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While there are numerous theoretical approaches employed to understand 'culture', this chapter uses just one model to illustrate how sociologists understand the concept. The model is an integrationist model advocated by Ritzer. Ritzer proposes four highly interdependent elements in his sociological model: a macro-objective component (e.g., society, law, bureaucracy), a micro-objective component (e.g., patterns of behavior and human interaction), a macro-subjective component (e.g., culture, norms, and values), and a micro-subjective component (e.g., perceptions, beliefs). This model is of particular use in understanding the role of culture in sociological research because it presents two axes for understanding culture: one ranging from objective (society) to subjective (culture and cultural interpretation); the other ranging from the macro-level (norms) to the micro-level (individual level beliefs).
If used for understanding a specific cultural phenomenon, like the displaying of abstract art, this model depicts how cultural norms can influence individual behavior. This model also posits that individual level values, beliefs, and behaviors can, in turn, influence the macro-level culture. This is, in fact, part of what David Halle finds: while there are certainly cultural differences based on class, they are not unique to class. Displayers of abstract art tend not only to belong to the upper-class, but also are employed in art-production occupations. This would indicate that there are multiple levels of influence involved in art tastes – both broad cultural norms and smaller level occupational norms in addition to personal preferences.
The Function of Culture
Culture can also be seen to play a specific function in social life. According to Griswold, "The sociological analysis of culture begins at the premise that culture provides orientation, wards off chaos, and directs behavior toward certain lines of action and away from others. " Griswold reiterates this point by explaining that, "Groups and societies need collective representations of themselves to inspire sentiments of unity and mutual support, and culture fulfills this need. " In other words, culture can have a certain utilitarian function – the maintenance of order as the result of shared understandings and meanings.
On the other hand, culture can also function to create and sustain social inequalities. According to Collins, cultural notions of race, class, gender, and sexuality may be used to explain and justify societal level patterns of oppression and privilege by allowing social beings to believe existing inequalities simply reflect the way things have always been. As a result, efforts for social justice and equality must often overcome cultural patterns that lead dominants and subordinates to blindly accept existing social orders as natural or inevitable. Following Collins, sociologists thus explore whether or not the shared understandings and meanings maintained via cultural practice resist and / or reproduce the ongoing subordination of minority groups.