Folk and Popular Culture Chapter 4 Introduction

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Folk and Popular Culture

  • Chapter 4


  • Why do people living in different locations have such different social customs?
  • How are social customs related to the cultural landscape?
  • Folk culture- culture traditionally practiced by a small, homogeneous, rural group living in relative isolation from other groups
  • Popular culture- culture found in a large, heterogeneous society that shares certain habits despite differences in other personal characteristics

Origins of Folk and Popular Culture

  • Social customs originate at a hearth (center of innovation)
  • The hearths of folk customs are often unknown (who, when, and where)
  • Popular culture is usually a product of MDCs, esp. North America, Western Europe, and Japan
      • Ex.’s pop music and fast food
    • MDCs have technology to mass produce and the leisure time to enjoy pursuits other than food production

Folk vs. Popular Music

  • Difference b/w folk and popular music exemplify the differences b/w folk and pop culture
  • Folk music usually has unknown origins and tells stories of everyday daily activities such as farming, or mysterious events such as earthquakes
  • Popular music is written and produced by specific individuals to be mass produced and sold

Diffusion of Folk and Popular Cultures

  • Popular culture usually spreads thru hierarchical diffusion
  • In the US the nodes would be Hollywood, and Madison Avenue in NYC
    • Diffuses rapidly because of modern communication and transportation
  • Folk culture is transmitted more slowly thru relocation diffusion (product of migration)
    • Hip hop considered pop rather than folk because it diffuses thru electronics

The Amish: Relocation Diffusion of Folk Culture

  • Have distinctive clothing, farming, and religious practices
  • Leave a distinctive mark on the cultural landscape
  • First came to US in 1700s, most to Penn., but also to OH, IL, and Iowa
  • Diffused slowly to other parts of the US in search of cheap farmland
  • Now have distinctive settlements in 17 states

Sports: Hierarchical Diffusion of Popular Culture

  • Unfortunately and inexplicably , soccer is the World’s most popular sport
  • Early form originated around the eleventh century in England
  • Changed from folk culture to popular culture in the 1800s
  • Clubs were founded by factories and churches to provide recreation for workers


  • 1863 rules were standardized in Great Britain and soccer became a part of pop. Culture
  • Soccer was exported to Europe in 1870 and later to parts of the British Empire
  • All organized spectator sports are part of pop. Culture today

Isolation Promotes Cultural Diversity

  • Folk customs develop through centuries of relative isolation from customs practiced by other groups
    • Ex. Himalayan Art
      • Read about it p. 120

Influence of the Physical Environment

  • Environmental determinism
    • Belief that physical environment caused all human activities
      • Not accepted as true today –possibilism
  • Environment is only one of several controls over social customs


  • Customs such as provision of food, clothing , and shelter are clearly influenced by the climate, soil, and vegetation of a place
  • Folk cultures are particularly influenced by the environment because they lack technology to overcome it
  • Broad differences in folk culture arise in part due to physical conditions
  • Food and shelter can be used to demonstrate the influence of cultural values and the environment on the development of folk culture

Distinctive Food Preferences

  • Folk food habits derive from the environment
  • We eat plants and animals that live and grow in the areas we live
  • In areas where cooking fuel is scarce, cultures come up with clever ways to use the food without much cooking
  • Terroir- the contribution of a location’s distinctive physical features to the way food tastes


  • Food customs are also influenced by cultural values
  • Ethnicity and religious beliefs effect what people eat
  • Food taboos exist in many religions
      • A restriction on behavior imposed by a social custom
        • Ex. Muslims and Jews don’t eat pork
        • Just so happens that pigs are suited to live on the Arabian peninsula and is not suited for pastoral societies of Eastern Med. Sea


  • Food attractions also exist
    • Often thought to enhance desirable qualities
      • Ex. Aphrodisiacs
        • Rhino horn powder, Spanish Fly, chocolate

Folk Housing

  • Folk housing is a product of cultural tradition and natural conditions
  • Obviously, building materials are influenced by what is available in the surrounding environment
  • Size and number of windows, and the pitch of the roof are often environmental concerns as well


  • Form of some houses might reflect religious values
    • Ex. Sacred walls or corners
      • In parts of China the NW wall is sacred
  • In Madagascar furniture arrangement in the home is influenced by religious values

US Folk House Forms

  • Older houses in US display local folk-culture traditions
  • As people moved west, they built homes similar to where they came from on the East Coast
  • 3 major hearths of folk home forms in US
  • New England
  • Middle Atlantic
  • Lower Chesapeake

New England

  • 4 major house types popular in 18th and 19th centuries
  • Can be found in Great Lakes Region today

Middle Atlantic

  • Major type known as an “I-house”
    • 2 stories with gables on the sides
    • Only one room deep and at least two rooms wide
  • Found in the Ohio Valley and in the Midwest

Lower Chesapeake

  • Also known as Tidewater style
  • Typically one story with a steep roof and chimneys at either end
  • Spread down the SE coast
  • Houses in wet areas were often built on piers to raise it above possible flooding

Why is Popular Culture Widely Distributed?

