Cultural Perspective

A ‘Cultural Perspective’ refers to a set of attitudes, beliefs, customs, practices, and social behaviors that are learned and shared among members of a group or society. These shared factors contribute to a shared way of understanding or interpreting the world and can significantly influence an individual’s behavior, decisions, and perception of others and their environment.

Elements of Cultural Perspective

Understanding cultural perspective involves unpacking its various elements.

Values and Beliefs

Cultural perspectives are shaped by the values and beliefs shared within a culture. These can relate to aspects such as morality, the meaning of life, the concept of time, and relationships among people.

Norms and Customs

Norms and customs – shared expectations about appropriate behavior – also significantly contribute to a cultural perspective.

Cultural Perspective in Different Fields

The concept of cultural perspective plays a pivotal role across various fields.

In Sociology

In sociology, understanding cultural perspectives helps in studying societal patterns and structures.

In Anthropology

In anthropology, cultural perspective is key to studying human societies and cultures and their development.

In Psychology

In psychology, cultural perspectives help understand the influence of society and culture on individual behavior and mental processes.

The Importance of Recognizing Different Cultural Perspectives

Recognizing and understanding different cultural perspectives is vital in today’s interconnected world.

Fosters Empathy and Understanding

This understanding promotes empathy, tolerance, and appreciation of diversity.

Enhances Communication

It aids in effective communication across different cultural contexts and helps avoid misunderstandings.

Let’s consider some examples to better understand the concept of cultural perspective.

Example 1: Individualistic vs Collectivist Cultures

The cultural perspective of individualistic societies, like the United States, emphasizes personal freedom and achievement. In contrast, collectivist cultures, such as in Japan, value harmony, group cohesion, and cooperation.

Example 2: Different Attitudes towards Time

In many Western societies, time is often seen as linear and valuable, leading to a focus on punctuality. Conversely, in some other cultures, time is perceived more cyclically, resulting in a more flexible approach to punctuality.

Cultural perspective is a lens through which individuals view, interpret, and understand the world around them. Recognizing the influence of cultural perspectives can enrich our understanding of human behavior , facilitate cross-cultural understanding, and promote more harmonious coexistence in our diverse world.

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Social Sci LibreTexts

2.2: Culture and the Sociological Perspective

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Learning Objectives

  • Describe examples of how culture influences behavior.
  • Explain why sociologists might favor cultural explanations of behavior over biological explanations.

As this evidence on kissing suggests, what seems to us a very natural, even instinctual act turns out not to be so natural and biological after all. Instead, kissing seems best understood as something we learn to enjoy from our culture, or the symbols, language, beliefs, values, and artifacts (material objects) that are part of a society. Because society, as defined previously refers to a group of people who live in a defined territory and who share a culture, it is obvious that culture is a critical component of any society.

If the culture we learn influences our beliefs and behaviors, then culture is a key concept to the sociological perspective. Someone who grows up in the United States differs in many ways, some of them obvious and some of them not so obvious, from someone growing up in China, Sweden, South Korea, Peru, or Nigeria. Culture influences not only language but the gestures we use when we interact, how far apart we stand from each other when we talk, and the values we consider most important for our children to learn, to name just a few. Without culture, we could not have a society.

The profound impact of culture becomes most evident when we examine behaviors or conditions that, like kissing, are normally considered biological in nature. Consider morning sickness and labor pains, both very familiar to pregnant women before and during childbirth, respectively. These two types of discomfort have known biological causes, and we are not surprised that so many pregnant women experience them. But we would be surprised if the husbands of pregnant women woke up sick in the morning during their wives’ pregnancies or experienced severe abdominal pains while their wives gave birth. These men are neither carrying nor delivering a baby, and there is no logical—that is, biological—reason for them to suffer either type of discomfort.

And yet anthropologists have discovered many societies (most of which are industrialized) in which men about to become fathers experience precisely these symptoms. They are nauseous during their wives’ pregnancies, and they experience labor pains while their wives give birth. The term couvade refers to these symptoms, which do not have any known biological origin. Yet the men feel them nonetheless, because they have learned from their culture that they should feel these types of discomfort (Doja, 2005). And because they should feel these symptoms, they actually do so. Perhaps their minds are playing tricks on them, but that is often the point of culture. As sociologists William I. and Dorothy Swaine Thomas (1928) once pointed out, if things are perceived as real, then they are real in their consequences. These men learn how they should feel as budding fathers, and thus they feel this way. Unfortunately for them, the perceptions they learn from their culture are real in their consequences.

The example of drunkenness further illustrates how cultural expectations influence a behavior that is commonly thought to have biological causes. In the United States, when people drink too much alcohol, they become intoxicated and their behavior changes. Most typically, their inhibitions lower and they become loud, boisterous, and even rowdy. We attribute these changes to alcohol’s biological effect as a drug on our central nervous system, and scientists have documented how alcohol breaks down in our body to achieve this effect.


This explanation of alcohol’s effect is OK as far as it goes, but it turns out that how alcohol affects our behavior depends on our culture. In some societies anthropologists have studied, people drink alcohol until they pass out, but they never get loud or boisterous; they might not even appear to be enjoying themselves. In other societies, they drink lots of alcohol and get loud but not rowdy. In some societies, including our own, people lose sexual inhibitions as they drink, but in other societies they do not become more aroused. The anthropological evidence is very clear: alcohol as a drug does affect human behavior, but culture influences the types of effects that occur. We learn from our culture how to behave when drunk just as we learn how to behave when sober (McCaghy, Capron, Jamieson, & Carey, 2008).

Culture Versus Biology

These examples suggest that human behavior is more the result of culture than it is of biology. This is not to say that biology is entirely unimportant. As just one example, humans have a biological need to eat, and so they do. But humans are much less under the control of biology than any other animal species, including other primates such as monkeys and chimpanzees. These and other animals are governed largely by biological instincts that control them totally. A dog chases any squirrel it sees because of instinct, and a cat chases a mouse for the same reason. Different breeds of dogs do have different personalities, but even these stem from the biological differences among breeds passed down from one generation to another. Instinct prompts many dogs to turn around before they lie down, and it prompts most dogs to defend their territory. When the doorbell rings and a dog begins barking, it is responding to ancient biological instinct.

Because humans have such a large, complex central nervous system, we are less controlled by biology. The critical question then becomes, how much does biology influence our behavior? Predictably, scholars in different disciplines answer this question in different ways. Many sociologists and anthropologists would probably say that culture affects behavior much more than biology does. In contrast, many biologists and psychologists would give much more weight to biology. Advocating a view called sociobiology, some scholars say that several important human behaviors and emotions, such as competition, aggression, and altruism, stem from our biological makeup. Sociobiology has been roundly criticized and just as staunchly defended, and respected scholars continue to debate its premises (Freese, 2008).

Why do sociologists generally favor culture over biology? Two reasons stand out. First, and as kissing and the other examples illustrate, many behaviors differ dramatically among societies in ways that show the strong impact of culture. Second, biology cannot easily account for why groups and locations differ in their rates of committing certain behaviors. For example, what biological reason could explain why suicide rates west of the Mississippi River are higher than those east of it, to take a difference discussed in the previous chapter, or why the U.S. homicide rate is so much higher than Canada’s? Various aspects of culture and social structure seem much better able than biology to explain these differences.

Many sociologists also warn of certain implications of biological explanations. First, they say, these explanations implicitly support the status quo. Because it is difficult to change biology, any problem with biological causes cannot be easily fixed. Consider evidence that women do worse than men on the math SAT exam and are less likely to be mathematically gifted. Some researchers attribute this difference to women’s lower testosterone levels or to their brain structures (Halpern et al., 2007/2008). Suppose either explanation is true. What, then, can we do to improve women’s math SAT scores? Operate on their brains? Give them more testosterone? Obviously either option is morally unethical and practically impossible. If these are the only options, then there is little hope for improving women’s math ability, and gender inequality in math (and in high-paying jobs requiring good math ability) will continue.

Suppose instead, as many educators think, that the gender math difference stems from social and cultural factors, including the way girls and boys are brought up, the amount of attention teachers pay to them, and gender stereotyping in children’s books (Penner, 2008). None of these factors will be easy to change, but at least it is more possible to change them than to change biological conditions. Sociology’s perspective on gender and math performance thus promises at least some hope in reducing gender inequality in math performance.

A second possible implication of biological explanations that concerns some sociologists harkens back to an earlier time. This was a time when perceived biological differences among races and religions were used to justify forced sterilization and mass violence, including genocide, against certain groups. As just one example, in the early 1900s, some 70,000 people, most of them poor and many of them immigrants or African Americans, were involuntarily sterilized in the United States as part of the eugenics movement, which said that certain kinds of people were biologically inferior and must not be allowed to reproduce (Lombardo, 2008). The Nazi Holocaust a few decades later used a similar eugenics argument to justify its genocide against Jews, Catholics, gypsies, and gays (Kuhl, 1994). With this history in mind, some scholars fear that biological explanations of human behavior might still be used to support views of biological inferiority (York & Clark, 2007).

  • Culture refers to the symbols, language, beliefs, values, and artifacts that are part of any society.
  • Because culture influences people’s beliefs and behaviors, culture is a key concept to the sociological perspective.
  • Many sociologists are wary of biological explanations of behavior, in part because these explanations implicitly support the status quo and may be used to justify claims of biological inferiority.

For Your Review

  • Have you ever traveled outside the United States? If so, describe one cultural difference you remember in the nation you visited.
  • Have you ever traveled within the United States to a very different region (e.g., urban versus rural, or another part of the country) from the one in which you grew up? If so, describe one cultural difference you remember in the region you visited.
  • Do you share the concern of many sociologists over biological explanations of behavior? Why or why not?
  • Doja, A. (2005). Rethinking the couvade . Anthropological Quarterly, 78, 917–950.
  • Freese, J. (2008). Genetics and the social science explanation of individual outcomes [Supplement]. American Journal of Sociology, 114, S1–S35.
  • Halpern, D. F., Benbow, C. P., Geary, D. C., Gur, R. C., Hyde, J. S., & Gernsbacher, M. A. (2007/2008). Sex, math and scientific achievement. Scientific American Mind, 18, 44–51.
  • Lombardo, P. A. (2008). Three generations, no imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell . Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Kuhl, S. (1994). The Nazi connection: Eugenics, American racism, and German national socialism . New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • McCaghy, C. H., Capron, T. A., Jamieson, J. D., & Carey, S. H. (2008). Deviant behavior: Crime, conflict, and interest groups . Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
  • Penner, A. M. (2008). Gender differences in extreme mathematical achievement: An international perspective on biological and social factors [Supplement]. American Journal of Sociology, 114, S138–S170.
  • Thomas, W. I., & Thomas, D. S. (1928). The child in America: Behavior problems and programs . New York, NY: Knopf.
  • York, R., & Clark, B. (2007). Gender and mathematical ability: The toll of biological determinism. Monthly Review, 59, 7–15.

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Understanding Cultural Relativism and Its Importance

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

what is a cultural perspective essay

Akeem Marsh, MD, is a board-certified child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist who has dedicated his career to working with medically underserved communities.

what is a cultural perspective essay

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Beliefs of Cultural Relativism

  • Limitations
  • In Mental Health

Cultural Relativism vs. Ethnocentrism

  • How to Promote

Cultural relativism suggests that ethics, morals, values, norms, beliefs, and behaviors must be understood within the context of the culture from which they arise. It means that all cultures have their own beliefs and that there is no universal or absolute standard to judge those cultural norms. 

"Cultural relativism leads us to accept that cultures are foundationally different, with differing social and ethical norms. This includes understanding that a person’s place of birth, including where or how a patient was raised during their formative years, is the basis of a person’s approach to the world and emotional self," says Anu Raj, PsyD , a clinical psychologist at New York Institute of Technology.

Advocates of cultural relativism suggest that one culture's values, beliefs, and norms should not be judged through the lens of another culture.

It is the opposite of ethnocentrism, which involves judging or understanding cultural beliefs from the perspective of your own. Instead, cultural relativism suggests that observers and researchers should focus on describing those practices without attempting to impose their own biases and judgments upon them.

History of Cultural Relativism

The concept of cultural relativism was introduced by anthropologist Franz Boas in 1887. While he did not coin the term, it later became widely used by his students to describe his anthropological perspective and theories.

Cultural relativism suggests that:

  • Different societies have their own moral codes and practices.
  • Norms, beliefs, and values must be judged and understood from the context of the culture where they originate.
  • No culture is objectively better than others; cultures and their customs and beliefs are not objectively superior or inferior to any other culture.
  • Practices and behaviors considered acceptable or unacceptable vary from one culture to the next.
  • Cultural relativism aims to help promote acceptance, tolerance, and an appreciation for diverse cultural beliefs and practices.
  • No universal ethical or moral truths apply to all people in all situations.
  • What is considered right and wrong is determined by society’s moral codes.
  • Researchers and observers should strive to observe behavior rather than pass judgments on it based on their own cultural perspective.

Different Types of Cultural Relativism

There are two distinct types of cultural relativism: absolute cultural relativism and critical cultural relativism.

Absolute Cultural Relativism

According to this perspective, outsiders should not question or judge cultural events. Essentially, this point of view proposes that outsiders should not criticize or question the cultural practices of other societies, no matter what they might involve.

Critical Cultural Relativism

Critical cultural relativism suggests that practices should be evaluated in terms of how and why they are adopted. This perspective suggests that cultural practices can be evaluated and understood by looking at factors such as the historical context and social influences.

It also recognizes that all societies experience inequalities and power dynamics that influence how and why certain beliefs are adopted and who adopts them.

Strengths of Cultural Relativism

Cultural relativism has a number of benefits that can help people gain greater insight into different cultures. This perspective can help:

  • Promote cultural understanding : Because cultural relativism encourages seeing cultures with an open mind, it can foster greater empathy , understanding, and respect for cultures different from ours. 
  • Protect cultural respect and autonomy : Cultural relativism recognizes that no culture is superior to any other. Rather than attempting to change other cultures, this perspective encourages people to respect the autonomy and self-determinism of other cultures, which can play an important role in preserving the heritage and traditions of other cultures.
  • Foster learning : By embracing cultural relativism, people from different backgrounds are able to communicate effectively and create an open dialogue to foster greater learning for other cultures of the world.

Cultural relativism can also be important in helping mental health professionals deliver culturally competent care to clients of different backgrounds.

"What’s considered “typical and normal versus pathological” depends on cultural norms. It varies between providers and patients; it impacts diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis," Raj explains.

When mental health professionals account for the differences in values, and attitudes towards and of marginalized people (including communities of color and LGBTQ+ communities), providers develop respect for individual patients. Consequently, patients are less likely to be misdiagnosed and more likely to continue treatment.

Limitations of Cultural Relativism

While cultural relativism has strengths, that does not mean it is without limitations.

Failure to Address Human Rights

This perspective has been criticized for failing to address universal rights. Some suggest that this approach may appear to condone cultural practices that constitute human rights violations. It can be challenging to practice non-judgment of other cultures while still protecting people’s right to live free from discrimination and oppression.

Cultural relativism may sometimes hamper progress by inhibiting the examination of practices, norms, and traditions that limit a society’s growth and progress.

Reducing Cultures to Stereotypes

Cultural relativism sometimes falls victim to the tendency to stereotype and simplify cultures. Rather than fully appreciating the full complexity and diversity that may exist within a culture, people may reduce it to a homogenous stereotype. This often prevents outsiders from seeing the many variations that may exist within a society and fully appreciating the way cultures evolve over time.

Individual Rights vs. Cultural Values

This perspective may sometimes lead observers to place a higher priority on a culture’s collective values while dismissing individual variations. This might involve, for example, avoiding criticism of cultures that punish political dissidents who voice opposition to cultural norms, and practices.

Examples of Cultural Relativism

In reality, people make cultural judgments all the time. If you've ever eaten food from another culture and described it as 'gross' or learned about a specific cultural practice and called it 'weird,' you've made a judgment about that culture based on the norms of your own. Because you don't eat those foods or engage in those practices in your culture, you are making culture-biased value judgments.

Cultural differences can affect a wide range of behaviors, including healthcare decisions. For example, research has found that while people from Western cultures prefer to be fully informed in order to make autonomous healthcare conditions, individuals from other cultures prefer varying degrees of truth-telling from medical providers.

An example of using cultural relativism in these cases would be describing the food practices of a different culture and learning more about why certain foods and dishes are important in those societies. Another example would be learning more about different cultural practices and exploring how they originated and the purpose they serve rather than evaluating them from your own cultural background. 

In medical settings, healthcare practitioners must balance the interests and autonomy of their patients with respect and tolerance for multicultural values.

Cultural Relativism in Mental Health

Cultural relativism can also play an important role in the practice and application of mental health. "An individual’s perception of mental health, including stigma, is often influenced by their cultural identity and social values," explains Raj.

People who experience cultural discrimination are also more likely to experience higher stress levels, which can seriously affect mental health. Research has shown that perceived discrimination increases psychological distress and predicts symptoms of anxiety and depression. It also contributes to worse physical health, including a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke.

Therapists must strive to understand people from different backgrounds to provide culturally competent care. "Through the lens of cultural competency, providers can educate themselves and elevate the plethora of coping mechanisms that a patient already might possess," says Raj. 

Cultural relativism and ethnocentrism are two contrasting perspectives that can be used to evaluate and understand other cultures.

Ethnocentrism involves judging other cultures based on the standards and values of one's own culture, often leading to a biased or prejudiced perspective .

Where cultural relativism suggests that all cultures are equally valid, ethnocentrism involves seeing your own culture as superior or more correct than others.

