After completing this chapter, you will be able to
- Define key terms:
- Values, beliefs, and norms (Little, 2016)
- Ethnocentrism and stereotypes (Grothe, n.d.)
- Cross-cultural competence (Meyer, 2017, p. 57)
- Multiculturalism and interculturalism (Little, 2016)
Values, Beliefs, and Norms
William Little 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.
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.
Ethnocentrism and Stereotypes
Where did you start reading on this page? The top left corner. Why not the bottom right corner, or the top right one? In English we read left to right, from the top of the page to the bottom. But not everyone reads the same. If you read and write Arabic or Hebrew, you will proceed from right to left. Neither is right or wrong, simply different. Americans tend to say that people from England drive on the “wrong” side of the road, rather than on the “other” side. You may find it hard to drive on the other side of the road while visiting England, but for people in the United Kingdom, it is normal and natural. Often, people in the United States express disgust at other cultures’ cuisine and think that it’s gross to eat meat from a dog or guinea pig, for example, while they don’t question their own habit of eating cows or pigs. Such attitudes are an example of ethnocentrism, placing one’s own culture and the corresponding beliefs, values, and behaviors in the center; in a position where it is seen as normal and right, and evaluating all other cultural systems against it. A good example of ethnocentrism is referring to parts of Asia as the “Far East.” One might question, “Far east of where?” Ethnocentrism shows up in large and small ways: the WWII Nazi’s elevation of the Aryan race and the corresponding killing of Jews, Gypsies, gays and lesbians, and other non Aryan groups is one of the most horrific ethnocentric acts in history. However, ethnocentrism shows up in small and seemingly unconscious ways as well. In American
In the Czech Republic, the traditional Christmas dinner is carp and potato salad. Imagine how your family might react if you told them you were serving carp and potato salad for Christmas. In the Czech Republic, it is a beautiful tradition, but in America, it might not receive a warm welcome. Our cultural background influences every aspect of our lives from the food we consume to the classroom. Ethnocentrism is likely to show up in Literature classes as well. Cultural bias dictates which “great works” students are going to read and study in the classroom. More often than not, these works represent the given culture (i.e., reading French authors in France and Korean authors in Korea). In this case, ethnocentrism can be difficult to identify, as it just seems “normal.” This is also the case with how the world is introduced to us via maps. The map below is similar to the map of the world introduced to me in school. I never questioned why Asia was cut in half and my country was in the middle of the map.
In the field of geography there has been an ongoing debate about the use of a Mercater map versus a Peter’s Projection map. The arguments reveal cultural biases toward the Northern, industrialized nations.
The Greenland Problem
The Mercator projection creates increasing distortions of size as you move away from the equator. As you get closer to the poles the distortion becomes severe. Cartographers refer to the inability to compare size on a Mercator projection as “the Greenland Problem.” Greenland appears to be the same size as Africa, yet Africa’s land mass is actually fourteen times larger. Greenland is 0.8 million sq. miles and Africa is 11.6 million sq. miles, yet they often look roughly the same size on maps. Because the Mercator distorts size so much at the poles it is common to crop Antarctica off the map. This practice results in the Northern Hemisphere appearing much larger than it really is. Typically, the cropping technique results in a map showing the equator about 60% of the way down the map, diminishing the size and importance of the developing countries.
This was convenient, psychologically and practically, through the eras of colonial domination when most of the world powers were European. It suited them to maintain an image of the world with Europe at the center and looking much larger than it really was. Was this conscious or deliberate? Probably not, as most European map users probably never realized the
bias inherent in their world view.
A few major misconceptions based on this map:
- Alaska is nearly as large as the continental U.S.
- Greenland is roughly the same size as Africa.
- Europe (excluding Russia) is only a bit larger than South America.
- Antarctica dwarfs all the continents.
- Alaska can fit inside the continental U.S. about three times.
- Greenland can fit inside Africa about 14 times.
- South America nearly doubles Europe’s land mass.
- Antarctica looks like the second-smallest continent.
- The Gall-Peters projection (shown below) makes seeing the relative size of places much easier.Notably, this version comes closer to showing that what we perceive as land mass in the “South” is nearly twice as big as the “North” — 38.6 million square miles compared to 18.9 million square miles. The Mercator, however, makes the North look much larger. Therefore, Peters argued, the Mercator projection shows a euro-centric bias and harms the world’s perception of developing countries.
