When people discuss love, they imagine it in their minds and feel it in their hearts even though no one can truly touch love in a physical form. We associate love to a variety of mental and physical interactions, but love itself is not tangible or concrete. Whereas, material culture is associated with physical artifacts projecting a clear understanding of its nature because it is visible, audible, and can be touched. We buy and give gifts to express our love. The material artifact we give to someone is a tangible expression of love. In this example, the expression of non-material culture is evident in material culture (love = gift) and material culture represents non-material culture (gift = love) making both forms cultural “objects.”
Cultural objects become representations of many things and can have many meanings based on the history and biography of an individual, group, or society. Think about the mantra, “Follow your dreams.” The expression is often used in the United States when discussing educational and career motivation and planning. For many U.S. citizens, this statement creates an open space for academic or professional choices and opportunities. However, the “object” is limited to the culture of the individual. In other words, your “dream” is limited to the cultural environment and social location you occupy. For example, if you are in a family where men and women fill different roles in work and family then your educational and career choices or pathways are limited to the options within the context of your culture (i.e., values, beliefs, and norms). Afghan culture does not value or permit the education of girls. In Afghanistan, one third of girls marry before 18, and once married they are compelled to drop out of school (Human Rights Watch 2017). The educational and career choices of Afghan girls is limited to the culture of their country and the social location of their gender. This means to “follow your dreams” in Afghanistan is confined to what a dream as an object can represent based on the gender of the person.
How does culture become an “object” or solidified, socially accepted, and followed? According to Griswold (2013) people create, articulate, and communicate culture. However, this does not mean every cultural idea or creation is accepted by society. Though people create culture, other people must receive or accept culture to become tangible, real, or recognized as an object including artifacts. The creation of cultural ideas and concepts must have an audience to receive it and articulate its meaning in order for culture to be established and accepted. The context of the social world including time, place, conditions, and social forces influence whether an audience accepts or rejects a cultural object. Consider the many social media applications available to us today. With so many social media outlets and options available, which are the most recognized and used? Which social media apps have become part of our everyday lives, and which do we expect people to use and be familiar with as a norm?
When Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams created Twitter, they introduced a cultural idea to society. As word spread about the application and people began to use it, communication about its relevance and usefulness grew. As the network of users grew more and more people were intrigued to discover the application and make it part of their lives leading to Twitter becoming a cultural object. Not only did Twitter need to demonstrate relevance to reach potential users, but it also had to be timely and applicable in context or to the needs of modern society.
Since the development of the Internet, many people and organizations have developed a variety of social media applications, but only a few apps have transcended time to become part of our culture because they were able to develop an audience or significant number of cultural receivers to legitimize them. Other than Twitter, what social media applications have become part of our culture? Research and describe the demographics of the audience or receivers for each application identified and discuss the context or environment that made the app relevant for its time and users.
DISSECTING CULTURAL CONSTRUCTION-cyberbullying
Consider the social issue of cyberbullying.
- Describe the social context or environment that has led to the development and growth of this issue.
- What cultural elements do we associate with cyberbullying? What are the values, beliefs, norms, symbolic expressions, and artifacts or materials used by perpetrators to create a culture of cyberbullying?
- How do victims, observers, and the public receive this culture? What meanings do people associate by the expressions used by perpetrators that make the issue "real"?
- Reflecting on your responses to Questions 1-3, explain how social context, cultural creation, and cultural acceptance work to make the issue of cyberbullying a cultural object.