Cultural relativism emphasizes the importance of diversity and recognizes that values, beliefs, and behaviors can vary across societies. This can be contrasted with ethnocentrism, which promotes the idea that your own culture is the norm or benchmark against which others should be evaluated. This can limit understanding and decrease tolerance for people of different backgrounds. 

How Do You Promote Cultural Relativism?

There are a number of strategies that can help promote cultural relativism. This can be particularly important for mental health professionals and other healthcare practitioners. 

"Therapists must be able to view the world through the eyes of their patients. Most importantly, culturally competent therapists understand their patient’s behavior through the cultural framework in which they live," Raj says.

Promoting cultural relativism involves adopting an open-minded and respectful approach toward other cultures. Some things you can do to foster greater cultural relativism:

  • Embrace cultural diversity : Strive to appreciate other cultures, including their unique values, traditions, and perspectives. Remember that diversity enriches our lives, experiences, and world knowledge.
  • Learn more about other cultures : Take the time to explore cultures other than your own, including histories, traditions, and beliefs. Resources that can help include books, documentaries, and online resources.
  • Practice empathy : Seek to understand others by imagining things from their perspective. Try to understand their experiences, challenges, and aspirations. Cultivate empathy and respect for the differences between people and cultures.
  • Seek diversity : Make an active effort to spend more time with people from different walks of life. Talk to people from diverse backgrounds and approach these discussions with an open mind and a desire to learn. Be willing to share your own perspectives and experiences without trying to change others or impose your beliefs on them.
  • Challenge biases : Try to become more aware of how your unconscious biases might shape your perceptions and interactions with others. Practicing cultural relativism is an ongoing process. It takes time, open-mindedness , and a willingness to reflect on your biases.

Promoting Cultural Relativism Among Mental Health Professionals

How can therapists apply cultural relativism to ensure they understand other cultural perspectives and avoid unintentional biases in therapy?   

A 2019 study found that the ideal training for therapists included graduate coursework in diversity, supervised clinical experiences working with diverse populations, experiential activities, didactic training, and cultural immersion when possible.

Avoiding Bias in Therapy

Raj suggests that there are important questions that professionals should ask themselves, including:

  • How do I identify?
  • How does my patient identify? 
  • What prejudices or biases am I holding? 
  •  Are there biases or stereotypes I hold based on my own upbringing and culture? 

She also suggests that therapists should always be willing to ask about client involvement in treatment planning. She recommends asking questions such as: 

  • What approaches have been successful or failed in the past? 
  • How does the patient perceive their ailment? 
  • What were the results of the patient’s previous coping mechanisms? 
  • How does the patient’s culture drive their behavior, coping skills, and outcomes?

By making clients an active part of their treatment and taking steps to understand their background better, therapists can utilize cultural relativism to deliver more sensitive, informed care.

The New Republic. Pioneers of cultural relativism )

Kanarek J. Critiquing cultural relativism . The Intellectual Standard. 2013;2(2):1.

Rosenberg AR, Starks H, Unguru Y, Feudtner C, Diekema D. Truth telling in the setting of cultural differences and incurable pediatric illness: A review . JAMA Pediatr . 2017;171(11):1113-1119. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.2568

Williams DR, Lawrence JA, Davis BA, Vu C. Understanding how discrimination can affect health . Health Serv Res . 2019;54 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):1374-1388. doi:10.1111/1475-6773.13222

Benuto LT, Singer J, Newlands RT, Casas JB. Training culturally competent psychologists: Where are we and where do we need to go ? Training and Education in Professional Psychology . 2019;13(1):56-63. doi:10.1037/tep0000214

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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The Purpose of Cultural Perspectives, Essay Example

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Many prospective students and freshman have troubling understanding the purpose of Cultural Perspectives. The new students should anticipate having knowledge concerning cultural perspective being a combination of principles, significances, attitudes, as well as ideas that are a part of a particular cultural group. The cultural perspectives are dynamic across different communities. Therefore, the cultural perspectives beliefs, values, meanings, attitudes and ideas which  trigger cultural practices as well as products  within a particular society and they are a representation of a global culture view. A good example of cultural perspective is a family which is perceived with high importance among the Chinese while other cultures may not necessary considers a family to be important. Another good example is the high importance attributed to youth in America while the elderly are considered to be less significant. While in Spain, bread is believed to be fundamental in every meal.

Cultural perspectives have a relationship with cultural practices and cultural products. Cultural practices involve social interaction patterns and social behaviors and basically entail the use of specific products. Products on the other hand involve tangible as well as intangible creations in a specific culture and they are the reflection of cultural perspective.

People from diverse regions of the globe are associated with distinctive cultural backgrounds and cultural values with an equal magnitude of diversity as their cultural backgrounds. This is a very significant as well as relevant issue in the lives of people. However, culture does not remain in a stagnating position but undergoes continuous transformations. Culture is also not monolithic, it is rather pluralistic. This therefore has the implication that human beings need a careful evaluation of every situation that arises and has important implications to human rights which is considered as an important merit for humans. Culture is a precious aspect in the lives of people and forms an important part of people’s identity. Cultural Perspectives plays a significant role in how people are born, live and consequently die and Cultural Perspectives cannot be separated from people which are identical to denial of their identity.

Basing from the point of view of an international student, taking a course in Cultural Perspectives is not fun in any way. From the information gathered from other students who have knowledge of this course, it entails more of theological, religious and spiritual aspects in its curriculum. Any foreign student therefore has the obligation of understanding all these concepts in a better way. These are extremely fearful words that discourage and de-motivate me against taking the course in Cultural Perspectives. I however gain some courage because one of my instructors called Dr. Cha is a really attractive man although I am not sure of other instructors in the same course. The class time for Dr. Cha is fleeting and he has a perfect knowledge of Chinese and therefore, students do not have enough background of Christian. He would use the simplest words to explain the meaning for us.

At the end of this semester, he divided the whole class to seven groups. He let us to be instructors and thought the class as professors. My group members and I did the research about World War Two. We tried our best to understand the background of novel Black Rain. At that time, I realized to be a teacher was not easy. You were not only required to explain the novel clearly, students might have many questions, and you need to be preparing to answer their questions. That was really difficult. One other interesting thing about this course is that; when you think one thing is right, try to think in other people’s side that may be wrong.

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Essays about Culture and Identity: 9 Examples And Prompts

Writing essays about culture and identity will help you explore your understanding of it. Here are examples that will give you inspiration for your next essay.

Culture can refer to customs, traditions, beliefs, lifestyles, laws, artistic expressions, and other elements that cultivate the collective identity. Different cultures are established across nations, regions, communities, and social groups. They are passed on from generation to generation while others evolve or are abolished to give way to modern beliefs and systems.

While our cultural identity begins at home, it changes as we involve ourselves with other groups (friends, educational institutions, social media communities, political groups, etc.) Culture is a very relatable subject as every person is part of a culture or at least can identify with one. Because it spans broad coverage, there are several interesting cultural subjects to write about.

Our culture and identity are dynamic. This is why you may find it challenging to write about it. To spark your inspiration, check out our picks of the best culture essays. 

1. Sweetness and Light by Matthew Arnolds

2. how auto-tune revolutionized the sound of popular music by simon reynolds, 3. how immigration changes language by john mcwhorter, 4. the comfort zone: growing up with charlie brown by jonathan franzen, 5. culture and identity definition by sandra graham, 6. how culture and surroundings influence identity by jeanette lucas, 7. how the food we eat reflects our culture and identity by sophia stephens, 8. identity and culture: my identity, culture, and identity by april casas, 9. how america hinders the cultural identity of their own citizens by seth luna, 1. answer the question, “who am i”, 2. causes of culture shock, 3. your thoughts on dystopia and utopia, 4. gender inequality from a global perspective, 5. the most interesting things you learned from other cultures, 6. the relationship between cultural identity and clothes, 7. describe your culture, 8. what is the importance of honoring your roots , 9. how can a person adapt to a new culture, 10. what artistic works best express your country’s culture, 11. how has social media influenced human interaction, 12. how do you protect the cultures of indigenous peoples, 13. are k-pop and k-drama sensations effectively promoting korea’s culture , 14. what is the importance of cultural diversity.

“… [A]nd when every man may say what he likes, our aspirations ought to be satisfied. But the aspirations of culture, which is the study of perfection, are not satisfied, unless what men say, when they may say what they like, is worth saying,—has good in it, and more good than bad.”

Arnolds compels a re-examination of values at a time when England is leading global industrialization and beginning to believe that greatness is founded on material progress. 

The author elaborates why culture, the strive for a standard of perfection, is not merely driven by scientific passions and, more so, by materialistic affluence. As he esteems religion as “that voice of the deepest human experience” to harmonize men in establishing that ideal society, Arnolds stresses that culture is the effort to “make reason and the will of God prevail” while humanizing gained knowledge to be society’s source of “sweetness and light.”

“Few innovations in sound production have been simultaneously so reviled and so revolutionary. Epoch-defining or epoch-defacing, Auto-Tune is indisputably the sound of the 21st century so far.”

Reynolds shows how Auto-Tune has shaped a pop music genre that has cut across cultures. The article maps out the music landscape Auto-Tune created and examines its impact on the culture of song productions and the modern taste for music. While the author debunks accusations that Auto-Tune destroyed the “natural” process of creating music, he also points out that the technology earned its reverence with big thanks to society’s current custom of using technology to hide blemishes and other imperfections.

Looking for more? Check out these essays about culture shock .

“… [T]he heavy immigration that countries like Italy are experiencing will almost certainly birth new kinds of Italian that are rich with slang, somewhat less elaborate than the standard, and… widely considered signs of linguistic deterioration, heralding a future where the “original” standard language no longer exists.”

American linguist McWhorter pacifies fears over the death of “standard” languages amid the wave of immigration to Europe. On the contrary, language is a vital expression of a culture, and for some, preserving is tantamount to upholding a cultural standard. 

However, instead of seeing the rise of new “multiethnolects” such as the Black English in America and Kiezdeutsch in Germany as threats to language and culture, McWhorter sees them as a new way to communicate and better understand the social groups that forayed these new languages.

“I wonder why “cartoonish” remains such a pejorative. It took me half my life to achieve seeing my parents as cartoons. And to become more perfectly a cartoon myself: what a victory that would be.”

This essay begins with a huge fight between Franzen’s brother and father to show how the cultural generation gap sweeping the 60s has hit closer to home. This generation gap, where young adults were rejecting the elders’ old ways in pursuit of a new and better culture, will also be the reason why his family ends up drifting apart. Throughout the essay, Franzen treads this difficult phase in his youth while narrating fondly how Peanuts, a pop culture icon at the time, was his source of escape. 

“…Culture is… your background… and Identity is formed where you belong to… Leopold Sedar Senghor and Shirley Geok-Lin Lim both talks about how culture and identity can impact… society…”

In this essay, Graham uses “To New York” by Senghor and “Learning To Love America” by Lim as two pieces of literature that effectively describe the role of culture and identity to traveling individuals. 

The author refers to Sengho’s reminder that people can adapt but must not forget their culture even if they go to a different place or country. On the other hand, Lim discusses immigrants’ struggle to have double identities.

“Culture is something that surrounds all of us and progress to shape our lives every day… Identity is illustrated as the state of mind in which someone or something distinguishes their own character traits that lead to determining who they really are, what they represent.”

Lucas is keen on giving examples of how his culture and surroundings influence an individual’s identity. She refers to Kothari’s “If you are what you eat, then what am I?” which discusses Kothari’s search for her identity depending on what food she eats. Food defines a person’s culture and identity, so Kothari believes that eating food from different countries will change his identity.

Lucas also refers to “Down These Mean Streets” by Piri Thomas, which argues how different cultural and environmental factors affect us. Because of what we encounter, there is a possibility that we will become someone who we are not. 

“What we grow is who we are. What we buy is who we are. What we eat is who we are.”

Stephens’ essay teaches its readers that the food we grow and eat defines us as a person. She explains that growing a crop and harvesting it takes a lot of effort, dedication, and patience, which mirrors our identity. 

Another metaphor she used is planting rice: it takes skills and knowledge to make it grow. Cooking rice is more accessible than cultivating it – you can quickly cook rice by boiling it in water. This reflects people rich in culture and tradition but who lives simpler life. 

“Every single one has their own unique identity and culture. Culture plays a big role in shaping your identity. Culture is what made me the person I am today and determines who or what I choose to associate myself with.”

Casas starts her piece by questioning who she is. In trying to learn and define who she is, she writes down and describes herself and her personality throughout the essay. Finally, she concludes that her culture is a big part of her identity, and she must understand it to understand herself.

“When it comes to these stereotypes we place on each other, a lot of the time, we succumb to the stereotypes given to us. And our cultural identity is shaped by these expectations and labels others give us. That is why negative stereotypes sometimes become true for a whole group or community.”

In this essay, Luna talks about how negative stereotyping in the United States led to moral distortion. For example, Americans are assumed to be ignorant of other countries’ cultures, making it difficult to understand other people’s cultures and lifestyles. 

She believes that stereotyping can significantly affect an individual or group’s identity. She suggests Americans should improve their intellectual competence by being sensitive to other people’s cultures.

14 Prompts on Essays about Culture and Identity

You can discuss many things on the subject of culture and identity. To give you a starting point, here are some prompts to help you write an exciting essay about culture. 

If you are interested in learning more, check out our essay writing tips and our round-up of the best essay checkers .

Understanding your personality is vital since continuous interaction with others can affect your personality. Write about your culture and identity; what is your personality? How do you define yourself? Everyone is unique, so by writing an essay about who you are, you’ll be able to understand why you act a certain way and connect with readers who have the same values. 

Here’s a guide on writing a descriptive essay to effectively relay your experience to your readers.

Sometimes, people need to get out of their comfort zone and interact with other individuals with different cultures, beliefs, or traditions. This is to broaden one’s perspective about the world. Aside from discussing what you’ve learned in that journey, you can also focus on the bits that shocked you. 

You can talk about a tradition or value that you found so bizarre because it differs from your culture. Then add how you processed it and finally adapted to it.

Essays about Culture and Identity: Your Thoughts on Dystopia and Utopia

Dystopia and Utopia are both imagined worlds. Dystopia is a world where people live in the worst or most unfavorable conditions, while Utopia is the opposite. 

You can write an essay about what you think a Dystopian or Utopian world may look like, how these societies will affect their citizens, etc. Then, consider what personality citizens of each world may have to depend on the two worlds’ cultures.

Today, more and more people are fighting for others to accept or at least respect the LGBTQ+ community. However, countries, territories, and religions still question their rights.

In your essay, you can talk about why these institutions react the way they do and how culture dictates someone’s identity in the wrong way. Before creating your own, feel free to read other essays and articles to learn more about the global gender inequality issue. 

The world has diverse cultures, traditions, and values. When you travel to a new place, learning and writing about your firsthand experiences with unique cultures and rituals will always be an interesting read.

In this prompt, you’ll research other cultures and how they shaped their group’s identity. Then, write about the most exciting aspects you’ve learned, why you found them fascinating, and how they differ from your culture.

Those proud of their culture will wear clothes inspired by them. Some wear the same clothes even if they aren’t from the same culture. The debate over cultural appropriation and culture appreciation is still a hot topic. 

In this essay, you may start with the traditions of your community or observances your family celebrates and gathers for. Then, elaborate on their origins and describe how your community or family is preserving these practices. 

Learning about your roots, ancestors, and family cultures can help strengthen your understanding of your identity and foster respect for other cultures. Explore this topic and offer examples of what others have learned. Has the journey always been a positive experience? Delve into this question for an engaging and interesting essay.

When a person moves country, it can be challenging to adapt to a new culture. If there are new people at work or school, you can interview them and ask how they are coping with their new environment. How different is this from what they have been used to, and what unique traditions do they find interesting?

Focus on an art piece that is a source of pride and identity to your country’s culture, much like the Tinikling of the Philippines or the Matryoshka dolls of Russia. Explore its origins and evolution up to its current manifestation and highlight efforts that are striving to protect and promote these artistic works.

The older generation did not have computers in their teen years. Ask about how they dated in their younger years and how they made friends. Contrast how the younger generation is building their social networks today. Write what culture of socialization works better for you and explain why.

Take in-depth navigation of existing policies that protect indigenous peoples. Are they sufficient to serve these communities needs, and are they being implemented effectively? There is also the challenge of balancing the protection of these traditions against the need to protect the environment, as some indigenous practices add to the carbon footprint. How is your government dealing with this challenge?

A large population is now riding the Hallyu or the Korean pop culture, with many falling in love with the artists and Korea’s food, language, and traditional events. Research how certain Korean films, TV series, or music have effectively attracted fans to experience Korea’s culture. Write about what countries can learn from Korea in promoting their own cultures.

Environments that embrace cultural diversity are productive and innovative. To start your essay, assess how diverse your workplace or school is. Then, write your personal experiences where working with co-workers or classmates from different cultures led to new and innovative ideas and projects. Combine this with the personal experiences of your boss or the principal to see how your environment benefits from hosting a melting pot of cultures.

If you aim for your article to effectively change readers’ perspectives and align with your opinion, read our guide to achieving persuasive writing . 

what is a cultural perspective essay

Aisling is an Irish journalist and content creator with a BA in Journalism & New Media. She has bylines in OK! Magazine, Metro, The Inquistr, and the Irish Examiner. She loves to read horror and YA. Find Aisling on LinkedIn .

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How to Write a Perspective Essay?

what is a cultural perspective essay

Understanding the Importance of Perspective Essays

A perspective essay is a powerful tool that allows individuals to express their thoughts and opinions on a particular topic from their unique standpoint. Unlike other types of essays, a perspective essay requires a deep understanding of the subject matter and the ability to convey personal experiences, observations, and beliefs effectively. By sharing different perspectives, individuals contribute to a diverse and inclusive society where ideas are valued and respected.

