Social Science Concepts: Culture, Class & Gender

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about core social science concepts, such as race, gender, class, culture, technology, etc. We will define these terms, identify examples, and analyze their role in the social sciences.

Core Concepts in the Social Sciences

Imagine you're a teacher and you're teaching your students about issues leading up to the American Civil War. If you haven't laid a foundation discussing race and racial issues, your students will have very little context for understanding your lecture. Or, say you're discussing the Russian Revolution of 1917, but you haven't explained social class and class conflict. Again, your students will have a difficult time grasping the material because they don't understand the underlying, foundational issues at play.

The social sciences is a broad designation used to refer to the academic disciplines of history, government/civics, economics, political science, sociology, and other areas. Basically, the term refers to areas of human/social interactions. Within the social sciences there are some foundational concepts that guide us as we examine them. Race, gender, class, culture, technology and other concepts are relevant to all the social sciences disciplines and exert tremendous influence on the ''movement'' or activity within these disciplines. For example, issues surrounding race were a major reason for the outbreak of the American Civil War, and class conflict led directly to the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution of 1917. In order to have a solid grasp of the social sciences, we need to understand these core concepts. Let's look at them.

Race and Gender

Race refers to a group of people sharing a common genetic or hereditary background. African-American, white/Caucasian, Asian, and Hispanic are common race categories. These can be broken down further into categories which relate to geographic origin such as Chinese, Japanese, German, etc. Racial conflict has existed since the beginning of time, and racial dynamics exert a profound impact on human societies. Think about the Holocaust during the World War II era. Ethnic Germans believed they were superior to those of the Jewish race and other minorities, and as a result, attempted to eliminate European Jewry.

This image captures the diversity of race.
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Gender refers to a person being male or female. Issues of gender are studied extensively in sociology, and gender profoundly impacts the flow of history. Think about the Women's Suffrage Movement in the early 20th century. Women were tired of being denied the right to vote just because of their gender, so they banded together, protested, and eventually secured equal voting rights.

Class and Culture

Class is a socio-economic category, referring to one's social and economic position in society. Today, many of us in the United States are middle class: we're not insanely wealthy, but not extremely poor - we're in the middle. Peasants, serfs, Lords, and nobles were common class categories throughout history. In modern European history, bourgeoisie and proletariat are two well-known classes. The bourgeoisie are middle-to-upper class, educated people who own factories and the ''means of production'', while the proletariat are the poor, laboring class. The French Revolution and the Russian Revolution of 1917 were the result of class conflict. Some historians have even argued the American Revolution stemmed from class conflict.

Culture refers to the way of life of a particular group of people. Chinese culture is very different from Mexican culture. Each culture has its own unique social norms, styles of art, music, and other distinct patterns. American culture is a blend of many other cultures. That is why America is sometimes referred to as a ''melting pot''. Interest in football, firearms, rock and roll music are just a few of the many aspects of American culture.

Cultures differ dramatically from group to group.
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