Ideal and Real Culture – Differences and Examples

Ideal culture refers to the practices, values or norms that society is supposed to follow or desires to achieve. It refers to those goals that a society considers ideal, or worth aiming for.  We see what we want to see and we say what we want to say instead of what the actual interpretation of the society can be like. For example, when we say that crime and violence rates are decreasing, we are seeing only what is positive. However, a true or real picture will tell us that in reality, it has been increasing due to the advancement of the society and the consequent competitiveness and complexity it has brought about.

This can be distinguished from the real culture which refers to practices and norms that culture actually follows. They can be the same at times, but the ideal culture seems to be more ecstatic, optimistic and glowing, distinguishing itself from the real culture, which is the actual picture of the society. The gap between the ideal and real culture is wide. While ideal culture involves an idealized and resolute value system that controls perfect behavior, real culture involves a value system which is adaptable and serves as a set of preferred guidelines. For instance, while ideal marriages are thought to be the ones which are based on love and considered to continue forever, real marriages often end up in divorces or family fights. Ideal values are absolute with little or no exceptions, but real cultures contain exceptions to solve the contradictions between ideal values and pragmatic realities. American values are often idealized considering them as the best ones whereas the values which we uphold in our everyday lives are the real values. Another example can be of a country which desires to achieve secularism. If it does achieve it completely, which is highly unlikely, it can be called as an ideal culture; otherwise, it is the real culture where somewhere or the other events of communal riots will take place occasionally.

The difference between ideal culture and real culture can also be explained through the example of marriage. While in the Hindu society, marriage is considered to an auspicious, divine and indissoluble occasion. So, in theory, the ideal Hindu society should not have divorces and the marriage ties should be maintained forever. However, in reality (real culture), in contemporary society there are numerous instances of divorces happening in the country with marriage becoming a contract from a sacrament. An ideal culture can never be realized because people preach what they never practice.

Taking into consideration the concept of ethnocentrism, we often tend to idealize our own culture or consider it as the ideal culture. When we are ethnocentric, we consider our own culture as the superior or the better culture than any other culture. For example, America considers itself as the hegemony, the superior nation. However, when looked carefully, there lies, inequality, the poor lack proper education, and it has still not been successful in providing its entire population with equal opportunities. Poverty still exists, gun violence threatens the public, people lack good jobs, and environmental conditions are degrading.


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Sabnam, pursuing Sociology from Miranda House, Delhi University hails from the land of red River, Assam. She is a pure non-realist, because, as she puts it, "reality hurts and pain is not what I endure but what I pour into paper!".