We most consciously experience social forces in the form of legal sanctions, which are themselves culturally based, but group norms constrain our behaviour in a wider array of circumstances. There is no law that says that I must communicate with you in English, but I am impelled to do so by the fact that we are engaged in a social relationship that requires mutual understanding. Under special circumstances, you or I might use another language and expect that the other learns it or engages a translator. However, I would never be allowed to use my individual creative powers to invent my own personal language.
A second example involves the selection of clothing. Here in the virtual classroom I am not subject to a dress code, but I do teach this class to a live audience as well and must face each day with the problem of what to wear for my lectures. Of course there are some legal constraints to my selection, since I cannot appear naked, but there are less obvious social restrictions as well. Past generations imposed fairly well defined limits to professorial dress. We had to wear academic gowns symbolic of our status. At a later period professionally identifying clothing was no longer in fashion, and we donned the more mundane adornments of generic business attire, although gowns were and still are required for academic processions.
Such conventional meanings and limitations attached to dress are arbitrary and assume quite different forms in other cultures. Highland Mayan men and women in the Guatemalan community of San Antonio must invariably both follow a strict dress code in which everyone in the village wears the same dress. Judging from Western fashion, we might describe both male and female outfit as consisting of a blouse and wrap-around skirt, which might cause us to question the masculinity of Mayan men.
While the emphasis on the social determinants of personal behaviour are basic to the culture concept, anthropologists have tended to exaggerate their influence to the point of overlooking individual behaviour completely. As such, people are often viewed as actors in a play written and directed by an extra-natural author labelled "culture" or "society". (This tendency is called reification, the process of assigning a material reality to an abstract concept.) Cultural and social forces are manifest only in the behaviour of individuals, who are subject to influences of a different nature, such as psychological drives, personal ambitions, and creative imaginings. The anthropological focus on the culture concept gives us only a partial view of the human reality and we must borrow from or cooperate with other disciplines to achieve a total understanding of the human experience.