Friday, August 14, 2015
Sunday, August 9, 2015
Review Sheet for Final Exam on the Production of Culture Perspective
Peterson and Anand, The Production of Culture Perspective
Richard Peterson, Why 1955? Explaining the Advent of Rock Music (get from JSTOR)
Wendy Griswold, American Character and the American Novel (get from JSTOR)
Sam Friedman, The Hidden Tastemakers: Comedy Scouts as Cultural Brokers at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Mass culture model
Free market assumption
Centralized brokersProduction of culture
U.S. Copyright Law
45 rpm record
Origins of the novel
American novelsEuropean novels
Monday, August 3, 2015
Sociology of Culture
Prof. Gabe Ignatow
Review Sheet for Exam 2 on Thursday August 6:
The 2nd exam will cover the following course readings:
- Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, Introduction and Chapter 1
- Film: "Warriors of the Amazon"
- Jeffrey Alexander and Philip Smith, The Strong Program in Cultural Theory
- Sulkunen, Pekka. Sociology Made Visible: On the Cultural Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu
- Lamont et al. "Cultural and Moral Boundaries in the United States"
- Gretchen Purser, The Dignity of Job-Seeking Men
- Richard Peterson and Roger Kern, "Changing Highbrow Taste: From Snob to Omnivore"
- Bethany Bryson, Anything But Heavy Metal
- Sam Friedman, Cultural Omnivores or Culturally Homeless?
You should be able to define and discuss all of the following terms (this list is not exhaustive):
Social Field/Power Field/Social Space
Sunday, July 26, 2015
Sociology of Culture homework for the week of 7/27
These assignments will be covered on Exam 2 and a quiz the week of 8/3.
Read these three articles:
These assignments will be covered on Exam 2 and a quiz the week of 8/3.
Read these three articles:
- Sulkunen, Pekka. Sociology Made Visible: On the Cultural Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu
- Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production (read through pg. 40) and The Market of Symbolic Goods
- Sam Friedman, Habitus clivé and the emotional imprint of social mobility (must be on campus to download pdf)
Watch these videos and take notes:
Sociology is a Martial Art watch here (watch parts 1-5)
Habitus and the Capitals watch here
Field Theory watch here
Cultural Capital watch here
Symbolic Violence and Social Media watch here
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Sociology of Culture
Review Sheet for Exam 1
Thursday July 23, 2015
The first exam will count for 25% of your final grade, and will cover the following readings:
William Sewell jr., The Concept(s) of Culture
Critical Theory, from Standord Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, The Culture Industry
Max Weber, “The Social Psychology of the World Religions”
Max Weber, "The Protestant Sects and the Spirit of Capitalism"
Bryan Turner, Islam, Capitalism and the Weber Theses
Samuel Huntington, Cultures Count
Ruth Benedict, The Diversity of Cultures
Clifford Geertz, Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture
Richard Shweder, "On the Return of the 'Civilizing' Project"
You should be able to define and discuss the following people and ideas:
Horkheimer and Adorno
“The Dialectic of Enlightenment”
“The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”
Sociology of culture
Culture as “cultivation”
civilization and barbarism
culture as learned behavior
culture as learned behavior associated with social meaning
culture as systems of symbols and meanings
culture as a life-system, way of life
“Opium of the people”
“lowest common denominator”
“personality writ large”
“man is an animal suspended in webs of significance”
“the return of the ‘civilizing’ project”
Monday, July 13, 2015
Human culture is arguably the most complex phenomenon in the universe
Culture was widely considered impossible to study scientifically until the late 20th century
The “cultural turn” in the social sciences and humanities
Immediately after WWII, the human sciences took the natural sciences as their model—especially in America.
Search was for “laws” of human society
e.g. classical economics, Marxism
Newtonian paradigm: search for cause-and-effect relationships
Positivism hypothesis testing, independent and dependent variables, statistical tests
This model is now mostly, but not entirely, out of fashion
Generally, this search has not yielded the kinds of results once hoped for
also, Marxism fails in practice
civil rights, women’s rights, antiwar movements in the 60s and 70s couldn’t be understood or predicted in terms of scientific laws. More a matter of history and agency.
modernization projects are seen to disappoint
The contemporaneous “linguistic turn” (initiated by Noam Chomsky’s critique of B.F. Skinner)
The linguistic turn in philosophy: Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Searle, Putnam, Rorty
The “cognitive revolution” in the human sciences, in which researchers found ways to study thought and meaning. Previously, the human mind had been treated as a kind of “black box” into which no one could see
The cognitive revolution motivates the growth of cognitive psychology, cognitive science, cognitive linguistics, cognitive anthropology, and even cognitive sociology (so far very small, as we will see later in the course)
This course is, broadly, in line with the cultural turn in the human sciences
economic and technological changes:
global media, cable and satellite television, internet → media studies
Locating this course more specifically: cultural studies in sociology
Sociology of culture
The study of sociological processes at work in the creation and reception of cultural materials
This includes, primarily, art, music, theater, literature, museums, and so on
Cultural studies/media studies
The study of the role of mass media in modern societies, how the media creates and promotes particular views, tastes, and attitudes
How the media and the advertising industry responds to and shapes patterns of consumption
The role of media and entertainment in shaping people’s identities and worldviews
Globalization and Westernization
The study of symbols, language, rituals, and meaning in all of social life
i.e. in all areas of social life: work, leisure, politics, religion, technology, organizations…
Studying cultural patterns as collective representations or constructions
Studying the role of ideas in social life
What is Culture? What is the Sociology of Culture?
From William Sewell jr.
