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Cultural Lag: Definition, Theory & Examples

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  • 0:03 Cultural Lag Definition
  • 0:28 Ogburn's Theory of…
  • 1:00 Cultural Lag & Genetic…
  • 2:19 Example of Cultural Lag
  • 2:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Did you know that the ethical conflicts related to genetically modifying DNA are an example of cultural lag? In this lesson, we'll discuss cultural lag and learn from examples.

Cultural Lag Definition

Cultural lag refers to the phenomenon that occurs when changes in material culture occur before or at a faster rate than the changes in non-material culture. In other words, cultural lag is when technological change, or something similar like tools, develops faster than society can process those changes. Let's look at an example to better understand cultural lag.

Ogburn's Theory of Cultural Lag

The concept of cultural lag was first developed in 1922 by sociologist Williams F. Ogburn. Ogburn noticed that material culture tends to develop and advance at a faster rate than non-material culture. Material culture is the physical and tangible aspects of culture including technology, buildings, and tools. Non-material culture is the aspect of culture that isn't physical, nor is it tangible. Non-material culture includes cultural values, morals, and religion.

Cultural Lag and Genetic Engineering

Recent technological developments have led to several advancements in the field of genetic engineering. Genetic engineering involves altering the DNA or genetic material of a cellular organism in order to change or add new traits. For example, expectant parents can use genetic engineering to select their unborn child's eye color or sex. However, many people view this type of genetic engineering as unethical and believe it could lead to unintended social consequences. This is an example of cultural lag.

According to Ogburn's theory, cultural lag can cause issues within the culture. For example, advancements in genetic engineering has led to several moral and ethical issues. Some of the issues are:

  • How do we determine the ethical limits of genetic engineering?
  • What are the long-term and short-term side effects of altering genetic material?
  • What are the potential impacts of pre-selection babies traits on the human race?

These moral issues often generate social dilemmas as well. Cultural lag has the potential to divide society into different groups based on their views on these issues. This can break down the cohesion between the members of society, splitting them into different factions. Often times this can also lead to increased levels of conflict within a society.

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