Study Questions: Chapter 3
1. Compare and contrast dominant culture with subculture and counterculture. Give examples for each type of culture.
Answer: The dominant culture is the one that, through its political and economic power, is able to impose its values, language, and ways of behaving and interpreting behaviour on a given society. Although statistically their share of the overall population has dropped significantly in the last 20 years, it is fairly safe to say that white, English-speaking people of Christian and European stock make up the dominant culture in Canada. Countercultures are groups that feel the power of the dominant culture and exist in opposition to it (hippies or biker gangs, for instance), while subcultures differ in some way from the dominant culture but don’t directly oppose it (computer nerds or lawyers). (pp. 64–66)
2. How do positive sanctions differ from negative sanctions?
Answer: People react to how others follow or do not follow norms. If the reaction is one that supports the behaviour, it is called a positive sanction. It is a reward for “doing the right thing.” A negative sanction is a reaction designed to tell offenders they have violated a norm. It could be anything from a glare, an eye roll, or a sarcastic quip to a parking ticket or the fine you pay at the library for an overdue book. (p. 71)
3. Explain symbols of culture. What form(s) do they take?
Answer: Symbols are cultural items that come to take on tremendous meaning within a culture or subculture of a society. They can be either tangible (i.e. physical), material objects or intangible, non-material objects, such as songs or even the memory of events. Just as culture itself is contested, culture symbols are likely to be interpreted differently by people inside and outside of the culture they represent. (p. 72)
4. Briefly explain the notion of ethnocentrism.
Answer: Ethnocentrism occurs when someone holds up one culture (usually the culture of the ethnocentric individual) as the standard by which all cultures are to be judged. It follows a simple formula: “All cultures like the gold-standard culture are good, praiseworthy, beautiful, moral, and modern. Those that are not are bad, ugly, immoral, and primitive.” Ethnocentrism can manifest itself in many forms, but it often entails declaring that there is only one right way (the way of the cultural model) to run a business, handle finances, or manage social policy. (p. 77)
5. What is sociolinguistics? Why is it a source for both understanding and misunderstanding?
Answer: Sociolinguistics is the study of language as part of culture. Language exists at the centre of communication between individuals and between groups. It is a source both of understanding and of misunderstanding. It is also the main vehicle for transmitting culture, and a culture cannot be understood without some sense of the language(s) it uses and the fit of language with other aspects of culture. Sociolinguistics thus looks at language in relation to such sociological factors as “race” ethnicity, age, gender, and region. (p. 84)
6. Do you think people have agency in the culture they consume? Explain.
Answer: Answers will vary—something like the following: People have agency within the culture that they consume to the same extent that they believe in that agency. One’s ability to “be creative or productive with what a colonial power, a dominant culture, or an instrument of mass media” has provided is contingent upon a particular directedness toward the world. My belief that mass culture is ultimately responsible for my choices and actions reinforces my inactivity, just as the opposite is true—that my belief in my own agency, within or against popular culture, reinforces that agency. The argument though is necessarily more complicated than that, and it must take into account the actual limitations imposed by mass culture. Such is beyond the scope of the current question and advances the larger topic of free will. (pp. 67–68, various)
7. What are some of the major differences between English and Aboriginal languages? What might the significance of these differences be?
Answer: Algonquian languages, which together make up the largest Aboriginal language family in Canada and the United States, have no grammatically mandated gender, in either the French or the English sense. They have no pronouns meaning “he” or “she.” They are not alone in that respect. Almost every Canadian Aboriginal language does not recognize gender. This implies that Algonquian speakers were traditionally more flexible about gender roles than their European contemporaries, that there was a greater degree of equality between the sexes. (p. 85)
8. Differentiate between mass culture and popular culture.
Answer: Popular culture is the culture of the majority, particularly of those people who do not have power (the working class, the less educated, women, and racialized minorities). Those who believe that people take an active role in shaping the culture they consume use the term “popular culture” to describe the majority of those who fall outside the world of the cultural elite. Those who believe people have little or no agency in the culture they consume are more likely to use the term mass culture. They tend to believe that big companies (like Walmart, McDonald’s, Disney, and Microsoft) and powerful governments dictate what people buy, watch, value, and believe. (pp. 67–68)
9. Explain what cultural globalization is and the implications of it being dominated by a single nation.
Answer: Manfred Steger defines cultural globalization as “the intensification and expansion of cultural flows across the globe.” The domination of cultural globalization by a single nation leads to the one-way flow of culture. In the present case we have what might be called the “Americanization” of the world, where English has emerged as by far the most prominent language of science, of the Internet, and of other powerful media, and American movies and television are seen in almost every country in the world. (p. 78)