Culture and Identity

Last Updated on March 15, 2024 by Karl Thompson

Culture and Identity is an module on the AQA’s A-level Sociology specification. It is usually taught in the first year of study.

The AQA specification sates that students are required to understand:

  • different conceptions of culture, including subculture, mass culture, folk culture, high and low culture, popular culture and global culture.
  • socialisation process and the role of the agencies of socialisation.
  • the self, identity and difference as both socially caused and socially constructed.
  • the relationship of identity to age, disability, ethnicity, gender, nationality, sexuality and social class in contemporary society.
  • the relationship of identity to production, consumption and globalisation.

This page provides links to in-depth and summary posts on the above content. It should be sufficient to cover the whole of the culture and identity specification.

Culture and identity mind map for AQA A-level sociology.


In sociology culture refers to the shared norms and values of a group of people.

In A-level sociology (AQA) students are required to understand different conceptions of culture, including subculture, mass culture, folk culture, high and low culture, popular culture and global culture.

What is Culture? A simple definition of culture for sociology is ‘the shared norms and values of a group of people’. However the term culture is used more broadly. This post looks at three other different ways the word culture is used. It covers culture as a state of mind, culture as civilisation and culture as the arts.

Four Types of CultureA summary of of folk culture, mass culture, high culture and low culture.

Culture: Functionalist PerspectivesDurkheim and Mauss’ views of culture. They had an evolutionary view of culture. Culture reflects divisions among social groups. ‘Primitive’ societies have simply social structures, hence simple cultures. industrial societies with complex structures have more complex cultural systems.

Marxism and CultureMarx saw culture as a tool of the elite. The elite use culture to oppress the masses and maintain their wealth and power.

Mass Culture Mass culture is standardised products produced for mass consumption. This post summarises the views of Dwight Mcdonald. He saw mass culture as very damaging.

Dominic Strinati: A Critique of Mass Culture TheoryThe two main criticisms are that it is not homogenous and consumers are not entirely passive.

Herbert J Gans: The Plurality of Taste CulturesGans argued there were several cultures in America in the 1970s, not just mass culture.

Raymond WilliamsWilliams was a neo-Marxist. He didn’t believe culture was controlled by the elite. He saw bourgeoise and working class cultures as distinct. The former was more individualistic, the latter based on collectivism.

John Berger’s Was of SeeingBerger developed a Marxist analysis of art. He argued that historically the ruling classes were portrayed positively in art. On the other hand the working classes were portrayed as immoral and lazy. This justified the social class order. However he did not argue art was merely a tool of elite, some artists acted autonomously.

Bourdieu’s Cultural Capital TheoryCultural capital is the skills, knowledge and tastes the middle classes use to define themselves as superior. This post is about cultural capital and education.

Culture, Class and DistinctionA criticism of Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital.

Postmodernism and Popular CultureIn postmodern society the distinction between society and culture breaks down. Style becomes more important than substance and there is a decline of metanarratives.

Global CultureWhere large numbers of people across the world come to share common values. This post explores evidence for the emergence of a global culture such as the establishment of global institutions.

The Postmodern Perspective on Globalisation and Popular CultureMedia is the key driver of globalisastion. This has positive affects such as culture becoming more participatory.


Socialisation is learning the norms and values of a society. It is how individuals learn culture.

In A-level sociology students are required to understand the socialisation process and the role of the agencies of socialisation.

An Introduction to Culture, Socialisation and Social NormsA post covering the basics, good for those very new to sociology! Includes definitions and example of primary and secondary socialisation.

SocialisationAnother quite introductory post. This once focuses on how institutions socialise individuals through the life course.

What is Socialisation? More focused on criticisms of the concept!

Feminist Perspectives on Socialisation a summary of Anne Oakley’s work on how children are socialised into gendered identities through the processes of canalisation, manipulation, verbal appellations and gendered activities.

Gender Socialisation in SchoolsAn examination of how gender segregation in schools shapes traditional gender identities. Peer groups can reinforce this through ‘borderwork’.

The Self

Students need to understand the self, identity and difference as both socially caused and socially constructed.

An Introduction to Social Action TheoryAn introductory post covering the points that individuals are active, the importance of empathy and labelling theory.

