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Culture & Identity

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To arrive at a definition of culture many aspects of social life are observed. In this way culture can be seen as an umbrella term. Culture is the whole way of life of a people. Identity can be seen as the ideas that a person has of themselves as they come to develop through life in society. This can include nationality, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs etc. Both culture and identity are closely associated. It is the participation in culture and sub-cultures that a person forms their identity within. Functionalism adopts an organic view of society.

Various parts of society are integrated to form a functioning system through the existence of a value consensus. As the functionalist perspective is seen as a whole functioning system in order for it to work there needs to be cooperation between each part. This is made possible through the idea of a value consensus. This is an understanding between each functioning part of the major values within a society. For example the value of religion is accepted in society despite the diverse choice of religion available. Functionalists take an interest into how society remains unwavering but also in how it changes.

Functionalists argue that the value consensus is subject to adaptation and changes. There exists social organisation’s which primes society for change. For example education and economic organisations. For functionalists, culture is a product of the social system whereas identity is shaped by social groups , ideas and life styles. A study which contributes to the functionalist perspective of culture is that of Durkheim and Mauss : Primitive Classification (1903). This study makes an attempt to go back to the origins of culture.

According to their idea’s of culture , it only becomes probable once us as human beings develop the ability to make distinctions amid things and categorize them. Durkheim adds that this system of classification is necessary to enable us to create a picture of the world around us. Durkheim and Mauss argue that the prototype for a system of classification originated from the structure of society. They also argued that social structures come from the divisions between different social groups and because of this people would grade the rest of society or indeed the world through their perspectives of their own divisions.

Durkheim and Mauss make a strong argument that as our ideas and classifications of society develop then so does the complexities of that society. This creates more advanced relationships of the ideas of culture because as our understanding develops we come to understand social hierarchies , the relationships between groups and the ability to organise our environment to make it understandable. Durkheim’s work makes importance of the idea that culture is of a social derivation. He uses his idea of the collective conscience to explain culture. The totality of beliefs and sentiments common to average citizens of the same society forms a determinate system which has its own life: one may call it the collective or common conscience” (Durkheim , 1947) His argument for the collective conscience is of the idea that it has a strong influence on the people in pre-industrial society. It creates a sense of unity and harmony because each individual feel they are like one another. He argues that as society begins to become more complex and more inquisitive the division of work makes apparent the need for specialisation.

This means then that individuals become less like each other but still require each other. For example a medical patient may need a doctor to relieve illness such as a doctor needs patients for research of improving their profession. This leads to the idea that the divisions in work and specialisation lead to excessive individualism. However despite the now specialised culture there can still remain a collective conscience with such institutions like the education system which keep society intact.

Durkheim states that in order for society to run efficiently a shared conscience is needed. This exists despite the way an individual may run their lives or make their decisions and influences their behaviour. A contrasting theory of identity from functionalism is that of the Marxist perspective. It states that culture developed from productive activity. For Marx he describes the use of creativeness and productivity being utilised by those who are free. For those with freedom they use their imagination in order to create things.

However freedom is constrained by the existence of private property. Those who own private property do so at the expense of those who do not and in turn those who do not, lose their freedom. Those who do not own the means of production are obliged to work for those who do and in doing so become alienated. The theory of the alienation of people leads to the theory of the ruling class ideology. “The ideas of the ruling class are , in every age , the ruling ideas: i. e. the class which is the dominant material force in society is at the same time its dominant intellectual force.

[… The dominant ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas. “(Marx & Engels ,1946) An idea of Marx of culture in society is that we appear to be given all the facts , when this is simply an illusion to make us believe we do within the concept of the ruling class ideology. This is created by the ruling class to give us a feeling of freedom that we create our own ideas and our own identities. This is the idea of relative autonomy. There is a close relationship between identity and social class within the Marxist perspective.

This identity is shaped by an individual’s relationship to the means of production. Stuart Hall (1992) argues that an individual’s position in society determines their identity. They were not perceived as distinctive individuals but part of the grand scheme of things. As a result of this a person’s identity was predetermined and not as a result from personal attributes. If an individual was born into those who owned the means of production then that individual became part of the ruling class and became involved in the control of society. This was their identity.

Hall argues that the origins of identity come from the era of The Enlightenment. His idea was that the enlightenment enabled an individual to become aware of their environment and enable them to evaluate their circumstances with the ability of reason and understanding. Halls ideas of identity in an industrial, production based society originate from the concept that because society developed then so did an individual’s identity. This relates closely to Durkheim’s idea of specialisation. Hall argues that large organisations and companies became increasingly involved in the lives of an individual.

In other words those with access to the means of production began to develop their strategies which involved them changing factors of society. The individual became increasingly involved in the business of large organisations. This meant that a person’s identity was viewed and formed from the perspective of things like which class they belonged to , which institutions they belonged to , their occupation and geographical location in which they lived. Hall makes an also makes an argument that identity is formed through the ideas we have and create of the people around us and the ideas that the people around us make of ourselves.

We are ever influenced and react towards such perceptions. Social class can be used as an example. By having an identity that relates to a class in which you belong then we accept and internalise the roles and values of that position. This makes behaviour predictable. A contrasting theory of both functionalism and Marxism is Post Modernism. The time of post modernism is sometimes regarded as the age of scepticism because the concept of progression, that underpinned most forms of western thought, including – for example , both Marxism and functionalism , since the enlightenment , is increasingly coming into question.

Post modernists claim that most of the meta-narratives or major myths that justified scientific progress are no longer necessarily , regarded as true. Amongst the meta-narratives are the myth of truth and the myth of liberation. The myth that the use of science and technology would somehow make people free has been treated with scepticism because of the participation of all sciences in the great crimes of the 20th century, including: The Holocaust The Soviet Gulags Nuclear weapons or indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction. The myth of truth has been questioned due to scepticism of experts including philosophers of science.

This has resulted in an intellectual climate in which it has been suggested there are no absolute certainties and no guarantees about about the shape or future of society. Scepticism about the myth of truth means there are no guarantees , either philosophical or economical about the worth or value of peoples activities. Crook et al argues that the rate of change in modern society has augmented rapidly. This process it is argued makes it difficult for people to keep a strong incorporated awareness of who they are. Within the post modern perspective there is an idea of mass culture.

This is the idea of hyper commodification. This involves all aspects of social life becoming commodified. Within modern society certain aspects of social life such as the family , class etc were not commercialised and therefore you could be identified by the differences in these aspects of social life. However hyper commodification disagrees with this idea. Crook et al regard the development of taste as an important aspect of modern culture. The idea that we have been given the opportunity of what we consume by choice becoming available to all classes is important.

Another post modernist idea of modern culture is that of rationalisation. Crook et al argue that culture is moulded by rationalisation. This is the use of technology to spread the communication of culture. There is a greater number of choice of media and communication within modern society and this allows an individual to choose their own lifestyles. The post modernity ideas of culture argue that there is now a mixture of high and popular culture. There is a large choice of cultural forms available. We constantly consume culture in this way everyday.

The access to news through mediums such as the internet , newspapers and television is constantly available to us whenever we choose to access it , and our information is now given to us in real time too. This influences and effects the choices we make daily to which culture we belong. From the ideas of post modernity we can conclude that our culture and identity is no longer predetermined. The functionalist and Marxist theories are deterministic in that the social classes , our occupations our roles within society determine our shared cultures and identity with individuals of similar circumstances.

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