Khmer Kingdoms

Khmer Kingdoms, succession of South East Asian monarchies based in Cambodia. Modern Cambodia is the residue of a powerful state which at its peak incorporated large areas of Laos, eastern Thailand, and southern Vietnam. Deriving from the Indian-style state of Funan and the Kingdom of Chenla, the great Khmer empire of Angkor was founded by Jayavarman II (reigned c. 802-850), who took back the remnants of Chenla from the Indonesian Kingdom of Sri Vijaya and was consecrated as a god-king. The capital of the kingdom he created was moved first to Lake Sap, then under Yasovarman I (reigned c. 889-900) to Angkor, where great stone temples to the gods of Hinduism, and reservoirs and canals for irrigation, were built. Khmer culture flourished under royal patronage. After decades of peace, King Suryavarman I (reigned c. 1004-c. 1050) pushed into Thailand and doubled the number of cities under his control. Succession feuds led to a new royal dynasty founded by Suryavarman II (reigned 1113-1150), founder of Angkor Wat, who attacked Thailand, Vietnam, and the eastern Kingdom of Champa.

The chaos that followed usurpation of the Khmer throne and invasion by Champa ended in 1171 with the liberation of Angkor by a prince later crowned as Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181-c. 1219), who reconsolidated the state and subjugated Champa. He favoured Mahayana Buddhism, and built the Bayon, the great Buddhist temple at Angkor with its enormous faces. After his death, the Khmer kingdom began to shrink under pressure from the Thai Kingdom of Sukothai, but retained power and splendour throughout the 13th century. In the 14th century Theravada Buddhism became the state’s dominant creed, dislocating the social hierarchy associated with the Angkor temples.

Repeatedly attacked by the new Thai Kingdom of Ayutthaya, Angkor was finally abandoned around 1431, after which the Khmer rulers withdrew south-eastward to Phnom Penh, reconstituting a rump state based on trade. The following confused and badly recorded period ended with a brief recovery under Chan I (reigned 1516-1566), who reoccupied and restored Angkor. However, the resurgent Ayutthaya Thais invaded once more and seized the new southern capital in 1594. Seeking a counterweight to Ayutthaya, Chetta II (reigned 1618-1625) married a Vietnamese princess and relinquished southern Vietnam, hitherto Khmer land. From then on the Khmer monarchs were clients or puppets of their powerful Thai or Vietnamese neighbours.

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Khmer, the dominant group (about 5 million people) in Cambodia (formerly Kampuchea), comprising over 87 percent of the national population.

The Khmer moved down from the area now known as Thailand into the Mekong Delta before 200 bc. Over the following centuries, their culture was subject to a series of waves of Indian influence. The first Khmer kingdom, Funan (1st to 6th centuries), was incorporated into the state of Chenla, which was succeeded by the Khmer Empire. This extensive empire, which reached its zenith between the 9th and 13th centuries, is famed for its artistic and architectural achievements (for example, the temple of Angkor Wat). Forced to retreat progressively by advancing Thais and Vietnamese, the empire became so weak it eventually had to seek French protection, granted in 1864. After winning independence in 1954, the country was led by Norodom Sihanouk. His overthrow in 1970 was followed by a period of civil war and the rule, between 1975 and 1979, of the notorious Khmer Rouge revolutionary movement.

Until the Khmer Rouge forcibly collectivized farmland, the vast majority of Khmer lived in villages. These small groupings were effectively self-sufficient and enjoyed a high degree of autonomy. Rice is the staple crop, supplemented by subsistence fishing. Most Khmer are Buddhists. Traditionally, Khmer society was divided into six categories: the extended royal family; Brahmins, who conducted the royal rituals; monks; officials; commoners; and slaves. Before the Khmer Rouge took power, the life of Khmer communities centred around local monasteries whose leaders exerted great influence in their area.

The language, Khmer, of the Mon-Khmer linguistic group, has been written since the 7th century and has an extensive literature.

Contributed By:
Jeremy MacClancy

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Cultural Geography


Cultural Geography, a branch of geography studying the impact of human culture on the landscape and focusing on the ways in which individuals or groups create meaning in and thereby shape their environment. As a discipline, it has a history that is closely linked with developments in other sub-fields, including regional geography and economic geography.

Cultural geography has many disparate roots and influences which make a singular account of its history open to criticism and debate. It is generally accepted however that it first developed in the work of the influential American geographer Carl Sauer. Sauer was the founder of the Berkeley School of cultural geography that dominated American geography between the 1920s and the 1950s. Sauer’s work, like that of Paul Vidal de la Blache in Europe, reacted against the prevalence of environmental determinism in early 20th-century geography and, in contradiction, asserted the importance of human impact on the environment. He emphasized, therefore, the expression of culture in the character of the environment, including, for instance, the ways in which ecosystems and plant species were altered by human intervention. Sauer defined his object of study as the “cultural landscape”, the natural landscape as fashioned or modified by human activity. This, he asserted, was the fundamental focus for all geographical inquiry: a “peculiarly geographic association of facts” that helped to delineate a “strictly geographic way of thinking of culture”. In his work and in that of his graduate students in Latin America and other regions, Sauer concluded that culture was the most important agent that shaped the physical world. Consequently, it was elements in the physical world such as field systems, local architecture, and everyday artifacts that formed the focus of research, with an emphasis on the biological and physical processes set in train by human activities.

