Cultural Diversity in the US FALL 2020

Question one- The Culture Concept

The meaning of culture developed differently in Europe and the United States. Anthropologists in Europe were interested in how societies were structured and how they remained intact. They argued that people in a society are connected through social institutions that serve different functions and develop functionalism theory. Such social institutions include; family, schools, churches, political organizations, businesses, among others. They explained that societal order is maintained by each institution performing its roles. Additionally, one of the anthropologists, Bronislaw Malinowski, believed that cultural traditions are born due to human needs such as food, clothing, and knowledge. He gave an example of when individual desires to acquire knowledge; they will adopt the culture of going to school, thereby forming a culture.

On the other hand, anthropologists in the United States’ perspective of culture differed from Europe. Their concern was more of understanding culture from an insider’s view rather than how culture was developed. Franz Boas, who redirected the theory, termed it as cultural-relativism, where he argued that culture could not be understood since all humans have different cultures. However, the view is different from ethnocentrism, which means viewing one’s culture as superior to others. To understand a certain culture, Boas said that one needs to closely interact with the people and their environment to view it from the culture believer’s side.

These two approaches are similar in that both define culture as knowledge, beliefs, and customs. However, cultural relativism adds law, art, morals, capabilities, and habits as determinants of culture. Additionally, both approaches study how humans acquire culture, although from different perspectives. Functionalism focuses on human needs as the drive of acquiring culture, while cultural-relativism focuses on language as the main transmitter of culture. Nonetheless, the two approaches are vital in understanding the concept of culture.


Question two- Class and Inequality

Karl Marx distinguished two classes in a society; the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat. He termed the bourgeoisie as the rich in society who owns production, such as machines, industries, raw materials, and financial resources. On the other hand, the Proletarians are the poor who provide labor for the rich. According to him, the poor or the working class do not have means of production, finances, or land to grow their food. Consequently, they sell their labor to the capitalists to earn a living. Marx’s theory explains that social classes are caused by t power in society.

On the other hand, Max Weber explained that social classes are caused by prestige and life chances. By prestige, he meant reputation and influence that some people hold in society. He said that ‘life chances’ such as the opportunities that improve quality of life are affected by a person’s prestige factors. Those who are ranked high in society due to their reputation can easily find quality opportunities. These life chances are the ones that group people into different classes in society.

Pierre Bourdieu argued that education causes social reproduction. After researching the French education system, he discovered that education reproduces social classes influenced by factors such as talents. Besides, he added the other two factors, habitus, and cultural capital, as determinants of class. Habitus is the perceptions and beliefs individuals develop in and determine one’s access to life chances. Cultural capital is knowledge, and taste learned from parents and family, and similarly, it is a determinant of life chances. Despite the differences in what causes social classes, all the theories hold on that social classes exist.

Question Three- Intersectional Approach to Inequality

Leith Mullings argues that class is caused by inequality, and it cannot be studied merely without incorporating the issues of race and gender. She discovered that African-American women report more problems related to infant deaths than white Americans. In her research, she uncovered that African-American women’s state of housing, employment, health care, environmental factors, and public spaces was in a mess. They lived in poorly maintained and inadequate houses; most of them were middle class and working class and received minimal wages. On top of this, they lived in a highly polluted environment from the sewage plant and six-bus depots, which contributed to their children contracting asthma at a higher rate. This explanation provides a perfect example of how class and inequality are related. The fact that white Americans’ birth problems are relatively lower than the African-Americans shows that race is a key determinant of inequality.

Mullings enables us to see that inequality is not merely caused by social stratification, but also race and gender highly contribute. The main concern is to look at the conditions different people from different races live in and compare the resources surrounding them, such as social amenities. Through this, we will understand why social classes exist. The giant in the research being inequality. Also, across gender, men and women are treated differently in society. This explains the differences in class in which men are viewed as more prestigious than women. How men and women access life chances opportunities also contribute to class because, in some instances, men may be more favored. Therefore, while understanding inequality, race, and gender factors must be considered.

Question Four- The Race Concept

W.E.B. Du Bois was a propagandist, a scientist, activist, and a sociologist. He was also among the pioneers of empirical research. He is the writer of Black of Souls Folk classic and co-founder of the NAACP, where he was still the editor of its journal, The Crisis. He believed in science and how scientific proof can drive the elite whites to discover the wrong attributes of racism. He was strongly against racism and believed that racial order is not natural but a consequence of one group striving to maintain power over another group. He configures the ‘race concept’ as driven by social constructs such as power and resistance rather than biological. Politically, he explained that races create groups of people which he referred to “worlds” and that conceptions of race are politically motivated.

DuBois argues that race is connected to capitalism in the United States in terms of power. While capitalism involves those in power, taking advantage of the working class or the poor in society, similarly, racial discrimination results from those in power wanting to rule over others. In this case, racial discrimination refers to the whites being against the black in the United States. Therefore, the two are connected through power. Additionally, both are created by social constructs in which social factors such as finances, prestige, and power are key determinants. Further, he explains that race creates groups of people, just like capitalism does. Thus, race and capitalism are connected by power.