Unit 1 the individual and society
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Unit 1 the individual and society

UNIT 1 The Individual and Society

Task 1 Discuss the following statements. Which of them could be used to define culture? Before reading the text, explain in your own words what is meant by culture. Work in small groups or pairs and then share your ideas in the classroom .

1. Culture is extraordinary. Everybody has their own beliefs and ways of interpreting them. This is our life .

2. The culture of a group of people is the relations within the group .

3. Culture includes the people’s individual desire for more knowledge and constant progress .

4. Culture is a special process of exchanging experience connected with social issues of a group of people .

5. Culture is the general knowledge about different questions which concern life and society as a whole . It is handed down from generation to generation .

6. Through culture people, families – and all groups in society – know how to function effectively .

7. Culture is an integrated pattern of institutions , rituals , tools and objects of art that characterise one people and distinguish it from another .

8. Culture is art and music . The culture of a group can be recognised by all its various creative compositions of the dramatic , musical , puppet theatre , film productions , opera or ballet , philharmonic , symphonic or chamber orchestras .

9. Culture is the museum of writer , or the monument to a composer . All the memorials of the past are part of that culture .

10. Religion and cultural heritage (folklore , legends and myths ) form a central part of a culture .

11. Ethics and morality form the spiritual part of culture .

12. The national heritage of treasures , historical buildings and museums .

13. The observance of etiquette commonly shared by the whole nation .

14. The person’s ability to interpret art and the metaphors therein .

15. The ability of the members of a nation to communicate with each other .

16. The things you do every day .

17. The nation’s ability to purify itself from evil .

Task II Understanding a text . The following text will introduce you to the concepts of culture , norms , mores , values , roles and cultural diversity.

Read the text carefully, check the meaning of the unknown words in a dictionary. Give the definitions to the words in bold.


People and society .

Human beings are social animals . We share our lives with other humans – in families, in schools , in workplaces and so on . The groups we live in and with are social groups . We behave in similar ways to other people . Most of the time we can understand and predict what other people are thinking and doing . This is the basis of society – the’socio’ that you are studying in sociology .

A term very closely related to society is culture . Sometimes culture is used to mean the very best achievement in art , music , literature and so on . In sociology , however , it has a broader meaning . Culture refers to the things that are shared by the members of a society , the things that make it possible to understand other people . It includes behaviour that we have learned , that is , shared ways of doing things . These are different in different cultures . For example , in some cultures it is normal to eat with your hands , in others with chopsticks and in yet others with a knife and fork . It includes language because we have to be able to communicate with the other members of our society .

Socialisation . Culture has to be learned . We are not born knowing that we should eat with a knife and fork ; we have to learn this , usually from our parents . We don’t even know at first what we can and can’t eat . Babies often experiment with eating things that horrify their parents , or mix foods up in a way older people find unpleasant . This is because babies have not yet learned the cultural rules about eating . The process of learning is called socialisation . We belong to one culture . While other cultures will also have a language , ideas about what , how and when to eat , what to wear and so on , these may well be different from our own . Differences between cultures are referred to as cultural diversity . Culture then gives us something we share with some other people , but is also something that makes us different from many people . We learn who we are not only through what we are like , but through what we are not like . Other animals can be described as social because they live in complex societies with animals carrying out different roles . Ants and bees , for example , have societies that work because different types of insects – queen , drones , workers and so on – are doing different work , all contributing to the overall survival of the nest or hive . But other animals have little if any culture . Most of what they do is by instinct . A worker ant never had the choice of doing anything else . Humans have very few instincts . We have reflexes – we blink or duck , without thinking about it , if we see an object coming towards us – but not instincts , which are patterns of behaviour that are inherited , not learned . The ability of birds to migrate to places they have never been before is an instinct , and there is no equivalent in humans . Human babies are in fact helpless compared to the young of other animals – we have to be taught how to do almost everything . Our behaviour is learned , not inherited , and is part of our culture .

Unsocialised children .

Very occasionally , children are
not socialised , and therefore do not learn a culture . There are legends about human babies raised by animals , such as the twins Romulus and Remus who in Roman stories were raised by wolves . More recent and well – documented cases suggest that children who do not grow up with other humans cannot make up for this later . The early years are vital – little children learn languages , and many other things , very quickly , but this becomes harder as they grow older .


One such case is “ The Wild Boy of Aveyron “ , a boy of about 11 or 12 found in France in 1800 .

‘On 9 January 1800 a strange creature emerged from the woods near the village of Saint – Serin in southern France . In spite of walking erect , he looked more animal than human , although he was soon identified as a boy of about 11 or 12 . He spoke only in shrill , strange – sounding cries . The boy apparently had no sense of personal hygiene and relieved himself where and when he chose … He refused to wear clothes , tearing them off as soon as they were put on him … Later the boy was moved to Paris and a systematic attempt was made to change him from beast to human . The endeavor was only partly successful . He was toilet – trained , accepted wearing clothes and learned to dress himself . Yet he was uninterested in toys and games , and was never able to master more than a few words . So far as we can tell , on the basis of detailed descriptions of his behavior and reactions , this was not because he was mentally retarded . He seemed either unwilling or unable fully to master human speech’ .

( Sociology by A . Giddens 3rd edition , Polity , 1999 )


It seems that by not being with other people , this boy had missed out on some of the important things we learn through socialisation . What were these things ?

