It is difficult to begin a discussion on culture and society without knowing what culture and society means. It means different things to different people, and the only way to be sure that everyone in this class has a shared understanding of their meanings is to create one together.
Get into small groups (3-4 students in each group), and create one definition for culture and society that everyone agrees on.
Write your group’s final definitions here.
1) For our group, culture means...
2) For our group, society means...
Think about your definitions for culture and society, and talk about this question with your group: What is cultural identity? Write your group’s ideas in the box!
When everyone is finished, share your definitions and ideas with the class!
As you can see, culture has many different meanings, so it is likely that the combined definitions of every group create a pretty good working definition for this class! According to the Cambridge English Dictionary (n.d.), culture is “the way of life of a particularpeople, especially as shown in theirordinarybehavior and habits, theirattitudes toward each other, and theirmoral and religious beliefs.” Culture is made up of a lot of different things, like values, expectations, appropriate behaviors, social expectations, and symbols.
If we know this about culture, then cultural identity can simply be defined as someone who feels like they fit in with or belong to a certain cultural group! It is interesting to note that cultural identity is not static, meaning it can change. If someone moves to a foreign country and stays there for a long period of time, it is possible that he or she will have the ability to identify with more than one culture.
Who am I?
Let’s think about all of the aspects of culture and society, and how they help us create our cultural identity. There are so many parts of us that it can be difficult to label! However, we’re going to try. Take a look at this chart:
This is an example of a “ME” chart. As you can see, there are many ways that we can “label” or categorize ourselves, and while “brother” may be very different from being a “university graduate,” if you think about them carefully, culture plays a big part in both! For example, being a brother means being part of a family, and families are one part of a cultural group (and can also be considered a cultural group itself). Another example is being a “university graduate.” Being a graduate means you attended school, and schools are not only institutions in a culture, but they have their own culture, as well! Therefore, schools, like families, can also be considered a cultural group. All of these aspects of ourselves are what make up our cultural identity, but there are many more other than what you see in the chart above!
Look at the “ME” box below. Create your own chart like the one on page 7! Try to come up with at least ten different aspects of who you are. Feel free to be creative and add pictures or symbols!
Now that we’ve defined important terms, and examined what makes up cultural identity, let’s dive deeper into cultural identity!
Take a look at the Cultural Descriptors Worksheet. For this worksheet, we will be looking at dominant cultural descriptors. In other words, what are some clear, strong parts of your culture that make a person part of that culture? These parts can be seen as both positive and negative, so it is important that we can identify both.
For example, you might write, “only one major ethnic group in my country” (monoethnic). But is this a positive aspect or a negative aspect? Arguments can be made for both, actually!
One way to look at a monoethnic culture is from a collectivist perspective. In a collectivist society, the best interest of the entire community comes first (before an individual), and this is positive because it means people take care of their communities before they take care of themselves. (Note: This is a generalization, of course, and does not apply to every person in these types of cultures). Examples of monoethnic and collectivist countries include Japan, China, and South Korea.
On the other hand, this can also be seen as negative because it means that differences are sometimes frowned upon. For example, there is a saying in Japan: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down” (出る杭は打たれる). This means that being different from everyone else (or not going along with the group) is bad. Being different has led to bullying in schools and even companies (Asian Correspondent, 2019).
Think about four dominant descriptors in your culture. After you come up with four, think about positive and negative sides of each descriptor, and then write your answers in the appropriate sections below. You can do this alone or with a partner/small group!
Cultural Descriptors Worksheet
Think about strong cultural descriptors of a certain cultural group (it can be yours or another cultural group). For example, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, nation of origin, and politics. In other words, what words describe that cultural group! Complete the worksheet alone or with a group. After, share your responses with the class!