Choosing a Compelling Topic

When selecting a topic for your perspective essay, it's important to choose something that you are passionate about and have a strong opinion on. Whether it's a social issue, political ideology, or personal experience, your topic should resonate with your audience and make them eager to read your insights. Research the chosen topic thoroughly to ensure you have a solid foundation of knowledge to build upon.

Gathering Evidence and Conducting Research

Before diving into writing your perspective essay, it's crucial to gather relevant evidence to support your claims and arguments. Conduct thorough research using credible sources such as books, scholarly articles, and reputable websites. Take notes, highlight important information, and carefully analyze different viewpoints to strengthen your own perspective.

Structuring Your Perspective Essay

The structure of a perspective essay is similar to other types of essays. It consists of an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The introduction should grab the reader's attention and provide a brief overview of the topic and your stance. The body paragraphs, which are the core of your essay, should present your arguments, supporting evidence, and counterarguments. Finally, the conclusion should summarize your main points and leave the reader with a thought-provoking closing statement.

Writing with Clarity and Coherence

When writing your perspective essay, aim for clarity and coherence. Use clear, concise, and precise language to articulate your ideas. Structure your paragraphs logically, ensuring a smooth flow of thoughts. Support your arguments with relevant examples, anecdotes, or statistics to engage your audience and strengthen your position. Remember to acknowledge and address opposing viewpoints respectfully, demonstrating open-mindedness and critical thinking.

Formatting and Stylistic Considerations

While the content of your perspective essay is crucial, don't overlook the importance of formatting and style. Use appropriate heading tags, such as H2 or H3, for each section and subsection to improve readability and assist search engines in understanding the structure of your content. Enhance the visual appeal of your essay by using bullet points or numbered lists to break down complex information into digestible chunks. Incorporate relevant keywords naturally throughout the text to optimize your chances of ranking higher in search engine results.

Editing and Proofreading

Once you've completed your perspective essay, take the time to review, edit, and proofread it carefully. Pay attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure. Ensure your ideas flow smoothly and coherently. Remove any unnecessary repetition or tangential information. Consider seeking feedback from peers, teachers, or online communities to gain valuable insights and improve the overall quality of your essay.

Example Perspective Essay: The Power of Empathy

The following is an example of a perspective essay on the power of empathy:

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is a remarkable human trait that holds immense power. In a world filled with turmoil and division, empathy acts as a bridge, fostering understanding, compassion, and connection. It enables us to step into someone else's shoes, see the world through their eyes, and recognize their struggles and challenges.

When we embrace empathy, we break down barriers and cultivate a sense of unity. It allows us to transcend our personal biases and preconceptions, opening our minds to a multitude of perspectives. Empathy promotes inclusivity and acceptance, nurturing a society where diversity is celebrated and everyone feels valued.

One powerful aspect of empathy is its ability to spark positive change. By understanding the experiences of others, we become motivated to take action and address social injustices. Through empathy, we recognize the need for equality, justice, and human rights. It fuels our determination to create a better world for ourselves and future generations.

In conclusion, writing a perspective essay is an opportunity to express your thoughts, opinions, and experiences in a unique and compelling way. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can confidently tackle the task of writing a perspective essay. Remember to choose a captivating topic, conduct thorough research, structure your essay effectively, and write with clarity and coherence. By sharing your perspectives, you contribute to the rich tapestry of ideas that shape our society.

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what is a cultural perspective essay

How to Write Brown’s Perspective Essay

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Shane Niesen and Vinay Bhaskara i n a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.

What’s Covered:

Why this prompt is important, avoiding admission officers’ biases, why someone else should read your essay.

The second Brown University supplemental essay asks students to respond to the following prompt:

Brown’s culture fosters a community in which students challenge the ideas of others and have their ideas challenged in return, promoting a deeper and clearer understanding of the complex issues confronting society. This active engagement in dialogue is as present outside the classroom as it is in academic spaces. Tell us about a time you were challenged by a perspective that differed from your own. How did you respond? (200-250 words) 

In this article, we discuss why this prompt is so important, how to be aware of a reader’s bias, and why having someone else proofread your essay is essential. 

Brown’s second essay is all about being challenged by a perspective different from your own. One of the trickiest parts about this essay is to avoid focusing on presenting the two perspectives and the battle between them. This is not the point of the prompt. Brown admissions officers want to read about your perspective and your thought process when challenged. 

The goal of this prompt is to demonstrate how you think about the world, address challenges, and approach conflict. There is no avoiding conflict in life—over the past few years, for example, our society has experienced a great deal of friction due to opposing perspectives—so do your best to share your thought process around conflict. Dive into how you approach being confronted with differing opinions. 

There are a few questions that you can home in on for this prompt. You can write about your perspective, who challenged you, how it felt being challenged, and if that changed your perspective. This doesn’t mean you have to write about the exact time and place when your mind changed—maybe you felt even stronger about your beliefs after being challenged. The point is that you want to demonstrate that this confrontation had some sort of impact on you. 

Don’t be afraid to step away from the broader issues in our society or politics. Try to focus on a personal situation for this prompt. This will not only make you stand out from the crowd, but it will also help you avoid the biases of the admissions officers. Of course, admissions officers are aware that they will read the essays of students who share different perspectives than their own, but by writing about a personal conflict or issue, you’re more likely to avoid this issue entirely. 

Appealing to the admissions officers is a crucial part of your essay. You want the reader to like you or at least empathize with your perspective. This is why you should check yourself and your opinions while writing. You can do this by sharing your essay with someone else and asking for feedback. If that person tells you that they didn’t like how you talked about your opinion, that’s a sign that the admission officers won’t like it either. 

Ask your reader for feedback on the structure and content of your essay. A big mistake that students make is spending too much time narrating the problem rather than reflecting on the story. Your essay will ideally contain deeply personal topics, so most of it should focus on your emotions and headspace.

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what is a cultural perspective essay

Cultural and Regional Perspectives: A Section Introduction

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Culture is the core of humanity. Yet, it is also one of the most challenging things to define. The Cultural and Regional Perspectives section consists of manuscripts that dig deep into human emotions, theory, and technological contexts. These manuscripts seek to provide a window into the human struggle to understand and engage technological representations of culture and across cultures. While culture may take different faces within each manuscript, the overall goal of the section is to broaden readers’ notions of culture and how culture impacts and is impacted by technology in the context of the broad learning, design, and technology fields.

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Asino, T. I., & Giacumo, L. (2019). Culture and global workplace learning: Foundations of cross-cultural design theories and models. In The Wiley handbook of global workplace learning Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons. (pp. 395–412).

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Baldwin, J. R., Faulkner, S. L., Hecht, M. L., & Lindsley, S. L. (Eds.). (2006). Redefining culture: Perspectives across the disciplines . Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays . New York, NY: Basic Books.

Hall, E. (1976). Beyond culture . New York, NY: Double Day.

Levy, M. (2007). Culture, culture learning and new technologies: Towards a pedagogical framework. Language Learning & Technology, 11 (2), 104–127.

Young, P. A. (2009). Instructional design frameworks and intercultural models . Hershey, PA: IGI Global/Information Science Publishing.

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Young, P.A., Asino, T.I. (2020). Cultural and Regional Perspectives: A Section Introduction. In: Spector, M.J., Lockee, B.B., Childress, M.D. (eds) Learning, Design, and Technology. Springer, Cham.

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Cultural Identity Essay

27 August, 2020

12 minutes read

Author:  Elizabeth Brown

No matter where you study, composing essays of any type and complexity is a critical component in any studying program. Most likely, you have already been assigned the task to write a cultural identity essay, which is an essay that has to do a lot with your personality and cultural background. In essence, writing a cultural identity essay is fundamental for providing the reader with an understanding of who you are and which outlook you have. This may include the topics of religion, traditions, ethnicity, race, and so on. So, what shall you do to compose a winning cultural identity essay?

Cultural Identity

Cultural Identity Paper: Definitions, Goals & Topics 

cultural identity essay example

Before starting off with a cultural identity essay, it is fundamental to uncover what is particular about this type of paper. First and foremost, it will be rather logical to begin with giving a general and straightforward definition of a cultural identity essay. In essence, cultural identity essay implies outlining the role of the culture in defining your outlook, shaping your personality, points of view regarding a multitude of matters, and forming your qualities and beliefs. Given a simpler definition, a cultural identity essay requires you to write about how culture has influenced your personality and yourself in general. So in this kind of essay you as a narrator need to give an understanding of who you are, which strengths you have, and what your solid life position is.

Yet, the goal of a cultural identity essay is not strictly limited to describing who you are and merely outlining your biography. Instead, this type of essay pursues specific objectives, achieving which is a perfect indicator of how high-quality your essay is. Initially, the primary goal implies outlining your cultural focus and why it makes you peculiar. For instance, if you are a french adolescent living in Canada, you may describe what is so special about it: traditions of the community, beliefs, opinions, approaches. Basically, you may talk about the principles of the society as well as its beliefs that made you become the person you are today.

So far, cultural identity is a rather broad topic, so you will likely have a multitude of fascinating ideas for your paper. For instance, some of the most attention-grabbing topics for a personal cultural identity essay are:

  • Memorable traditions of your community
  • A cultural event that has influenced your personality 
  • Influential people in your community
  • Locations and places that tell a lot about your culture and identity

Cultural Identity Essay Structure

As you might have already guessed, composing an essay on cultural identity might turn out to be fascinating but somewhat challenging. Even though the spectrum of topics is rather broad, the question of how to create the most appropriate and appealing structure remains open.

Like any other kind of an academic essay, a cultural identity essay must compose of three parts: introduction, body, and concluding remarks. Let’s take a more detailed look at each of the components:


Starting to write an essay is most likely one of the most time-consuming and mind-challenging procedures. Therefore, you can postpone writing your introduction and approach it right after you finish body paragraphs. Nevertheless, you should think of a suitable topic as well as come up with an explicit thesis. At the beginning of the introduction section, give some hints regarding the matter you are going to discuss. You have to mention your thesis statement after you have briefly guided the reader through the topic. You can also think of indicating some vital information about yourself, which is, of course, relevant to the topic you selected.

Your main body should reveal your ideas and arguments. Most likely, it will consist of 3-5 paragraphs that are more or less equal in size. What you have to keep in mind to compose a sound ‘my cultural identity essay’ is the argumentation. In particular, always remember to reveal an argument and back it up with evidence in each body paragraph. And, of course, try to stick to the topic and make sure that you answer the overall question that you stated in your topic. Besides, always keep your thesis statement in mind: make sure that none of its components is left without your attention and argumentation.


Finally, after you are all finished with body paragraphs and introduction, briefly summarize all the points in your final remarks section. Paraphrase what you have already revealed in the main body, and make sure you logically lead the reader to the overall argument. Indicate your cultural identity once again and draw a bottom line regarding how your culture has influenced your personality.

Best Tips For Writing Cultural Identity Essay

Writing a ‘cultural identity essay about myself’ might be somewhat challenging at first. However, you will no longer struggle if you take a couple of plain tips into consideration. Following the tips below will give you some sound and reasonable cultural identity essay ideas as well as make the writing process much more pleasant:

  • Start off by creating an outline. The reason why most students struggle with creating a cultural identity essay lies behind a weak structure. The best way to organize your ideas and let them flow logically is to come up with a helpful outline. Having a reference to build on is incredibly useful, and it allows your essay to look polished.
  • Remember to write about yourself. The task of a cultural identity essay implies not focusing on your culture per se, but to talk about how it shaped your personality. So, switch your focus to describing who you are and what your attitudes and positions are. 
  • Think of the most fundamental cultural aspects. Needless to say, you first need to come up with a couple of ideas to be based upon in your paper. So, brainstorm all the possible ideas and try to decide which of them deserve the most attention. In essence, try to determine which of the aspects affected your personality the most.
  • Edit and proofread before submitting your paper. Of course, the content and the coherence of your essay’s structure play a crucial role. But the grammatical correctness matters a lot too. Even if you are a native speaker, you may still make accidental errors in the text. To avoid the situation when unintentional mistakes spoil the impression from your essay, always double check your cultural identity essay. 

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3.1 What Is Culture?

Learning objectives.

By the end of this section, you should be able to:

  • Differentiate between culture and society
  • Explain material versus nonmaterial culture
  • Discuss the concept of cultural universals as it relates to society
  • Compare and contrast ethnocentrism and xenocentrism

Humans are social creatures. According to Smithsonian Institution research, humans have been forming groups for almost 3 million years in order to survive. Living together, people formed common habits and behaviors, from specific methods of childrearing to preferred techniques for obtaining food.

Almost every human behavior, from shopping to marriage, is learned. In the U.S., marriage is generally seen as an individual choice made by two adults, based on mutual feelings of love. In other nations and in other times, marriages have been arranged through an intricate process of interviews and negotiations between entire families. In Papua New Guinea, almost 30 percent of women marry before the age of 18, and 8 percent of men have more than one wife (National Statistical Office, 2019). To people who are not from such a culture, arranged marriages may seem to have risks of incompatibility or the absence of romantic love. But many people from cultures where marriages are arranged, which includes a number of highly populated and modern countries, often prefer the approach because it reduces stress and increases stability (Jankowiak 2021).

Being familiar with unwritten rules helps people feel secure and at ease. Knowing to look left instead of right for oncoming traffic while crossing the street can help avoid serious injury and even death. Knowing unwritten rules is also fundamental in understanding humor in different cultures. Humor is common to all societies, but what makes something funny is not. Americans may laugh at a scene in which an actor falls; in other cultures, falling is never funny. Most people want to live their daily lives confident that their behaviors will not be challenged or disrupted. But even an action as seemingly simple as commuting to work evidences a great deal of cultural propriety, that is, there are a lot of expected behaviors. And many interpretations of them.

Take the case of going to work on public transportation. Whether people are commuting in Egypt, Ireland, India, Japan, and the U.S., many behaviors will be the same and may reveal patterns. Others will be different. In many societies that enjoy public transportation, a passenger will find a marked bus stop or station, wait for the bus or train, pay an agent before or after boarding, and quietly take a seat if one is available. But when boarding a bus in Cairo, Egypt, passengers might board while the bus is moving, because buses often do not come to a full stop to take on patrons. In Dublin, Ireland, bus riders would be expected to extend an arm to indicate that they want the bus to stop for them. And when boarding a commuter train in Mumbai, India, passengers must squeeze into overstuffed cars amid a lot of pushing and shoving on the crowded platforms. That kind of behavior might be considered rude in other societies, but in Mumbai it reflects the daily challenges of getting around on a train system that is taxed to capacity.

Culture can be material or nonmaterial. Metro passes and bus tokens are part of material culture, as are the buses, subway cars, and the physical structures of the bus stop. Think of material culture as items you can touch-they are tangible . Nonmaterial culture , in contrast, consists of the ideas, attitudes, and beliefs of a society. These are things you cannot touch. They are intangible . You may believe that a line should be formed to enter the subway car or that other passengers should not stand so close to you. Those beliefs are intangible because they do not have physical properties and can be touched.

Material and nonmaterial aspects of culture are linked, and physical objects often symbolize cultural ideas. A metro pass is a material object, but it represents a form of nonmaterial culture, namely, capitalism, and the acceptance of paying for transportation. Clothing, hairstyles, and jewelry are part of material culture, but the appropriateness of wearing certain clothing for specific events reflects nonmaterial culture. A school building belongs to material culture symbolizing education, but the teaching methods and educational standards are part of education’s nonmaterial culture.

As people travel from different regions to entirely different parts of the world, certain material and nonmaterial aspects of culture become dramatically unfamiliar. What happens when we encounter different cultures? As we interact with cultures other than our own, we become more aware of the differences and commonalities between others and our own. If we keep our sociological imagination awake, we can begin to understand and accept the differences. Body language and hand gestures vary around the world, but some body language seems to be shared across cultures: When someone arrives home later than permitted, a parent or guardian meeting them at the door with crossed arms and a frown on their face means the same in Russia as it does in the U.S. as it does in Ghana.

Cultural Universals

Although cultures vary, they also share common elements. Cultural universals are patterns or traits that are globally common to all societies. One example of a cultural universal is the family unit: every human society recognizes a family structure that regulates sexual reproduction and the care of children. Even so, how that family unit is defined and how it functions vary. In many Asian cultures, for example, family members from all generations commonly live together in one household. In these cultures, young adults continue to live in the extended household family structure until they marry and join their spouse’s household, or they may remain and raise their nuclear family within the extended family’s homestead. In the U.S., by contrast, individuals are expected to leave home and live independently for a period before forming a family unit that consists of parents and their offspring. Other cultural universals include customs like funeral rites, weddings, and celebrations of births. However, each culture may view and conduct the ceremonies quite differently.

Anthropologist George Murdock first investigated the existence of cultural universals while studying systems of kinship around the world. Murdock found that cultural universals often revolve around basic human survival, such as finding food, clothing, and shelter, or around shared human experiences, such as birth and death or illness and healing. Through his research, Murdock identified other universals including language, the concept of personal names, and, interestingly, jokes. Humor seems to be a universal way to release tensions and create a sense of unity among people (Murdock, 1949). Sociologists consider humor necessary to human interaction because it helps individuals navigate otherwise tense situations.

Sociological Research

Is music a cultural universal.

