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Sociology Law and Identity Essay

Related Topics: Culture Murder Conflict Society

Pages:6 (1908 words)




Document Type:Essay



Every traditional culture has its norms, which ultimately affect what is considered right or wrong. A clear distinction of this is best illustrated in the Middle East as compared to Western culture, where in the Middle East certain behaviors, e.g., kissing in public, in public is illegal as compared to in the west. This is basically as a result of the differences in the traditional cultures of these two regions, bearing in mind that religion is a core part of any culture. To this effect, it would be argued that culture affects law and identity, and to ensure that there is fairness and justice in any given society, then the cultural context of the people cannot be ignored. In her book, The Cultural Defense, Alison Dundes Renteln argues that "Culture shapes individual identity in crucial ways. The failure of the law to recognize this has resulted in injustices" (Renteln 2004, 219). This essay, therefore, is an explanation of this quotation, and the explanation will be done by using the book The Cultural Defense by Renteln (2004).

Culture and identity

It is no doubt that traditional culture exists, and even though it is an invisible aspect of society, it can be manifested through language, music, relationships between the various members of the community. The only sensible question, therefore, is, to what extent does culture share individuals' identity and, by extension, the justice and judicial system? The effect of culture on an individual can be traced back to the time of birth and the initial stages of intellectual development. As stated by Renteln, each individual learns through socialization/enculturation by the society in which they are born (2004, 12). This process of learning takes place mainly at the subconscious level, and it functions to create the self-awareness of a person, thus, identity.

Some of the common ways through which culture and the effects of enculturation manifest are gestures, symbols, and their meaning, taboos, food, dressing, and humor (Renteln, 2004, 12). While these aspects might seem mundane, especially within the specific region in which the respective society is famous, their real effect and meaning are adequately acknowledged in a foreign land. For example, while it is a familiar gesture in western culture to indicate OK with the thumb and the index finger joined to form a circle, in some Latin American countries, it's considered to be an insulting and obscene connotation (Renteln, 2004, 12). For the average westerner, this gesture is an indication of satisfaction and wellness, but in Latin America, it is demeaning and degrading, an aspect that can be used as a basis or evidence to a criminal case.

It is, however, understood that just as an individual can learn about their culture, they can also learn about other cultures. This is common through such aspects as assimilation. However, the concept of adaptation is not to be confused with the original culture of an individual. For example, just as an individual can learn their traditional cultural language, so can they also learn the language of another culture. As argued by Renteln, an individual can be bicultural, just as they are bilingual (2004, 13). However, in this essay, it will be argued that the typical assimilation is characterized by a minority learning and becoming encultured to the culture of the majority. The typical case in point is the relation between France as a colonial master and the region it colonized, where the person in the colonies was assimilated to the France culture.

Culture and the law

Because of the effect of culture, individuals are predisposed to act in line with the teachings of their culture. While this does not expressly imply that a person has to be excused for illegal or wrong cultural actions, it is also…

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…men (p.140), and caring for and management of the dead, e.g., some culture like to die in the peace of their home and autopsies are prohibited (p.159).

An argument for the cultural defense

These sources of conflict demand that the cultural background of especially the defendant must be taken into account as a failure to do so amount to a miscarriage of justice. While in the administration of justice, the law must be culturally sensitive, the main reason why culture has to applied is to ensure that all citizens within any given jurisdiction are equal before the law (p. 187). Moreover, it is important to ensure that the punishment meted on crime is proportionate and justifiable.

It is, however, to be argued that, even though some of the cultural defenses might sound absurd and nonsensical, it is important that individuals are granted cultural rights and tolerance the right to practice that culture protected, as long as it doesn't contradict any human rights and liberties.


Culture plays a crucial part in the upbringing of each person. Without culture, a person will be ungrounded and without meaning. It is, therefore, based on this understanding that it is argued that the aspect of culture in the justice administration cannot be ignored or overlooked. Culture is also an integral part of determining what is right and what is wrong, which is the basis of the legal system. As a result, in the application of the same, the individual's culture must be factored in. Especially when such an individual is from a minority culture that is not addressed in the formulation of the applicable legal system. However, it is acknowledged that the application of culture in the justice system must not be made to deny others their right or to prevent the effective delivery of justice. This essay, therefore, adopts the conclusion that "Culture shapes individual identity…

Sample Source(s) Used


Renteln, A. D. (2004). The cultural defense. Oxford University Press.

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