Sociology 341 Return to Syllabus

American Values

A Real and Rational World A real world exists outside ourselves.
This world is rational.
This world operates according to natural laws which can be discovered and understood by human reason.
History is to be taken seriously.
Contra: The outside world is thought to be an illusion, a dream in the mind of a god.
Cartesian dualism There is a distinction between God and creation.
There is a distinction between spirit and matter.
Contra: There is no sharp distinction between the natural and supernatural.
Humans vs. nature
There is a sharp line between humans and other life.
Contra: Nature itself is thought to be alive.
Humans are in charge of the natural world and must tame it.
Contra: People are overwhelmed by the natural world.
Materialism and property
Humans are to be judged by what they own.
Success is measured by the quantity of material goods a person possesses.
Profit is more important and the well-being of workers.
People have a right to be materially well off and physically comfortable.
The right of private ownership
Property can be privately owned.
Contra: Property is group owned; individuals can use, but not sell, such property.
There is a belief in progress.
The basic problems of the world are technological.
There are enough resources in the world for all people.
Contra: Basic resources are limited and in short supply

Analytical Approach

It is good to analyze situations and solve problems.
Science is used to do this.
Either-or thinking Reality can be sorted into opposing categories with assigned moral values.
There is no neutral position on issues.
There is a sharp distinction between work and play.
Work is more important than play.
There is a dichotomy between public and private.
Planning It is important to plan ahead.
People have the power of choice.
Pragmatism Pragmatism is good.

A Mechanistic World View

Americans tend to think of nature as if it were a machine.
They have a mechanistic view of reality.
Americans organize people as if they were cogs in a machine.
At work, completing tasks takes priority over building relationships.
Production and profit A person's status in society is measured in terms of his or her occupation and income. Qualification (measurement) Success and failure should be measured. Assembly-line mentality Jobs are broken down into small tasks that are arranged sequentially and are done by different people.
This leads to specialization.
Individualism Each person has worth.
People have inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (property).
Freedom is unquestioned. Contra: People are not autonomous but are members of the groups to which they belong.
Search for identity People should search for an identity. Self-reliance An American's greatest fears are to be dependent on others and to be without money (Francis Hsu).
This is related to autonomy, self-actualization, and personal growth.
In practice, Americans choose to conform to the groups of which they are a part; few dare to be different. Contra: Self-reliance is the mark of a loner, someone who is anti-social.
Contra: Dependency relationships, such as patron and client, are ideal.
Contractual groups Group activities are those of separate individuals unitied in a common activity.
American do not commit themselves to a group or organization.
One should feel free to leave a group if their expectations are not fulfilled.
The basic form of social organization is the club.
Relationships are casual in many voluntary associations.
Need to be liked There is great value to being liked. Private ownership Property can be privately owned.
Some property is publically owned.
Me: Some property is not owned but can be taken.
Humanitarianism Every individual has worth.
People should give liberally to others when disaster strikes.


Equality means equal opportunity.
Everyone should have a say in decision making.
The majority should be followed, but they should not violate the rights of the minority.
Contra: Some people are lower because of their sins. Informality An informal atmosphere of equality should be established.
Informality is established by "kidding" and humor.
Competition and free enterprise Competition is important; winning is important.
Anyone could win if he or she tried hard enough. Me: This is related to unrestricted resources. Everyone must compete by the same rules for there to be "fair play."
Direct and confrontational It is acceptable to be direct and confrontational. Contra: Bluntness or open confrontation is rude and embarrasses friends. Direct face-to-face negotiations by people are best. Contra: A third party should be used to reach agreements. Cooperation Cooperation is good.
Americans are known for their ability to work together, even while they pursue personal goals.

Priority of Time over Space

Americans place a high value on time. Linear time Time is linear.
It flows by at a steady rate.
It can be measured and planned.
Future-oriented It is the future rather than the past that is important.
Time is a commodity whose use must be planned for.
Contra: African thought focuses on the past (John Mbiti 1969) in three divisions: 1) the mythical past; 2) the recent past; and 3) the present (including the immediate past and immediate future). Emphasis on youth There is a strong emphasis on youth.
The elderly are put in nursing homes.
Me: This is related to nuclear families and all individuals working. Contra: In most societies, old people are viewed positively as wise and experienced. Retirement is a 20th century western concept.
Time over space Time is more important than space.
Me: This is related to mobility of society. Contra: In many societies, land is sacred and more important than time.
Emphasis on Sight There is an emphasis on sight rather than sound, touch, taste, or smell.
Me: This may be a human rather than a cultual trait, a la Kant.
Literacy and the printed word become important. Contra: Most people live in oral societies.
Abstract knowledge Americans build abstact systems of ideas. Storage of information in writing There is a bias towards literacy. Emphasis on knowledge Americans highly value knowledge. Systematic Rational thought is divorced from feelings.
Activities should be systemized and rationalized.
A high rate of change is valued.
This applies to language, activities, food variety, and material and technological products.
Compartmentalization Time Time is scheduled.
Activities within time blocks may be contradictory.
Jobs Specialization is good. Thought Religion and politics and economics should be separate.
Americans divide God, soul, and matter into separate categories; they are pluralists (Gurganus)


Arensberg and Niehoff:

Two-fold JudgmentsMaterial Well-Being
Work and PlayMoralizing
Time is MoneyEquality of Men
Effort and OptimismHumanitarianism
Man and Nature

Bruce Terry's Home Page
Bruce Terry's Home Page   Class Index Page  Class Syllabus hosted at
Last updated on February 2, 2004
Page maintained by
Copyright © 2000 Bruce Terry