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Community College / Lower Division, College / Upper Division
Ohio Open Ed Collaborative
Culture, Oss0212, Social Conflict, Sociology, Structural Functionalist, Symbolic Interactionism
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Apply the structural functionalist, social conflict and symbolic interactionist perspectives to explain the meaning and purpose of culture.


OER Text material

Theoretical Perspectives on Culture

Chapter 3, subsection 3.4. According to functionalists, societies need culture to exist. Cultural norms function to support the fluid operation of society, and cultural values guide people in making choices. In addition, culture exists to meet its members’ basic needs. Conflict theorists view social structure as inherently unequal, based on power differentials related to issues like class, gender, race, and age. For a conflict theorist, culture is seen as reinforcing issues of "privilege" for certain groups based upon race, sex, class, etc. Symbolic interactionism is mostly concerned with the face-to-face interactions between members of society. Interactionists see culture as being created and maintained by the ways people interact and in how individuals interpret each other’s actions.

Recommended Reading

Supplementary Material (Videos and Reading)

Theoretical Perspectives on Culture: Introduction to Sociology 2e

According to this paper, a functionalist perspective acknowledges that there are many parts of culture that work together as a system to fulfill society’s needs. Functionalists view culture as a reflection of society’s values. Conflict theorists see culture as inherently unequal, based upon factors like gender, class, race, and age. An interactionist is primarily interested in culture as experienced in the daily interactions between individuals and the symbols that comprise a culture.

Reading: Theoretical Perspectives on Culture

Functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism are used to explain culture. Functionalism concentrates of common culture, conflict theory places emphasis on inequality due to cultural differences, and interactionism places emphasis on cultural interpretations.

Theoretical Perspectives on Culture 

(NOTE: Students need to sign up for access).In this paper, the three main theories are used to explain culture and how culture affects humans.