prof.ssa Annamaria ZECCHIA





Cultural anthropology is the subject I teach in the second class. All over the year I speak about different cultures in the world.

I begin to explain the difference between material and not material culture. I say there are two different approaches to the study of society. One kind of research is based on the observer who lives in the group that he studies; the other kind has the observer who looks at the group from outside.

In this context I try to explain the difference between culture and identity.


Culture and identity are absolutely central to all sociology and it is important to define the concepts of culture and identity. Culture is part and parcel of all that we do, all that we are, all that we can and might become.

Culture is the way of life of a group of people, social life happens to be structured in a particular way. Identity means knowing who you are. Culture and identity are frequently linked but they should not be seen exactly as the same concept.

Sociology has been concerned with the relationship between individual and society. The role of culture in social life and law identity develops in social context.


Every unit requires students to think about contemporary debates on culture and identity. Contemporary theories are based on discussions about the role of culture and identity in society.

Issues of culture and identity link well with the topics of: mass media – education – religion – crime and deviance – power and politics – world sociology (in according to the class is possible to define the order of steps to follow).


The study of culture and identity involves debates on important issues: relationship of the individual to the wider group – degree of freedom that individuals have in their day to day life – type and degree of self consciousness individuals have in respect of the way they behave – amount of control that the wider social framework, into which we are born, has over our life.


Exercise 1:

Consider what we mean by the phrase ‘way of life’ and answer the questions that follow.

How does way of life vary amongst cultural group: myself – someone of my age living 100 years ago – someone living today who is elderly – someone living in a poor area of India?

How is culture patterned/maintained – could culture be any different?

Define the word culture in your group – try to write a definition that you think might be of use to sociologist – using your sociological imagination brainstorm what you think the functions of culture

are for society.


Exercise 2:

In order to explore the idea of what culture means in more detail, write a list of examples of each of the above characters of the ‘way of life of a group’, base your list on what happens in present-day society.

For example the way of life of a group would need to include: the dominant values of society, the values that guide the direction that social change might take, religious beliefs, language (linguistic symbols), what is considered to be the correct way for people to believe in their day-to-day lives, what is considered to be the highest intellectual and artistic achievements of a group (literature, art, music), formal behavioural traditions and rituals, dominant patterns of living.

Exercise 3:

One way of looking at culture is to see it as providing rules by which to live. In a group, write a list of your school rules. Then produce a written answer to each of the following questions:

Do you agree with your school rules? Why, why not?

Does everyone follow the rules? What happens if they do not?

How do these rules create a shared identity in the school?

How does the school encourage you to feel as though you belong to a group?

Culture creates the world we live in. It also allows us to understand and interpret our own actions and the actions of others.

Culture as a system and culture as a map of meaning offer different related views on what culture is, what it does and why it is important.

Culture allows us to build the reality we live in, usually through the meanings we give to symbols, passed down in language. Culture allows us to interact with others, to share common meaning, patterns of behaviour and ways of communicating. Cultures exist both subjectively and objectively: they are objective because they are concerned with material things (they shape styles of dress, food, art, music); they are subjective because they are concerned with individuals’ interpretations (they exist in the mind and allows us to make sense of the world around us).


Exercise 4:

The following statements are traditionally associated with either masculinity or femininity. Identify which statement is associated with masculinity and which one with femininity: over-emotional, more interested in sex than in love, concerned about their appearance, unable to make decisions, caring, good leaders, better at solving problems, better at making objects/products, physically strong.

“Battle of the sex” is not only real but is also rooted in the human genetic code: it is a fundamental feature of all animal species and is the basis of many features of evolution, that conflicts over sex are behind all human society: males and females are the result of a complex biological conflict, there is conflict between men to find a sex partner and between women to find a sex partner, men and women themselves conflict in society since they seek different things from life.