Perspective on Culture: Shared Values


The functional perspective of cultural norms holds that social values, norms and rules play the crucial role of gluing the various aspects of society together hence enables it to function effectively (Lefkowitz, 2003, p. 154). The argument for existence of common values across cultures lies in the functionalists’ view that all human beings irrespective of their cultural backgrounds must provide answers to some fundamental issues regarding human nature such as how the innate human nature influences human character and relationships. The possible solutions to these issues are quite limited, giving rise to similar values across cultures, otherwise referred to as universal values. This essay attempts to highlight the shared values across cultures that unify the society and promote cultural solidarity according to the functional perspective.

One of the best ways to discover shared values based on the functional perspective is to study the values embodied in social institutions that are common in all cultures. These values are related to each institution because they are necessary for the institution to fulfill its functions. Common social institutions include family, schools, government, economic, religion and aesthetics (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2006, p. 9). First, the family performs various functions including assuring physical survival, fostering emotional well-being, as well as initiating socialization and moral development (Browne, 2006, p. 34). Therefore, the common values across families that relate to these common functions include love, interpersonal trust, empathy, responsibility and loyalty.

Second, schools perform several functions such as educating citizens and implementing secondary socialization, which includes ability to abide by social norms and rules. Therefore, the common values related to the school as a social institution include excellence, competence, creativity, and conformity to socially recognized authority (Lefkowitz, 2003, p. 155). Third, social values relating to the common functions of political governments such as maintenance of internal peace and order, representation of the citizens in the legislature, and advancement of the country’s goals include justice, fairness, equality and national identity or pride. For non-political governments, some of the common values related to maintenance of social order and security as well as achievement of national goals include patriotism, valor, honor and adherence to authentic authority (Spade, & Ballantine, 2011, p. 53).

Fourth, the economic institution is common in all societies and performs such functions as supporting physical survival, providing resources for advancement of psychological, material and social well-being as well as generating wealth or profit. The shared values relating to this institution include wealth accumulation, competition and profitability (Lefkowitz, 2003, p. 155). Another important social institution is religion, which gives meaning to life and advances ethical and moral standards of conduct. Common values related to religion include subordination to a higher power, and belief in a metaphysical theory of existence such as the origin of the universe. Finally, all societies recognize cultural aesthetics as an institution through which the society expresses meaning of life and this is enabled by shared values of artistic creativity and freedom of expression.


In summary, the functional view of shared values is that the very existences of common social institutions across cultures gives rise to common values since such institutions perform similar functions regardless of culture. However, there are many assumptions underlying this perspective the main one being the view that all societies work smoothly making the theory attract a lot of criticism.


Ballantine, J. H., & Spade, J. Z. (2012). Schools and society: A sociological approach to education. Los Angeles: Sage/Pine Forge Press

Browne, K. (2006). Introducing sociology: For AS level. Cambridge: Polity

 Lefkowitz, J. (2003). The ethics and values of industrial-organizational psychology. London, UK: Routledge.

Mooney, L. A., Knox, D., & Schacht, C. (2006).Understanding social problems. Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.