Culture is “one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language”
Its early meanings referred to cult-ivation of land and crops, then to religious cults
1500s-1800s: “cultivation” of the individual’s mind
we still say some people are “cultured” while others are “uncultured”
we still sometimes talk about societies, communities, nations and other groups in terms of their level of culture, their civilization
during the industrial revolution, people began to discuss folk culture, as in folk culture and national culture vs. industry and capitalism; this was tied to romanticism in art and literature
In sociology and social theory today, culture usually refers to
not material, technological, social structural processes
realm of the ideal, spiritual, non-material, beliefs, values, symbols, signs, discourses
culture is everywhere in social life
scholars should try to be value-neutral when studying culture (ie. not think in terms of better and worse, higher and lower)
1. Culture as the symbolic and expressive side of social life. Here culture is set apart from others facets of social life, such as biology (e.g. nature vs. nurture), politics, and economics. Durkheim’s Elementary Forms fits in here.
A. Culture as all learned behavior, that which makes us human
B. Culture as learned behavior concerned with meaning
C. Culture as an institutional sphere devoted to the making of meaning
i.e. art, music, theater, fashion, literature, religion, the media, education
Research in this area is usually considered sociology of culture, or cultural studies, and is focused on the production and reception of cultural products. In the sociology of the occupations, and in class theories, people working in these areas are considered “cultural specialists,” by the way, and contrasted to, basically, business people.
D. Culture as creativity or agency. We’ll spend some time on agency later in the course, but this basically refers to research on how political groups create and manipulate ideological material.
E. Culture as a system of symbols and meanings. This is the late-Durkheimian tradition, basically, and this is what we’ll spend most of the course on.
F. Culture as practice. This is a lot like culture as creativity or agency. The emphasis here is on the ways in which culture is not collective, but fragmented and open to individual interpretation and reinterpretation.
2. Culture as a life-system, a “concrete and bounded body of beliefs and practices.” E.g. American culture, Middle-class culture, American middle-class culture, Samoan culture. This is culture as everything, more or less: a whole way of life encompassing beliefs, practices, ideas, ideals, values, tastes, and styles characteristic of some specific group. Next week’s readings look at culture in this way, as does quite a lot of anthropological and sociological research. This is also, by the way, an older concept of culture, and one that is not too fashionable anymore. Which is not to say that it’s all bad.
From page 46 on, Sewell elaborates his understanding of culture. It’s one which I happen to like a lot, but it’s less important for our puposes than his presentation of the different concepts of culture. The basic division is between culture as facet of social life, and culture as system. The next few readings look at culture as a system, while the bulk of the course treats it as an aspect of life that is always present.
II. Marx and Critical Theory
Marx on Religion
religion serves ruling elites
religion legitimizes the status quo
religion reinforces social stratification
most religion is other-worldy, and it encourages people not to think about their problems here and now
one of Marx’s most famous lines: religion is “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”
e.g. Hinduism supports the caste system in India
in the Middle Ages in England, the Church of England crowned the King or Queen
more recently, Saddam Hussein turned to Islam during his last years in power
Culture and 20th-century Marxist Thought
We’re finished now with Weber and recent Weberian scholarship, and Durkheim and recent Durkheimian scholarship. The last line of thought from classical sociology to contemporary cultural studies is the Marx line.
Even more than Weber and Durkheim, Marxist thought dominated much of sociology and the social sciences in the 20th century, especially in Europe. i.e. Marx’s influence was and is far weaker in America, which never experienced feudalism and never came close to Communism.
If we recall that Marx was the quintessential materialist social thinker, who saw culture, along with government, the family, and education, as part of a societal “superstructure” ultimately controlled by whomever controlled society’s material “base,” i.e. the “means of production,” the factories and farms.
Marx’s vision wouldn’t seem to leave much room for culture. In fact it doesn’t, and this has put Marx at odds with at least 30 years of increasing cultural explanation in the social sciences.
1. “There has been an attempt to assimilate cultural explanation within a Marxian framework.” Culture is given more autonomy, although its role is generally to regulate social life to maintain the capitalist economic order.
2. Culture, especially ideology, is used to explain the non-arrival of the revolution that Marx predicted was inevitable. Why so little working-class radicalism?
3. Movement toward humanism and away from the “science” of historical materialism, the search for laws of human history and development (we talked about this general trend at the start of the course)
I should note that in many courses, the Marxian tradition would receive much more attention than it does in this one. This week will just give an overview of some main thinkers and ideas, and we will focus on a few.
Also, one question we might ask of this intellectual tradition is how much Marx is left over once we’ve made these moves?
advocates a more humanistic, more cultural Marxism
like Weber, Marx, and Durkheim, he saw history unfolding unilinearly, with motivation from several fundamental processes; a specific capitalist logic was driving history
Commodification – capitalism “colonizes” more and more dimensions of private life: our bodies, love, beauty
Reification – assumption that they way things are is how they must be
Commodity fetishism – mania for consumer products, which are imbued with almost magical qualities
Class consciousness – people’s identification in terms of their socioeconomic class, Lukacs thought it was necessary for a modern society but required reflective thinking and self-awareness about the ideological effects of capitalism
Antonio Gramsci Prison Notebooks written while in jail in Italy
wants to explain why a communist revolution had not occurred in Italy, despite economic crises and a large proletariat
focuses on the interrelations of the state, intellectuals, and ideas
the state is not simply a rationalizing instrument, a rational, efficient bureaucracy, but is rather a tool for class domination
the state represents the interests of dominant economic actors, i.e. capitalists and the bourgeoisie
the state acts not only through violence, because violence, while useful, is costly
the state controls society through hegemony, through the propagation of hegemonic beliefs
e.g. common sense, nationalism
hegemonic beliefs are spread by organic intellectuals who, like priests, translate complex ideas into simple language so as to be easily understood
for cultural theory, Gramsci pointed out connections between ideas and concrete social and economic arrangements
he influenced the British Cultural Studies school, and has had an impact in many disciplines
he was especially popular in the 1960s and 1970s, but began to lose steam in the 90s
The Frankfurt School
a group of intellectuals who were associated with a research institute in Frankfurt in the 1920s, but were dispersed with the rise of Nazi Germany
I will focus on Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno
They were members of the German cultural elite, and Adorno moved to Los Angeles in the 1940s
saw Nazi populist propaganda, then in America television commercials, popular newspapers and films
A and H, in The Dialectic of Enlightenment, argued that the project of the European Enlightenment had reached an end, and had led to a world of narrow pragmatic rationality and a mass society of passive, uniform consumers
Popular media produced by the culture industry appeals to the lowest common denominator, simple likes and dislikes, in the interest of maximum profits
“No independent thinking must be expected from the audience”
Audiences are zombie-like and amused, but unthinking and gullible
Classical and avante-garde art, however, is much better
III. Max Weber and Values Analysis
Max Weber, the early German social thinker, studied everything
Part of his work was his religious sociology, his studies of Calvinism, Islam, ancient Judaism etc.
