How to Make a Culture and Subcultures (OOC RP Guide)

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Crystal Spires
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How to Make a Culture and Subcultures (OOC RP Guide)

Postby Crystal Spires » Thu Jan 30, 2014 12:53 am

Creating a Mainstream Culture and a World of Subcultures


Understanding people in a culture requires you to understanding world-building so in order to begin with building a culture we have to start assuming that your world is fully fleshed out.If not there is a guide that exists to help you answer questions as to whether or not your world is fleshed out and it is a good beginning to act as a springboard for what you intend to use as a culture. So let's presume you have a good healthy amount what you need to begin with culture building. The fun begins with building a culture in establishing what is called a mainstream. To create a mainstream, you must be aware of the environment you are working with, the natural resources to meet material needs and wants. ie Food, water, shelters, tools etc.

We begin with a little lesson on psychology, which takes us to what we call Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow said, that in order to meet all needs in order to properly flourish and survive well without major dysfunction in human society. So in order to begin we have to look at the environment you have created and to see what tools your average nationite would use to fill their psychological needs in society one by one. In order to understand deviance you have to understand conformity and norms,and a lot of social psychology so let’s look at all the major factors or needs that people need in order to flourish:

Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs

The Hierarchy of needs begins at its base with things human beings must have in order to properly survive and flourish, and as you can see it begins with having physiological needs met first, needs for safety, needs for love and belonging, and then needs for esteem in order to have a person self-actualize, which is fancy words for meaning 'survive and prosper'.

Knowing your environment, you will need to remember that productivity comes with obstacles introduced by the environment. Culture arises on how we overcome these obstacles that the environment provides.

Physiological Needs

Resource Scarcity is one to start off with:

So how does your nation ensure that everyone has access to food, water, and shelter to survive?

Now while we look at a hobo living out of a cardboard box living on scraps on first glance, it might look to you as if the nation itself is making access to food, water, and shelter, impossible, but even if you look at it you can see this is a portrait not of death but personal struggles on handling scarce resources. This image of indignity and deprivation is not the same image of the same indignity and deprivation one would have in another culture entirely. The way that the poor or less advantaged persons in your nation handles the difficulties of their situation is an oft untold story, and it is an underexploited tactic of describing culture. While we balk at the hobo, trying to survive on scraps in the cardboard box, the hobo is using what materials he can get his hands on from the culture at large, and is using them to survive. A poignant story once was told of a mother struggling to feed her children on ketchup packets alone. This is one that portrays the struggle for humans to adapt using the materials in their culture to survive.

Then how do you address clothing to survive in your environment?

With normal clothes if you live in a cold place, you are going to wear clothing to suit it. If you live in a hot place you are going to wear clothing to suit it. If you look at cultures throughout the world, you will notice that historical garments are meant to address a very local environmental issue. The issue can be something as simple as attempting to keep warm, to keep the sand out of one’s orifices, something to keep safe, something to identify you as part of the group, or something to warn non group members away. In the grand culture of a society, for example in Western Culture, everyone will be aware of the cultural impact of the American Police Outfits and Fire Fighting Outfits. In subcultures themselves there are often clothing associated with those subcultures to address the same environmental and socio-cultural issues. Whether it be inner city kids dressing in specific clothing to fit in with the crowd or some people attempting to define themselves as X culture. Or a gang member warning off rival gangs to get off their turf. It forms a unique social marker to distinguish social forms.

How are we gonna get things for your people to survive such as food, water, goods for producing shelters and medicine etc.?

Whether it’s food, water, energy, material for housing, material for tools, material for clothing, or land for shelter the first resort to getting things is to forage. This means looking and finding things, hunting and fishing. How your society attempts to tackle this step is a unique answer on how things work in it.

Cultivation of food is something that takes several different forms, whether it is “horticulture”, which is hand planting where all work is done by the person doing it on their personal efforts alone with minor tools(shifting cultivation and Dry Land Gardening) or “Intensive Agriculture” where resources are continually focused to land cultivation.