Imagine that you are sitting in a theater, watching a film. The movie opens with the protagonist sitting on a park bench with a grim expression on their face. The music starts to come in. The first slow and mournful notes play in a minor key. As the melody continues, the heroine turns her head and sees a man walking toward her. The music gets louder, and the sounds don’t seem to go together – as if the orchestra is intentionally playing the wrong notes. You tense up as you watch, almost hoping to stop. The character is clearly in danger.

Now imagine that you are watching the same movie – the exact same footage – but with a different soundtrack. As the scene opens, the music is soft and soothing, with a hint of sadness. You see the protagonist sitting on the park bench with a grim expression. Suddenly, the music swells. The woman looks up and sees a man walking toward her. The notes are high and bright, and the pace is bouncy. You feel your heart rise in your chest. This is a happy moment.

Music has the ability to evoke emotional responses. In television shows, movies, commercials, and even the background music in a store, music has a message and seems to easily draw a response from those who hear it – joy, sadness, fear, victory. Are these types of musical cues cultural universals?

In 2009, a team of psychologists, led by Thomas Fritz of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, studied people’s reactions to music that they’d never heard (Fritz et al., 2009). The research team traveled to Cameroon, Africa, and asked Mafa tribal members to listen to Western music. The tribe, isolated from Western culture, had never been exposed to Western culture and had no context or experience within which to interpret its music. Even so, as the tribal members listened to a Western piano piece, they were able to recognize three basic emotions: happiness, sadness, and fear. Music, the study suggested, is a sort of universal language.

Researchers also found that music can foster a sense of wholeness within a group. In fact, scientists who study the evolution of language have concluded that originally language (an established component of group identity) and music were one (Darwin, 1871). Additionally, since music is largely nonverbal, the sounds of music can cross societal boundaries more easily than words. Music allows people to make connections, where language might be a more difficult barricade. As Fritz and his team found, music and the emotions it conveys are cultural universals.

Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism

Although human societies have much in common, cultural differences are far more prevalent than cultural universals. For example, while all cultures have language, analysis of conversational etiquette reveals tremendous differences. In some Middle Eastern cultures, it is common to stand close to others in conversation. Americans keep more distance and maintain a large “personal space.” Additionally, behaviors as simple as eating and drinking vary greatly from culture to culture. Some cultures use tools to put the food in the mouth while others use their fingers. If your professor comes into an early morning class holding a mug of liquid, what do you assume they are drinking? In the U.S., it’s most likely filled with coffee, not Earl Grey tea, a favorite in England, or Yak Butter tea, a staple in Tibet.

Some travelers pride themselves on their willingness to try unfamiliar foods, like the late celebrated food writer Anthony Bourdain (1956-2017). Often, however, people express disgust at another culture's cuisine. They might think that it’s gross to eat raw meat from a donkey or parts of a rodent, while they don’t question their own habit of eating cows or pigs.

Such attitudes are examples of ethnocentrism , which means to evaluate and judge another culture based on one’s own cultural norms. Ethnocentrism is believing your group is the correct measuring standard and if other cultures do not measure up to it, they are wrong. As sociologist William Graham Sumner (1906) described the term, it is a belief or attitude that one’s own culture is better than all others. Almost everyone is a little bit ethnocentric.

A high level of appreciation for one’s own culture can be healthy. A shared sense of community pride, for example, connects people in a society. But ethnocentrism can lead to disdain or dislike of other cultures and could cause misunderstanding, stereotyping, and conflict. Individuals, government, non-government, private, and religious institutions with the best intentions sometimes travel to a society to “help” its people, because they see them as uneducated, backward, or even inferior. Cultural imperialism is the deliberate imposition of one’s own cultural values on another culture.

Colonial expansion by Portugal, Spain, Netherlands, and England grew quickly in the fifteenth century was accompanied by severe cultural imperialism. European colonizers often viewed the people in these new lands as uncultured savages who needed to adopt Catholic governance, Christianity, European dress, and other cultural practices.

A modern example of cultural imperialism may include the work of international aid agencies who introduce agricultural methods and plant species from developed countries into areas that are better served by indigenous varieties and agricultural approaches to the particular region. Another example would be the deforestation of the Amazon Basin as indigenous cultures lose land to timber corporations.

When people find themselves in a new culture, they may experience disorientation and frustration. In sociology, we call this culture shock . In addition to the traveler’s biological clock being ‘off’, a traveler from Chicago might find the nightly silence of rural Montana unsettling, not peaceful. Now, imagine that the ‘difference’ is cultural. An exchange student from China to the U.S. might be annoyed by the constant interruptions in class as other students ask questions—a practice that is considered rude in China. Perhaps the Chicago traveler was initially captivated with Montana’s quiet beauty and the Chinese student was originally excited to see a U.S.- style classroom firsthand. But as they experience unanticipated differences from their own culture, they may experience ethnocentrism as their excitement gives way to discomfort and doubts about how to behave appropriately in the new situation. According to many authors, international students studying in the U.S. report that there are personality traits and behaviors expected of them. Black African students report having to learn to ‘be Black in the U.S.’ and Chinese students report that they are naturally expected to be good at math. In African countries, people are identified by country or kin, not color. Eventually, as people learn more about a culture, they adapt to the new culture for a variety of reasons.

Culture shock may appear because people aren’t always expecting cultural differences. Anthropologist Ken Barger (1971) discovered this when he conducted a participatory observation in an Inuit community in the Canadian Arctic. Originally from Indiana, Barger hesitated when invited to join a local snowshoe race. He knew he would never hold his own against these experts. Sure enough, he finished last, to his mortification. But the tribal members congratulated him, saying, “You really tried!” In Barger’s own culture, he had learned to value victory. To the Inuit people, winning was enjoyable, but their culture valued survival skills essential to their environment: how hard someone tried could mean the difference between life and death. Over the course of his stay, Barger participated in caribou hunts, learned how to take shelter in winter storms, and sometimes went days with little or no food to share among tribal members. Trying hard and working together, two nonmaterial values, were indeed much more important than winning.

During his time with the Inuit tribe, Barger learned to engage in cultural relativism . Cultural relativism is the practice of assessing a culture by its own standards rather than viewing it through the lens of one’s own culture. Practicing cultural relativism requires an open mind and a willingness to consider, and even adapt to, new values, norms, and practices.

However, indiscriminately embracing everything about a new culture is not always possible. Even the most culturally relativist people from egalitarian societies—ones in which women have political rights and control over their own bodies—question whether the widespread practice of female genital mutilation in countries such as Ethiopia and Sudan should be accepted as a part of cultural tradition. Sociologists attempting to engage in cultural relativism, then, may struggle to reconcile aspects of their own culture with aspects of a culture that they are studying. Sociologists may take issue with the practices of female genital mutilation in many countries to ensure virginity at marriage just as some male sociologists might take issue with scarring of the flesh to show membership. Sociologists work diligently to keep personal biases out of research analysis.

Sometimes when people attempt to address feelings of ethnocentrism and develop cultural relativism, they swing too far to the other end of the spectrum. Xenocentrism is the opposite of ethnocentrism, and refers to the belief that another culture is superior to one’s own. (The Greek root word xeno-, pronounced “ZEE-no,” means “stranger” or “foreign guest.”) An exchange student who goes home after a semester abroad or a sociologist who returns from the field may find it difficult to associate with the values of their own culture after having experienced what they deem a more upright or nobler way of living. An opposite reaction is xenophobia, an irrational fear or hatred of different cultures.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for sociologists studying different cultures is the matter of keeping a perspective. It is impossible for anyone to overcome all cultural biases. The best we can do is strive to be aware of them. Pride in one’s own culture doesn’t have to lead to imposing its values or ideas on others. And an appreciation for another culture shouldn’t preclude individuals from studying it with a critical eye. This practice is perhaps the most difficult for all social scientists.

Sociology in the Real World

Overcoming culture shock.

During her summer vacation, Caitlin flew from Chicago, Illinois to Madrid, Spain to visit Maria, the exchange student she had befriended the previous semester. In the airport, she heard rapid, musical Spanish being spoken all around her.

Exciting as it was, she felt isolated and disconnected. Maria’s mother kissed Caitlin on both cheeks when she greeted her. Her imposing father kept his distance. Caitlin was half asleep by the time supper was served—at 10 p.m. Maria’s family sat at the table for hours, speaking loudly, gesturing, and arguing about politics, a taboo dinner subject in Caitlin’s house. They served wine and toasted their honored guest. Caitlin had trouble interpreting her hosts’ facial expressions, and did not realize she should make the next toast. That night, Caitlin crawled into a strange bed, wishing she had not come. She missed her home and felt overwhelmed by the new customs, language, and surroundings. She’d studied Spanish in school for years—why hadn’t it prepared her for this?

What Caitlin did not realize was that people depend not only on spoken words but also on body language, like gestures and facial expressions, to communicate. Cultural norms and practices accompany even the smallest nonverbal signals (DuBois, 1951). They help people know when to shake hands, where to sit, how to converse, and even when to laugh. We relate to others through a shared set of cultural norms, and ordinarily, we take them for granted.

For this reason, culture shock is often associated with traveling abroad, although it can happen in one’s own country, state, or even hometown. Anthropologist Kalervo Oberg (1960) is credited with first coining the term “culture shock.” In his studies, Oberg found that most people are excited at first to encounter a new culture. But bit by bit, they become stressed by interacting with people from a different culture who speak another language and use different regional expressions. There is new food to digest, new daily schedules to follow, and new rules of etiquette to learn. Living with this constant stress can make people feel incompetent and insecure. People react to frustration in a new culture, Oberg found, by initially rejecting it and glorifying one’s own culture. An American visiting Italy might long for a “real” pizza or complain about the unsafe driving habits of Italians.

It helps to remember that culture is learned. Everyone is ethnocentric to an extent, and identifying with one’s own country is natural. Caitlin’s shock was minor compared to that of her friends Dayar and Mahlika, a Turkish couple living in married student housing on campus. And it was nothing like that of her classmate Sanai. Sanai had been forced to flee war-torn Bosnia with her family when she was fifteen. After two weeks in Spain, Caitlin had developed more compassion and understanding for what those people had gone through. She understood that adjusting to a new culture takes time. It can take weeks or months to recover from culture shock, and it can take years to fully adjust to living in a new culture.

By the end of Caitlin’s trip, she had made new lifelong friends. Caitlin stepped out of her comfort zone. She had learned a lot about Spain, but discovered a lot about herself and her own culture.

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Author's Point of View and Cultural Context

LESSON When you read a text Words that make up a book, essay, article, poem, or speech. and try to understand its meaning, you must consider various items, including the topic The subject of a reading. and purpose The reason the writer is writing about a topic. It is what the writer wants the reader to know, feel, or do after reading the work. of the piece. Two additional items that are also important to consider are the author A person who wrote a text. 's point of view The perspective from which an author considers a subject or issue. and the cultural context Information about the setting, time, place, community, customs, and beliefs that surround a writing. Thinking about the cultural context helps readers understand what is happening and why. of the reading A piece of writing to be read. A reading can either be a full work (i.e., a book) or partial (i.e., a passage). .

Point of View Point of view refers to the perspective The point of view from which an author considers a subject or issue. used by the writer in a story A description of fictional events that tells how something happened with a beginning, middle, and end. , article A non-fiction, often informative writing that forms a part of a publication, such as a magazine or newspaper. , or essay A short piece of writing that focuses on at least one main idea. Some essays are also focused on the author's unique point of view, making them personal or autobiographical, while others are focused on a particular literary, scientific, or political subject. . It lets the reader know who is telling the story or making the argument. Point of view can be broken down into three types: first person A narration style where the writer uses personal pronouns such as I , me , and we . This point of view is often taken when a writer chooses to share personal information or experiences. Example: It took me years to get used to the sounds of the city at night; I couldn't sleep with the police sirens blaring at all hours . , second person A narration style where the writer uses pronouns such as you and yours . This point of view is often taken when a writer wishes to directly address or instruct the audience. Example: It could take you years to get used to the sounds of the city at night; you might have trouble sleeping with the police sirens blaring at all hours . , and third person A narration style where the writer uses pronouns such as he , she , one , it , they . This point of view is often used in academic or professional writings. Example: Some people find that it takes years to get used to the sounds of the city at night; they often have trouble sleeping with the police sirens blaring at all hours . . Each type has its own perspective about the events within the writing.

First-Person Point of View In the first-person point of view, the writer uses the word I when writing. You, as the reader, get to read the story from the perspective of one person—the narrator The "voice" of the person who is telling a story. Sometimes the narrator is the author, other times it is a character within the work. . When the narrator shares his or her thoughts of what is happening, he or she has a limited point of view because that story is coming only from that person's perspective. First person is usually used in autobiographical A form of writing where the author writes a story about his or her own life and experiences. or other personal writing, such as a journal.

Second-Person Point of View In the second-person point of view, the writer uses the pronouns A part of speech that substitutes for a noun or noun phrase. Examples include: I , he , you , they . you or your, which generally refer to the reader. It is most often used for instruction manuals and lessons, such as this course, where the writer directly refers to the reader. An author may also choose to write in a second-person point of view to purposely draw the reader into the story. Although it is not seen as often as first- or third-person, second-person point of view can be a very effective type of writing when the writer has a specific purpose in mind.

Third-Person Point of View Finally, in the third-person point of view, the writer uses the pronouns he , she , it , and/or they and can write from either an omniscient (all knowing) perspective or from a limited perspective. Using third-person omniscient A narration style where the narrator knows everything about the story and all its characters, including their thoughts, feelings, and motives. This is also called the "God's eye" perspective. , the writer takes on the "God's eye" perspective and shares information about all characters and all the action taking place. The third-person limited A narration style where the narrator only knows one character's thoughts about the story and is told from that perspective. point of view follows the perspective of one person. As a reader, you know you are reading third-person omniscient when the writer lets you know what is going on inside the mind of multiple characters in the text. In third-person limited, the writer lets you inside the mind of only one character. Most formal academic writing is written in the third person.

Cultural Context The cultural context of a text helps the reader understand what is happening and why. It is made of up several factors including setting/location, background, cultures, beliefs, and community. Each of these items affects how a reader looks at and understands what is happening in that text.

For example, to understand the plot The main idea and events of a story, specifically, how major and minor supporting details are structured and how events lead to changes in characters. of the book To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the reader must think about where the story is taking place (setting/location), when the story is taking place (year/time), who is involved (the characters), and what values and beliefs those characters have. The setting of the book is in the racially divided Deep South of the United States during the Great Depression in the 1930's. The main character, Atticus Finch, is a lawyer who is also a widowed father of two children. Mr. Finch is called upon to defend an African-American man who is accused of raping a white woman. Knowing the cultural context of the book makes the plot and what Mr. Finch is doing all the more significant, given how African-Americans were viewed and treated at that time and place. In this way, cultural context becomes just as important to understanding the plot of the novel as is knowing about the characters and from what point of view the story is being told.

Note: Keep in mind that your instructor may have a different approach to the information in this lesson. Please be sure to follow your instructor's directions if they differ from the provided information.

Understanding point of view and cultural context are vital components of reading and understanding any piece of writing or communication. As part of the audience, you can determine what you need to know by understanding who is telling the story (and from what point of view), how much information you are receiving as a result (omniscient or limited), and how the setting or situation affects the information (cultural context). Only when you have all the information can you determine how to interpret it, which is a useful skill to have when reading academic texts during school or when reading reports or emails in the workplace.

Read the following memo A short written message from one person to another or to a group of persons, usually containing business information. to employees and consider the author's point of view and other information that describes the cultural context.

TO:                  InfoTech Employees FROM:             Vice President J.P. Jones SUBJECT:       Casual Fridays DATE:             July 10, 2014

It has come to my attention that there has been some confusion about the recent change to the "Casual Friday" dress code. In order to make that clear, I am providing the details as outlined by upper management.

At this time, the following items are deemed appropriate to wear on these days. For men: khakis; short-sleeved collared shirts (e.g. polo shirts) and button-down shirts; and loafers or casual dress shoes. For women: khakis; knee-length or longer skirts; short-sleeved collared shirts (e.g. polo shirts) and button-down shirts; and loafers or casual dress shoes/sandals. Employees are not allowed to wear shorts, jeans, T-shirts, or "beach" shoes, such as flip-flops.

As a law office, our job is to represent the law profession and our dress and professional presentation must reflect that. Thank you for your cooperation.

Point of View This memo is written in the first-person point of view. The vice president of the company is writing to the employees. You can see this is first person because of his use of the word I .

Cultural Context      The memo is written to employees in a law firm that has a very professional dress code. Knowing this, we can infer To reach a conclusion based on context and your own knowledge. from the writer's first and last sentences that the dress code has been misunderstood by some employees and some have perhaps worn inappropriate clothing, which is unacceptable. The culture of the office is one of strict professionalism, as evidenced by the writer's reminder that their duty as law professionals is to "look the part." The writer's tone appears firm and almost disciplinarian, which may reflect the workplace tone, and that, in turn, affects the cultural context of the memo and how the reader should understand it.

Review the following paragraphs. Then identify the author's point of view and the reading's cultural context.

Andy pulled his chair up to his desk. It was his first day of work at the advertising agency and he wasn't really sure what to expect. As he looked around the room, he saw several cubicles with young men and women – probably in their early twenties like him – focusing on the screens in front of them. Some even had white wires hanging down from their ears, a telltale sign they were listening to music on their iPods or other devices as they worked. Some even bobbed their heads a bit as though the music was driving their productivity. Phones rang in the distance and the hum of the copy machine told him that work was being done all around him.

Shifting his eyes back to his own cubicle, he couldn't help but notice that he didn't have a computer yet, and his desk looked eerily bare in comparison to other work stations. He knew that his first job would present some challenges, but he didn't realize how out of place he would feel. Even though he was surrounded by colleagues who seemed close in age to him, he was still the "new guy" and would have to find his place in this new corporate world that was so different from the small town he came from.