While the Berkeley School’s approach still influences the study of cultural geography in the United States, in recent years it has declined as the predominant methodology there. The new approach to cultural geography, which emerged in the early 1980s, criticized Sauer’s conception of culture as seeming to suggest it was beyond the control of most people and acted as a causal mechanism. Most importantly, it was a causal mechanism that remained unexplored in his work. In this sense, it could be argued that Sauer replaced one form of determinism with another: culture, in the form of traditions and institutions, working from above to actively constrain human behaviour. In fact, according to Sauer, it was the culture that was the agent of change in the environment and not the people. It was felt that geographers needed to work with a more dynamic conception of culture, one that would consider the ways in which cultures are altered by and made up from human interaction and particular social practices, such as the organization of society under capitalism. Nor should we assume that there is just one singular culture but, rather, that there are many competing cultures.


During the 1970s human geography developed two important perspectives: Marxism and humanism. Both were, in part, a reaction to the quantification of geographical inquiry in the post-war period and its apparent inability to address or explain social and environmental problems in the world. Each sought to explain the geographical patterns of society with reference to broader causal processes—processes ignored in the mathematical models of quantitative geography. Marxist approaches explained, for example, uneven economic development in terms of the evolution of capitalist modes of production and the existence of invisible socio-economic structures that constrain human action. The British geographer David Harvey is an advocate of this Marxist analysis. Humanistic geographers, such as the American geographer Yi Fu Tan, emphasized the ability of humans to create and alter those structures by creating meaning in the world through, for example, artistic expression. The cultural geographers of the era saw both the importance and the weaknesses of both approaches. They sought, instead, influences from both within and outside the discipline to enable a more complex understanding of culture and society. This approach is often labeled the “new” cultural geography to differentiate it from the Saurian proposition. These new cultural geographers searched for ideas of culture that would reconcile Marxism with humanism, which recognized the importance of cultural expression but also made connections with socio-economic structures.

Many found such a reconciliation in the work of the British scholar Raymond Williams. Williams defined culture as the medium through which individuals and social groups negotiated their experience of the world that in turn gave rise to the expression of this negotiation in cultural practices such as music, art, and literature. Culture in Williams’s conception is a set of symbolic codes through which meaning is negotiated. Culture, it follows, is not given, as Sauer might have understood it, but is contested by different social groups. Different groups struggle to make their culture the one through which the world is understood. For example, consider the ways in which a European way of seeing the world and expressing its meaning (European culture) went hand in hand with colonization and empire-building in the 19th century. However, meanings are never imposed or received without some negotiation or struggle. Williams used the complex idea of hegemony to theorize this process. Hegemony is the process through which different social groups struggle for power. In a simple model of society, there is a dominant and a subordinate class, and culture is the arena in which the two classes compete for social control. However, absolute control is never fully achieved but always contested. In reality, there are many counter-hegemonic (or subordinate) cultures contesting meanings imposed by hegemonic (or dominant) cultures. Power relations are thus fluid and are never totally fixed but are contested in the realm of culture.

Williams’s was a definition of culture that allowed scholars to consider the ways in which cultural expression interrelated with the economic and political organization of society. Notably, it leaned itself to the Marxist analysis of how capitalist relations of production may be shaped and sustained by cultural expression in a dynamic and fluid relationship. So, for instance, uneven development between city and country was both shaped and reinforced by the very different and changing ways in which each was represented in art, music, and popular culture.

Armed with this notion of culture, since the early 1980s, new cultural geographers have explored a range of cultural and social practices. The work of new cultural geographers can be divided into two approaches, simply labeled the landscape school and the cultural politics school.

A The Landscape School

Within the landscape approach, the work of British cultural geographers Denis Cosgrove and Stephen Daniels has been some of the most influential. They consider landscape as a political phenomenon, one that expresses ideology. They see landscape not as merely a physical thing, as Sauer would understand it, but as a way of seeing, specifically, a way of seeing that relates to ownership and power. In other words, the landscape was a way of seeing the world from a privileged position. For instance, the great landowners of 18th-century England controlled not only their estates but also dictated how those estates should be seen by commissioning paintings and landscaping the grounds of their country houses. So, the study of the landscape should include not simply the physical landscape but the various cultural representations of that landscape because it is these that give a landscape meaning and help us to understand the society that produces them.

For cultural geographers, the landscape can be a picture (a painting, photograph, or plan), it could be written (as a poem or a novel), or it could be constructed. The meaning of a landscape draws upon the cultural codes of the society for which it was made and it is the job of the cultural geographer to decode the landscape to find its meaning. For example, landscape paintings of 18th-century country estates generally show beautifully tended picturesque scenes, but conventions of the period and dominant (hegemonic) tastes dictated that the rural poor who actually produced and were a part of those landscapes were excluded from its representation. This method is also used for contemporary representations of landscapes, environments, and places, exploring, for example, the importance of the media in shaping and transmitting the meaning of particular places. This focus upon meaning in cultural geography is not an interest for its own sake but is founded upon an understanding that there is a direct relationship between the world of ideas and the physical world. For instance, there is an understanding that we act in particular ways in specific places because we hold meanings connected with them, meanings which are drawn from the cultural codes of our society.

B The Cultural Politics School

The cultural politics approach is similarly concerned with meaning and the process of hegemony. The work of those geographers is not so much concerned with representations as with other kinds of social practices related to different social groups. There is an assertion that social groups—be they based on class, age, gender, ethnicity, tastes, and so on—hold very particular perspectives on the world, or “maps of meaning”. These maps of meaning, which are sometimes also called geographical imaginations, are the object of study for cultural geographers in this school. They research, for instance, the ways in which different subcultures react against a dominant culture and the ways in which the battles between subordinate and dominant social groups frequently take the form of a clash of geographical imaginations. Dependent upon our social or cultural position, we see the world differently and attempt to assert our perspective on the world through the process of hegemony. For example, dominant, or hegemonic culture attempts to impose categories of race and in the process constructs very powerful imaginative geographies of the world such as Western perceptions of Africa, or the perception of inner-city neighborhoods as no-go areas.


