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Cultural system


A cultural system is the interaction of different elements of culture. While a cultural system is quite different from a social system, sometimes both systems together are referred to as the sociocultural system.

A major concern in the social sciences is the problem of order. One way that social order has been theorized is according to the degree of integration of cultural and social factors.

Talcott Parsons, a major figure in sociology, who was the main originator of action theory in the early 20th century, based his sociological theory of action system is build up around a general theory of society, which is codified within a cybernetic model featuring four functional imperatives: adaptation, goal-attainment, integration, and pattern maintenance. The hierarchy of systems are, from least to most encompassing system, respectively, behavioral organism, personality system, social system, and cultural system. Ritzer and Goodman (2004) summarize Parsons view, "Parsons saw these action systems acting at different levels of analysis, starting with the behavioral organism and building to the cultural system. He saw these levels hierarchically, with each of the lower levels providing the impetus for the higher levels, with the higher levels controlling the lower levels." In an article late in life Parsons maintained that the term "functionalism" was an inappropriate characterization of his theory.

The British Sociologist David Lockwood argued for a contrast between social content and social transmission in his work on social structure and agency. Noting that social systems were distinct in structure and transmission. Lockwood's conceptual distinction influenced Jürgen Habermas' discussion in the classic Legitimation Crises, who made the now famous distinction between system integration and social integration of the lifeworld.

Margaret Archer (2004) in a revised edition of her classic work Culture and Agency, argues that the grand idea of a unified integrated culture system, as advocated by early Anthropologists such as Bronisław Malinowski and later by Mary Douglas, is a myth. Archer reads this same myth through Pitirim Sorokin's influence and then Talcott Parsons' approach to cultural systems (2004:3). The myth of a unified integrated cultural system was also advanced by Western Marxists such as by Antonio Gramsci through the theory of cultural hegemony through a dominant culture. Basic to these mistaken conceptions was the idea of culture as a community of meanings, which function independently in motivating social behavior. This combined two independent factors, community and meanings which can be investigated quasi-independently (2004:4)



"logical consistency is a property of the world of ideas; causal consistency is a property of people. The main proposition here is the two are logically and empirically distinct, hence can vary independently of one another. Thus it is perfectly conceivable that any social unit, from a community to a civilization, could be found the principle ideational elements (knowledge, belief, norms, language, mythology, etc.) of which do display considerable logical consistency – that is, the components are consistent not contradictory – yet the same social unit may be low on causal consensus. " (2004:4)
  • Archer, Margaret S. 2004. Culture and Agency: The Place of Culture in Social Theory, Revised Edition. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Burrowes, Carl Patrick. 1996. From Functionalism to Cultural Studies: Manifest Ruptures and Latent Continuities, Communication Theory, 6(1):88–103.
  • Geertz, Clifford. 1966. "Religion as a Cultural System," in M. Banton (ed.), Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion. New York: Praeger, pp. 1–46.
  • David Lockwood. 1964. “Social Integration and System Integration,” in G. Zollschan and W. Hirsch (eds.), Explorations in Social Change. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Ritzer, George and Douglas J. Goodman. 2004. "Structural Functionalism, Neofunctionalism, and Conflict Theory," in Sociological Theory, sixth edition. McGraw-Hill.
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