What is the point of view?

Sample Answer

The story is being told in the third-person point of view. It appears to be limited, as opposed to omniscient, since the reader is only brought into the mind of the lead character, Andy.

What is the cultural context?

The setting is in a business environment, specifically an advertising agency. The reader can tell that it is taking place in a relatively current time since it mentions computers and iPods. The main character is a young man from a small town who is starting his first job in the "big city," which also gives the reader some perspective on his background and what beliefs/ideals he is bringing with him to this experience.

Why might a writer choose to write in first person rather than third person?

Even though the third-person point of view allows multiple perspectives, a writer might use first person if he or she wants to connect with the reader on a personal level.

How can the cultural context of a piece support a reader's understanding? 

Cultural context gives the reader clues about what is happening and why it is important. In the passage about Andy, the reader learns about where Andy comes from, how old he is, and the timing of what is happening. Each of these items helps the reader understand what is going on with Andy, which will become important as the story progresses.

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Your chance of acceptance, your chancing factors, extracurriculars, what is a perspective essay.

Hi everyone, I just came across a term 'perspective essay.' I haven't heard of this before, so can anyone give me a quick overview of what it is and how to write one? Thanks!

Hi there! A "perspective essay" refers to a type of paper that presents the writer's viewpoint or opinion on a specific topic as a form of personal reflection. The primary goal of a perspective essay is to show your unique perspective and establish a clear argument or position on the subject matter.

To write a perspective essay, follow these steps:

1. Choose a topic: Pick something you're passionate or knowledgeable about, as it makes for a more compelling read. Make sure the topic is not too broad, and it should be something that has room for debate or discussion.

2. Develop a thesis statement: This is the central point of your essay and should clearly state your perspective on the topic. Your thesis statement should be concise, well-defined, and easy to understand.

3. Organize your thoughts: Outline the structure of your essay before you start writing. This can help you ensure that your thoughts flow seamlessly from one point to the next and prevent you from drifting off-topic.

4. Write the introduction: Engage your readers by providing some context or background information about the topic. Then, present your thesis statement, which will act as the guideline for the rest of your paper.

5. Present your arguments: Use the body paragraphs to discuss your main points or arguments that support your thesis statement. Be sure to provide evidence by citing relevant sources, examples, or personal experiences to solidify your claims.

6. Address counterarguments: It's essential to offer a balanced perspective by considering opposing viewpoints. You can either dedicate a separate paragraph for counterarguments or address them throughout your body paragraphs. This allows you to demonstrate critical thinking and shows that your opinion is well-informed and well-reasoned.

7. Write the conclusion: Sum up your main points and restate your thesis in a different way. Leave your reader with a thought-provoking statement or question that encourages further discussion and reflection.

8. Revise and edit: Carefully review your essay for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and clarity. It's always helpful to have someone else proofread your work to identify any errors or areas that could be improved.

Remember that in a perspective essay, it's not about being right or wrong — it's about presenting your viewpoint effectively and persuasively. Good luck and happy writing!

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What It Means To Be Asian in America

The lived experiences and perspectives of asian americans in their own words.

Asians are the fastest growing racial and ethnic group in the United States. More than 24 million Americans in the U.S. trace their roots to more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

The majority of Asian Americans are immigrants, coming to understand what they left behind and building their lives in the United States. At the same time, there is a fast growing, U.S.-born generation of Asian Americans who are navigating their own connections to familial heritage and their own experiences growing up in the U.S.

In a new Pew Research Center analysis based on dozens of focus groups, Asian American participants described the challenges of navigating their own identity in a nation where the label “Asian” brings expectations about their origins, behavior and physical self. Read on to see, in their own words, what it means to be Asian in America.

Table of Contents

Introduction, this is how i view my identity, this is how others see and treat me, this is what it means to be home in america, about this project, methodological note, acknowledgments.

No single experience defines what it means to be Asian in the United States today. Instead, Asian Americans’ lived experiences are in part shaped by where they were born, how connected they are to their family’s ethnic origins, and how others – both Asians and non-Asians – see and engage with them in their daily lives. Yet despite diverse experiences, backgrounds and origins, shared experiences and common themes emerged when we asked: “What does it mean to be Asian in America?”

In the fall of 2021, Pew Research Center undertook the largest focus group study it had ever conducted – 66 focus groups with 264 total participants – to hear Asian Americans talk about their lived experiences in America. The focus groups were organized into 18 distinct Asian ethnic origin groups, fielded in 18 languages and moderated by members of their own ethnic groups. Because of the pandemic, the focus groups were conducted virtually, allowing us to recruit participants from all parts of the United States. This approach allowed us to hear a diverse set of voices – especially from less populous Asian ethnic groups whose views, attitudes and opinions are seldom presented in traditional polling. The approach also allowed us to explore the reasons behind people’s opinions and choices about what it means to belong in America, beyond the preset response options of a traditional survey.

The terms “Asian,” “Asians living in the United States” and “Asian American” are used interchangeably throughout this essay to refer to U.S. adults who self-identify as Asian, either alone or in combination with other races or Hispanic identity.

“The United States” and “the U.S.” are used interchangeably with “America” for variations in the writing.

Multiracial participants are those who indicate they are of two or more racial backgrounds (one of which is Asian). Multiethnic participants are those who indicate they are of two or more ethnicities, including those identified as Asian with Hispanic background.

U.S. born refers to people born in the 50 U.S. states or the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, or other U.S. territories.

Immigrant refers to people who were not U.S. citizens at birth – in other words, those born outside the U.S., Puerto Rico or other U.S. territories to parents who were not U.S. citizens. The terms “immigrant,” “first generation” and “foreign born” are used interchangeably in this report.  

Second generation refers to people born in the 50 states or the District of Columbia with at least one first-generation, or immigrant, parent.

The pan-ethnic term “Asian American” describes the population of about 22 million people living in the United States who trace their roots to more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The term was popularized by U.S. student activists in the 1960s and was eventually adopted by the U.S. Census Bureau. However, the “Asian” label masks the diverse demographics and wide economic disparities across the largest national origin groups (such as Chinese, Indian, Filipino) and the less populous ones (such as Bhutanese, Hmong and Nepalese) living in America. It also hides the varied circumstances of groups immigrated to the U.S. and how they started their lives there. The population’s diversity often presents challenges . Conventional survey methods typically reflect the voices of larger groups without fully capturing the broad range of views, attitudes, life starting points and perspectives experienced by Asian Americans. They can also limit understanding of the shared experiences across this diverse population.

A chart listing the 18 ethnic origins included in Pew Research Center's 66 focus groups, and the composition of the focus groups by income and birth place.

Across all focus groups, some common findings emerged. Participants highlighted how the pan-ethnic “Asian” label used in the U.S. represented only one part of how they think of themselves. For example, recently arrived Asian immigrant participants told us they are drawn more to their ethnic identity than to the more general, U.S.-created pan-ethnic Asian American identity. Meanwhile, U.S.-born Asian participants shared how they identified, at times, as Asian but also, at other times, by their ethnic origin and as Americans.

Another common finding among focus group participants is the disconnect they noted between how they see themselves and how others view them. Sometimes this led to maltreatment of them or their families, especially at heightened moments in American history such as during Japanese incarceration during World War II, the aftermath of 9/11 and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond these specific moments, many in the focus groups offered their own experiences that had revealed other people’s assumptions or misconceptions about their identity.

Another shared finding is the multiple ways in which participants take and express pride in their cultural and ethnic backgrounds while also feeling at home in America, celebrating and blending their unique cultural traditions and practices with those of other Americans.

This focus group project is part of a broader research agenda about Asians living in the United States. The findings presented here offer a small glimpse of what participants told us, in their own words, about how they identify themselves, how others see and treat them, and more generally, what it means to be Asian in America.

Illustrations by Jing Li

Publications from the Being Asian in America project

  • Read the data essay: What It Means to Be Asian in America
  • Watch the documentary: Being Asian in America
  • Explore the interactive: In Their Own Words: The Diverse Perspectives of Being Asian in America
  • View expanded interviews: Extended Interviews: Being Asian in America
  • About this research project: More on the Being Asian in America project
  • Q&A: Why and how Pew Research Center conducted 66 focus groups with Asian Americans

what is a cultural perspective essay

One of the topics covered in each focus group was how participants viewed their own racial or ethnic identity. Moderators asked them how they viewed themselves, and what experiences informed their views about their identity. These discussions not only highlighted differences in how participants thought about their own racial or ethnic background, but they also revealed how different settings can influence how they would choose to identify themselves. Across all focus groups, the general theme emerged that being Asian was only one part of how participants viewed themselves.

The pan-ethnic label ‘Asian’ is often used more in formal settings

what is a cultural perspective essay

“I think when I think of the Asian Americans, I think that we’re all unique and different. We come from different cultures and backgrounds. We come from unique stories, not just as a group, but just as individual humans.” Mali , documentary participant

Many participants described a complicated relationship with the pan-ethnic labels “Asian” or “Asian American.” For some, using the term was less of an active choice and more of an imposed one, with participants discussing the disconnect between how they would like to identify themselves and the available choices often found in formal settings. For example, an immigrant Pakistani woman remarked how she typically sees “Asian American” on forms, but not more specific options. Similarly, an immigrant Burmese woman described her experience of applying for jobs and having to identify as “Asian,” as opposed to identifying by her ethnic background, because no other options were available. These experiences highlight the challenges organizations like government agencies and employers have in developing surveys or forms that ask respondents about their identity. A common sentiment is one like this:

“I guess … I feel like I just kind of check off ‘Asian’ [for] an application or the test forms. That’s the only time I would identify as Asian. But Asian is too broad. Asia is a big continent. Yeah, I feel like it’s just too broad. To specify things, you’re Taiwanese American, that’s exactly where you came from.”

–U.S.-born woman of Taiwanese origin in early 20s

Smaller ethnic groups default to ‘Asian’ since their groups are less recognizable

Other participants shared how their experiences in explaining the geographic location and culture of their origin country led them to prefer “Asian” when talking about themselves with others. This theme was especially prominent among those belonging to smaller origin groups such as Bangladeshis and Bhutanese. A Lao participant remarked she would initially say “Asian American” because people might not be familiar with “Lao.”

“​​[When I fill out] forms, I select ‘Asian American,’ and that’s why I consider myself as an Asian American. [It is difficult to identify as] Nepali American [since] there are no such options in forms. That’s why, Asian American is fine to me.”

–Immigrant woman of Nepalese origin in late 20s

“Coming to a big country like [the United States], when people ask where we are from … there are some people who have no idea about Bhutan, so we end up introducing ourselves as being Asian.”

–Immigrant woman of Bhutanese origin in late 40s

But for many, ‘Asian’ as a label or identity just doesn’t fit

Many participants felt that neither “Asian” nor “Asian American” truly captures how they view themselves and their identity. They argue that these labels are too broad or too ambiguous, as there are so many different groups included within these labels. For example, a U.S.-born Pakistani man remarked on how “Asian” lumps many groups together – that the term is not limited to South Asian groups such as Indian and Pakistani, but also includes East Asian groups. Similarly, an immigrant Nepalese man described how “Asian” often means Chinese for many Americans. A Filipino woman summed it up this way:

“Now I consider myself to be both Filipino and Asian American, but growing up in [Southern California] … I didn’t start to identify as Asian American until college because in [the Los Angeles suburb where I lived], it’s a big mix of everything – Black, Latino, Pacific Islander and Asian … when I would go into spaces where there were a lot of other Asians, especially East Asians, I didn’t feel like I belonged. … In media, right, like people still associate Asian with being East Asian.”

–U.S.-born woman of Filipino origin in mid-20s

Participants also noted they have encountered confusion or the tendency for others to view Asian Americans as people from mostly East Asian countries, such as China, Japan and Korea. For some, this confusion even extends to interactions with other Asian American groups. A Pakistani man remarked on how he rarely finds Pakistani or Indian brands when he visits Asian stores. Instead, he recalled mostly finding Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese items.

Among participants of South Asian descent, some identified with the label “South Asian” more than just “Asian.” There were other nuances, too, when it comes to the labels people choose. Some Indian participants, for example, said people sometimes group them with Native Americans who are also referred to as Indians in the United States. This Indian woman shared her experience at school:

“I love South Asian or ‘Desi’ only because up until recently … it’s fairly new to say South Asian. I’ve always said ‘Desi’ because growing up … I’ve had to say I’m the red dot Indian, not the feather Indian. So annoying, you know? … Always a distinction that I’ve had to make.”

–U.S.-born woman of Indian origin in late 20s

Participants with multiethnic or multiracial backgrounds described their own unique experiences with their identity. Rather than choosing one racial or ethnic group over the other, some participants described identifying with both groups, since this more accurately describes how they see themselves. In some cases, this choice reflected the history of the Asian diaspora. For example, an immigrant Cambodian man described being both Khmer/Cambodian and Chinese, since his grandparents came from China. Some other participants recalled going through an “identity crisis” as they navigated between multiple identities. As one woman explained:

“I would say I went through an identity crisis. … It’s because of being multicultural. … There’s also French in the mix within my family, too. Because I don’t identify, speak or understand the language, I really can’t connect to the French roots … I’m in between like Cambodian and Thai, and then Chinese and then French … I finally lumped it up. I’m just an Asian American and proud of all my roots.”

–U.S.-born woman of Cambodian origin in mid-30s

In other cases, the choice reflected U.S. patterns of intermarriage. Asian newlyweds have the highest intermarriage rate of any racial or ethnic group in the country. One Japanese-origin man with Hispanic roots noted:

“So I would like to see myself as a Hispanic Asian American. I want to say Hispanic first because I have more of my mom’s culture in me than my dad’s culture. In fact, I actually have more American culture than my dad’s culture for what I do normally. So I guess, Hispanic American Asian.”

–U.S.-born man of Hispanic and Japanese origin in early 40s

Other identities beyond race or ethnicity are also important

Focus group participants also talked about their identity beyond the racial or ethnic dimension. For example, one Chinese woman noted that the best term to describe her would be “immigrant.” Faith and religious ties were also important to some. One immigrant participant talked about his love of Pakistani values and how religion is intermingled into Pakistani culture. Another woman explained:

“[Japanese language and culture] are very important to me and ingrained in me because they were always part of my life, and I felt them when I was growing up. Even the word itadakimasu reflects Japanese culture or the tradition. Shinto religion is a part of the culture. They are part of my identity, and they are very important to me.”

–Immigrant woman of Japanese origin in mid-30s

For some, gender is another important aspect of identity. One Korean participant emphasized that being a woman is an important part of her identity. For others, sexual orientation is an essential part of their overall identity. One U.S.-born Filipino participant described herself as “queer Asian American.” Another participant put it this way:

“I belong to the [LGBTQ] community … before, what we only know is gay and lesbian. We don’t know about being queer, nonbinary. [Here], my horizon of knowing what genders and gender roles is also expanded … in the Philippines, if you’ll be with same sex, you’re considered gay or lesbian. But here … what’s happening is so broad, on how you identify yourself.”

–Immigrant woman of Filipino origin in early 20s

Immigrant identity is tied to their ethnic heritage

A chart showing how participants in the focus groups described the differences between race-centered and ethnicity-centered identities.

Participants born outside the United States tended to link their identity with their ethnic heritage. Some felt strongly connected with their ethnic ties due to their citizenship status. For others, the lack of permanent residency or citizenship meant they have stronger ties to their ethnicity and birthplace. And in some cases, participants said they held on to their ethnic identity even after they became U.S. citizens. One woman emphasized that she will always be Taiwanese because she was born there, despite now living in the U.S.

For other participants, family origin played a central role in their identity, regardless of their status in the U.S. According to some of them, this attitude was heavily influenced by their memories and experiences in early childhood when they were still living in their countries of origin. These influences are so profound that even after decades of living in the U.S., some still feel the strong connection to their ethnic roots. And those with U.S.-born children talked about sending their kids to special educational programs in the U.S. to learn about their ethnic heritage.

“Yes, as for me, I hold that I am Khmer because our nationality cannot be deleted, our identity is Khmer as I hold that I am Khmer … so I try, even [with] my children today, I try to learn Khmer through Zoom through the so-called Khmer Parent Association.”

–Immigrant man of Cambodian origin in late 50s

Navigating life in America is an adjustment

Many participants pointed to cultural differences they have noticed between their ethnic culture and U.S. culture. One of the most distinct differences is in food. For some participants, their strong attachment to the unique dishes of their families and their countries of origin helps them maintain strong ties to their ethnic identity. One Sri Lankan participant shared that her roots are still in Sri Lanka, since she still follows Sri Lankan traditions in the U.S. such as preparing kiribath (rice with coconut milk) and celebrating Ramadan.

For other participants, interactions in social settings with those outside their own ethnic group circles highlighted cultural differences. One Bangladeshi woman talked about how Bengalis share personal stories and challenges with each other, while others in the U.S. like to have “small talk” about TV series or clothes.

Many immigrants in the focus groups have found it is easier to socialize when they are around others belonging to their ethnicity. When interacting with others who don’t share the same ethnicity, participants noted they must be more self-aware about cultural differences to avoid making mistakes in social interactions. Here, participants described the importance of learning to “fit in,” to avoid feeling left out or excluded. One Korean woman said:

“Every time I go to a party, I feel unwelcome. … In Korea, when I invite guests to my house and one person sits without talking, I come over and talk and treat them as a host. But in the United States, I have to go and mingle. I hate mingling so much. I have to talk and keep going through unimportant stories. In Korea, I am assigned to a dinner or gathering. I have a party with a sense of security. In America, I have nowhere to sit, and I don’t know where to go and who to talk to.”