Less popular appeal than Marx, but arguably more sophisticated
His aim was Verstehen, sympathetic understanding
Two important ideas of his, for our purposes:
Wertrational – value-rationality
Zweckrational – purposive rationality
Salvation – being saved, living the right kind of life
every religion, and every culture, provides ideas about salvation, about how to live
Theodicy – the question of God’s role in a world of evil, suffering, and injustice
in every religion, intellectuals obsess over the problem of theodicy
different religions solve this tension differently
Culture and Capitalism
The most influential and historically significant book on the interrelations of culture, religion, and capitalism is Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.
Weber’s essay is often seen as a response to the growing influence of historical materialism or Marxism in the Germany of his day, with the growth of a large Social Democratic Party.
Historical materialism … Base/Superstructure
persists in varying forms: e.g. environmental or natural resource determinism
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism was published as a two-part study in 1904-5. It not only pointed the way to Weber’s future work but also became the center of a long-running controversy. Distinguished by passionate writing and bold theorization, the argument has attracted attention far outside the boundaries of sociology. Those who invoke the notion of a ‘Protestant work ethic’ may not have read Weber but they are not wrong to echo his belief that the ‘rationalization of labor’ was a decisive feature of modernity.
Weber’s work was prompted by his concern that the German Empire was still socially backward compared with the United States and Britain, and had failed to develop a sufficiently assertive and public spirited bourgeoisie and middle class during the long rule of Bismarck during the 19th century. He believed that the Anglo-Saxon commitment to economic and social freedom was a source of strength and that it was rooted in secularised impulses stemming from the sectarian versions of Protestantism which had been so influential in their history since the seventeenth century.
Weber stressed that contrary to the materialist reductionism of some Marxists, ideas, beliefs, and psychological states could have a large influence on the course of history. Specifically he argued that sectarian Protestantism promoted a ‘worldly asceticism’ and notion of a ‘calling’ or secular vocation which was conducive to the rationalization of labor.
If early twentieth century Germans recognized this they could improve and strengthen the institutions of the German Empire.
While Weber had different political objectives from Marxists, his understanding of the material practices of capitalism owed a lot to Marx. Like Marx he writes of a distinctive ‘rational capitalist organization of (formally) free labor’; the capitalist enterprise calculates wages and prices in order to make a surplus and is defined by this not the simple lust for profit.
Furthermore the opening pages of the Protestant Ethic spell out a whole sequence of material practices seen as crucial to capitalist development in early modern Europe. These include:
1) the rise of autonomous towns
2) the separation of enterprise and
3) double entry book-keeping
But Weber does insist that there must have been social-psychological presuppositions for the emergence of capitalist institutions and that in the European case a rationalizing approach to labor had been the unintended consequence of the Reformation
The core of Weber’s argument is that with Luther’s notion of the ‘calling’ the monk’s ideal of an ascetic life became incumbent on all believers. It was taken out of the monasteries and required all to single-mindedly and methodically dedicate themselves to their work, to shun idleness and luxury regardless of their station in life. Protestant teaching, especially that of Calvin, imbued the individual with a sense of original sin; a sober and industrious life would be the sign or proof of salvation.
Theodicy: Calvinism removes God from reality entirely, and “inhuman” idea
In the ‘Protestant Ethic’ Weber argues that the Calvinist belief in predestination furnished a constant inner guarantee of consistent conduct; in a later text on the Protestant sects he urges that each believer takes care to pursue a restrained, godly life because of concern for the opinion of fellow-believers.