To explore these imaginative geographies or maps of meaning, contemporary cultural geographers employ a range of methodological and investigative techniques. Many of these techniques were developed from other disciplines in the social sciences and humanities and have been adapted to suit the needs of geographers. The landscape school, whose emphasis is largely upon representation, has adapted the methods of iconography from art history and post-structuralist perspectives from literary criticism. These methods enable cultural geographers to work with various graphical and textual sources including paintings, photographs, novels, poetry, and architecture. The cultural politics school, in general, uses methods adapted from anthropology and sociology, especially ethnography. Much of the geographers’ work is based in actual communities and involves some form of participant observation, or semi-structured interviewing with respondents in the locale. Both schools have made use of methods developed in media studies for understanding the media and popular culture, especially those which concern comprehending the ways in which dominant meanings are transmitted and contested through the media.

Both the landscape school and the cultural politics school of cultural geography focus upon the production of geographical meaning and its associated power struggles. Specifically, they explore the ways in which social groups understand the world and give it meaning, which in turn dictates the ways in which they shape their world. Explicit to this approach is the understanding that it is generally the most powerful social groups who are more able to impose their version of the world and thereby have a greater influence on both its meaning and shape.

Contributed By:
Simon Rycroft




Civilization, advanced state of a society possessing historical and cultural unity. This article is concerned with the problem of identifying specific societies that, because of their distinctive achievements, are regarded by historians as separate civilizations. Distinctive features of the various civilizations are discussed elsewhere.

The historical perspective used in viewing a civilization, rather than a country, as the significant unit is of relatively recent origin. Since the Middle Ages, most European historians have adopted either a religious or national perspective. The religious viewpoint was predominant among European historians until the 18th century. Regarding the Christian revelation as the most momentous event in history, they viewed all history as either the prelude to or the aftermath of that event. The early historians of Europe had little occasion to study other cultures except as curiosities or as potential areas for missionary activity. The national viewpoint, as distinct from the religious one, developed in the early 16th century, largely on the basis of the political philosophy of the Italian statesman and historian Niccolò Machiavelli, for whom the proper object of historical study was the state. After that period, however, the many historians who chronicled the histories of the national states of Europe and America rarely dealt with societies beyond the realm of European culture except to describe the subjection of those societies by (in their view) the more progressive European powers.


Historians became interested in other cultures during the Enlightenment. The development in the 18th century of a secular point of view and principles of rational criticism enabled the French writer and philosopher Voltaire and his compatriot the jurist and philosopher Montesquieu to transcend the provincialism of earlier historical thinking. Their attempts at universal history, however, suffered from their own biases and those prevalent in their culture. They tended to deprecate or ignore irrational customs and to imagine that all people were inherently rational beings and therefore very much alike.

Early in the 19th century, philosophers and historians identified with the Romantic movement criticized the 18th-century assumption that people were the same everywhere and at all times. The German philosophers Johann von Herder and G. W. F. Hegel emphasized the profound differences in the minds and works of humans in different cultures, thereby laying the foundation for the comparative study of civilizations.


According to modern historians of civilizations, it is impossible to write a fully intelligible history of any nation without taking into consideration the type of culture to which it belongs. They maintain that much of the life of a nation is affected by its participation in a larger social entity, often composed of a number of nations or states sharing many distinctive characteristics that can be traced to a common origin. It is this larger social entity, cultural rather than political, that such historians consider the truly meaningful object of historical study. In modern times, the existing civilizations have impinged more and more upon one another to the point that no one civilization pursues a separate destiny anymore and all may be considered participants in a common world civilization.

Some historians see striking uniformities in the histories of civilizations. The German philosopher Oswald Spengler, in The Decline of the West (1918-1922), described civilizations as living organisms, each of which passes through identical stages at fixed periods. The British historian Arnold Toynbee, although not so rigid a determinist as Spengler, in A Study of History (1934-1961) also discerned a uniform pattern in the histories of civilizations. According to Toynbee, a civilization may prolong its life indefinitely by successful responses to the various internal and external challenges that constantly arise to confront it. Many historians, however, are exceedingly sceptical of philosophies of history derived from an alleged pattern of the past. They are particularly reluctant to base predictions about the future on such theories.


Historians have found difficulties in delimiting a particular society and correctly labelling it a civilization; they use the term civilization to refer to a number of past and present societies that manifest distinctive cultural and historical patterns. Some of these civilizations are the Andeanone, which originated about 800 bc; the Mexican (c. 3rd century bc); the Far Eastern, which originated in China about 2200 bc and spread to Japan about ad 600; the Indian (c. 1500 bc); the Egyptian (c. 3000 bc); the Sumerian (c. 4000 bc); followed by the Babylonian (c. 1700 bc); the Minoan (c. 2000 bc); the Semitic (c. 1500 bc); the Graeco-Roman (c. 1100 bc); the Byzantine, which originated in the 4th century ad; the Islamic (8th century ad); and the Western, which arose in Western Europe in the early Middle Ages.

See Aegean Civilization; Africa; Archaeology; Aztec; Babylonia; Byzantine Empire; Carthage; Celts; China; Egypt; Etruscan Civilization; Europe; Germanic Peoples; Greece; Hittites; Inca; India; Islam; Japan; Jews; Judaism; Maya; Minoan Civilization; Palestine; Roman Empire; Sumer; Syria.



Subculture, group of people with beliefs, attitudes, customs, and other forms of behaviour differing from those of the dominant society, while at the same time being related to it.