–Immigrant woman of Korean origin in mid-40s

And a Bhutanese immigrant explained:

“In my case, I am not an American. I consider myself a Bhutanese. … I am a Bhutanese because I do not know American culture to consider myself as an American. It is very difficult to understand the sense of humor in America. So, we are pure Bhutanese in America.”

–Immigrant man of Bhutanese origin in early 40s

Language was also a key aspect of identity for the participants. Many immigrants in the focus groups said they speak a language other than English at home and in their daily lives. One Vietnamese man considered himself Vietnamese since his Vietnamese is better than his English. Others emphasized their English skills. A Bangladeshi participant felt that she was more accepted in the workplace when she does more “American” things and speaks fluent English, rather than sharing things from Bangladeshi culture. She felt that others in her workplace correlate her English fluency with her ability to do her job. For others born in the U.S., the language they speak at home influences their connection to their ethnic roots.

“Now if I go to my work and do show my Bengali culture and Asian culture, they are not going to take anything out of it. So, basically, I have to show something that they are interested in. I have to show that I am American, [that] I can speak English fluently. I can do whatever you give me as a responsibility. So, in those cases I can’t show anything about my culture.”

–Immigrant woman of Bangladeshi origin in late 20s

“Being bi-ethnic and tri-cultural creates so many unique dynamics, and … one of the dynamics has to do with … what it is to be Americanized. … One of the things that played a role into how I associate the identity is language. Now, my father never spoke Spanish to me … because he wanted me to develop a fluency in English, because for him, he struggled with English. What happened was three out of the four people that raised me were Khmer … they spoke to me in Khmer. We’d eat breakfast, lunch and dinner speaking Khmer. We’d go to the temple in Khmer with the language and we’d also watch videos and movies in Khmer. … Looking into why I strongly identify with the heritage, one of the reasons is [that] speaking that language connects to the home I used to have [as my families have passed away].”

–U.S.-born man of Cambodian origin in early 30s

Balancing between individualistic and collective thinking

For some immigrant participants, the main differences between themselves and others who are seen as “truly American” were less about cultural differences, or how people behave, and more about differences in “mindset,” or how people think . Those who identified strongly with their ethnicity discussed how their way of thinking is different from a “typical American.” To some, the “American mentality” is more individualistic, with less judgment on what one should do or how they should act . One immigrant Japanese man, for example, talked about how other Japanese-origin co-workers in the U.S. would work without taking breaks because it’s culturally inconsiderate to take a break while others continued working. However, he would speak up for himself and other workers when they are not taking any work breaks. He attributed this to his “American” way of thinking, which encourages people to stand up for themselves.

Some U.S.-born participants who grew up in an immigrant family described the cultural clashes that happened between themselves and their immigrant parents. Participants talked about how the second generation (children of immigrant parents) struggles to pursue their own dreams while still living up to the traditional expectations of their immigrant parents.

“I feel like one of the biggest things I’ve seen, just like [my] Asian American friends overall, is the kind of family-individualistic clash … like wanting to do your own thing is like, is kind of instilled in you as an American, like go and … follow your dream. But then you just grow up with such a sense of like also wanting to be there for your family and to live up to those expectations, and I feel like that’s something that’s very pronounced in Asian cultures.”

–U.S.-born man of Indian origin in mid-20s

Discussions also highlighted differences about gender roles between growing up in America compared with elsewhere.

“As a woman or being a girl, because of your gender, you have to keep your mouth shut [and] wait so that they call on you for you to speak up. … I do respect our elders and I do respect hearing their guidance but I also want them to learn to hear from the younger person … because we have things to share that they might not know and that [are] important … so I like to challenge gender roles or traditional roles because it is something that [because] I was born and raised here [in America], I learn that we all have the equal rights to be able to speak and share our thoughts and ideas.”

U.S. born have mixed ties to their family’s heritage

what is a cultural perspective essay

“I think being Hmong is somewhat of being free, but being free of others’ perceptions of you or of others’ attempts to assimilate you or attempts to put pressure on you. I feel like being Hmong is to resist, really.” Pa Houa , documentary participant

How U.S.-born participants identify themselves depends on their familiarity with their own heritage, whom they are talking with, where they are when asked about their identity and what the answer is used for. Some mentioned that they have stronger ethnic ties because they are very familiar with their family’s ethnic heritage. Others talked about how their eating habits and preferred dishes made them feel closer to their ethnic identity. For example, one Korean participant shared his journey of getting closer to his Korean heritage because of Korean food and customs. When some participants shared their reasons for feeling closer to their ethnic identity, they also expressed a strong sense of pride with their unique cultural and ethnic heritage.

“I definitely consider myself Japanese American. I mean I’m Japanese and American. Really, ever since I’ve grown up, I’ve really admired Japanese culture. I grew up watching a lot of anime and Japanese black and white films. Just learning about [it], I would hear about Japanese stuff from my grandparents … myself, and my family having blended Japanese culture and American culture together.”

–U.S.-born man of Japanese origin in late 20s

Meanwhile, participants who were not familiar with their family’s heritage showed less connection with their ethnic ties. One U.S.-born woman said she has a hard time calling herself Cambodian, as she is “not close to the Cambodian community.” Participants with stronger ethnic ties talked about relating to their specific ethnic group more than the broader Asian group. Another woman noted that being Vietnamese is “more specific and unique than just being Asian” and said that she didn’t feel she belonged with other Asians. Some participants also disliked being seen as or called “Asian,” in part because they want to distinguish themselves from other Asian groups. For example, one Taiwanese woman introduces herself as Taiwanese when she can, because she had frequently been seen as Chinese.

Some in the focus groups described how their views of their own identities shifted as they grew older. For example, some U.S.-born and immigrant participants who came to the U.S. at younger ages described how their experiences in high school and the need to “fit in” were important in shaping their own identities. A Chinese woman put it this way:

“So basically, all I know is that I was born in the United States. Again, when I came back, I didn’t feel any barrier with my other friends who are White or Black. … Then I got a little confused in high school when I had trouble self-identifying if I am Asian, Chinese American, like who am I. … Should I completely immerse myself in the American culture? Should I also keep my Chinese identity and stuff like that? So yeah, that was like the middle of that mist. Now, I’m pretty clear about myself. I think I am Chinese American, Asian American, whatever people want.”

–U.S.-born woman of Chinese origin in early 20s

Identity is influenced by birthplace

what is a cultural perspective essay

“I identified myself first and foremost as American. Even on the forms that you fill out that says, you know, ‘Asian’ or ‘Chinese’ or ‘other,’ I would check the ‘other’ box, and I would put ‘American Chinese’ instead of ‘Chinese American.’” Brent , documentary participant

When talking about what it means to be “American,” participants offered their own definitions. For some, “American” is associated with acquiring a distinct identity alongside their ethnic or racial backgrounds, rather than replacing them. One Indian participant put it this way:

“I would also say [that I am] Indian American just because I find myself always bouncing between the two … it’s not even like dual identity, it just is one whole identity for me, like there’s not this separation. … I’m doing [both] Indian things [and] American things. … They use that term like ABCD … ‘American Born Confused Desi’ … I don’t feel that way anymore, although there are those moments … but I would say [that I am] Indian American for sure.”

–U.S.-born woman of Indian origin in early 30s

Meanwhile, some U.S.-born participants view being American as central to their identity while also valuing the culture of their family’s heritage.

Many immigrant participants associated the term “American” with immigration status or citizenship. One Taiwanese woman said she can’t call herself American since she doesn’t have a U.S. passport. Notably, U.S. citizenship is an important milestone for many immigrant participants, giving them a stronger sense of belonging and ultimately calling themselves American. A Bangladeshi participant shared that she hasn’t received U.S. citizenship yet, and she would call herself American after she receives her U.S. passport.

Other participants gave an even narrower definition, saying only those born and raised in the United States are truly American. One Taiwanese woman mentioned that her son would be American since he was born, raised and educated in the U.S. She added that while she has U.S. citizenship, she didn’t consider herself American since she didn’t grow up in the U.S. This narrower definition has implications for belonging. Some immigrants in the groups said they could never become truly American since the way they express themselves is so different from those who were born and raised in the U.S. A Japanese woman pointed out that Japanese people “are still very intimidated by authorities,” while those born and raised in America give their opinions without hesitation.

“As soon as I arrived, I called myself a Burmese immigrant. I had a green card, but I still wasn’t an American citizen. … Now I have become a U.S. citizen, so now I am a Burmese American.”

–Immigrant man of Burmese origin in mid-30s

“Since I was born … and raised here, I kind of always view myself as American first who just happened to be Asian or Chinese. So I actually don’t like the term Chinese American or Asian American. I’m American Asian or American Chinese. I view myself as American first.”

–U.S.-born man of Chinese origin in early 60s

“[I used to think of myself as] Filipino, but recently I started saying ‘Filipino American’ because I got [U.S.] citizenship. And it just sounds weird to say Filipino American, but I’m trying to … I want to accept it. I feel like it’s now marry-able to my identity.”

–Immigrant woman of Filipino origin in early 30s

For others, American identity is about the process of ‘becoming’ culturally American

A Venn diagram showing how participants in the focus group study described their racial or ethnic identity overlaps with their American identity

Immigrant participants also emphasized how their experiences and time living in America inform their views of being an “American.” As a result, some started to see themselves as Americans after spending more than a decade in the U.S. One Taiwanese man considered himself an American since he knows more about the U.S. than Taiwan after living in the U.S. for over 52 years.

But for other immigrant participants, the process of “becoming” American is not about how long they have lived in the U.S., but rather how familiar they are with American culture and their ability to speak English with little to no accent. This is especially true for those whose first language is not English, as learning and speaking it without an accent can be a big challenge for some. One Bangladeshi participant shared that his pronunciation of “hot water” was very different from American English, resulting in confusions in communication. By contrast, those who were more confident in their English skills felt they can better understand American culture and values as a result, leading them to a stronger connection with an American identity.

“[My friends and family tease me for being Americanized when I go back to Japan.] I think I seem a little different to people who live in Japan. I don’t think they mean anything bad, and they [were] just joking, because I already know that I seem a little different to people who live in Japan.”

–Immigrant man of Japanese origin in mid-40s

“I value my Hmong culture, and language, and ethnicity, but I also do acknowledge, again, that I was born here in America and I’m grateful that I was born here, and I was given opportunities that my parents weren’t given opportunities for.”

–U.S.-born woman of Hmong origin in early 30s

what is a cultural perspective essay

During the focus group discussions about identity, a recurring theme emerged about the difference between how participants saw themselves and how others see them. When asked to elaborate on their experiences and their points of view, some participants shared experiences they had with people misidentifying their race or ethnicity. Others talked about their frustration with being labeled the “model minority.” In all these discussions, participants shed light on the negative impacts that mistaken assumptions and labels had on their lives.

All people see is ‘Asian’

For many, interactions with others (non-Asians and Asians alike) often required explaining their backgrounds, reacting to stereotypes, and for those from smaller origin groups in particular, correcting the misconception that being “Asian” means you come from one of the larger Asian ethnic groups. Several participants remarked that in their own experiences, when others think about Asians, they tend to think of someone who is Chinese. As one immigrant Filipino woman put it, “Interacting with [non-Asians in the U.S.], it’s hard. … Well, first, I look Spanish. I mean, I don’t look Asian, so would you guess – it’s like they have a vision of what an Asian [should] look like.” Similarly, an immigrant Indonesian man remarked how Americans tended to see Asians primarily through their physical features, which not all Asian groups share.

Several participants also described how the tendency to view Asians as a monolithic group can be even more common in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The first [thing people think of me as] is just Chinese. ‘You guys are just Chinese.’ I’m not the only one who felt [this] after the COVID-19 outbreak. ‘Whether you’re Japanese, Korean, or Southeast Asian, you’re just Chinese [to Americans]. I should avoid you.’ I’ve felt this way before, but I think I’ve felt it a bit more after the COVID-19 outbreak.”

–Immigrant woman of Korean origin in early 30s

At the same time, other participants described their own experiences trying to convince others that they are Asian or Asian American. This was a common experience among Southeast Asian participants.

“I have to convince people I’m Asian, not Middle Eastern. … If you type in Asian or you say Asian, most people associate it with Chinese food, Japanese food, karate, and like all these things but then they don’t associate it with you.”

–U.S.-born man of Pakistani origin in early 30s

The model minority myth and its impact

what is a cultural perspective essay

“I’ve never really done the best academically, compared to all my other Asian peers too. I never really excelled. I wasn’t in honors. … Those stereotypes, I think really [have] taken a toll on my self-esteem.” Diane , documentary participant

Across focus groups, immigrant and U.S.-born participants described the challenges of the seemingly positive stereotypes of Asians as intelligent, gifted in technical roles and hardworking. Participants often referred to this as the “model minority myth.”

The label “model minority” was coined in the 1960s and has been used to characterize Asian Americans as financially and educationally successful and hardworking when compared with other groups. However, for many Asians living in the United States, these characterizations do not align with their lived experiences or reflect their socioeconomic backgrounds. Indeed, among Asian origin groups in the U.S., there are wide differences in economic and social experiences. 

Academic research on the model minority myth has pointed to its impact beyond Asian Americans and towards other racial and ethnic groups, especially Black Americans, in the U.S. Some argue that the model minority myth has been used to justify policies that overlook the historical circumstances and impacts of colonialism, slavery, discrimination and segregation on other non-White racial and ethnic groups.

Many participants noted ways in which the model minority myth has been harmful. For some, expectations based on the myth didn’t match their own experiences of coming from impoverished communities. Some also recalled experiences at school when they struggled to meet their teachers’ expectations in math and science.

“As an Asian person, I feel like there’s that stereotype that Asian students are high achievers academically. They’re good at math and science. … I was a pretty mediocre student, and math and science were actually my weakest subjects, so I feel like it’s either way you lose. Teachers expect you to fit a certain stereotype and if you’re not, then you’re a disappointment, but at the same time, even if you are good at math and science, that just means that you’re fitting a stereotype. It’s [actually] your own achievement, but your teachers might think, ‘Oh, it’s because they’re Asian,’ and that diminishes your achievement.”

–U.S.-born woman of Korean origin in late 20s

Some participants felt that even when being Asian worked in their favor in the job market, they encountered stereotypes that “Asians can do quality work with less compensation” or that “Asians would not complain about anything at work.”

“There is a joke from foreigners and even Asian Americans that says, ‘No matter what you do, Asians always do the best.’ You need to get A, not just B-plus. Otherwise, you’ll be a disgrace to the family. … Even Silicon Valley hires Asian because [an] Asian’s wage is cheaper but [they] can work better. When [work] visa overflow happens, they hire Asians like Chinese and Indian to work in IT fields because we are good at this and do not complain about anything.”

–Immigrant man of Thai origin in early 40s

Others expressed frustration that people were placing them in the model minority box. One Indian woman put it this way:

“Indian people and Asian people, like … our parents or grandparents are the ones who immigrated here … against all odds. … A lot of Indian and Asian people have succeeded and have done really well for themselves because they’ve worked themselves to the bone. So now the expectations [of] the newer generations who were born here are incredibly unrealistic and high. And you get that not only from your family and the Indian community, but you’re also getting it from all of the American people around you, expecting you to be … insanely good at math, play an instrument, you know how to do this, you know how to do that, but it’s not true. And it’s just living with those expectations, it’s difficult.”

–U.S.-born woman of Indian origin in early 20s

Whether U.S. born or immigrants, Asians are often seen by others as foreigners

what is a cultural perspective essay

“Being only not quite 10 years old, it was kind of exciting to ride on a bus to go someplace. But when we went to Pomona, the assembly center, we were stuck in one of the stalls they used for the animals.” Tokiko , documentary participant

Across all focus groups, participants highlighted a common question they are asked in America when meeting people for the first time: “Where are you really from?” For participants, this question implied that people think they are “foreigners,” even though they may be longtime residents or citizens of the United States or were born in the country. One man of Vietnamese origin shared his experience with strangers who assumed that he and his friends are North Korean. Perhaps even more hurtful, participants mentioned that this meant people had a preconceived notion of what an “American” is supposed to look like, sound like or act like. One Chinese woman said that White Americans treated people like herself as outsiders based on her skin color and appearance, even though she was raised in the U.S.

Many focus group participants also acknowledged the common stereotype of treating Asians as “forever foreigners.” Some immigrant participants said they felt exhausted from constantly being asked this question by people even when they speak perfect English with no accent. During the discussion, a Korean immigrant man recalled that someone had said to him, “You speak English well, but where are you from?” One Filipino participant shared her experience during the first six months in the U.S.:

“You know, I spoke English fine. But there were certain things that, you know, people constantly questioning you like, oh, where are you from? When did you come here? You know, just asking about your experience to the point where … you become fed up with it after a while.”

–Immigrant woman of Filipino origin in mid-30s

U.S.-born participants also talked about experiences when others asked where they are from. Many shared that they would not talk about their ethnic origin right away when answering such a question because it often led to misunderstandings and assumptions that they are immigrants.

“I always get that question of, you know, ‘Where are you from?’ and I’m like, ‘I’m from America.’ And then they’re like, ‘No. Where are you from-from ?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, my family is from Pakistan,’ so it’s like I always had like that dual identity even though it’s never attached to me because I am like, of Pakistani descent.”

–U.S.-born man of Pakistani origin in early 20s

One Korean woman born in the U.S. said that once people know she is Korean, they ask even more offensive questions such as “Are you from North or South Korea?” or “Do you still eat dogs?”

