2 Key Terms

Learning Objectives

After completing this chapter, you will be able to

  • Define key terms:
    • Values, beliefs, and norms (Little, 2016)
    • Stereotypes, prejudice, and prototypes (Guffey, 2013, p. 66)
    • Ethnocentrism (Meyer, 2017, p. 57)
    • Cross-cultural competence (Meyer, 2017, p. 57)
    • Multiculturalism and interculturalism (Little, 2016)


Values, Beliefs, and Norms

William Little[1] defines values, beliefs and norms in the context of studying culture:

Values are a culture’s standard for discerning desirable states in society (what is true, good, just, or beautiful). Values are deeply embedded and critical for transmitting and teaching a culture’s beliefs. Beliefs are the tenets or convictions that people hold to be true. Individuals in a society have specific beliefs, but they also share collective values. To illustrate the difference, North Americans commonly believe that anyone who works hard enough will be successful and wealthy. Underlying this belief is the value that wealth is good and desirable.

Values help shape a society by suggesting what is good and bad, beautiful and ugly, and what should be sought or avoided. Consider the value that North American culture places upon youth. Children represent innocence and purity, while a youthful adult appearance signifies sexuality. Shaped by this value, North Americans spend millions of dollars each year on cosmetic products and surgeries to look young and beautiful.

Sometimes the values of Canada and the United States are contrasted. Americans are said to have an individualistic culture, meaning people place a high value on individuality and independence. In contrast, Canadian culture is said to be more collectivist, meaning the welfare of the group and group relationships are primary values. As we will see below, Seymour Martin Lipset used these contrasts of values to explain why the two societies, which have common roots as British colonies, developed such different political institutions and cultures (Lipset, 1990).

Living up to a culture’s values can be difficult. It’s easy to value good health, but it’s hard to quit smoking. Marital monogamy is valued, but many spouses engage in infidelity. Cultural diversity and equal opportunities for all people are valued in Canada, yet the country’s highest political offices have been dominated by white men.

Values often suggest how people should behave, but they do not accurately reflect how people do behave. As we saw in Chapter 2, the classical sociologist Harriet Martineau made a basic distinction between what people say they believe and what they actually do, which are often at odds. Values portray an ideal culture, the standards society would like to embrace and live up to. But ideal culture differs from real culture, the way society actually is, based on what occurs and exists. In an ideal culture, there would be no traffic accidents, murders, poverty, or racial tension. But in real culture, police officers, lawmakers, educators, and social workers constantly strive to prevent or repair those accidents, crimes, and injustices. Teenagers are encouraged to value celibacy. However, the number of unplanned pregnancies among teens reveals that not only is the ideal hard to live up to, but that the value alone is not enough to spare teenagers from the potential consequences of having sex.

One way societies strive to put values into action is through rewards, sanctions, and punishments. When people observe the norms of society and uphold its values, they are often rewarded. A boy who helps an elderly woman board a bus may receive a smile and a “thank you.” A business manager who raises profit margins may receive a quarterly bonus. People sanction certain behaviours by giving their support, approval, or permission, or by instilling formal actions of disapproval and non-support. Sanctions are a form of social control, a way to encourage conformity to cultural norms. Sometimes people conform to norms in anticipation or expectation of positive sanctions: Good grades, for instance, may mean praise from parents and teachers.

When people go against a society’s values, they are punished. A boy who shoves an elderly woman aside to board the bus first may receive frowns or even a scolding from other passengers. A business manager who drives away customers will likely be fired. Breaking norms and rejecting values can lead to cultural sanctions such as earning a negative label — lazy, no-good bum — or to legal sanctions such as traffic tickets, fines, or imprisonment.

Values are not static; they vary across time and between groups as people evaluate, debate, and change collective societal beliefs. Values also vary from culture to culture. For example, cultures differ in their values about what kinds of physical closeness are appropriate in public. It is rare to see two male friends or coworkers holding hands in Canada where that behaviour often symbolizes romantic feelings. But in many nations, masculine physical intimacy is considered natural in public. A simple gesture, such as hand-holding, carries great symbolic differences across cultures[2].

An image of two African soldiers holding hands.
Figure 3.16. In many parts of Africa and the Middle East, it is considered normal for men to hold hands in friendship. How would Canadians react to these two soldiers? (Photo courtesy of Geordie Mott/Flickr.)

As opposed to values and beliefs which identify desirable states and convictions about how things are, a norm is a generally accepted way of doing things. Norms define how to behave in accordance with what a society has defined as good, right, and important, and most members of the society adhere to them because their violation invokes some degree of sanction. They define the rules that govern behaviour.

Formal norms are established, written rules. They are behaviours worked out and agreed upon in order to suit and serve most people. Laws are formal norms, but so are employee manuals, college entrance exam requirements, and no running at swimming pools. Formal norms are the most specific and clearly stated of the various types of norms, and the most strictly enforced. But even formal norms are enforced to varying degrees, reflected in cultural values.

