Since the influence of society on human behaviour is the central interest of sociologists, it is important to know how sociologists see the relationships between individuals and society as a whole. This kind of concern is like the situation when, for example, a young person commits suicide and some people conclude that “it is the fault of society”. In other words, this individual’s behaviour was influenced by society. But what exactly is society?
Furthermore, the concept of culture together with that of society, is one of the most widely used notions in sociology. When we use the term culture in ordinary daily conversation, we often think of culture as equivalent to the ‘higher things of the mind’ -art, literature, music and painting. As sociologists use it, the concept includes such activities, but also far more. Culture has been seen as the ways of life of the members of a society, or of groups within a society. It includes how they dress, their pattern of work, etc.


At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1.  define of culture and society 
  2.  state the relationship between society and human behaviour  give the elements of culture 
  3. explain the importance of culture. 


3.1 What is Society?

It may be tempting to think that a society is simply a collection of individual persons. Much of the time, we 1ike to think of ourselves as individuals who are different to everyone else, and that we are not affected by what other people say or do. However, this does not seem to reflect what people and societies are really like. How much of the time are you totally alone, doing exactly what you want without any influence from others?

Most of the time what we do is influenced directly or indirectly by the various kinds of groupings with whom we interact. For example, much of what we do reflect the fact that we are involved in social relationship with other members of our family. As children we were influenced by what we learned from our parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and so on. Then, throughout life our feelings and behaviour are often shape by what other members of our family are doing. For many of us, much of our behaviour is also shaped by the fact that we go out to work. The organisation we work for sets the context for our behaviour. It requires us to do certain things It provides us with sets of colleagues and acquaintances with whom we may spend part of our non-working hours.

Also our behaviour is affected by other kinds of groupings. We may be members of sports clubs, or work for a charity. We are also affected by being part of National Open University of Nigeria. As you read this, you may be an individual: but you bring to your studies what you learned at school; you may be tired as a result of what your employers asked you to do; you are connected to other students and tutors in the National Open University of Nigeria; and you may be planning to get through this work quickly so that you can spend some time with your children.

The point of all this is to emphasise that what we do as individuals is best seen in the context of our membership of what sociologists call social institutions or social units. A social unit may or may not have a clear organisation. It can be an organised institution with clear rules and buildings, e.g., a business firm; or it could be something without any formal organisation, e.g., the expatriate community in Nigeria. These units can have different purposes, e.g. making money or providing all the kinds of physical and emotional support that good families provide. Sometimes, a social unit can itself be part of other units, or may have sub-division within it. For instance, refugee camp, there are subdivisions: the Liberian refugees, the Sierra-Leonean refugees and other refugees from war-torn countries in Africa. There are further sub-divisions within this refugee camp: the male and female groups; the Christian, Muslim, traditionalist; the young and the old, etc.


Write down some of the various kinds of social units that you are involved in?

3.2 Definition of Culture

Culture refers to shared, consensual and learned pattern of behaviour. Suppose that A and B are sitting together and B is telling a story about the origin of group of the people that A and B consider themselves to belong to. This story is one that is known by all of B’s generation. What is told to A by B is culture. Suppose also that B has thought about this story and has some different ideas about the elements of the story but B has never told this to anyone else. So long as B keeps this to herself, it is not a part of the culture of the people of A and B. Therefore, culture is said to be shared and learned. The consensual element means simply that many share it and agree to its meaning and importance.
Culture is the embodiment of the people, it is also of the things they share and do together. Language, family structure, how and when they plant, how they live out their lives, how they die, what they hold to be sacred. In fact, virtually everything the people hold in common is a part of their culture. Tools, paths, techniques, for using tools, these are also part of the culture.