There has been much debate over Weber’s specific interpretation of Protestant theology. There is evidence that Calvinism was sometimes associated with collectivism and restraints on merchants, e.g. in New England. But the core of Weber’s argument is that some strands in Protestantism help to give rise to collective psychological conditions that underpinned early capitalist rationalization and accumulation. Weber himself illustrates his case by quotes from Benjamin Franklin, who was a man of affairs rather than a theologian. Weber does not insist that Protestantism is the only route to preparing mentalities that will help to sustain and reproduce capitalist social relations - simply
that in early modern Europe they did play this role. (of course we should think about the development of Asian capitalism as a comparison case or set of cases)
Islam and Capitalism
Bryan Turner Islam, Capitalism and the Weber Theses
Weber’s treatment of Islam is not nearly as famous as his discussion of Calvinism and capitalism
The usual contrast is between Asian mysticism and Puritan asceticism
Turner argues that Weber was wrong to try to explain the absence of rational capitalism in Islam
instead, the real issue is Islam’s transition from a monetary economy >> agricultural-military regime
Muhammad, after all was a merchant
Weber’s theses on Islam, according to Turner
PE (Protestant Ethic) theses:
1. idealistic theory of values
Calvinist beliefs >> modern capitalism (causal)
2. necessary condition for the emergence of capitalism
no, but Protestant asceticism is necessary for rational capitalism
3. “elective affinity” of ideas and socio-economic contexts
4. Continuity between Marx and Weber: beliefs are shaped by socio-economic contexts
Turner’s analysis of Weber’s analysis of Islam
Meccan Islam was monotheistic and rejected magic
but Islam did not develop into a “salvation religion” because of 1) warrior groups who carried Islam
2) Sufi mystical brotherhoods
individual salvation was reinterpreted through jihad (holy war), suitable for warrior groups on quests for land: Islam becomes a ‘national Arabic warrior religion’
Islamic asceticism became the rigor of the military caste
Sufism provided a salvation path, but it was mystical and other-worldly
together militarism and mysticism produced the “characteristics of a feudal spirit...unquestioned acceptance of slavery, serfdom, and polygamy...simplicity of religious requirements...and ethical requirements”
Islam could thus not lift the Middle East out of feudalism and stagnation, it could not produce capitalism
Islam and Shari’a did not produce a systematic formal law tradition (only fatwa, which are ad hoc judgments)
not because of the content of the early religion, but because of the socio-economic context in which it emerged
Turner argues, however, that Islam was originally urban, commercial, and literate: Mecca
was a trading center
However, Islam provided a culture capable of uniting desert tribesmen (Bedouins) who often attacked caravan routes, with urban merchants. Islam was thus a “triumph of town over desert”
Finally, Weber blames Sultanism for the stagnation of the Middle East, because of the socio-economic conditions it produced
this is because of the “legal insecurity of the taxpaying population” in the presence of foreign troops
the arbitrariness of the tax powers of foreign troops (Selcuks and Mamelukes) could paralyze commerce
towns were merely army camps for patrimonial troops, rather than centers of commerce
patrimonial interference discouraged investments in trade and craft industry, and discouraged a bourgeois lifestyle and bourgeois-commercial utilitarianism, seeing this as sordid greediness
Samuel Huntington, Cultures Count and Lawrence Harrison, “Why Culture Matters”
Huntington: author of the “Clash of Civilizations”
Culture changes much more slowly than the economy, technology
Economic and tech’l modernization can occur without modern, liberal, Western cultural values
The contemporary scholars most directly influenced by Weber’s book insist that culture, usually national cultures, i.e. “culture as system,” continues to affect the economic growth of modern nations.
To get their point, imagine, if you will, that we are living in the 1950s or early 1960s. Countries across the world are becoming independent, that is they’re rejecting colonialism. Optimism abounded, and serious scholars believed that economic growth would be more or less uniform in most developing countries in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.
N. Africa was predicted by many to grow most quickly, because of its proximity to Europe and its pool of cheap labor.
JFK and other American leaders were openly concerned about Brazil’s economic development, its ability to compete with the US
50 years later, what happened?
There have been some notable economic successes: Germany and Japan rebuilt their shattered economies into world powers, and Spain, Portugal, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong have entered the “first world,” more or less. But what about the rest of the world, especially Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East?
For the most part, low economic growth and its social correlates:
severe economic stratification
Illiteracy, especially among women
High birth rates, population growth rates
Corruption is near-universal
Why? Some explanations:
Colonialism had deleterious effects of all sorts, e.g. drawing arbitrary borders around “nations” (as in Africa)
“Neo-colonialism” Post-colonial theory
continuing dependency: countries on the global economic periphery, e.g. Latin American countries, are beholden to core countries such as the U.S., and provide us with raw materials only
Systemic Racism: economic development disproportionately benefits white men; the global economic system is inherently racist and oppressive to minorities and women
These explanations are unsatisfying to lots of people, certainly to H&H. So Neo-Weberians look to cultural values, including
- time orientation
- religious outlook
- optimism versus pessimism
- “trust” and social capital
Later in their book, Harrison and Huntington explore the idea that cultures should be reprogrammed and modernized, that this would be better than simply giving financial aid to poor countries. And they find support among generally western-educated scholars and NGO workers from Africa, Asia and elsewhere.
IV. Cultural Anthropology and Cultural Relativism
Like Weber (at times), cultural anthropologist view culture as a system.
Their analyze “cultures” in synchronic, not diachronic, terms. This is part of what makes cultural anthropology unique.
Their approach and methods are interpretive; they see cultures as texts that are open to interpretation, and contain recurring themes and symbolism
Cultural anthropology can tend to be functionalist in its thinking.
Everything in a culture serves a function
Everything in a culture is part of an integrated whole
Society is a system of mutual interdependence that must be kept in equilibrium
Cultures are necessary for human life, serve concrete needs:
For rearing and socializing children
For creating social solidarity and harmony
An implication of these functionalist views is that indigenous cultures should be protected or preserved
i.e. if Westerners tamper with one part of an indigenous culture, they may destroy the whole thing
This view was crucial for anthropology during its early years in the 20th century, when Western powers still operated systems of colonial control in “3rd world” countries.
Ruth Benedict, “The Diversity of Cultures” (Spillman)
From her undergraduate work, she had a background in literature, and in the various ways of studying a text to grasp its various levels of meaning.
She did not concern herself as much with history as did her peers. Rather, she was looking for repeated themes, for the importance given various values and beliefs, and for how all of this fit together (or didn’t).
Benedict's Patterns of Culture (1934) was translated into fourteen languages and was published in many editions as standard reading for anthropology courses in American universities for years.
The essential idea in Patterns of Culture is “her view of human cultures as “personality writ large.’”