For example, money is highly valued in North America, so monetary crimes are punished. It is against the law to rob a bank, and banks go to great lengths to prevent such crimes. People safeguard valuable possessions and install anti-theft devices to protect homes and cars. Until recently, a less strictly enforced social norm was driving while intoxicated. While it is against the law to drive drunk, drinking is for the most part an acceptable social behaviour. Though there have been laws in Canada to punish drunk driving since 1921, there were few systems in place to prevent the crime until quite recently. These examples show a range of enforcement in formal norms.

There are plenty of formal norms, but the list of informal norms — casual behaviours that are generally and widely conformed to — is longer. People learn informal norms by observation, imitation, and general socialization. Some informal norms are taught directly — “kiss your Aunt Edna” or “use your napkin” — while others are learned by observation, including observations of the consequences when someone else violates a norm. Children learn quickly that picking your nose is subject to ridicule when they see someone shamed for it by other children. Although informal norms define personal interactions, they extend into other systems as well. Think back to the discussion of fast food restaurants at the beginning of this chapter. In Canada, there are informal norms regarding behaviour at these restaurants. Customers line up to order their food, and leave when they are done. They do not sit down at a table with strangers, sing loudly as they prepare their condiments, or nap in a booth. Most people do not commit even benign breaches of informal norms. Informal norms dictate appropriate behaviours without the need of written rules.


Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Prototypes

Guffey et al. (2013)[3] explain that a discussion of culture necessitates making generalizations and that students of culture discuss culture in terms of prototypes:

Most experts recognize that it is impossible to talk about cultures without using mental categories, representations, and generalizations to describe groups. These categories are sometimes considered . The term stereotype has a negative connotation.

A stereotype is an oversimplified behavioural pattern applied uncritically to groups. Stereotypes are fixed and rigid. Although they may be exaggerated and overgeneralized beliefs when applied to groups of people, stereotypes are not always entirely false[4]. Often they contain a grain of truth. When a stereotype develops into a rigid attitude and when it is based on erroneous beliefs or preconceptions, then it should be called a .

Stereotypes are oversimplified behavioural patterns applied uncritically to groups.

Guffey et al. (2013) explain the use of the term prototype to refer to generalizations made while studying culture:

Varner and Beamer recommended using the term prototype to describe “mental representations based on general characteristics that are not fixed and rigid but rather are open to new definitions.”[5] Prototypes, then, are dynamic and change with fresh experience. Prototypes based on objective observations usually have a considerable amount of truth in them. That is why they can be helpful in studying culture. For example, South American businesspeople often talk about their families before getting down to business. This prototype is generally accurate, but it may not universally apply and it may change over time.

Prototypes describe general characteristics that are dynamic and may change.

Some people object to making any generalizations about cultures. It is wise to remember, however, that whenever we are confronted with something new and unfamiliar, we naturally strive to categorize the data to make sense out of it. In categorizing these new data, we are making generalizations. Significant intellectual discourse is impossible without generalizations. Unfounded generalizations about people and cultures, of course, can lead to bias and prejudice. But for our purposes, when we discuss cultures, it is important to be able to make generalizations and describe cultural prototypes.


Discussion Question[6]

Queen Elizabeth II once said, “Stereotypes wither when human contacts flourish.”

What does this statement mean? Have you found this to be accurate in your own experience?


Ethnocentrism and Cross-Cultural Competence

Meyer (2017)[7] warns that effective intercultural communicators must avoid ethnocentrism:

Part of the challenge in communicating interculturally is to defy (the belief that one’s own culture is superior), which serves only to intensify cultural misunderstanding.

Ethnocentric beliefs are barriers to cross-cultural competence.

is a learned skill that is increasingly valuable in today’s workplaces[8]. This competence is critical to promote harmony among diverse employees, enable the organization to serve with clients across cultures, and allow companies to profit in a global economy. 


Multiculturalism and Interculturalism

Once again, the open source Introduction to Sociology textbook by William Little[9] explains and evaluates the concepts of multiculturalism and interculturalism:

One prominent aspect of contemporary Canadian cultural identity is the idea of multiculturalism. Canada was the first officially declared multicultural society in which, as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau declared in 1971, no culture would take precedence over any other. Multiculturalism refers to both the fact of the existence of a diversity of cultures within one territory and to a way of conceptualizing and managing cultural diversity. As a policy, multiculturalism seeks to both promote and recognize cultural differences while addressing the inevitability of cultural tensions. In the 1988 Multiculturalism Actthe federal government officially acknowledged its role “in bringing about equal access and participation for all Canadians in the economic, social, cultural, and political life of the nation” (Government of Canada, as cited in Angelini & Broderick, 2012).

However, the focus on multiculturalism and culture per se has not always been so central to Canadian public discourse. Multiculturalism represents a relatively recent cultural development. Prior to the end of World War II, Canadian authorities used the concept of biological race to differentiate the various types of immigrants and Aboriginal peoples in Canada. This focus on biology led to corresponding fears about the quality of immigrant “stock” and the problems of how to manage the mixture of races. In this context, three different models for how to manage diversity were in contention: (1) the American “melting pot” paradigm in which the mingling of races was thought to be able to produce a super race with the best qualities of all races intermingled, (2) strict exclusion or deportation of races seen to be “unsuited” to Canadian social and environmental conditions, or (3) the Canadian “mosaic” that advocated for the separation and compartmentalization of races (Day, 2000).