The concept refers to minority groups such as ethnic minorities, drug users, or even religious groups or gay communities. It has been argued that the subculture created by such groups serves to provide recompense for the fact that their members are viewed as outsiders by mainstream society. Hence a drug user with a low social status within conventional society may command great respect from other drug users because of his or her group’s individual hierarchy and values. Members of a subculture are bound closely together if they are at odds with the values and behaviour of the dominant society. Characteristics of these subcultures, such as forms of language or dress, are emphasized to create and maintain a distinction from the dominant culture. This distinction may, however, also represent a pride of identity while at the same time seeking to belong in society. Although a subculture may be a minority group, it may also emerge within a minority group—such as punk within youth; separatist feminists within feminism.

A problem with the concept of subculture is its presupposition of the existence of a concrete, mainstream culture. Many Western communities today are composed of a number of ethnic and social groups; boundaries between groupings based on class, sexuality, age, ethnicity, religion, and place of origin are increasingly blurred, and mobility between these groups is more frequent. While the concept of subculture is not flawless, the concept can be a useful tool for analysing the structure and custom of minority social groups.

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Sociology, the scientific study of the development, structure, and function of human society. Other disciplines within the social sciences—including economics, political science, anthropology, and psychology—are also concerned with topics that fall within the scope of sociology. Sociologists examine the ways in which social structures and institutions—such as class, family, community, and power—and social problems—such as crime—influence society.

Sociological thinking rests on the notion that human beings act according to cultural and historical influences, not their own freely made decisions. They also act and behave according to the wishes and expectations of others. Therefore, social interaction, or the responses of individuals to each other, is perhaps the basic sociological concept, because such interaction is the elementary component of all relationships and groups that make up human society. Sociologists who concentrate on the details of particular interactions as they occur in everyday life are sometimes called micro-sociologists; those concerned with the larger patterns of relations among major social sectors, such as the State and the economy, and even with international relations, are called macro-sociologists.


As a discipline, or body of systematized knowledge, sociology is of relatively recent origin. The concept of civil society as a realm distinct from the State was expressed in the writings of the 17th-century English philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke and of the later thinkers of the Age of Enlightenment (in France and Scotland). Their works anticipated the subsequent focus of sociology, as did the later philosophies of history of the Italian philosopher Giovanni Battista Vico and the German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel with regard to the study of social change.

A Origins

The first definition of sociology was advanced by the French philosopher Auguste Comte. In 1838 Comte coined the term sociology to describe his vision of a new science that would discover laws of human society resembling the laws of nature by applying the methods of factual investigation that had proved so successful in the physical sciences. The British philosopher Herbert Spencer adopted both Comte’s term and his mission.

Several 19th-century social philosophers who never called themselves sociologists are today also counted among the founders of the discipline. The most widely influential among them is Karl Marx, but their number also includes the French aristocrat Claude Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon, the writer and statesman Alexis de Tocqueville and, the British philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill. These people were largely speculative thinkers, as were Comte and Spencer and their predecessors in the 17th and 18th centuries. A quite different tradition of empirical reporting of statistics also developed in the 19th century, and later became incorporated into academic sociology.

B Developments

Not until the 1880s and 1890s did sociology begin to be recognized as an academic discipline. In France, Émile Durkheim, the intellectual heir of Saint-Simon and Comte, began teaching sociology at the universities of Bordeaux and Paris. Durkheim founded the first true school of sociological thought. He emphasized the independent reality of social facts (as distinct from the psychological attributes of individuals) and sought to discover interconnections among these facts. Durkheim and his followers made extensive studies of non-industrial societies similar to those that were later carried out by social anthropologists.

In Germany, sociology was formally recognized as an academic discipline in the first decade of the 20th century, largely because of the efforts of the German economist and historian Max Weber. In contrast with the attempts to model the field after the physical sciences, which were dominant in France and in English-speaking countries, German sociology was largely the outgrowth of far-ranging historical scholarship, combined with the influence of Marxism, both of which were central to Weber’s work. The influential efforts of the German philosopher Georg Simmel to define sociology as a distinctive discipline emphasized the human-centered focus of German philosophical idealism.

In Great Britain, sociology was relatively slow to develop; until the 1960s the field was mostly centred on a single academic institution, the London School of Economics, part of the University of London. British sociology combined an interest in large-scale evolutionary social change with a practical concern for problems relevant to the administration of the welfare state.

In the second half of the 20th century, after the early interest in the broad evolutionist theories of Comte and Spencer had declined, sociology emphasized the study of particular social phenomena such as crime, marital discord, and the acculturation of immigrants.

The most notable centre of sociological study before World War II (1939-1945) was the University of Chicago, in the United States. There, the American philosopher George Herbert Mead, who had studied in Germany, stressed in his writings the origins of the mind, the self, and society in the actions and interactions of people. This approach, later known as symbolic interactionism, was largely micro sociological and social psychological in emphasis. In 1937, the American sociologist Talcott Parsons introduced the ideas of Durkheim, Weber, and the Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto in his major work The Structure of Social Action, which eventually overcame the narrow, limited outlook of American sociology. Leadership in the field passed to Columbia University, where the American social scientist Robert Merton attempted to unite theory with rigorous empirical (data-gathering) research.

To a growing extent in both the United States and Western Europe, the three dominating figures of Marx, Durkheim, and Weber were recognized as the pre-eminent classical thinkers of the sociological tradition; and their work continues to influence contemporary sociologists.