Each culture, Benedict explains, chooses from "the great arc of human potentialities" only a few characteristics which become the leading personality traits of the persons living in that culture. These traits comprise an interdependent constellation of aesthetics and values in each culture which together add up to a unique gestalt. For example she described the emphasis on restraint in Pueblo cultures of the American southwest, and the emphasis on abandon in the Native American cultures of the Great Plains. She used the Nietzschean opposites of "Apollonian" and "Dionysian" as the stimulus for her thought about these Native American cultures. She describes how in ancient Greece, the worshipers of Apollo emphasized order and calm in their celebrations. In contrast, the worshipers of Dionysus, the god of wine, emphasized wildness, abandon, letting go. And so it was among Native Americans. She described in detail the contrasts between rituals, beliefs, personal preferences amongst people of diverse cultures to show how each culture had a "personality" that was encouraged in each individual.
Other anthropologists of the culture and personality school also developed these ideas—notably Margaret Mead in her Coming of Age in Samoa (published before "Patterns of Culture") and Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (published just after Benedict's book came out).
“modal personality”—cluster of traits most common to a traditional culture/social group
In Patterns of Culture she expresses her belief in cultural relativism. She desired to show that each culture has its own moral imperatives that can be understood only if one studies that culture as a whole.
Morality, she argued, was relative to the values of the culture in which one operated.
Critics have objected to the degree of abstraction and generalization inherent in the “culture and personality” approach.
The Chrysanthemum and the Sword
This book is an instance of Anthropology at a Distance. Study of a culture through its literature, through newspaper clippings, through films and recordings, etc., was necessary when anthropologists aided the United States and its allies in World War II. Unable to visit Nazi Germany or Japan under Hirohito, anthropologists made use of the cultural materials produced studies at a distance. They were attempting to understand the cultural patterns that might be driving their aggression, and hoped to find possible weaknesses, or means of persuasion that had been missed.
Benedict's war work included a major study, largely completed in 1944, aimed at understanding Japanese culture. Americans found themselves unable to comprehend matters in Japanese culture. For instance, Americans considered it quite natural for American prisoner of wars to want their families to know they were alive, and to keep quiet when asked for information about troop movements, etc., while Japanese POWs, apparently, gave information freely and did not try to contact their families.
In more recent years however, Benedict's "national character" approach has been criticized as being subjective, and at times even demeaning -- she characterized Dobu people, for example, as mean-spirited and paranoid.
Anthropologists were now eager to get away from imposing their own culturally created value judgments on other societies. And Benedict appeared to have gotten caught up the mentality of her era, a mentality that wanted to see people of different nationalities in stereotyped ways. Additionally, her approach has always been criticized for not putting greater emphasis on class differences.
Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture (Spillman)
In the 1970s, Geertz becomes the public “ambassador” of anthropology, much as Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead had been before him. However, while Benedict was read by the educated public, Geertz is read mostly by graduate students and academics.
Like Benedict, Geertz conceptualizes culture as a text that can be read and interpreted in terms of recurring themes and symbolism. This is in stark contrast to Marxist and neo-Marxist (materialist) approaches.
Like Neo-Weberians, Geertz takes on the mantle of Max Weber. Geertz is one of the most famous and influential anthropologists ever, and as we will see, Richard Shweder, another anthropologist and a critic of the neo-Weberians Huntington and Harrison, takes on the mantle of Geertz.
Geertz’s famous phrase, quoting Weber: “Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun. I take culture to be those webs…”
The analysis of culture is therefore not an experimental science in search of law, but an interpretive one in search of meaning.
Studying culture for Geertz thus involves doing ethnography, living with people in their communities, interviewing them, taking notes, and doing “thick description”
Thick description involves thinking about culture, that is thinking about what things mean in a social setting
Thin description, by contrast, involves simple physical description of what is happening
Interpretive understanding is as important as causal understanding
Geertz’s most famous study is of cockfighting on the Indonesian island of Bali
He argues that the system of betting reflects the status hierarchy and macho culture of the Balinese men.
The cultural practice of cockfighting “reflects” deeper truths about Balinese society.
Balinese men wager irrationally high stakes because of the social meaning of the cockfight and its outcome. People don’t remember the money they won or lost, so much as the status order of the winners and losers.
“The culture of a people is an ensemble of texts, themselves ensembles, which the anthropologist strains to read over the shoulders of those to whom they properly belong”
Richard Shweder, On the Return of the “Civilizing” Project
Shweder writes in the tradition of Clifford Geertz, and so also of Max Weber, but his position is quite different from that of the neo-Weberians we discussed above.
He is, to put it bluntly, a strong relativist and he refutes notions of cultural superiority, certainly of western cultural superiority, or as he puts it the culture of northwestern Europe.
Nonwestern cultures are not something to be denigrated or reprogrammed, rather westerners have much to learn from nonwestern cultures and societies.
Harrison and Huntington are wrong because theories of “national culture” have long been discredited, because different cultures place different relative importance on different values, and because people from nonwestern societies who want to change their own cultures’ values do not reflect their own cultures, but rather certain western values.
We can all learn from all different kinds of cultures, from experiencing life in different cultures, so we ought to respect and preserve different cultures, which have lasted for thousands of years.
For example, Shweder applauds the rejection of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights by the American Anthropological Association in the 1940s. They argued that it was an ethnocentric document.
Part V: Emile Durkheim and Neo-Durkheimian Cultural Sociology
Emile Durkheim and the Neo-Durkheimians (Cultural Sociology)
Philip Smith, 9-13, 74-96
Lynn Hunt, The Sacred and the French Revolution
Jeffrey Alexander and Philip Smith, The Discourse of American Civil Society (in reader)
Emile Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of the Religious Life
One of sociology’s founding fathers, the “big three,” the other two being Karl Marx and Max Weber. He developed the core of a cultural approach to sociology almost a century before the “cultural turn” in the social sciences.