In a similar situation, this U.S.-born Indian woman shared her responses:

“I find that there’s a, ‘So but where are you from?’ Like even in professional settings when they feel comfortable enough to ask you. ‘So – so where are you from?’ ‘Oh, I was born in [names city], Colorado. Like at [the hospital], down the street.’ ‘No, but like where are you from?’ ‘My mother’s womb?’”

–U.S.-born woman of Indian origin in early 40s

Ignorance and misinformation about Asian identity can lead to contentious encounters

what is a cultural perspective essay

“I have dealt with kids who just gave up on their Sikh identity, cut their hair and groomed their beard and everything. They just wanted to fit in and not have to deal with it, especially [those] who are victim or bullied in any incident.” Surinder , documentary participant

In some cases, ignorance and misinformation about Asians in the U.S. lead to inappropriate comments or questions and uncomfortable or dangerous situations. Participants shared their frustration when others asked about their country of origin, and they then had to explain their identity or correct misunderstandings or stereotypes about their background. At other times, some participants faced ignorant comments about their ethnicity, which sometimes led to more contentious encounters. For example, some Indian or Pakistani participants talked about the attacks or verbal abuse they experienced from others blaming them for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Others discussed the racial slurs directed toward them since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Some Japanese participants recalled their families losing everything and being incarcerated during World War II and the long-term effect it had on their lives.

“I think like right now with the coronavirus, I think we’re just Chinese, Chinese American, well, just Asian American or Asians in general, you’re just going through the same struggles right now. Like everyone is just blaming whoever looks Asian about the virus. You don’t feel safe.”

–U.S.-born man of Chinese origin in early 30s

“At the beginning of the pandemic, a friend and I went to celebrate her birthday at a club and like these guys just kept calling us COVID.”

–U.S.-born woman of Korean origin in early 20s

“There [were] a lot of instances after 9/11. One day, somebody put a poster about 9/11 [in front of] my business. He was wearing a gun. … On the poster, it was written ‘you Arabs, go back to your country.’ And then someone came inside. He pointed his gun at me and said ‘Go back to your country.’”

–Immigrant man of Pakistani origin in mid-60s

“[My parents went through the] internment camps during World War II. And my dad, he was in high school, so he was – they were building the camps and then he was put into the Santa Anita horse track place, the stables there. And then they were sent – all the Japanese Americans were sent to different camps, right, during World War II and – in California. Yeah, and they lost everything, yeah.”

–U.S.-born woman of Japanese origin in mid-60s

what is a cultural perspective essay

As focus group participants contemplated their identity during the discussions, many talked about their sense of belonging in America. Although some felt frustrated with people misunderstanding their ethnic heritage, they didn’t take a negative view of life in America. Instead, many participants – both immigrant and U.S. born – took pride in their unique cultural and ethnic backgrounds. In these discussions, people gave their own definitions of America as a place with a diverse set of cultures, with their ethnic heritage being a part of it.

Taking pride in their unique cultures

what is a cultural perspective essay

“Being a Pakistani American, I’m proud. … Because I work hard, and I make true my dreams from here.” Shahid , documentary participant

Despite the challenges of adapting to life in America for immigrant participants or of navigating their dual cultural identity for U.S.-born ones, focus group participants called America their home. And while participants talked about their identities in different ways – ethnic identity, racial (Asian) identity, and being American – they take pride in their unique cultures. Many also expressed a strong sense of responsibility to give back or support their community, sharing their cultural heritage with others on their own terms.

“Right now it has been a little difficult. I think it has been for all Asians because of the COVID issue … but I’m glad that we’re all here [in America]. I think we should be proud to be here. I’m glad that our families have traveled here, and we can help make life better for communities, our families and ourselves. I think that’s really a wonderful thing. We can be those role models for a lot of the future, the younger folks. I hope that something I did in the last years will have impacted either my family, friends or students that I taught in other community things that I’ve done. So you hope that it helps someplace along the line.”

“I am very proud of my culture. … There is not a single Bengali at my workplace, but people know the name of my country. Maybe many years [later] – educated people know all about the country. So, I don’t have to explain that there is a small country next to India and Nepal. It’s beyond saying. People after all know Bangladesh. And there are so many Bengali present here as well. So, I am very proud to be a Bangladeshi.”

Where home is

When asked about the definition of home, some immigrant participants said home is where their families are located. Immigrants in the focus groups came to the United States by various paths, whether through work opportunities, reuniting with family or seeking a safe haven as refugees. Along their journey, some received support from family members, their local community or other individuals, while others overcame challenges by themselves. Either way, they take pride in establishing their home in America and can feel hurt when someone tells them to “go back to your country.” In response, one Laotian woman in her mid-40s said, “This is my home. My country. Go away.”

“If you ask me personally, I view my home as my house … then I would say my house is with my family because wherever I go, I cannot marry if I do not have my family so that is how I would answer.”

–Immigrant man of Hmong origin in late 30s

“[If somebody yelled at me ‘go back to your country’] I’d feel angry because this is my country! I live here. America is my country. I grew up here and worked here … I’d say, ‘This is my country! You go back to your country! … I will not go anywhere. This is my home. I will live here.’ That’s what I’d say.”

–Immigrant woman of Laotian origin in early 50s

‘American’ means to blend their unique cultural and ethnic heritage with that in the U.S.

what is a cultural perspective essay

“I want to teach my children two traditions – one American and one Vietnamese – so they can compare and choose for themselves the best route in life.” Helen , documentary participant (translated from Vietnamese)

Both U.S.-born and immigrant participants in the focus groups shared their experiences of navigating a dual cultural environment between their ethnic heritage and American culture. A common thread that emerged was that being Asian in America is a process of blending two or more identities as one.

“Yeah, I want to say that’s how I feel – because like thinking about it, I would call my dad Lao but I would call myself Laotian American because I think I’m a little more integrated in the American society and I’ve also been a little more Americanized, compared to my dad. So that’s how I would see it.”

–U.S.-born man of Laotian origin in late 20s

“I mean, Bangladeshi Americans who are here, we are carrying Bangladeshi culture, religion, food. I am also trying to be Americanized like the Americans. Regarding language, eating habits.”

–Immigrant man of Bangladeshi origin in mid-50s

“Just like there is Chinese American, Mexican American, Japanese American, Italian American, so there is Indian American. I don’t want to give up Indianness. I am American by nationality, but I am Indian by birth. So whenever I talk, I try to show both the flags as well, both Indian and American flags. Just because you make new relatives but don’t forget the old relatives.”

–Immigrant man of Indian origin in late 40s

what is a cultural perspective essay

Pew Research Center designed these focus groups to better understand how members of an ethnically diverse Asian population think about their place in America and life here. By including participants of different languages, immigration or refugee experiences, educational backgrounds, and income levels, this focus group study aimed to capture in people’s own words what it means to be Asian in America. The discussions in these groups may or may not resonate with all Asians living in the United States. Browse excerpts from our focus groups with the interactive quote sorter below, view a video documentary focused on the topics discussed in the focus groups, or tell us your story of belonging in America via social media. The focus group project is part of a broader research project studying the diverse experiences of Asians living in the U.S.

Read sortable quotes from our focus groups

Browse excerpts in the interactive quote sorter from focus group participants in response to the question “What does it mean to be [Vietnamese, Thai, Sri Lankan, Hmong, etc.] like yourself in America?” This interactive allows you to sort quotes from focus group participants by ethnic origin, nativity (U.S. born or born in another country), gender and age.

Video documentary

Videos throughout the data essay illustrate what focus group participants discussed. Those recorded in these videos did not participate in the focus groups but were sampled to have similar demographic characteristics and thematically relevant stories.

Watch the full video documentary and watch additional shorter video clips related to the themes of this data essay.

Share the story of your family and your identity

Did the voices in this data essay resonate? Share your story of what it means to be Asian in America with @pewresearch. Tell us your story by using the hashtag #BeingAsianInAmerica and @pewidentity on Twitter, as well as #BeingAsianInAmerica and @pewresearch on Instagram.

This cross-ethnic, comparative qualitative research project explores the identity, economic mobility, representation, and experiences of immigration and discrimination among the Asian population in the United States. The analysis is based on 66 focus groups we conducted virtually in the fall of 2021 and included 264 participants from across the U.S. More information about the groups and analysis can be found in this appendix .

Pew Research Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. This data essay was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, with generous support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative DAF, an advised fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation; the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; the Henry Luce Foundation; The Wallace H. Coulter Foundation; The Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation; The Long Family Foundation; Lu-Hebert Fund; Gee Family Foundation; Joseph Cotchett; the Julian Abdey and Sabrina Moyle Charitable Fund; and Nanci Nishimura.

The accompanying video clips and video documentary were made possible by The Pew Charitable Trusts, with generous support from The Sobrato Family Foundation and The Long Family Foundation.

We would also like to thank the Leaders Forum for its thought leadership and valuable assistance in helping make this study possible. This is a collaborative effort based on the input and analysis of a number of individuals and experts at Pew Research Center and outside experts.

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The Haiti That Still Dreams

By Edwidge Danticat

A person watching a street soccer game from behind a barricade.

I often receive condolence-type calls, e-mails, and texts about Haiti. Many of these messages are in response to the increasingly dire news in the press, some of which echoes what many of us in the global Haitian diaspora hear from our family and friends. More than fifteen hundred Haitians were killed during the first three months of this year, according to a recent United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights report, which described the country’s situation as “ cataclysmic .” Women and girls are routinely subjected to sexual violence. Access to food, water, education, and health care is becoming more limited, with more than four million Haitians, around a third of the population, living with food insecurity, and 1.4 million near starvation. Armed criminal groups have taken over entire neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas, carrying out mass prison breaks and attacks on the city’s airport, seaport, government buildings, police stations, schools, churches, hospitals, pharmacies, and banks, turning the capital into an “ open air prison .”

Even those who know the country’s long and complex history will ask, “Why can’t Haiti catch a break?” We then revisit some abridged version of that history. In 1804, after a twelve-year revolution against French colonial rule, Haiti won its independence, which the United States and several European powers failed to recognize for decades. The world’s first Black republic was then forced to spend sixty years paying a hundred-and-fifty-million francs (now worth close to thirty billion dollars) indemnity to France . Americans invaded and then occupied Haiti for nineteen years at the beginning of the twentieth century. The country endured twenty-nine years of murderous dictatorship under François Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude, until 1986. In 1991, a few months after Haiti’s first democratically elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, took office, he was overthrown in a coup staged by a military whose members had been trained in the U.S. Aristide was elected again, then overthrown again, in 2004, in part owing to an armed rebellion led by Guy Philippe, who was later arrested by the U.S. government for money laundering related to drug trafficking. Last November, six years into his nine-year prison sentence, Philippe was deported by the U.S. to Haiti. He immediately aligned himself with armed groups and has now put himself forward as a Presidential candidate.

In 2010, the country was devastated by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake, which killed more than two hundred thousand people. Soon after, United Nations “peacekeepers” dumped feces in Haiti’s longest river, causing a cholera epidemic that killed more than ten thousand people and infected close to a million. For the past thirteen years, Haiti has been decimated by its ruling party, Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale (P.H.T.K.), which rose to power after a highly contested election in 2011. In that election, the U.S.—then represented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—and the Organization of American States helped the candidate who finished in third place, Michel Martelly, claim the top spot. Bankrolled by kidnapping, drug trafficking, business élites, and politicians, armed groups have multiplied under P.H.T.K, committing massacres that have been labelled crimes against humanity. In 2021, a marginally elected President, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in his bedroom , a crime for which many of those closest to him, including his wife, have been named as either accomplices or suspects.

A crescent moon behind barbed wire.

The unasked question remains, as W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in “ The Souls of Black Folk ,” “How does it feel to be a problem?”

I deeply honor Haiti’s spirit of resistance and long history of struggle, but I must admit that sometimes the answer to that question is that it hurts. Sometimes it hurts a lot, even when one is aware of the causes, including the fact that the weapons that have allowed gangs to take over the capital continue to flow freely from Miami and the Dominican Republic, despite a U.N. embargo. Internally, the poorest Haitians have been constantly thwarted by an unequal and stratified society, which labels rural people moun andeyò (outside people), and which is suffused with greedy and corrupt politicians and oligarchs who scorn the masses from whose tribulations they extract their wealth.

Recently, at a loved one’s funeral, in Michigan, the spectre of other Haitian deaths was once again on the minds of my extended family members. Everywhere we gather, Haiti is with us, as WhatsApp messages continuously stream in from those who chose to stay in Haiti and can’t leave because the main airport is closed, and others who have no other home. In Michigan, during chats between wake, funeral, and repast, elders brought up those who can’t get basic health care, much less a proper burial or any of the rituals that are among our most sacred obligations. “Not even a white sheet over those bodies on the street,” my mother-in-law, who is eighty-nine, said, after receiving yet another image of incinerated corpses in Port-au-Prince. At least after the 2010 earthquake, sheets were respectfully placed on the bodies pulled from the rubble. Back then, she said, the armed young men seemed to have some reverence for life and some fear of death.

Lately, some of our family gatherings are incantations of grief. But they can also turn into storytelling sessions of a different kind. They are opportunities for our elders to share something about Haiti beyond what our young ones, like everyone else, see on the news. The headlines bleed into their lives, too, as do the recycled tropes that paint us as ungovernable, failures, thugs, and even cannibals. As with the prayers that we recite over the dead, words still have power, the elders whisper. We must not keep repeating the worst, they say, and in their voices I hear an extra layer of distress. They fear that they may never see Haiti again. They fear that those in the next generation, some of whom have never been to Haiti, will let Haiti slip away, as though the country they see in the media—the trash-strewn streets and the barricades made from the shells of burnt cars, the young men brandishing weapons of war and the regular citizens using machetes to defend themselves—were part of some horror film that they can easily turn off. The elders remind us that we have been removed, at least physically, from all of this by only a single generation, if not less.

We are still human beings, the elders insist—“ Se moun nou ye .” We are still wozo , like that irrepressible reed that grows all over Haiti. For a brief moment, I think someone might break into the Haitian national anthem or sing a few bars of the folk song “ Ayiti Cheri .” (“Beloved Haiti, I had to leave you to understand.”) Instead, they hum the music that the wozo has inspired : “ Nou se wozo / Menm si nou pliye, nou pap kase. ” Even if we bend, we will not break.

A pile of rubble in a street in Haiti.

Except we are breaking. “It pains me to see people living in constant fear,” the Port-au-Prince-based novelist and poet Évelyne Trouillot recently wrote to me in an e-mail. “I dream of a country where children are not afraid to dream.” Internationally, U.S. deportations continue , Navy ships are ready to be deployed to intercept migrant boats, and Haitian asylum seekers could once again end up imprisoned on Guantánamo, as they did in the early nineteen-nineties. In conversations, whether with strangers or with younger family members, someone inevitably asks, “Is there any hope?”

I have hope, I say, because I grew up with elders, both in Haiti and here in the U.S., who often told us, “ Depi gen souf gen espwa ”—as long as there’s breath, there’s hope. I have hope, too, because the majority of Haitians are under twenty-five years old, as are many members of our family. Besides, how can we give in to despair with eleven million people’s lives in the balance? Better yet, how can we reignite that communal grit and resolve that inspired us to defeat the world’s greatest armies and then pin to our flag the motto “ L’union fait la force ”? Unity is strength.

The elders also remind us that Haiti is not just Port-au-Prince. As more and more of the capital’s residents are forced to return to homesteads and ancestral villages, the moun andeyò have much to teach other Haitians. “Historically, the moun andeyò have always been the preserver of Haiti’s cultural and traditional ethos,” Vivaldi Jean-Marie, a professor of African American and African-diaspora studies at Columbia University, told me. Rural Haitians, who have lived for generations without the support of the state, have had no choice but to rely on one another in close and extended family structures called lakou . “This shared awareness—I am because we are—will prevail beyond this difficult chapter in Haitian history,” Jean-Marie said.

Finally, I have hope because in Haiti, as the American writer and art collector Selden Rodman has written, “ art is joy .” This remains true even as some of the country’s most treasured cultural institutions, including the National School of the Arts and the National Library, have been ransacked. In the summer of 2023, Carrefour Feuilles, a district in Port-au-Prince that many writers, visual artists, and musicians call home, was attacked by armed criminal groups. The onslaught led to a petition that collected close to five thousand signatures. It read in part, “How many more hundreds of our women and children must be raped, executed, burned before the public authorities do everything possible to put an end to the plague of gangs and their sponsors?”

A few days later, the homes of two of the signatories, the multimedia artist Lionel St. Eloi and the writer Gary Victor, were taken over by a gang. The last time I saw St. Eloi was in 2019, in the courtyard of Port-au-Prince’s Centre d’Art, where he had a series of metal birds on display, their bejewelled bodies and beaks pointing toward the sky. Allenby Augustin, the Centre d’Art’s executive director, recently described how some artists, afraid of having to suddenly flee their homes and leave their work behind, bring their pieces to the center or keep them in friends’ homes in different parts of the city. Others add the stray bullets that land inside their studios— bal pèdi or bal mawon —to their canvasses.

