Introduction to Theoretical Perspectives on Culture and Technology

What you’ll learn to do: contrast the various theoretical perspectives on culture and technology

In the foreground there is a crowd of concert attendees. Two people are holding up camera phones and recording the concert stage which is yellow, pink, and orange with lights and special effects.

Figure 1. Music fans connect in ways that overcome geographic, socioeconomic, and political differences. (Credit: whataleydude/flickr)

There are three major theoretical approaches toward the interpretation of culture. A functionalist, or structural- functionalist, perspective acknowledges that there are many parts of culture that work together as a system to fulfill society’s needs and to promote stability. Conflict theory focuses on populations that may be systematically disadvantaged while other groups are advantaged. It focuses on power and inequality within a culture. A symbolic interactionist is primarily interested in culture as experienced in the daily interactions between individuals and the symbols that have meaning in a culture. If we think about technology as an overarching aspect of culture, we can utilize these theories to explain and even predict cultural patterns, including those regarding technology.

This section will further explore the relationships, opportunities, and issues related to media and technology. Music, fashion, technology, and values—all are products of culture. But what do they mean? How do sociologists perceive and interpret culture based on these material and nonmaterial items? Let’s complete our analysis of culture by reviewing them in the context of the three theoretical perspectives.

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