When cultivation of land is difficult or impossible because of problems with rainfall, short growing seasons, or an unfriendly climate to crops. Your result is nomadic herders, or use of herding and domesticating animals as a means to produce regular supplies of food. Its advantages are a highly mobile society, and also a steady food supply. This is called Pastoralism.

Why does getting goods and tools matter in culture?

What people do actually defines a lot about how people see their needs being met, and a steady group of people in the society will fill these roles to provide for your people. If they think that Pastorialism is important to their livelihood, they will be more in favor of protecting Pastoralism as a method of getting things in general. The same with foraging and so on. Now we get to productive things.

How do your people conduct exchanges regularly?

There’s generally three different ways people conduct exchanges: reciprocal exchanges, market exchanges, and redistributive exchanges. The first example called Reciprocal Exchanges are determined entirely by the agency of individuals. A barter or gift economy is often one way of looking at a reciprocal exchange system. People act as agents and try to ensure that the structure of society is based on people getting a fair share for what they do, put into things or what they give. The idea of reciprocal exchanges is that they can be viewed as what is called balanced or negative reciprocity. Balanced Reciprocity is the kind of reciprocity where it assumes that people act as agents trying to act in a fair and judicious manner with their exchanges. Negative reciprocity is when people are assumed to be agents trying to get as much as they can and putting in as little as possible into exchanges leading to fundamental inequalities. This can make the barter economy seem benevolent and worthwhile, or hostile and risky, and it affects both how your culture is perceived and how it works.

There is the Market Economy which is the second way people conduct exchanges. The Market Economy assumes that rather than people who are acting as agents controlling exchanges, there are instead impersonal forces that control the exchanges in the market and these are money, prices, supply, demand and ownership. Supply and demand controls exchanges and limited use currency is used in the exchanges instead of reciprocal objects. This means a standard of value for the money is set, and the values of that money is controlled by credit behind those exchanges. These often are considered unpredictable and fickle as market forces (which are immensely complex) determine how exchanges happen. The mediums however unlike in reciprocal exchanges bases on the concept that private property and ownership is something that is set in stone as opposed to determined purely by exchanges.

Then there’s the Redistributive method which rather than assuming purely impersonal market forces (The Market) , nor complete domination by the agency of people (Reciprocity) they attempt to combine knowledge of the two and appoint a third party to allow exchanges to happen with oversight to ensure a more balanced reciprocal environment. The advantage of the third party is that it means negative reciprocity is discouraged as values are set and then reciprocal exchange is directed to allow contributions, efforts, and compensation to flow in the respective hands of those who generated the respective value (planned economies). Ownership is not viewed as inflexible and is considered to be something that, like in reciprocal exchanges is flexible and ultimately based on the direction of those exchanges. These models can be as primitive as tribalism or as modern as communist planned economies.

Why does this matter in determining dysfunction and deviance and mainstream cultures?

Deviance and dysfunction often arises from the core of how these exchanges happens, and I will show you how by defining what I mean by deviance. A people will only accept and follow the rules of an institution they feel is their in-group. A social institution’s role will be a function of how much responsibility a people assign to them. They will be considered ‘responsible’ for performing or ‘conforming’ to those functions and failure to perform these functions are considered to be ‘deviance’. Before understanding what deviance is, social norms, mores, and folkways must be clearly defined.

What are the types of adaptations that exist and how can I understand them from the purview of Western Society?

Well we can begin with American Sociologist Robert K. Merton, who identified the adaptations people have in order to survive and flourish with relation to society, and defined them in about five ways: Conformity, Innovation, Ritualism, Retreatism and Rebellion.

To Conform is to accept society's goals and the socially acceptable means of achieving them (e.g.: monetary success is gained through hard work). Conformists in western society are mostly middle-class people in middle class jobs who have been able to access the opportunities in society such as a better education to achieve monetary success through hard work.