French academic, unlike Marx he was a professional academic, and as such was deeply engaged in the academic debates of his time. He did as much as anyone to establish sociology as a discipline in France in the 19th century.
Four most famous books:
The Division of Labor in Society, The Rules of Sociological Method, Suicide, and The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life
Key ideas in Durkheimian sociology, key contributions:
1. The study of “social facts”: a social fact is a real phenomenon that is collective in nature and irreducible to individuals’ actions. e.g. language…no such thing as a “private language”
2. Rigorous scientific methods of study: statistical analysis of survey data, data collected by French bureaucracies
3. Cultural analysis: symbols, categories, rituals, the sacred and the profane
The Elementary Forms, part of which is assigned for this course, was his last great work, and it came very late in his career, and it is where he most fully spells out his ideas about cultural processes. The book is complex, in part because in it Durkheim tries to do two things.
1) understand religion, i.e. provide a sociology of religion (lots of people are still working on this)
2) show how the modern world is still fundamentally “religious.” This is his religious sociology (fewer people see things this way, although I tend to)
1) Durkheim’s sociology of religion
Why do all human societies have religions in the first place? What are the social effects of particular religions? The economic effects? How do power, politics, and money interact with religion? From a purely economic or ecological perspective, religion and particulaly elaborate religious rituals can seem wasteful. From a Marxist perspective, religion is the “opiate of the people.” It disguises power and subtly enslaves people. But this doesn’t really answer the question of why religious beliefs come about.
Here are some answers as of the late nineteenth century:
1) Naturism: religion helps to explain natural phenomena, which are often threatening
Naturism addresses itself to the phenomena of nature, including great “cosmic forces” such winds, stars, rivers, the sky, etc., or else plants, animals, rocks etc.
2) Animism: Religion explains natural phenomena in terms of spirits, souls, divinities, demons, which are animated and conscious and inhabit natural entities. This is a kind of anthropomorphism.
Durkheim finds lots of problems with these two explanations, not the least of which is that they are both deeply condescending, and assume religion to be a matter of illusions and hallucinations totally unrelated to rationality and science.
Durkheim’s answer, based on his reading of the anthropological and sociological literature on Australian Aboriginal and Native American tribes:
First, he defines religion: “A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.”
This definition includes two elements: the idea of the sacred, and the idea that religion is inherently collective. By nature, i.e. because of the way individual humans are wired to interact with the world, human beings distinguish between the sacred and the profane. We’ll get back to this point later in the course. Second, religion is social. God, or the gods, are in fact society, and belief in God or the gods basically serves the interests of society as a whole.
This isn’t a course in the sociology of religion, however, so what’s most interesting to us here is that Durkheim’s sociology of religion provides the foundation for his religious sociology, you could say his cultural sociology, of the secular world.
2) Durkheim’s religious sociology
Unique for a sociologist, he emphasizes
a. the independent causal importance of symbolic classification
b. the importance of the symbolic division between the sacred and the profane
c. the social significance of ritual behavior
d. interrelations between symbolic classifications, rituals, and the creation of social solidarities
The Elementary Forms is a difficult book, in part because it is exploratory, and in part because Durkheim covers so much ground. His primary empirical case is the Australian Aborigines, whose social organization is, basically, the following:
Tribes (groups of clans)
The clans each have totems—symbols based on animals and plants, and occasionally meteorological or celestial entities—and relations between totems mirrors social relations between clans as they are incorporated into phratries. In this way, aboriginal society shapes the use of symbols.
Totems are names, but they’re more like coats-of-arms to the clans. But it is more than a collective label in which individuals take pride. It also has great religious significance. It is a “sacred thing.” It keeps the profane at a distance, because of its essential properties: it heals wounds, sickness, it can makes men’s beards grow, it has power over the totemic species, it gives individuals force, courage, and perseverance, and depresses and weakens their enemies (p. 142). It surrounds ordinary objects and happenings with a kind of “religious halo.” Importantly, the idea, the symbol that is the totem has more power than the animal or plant on which it is based.
Totems have not only religious but cognitive significance as well. They shape the way Aborigines and Native Americans categorize the world around them, their own bodies and minds, and even the whole universe (i.e. their religious cosmology). Durkheim gives lots of examples, but the important thing to note is that Aboriginal and Native American categories of thought are very different from modern Western notions, which are typically based on modern science.
Society furnishes these categories to the individuals who comprise it, and in turn, by thinking in terms of the same categories and communicating with the same symbols, society is strengthened. Social solidarity is strengthened.
Finally, and this point is particularly important for us, modern societies and modern science do not reject totemism, the division of the world into sacred and profane, etc. Basically, science and rationality rely on the same universal cultural and religious notions that animate Aboriginal religion. Modern social organization is more individualistic and less tribal and clannish, and scientific rationality is sharper and clearer than aboriginal thought processes and categories, but the elementary forms of thought and group culture that underly both are the same. If we can apprehend these processes at work in the modern world, we can begin to understand the scope and the limits of our rationality.
Durkheim’s scholarly influence
Durkheimian thought permeated the French intellectual scene, and it has influenced research in various disciplines. The influence of Durkheim’s work, and particularly of the Elementary Forms, has been both direct and indirect.
Linguistics: most prominent is Ferdinand de Saussure, the founder of the field of “semiotics” (the study of signs) who saw language as a social fact irreducible to anything else that emerged from the conscience collective of a society.
Literary theory: Roland Barthes’s studies in social and literary semiotics. Barthes and his colleagues have explicated the systems of symbolic classifications that regulate a wide array of secular institutions and social processes, including fashion, food production, and civil conflict.
