Culture is composed of various types of symbols, language, values, beliefs, norms of behavior, and human-made material objects. The ability to create symbols, cooperate, and make tools enables people to thrive.
First, culture provides us with increasing opportunities to exercise our freedom in some respects. The rights revolution, multiculturalism, globalization, and postmodernism all reflect this tendency. Second, culture constrains us in other respects, putting limits on what we can become. The shift of values toward traditionalism, the growth of rationalization, and the spread of consumerism all reflect this tendency.
Advocates of multiculturalism want school and college curricula to reflect the country's growing ethnic and racial diversity. They also want school and college curricula to stress that all cultures have equal value. They believe that multicultural education promotes self-esteem and economic success among members of racial minorities. Critics fear that multiculturalism results in declining educational standards. They believe that multicultural education causes political disunity and interethnic and interracial conflict, promoting an extreme form of cultural relativism.
The globalization of culture results from the growth of international trade and investment, ethnic and racial migration, influential transnational organizations, and inexpensive travel and communication.
Postmodernism involves a mixing of cultural elements from different times and places, the decline of authority, and the erosion of consensus around core values.
Rationalization involves the application of the most efficient means to achieve given goals and the unintended, negative consequences of doing so. Rationalization is evident in the increasingly regulated use of time and in many other areas of social life.
Consumerism is the tendency to define ourselves in terms of the goods we purchase. Excessive consumption limits who we can become and constrains our capacity to dissent from mainstream culture.