St. Eloi, the patriarch of a family of artists, had lived in Carrefour Feuilles since the seventies, working with young people there. “The youth who were neglected or who could not afford to go to school were taken in by our family,” one of St. Eloi’s sons, the musician Duckyns (Zikiki) St. Eloi, told me. “We taught them to paint, to play guitar, and to play the drums. Now they are hired to run errands for gangsters who put guns in their hands.” In spite of what has happened, he still believes that art can turn some things around. He recently sent me a picture of a work by his younger brother Anthony—an image depicting gang members wearing brightly colored balaclavas and holding pencils, a book, a paint palette, a camera, and a musical instrument. “If there are gangs, we’d be better off with art gangs,” Zikiki said. “Gangs that paint, make music, recite poetry. Art is how we bring our best face to the world. Art is how we dream.” ♦

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The Salacious Glossiness of Netflix’s Prince Andrew Drama, “Scoop”

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Current Trends and Topics in Pop Culture: a 2024 Perspective

This essay about pop culture explores the significant role that popular culture plays in reflecting and shaping societal norms and values. It discusses how various elements of pop culture, such as films, television, and music, serve as mirrors to societal changes and forums for addressing complex social issues like gender, race, and morality. The essay highlights the transformative impact of digital culture, particularly through social media, which has democratized the creation and dissemination of cultural content, allowing users and influencers to shape cultural narratives alongside traditional media. It also touches on the real-world influence of pop culture, exemplified by its effect on fashion trends and tourism. Overall, the essay argues that pop culture is not only a reflection of current societal dynamics but also a powerful force in driving societal change and understanding, making its study essential for comprehending modern social trends and behaviors.

How it works

Pop culture, a truncation for mainstream culture, denotes the extensive assortment of attitudes, ideologies, visuals, perspectives, and other phenomena within the hegemony of a given culture, particularly Western culture during the belated 20th and premature 21st centuries. Profoundly influenced by mass media, this compendium of notions saturates the quotidian lives of individuals in society. Presently, mainstream culture is frequently articulated and disseminated via commercial media channels such as periodicals, journals, television, cinema, melodies, and online content. Comprehending the profundity and expansiveness of mainstream culture can furnish us with insights into communal norms, ethics, and the collective fascinations of diverse factions.

One pivotal facet of mainstream culture is its function in signifying societal metamorphoses and mirroring modern apprehensions, frequently acting as a gauge for societal quandaries. For instance, cinematographic productions and television series can echo or confront societal standards, tendering commentary on matters such as gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic status. The surge of superhero cinematography over the bygone two decades, for instance, not solely denotes a change in recreational predilections but also reflects deeper societal quandaries concerning integrity, morality, and individual versus communal responsibility.

Melody, another momentous domain of mainstream culture, functions as a potent mode of articulation and a utensil for cultural identity amid juveniles. From the inception of rock and roll in the 1950s to present-day hip-hop, the metamorphosis of musical genres is intimately interwoven with civic movements and the evolving principles of society. Artisans frequently employ their platform to draw attention to political predicaments, influence communal sentiment, and galvanize aficionados. The sway of musical carnivals and live performances also highlights the communal facet of music in shaping cultures and subcultures.

Cybernetic culture, predominantly the ascension of social media, has metamorphosed the panorama of mainstream culture by amplifying trends and erecting platforms where virtually anyone can partake in cultural origination and diffusion. Memes, viral videos, and trending hashtags can now proliferate across the globe in a matter of hours, engendering instantaneous, albeit sometimes ephemeral, cultural phenomena. This egalitarianism of content production has transmuted the dynamics of who is deemed a ‘cultural arbiter’. Influencers and ordinary users can now attain a level of influence that was once reserved for prominent media channels and luminaries.

Furthermore, the repercussion of mainstream culture extends beyond mere amusement; it shapes real-world behaviors and perspectives. For instance, vogue trends can emanate from a solitary influential luminary appearance and promptly become mainstream, impacting sartorial preferences globally. Similarly, prevalent television series like “Game of Thrones” can profoundly sway tourism, with aficionados voyaging to shooting locales, underscoring mainstream culture’s capacity to sway economies.

In summation, mainstream culture subjects are not solely reflections of present communal principles and norms but are also momentous catalysts of metamorphosis. They furnish a framework through which we discern the progression of society and tender a medium for individuals to articulate themselves, commune with others, and mold their milieu. Grasping mainstream culture is imperative for anyone seeking to comprehend the intricacies of contemporary societal dynamics and the forces shaping communal sentiment and consumer demeanor today. Through its scrutiny, we can better discern the zeitgeist of disparate epochs and prognosticate future trends in our expeditiously evolving world.


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The debate about Sonia Sotomayor is not about sexism. It’s more dire.

Some want the supreme court justice to retire so that president biden can name a replacement before... before what happens, exactly.

what is a cultural perspective essay

For the past few months there has been a stealth political campaign going on, the subject of which feels so unseemly that nearly every person publicly participating in the debate insists they would rather not be participating in it, and would, in fact, prefer the debate not be happening at all.

The question: Should Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor voluntarily retire before the next presidential election?

And, if your answer is yes, are you sexist?

And, if your answer is no, and you support liberal jurisprudence, are you a fool?

If you haven’t been following, the arguments — which have been laid forth by Josh Barro in the Atlantic , Nate Silver , Mehdi Hassan in the Guardian , Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) , and others — amount to this:

1) Sotomayor, at 69, is already several years older than the median American retirement age;

2) The justice’s Type 1 diabetes might indicate a more complicated health map than that of a typical septuagenarian;

3) In the not-unlikely event that Donald Trump wins the presidential election, and Sotomayor has to leave the court during his next term, we can presume that his replacement nominee will turn the Supreme Court into a 7-2 conservative supermajority with repercussions for decades to come.

In other words, Democrats might feel great about Sotomayor’s health and stamina now. But how much are they willing to bet that they’ll feel great about it in four or more years? (For what it’s worth, Barro et al. also make the case that a Democrat in the White House doesn’t ensure the safe passage of Sotomayor’s replacement to the high court, either: a flip of the Senate could result in a Merrick Garland redux, wherein a Republican majority refuses to confirm a Joe Biden nominee).

The counterarguments: That Sotomayor is far from the oldest judge on the court; Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito are six and five years older. That she is below the average retirement age — which is north of 75 — of Supreme Court justices over the past century. That the diabetes argument is ableist and ill-informed. That justices are freed from term limits for a reason: They are supposed to be immune to political pressure and decide for themselves when to retire.

And finally: Would we be having this discussion if Sotomayor were a man?

“Virtually every person ... pushing is male,” observed Slate writer Dahlia Lithwick on a recent podcast, “and the people defending her are female.”

This is the third draft I have tried to write of a column tackling this subject. The first time, I got bogged down in actuarial tables before accepting that I am not medically trained and I have no idea how long Sonia Sotomayor is going to live. The second time, I went deep on sociology, trying to unpack the gender-based and racial overtones (Sotomayor is the first Latina justice) that make this discussion so fraught, before accepting that I’m writing a column, not a dissertation.

The third time, I realized that I’d been examining the wrong questions. When you ask the right one — and there is only one — then answering it for yourself becomes easy:

Do you think the republic holds?

That is the only question that you need to answer for yourself when figuring out whether, if you are a liberal, you think Sonia Sotomayor should retire.

It’s a loaded question, though, so maybe the best way to answer it is to envision what you see as the most plausible shape American politics will take one or five years from now.

Would another Trump defeat cause his party to become more obstinate and conspiracy-minded, or less? Would his acolytes in Congress become more accepting of a Democratic president’s authority to issue orders and make appointments, or less? If Trump wins, what would “democratic norms” look like?

Do you picture a normal-feeling presidential inauguration in 2025, in which a mass-market pop star sings the national anthem? Or do you picture the Capitol police donning riot gear in preparation for a possible attack on the White House? Do you think the odds of an attack on the White House are actually better than zero?

The functioning of American government is based on a series of codes and agreements. The agreement that the transfer of power will be peaceful. The agreement that presidents should be allowed to appoint qualified justices to fill any Supreme Court vacancy that occurs during their presidency (i.e. the argument that Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell made when Donald Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett) rather than Supreme Court vacancies being held open until the Senate likes the commander in chief (i.e. the argument that McConnell essentially made when Barack Obama nominated Garland).

The Style section

If you believe we are living in a reality in which the codes and agreements that support American governance will, though taxed, continue to support American governance, then you are fine with Sonia Sotomayor staying on the bench. You can trust that, actuarily speaking, she’ll likely feel great for another decade, and her eventual replacement will be chosen in a manner that is orderly and fair.

If you are a liberal who believes that the next election might fundamentally cripple American democracy, then you don’t want to rely on actuarial tables. You want a spry 49-year-old, right now, who will dedicate the next quarter century to protecting marriage equality and reinstating Roe.

Do you believe the republic holds?

It’s the question that already underpins this debate about Sotomayor. It is the grand, psychic fear that is running subconsciously through everyone’s mind as they get lost in oddly specific discussions about whether — and this was a real debate — the “medic” that Sotomayor has traveled with, according to U.S. Marshals Service records, referred to a human medical professional or merely to medical equipment.

What I appreciate about this question is that it is unsentimental and unsparing. Answering it for yourself does not require you to unpack all of your feelings about Sotomayor as an individual. It also does not require you to solve sexism, although I frankly think Would you be asking this if she were a man? is not the gotcha question people present it as. I don’t think people would be asking this question if Sotomayor were a man; I think people would be demanding it. I think it would be the “Retire, Breyer” movement we saw back in 2022, but dialed up to 11.

Do you think the republic holds does not require you to get philosophical about what the founders intended, or what is just, or what is optimal. It requires you to get practical about what is . Not: Is it fair that some people are laying the entire broken burden of American jurisprudence on the shoulders of one woman? But rather: Where is the Band-Aid? Does someone have a Band-Aid?

If you feel optimistic about the future of the country and are liberal-minded about the law, then I encourage you to feel confident and reassured by Sotomayor’s presence on the Supreme Court. If you end up thinking that she should retire, then you can, and should, insist that her replacement be another brilliant and eminently qualified woman, and you should make sure Joe Manchin III is ready and willing to vote for that replacement.

But this isn’t about Sotomayor. This is about what people think America will look like when Sotomayor eventually does shuffle off this mortal coil. Which I sincerely hope happens when she is in the middle of writing another delightful children’s book, or going dancing, or cycling leisurely around Washington at the age of 112.

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what is a cultural perspective essay

Sophia Bush comes out as queer, confirms relationship with Ashlyn Harris

Sophia Bush

Actor Sophia Bush came out as queer in an emotional essay in Glamour and confirmed she’s in a relationship with retired U.S. Women’s National Team soccer player Ashlyn Harris. 

“I sort of hate the notion of having to come out in 2024,” Bush wrote in a cover story for the fashion magazine published Thursday. “But I’m deeply aware that we are having this conversation in a year when we’re seeing the most aggressive attacks on the LGBTQIA+ community in modern history.” 

Bush noted that there were more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills proposed in state legislatures last year and said this motivated her to “give the act of coming out the respect and honor it deserves.” 

“I’ve experienced so much safety, respect, and love in the queer community, as an ally all of my life, that, as I came into myself, I already felt it was my home,” she wrote. “I think I’ve always known that my sexuality exists on a spectrum. Right now I think the word that best defines it is queer . I can’t say it without smiling, actually. And that feels pretty great.”

The “One Tree Hill” star filed for divorce from entrepreneur Grant Hughes in August. People magazine first reported in October that Bush and Harris were dating, but neither confirmed nor commented on the report. The pair later attended an Oscar’s viewing party together in March . 

In the essay, Bush addressed online rumors that her relationship with Harris began before Harris had officially divorced from fellow soccer star Ali Krieger, in September. 

“Everyone that matters to me knows what’s true and what isn’t,” Bush wrote. “But even still there’s a part of me that’s a ferocious defender, who wants to correct the record piece by piece. But my better self, with her earned patience, has to sit back and ask, What’s the f------- point? For who? For internet trolls? No, thank you. I’ll spend my precious time doing things I love instead.”

Bush said that after news about her and Harris became public, her mom told her that a friend called and said, “Well, this can’t be true. I mean, your daughter isn’t gay .” 

“My mom felt that it was obvious, from the way her friend emphasized the word, that she meant it judgmentally,” Bush wrote. “And you know what my mom said? ‘Oh honey, I think she’s pretty gay. And she’s happy .’”

Bush wrote that she felt like she was wearing a weighted vest that she could finally put down. 

“I finally feel like I can breathe,” Bush wrote. “I turned 41 last summer, amid all of this, and I heard the words I was saying to my best friend as they came out of my mouth. ‘I feel like this is my first birthday,’ I told her. This year was my very first birthday.”

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what is a cultural perspective essay

Jo Yurcaba is a reporter for NBC Out.

More From Forbes

Agile leadership: how to acquire the strength of emotional insight.

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Making emotional connection virtually

Picture a leader stepping into a conference space, immediately in tune with the team's collective heartbeat, effortlessly deciphering each colleague's emotional state with a perceptive eye.

Consider a leader adept at picking up the subtle emotional cues in a team member's digital correspondence, navigating the virtual landscape with empathetic precision.

Such a skill transcends mere observation; it's a vital component in the arsenal of modern leadership, indispensable in the intricate dances on today's complex professional stages.

The talent for recognizing and thoughtfully reacting to the emotional tides within exchanges is a hallmark of emotional intelligence. It’s this acumen that sets truly outstanding leaders apart from the rank and file.

Importance of Emotional Intelligence (EI) to Leadership

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the intangible yet critical component that allows leaders to create a resonant work environment.

Leaders with high EI navigate workplace dynamics with a deft understanding of emotions, both their own and those of their teams. Groundbreaking work in the field of EI has shown that emotional intelligence is the cornerstone of impactful leadership , paving the way for more harmonious and productive workplaces.

Recognizing Emotional Undercurrents

Recognizing and addressing emotional undercurrents is vital to emotional intelligence.

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Leaders who tune in to their workplace's emotional frequencies can anticipate challenges and address them with insight and compassion.

The Importance of Empathy and Active Listening

Complemented by active listening, empathy is the key to understanding emotional undercurrents. Paying full attention to others, including noticing tone, body language, and emotional cues, will enhance a leader's understanding of the experiences and perspectives of others. As a result, they will be better equipped to respond with precision and care.

Envision a team leader who regularly interacts with diverse team members, bringing their unique backgrounds and perspectives to the workplace. During team meetings, the leader notices that a usually vocal team member has become increasingly quiet, often appearing contemplative or hesitant to speak up.

Applying empathy, the leader recognizes this change in behavior as a potential sign of discomfort or an underlying issue.

The Necessity of Addressing Emotions

Recognizing the emotional undertow isn't enough. Influential leaders must acknowledge it and determine whether they must take additional steps to address it.

For example, the leader in our earlier scenario could set up a safe space for a one-on-one conversation with the team member whose behavior changed.

During this conversation, the leader must practice active listening and pay close attention to what the team member says. The pauses, sighs, and nonverbal expressions often speak louder than words.

Suppose the leader discovers the team member is experiencing cultural misunderstandings with colleagues. She feels her ideas need to be adequately understood and valued.

With this insight, the leader could carefully foster a more inclusive team dynamic to nurture a culture that encourages the team to become more sensitive to each other’s experiences and perspectives.

Stakes of the Interaction: The Emotional Investment

Individuals always bring their emotions to professional interactions. A leader's ability to identify and value these emotional investments can create a compelling link between individual aspirations and the collective mission.

Know What Motivates Each Team Member

Recognizing and honoring what drives each team member fosters a shared dedication to the organization's success.

For example, suppose you observe that one of your team members has uncharacteristically lacked enthusiasm for work in recent weeks. This change coincides with a new initiative that doesn't directly align with the team member’s known passion for community engagement and social responsibility.

As a leader attuned to your team's emotional contexts, you open a dialogue to understand the root of the disengagement. You discover that while committed to the team's success, he struggles to find personal resonance with the project's direction.

Acknowledging this emotional disconnect, you propose integrating a community-focused aspect into the project, such as a feature that benefits a local charity or a social impact goal tied to the initiative's success. This suggestion instantly rekindles the team member’s passion, as it harmonizes his values with professional work.

Align Individual Emotions with Collective Aims

Influential leaders understand how to combine individual emotions with collective aims, leading to a shared purpose. They facilitate a dialogue in which the emotional tone matches the objectives, helping to turn individual motivation into a unified effort.

As a leader, you want to create a culture where the entire team is emotionally invested and motivated to achieve the goals.

You work to ensure the team’s work embodies the values that resonate with creating a shared sense of pride and purpose.

How to Develop Emotional Contextual Awareness

Integrating a few critical practices into your leadership can enhance your emotional intelligence and foster an emotionally intelligent and responsive organizational culture.

Practice Self-reflection

Your first step is to carve out time in your schedule for self-reflection, which will increase your self-awareness, a critical component of emotional intelligence.

You might want to keep a journal to record your feelings and reactions to various situations. This practice not only aids in identifying patterns in your emotional responses but fosters greater self-insight.

Seek Diverse Perspectives

Pursue diverse perspectives within your organization to cultivate heightened emotional awareness.

By engaging with team members from different departments, backgrounds, and levels of the organization, you can challenge your assumptions and broaden your understanding of the emotional landscape of your workplace.

Encourage a Culture of Emotional Expression

Facilitating an environment that promotes open emotional expression is fundamental to nurturing emotional intelligence within a team.

You can set the tone by sharing your experiences and vulnerabilities in appropriate settings, legitimizing emotional expression. Regular check-ins and designated 'safe to speak' meetings can reinforce a culture where team members feel valued and heard.

In the era of remote work and digital interactions, the nuances of communication often require a different kind of attentiveness. Without physical cues, you must become adept at interpreting the subtleties of language used in emails, the tone in voice calls, and the expressions in video conferences.

The most profound steps in the dance of leadership are found in the graceful art of understanding and connecting with your team's emotional rhythms.

When tuned to these subtle beats, you transform from a mere overseer of workflow to a choreogrpher of human connection. Your influence lies not in spreadsheets and schedules but in the heartsand minds of those you lead.

Kathy Miller Perkins

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