Anthropology: Levi-Strauss’s structural anthropology, in which he studied societies in terms of their symbolic classifications, which are often patterned as binary oppositions. The opposition between the sacred and the profane is a cardinal one. Geertz’s interpretive studies of expressive cultural practices, such as Balinese cockfighting and American political campaigns, are also broadly Durkheimian, as they emphasize the “religious” and cultural bases of cultural phenomena. Mary Douglas’s research on purity and pollution taboos, which we’ll cover in this course, is directly Durkheimian too.
History: Michel Foucault, who often pointed out the religious and in a sense arbitrary basis of “rational” Western attitudes and practices, from sexual attitudes to such as mass incarceration.
Social Psychology: European “social representations theory” builds directly from Durkheim’s idea of “collective representations.”
Sociology: Amazingly, sociologists have been the slowest to pick up on Durkheim’s ideas. There are a number of reasons for this, but they aren’t too interesting, so we won’t get into them here. Robert Bellah has written on secular nations’ “civil religions,” basically the rituals and symbols modern democracies use. Otherwise, Durkheimian research in sociology, especially American sociology, is fairly new, only really picking up in the late 1980s. We’ll cover some of this work later in the course.
Durkheim and Politics
Jeffrey Alexander and Philip Smith, The Discourse of American Civil Society (in reader)
Jeffrey Alexander is a “Durkheimian” (or neo-“Durkheimian”) scholar, and in his chapter he applies and revises Durkheimian ideas in order to better understand the public response to the Watergate break-in. But there’s a long intellectual history of studies of this kind, specifically of studies of mass politics, propaganda, and the media. As far back as the 1920s, an awareness was developing that the extension of the vote and the enlarged purchasing power of the “masses” entailed expanded opportunities for both demagogues and well-meaning propagandists to further their respective causes using various symbols, fictions, myths, and utopian appeals. These opportunities have only expanded further with developments in communications technology, most notably the universalization of television.
Nowadays we take advertising, marketing studies, consumer research, political polling, image consultants, “spin doctors” and the like more or less for granted. But beginning in the 1920s social critics and social scientists began to study these processes carefully, and to rethink fundamental democratic ideals in light of new realities.
The first great writer in this tradition was Walter Lippmann, who was perhaps the most famous journalist and commentator of his day. Two of his books are relevant here: Public Opinion (1922) and The Phantom Public (1925).
In Public Opinion he developed what amounts to a social constructionist view of public opinion. It is an ideal of our democratic system, of course, that government represents the “will of the people,” that is the interests, opinions, beliefs, and values of the people. If the people’s will is disregarded, the result is tyranny and ultimately violence. What could be more basic to the American way of life? Yet by the 1920s, this ideal seemed increasingly unrealistic and naïve. Lippmann felt this as strongly as anyone, and set out to explore the fabrication of public opinion. Taking a page from Freud and other psychologists, he saw human beings as guided by “the pictures in their heads,” not necessarily by external realities. The pictures in our heads are “fictions,” which is not to say that they’re untrue, just that they’re subjective. And these fictions are socially constituted, i.e. they are part of culture. Human beings are not directly exposed to reality, but instead adjust themselves to their environments through collective culture, through “simpler models,” because the real environment is too big, too complex, and too fleeting for us to apprehend it directly. Human beings thus live in “pseudo-environments.”
In Public Opinion, and especially in The Phantom Public, Lippmann drew out the implications of this view of human nature for modern political life. “The Public” is not made up of rational individuals judging an objective reality based on their values and interests. Instead, “the public” doesn’t exist, but is for the most part created and manipulated by powerful cultural actors.
Further, for practical purposes, public opinion as such is typically “uninformed, irrelevant, and meddlesome.” Therefore, educated insiders, i.e. experts, should make society’s important political decisions, and public opinion should follow. Public opinion can and should be manipulated in order to further the long-term interests of the society as a whole. Educated experts, who will naturally have society’s best interests in mind, should make decisions and manipulate public opinion for the good of the society.
This was certainly a new democratic ideal, one that remains provocative and for many, disturbing.
One other social thinker I’ll briefly mention here is the political scientist Harold Lasswell, who published a famous book in 1927 analyzing the effectiveness of the various propaganda campaigns waged during World War I. His theoretical approach is similar to Lippmann’s, by the way.
An alternative view of these matters comes from the sociologist Robert Bellah, who is even more Durkheimian than Lippmann or Lasswell. Bellah is well known for his concept of “civil religion,” a concept he illustrates in an American context through studies of Presidential inaugural addresses and other addresses to the nation. The American civil religion is not the fabrication of any one interest group or group of experts. It goes deeper than that, and comprises myths and symbols that guide our national identity and sense of purpose. In America, the civil religion is influenced by Christianity, specifically by the Old Testament, but it is not actually Christian. Here are its fundamental ideas, as Bellah lays them out:
America was, and is, like the people of Israel, Europe was like Egypt
America escaped Europe as the Israelites escaped Egypt
also, Americans continue to escape oppression and tyranny as the Israelites escaped Egypt
God has a special mission for America
America must stand for liberty and freedom
America must be a light to other nations, and must promote these universal values
This civil religion is the source of much of our national identity, and Bellah cites as evidence for this the fact that these ideas recur again and again in American political documents, including such diverse sources as abolitionist pamphlets, civil rights speeches, and many Presidential speeches. For Bellah, this indicates that the civil religion is interwoven with the fabric of American politics.
