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How much does your culture affect who you are? In this lesson, we’ll look at the theory of cultural determinism and see how it suggests our personalities and behaviors are sculpted by our culture.

What Is Cultural Determinism?

In Ancient Greece, there was a popular perspective that only those who spoke their language could understand their behaviors, values, and social systems. The Greeks felt that their culture was what defined them as a people, and it’s something you had to learn by being a part of their society. Do you agree with this idea? Do you think your culture makes you who you are? Conversely, if you were raised within a different culture than the one you live in now, would you still be the same person?Cultural determinism says probably not. The reason being, cultural determinism supports the idea that our emotional and behavioral patterns are formed and molded by the culture we are raised in. It’s also believed that this theory can be applied to economic and political systems, as well.

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Cultural Determinism Theory

As the study of social development has progressed, there have been a number of different theories that aim to distinguish the most influential element that shapes human behavior and social interaction.

Cultural determinism theory posits that we essentially are what we learn to be through interacting with society. This includes a number of different things, from how we dress to what we eat to how we communicate.Some social scientists think cultural determinism goes even further and is engrained in how our government is structured and how we interact with one another.

For example, in some cultures, women are revered, yet in other cultures, they are oppressed. Cultural determinism states that these behaviors are learned and enforced by culture.

Optimistic ; Pessimistic Perspectives

Cultural determinism theory has both positive and negative perspectives.

Optimists believe that humans are always learning from the world around them and have the ability to choose which way of life they prefer. This also suggests that we are capable of being tolerant of different viewpoints. A good example of this would be someone who is raised in a culture with racist beliefs is then exposed to a different culture with non-racist values. The optimistic version of cultural determinism states that this person could choose to change their beliefs.There is also a pessimistic standpoint to this theory. The pessimists believe that humans are merely passive followers of their culture and are unable to truly learn or adapt to a new one.

We are argued to be highly susceptible to the culture we are born into and we act and think however it tells us to. Using this lens with the same example from a moment ago, the person who is raised in a culture that supports racism will most likely be a racist and stay a racist for the rest of his or her life regardless of whether he or she comes into contact with a non-racist culture or not.

Lesson Summary

Cultural determinism is the belief that emotional and behavioral reactions are structured by our cultural background. The theory suggests that we learn to be who we are through different interactions with our culture. This could include how members of different genders interact with one another to the type of clothing we wear.

This idea can be viewed in a negative or positive way. The optimistic viewpoint believes that humans have a choice to either accept or deny different cultural traits. As a result, it supports that we can change who we are. The pessimistic perspective believes that we are more like sheep following the herd, and that we will do whatever our culture tells us to do.

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