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Cultural Symbols -- Research Starters Sociology

By: Wagner, Geraldine;

2009 / EBSCO


This article provides an overview of the meaning of symbols in U.S. culture, as well as in other social systems. It discusses how culture is learned through the process of socialization and the importance of symbols, including language, within a culture to identify and communicate the values and expectations of its members. From the various sociological perspectives - symbolic interactionist, functionalist, and conflict - culture and its symbols are reviewed as part of both non-material and material culture. Cultural relativism, or the belief that the behaviors and customs of any culture must be viewed and analyzed by the culture's own standards, is also discussed, as well as notions of the accumulation of cultural capital by those members of a culture who may experience enhanced opportunities for themselves because of the body of cultural capital to which they may lay claim. Finally, the article's focus turns to how cultural symbols and the values, beliefs and attitudes connected to the symbols can be used in many and varied ways.