Sociology was long identified primarily with broad evolutionary reconstructions of historical change in Western societies, as well as with the exploration of relationships and interdependencies among their more specialized institutions and aspects of social life, such as the economy, the State, the family, and religion. Sociology, therefore, was thought of as a synthesizing field that attempted to integrate the findings acquired from other social sciences. Although such concepts concerning the scope and task of sociology are still prevalent, they now tend to be regarded as the province of sociological theory, which is only a part of the entire discipline of sociology.

The sociological theory also includes the discussion and analysis of basic concepts that are common to all the different spheres of social life studied by sociologists. An emphasis on empirical investigations carried out by standardized and often statistical research methods directed the attention of sociologists away from the abstract visions of 19th-century scholars towards more focused and concrete areas of social reality. These areas became the subfields and specialities of sociology that are today the subjects of academic courses, textbooks, and specialized journals. Much of the scholarly and scientific work of sociologists falls clearly within one of the many subfields into which the discipline is divided. In addition to basic concepts, research techniques are shared by most subfields; thus, sociological theory and research methods are both usually compulsory subjects for all who study sociology.

A Subfields

The oldest subfields in the discipline of sociology are those that concentrate on social phenomena that have not previously been adopted as objects of study by other of the social sciences. These include marriage and the family, social inequality and social stratification, ethnic relations, “deviant” behaviour, urban communities, and complex or formal organizations. Subfields of more recent origin examine the social aspects of gerontology and the sociology of sex and gender roles.

Because nearly all human activities involve social relations, another major source of specialization within sociology is the study of the social structure of areas of human activity. These areas of teaching and research include the sociology of politics, law, religion, education, the military, occupations and professions, governmental bureaucracies, industry, the arts, science, language (or sociolinguistics), medicine, mass communications, and sport. These subfields differ widely in the extent to which they have accumulated a substantial body of research and attracted large numbers of practitioners. Some, such as the sociology of sport, are recent fields, whereas others, such as the sociology of religion and of law, have their roots in the earliest sociological studies. Certain subfields have achieved brief popularity, only to be later incorporated into a more comprehensive area. Industrial sociology, for example, was a flourishing field in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s, but later it was largely absorbed into the study of complex organizations; in Great Britain, however, industrial sociology has remained a separate area of research. A more common sociological phenomenon is the splitting of a recognized subfield into narrower subdivisions; the sociology of knowledge, for instance, has increasingly been divided into individual sociologies of science, art, literature, popular culture, and language.

At least two subfields, demography, and criminology, were distinct areas of study long before the formal field of sociology existed. In the past, they were associated primarily with other disciplines. Demography (the study of the size, growth, and distribution of human populations) retains close links to economics in some countries, but in most of the Western world, it is considered a subdivision of sociology. Criminology has in recent decades been affected by general sociological concepts and perspectives, becoming more and more linked with the wider study of deviance, which is defined as any form of behaviour that is different from that considered socially acceptable or “normal”, and includes forms of behaviour that do not involve violations of the law.

B Interdisciplinary Fields

The oldest interdisciplinary subfield of sociology is social psychology. It has often been considered virtually a separate discipline, drawing practitioners from both sociology and psychology. Whereas sociologists primarily concern themselves with social “norms”, roles, institutions, and the structure of groups, social psychologists concentrate on the impact of these various areas of individual personality. Social psychologists trained in sociology have pioneered studies of interaction in small informal groups; the distribution of beliefs and attitudes in a population; and the formation of character and outlook under the influence of the family, the school, the peer group, and other socializing agencies. To a certain extent, psychoanalytic ideas, derived from the work of Sigmund Freud and later psychoanalysts, have also been significant in this last area of social psychology.

Comparative historical sociology, often strongly influenced by the ideas of both Marx and Weber, has shown much growth in recent years. Many historians have been guided by concepts borrowed from sociology; at the same time, some sociologists have carried out large-scale historical-comparative studies. The once-firm barriers between history and sociology have crumbled, especially in such areas as social history, demographic change, economic and political development, and the sociology of revolutions and protest movements.


Sociologists use nearly all the methods of acquiring information that is used in the other social sciences and the humanities, from advanced mathematical statistics to the interpretation of texts. They also rely heavily on primary statistical information regularly collected by governments, such as censuses and vital statistics reports, and records of unemployment, immigration, the frequency of crime, and other phenomena.

A Direct Observation

First-hand observations of some aspect of society have a long history in sociological research. Sociologists have obtained information through participant observation—that is, by temporarily becoming or by pretending to become members of the group being studied. Sociologists also obtain first-hand information by relying on knowledgeable informants from the group. Both methods have also been used by social anthropologists.

In recent years, detailed first-hand observation has been applied to smaller-scale settings, such as hospital wards, religious and political meetings, bars and casinos, and classrooms. The work of the Canadian-born American sociologist Erving Goffman has provided both models and a theoretical rationale for such studies. Goffman is one of the several sociologists who insist that everyday life is the foundation of social reality, underlying all statistical and conceptual abstractions. This emphasis has encouraged intensive micro-sociological investigations using tape recorders and video cameras in natural rather than artificially contrived “experimental” social situations.

Sociologists, like historians, also make extensive use of second-hand source materials. These generally include life histories, personal documents, and clinical records.

Although popular stereotypes have sometimes pictured sociologists as people who bypass qualitative (direct) observation of human experiences by reducing them to quantitative (statistical) summaries, these have never been accurate. Even where quantitative social research has been admired and sociology has distanced itself from the humanistic disciplines of philosophy, history, and law, qualitative research has always had a strong tradition.

B Quantitative Methods

Increasingly refined and adapted to computer technology, quantitative methods continue to play a central role in the discipline of sociology. Quantitative sociology includes the presentation of large numbers of descriptive statistical data, sampling techniques, and the use of advanced mathematical models and computer simulations of social processes. Quantitative analysis has become popular in recent years as a means of revealing possible causal relations, especially in research on social mobility and status attainment.