A high level of appreciation for one’s own culture can be healthy; a shared sense of community pride, for example, connects people in a society. But ethnocentrism can lead to disdain or dislike for other cultures and could cause misunderstanding and conflict. People with the best intentions sometimes travel to a society to “help” its people, because they see them as uneducated or backward—essentially inferior. In reality, these travelers are guilty of cultural imperialism, the ethnocentric imposition of one’s own cultural values on another culture.
Europe’s colonial expansion, begun in the sixteenth century, was often accompanied by a severe cultural imperialism. European colonizers often viewed the people in the lands they colonized as uncultured savages who were in need of European governance, dress, religion, and other cultural practices. A more modern example of cultural imperialism may include the work of international aid agencies who introduce agricultural methods and plant species from developed countries while overlooking indigenous varieties and agricultural approaches that are better suited to the particular region. To dismantle ethnocentrism, we must recognize that our views of the world, what we consider right and wrong, normal or weird, are largely influenced by our cultural standpoint, and that our cultural standpoint is not everyone’s cultural standpoint. This
Just as ethnocentrism is rooted in our perception of the world around us, so too are stereotypes. In fact, stereotypes are activated out of the perception process. Perception is the process of selecting stimuli from our environment, categorizing that stimuli, and then interpreting it. Stereotypes are rigid categorizations of people based on their group affiliation. We stereotype people because it streamlines the perception process. Once we’ve categorized a person as a member of a particular group, we can form a quick impression of them (Macrae et al., 1999). When we stereotype others, we replace human complexities of personality with broad assumptions about character and worth based on social group affiliation. We stereotype people in the perception process to help us make sense out of our world, which might be efficient for communication, but frequently leads us to form flawed impressions.
As stated above, stereotypes are oversimplified ideas about groups of people. Stereotypes can be based on race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation — almost any characteristic. They may be positive, but when combined with an ethnocentric perspective, are often negative (usually toward other groups, such as when members of a dominant racial group suggest that a subordinate racial group is stupid or lazy). In either case, the stereotype is a generalization that doesn’t take individual differences into account.
Although in some cases the stereotypes that are used to make judgments might actually be true of the individual being judged, in many other cases they are not. Stereotypes are overgeneralized and applied to all members of a group. Stereotyping is problematic when the stereotypes we hold about a social group are inaccurate overall, and particularly when they do not apply to the individual who is being judged (Stangor, 1995). For example, someone holding prejudiced attitudes toward older adults, may believe that older adults are slow and incompetent (Cuddy, Norton, & Fiske, 2005; Nelson, 2004). We cannot possibly know each individual person of advanced age to know that all older adults are slow and incompetent. Therefore, this negative belief is overgeneralized to all members of the group, even though many of the individual group members may in fact be spry and intelligent. Another example of a well-known stereotype involves beliefs about racial differences among athletes. As Hodge, Burden, Robinson, and Bennett (2008) point out, Black male athletes are often believed to be more athletic, yet less intelligent, than their White male counterparts. These beliefs persist despite a number of high profile examples to the contrary. Sadly, such beliefs often influence how these athletes are treated by others and how they view themselves and their own capabilities.
Where do stereotypes come from? New stereotypes are rarely created; rather, they are recycled from subordinate groups that have assimilated into society and are reused to describe newly subordinate groups. For example, many stereotypes that are currently used to characterize black people were used earlier in American history to characterize Irish and eastern European immigrants. Once they become established, stereotypes (like any other cognitive representation) tend to persevere. We begin to respond to members of stereotyped categories as if we already knew what they were like.
Stereotypes are maintained because information that confirms our stereotypes is better remembered than information that disconfirms them. In this process, known as confirmation bias, we seek out information that supports our stereotypes and ignore information that is inconsistent with our stereotypes (Fyock & Stangor, 1994). If we believe that women are bad drivers and we see a woman driving poorly, then we tend to remember it, but when we see a woman who drives particularly well, we tend to forget it. When we confirm our biases, we tend to perceive the world in ways that make it fit our existing beliefs, rather than changing our beliefs to fit the reality around us. Because they are so highly cognitively accessible, and because they seem so “right,” our stereotypes easily influence our judgments of and responses to those we have categorized.
