Throughout the course we have looked at various topics that can be understood by how cultures put meaning to things. Meaning making has to do with how humans perceive and interact with their world. This varies across cultures as different meaning can be put to the same concept.
In week three we looked at the development of how language gives meaning to things for better understanding. Language is systematic, means more than just a label, and is arbitrary. This is exemplified in “Nature of the Linguistic Sign” by Ferdinand de Saussure. He points out that many words have nothing to do with the object in the way they sound but some do have a reason for the name. In addition language influences perception as perception also influences language.
This topic of language and meaning making carries through to week four when we looked at kinship. Just because people have the same blood relation doesn’t mean the social implications are the same because we give different meaning to different relationships across cultures. In Rosman and Rubel’s “Ties that Connect: Marriage, Family and Kinship,” we see an example of familial responsibility in Pakistani culture. Pakistan for the most part has endogamous caste groups so when a woman’s brother had a sexual affair with a woman of a higher caste it led to the man’s sister being punished. This contrasts with dominant American culture which is more individual responsibility even among family members. So sibling has a different social responsibility involved due to the meaning put on siblings in Pakistani culture.
In week five we can see the value given to respect (respeto) in Puerto Rican culture through looking at Primo’s work experience in Phillipe Bourgois’ “Poverty at Work: Office Employment and the Crack Alternative.” Primo is a Puerto Rican man who lives in East Harlem, NYC. He talked about how he would rather work dealing crack than as an “office boy” because he was treated as inferior and stupid in the office. He would have to fake professional and get rid of his accent or else he wouldn’t be allowed to answer the phone. However in dealing crack he is respected and feared and can keep his street and cultural identity. Upper class white America considers Puerto Rican street culture behavior to be dysfunctional for the office due to the meaning we put on it as unprofessional.
In looking at these examples we can see how cultures assign meaning to objects, actions, and traits and how these meanings shape culture and our daily lives.