C Survey Research

The term survey research means the collection and analysis of responses of large samples of people to polls and questionnaires designed to elicit their opinions, attitudes, and sentiments about a specific topic. For a time in the 1940s and 1950s, the construction and administration of surveys, and statistical methods for tabulating and interpreting their results were widely regarded as the major sociological research technique. Opinion surveys, especially in the form of pre-election polling and market research, were first used in the 1930s; today they are standard tools of politicians and of numerous organizations and business firms concerned with a mass public opinion.

Sociologists use surveys for scholarly or scientific purposes in nearly all subfields of the discipline, although surveys have most often been used in the study of voting behaviour, ethnic prejudice, responses to mass communications, and other areas in which the probing of subjective attitudes is appropriate. Although surveys are an important sociological research tool, their suitability for many types of investigation has been widely criticized. Direct observation of social behaviour cannot be replaced by verbal answers to an interviewer’s standard list of questions, even if such answers lend themselves easily to statistical tabulation and manipulation. Observation enables a sociologist to obtain in-depth information about a certain group; the sample survey, on the other hand, allows the sociologist to secure uniform but superficial information about a much larger portion of the population. Survey research usually does not take into account the complex structure of relations and interactions among individuals that shape their social behaviour.


Sociology expanded enormously in both Europe and the United States in the 1960s and thereafter. In addition to theoretical diversification, new subfields came into beings, such as the sociology of gender (spurred especially by feminist movements), which includes analysis of gender-based social roles and inequalities, and the study of emotions, ageing, and the life course. Older subfields, such as historical and comparative sociology, were revitalized, as was the broad movement towards sociological practice, which encompasses applied sociology, and policy analysis. Sociological practitioners apply their knowledge through their roles as consultants, planners, educators, researchers, and managers in local and national government, in non-profit-making organizations, and in business—especially in the fields of marketing, advertising, insurance, human resources, and organizational analysis.

Since the 1960s sociologists have made greater use both of traditional research methods associated with other disciplines, such as the analysis of historical source materials, and of more sophisticated statistical and mathematical techniques adapted to the study of social phenomena. Development of increasingly complex computers and other devices for handling and storing information has facilitated the processing of sociological data.

Because of the wide diversity of research methods and theoretical approaches, sociologists working in a particular subfield often have more in common with workers in a complementary discipline than with sociologists specializing in other subfields. A sociologist of art, for example, stands much closer in interests and methods to an art historian or art critic than to a sociologist who constructs mathematical models of occupational mobility. In theory, methods, and subject matter, no single school of thought or topic dominates sociology today.




Culture, a word in common use but with complex meanings, derived, like the term broadcasting, from the treatment and care of the soil and of what grows on it. It is directly related to cultivation and the adjectives cultural and culture are part of the same verbal complex. A person of culture has identifiable attributes, among them a knowledge of and interest in the arts, literature, and music. Yet the word culture does not refer solely to such knowledge and interest nor, indeed, to education. At least from the 19th century onwards, under the influence of anthropologists and sociologists, the word culture has come to be used generally both in the singular and the plural (cultures) to refer to a whole way of life of people, including their customs, laws, conventions, and values.

Distinctions have consequently been drawn between primitive and advanced culture and cultures, between elite and popular culture, between popular and mass culture, and most recently between national and global cultures. Distinctions have been drawn too between culture and civilization, the latter a word derived not, like culture or agriculture, from the soil, but from the city. The two words are sometimes treated as synonymous. Yet this is misleading. While civilization and barbarism are pitted against each other in what seems to be a perpetual behavioural pattern, the use of the word culture has been strongly influenced by conceptions of evolution in the 19th century and of development in the 20th century. Cultures evolve or develop. They are not static. They have twists and turns. Styles change. So do fashions. There are cultural processes. What, for example, the word culture means has changed substantially since the study of classical (that is, Greek and Roman) literature, philosophy, and history ceased in the 20th century to be central to school and university education. No single alternative focus emerged, although with computers has come electronic culture, affecting kinds of study, and most recently digital culture. As cultures express themselves in new forms not everything gets better or more civilized.

The word culture is now associated with many other words with historical or contemporary relevance, like corporate culture, computer culture, or alien culture, as is the word cultural. There are cultural institutions of various ages, some old, like the Royal Academy, some new, like the UK Department for Culture, Media, and Sport. They each follow cultural strategies or cultural policies and together they constitute what is sometimes called a “cultural sector”. How commercialized that varies from culture to culture. The American writer Leo Bogart, the author of eight books on communications and former vice-president and general manager of the Newspaper Advertising Bureau, wrote an important paper in 1991 on the spread of the Internet with the title “The American Media System and its Commercial Culture”.

The more recently widespread use of the word culture in sport, for example, has rendered largely obsolete two older usages of culture—the idea of it as a veneer on life, not life itself, a polish, the sugar icing, as it were, on the top of a cake and, at the opposite pole, the sense of it being the pursuit of perfection, the best that is known and thought in the world. The second meaning necessarily involves an ideal as well as an idea and critical judgment and discrimination to realize it. Both meanings have been influential, however, and the second, propounded in the 19th century, remained influential in literary criticism and in education, particularly in the teaching of English literature, in the 20th century.

The multiplicity of meanings attached to the word made and make it difficult to define. There is no single, unproblematic definition, although many attempts have been made to establish one. The only non-problematic definitions go back to agricultural (for example, cereal culture or strawberry culture) and medical (for example, bacterial culture or penicillin culture). Since in anthropology and sociology we also acknowledge culture clashes, culture shock, and counter-culture, the range of reference is extremely wide.