Stereotypes and Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
When we hold a stereotype about a person, we have expectations that he or she will fulfill that stereotype. A self-fulfilling prophecy is an expectation held by a person that alters his or her behavior in a way that tends to make it true. When we hold stereotypes about a person, we tend to treat the person according to our expectations. This treatment can influence the person to act according to our stereotypic expectations, thus confirming our stereotypic beliefs. Once we believe that men make better leaders than women, we tend to behave toward men in ways that makes it easier for them to lead. And we behave toward women in ways that makes it more difficult for them to lead. The result? Men find it easier to excel in leadership positions, whereas women have to work hard to overcome the false beliefs about their lack of leadership abilities (Phelan & Rudman, 2010). Self-fulfilling prophecies are ubiquitous—even teachers’ expectations about their students’ academic abilities can influence the students’ school performance (Jussim, Robustelli, & Cain, 2009). Research by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) found that disadvantaged students whose teachers expected them to perform well had higher grades than disadvantaged students whose teachers expected them to do poorly.
The Stereotype Effect
Our stereotypes influence not only our judgments of others but also our beliefs about ourselves, and even our own performance on important tasks. In some cases, these beliefs may be positive, and they have the effect of making us feel more confident and thus better able to perform tasks. This effect is called stereotype lift. Because Asian students are aware of the stereotype that “Asians are good at math,” reminding them of this fact before they take a difficult math test can improve their performance on the test (Walton & Cohen, 2003).
On the other hand, sometimes these beliefs are negative, and they create negative self-fulfilling prophecies such that we perform more poorly just because of our knowledge about the stereotypes. This latter effect is called stereotype threat. Research has found that the experience of stereotype threat can help explain a wide variety of performance decrements among those who are targeted by negative stereotypes. For instance, Black students perform more poorly on standardized tests, receive lower grades, and are less likely to remain in school in comparison with White students, even when other factors such as family income, parents’ education, and other relevant variables are controlled. Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson (1995) tested the hypothesis that these differences might be due to the activation of negative stereotypes, prompting stereotype threat. Because Black students are aware of the (inaccurate) stereotype that “Blacks are intellectually inferior to Whites,” this stereotype might create a negative expectation, which might interfere with their performance on intellectual tests through fear of confirming that stereotype.
In support of this hypothesis, Steele and Aronson’s research revealed that Black college students performed worse (in comparison with their prior test scores) on math questions taken from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) when the test was described to them as being “diagnostic of their mathematical ability” (and thus when the
Steele and Aronson argued that thinking about negative stereotypes that are relevant to a task that one is performing creates stereotype threat. That is, they argued that the negative impact of race on standardized tests may be caused, at least in part, by knowledge of relevant cultural stereotypes. Because the threat is “in the air,” Black students may be negatively influenced by it. Even groups who typically enjoy advantaged social status can be made to experience stereotype threat. White men performed more poorly on a math test when they were told that their performance would be compared with that of Asian men (Aronson, Lustina, Good, Keough, & Steele, 1999), and Whites performed more poorly than Blacks on a sport-related task when it was described to them as measuring their natural athletic ability (Stone, 2002).
Stereotype threat is created in situations that pose a significant threat to self-concern, such that our perceptions of ourselves as important, valuable, and capable individuals are threatened. In these situations, there is a discrepancy between our positive concept of our skills and abilities and the negative stereotypes suggesting poor performance. When our stereotypes lead us to believe that we are likely to perform poorly on a task, we experience a feeling of unease and status threat. Research has found that
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?
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 Act, the 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
Prejudice and Discrimination by, Rice University. Provided by OER Commons. License: CC-BY-NC
Principles of Social Psychology, by University of Minnesota Libraries, Publishing. License: CC-BY-NC-SA
Communication for the Community College, by Karen Krumrey-Fulks. Provided by LibreTexts. License: CC-BY-NC-SA
- 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. ↵
- Mott, G. (2006, August). Soldiers holding hands [Digital Image]. Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/67336697@N00/274164370/. ↵
- Guffey, M. E., Lowey, D., Rhodes, K., & Rogin, P. (2013). Intercultural Communication. In Business communication: Process & product (4th brief Canadian ed., p. 60). Nelson. ↵
- 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. ↵