Culture and Subcultures

38 Key Terms and Concepts

Acculturation: The process of adopting and adjusting to a new and often prevailing (dominant) cultural environment.

Assimilation: The voluntary or forceful abandonment of one’s own culture, namely — values, customs, traditions, language, and identity — with the intent to adopt those of the prevalent (dominant) culture.

Biases: Beliefs, feelings, and behaviour that express hostility or exclude members of groups or entire groups themselves.

Consumer capitalism: A term that describes a material focus on consumption where (corporate) profit maximization is achieved as class structures and inequalities are exploited.

Counterculture: A type of subculture that actively opposes and rejects norms, values, and symbols that reflect the larger culture in which it exists.

Cultural appropriation: When features of a non-dominant culture (fashion, artifacts, food, language, etc.) are taken and used without consent, respect, and handled inappropriately further entrenching dangerous stereotypes about the non-dominant culture. Cultural appropriation also occurs when the dominant culture engages in “whitewashing” or exploits the cultural object in order to benefit from it while justifying the act as a way to “honour” the less dominant culture.

Cultural norms: A set of standards and often unspoken ‘rules’ that members of society collectively agree upon to serve as a basis of what’s consider acceptable behaviour.

Culture: The sum of learned beliefs, values, and customs that help us know how to behave as members of society.

Customs: A term that describes a traditional and widely accepted way of behaving in a given society. Customs have existed for many generations and are passed down to the next one.

De-ethnicization: When a product becomes part of “mainstream society” (dominant culture) through the removal or disassociation with its original ethnic group (or culture).

De-sacralization: The removal of sacred symbolism when an object becomes absorbed by mainstream society (dominant culture).

Discrimination: A type of behavioural bias that results in the deliberate exclusion of others.

Enacted norms: These norms are endorsed by one’s own culture and are expressed as explicit rules of behaviour.

Enculturation: The way in which people learn about culture and shared cultural knowledge.

Ethnic group: A distinct group of people with a shared ancestry, identity, and heritage who will often share a common language, religious or spiritual practices, patterns of dress, diet, customs, and holidays.

Gatekeeper: People who have the power and ability to determine what information gets shared, what stories get told, what movies get made, and what television shows get produced. Gatekeepers control access to information and the dissemination of that information to the public.

Gender: A social and historical construct resulting in a set of culturally invented expectations of a ‘role’ (often male or female) one may assume, learn, and perform.

High culture: A term used to describe cultural experiences, symbols, and attitudes that are often associated with wealthy of ‘high class’ members of society.

Individualism: A cultural orientation that emphasizes personal freedom, self-expression, and individual decision-making.

Multiculturalism: The existence of multiple ethnic groups living together in a mixed-ethnic society.

Myths: A story with symbolic elements that represent a culture’s ideals.

Own-group preference: The tendency to favour members of our own group (or “in-group”) over others who belong to different groups.

Popular (Pop) culture: A term used to describe cultural experiences, symbols, and attitudes that are often associated with members of mainstream society.

Prejudice: A type of emotional bias inflicted upon members outside of one’s own social group.

Profane consumption: Consumer purchases that are comprised of ‘every day’ items that do not hold any sort of special or symbolic status.

Race: Race is a social construct that defines different groups of humans based on arbitrary characteristics that can be related to physical and/or biological traits. These traits then are used to distinguish groups of humans from one another.

Rite(s) of passage: A culturally-significant event or ritual that (often) marks an important time, or transition, in one’s life.

Rituals: A pattern of behaviour that is often in a fixed-sequence and repeated regularly and gives added meaning and significance to a particular culture.

Sacralization: A process that describes when an everyday item takes on a sacred status.

Scripts: A sequence or set of behaviours members of society are expected to follow or adhere to.

Sex-typed: Also referred to as “gender-typed”, characterizes the suitability or appropriateness of stereotypical gendered products.

Social identity theory: The tendency to favour one’s own ‘in-group’ over another’s ‘outgroup’.

Stereotypes: A type of cognitive bias that is presented as a generalized belief about a group of people.

Subculture: A group of people with common values, beliefs, language, experiences, etc. that exist within a much larger group (culture).

Symbol: A cultural symbol can be an object, word, or action that represents a culture, or something else specifically within a culture. Symbols can have cultural meaning and significance and may be used to show affiliation to a (political) party, group, or subculture.


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