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by Phil Bartle, PhD

Training Handout

Is culture within us or outside us?

The idea of culture or society being inside the individual is mainly supported by the sociological writings of Max Weber.

He argued that we cannot understand society unless we understand the meanings (Verstehen) that we put onto our beliefs and actions.

He did not found or write the perspective called "Symbolic Interaction" as such (Henslin p. 17), but his approach grew into that perspective of sociology.

In contrast, Durkheim coined the term "Social facts," to describe information of a social nature in contrast to that of individual nature.

Here we look at such things as rates of a specific behaviour (like weddings or suicide) rather than the individual choices behind such behaviour (Henslin p.13).

June is a popular month for weddings, and more people in Canada get married in that month than in other months.

Suicide is more frequent in some groups (by nation, by religion, by ethnic group, by marital status) than in others.

Those rates remain quite constant and predictable, even though the individuals who choose them can not be predicted.

Durkheim did not deny that culture and society, as systems of beliefs and behaviour, are carried by individuals, but wrote that they act as if they are operating externally to individuals.

Durkheim did not found structural functionalism; those who did relied on his writings to get to it.

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