Social Interactionism and Socialisation – Handel argued that without socialisation brain-development did not happen. He argued that socialisation enabled children to develop the ability to communicate, empathise and a self-concept, which fed into the process of biological maturation. Crucial to this process is not just parents but also peer groups.

Symbolic Interactionism – A summary of George Herbert Mead’s theory of self and society including the difference between the I and the Me and his ideas of how social order emerges through social interaction.

Herbert Blumer’s Theory of Society – Blumer argued that meanings emerged out of human interaction and that society emerged out of individuals co-ordinating their actions based on their shared meanings. He thus saw society as very fluid and open to change as interpretations and meanings changed.

The Presentation of the Self in EveryDay Life A summary of Ervin Goffman’s classic about how we act out our identities in social life as if we were on a stage.

The Postmodern Subject Stuart Hall argued the nature of self has changed from traditional through modern to now postmodern societies. The Postmodern self (or subject) is more fragmented.

Comparing Post and Late Modern views of the SelfA summary grid taking Anthony Giddens as the main Late modern theorist.

Social Identity

the relationship of identity to age, disability, ethnicity, gender, nationality, sexuality and social class in contemporary society.

Identity and DifferenceA summary of Kath Woodward’s Theory of how social identities are constructed today.

Social class

The Great British Class Survey

Social Class and Identity

A Brief History of Class Identification in Britain

Britain’s New Ordinary Class Elite

The Precariat

Gender and Sexuality

Changing Gender Identities in the UK

Discrimination Against LGBTQ People in the UK


Ethnicity in the 2021 UK National CensusThe breakdown of the UK population according to the 2021 National Census. There are more ethnic minorities than in 2011.

Ethnic Inequalities in the UKAn overview of how wealth, income and life expectancy vary by ethnicity.


Age and the Life CourseThis post examines some of the factors affecting the experience of age.

Defining YouthThe United Nations defines youth as between the ages 15-24. However the age range can vary, as do conceptions of what youth means.

Neo-marxist theories of youth subculturesA summary of the Birmingham Centre for Cultural Studies neo-marxist approach to youth subcultures.

The Transition from Youth to Adulthood in Modern BritainYouth transitions in postmodern society are full of uncertain choices and constrained by government policy and social class.

Ageing in the UKAn overview of some of the statistics related to ageing. Includes stats on the relationship between health, poverty and old age and some social policy implications.

Old Agesociological perspectives on when old age begins and the norms surrounding later life.

AgeismAgeism is discrimination against older people. This post examines the extent of this in the U.K. and the consequences.

Generational Inequality Keeps on Growing a summary of how disadvantaged young people are today compared to their parents and grandparents.

Income and Wealth Differences by Age in the U.K.A summary of the latest statistics.

The Exploitation of Young People in the UKMillions of young people today are exploited through unpaid trail shifts and lack of decent contracts for work.

The Myth of the Generational DivideThe idea that there is a ‘war’ between the older and younger generations may well be a media construction.

Globalistion and Identity

National Identity

Nations as Imagined CommunitiesBenedict Anderson argued the media played a crucial role in helping us all believe in the modern nation as a source of identity.

Types of NationalismThis post covers the differences between old nation-state civic nationalism, postcolonial, post-communist and neonationalisms.

Nationalism and ModernityErnst Gellner argued nations emerged out the industrial revolution and modernity. They are not ‘primal’ or natural sources of identity, but historical social constructions.

Nations and Nationalism in Developing CountriesMany new nations in the global south struggled to find national unity following independence because of ethnic and religious divisions within their national borders.

Nations Without StatesThe Welsh and the Kurds are two examples!

The relationship of identity to production, consumption and globalisation

Globalisation, Nations and National Identity Globalisation has resulted in more global identities, but also more people retreating into more local, nationally based identities.

Modern and Postmodern SubculturesModern subcultures have strong boundaries and high commitment, postmodern subcultures are weaker and more fragmented.

Neo-Tribesmany ‘subcultures’ today are neo-tribes. These are loosely organised and based on consumption.

Sarah Thornton Club CulturesAn ethnographic study of club cultures in the 1990s. Best characterised as neo-tribes.

Exam questions

Outline and explain two ways in which consumption may be affected by social class (10)

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