Without delving into deep sociological theories of the nature of society, we can consider human societies as any community of individuals who are united together by a common bond of nearness or intercourse and are those who recognize each other as associates, friends and acquaintances. Individuals who play certain roles and the relationships between each role form the society itself. The complexity of society makes it difficult for us to identify our relationships. Generally, societies form different norms and cultures and these norms and cultures will change. Despite the changes in ones society and culture, members of any society like happiness in their own ways. In complex societies, it is valid to question about our contributions to happiness of its members. While material contributions to societies meet the physical needs, mental problems and needs are more difficult to satisfy. This is the point where society and culture become intertwined.
To understand how culture and society coexist, you need to know the basic definition of culture: a system of socially acquired values, beliefs, and rules of conduct which limit the range of accepted behaviors in any given society. It is the human capacity to classify experiences, encode such classifications symbolically, and teach such abstractions to others. This enculturation was brought to light by Emile Durkheim who said, ”We live in a society we did not make (Noble 86). Our very ideas of ourselves are shaped by the society we were born into”. Basically stating that culture is embedded into ones life at an unconscious level. For example, if a child is born into a white supremacist family, that child will grow up believing that whites are the superior race and everyone else is below them. It is the same for every culture no matter how big the value or belief. A central challenge for any culture is trying to secure an acceptable if not virtuous mode of collective life (Gergen 185). This is called the moral project. This project, if completed, would create the ideal utopian society. Our western culture has sought to construct an intelligibility that can be shared by all, an image of moral life and how it is to be achieved. The problem here lies in the emergence of new technologies such as cell phones, the Internet, and faxes that have expanded and intensified the domain of social connection. This is bringing about a whole new type of society and cross culturalization among people. The new question from this is, Can the traditional conceptions of self and community remain a viable basis for moral order?
Humans also use symbols to distinguish between different societies and cultures. The uses of requests, commands, commendations, corrections, greetings, symbols, and so on have practical consequences in cultural life. To theorists, language is seen as an unremarkable tool that people use to coordinate activities. On the other hand, symbols can be regarded as one of the most basic systems of human expression. Symbols convey a deep and almost instinctive meaning to people. Whether it is seen as embodying violence and oppression or as a rallying point, symbols make up the very fabric of identity. A symbol’s very existence and meaning depends on whom it is representing. A given symbol represents a certain tradition and culture, therefore is there a fixed relationship between the symbol and those it is supposed to represent and to those it is supposed to oppose? Essentially, symbols offer an identity to a particular group which wishes to identify with whichever culture that symbol represents. However, symbols also can cause controversy and misunderstanding between two cultures, which locks themselves into a struggle with one another, and this misunderstanding develops into entrenched views of the others cultural symbols. This simple form of representation has led to many historic battles. This brings to mind the most noticeable symbols of a society and culture: the national flag and national anthem. Evidently these symbols are seen as militant by nature and therefore provoke very strong emotions for those who identify with it and those who are against it. The widespread use of a flag might be seen by some as distasteful and might represent oppression and genocide, this is the case for the European nations who were torn apart in two world wars. Even in the United States, there is a very strong attachment, by the local culture, to the national flag with the very national anthem. They are our most basic emblems but seem to be the final rallying point when the future looks grim and morale is low. It may seem outdated and futile to some cultures, but it can be the exact illusion required to offer comfort. This was most recently evident on Sept. 11 last year. When our country was attacked, our society joined together around our national symbol and it brought us together and gave us strength in a time of turmoil. Thereby a culture’s flag is a living thing who’s ageless existence speaks a thousand words, offers guidance and comfort, and serves as a reminder of the fears and hopes of ones ancestors (Nash 2).
Another part of society and culture is the idea a general social structure. This is defined as the way in which society is organized into predictable relationships and patterns of social interaction (the way people respond to each other). A couple of elements that make up the structure are the roles people take in society and the presentation of self that the roles leave behind. Social structure can mean external and objective features of social order that are taught to have controlling power over culture and action. The presentation of ones self is dependent on the various surface roles being played and nothing more. Structural Individualism is when individuals tend to pursue their own self-interest without much sense of a larger plan. Many of the roles present in our culture directly relate to economic status. The economically privileged have the ability to experiment with alternative images and styles of self-presentation. But this is just not limited to the privileged; we will all experience the flux and fragmentation of life in a consumer society and will have difficulty sustaining qualities we think are necessary. The roles we endure create our reality. Our roles can change leading to a change in interaction. An example is asking your girlfriend to become your wife. We all experience a role set in some way. That is the behavioral expectations and obligations that accompany a particular status. Roles are usually defined through an interaction, or an inherited status.
“Throughout history, cultural struggles have been in fact the clear expression of struggles of social classes. No matter if they were political, religious, philosophical, or some other ideological domain, Marx states it’s the law of motion of history” (Noble 44). If our present day society and culture can learn from history, our goal of a perfect utopian society might come true.