Sociology and Material Culture

Haley Schweitzer Sociology 1010 Term Paper Sociology and Oops My Mistake Sociology is defined as, the study of people doing things together or more specifically, “the systematic study of the development, structure, interaction, and collective behavior of organized groups of human beings” (Merriam Webster Dictionary). This paper will examine the discourse of structure in sociology, the sociology of culture, and the deviance and sanctions in sociology. After discussing these topics, I will illustrate my act of norm breaking and how it ties in with these three areas of sociology.
The structure of sociology can be identified as, the relationship of definite entities or groups to each other, enduring patterns of behavior by participants in a social system in relation to each other, and institutionalized norms or cognitive frameworks that structure the actions of actors in the social system. Basically saying within the structure are groups, statuses, roles, and institutions. In sociology, a group refers to two or more people who interact on a basis of shared qualities and experiences. A status refers to a specific position within a group, for example, a manager, employee, or a grandma.
Within statuses there are two subgroups, ascribed status and achieved status. An ascribed status is one that is unalterable, such as a grandma. An achieved status is one that is obtainable, such as a manager. A role is an expected behavior within a status. For example, while an employee states the position of that role, the employee’s guidelines determine what behavior is appropriate for his/her role. This is the same concept for a status and a role. An institution is complex social structures that meet basic human needs.

There are five main institutions: family, economy, education, politics, and religion. The sociology of culture consists of the beliefs, behaviors, objects, and other characteristics common to the members of a particular group or society. Through culture, people and groups define themselves, conform to society’s shared values, and contribute to society. Thus, culture is constructed from three components which are norms, values, and material culture. Norms are “rules” within a culture that specify how people should conduct themselves every day. Read also Sociology and Social Integration.
For example, one norm that may vary among different cultures is oculesics (eye behavior). Americans, for instance, maintain fairly direct eye contact when conversing with others. Asians, on the other hand, may avert their eyes as a sign of politeness and respect. A culture’s values are its ideas about what is good, right, fair, and just. For example, a European that came to where I work said there was a saying in his country that Europeans worked to live, while Americans lived to work. So the values are different in America than they are in Europe.
Material culture refers to the physical objects, resources, and spaces that people use to define their culture. These include homes, neighborhoods, schools, churches and so forth. All of these physical aspects of a culture help to define its members’ behaviors and perceptions. For example, technology is a vital aspect of material culture in the United States today. American students must learn to use computers to survive in college and business, in contrast to young adults in the Yanomamo society in the Amazon who must learn to build weapons and hunt to survive.
Deviance is any behavior that violates social norms, and is usually of sufficient severity to warrant disapproval from the majority of society. Deviance can be criminal or non-criminal. Today, Americans consider such activities as alcoholism, excessive gambling, being nude in public places, stealing, lying, refusing to bathe—to name only a few—as deviant. Sanctions are socially constructed expressions of approval or disapproval. Sanctions can be positive or negative. A positive sanction rewards someone for following a norm and serves to encourage the continuance of a certain type of behavior.
For instance, when parents reward a child with money for earning good grades, they are positively sanctioning that child’s behavior. A negative sanction is a way of communicating that a society, or some group in that society, does not approve of a particular behavior. For instance, imprisoning a criminal for breaking the law, and taking away a teenager’s television privileges for breaking curfew are all negative sanctions. The arena I chose for my norm breaking was my downstairs TV room with group of friends some of which I wasn’t well acquainted with. The statuses consisted of many friends with a few friends of friends.
The roles to be played in the group were well mannered and somewhat proper of being at someone’s house that you don’t know very well. The expected roles of my close friends and I were to behave politely and welcoming. Most of my friends are well behaved but also a lot of fun to be around. I have a very diverse group of friends with all different kinds of beliefs. Now since new people I hadn’t met before were coming along I made the room all nice, clean and well organized. I didn’t want people to come and see my house for the first time and not want to come back.
I bought some different snacks and drinks for everyone to enjoy during the movie and hopefully make them feel more comfortable and at home. We all gathered on a typical Friday night to watch a movie at my house. One of my closer friends hasn’t had much experience with girls but recently I was able to hook him up with a kind of friend of mine so I invited them along to join us. When he and his girlfriend got to the house me and her started some small talk and she said he was lacking in the first kiss department. I told her he was probably just nervous but that I would get to the bottom of it.
I thought about it since I had yet to do the whole norm breaking thing and decided this would be the easiest and most comfortable thing I would be able to do. I mean I had my close friends there but I also had some strangers that were most likely still trying to figure all the new people out. When the movie started I sat near the couple and observed both of their movements to decide whether or not to do it. The movie ended, I got up and turned the lights on and just as I predicted there she was sending millions of hints his way that he had to be seeing the whole time but still nothing.
Well it was now or never I walked right up to her grabbed her face a planted one on her, I looked at her face bright red and utterly confused then looked at Blake and said, “Oh she was hinting at you… sorry, my mistake,” and I walked out of the awkward, silent room for a minute to get myself together. I walked back to a rather confused room with very weird looks from everyone. There was silence for a couple of minutes then I explained to all of them why I did what I did. This resulted in a lot of laughter and uncontrollable crying. But still some judging looks.
My negative sanctions were the strange looks from all the new people I had just met as well as the very embarrassed and angry look from Blake. Also that the new people that had come that had come that night would not return and when I would see them around town I was avoided and looked at as a “freak. ” In conclusion, I was able to examine the sanctions of deviant behavior from a personal standpoint and the effects it may have when people decide to break norms in a situation after learning the structure of sociology as well as the rules of deviance and sanctions.

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