Innovation is a response due to the strain generated by the culture's emphasis on wealth and the lack of opportunities to get rich, this causes people to be "innovators" by engaging in stealing, smuggling, counterfeiters, and selling drugs. Innovators accepts society's goals, but reject socially acceptable means of achieving them. (e.g.: monetary success is gained through crime). Merton claims that innovators are mostly those who have been socialised with similar world views to conformists, but who have been denied the opportunities they need to be able to legitimately achieve society's goals.

Ritualism refers to the inability to reach a cultural goal thus embracing the rules to the point where they lose sight of their larger goals in order to feel respectable. Ritualists reject society's goals, but accept society's institutionalised means. Ritualists are most commonly found in dead-end, repetitive jobs, where they are unable to achieve society's goals but still adhere to society's means of achievement and social norms.

Retreatism is the rejection of both cultural goals and means, letting the person "drop out". Retreatists reject the society's goals and the legitimate means to achieve them. Considered true deviants, as they commit acts of deviance to achieve things that do not always go along with society's values. An example of these are shut-ins and persons who outright deny societal goals.

Rebellion is somehow similar to retreatism, because rebellions also reject both the cultural goals and means, but they go one step further to a "counterculture" that supports other social orders that already exist (rule breaking). Rebels reject society's goals and legitimate means to achieve them, and instead creates new goals and means to replace those of society, creating not only new goals to achieve but also new ways to achieve these goals that other rebels will find acceptable

These are all examples of how Merton defined deviance, and they're what we can use when we are creating what is called a subculture or counterculture. But before we go into that more, let's continue on the Journey through Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.


What are the ways to assess threats and how it determines society?

We don’t usually see society as a way to protect groups from threats when we should. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, perception of safety is the second most important factor in determining how satisfied a person will feel about life. When we think of assessing threats we immediately should be looking to biology, but most people don’t. Biology tells a lot about how a society will address a certain threat.

As an example, in Tolkien’s work of Lord of the Rings elves are biologically incapable of becoming sick from disease and aging. Thus in these societies it can be extrapolated that they will not have any non-niche funds to gerontology or disease prevention, but when they are confronted with an biological threat which is reasonable: Say an Elficidal nation who threatens it, then it will have several culturally appropriate manners for dealing with the said threat. When looking at this example, a roleplayer must look at examples of potential threats to their society, either from the environmental hardship, animals, natural disasters, civil strife, crime, and attacks by outer agents. Each society has various answers on how to tackle each of these various threats, and how they answer these questions becomes part of the existing culture. But let’s look at the ways we can generalize about how to tackle the various threats to safety.

What are the various threats that could possibly assail my society and how would we tackle these threats?

Threats are generally one in the various three categories. First there are threats that are caused by nature, or what we call Environmental or Natural Hazards, then there are things caused by technology. We call these Technological or Industrial Hazards. Then there are things that are caused by Mankind and their various actions. We call them Man-made Hazards. To give us some perspective, let’s look at the various possible Hazards and define more clearly what each are.

A Natural Hazard is something entirely caused by nature. It is fairly unpredictable (but we try to forecast it). For example: Avalanches, Disease outbreaks, Droughts, Earthquakes, Epidemics, Floods, Hurricanes, Landslides, Tornadoes, Tsunamis, Volcanic eruptions, Wildfires, and Winter storms. These are all addressed in different ways, and also depend entirely on your environment, terrain, and climate. As a roleplayer you have to ask the question of which threats can affect your people, and then how would they respond to them and in what way.

A Technological Hazard is one which involves accidents or failures of systems and structures. These are often prevented and maintained by proper infrastructure, but when neglect sets in, these failures can strike seemingly without warning. Examples of these sort of disasters can be Airplane crashes, Dam/levee failures, Hazardous materials being released into the environment, Power failures, Radiological release from power plants or chemicals in processing, Train derailments, Urban Fires (often electrical or chemical, but not often intentionally done, that would make it...).