What makes us human ?

Was the wild boy of Aveyron a human being ? Yes , of course , in the sense that he was a member of the same species as us . Yet in many ways he missed out on some of the important things that make us human . He never really learned to communicate at more than a basic level with other people . He did not belong to French society or to any society , because he could only join in to very limited extent . To many sociologists , it is possession of a culture shared with others that makes us human . We do not and are not meant to live completely alone .

All of human progress , all aspects of social life today , are built on the relationships of people with other people . As was said at the start of this section , we are social animals – yet this is exactly what makes us distinctively human .

NORMS are the unspoken and unwritten rules of behaviour in everyday life . We learn them during socialisation , and they tell us what we should and shouldn’t do in particular situations . Sometimes they may be explicitly taught to children by their parents or others , but often they are learned through observation , and also by trial and error – by seeing what the reaction of others is .

MORES ( pronounced ‘more rays’ ) are a stronger form of norms referring to ways of behaving which most people in a society believe are essential to maintain standards of decency . There is a mores which is not always present in norms . The term is less widely used in sociology than norms . Even stronger than mores are RULES , REGULATIONS and LAWS . Organisations like schools and places of work have rules , and are able to punish those who break the rules . Laws apply to the whole of a society . Rules and laws are usually written down , and those who break them know as they do so what the likely punishment will be if they are caught .

VALUES are the beliefs that lie behind social norms . For example , one norm is that if you get on a bus on which there is only one passenger , you do not sit next to that person ! ( How might the passenger react if you did ? ) This is not simply a norm , because it reflects the underlying values of privacy and personal space . In our society , we assume the passenger would prefer not to have the company of a stranger . It is possible , however , to imagine a society where to fail to sit by and talk to the passenger would be seen as being unfriendly , and would be disapproved of . The majority in any society shares values , in this sense . They are not the same as attitudes , on which people can differ enormously within a society . In politics , for example , people disagree as to which party has the best policies ( a difference in attitude ) but most people feel that the political system of having parties , with voting and elections , is preferable to having a dictator . Values that you may think of as your own personal values are in fact shared with many others . You have learned them from other people ( although you may have chosen them from among several possibilities ) . Some of the basic values in Britain can be traced back to Christianity . Although religion is not as strong as it once was , it still guides many people’s ideas about what is right and wrong behaviour . We are often in new social situations where we have no experience of the norms required . Knowing the values of our society helps us work out what the norms are likely to be
Values differ enormously between societyes . Western societies place a high value on materializm , the possession of money and consumer goods . In other societies in the past , such as the Cheyenne of North America , possessions were considered worthless except for the prestige that could be acquired by giving them away . A Cheyenne who gave away everything he owned would be highly respected ; someone who did that in Britain today would be considered eccentric or even mad .

STATUS refers to the position someone has in society . For example , being a pupil in school is a status , as is being a son or daughter . In sociology a distinction is often made between ASCRIBED STATUS and ACHIEVED STATUS . Ascribed status is decided by social characteristics fixed at birth , and cannot be changed easily , for example an individual’s gender and ethnicity . Achieved status is the result of a person’s own efforts , for example in getting educational qualifications or entering a professional career . Norms tend to go with statuses . For example , there are norms expected of a pupil in a classroom , or of a teacher. The set of norms that goes with a status is called a ROLE . Just like a part in a play , a role gives us a script to follow , but allows room for us to perform it in our own way . Everyone has many roles , which we switch between quite easily , sometimes having several roles at the same time . Here is a list of some roles :

CULTURAL DIVERSITY. The forms of behaviour, which are found in all cultures, sometimes refer to as CULTURAL UNIVERSALS. They – some cultural universals:

LANGUAGE. Children should study to speak their language to participate completely in their society(community). Though languages are very much complicated (as you will know, whether you study modern foreign language) small children are capable to study their language rather quickly. Language allows us to speak with others, to inform our feeling and to know us directly both past and future. Languages change extremely (for example on that, how many tenses they have, or on, whether the nouns have a sort or not) but divide(share) the basic structure, which does(makes) it by easier for children to study languages

– Family roles : father , husband , son , uncle , brother , godfather .

– Work – related roles : teacher , head of department , lecturer , writer , trade union member .

– Social and leisure roles : football supporter .

There are also many roles people play only occasionally , or for short periods : a patient for a doctor and dentist , a customer for various shops and banks , a passenger for bus and train companies and so on . Each of these roles gives me a shared interest with others , and puts me in a relationship with others . When we know and understand each other’s roles , social life becomes orderly and predictable . Even if I have never seen a particular doctor before , I know what to expect when I go to his or explanation and advice or treatment . I also know how I should behave – there is a patient’s role – and the doctor will expect me to behave like a patient .

MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY. All cultures have arrangements by which one or more men form a socially approved relationship with one or more women for the purpose of having and raising children. Our society, of course , only allows one man and one woman, and we approve the relationship through the wedding ceremony. These ideas are examined in more detail in the chapter on families.

RELIGION. Belief in a god or gods, or in some form of supernatural or magical power, seems to be a universal feature of human cultures, as are rituals and other practices involving these beliefs. For some people, these beliefs are proof that there is a god who is so vast and unknowable that different cultures inevitably worship god in different ways.

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