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Griswold’s concept of “Culture” from a sociological viewpoint Essay

Griswold explored the concept of “culture” through two different perspectives, namely through the humanities and anthropology’s viewpoint. With reference to different philosopher’s interpretation of “culture”, Griswold defines culture broadly as “a complex whole”, including everything in a social world. Since culture and social world are related; to achieve a fuller understanding of “culture”, we have to examine the connection between them, and how the two come together. The conceptual tool she uses to investigate the connections between cultures and societies are the “cultural object”, and the “cultural diamond”. Cultural objects are given meanings shared by members of the culture, and it is through those meanings that those objects are linked to the social worlds. Therefore, we need to decipher how the meanings came by- Griswold introduces and compares different versions of reflection theory in functionalism, Marxism and Weberian Sociology, whereby culture is seen as a reflection of social life, or vice versa.

The mirror theory is based on the assumption that culture is the mirror of social reality, reflecting the social world. This is an idea central to the functionalist and Marxist reflective theory; however, she points out that while they share the same reflection model, the essence of the two is opposites. Under Marx’s view, everything, even human consciousness, starts from and has the history as a product of human labor (homo faber). Culture is a concept largely based on the material forces of production and economic foundation of a society. This “historical materialism” , and the production relations of society is the true root of culture, therefore , it is the social being that determines men’s existence.

However, for Functionalism, culture is based on mutual interdependence of one another to meet the needs of a society. Every component in a society is reflective of others. There are no class struggles, as opposed to Marxist theory. As for Weber’s view of the mirror theory, Weber takes into account that the culture and society relationship is two- way: social actions reflects cultural meanings. He argues that while material interests are still being pursued, the way men pursued their interests shows cultural causes in his famous “switchman metaphor”.

The above modern sociological theories illustrates now culture is related, in many different ways, to the social world. Modern music is an example illustrating how societal actions reflects our changing culture- music has always been a vehicle by which we express our values. In recent years, lyrics containing profanity or vulgar language are so common and are very popular among youngsters. It reflects that our culture has became more outspoken and less censorious. Conservatism is no longer something valued. Take another example- women these days are obsessed with slimming as thin is now commonly regarded as beautiful. Women would go at great lengths to achieve their ideal body shape, just to conform to social pressures. This is an example showing how social phenomena can reflect culture, even though this culture is not necessarily beneficial to the society.


Griswold, Wendy. 2004. Cultures and Societies in a CHanging World. CA: Pine Froge Press. Selections.

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