A Man Made Hazard is one caused by intentional action by an adversarial person and or persons who are attempting to cause harm to their society and/or its people. These are not entirely unpredictable, but the circumstances that exist to create these disasters are either sociological or psychologically in the heart of the adversary who decides to attack the society or persons within it. Examples of these types of hazards are Civil disturbances, Crime, Cyber attacks, Sabotage, Violence, and Terrorism.

How your nation reacts to these threats defines your culture and it often marks it in a profound way. Now that we’ve identified what these threats are, we need to as a society figure out how we are going to confront them to ensure that our citizens are safe and their well-being is assured.

So how do we begin understanding the options in creating safety in a society?

The kinds of things that we can do to protect a society is to begin with Identifying a possible threat, and then working on a way to prevent those threats, Protecting society, Mitigating the potential damage, knowing how to Respond when damage occurs, and laying options to ensure Recovery should disaster strike.

Identifying a threat begins with screening, search, and detection methods used to know when a disaster may potentially happen. Protecting against threats begins when you have access, control of a situation, and you can know how to address this threat with a socially defined prescription on what to do if this threat occurs. Mitigating a threat involves what your people shall do in the long-term to reduce their vulnerability to these various threats. Once the threat is rearing its ugly head, knowing how to Respond to it, takes various socially prescribed methods to ensure that harm and fatalities are minimized, and public health and safety are ensured. Once the threat has struck, then there must be something that exists to ensure that your people can recover. Some sort of plan or an infrastructure used to protect your people once the damage has been done.

What about threats to subculture?

Then moving on from examples of threat assessments to those who socially conform for a moment, we go back to deviance. So a deviant person in a society will actually address problems in the exact same way that a conformist society would. Example to go back to Tolkien Elves for a second: The non-elven subcultures will address threats differently from the other people. They will likely need to have ways to pressure the state to survive and to press for study on gerontology and also disease prevention and study. To those people it will be a matter of life and death, so institutions or social pressure agencies would likely have a hand in making these subcultures dictate to the general populace at large who are unconcerned with such things. These are legal and reaching as a way the subculture uses the society at large to defend against threats at large. As a result, you can bet that the subcultures will address issues that threaten their safety as well, and they will have different answers on how to address them than the mainstream culture would, as infrastructure or options might not immediately exist for those who are not conforming, or in some cases even those that do.

Love and Belonging

How the domestic group (the home) is organized makes a fundamental core of how your society runs, thus we have to address kinship and family. A typical family is made up often of cosanguine (same blood) persons nominal persons (people who said to share the same name) and affine persons (affiliated by Marriage). These kin groups can be organized in a household in different ways. An example is the nuclear family where the parents and children live in the same household. Then there is an extended family household, where parents and other relatives live in the same household. There are patriarchal family models which often revolve around a powerful male figure as the decider of how labor is organized in the family unit, and its opposite, which is matriarchal family, where the female decides the division of labor in the family unit. There is also decisions whether they are patrilineal, which means that one takes the male partner’s surname, and identifies with the male’s family unit, and its opposite, matrilineal households which takes the female surname and they associate with the female’s family. What is important about the family is how a family is marked in our created culture. A family is the emotional support provided for developing people and also the core allocation of resources to people in the household unit.

Markers for marriage are those which we define as endogamous and exogamous rules. There are essentially culturally defined exogamous and endogamous rules for marriage, endogamous rules are those that prevent from marrying too close to your in-group. Exogamous rules are those that prevent someone from marrying too far from one’s in-group Things that are considered markers that define someone as too close to your in-group to be marriageable and those too far from your in-group to be considered marriageable for any reason.

An example of Endogamous rules are the near universal provisions for incest in all cultures. There is a biological reason for such provisions because it results in Reduced fertility both in litter size and sperm viability, Increased genetic disorders, fluctuating facial asymmetry, Lower birth rate, Higher infant mortality, Slower growth rate, Smaller adult sizes, and loss of immune system functions. These have created several complicated endogamous rules which can be as simple as preventing mother and child from marrying, or as complex as forbidding people of the same regional clan from marrying.