In 1952 two distinguished American anthropologists, A.L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckholm, listed no fewer than 164 definitions of culture made by anthropologists from the 1840s onwards. The most quoted early anthropologist was (and is) Edward Tylor, who drew no distinction between culture and civilization, and defined culture and civilization when in his Primitive Culture (1871) he wrote “culture or civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”. Many later anthropologists offered a less universalistic and more pluralistic and relativistic conception of culture, confining the term to a particular group of people.

It was to Tylor that the poet and critic T.S. Eliot turned in his properly named Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, first published in 1948. Eliot and Kroeber and Kluckholm rightly pointed out that Tylor’s approach had been anticipated by the German anthropologist Gustav Klemm, who defined culture comprehensively almost 30 years before Tylor as “customs, arts, and skills, domestic and public life in peace or war, religion, science and art”.

Tylor pointed to the relationship between culture and society, Klemm to the relationship of culture to religion. Eliot was preoccupied with both of these relationships. For him, it was the function of the superior members and superior families in a hierarchical society to preserve the “group culture” as it was the function of the producers to alter it. Yet the culture of a whole people was “an incarnation of its religion”. Tylor had a marked distaste for religious authority.

Tylor, like Klemm before him and Eliot after him, was also aware, however, of the importance of “material culture”, raw materials and artifacts, utensils and tools both in the making of cultures and in their role as witnesses to past cultures. Anthropology and archaeology thus went together, with British anthropologists considering their field of study as social anthropology and American and continental European anthropologists preferring the description cultural anthropology. Historians learned both from social and cultural anthropologists and from sociologists. Eliot, who died in 1965, had by comparison little influence on them as the study of everyday things became an increasingly significant element in the study of history, culminating in the identification of a consumer culture, which had its origins, some historians maintained, in the 18th century. More broadly, historians, particularly in France, stressed that the concept of culture cannot be separated from its history. A very different and far stronger influence on historians was exercised by Marxist writers, therefore, although by 1965 there were more diversities of approach and methodology within Marxism than there were among anthropologists.

The original formulation of a Marxist concept of culture was deceptively simple. Marx himself distinguished between an economic base and a cultural superstructure, although he did not use the latter adjective. He was interested in the superstructure, but he did not analyse it as 20th-century Marxists were to do, the first of them the so-called Frankfurt School of sociologists, founded by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. It was they who developed a critical theory of the media as culture makers before being driven out of Germany in 1934 and moving to the United States. Their return to Frankfurt after World War II revived their influence which, for a time, drew in Jürgen Habermas, whose writings on the public sphere became more influential among sociologists than theirs, and Herbert Marcuse, a joint father of the School, who had become an American citizen. A philosopher, who linked Marx and Freud and discussed class and sex, he played a key role in rebellious students’ movements in the United States during the 1960s. His attack on the repressive power, as he conceived of it, of liberalism seemed a threat to American values.

In Italy Antonio Gramsci, general secretary of the Italian Communist Party, who in 1926 was put into jail by Benito Mussolini, used his time there in severely restrained circumstances to write nine volumes of Prison Notebooks, which were to be widely studied throughout European universities during the 1960s. Distinguishing between forms of culture, he rejected the base/superstructure model and concluded that intellectuals created the “hegemony” or cultural domination by which the ruling class secured the mass support in order to achieve its aims. Culture demanded the discipline of knowing one’s inner self, but it was through cultural institutions, particularly the Church, through the media and through language itself that the cultural climate was determined, this, in turn, shaping political options and prospects of life. He was a pioneer of what came to be called “cultural studies”.

So, too, in England, in particular, was Raymond Williams, whose writings on culture and society—culture for him was what he called a “keyword”—culminated in 1977 in his adoption of a Marxist approach. He had not followed such an approach—and he explained why—in his first highly influential books, among them Culture and Society: 1780—1950 (1958) and The Long Revolution (1961), which more than any other books published in Britain drew attention to the concept of culture and a specifically English tradition, centred on it, which developed after and in response to the Industrial Revolution. The key book was Culture and Anarchy (1869) by Matthew Arnold in which he identified culture with “sweetness and light”. In the 20th century, the tradition was expressed in a conservative fashion, as Williams saw it, by Eliot and the prominent Cambridge literary critic, F.R. Leavis.


Williams was one of the main influences on the lively development of cultural studies in Britain during the 1960s, although before Culture and Society appeared the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies was founded by Richard Hoggart, whose Uses of Literacy was published in 1957. It was widely read outside and inside universities and was published in paperback in the centenary year of Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy. Like Williams (and the Frankfurt School), Hoggart, never a Marxist, was deeply interested in communications, the subject of a paperback by Williams, Television: Technology and Cultural Form (1974). In 1970, Hoggart left Birmingham for Paris to serve as UNESCO’s assistant director-general (for social sciences, human sciences, and culture).

Another major influence on the Birmingham Centre was Edward Thompson, author of The Making of the English Working Class (1963), who traced his origins to a different tradition from that analysed by Williams, a radical culture emerging in the 18th century but with deeper roots that went underground under repression after the French Revolution. Thompson criticized The Long Revolution on the grounds that no way of life is without its dimension of struggle. Such criticism—and a reading of continental European Marxist writers on literature and culture, notably Lucien Goldmann and György Lukács—impelled Williams to take up Marxist theories.

