that are expressed. This approach is useful for studying how culture is portrayed in popular media but may not provide a complete picture of a culture.

  • Surveys − This involves asking people about their beliefs and attitudes towards culture. This approach is useful for gathering quantitative data about a culture but may not provide a full understanding of why people hold particular beliefs.

  • Historical analysis − This involves studying how culture has changed over time and how it has influenced society. This approach is useful for understanding the evolution of culture but may not provide insights into current cultural practices.

Future Directions in the Sociology of Culture

The sociology of culture is a constantly evolving field, and there are several future directions in which it may develop. These include −

  • Intersectionality − This involves studying how different aspects of a person's identity, such as race, gender, and sexuality, intersect with culture to shape their experiences. This approach is useful for understanding how culture affects different groups in different ways.

  • Globalisation − This involves studying how culture is influenced by global forces such as migration, communication, and trade. This approach is useful for understanding how culture is changing and adapting to new challenges.

  • Digital culture − This involves studying how culture is expressed and disseminated through digital media. This approach is useful for understanding how technology is changing the way we consume and produce culture.

  • Environmental culture − This involves studying how culture affects our relationship with the natural world. This approach is useful for understanding how culture can promote or hinder sustainability and environmental conservation.


The study of culture is essential to understand how it shapes social life and contributes to the formation of social hierarchies and inequalities. Sociologists use various research methods to study culture and explore the relationship between culture and social structures. The sociology of culture is a constantly evolving field, and future research can contribute to a better understanding of the impact of new media and globalisation on cultural practices and identities. Understanding the role of culture in social life is crucial to promoting social justice and equality.


Q1. Why is the study of culture important in understanding social issues?

Ans. The study of culture helps us to understand how cultural differences impact our lives and how they contribute to the formation of social hierarchies and inequalities. Cultural diversity has become a significant factor in contemporary society, where globalisation and migration have brought different cultures together, leading to social integration and cultural conflict. Understanding how culture shapes our perceptions and attitudes towards social issues such as gender, race, ethnicity, and class is vital to develop effective policies and programs to promote social justice and equality.

Q2. How did Durkhime describe the concept of culture?

Ans. Culture plays an important role in unifying society, according to Emile Durkheim's classical theory. A sense of collective identity is established when individuals share common values, beliefs, morals, communication, and practices. He showed that ritual participation strengthens social ties and reinforces shared cultures through his studies. Besides religious events, secular gatherings such as high school dances and popular sporting events also experience this phenomenon in the modern world.

Q3. Why does culture matter to sociologists according to Marx?

Ans. Among the first social scientists to adopt a critical approach to culture was Karl Marx, a notable Prussian philosopher, and activist. As Marx points out, minority groups are unfairly advantaged by their non-material cultures. As long as individuals subscribe to mainstream values, norms, and beliefs, they remain committed to unequal social systems that benefit the powerful minority. Despite the scarcity of well-paying jobs, sociologists observe workers in capitalist societies using this theory in practice as they believe that hard work and dedication lead to success and a good life.

Updated on: 17-Mar-2023


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