Exogamous rules are rules which prohibit or discourage those from marrying something that is considered too far from one’s in-group. This can be something as simple as declaring it forbidden to marry inanimate objects, to something as rigid as defining that someone cannot marry from outside the defined social culture. These rules vary by culture and they also define how a family can be made. Thus we get to the core question a roleplayer should answer:

What do families look like in my society?

Stepping away from family for a moment, let’s talk about Religious Institutions.

Religion plays a major role in all societies no matter how secular they are. They exist in several forms which play different social roles. There’s the Individualistic Religions which are religions in which the faithful make a personal relationship with the divine on an individual level. How religious a person may be will vary greatly upon the form the religious order takes and the role of the divine. (example of one such function is Prayer)

Shamanistic Religions are religions that believe the individual is fundamentally unable to experience the divine on their own, and therefore believe that there are some designated individuals who have the specific abilities to interact with the divine in ways that other mundane people and ordinary folk fundamentally lack. These are called the shaman, and they act as intermediary between the divine and the mundane. (an example of said functions are spiritual healers)

Communal religions are ones where people regularly meet together on a social level to perform religious rituals and tasks for the benefit of a group or individual in this group. There are no full time religious specialists and their performance of rites is depending on the will of the group. These usually include ancestral rites and ancestor worship.

Ecclesiastical religions are full-time dedicated religious practitioners who form bureaucracies which exist to form regular religious services and institutional roles. These roles vary depending on what the needs are for that society.

With this in mind, the question becomes:

What religious institutions exist in or affects my nation?


To first address esteem we need to talk about inequality for a moment and to tackle its consequences for societies. Social inequality is a function of how societies define its role in upholding the stratified social order. They can exist in the form ascribed statuses and achieved statuses. An Ascribed status would be a position assigned to individuals or groups based on traits beyond their control, such as sex, race, or parental social status. This is usually associated with "closed" societies.

Achieved status is distinguished from ascribed status by virtue of being earned by their own merits. These are considered “Open” societies. These are determiners of how mobile one’s ability to navigate social stratification, and how a person is able to experience power, priviledge and reward in a society. All societies have existed thus far with the concentration of power, privilege and rewards being very unequally distributed in a slanted manner. The Functionalist Perspective for this reason for this inequity is that people have scarce talents and they perform valuable social roles for society and are thus perform them for unequal rewards.

The Conflict theorists argue the inequality has less to do with social functions of persons and has more to do with how much control a person can exercise over a particular resource. There are specific controls put in place by elites to control the uses of a specific resource and it is enforced by coercion and the threat of coercion. These are also built into complicated institutions which reinforce this coercive body by the elites and essentially makes the functionalist argument untenable and unsupportable given that there are not socially valuable roles that the elite play, but rather a monopolization of scarce resources and the threat of violence. This puts the elites and the non-elites in constant conflict with one another.Now addressing Esteem.

How do we become Esteemed in this society?

When talking about esteem, we often talk about a concept called “Face”. Face is considered someone’s personal reputation, and how respectable they are in public society. It is how many cultures regulate honor and respect. The criteria about face can vary, but there’s several things that do not vary, which is that all societies have ways to “Give Face”, “Save Face”, and “Lose Face”.

Face can be given to people by complimenting them, offering praise, showing appreciation in gifts, showing persons respect, or doing anything that increases their self-esteem. Specific examples include complementing individuals, or praising a group that one is part of (company, school, family, country). Giving Face can vary culturally, and it also has different criteria culturally as to what defines a face increasing action.

Losing Face is caused when someone is caused shame, embarrassment, and/or tarnishing their image and reputation. various example of face threatening actions are direct or indirect criticism of an individual or group, giving someone a gift that is beneath their status or that is offensive, turning down an invitation or a gesture of friendship, Not keeping your word, or lying to someone, or in some cases demonstrations of anger or excessive emotionalism.