  1. What do you understand by culture? 
  2. Describe the culture of your place. 

3.3 Society and Human Behaviour

We have been able to explore what was meant by society, and saw that in one sense society is made up of its constituent parts, but what we now explore is the effect which society as a whole has on those parts: how society influences the behaviour of social units and individual people. We have discussed how each social unit and each person has functions to perform and roles to play. But how can the functions and roles be accomplished? As an example, let’s consider the social unit known as Federal Road Safety. How does it as a social unit achieve its role of promoting and facilitating smooth traffic system in the country. At the outset, the government set up working parties to decide on what sort of organisation should be established to deal with general issues of traffic
system in the country, what this organisation should or should not do, and what power and resources it needed. Eventually, after much discussion within the Federal Government of Nigeria the ordinance setting up the Federal Road Safety was enacted in more than twelve years ago. The ordinance sets up rules and regulations concerning the purposes, powers, resources, duties and the operation of th~ corporation. These rules and regulations, because they are imposed by an ordinance, possess legal power. The Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), a social unit, has to observe the rules contained in the ordinance when it performs the functions of ensuring smooth traffic system.

But we have seen that it is the people who work or live in social units that perform tasks on behalf of these units. The staff of the corporation has to observe the terms of the ordinance when they work. Working -a kind of human behaviour -is thus shaped by the rules operating within its social unit. In the ordinance, the terms and conditions of appointment of the Chief Executive of the corporation are stated. These terms and condition state the role of the Chief Executive and how this role should be carried out. So, the working behaviour of the Chief Executive is not only governed by the rules of the corporation as a whole, but also by the rules governing this particular post. Likewise, there are other documents specifying the roles and rules of other posts in the corporation. People taking up the posts will work according to the roles and rules of the corporation in general and of the posts in particular. Can you identify the roles and the rules of the units in which you work? Can you identify the roles and rules specific to your position in the organisation concerned?

3.4 Elements of Culture

Culture is made up of different elements, and these elements include: norms, values, beliefs, technology, etc,
Norms Rules that govern behaviour, expectations we hold for how to behave in a given situation. These rules that govern our behaviour can be quite informal (rules about how we dress, stand when talking to others, how we address one another) to formalised laws.
Beliefs These are often associated with religion. They refer to those things that we hold to be true. Beliefs and values blend together. Our national ideologies are also beliefs. Many contemporary Americans believe that people were not created, but evolved from other forms of life over a very, very long period of time. If you are a fundamental Christian  perhaps you believe the world was created in seven days and that it was created by God. Both of these are belief systems (involving certain assumptions about what is and how things have come to be), that shape the lives of the true believers. They shape their lives by supporting their notions of what is important, what is real and how we are to believe at all times. True, most of us do not think of this all of the time, but there are times when we are reminded of our beliefs and their importance and then act accordingly. It is also the case that for most that these beliefs remain in the background, but do shape our day to day behaviour.

These are the material good of the culture. In what we are doing, the computers are the technology. Technology is often more than the tools, since it involves the techniques as well as the tools themselves. The programming languages that make all of the things we do on the computers to work are techniques, the wires that link us together are tools, but how we link those wires for what purposes are techniques. Consider that ‘gun-powder’ was known to the Chinese for centuries (a tool), but that it was only used to make noises at festivals. It took the Europeans to change these tools with a different set of techniques into a weapon 0f destruction.

3.5 Importance of Culture

The following are the importance of culture:

  1. sets behaviour standards for a given setting 
  2. defines the structure of relationships 
  3.  defines importance of setting, relationship, things (VALUES)  defines who we are and what we hold to be true (BELIEFS) 


The concept of culture, together with that of society, is one of the most widely used notions in sociology. Culture consists of the values the members of a given group hold, the norms they follow, and the material goods they create. Values are abstract ideals, while norms are definite principles or rules which people are expected to observe. Norms represent the ‘dos’ and ‘donts’ of social life.
Culture refers to the ways of life of the members of a society, or of groups within a society. It is said to include how they dress, their marriage customs and family life, their patterns of work, religious ceremonies and leisure pursuits. It also covers the goods they create and which become meaningful for them bows and arrows, computers, books, dwellings.


We have dealt with what is meant by society, definition of culture, relationship between society and human behaviour and importance of culture. Culture has been referred to as shared, consensual and learned pattern of behaviour. Society has been seen as human relationships which may be organised or disorganised; direct or indirect; or even co-operative or unco-operative.


  1.  What do you understand by the terms “Culture” and “Society”? 
  2. Explain the elements of culture 
  3. Describe the importance of culture. 


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