After World War II, the category of race was replaced by culture and ethnicity in the public discourse, but the mosaic model was retained. Culture came to be understood in terms of the new anthropological definitions of culture as a deep-seated emotional-psychological phenomenon. In this conceptualization, to be deprived of culture through coercive assimilation would be a type of cultural genocide. As a result, alternatives to cultural assimilation into the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture were debated, and the Canadian mosaic model for managing a diverse population was redefined as multiculturalism. Based on a new appreciation of culture, and with increased immigration from non-European countries, Canadian identity was re-imagined in the 1960s and 1970s as a happy cohabitation of cultures, each of which was encouraged to maintain their cultural distinctiveness. So while the cultural identity of Canadians is diverse, the cultural paradigm in which their coexistence is conceptualized — multiculturalism — has come to be equated with Canadian cultural identity.

However, these developments have not alleviated the problems of cultural difference with which sociologists are concerned. Multicultural policy has sparked numerous, remarkably contentious issues ranging from whether Sikh RCMP officers can wear turbans to whether Mormon sects can have legal polygamous marriages. In 2014, the Parti Québécois in Quebec proposed a controversial Charter of Quebec Values that would, to reinforce the neutrality of the state, ban public employees from wearing “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols and headgear. This position represented a unique Quebec-based concept of multiculturalism known as interculturalism. Whereas multiculturalism begins with the premise that there is no dominant culture in Canada, interculturalism begins with the premise that in Quebec francophone culture is dominant but also precarious in the North American context. It cannot risk further fragmentation. Therefore the intercultural model of managing diversity is to recognize and respect the diversity of immigrants who seek to integrate into Quebec society but also to make clear to immigrants that they must recognize and respect Quebec’s common or “fundamental” values.

Critics of multiculturalism identify four related problems:

  • Multiculturalism only superficially accepts the equality of all cultures while continuing to limit and prohibit actual equality, participation, and cultural expression. One key element of this criticism is that there are only two official languages in Canada — English and French — which limits the full participation of non-anglophone/francophone groups.
  • Multiculturalism obliges minority individuals to assume the limited cultural identities of their ethnic group of origin, which leads to stereotyping minority groups, ghettoization, and feeling isolated from the national culture.
  • Multiculturalism causes fragmentation and disunity in Canadian society. Minorities do not integrate into existing Canadian society but demand that Canadians adopt or accommodate their way of life, even when they espouse controversial values, laws, and customs (like polygamy or sharia law).
  • Multiculturalism is based on recognizing group rights which undermines constitutional protections of individual rights.

On the other hand, proponents of multiculturalism like Will Kymlicka describe the Canadian experience with multiculturalism as a success story; he says that immigrants in Canada

  • are more likely to become voting citizens
  • are more likely to successfully run for office
  • are less likely to experience discrimination
  • have better educational outcomes for their children
  • have less “ethnic penalty” when matching skills to jobs than in other countries
  • feel that their immigration experience was positive and beneficial

Definition Review


Definition Exercise

Write your own definitions for the terms below.

acculturation assimilation colonialism corporate culture counter culture
cultural genocide cultural homogeneity cultural imperialism cultural relativism culture shock
discrimination diversity ethics ethnicity heritage
morals mores popular culture proxemics morals
race racism refugee reverse culture shock social justice
sojourner tolerance tourist traits xenophobia

  1. Little, W. (2016, October 5). Chapter 3: Culture. In Introduction to sociology (2nd Canadian ed.). BCcampus Open Education. https://opentextbc.ca/introductiontosociology2ndedition/chapter/chapter-3-culture/. CC BY 4.0.
  2. Mott, G. (2006, August). Soldiers holding hands [Digital Image]. Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/67336697@N00/274164370/.
  3. Guffey, M. E., Lowey, D., Rhodes, K., & Rogin, P. (2013). Intercultural communication. In Business communication: Process & product (4th brief Canadian ed., pp. 174-202). Nelson Education.
  4. Chen, G. M., & Sarosta, W. J. (1998). Foundations of intercultural communication (p. 40). Allyn and Bacon.
  5. Varner, I., & Beamer, L. (2001). Intercultural communication in the global workplace (p. 18). McGraw-Hill Irwin.
  6. Guffey, M. E., Lowey, D., Rhodes, K., & Rogin, P. (2013). Intercultural Communication. In Business communication: Process & product (4th brief Canadian ed., p. 60). Nelson.
  7. Meyer, C. (2017). Getting the message across. In Communicating for results: A Canadian student’s guide (4th ed., pp. 36-69). Oxford.
  8. Jia, K. (2010, July 28). Building a cross-cultural competence. The Financial Post. https://bit.ly/3JDj5BN.
  9. Little, W. (2016, October 5). Chapter 3: Culture. In Introduction to sociology  (2nd Canadian ed.). BCcampus Open Education. https://opentextbc.ca/introductiontosociology2ndedition/chapter/chapter-3-culture/. CC BY 4.0.


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