In the event that you cause someone to lose face, or someone is embarrassed by circumstances that arise, the best recourse is to appropriate blame for problems that arise. This is called Saving Face. Ways to save face are appropriating blame for problems that arise by taking responsibility for an action, empathizing with another person, or humbling yourself in a way to offer a way to mitigate the face threatening action.

Self Actualization

Self Actualization at its core is the ability of men and women to express themselves creatively and openly, and in the way that allows them to feel fulfilled and comfortable in their society. In the realm of creative and fulfilling acts, we often look at Artistic Expression. Artistic Expression comes in these many forms, some in the form of body art, visual arts, and performance arts. How these become incredibly important is how these play social roles in the culture and attitudes about how the culture views and handles attitudes in said forms of alteration, visual objects and performances

The way people handle their bodies and alter their physical appearance in our cultures is very important and it is called Body Art. Some people physically alter their bodies in order to make themselves more attractive and more pleasing to one another. This can be as simple as the way people choose to wear their hair and how much hair is culturally appropriate for persons, attitudes to facial hair and baldness, and also full body modifications.

Body Modifications can occur in an instantaneous moment when one elects or does not elect to surgery in order to alter their bodily appearance. Examples of this are Female genital cutting, Male genital cutting, Nipple cutting, tongue cutting, Breast implants, Silicone injection, Subdermal implants, Body piercing, Pearling, Neck rings, Scrotal implants, Tattooing, Eyeball tattooing, Extraocular implant, Microdermal implant, Transdermal implants.

There are also body alteration that take place over a long amount of time. These types of body modifications like Corsetry or tightlacing, Cranial binding, Breast ironing, Foot binding , Anal stretching,, Non-surgical elongation of organs by prolonged stretching using weights or spacing devices like the 'giraffe-like' stretched necks (sometimes also other organs) of women among the Burmese Kayan tribe, through the result of wearing brass coils around them. This compresses the collarbone and upper ribs but is not medically dangerous. Stretched lip piercings, Labia elongation, Jelqing, branding, scarification, tooth filing, and ear cropping are also other kinds of body art meant to make persons more appealing. There is of course other less drastic methods that people take to adorn their bodies using paints or dyes, like Henna, paints, and makeup.

What methods of adornment and what methods of body modification is acceptable and praised in my society?

Visual arts are specific forms that exist in material objects. They can take the form of ceramics, drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, design, crafts, photography, video, filmmaking, architecture, industrial design, graphic design, fashion design, interior design and decorative art. They perform various utilitarian functions socially and distinctively act in conjunction with commodities, convenience, and utility for the culture they exist in.

What sorts of visual arts exist in my society, and what is their function?

Performance arts include anything that is meant to be performed in a group or to an audience. Dance, concerts and musical performance, Opera, Theatre, Stagecraft, Spoken Words, Circus Arts, Busking, Storytelling, Films, Martial Arts and Musical Theatre. These are meant to perform a specific social function to provide entertainment, and performing arts often require an agreement on what is a proper form of spectacle or entertainment. There is also a social and cultural ritual for all kinds of performance arts, and they are enhanced by specific actions to promote social unity.

What sorts of performing arts are considered important in my society?

What we can take away from this

Now, unlike my other guides, I am going to open the floor, and I am also going to allow for questions if there are any in creating a subculture and a mainstream culture, and other facets of world building that people have encountered or not encountered, and I am willing to offer help if there is desire and need for it. There's also a chance for people to take their time and examine the various aspects of world-building that are common in NS, and other various things we could do better as II RPers to enhance the experience of roleplaying various cultures in a created world with entirely constructed mainstream and subcultures.
Last edited by Crystal Spires on Thu Jan 30, 2014 9:31 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Abys » Thu Jan 30, 2014 1:01 am

I am going to add this to my list of important links in my Sig, Thank you for the helpful advice.
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