Meanwhile, the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, influenced not by Marx but by Émile Durkheim, had set out to redefine culture, his own keyword, in structural terms, claiming that “any culture may be looked upon as an ensemble of symbolic systems in the front rank of which are to be found language, marriage laws, economic relations, art, science and religion”. His range of reference extended to material culture and, above all, to food. The complexity of cross-influences and counter-influences is brought out in the history of various “structuralisms”, some specifically Marxist, which shaped much of the language of European sociology in the 1960s and 1970s.


The Birmingham Centre, subject to such multiple influences, derived its programme above all from that of Stuart Hall, born in the Caribbean, who worked with and then succeeded Hoggart, and who subsequently became a professor at the Open University. One of his main fields of study was subcultures—the beliefs, attitudes, customs, and other forms of behaviour of particular groups in society, particularly youth. These differed from those of the dominant society, while at the same time were integrally related to it. The concept of subculture referred also to minority groups such as ethnic minorities and drug users, but it incorporated the ways of life of gay communities and religious groups, the last of these prominent in the 21st century. It was sometimes argued that the subcultures created or expressed by such groups in such forms as dress served to provide recompense for the fact that their members are viewed as outsiders by mainstream society. Hence a drug user with a low social status within conventional society would command respect from other drug users because of his or her group’s individual hierarchy and values. Yet the power of Islamic subcultures could not be explained entirely in such terms. Members of some subcultures were bound most closely together if they were at odds with the values and behaviour of the dominant society. A shared language and a common religion with its own traditions and laws were a bond that transcended national frontiers. Subcultures might also emerge within a minority group—such as punk within youth subculture, separatist feminism within a feminine subculture, Rastafarians within a Caribbean subculture, and an Al-Qaeda group within Islam. Boundaries shifted and loyalties could change. Subcultures, like cultures, developed, and with globalization it was recognized that some subcultures, and indeed cultures, might disappear like lost species.

Theories of subcultures emerged during the 1960s and 1970s when the research was carried out on their formation, development, and relationship to society as a whole. Geographical subcultures tend to be described as regional cultures, and there may be subcultures, particularly class subcultures, within them.


The use of the word globalization is relatively new, more recent than the word modernization, but there was recognition even before the rise of the nation state that there were cultures or civilizations that coexisted, in some cases with links between them. The universal history of the 18th century explicitly acknowledged them. So, too, did various stage theories of development, most of them taking it for granted that there were primitive cultures that were the best thought of as obsolete survivals. Progress came to be considered as a law. For the 19th-century French sociologist Auguste Comte, who gave social science the name of sociology, man’s development had consisted of three stages—theological, metaphysical, and scientific, with the scientific (or positivist, the name given to him) dominating as the subject developed. Indeed, the idea of stages went out of fashion, and all cultures came to be treated as unique in time and place. “Colonial cultures”, however, shared common characteristics that implied cultural as well as economic dependence, and even after the end of imperialism, such dependence did not necessarily end.

Before World War II and the withdrawal from formal empire, two 20th-century historians, the German Oswald Spengler and the Englishman A.J. Toynbee, while following different methods and reaching quite different conclusions, produced chronological and comparative accounts of human history in which the units involved were not nation-states or empires but civilizations or cultures, each with a spiritual unity of its own. By comparing Greece and Rome, classical civilization, with the 20th-century West, Spengler, in his two-volume Untergang des Abendlandes (1918-1922), published at the end of World War I, claimed to have traced a life-cycle (birth, youth, maturity, senescence, death) through which all “advanced” cultures or civilizations pass. Translated into English as The Decline of the West (1926-1928), Spengler’s book had less impact in English-speaking countries than it did in defeated Germany. It provoked English rejoinders, however, though not immediately, notably The Recovery of the West (1941) by Michael Roberts, a great admirer of Eliot, who himself referred to other cultures, among them the Indian, more than Roberts did. The differences between Indian and Chinese civilizations are part of the pattern of global history as it is now interpreted, with more questions posed than answered. The multi-volume Science and Civilization in China (1954- ) by the English biochemist Joseph Needham provides the broadest sweep in English of Chinese culture leading up to what he called “the gunpowder epic”, the transfer of technology to the West, but it has itself been subjected to challenge. Meanwhile, Wang Gungwu has noted carefully how the words civilization and culture, although not the conception of change, were new to the Chinese—and Japanese—in the late 19th century. They were translated as wenming and wenhua.

The Cultural Revolution in China, which followed nearly a quarter of a century after the creation of a Communist People’s Republic in 1949 and four years after a brief border war with India in 1962 (see Sino-Indian War), was conceived of as a proletarian purge of anti-revolutionary elements, and in waves of terror its leaders savagely attacked both traditional Chinese culture and all forms of Western culture. The precepts of Mao Zedong stirred several leftist groups in the West, however, and he himself survived the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1969. Marxism too survived, as it did the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union.

Toynbee was the other Western historian to write in terms of “civilizations” and “cultures”—he never clearly distinguished between the two—when he wrote 12 volumes of his magnum opus A Study of History (1934-1961) in which he identified 21 developed civilizations throughout history and 5 “arrested civilizations”. His own experiences were almost as varied as those of most of his civilizations. He had been a delegate to the Peace Conference in Paris in 1919 following World War I, and after having become a professor of Byzantine and modern Greek studies, a journalist, and director of studies at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, he became well known throughout the world, if not universally admired, as a historian. Drawn more to Greek and Roman experience, which he knew the best than to Indian or Chinese, nevertheless at least one Buddhist subculture, Cao Dai, hailed him as a prophet and his works were as well known in Asia as in Europe. His theory of civilizations, based on challenge and response, could be quickly understood, however much detail he used to illustrate it. The most relevant current detail would be provided from Africa, where cultures and subcultures confront all the issues raised by globalization.

Contributed By:
Asa Briggs