  • Pop culture varies more in time than in place because it diffuses rapidly to places with a sufficiently high level of economic development to acquire the material possessions associated with pop culture

Diffusion of Popular Housing

  • Housing styles built since the 940s demonstrate how popular customs vary more in time than in place
  • Since the end of WWII two architectural styles have dominated in the US
  • Modern (1945-60)
  • Neo-eclectic (since 1960)

Modern House Styles

  • Specific types of modern house styles were popular at different times
  • Late 1940s and early 1950s minimal transitional was the dominant style
  • Late 50s into the 60s the ranch style house dominated
  • Between the 50s and 70s the split-level become popular

Neo-Eclectic House Styles

  • Become popular in the 60s and passes modern styles in the 70s

Rapid Diffusion of Clothing Styles

  • In MDCs clothing habits often reflect occupations rather than particular environments
  • Businessmen wear different clothes than factory workers
  • Higher income is also a big influence on clothing in MDCs
    • Women’s clothing styles change every year
      • Therefore, they update their wardrobe more often if they can afford it

Popular Food Customs

  • Consumption of large quantities of alcoholic bev. and snack foods are characteristic of popular societies
    • Regional differences are based upon what is produced locally and cultural backgrounds (esp. religion)

Role of Television in Diffusing Popular Culture

  • Television is an important pop. Custom for 2 reasons
  • Most popular leisure activity in MDCs
  • Most important mechanism by which knowledge of popular culture is rapidly diffused across Earth

Diffusion of Television and Internet

  • In 1954 the US had 86% of TVs in the World, UK 9%, USSR 2%, Canada 2%, and the remainder were divided among Cuba, Mexico, France, and Brazil
  • By 1970 rapid growth in ownership in Europe brought the US % down to 25%
    • Half the world still had little or no broadcasting (Africa and Asia)



  • Diffusion of the internet followed a similar pattern, just at a much faster pace
  • 1995, 25 million of the 40 million internet users in the World were in the US
  • By 2000, there were 400 million users, 31% of which were in the US
  • Right now only about 10% of users are in LDCs, but that is expected to increase rapidly

Government Control of Television

  • In US, most stations are owned by corporations that receive licenses from the gov. (make profits by selling advertisements)
    • Some stations are owned by nonprofits or local gov. and are used for educational programs
  • This pattern is found in Western hemisphere countries, but is rare in the rest of the World
  • In most developed countries broadcasting is done by a public corporation or a public-private partnership


  • In Canada, the CBC receives gov. grants, and in Britain (BBC) and Japan (NHK) the broadcasting company gets a license fee from TV owners
    • Independence from gov. interference is guaranteed in their charters
  • In LDCs, direct management of TV is done through a gov. agency
    • True in China, India, and many other countries in Asia, and Africa
      • They censor TV to make sure programs will not contradict gov. policies

Reduced Government Control

  • Television signals are only good for about 60 miles
  • In the past, few people could actually pick up broadcasts from other countries
  • Cable and Satellite have made TV a force for political change
  • Many Asian countries try to keep their citizens form obtaining dishes
    • Dishes hastened the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe as more Western programs were able to be seen

Why Does the Globalization of Popular Culture Cause Problems?

  • 2 major problems
  • Threatens the survival of folk culture
  • Pop culture may be less responsive to the diversity of local environments and consequently may generate adverse environmental impacts

Threat to Folk Culture

  • When people turn from folk culture to popular culture they sometimes turn away from traditional values as well
  • Can lead to dominance of Western Perspectives

Loss of Traditional Values

  • Urban people in many African and Asian countries have adopted Western clothing
    • It has been adopted a sign of success
  • Causes problems in many Middle Eastern countries who do not want Western influence
  • Diffusion of pop. Culture also threatens the subservience of women to men that is embedded in many folk customs


  • Taliban in Afghanistan did not allow women to attend school, work outside the home, or drive a car—also could not leave the home without a male (relative) escort
  • Pop. Culture has brought ideas of legal equality and economic and social opportunities to many LDCs
  • On the negative side, “sex tours” have led to an increase in prostitution in South and Southeast Asia

Threat of Foreign Media Imperialism

  • Leaders of many LDCs view influx of pop culture as a threat to independence
    • He mass media plays a big role in this
      • Esp. news-gathering organizations
  • The US, UK, and Japan dominate television in LDCs
  • LDC leaders view this as a method of economic and cultural imperialism
  • American shows present American beliefs and social forms

Western Control of the News Media

  • Diffusion of information to newspapers around the world are dominated by the Associated Press (AP) and Reuters
  • Stories that other countries get focus more on news of MDCs
  • Many African and Asian gov.’s criticize the idea of freedom of the press

Environmental Impact of Popular Culture

  • Pop. Culture can significantly modify or control the environment
  • We often modify environments to increase leisure
    • Ex. Golf course
      • Avg. about 200 acres

Uniform Landscapes

  • Distribution of pop. culture around the world leads to more uniform landscapes
  • Promoters of pop. culture want a uniform appearance to generate “product recognition”
    • Ex. Diffusion of fast food restaurants
      • Look similar around the world so travelers can easily identify them
        • Gas stations, supermarkets, and hotels follow a similar pattern


  • In 1970s American, European, and Japanese cars all looked very different
  • Today they look more similar than different

Negative Environmental Impact

  • 2 ways this might happen
  • Depletion of scarce natural resources
  • pollution


  • Pop culture demands a large amount of natural resources to manufacture certain goods
  • Minerals can be over mined and animals can become endangered in the name of pop culture
  • Pop culture generates a high volume of waste—solids, liquids, and gases
  • Solid waste is particularly problematic

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