“Binary Codes” in modern political discourse, which we imagine to be rational
Discourses have “internal symbolic logics” that can be perceived from outside. This is what cultural analysis should do.
like Sacred/Profane but with local variations
in the American case:
active, autonomous, rational, reasonable, calm, controlled, realistic, sane
passive, dependent, irrational, hysterical, excitable, passionate, unrealistic, mad
D: Open, trusting, critical, truthful, straightforward, citizen
C-d: Secret, suspicious, deferential, deceitful, calculating, enemy
D: Rule regulate, law, equality, inclusive, impersonal, contractual, groups, office
C-d: Arbitrary, power, hierarchy, exclusive, personal, ascriptive, factions, personality
Alexander and Smith: revises and, more accurately, adds to Durkheimian analysis the following ideas:
Values (general and elemental aspects of a culture)
Norms (regulatory conventions, customs, and laws)
Goals (mundane play of power, interest)
Social factors involved in crisis and ritual renewal
consensus about deviance/pollution of event
consensus about relevance of event
institutional social controls, including possibly the use of force
mobilization and struggle of autonomous elites and publics**
processes of symbolic representation, ritual and purification
** “incompleteness” of rituals
Organization of symbols by myths
So even modern, secular, democratic politics are discursive and cultural, and in a sense irrational
VI. Culture and Social Class
Pierre Bourdieu’s Sociology
Bourdieu→symbolic boundaries, quantitative techniques for sociology of culture (compare with cultural anthro)
Working-class background, studied the Kabyle in Algeria while a soldier
Became more politically active later in his career: anti-globalization, anti-Americanization to some degree
Rejected Marxism, but also post-positivism
Forms of capital (social, economic, cultural)
Social Space or Field
Habitus: bodily and cognitive imprint of social position
Why workers don’t like to eat fish (removing bones too dainty) or work on keyboards
Categories of refined/unrefined versus masculine/feminine
Symbolic Violence, Symbolic Domination
Pierre Bourdieu is perhaps the most influential sociologist alive today. Like Foucault before him, in France he is widely regarded as a “master thinker,” although he is unlike Foucault in that he is a tried-and-true sociologist, who uses numerical data and advanced statistics in his research.
For the purposes of this course, we’ll cover some of his work on Structure, Habitus, and Social Space, and then we’ll move on to Michele Lamont’s revision and extension of his ideas.
Social Space and Social Classes.
(1) A break with Marxists: (I.e. 'objective' reality). Bourdieu is interested in RELATIONSHIPS, on more levels than just the economic, and argues that how people
interpret and make sense of their relations matters (this is the subjective element).
(2) A break with "intellectualism": The theoretical class (i.e. the one we as scientists define) is not necessarily the class that exists in-the-world.
(3) A break with Economics: There are more dimensions to the social world that just economics.
(4) A break with “Objectivism” in favor of a symbolic understanding of social structure.
He also has s definite focus on POWER STRUGGLES.
Social Space: A geographic/mathematical metaphor for how people are arranged in society. Bourdieu defines social space as:
"a (multi-dimensional) space constructed on the basis of principles of differentiation or distribution constituted by the set of properties active in the social
universe under consideration, that is, able to confer force or power on their possessor in that universe." (p.229).
The points to keep in mind with this def:
(1) Social space has multiple dimensions (ex economic, educational, cultural, etc.: n dimensions) These dimensions can usually be categorized as a form of
(2) "...constructed on the basis of principles of differentiation or distribution..." This mean that how
much and what kind of the particular capital one has is the basis for sorting along the dimensions.
(3) "...by the set of properties active in the social universe under consideration, that is, able to confer
force or power on their possessor in that universe." The quantity or quality (i.e. point 2) of a given good only matters to the extent that the good in question
is 'active' in the social world of interest. This part of the definition implies an element of contextual specificity. Two groups' relative position depend on the
particular 'field' that is active. If we're dealing in the economic field, then the relative position of $$ matters, if we're dealing with the educational, then
that's what matters. [note, that this discussion is about one dimension at a time, Bourdieu does not think that way - this is for illustration only, the point is that in
some struggles, the relative value of a given dimension will change.].
Power follows from the ability to mobilize capital.
The social space is a field of forces -- the system of relations, alliances, and power struggles. His vision of social space is NOT one that is (necessarily)
static, but instead constantly infused with power struggles. Thus we see the world as a system of 'objective power relations.'
This allows us to see the social world in two ways, as the positions themselves thusly: (take culture and econ as examples)
Poor ---------------------------- Rich
In this picture, the three groups are arrayed on these two dimensions (thus C is poor and holds mainly 'low culture' values, A is rich with 'high culture' , etc).
Because these positions are at the same time relations, because domination follows from the ability to utilize this capital, we could instead view this picture
A -> B-----> C
Where A dominates (a little) B, and both B and A dominate C. What Bourdieu wants to claim is that these systems of relations are in constant contest -- not ONLY
in who gets to be WHERE, but what having a certain quantity/distribution of a good GIVES you, ie what it MEANS.
The dimensions are the elements that give power (education, money, social contacts, etc) in general, these elements form types of CAPITAL. The four
general types of capital for Bourdieu are:
1.Economic Capital: How much money one has.
2.Cultural Capital: The systems of value and meaning a person can draw on, what counts as 'good' for a group. (the main distinction is between
high and low culture for Bourdieu, thus the difference between a person who listens to Garth brooks and goes to the bowling alley every weekend versus a
person who reads Shakespeare, drinks fine wine, and goes to the museum all the time).
3.Social Capital: The set of relations one can draw on: who you know that MATTERS.
4.Symbolic Capital. : the extent to which one has the power to institute, to NAME, to define who is who. Symbolic power rests on RECOGNITION, i.e., give or take, legitimacy (Weber).
Bourdieu argues that each of these types of capital is transformable (to some extent), i.e. able to be converted and reconverted, one to the other. Thus if you have enough money you might get to know a new
set of important people, etc.
The two dimensions along which each type of capital are arrayed is Volume and composition. Thus the AMOUNT of money one has, and the TYPE of
money matter (i.e. cash vs stocks vs gold vs land).
Classes on Paper:
On the basis of the distribution of the various forms of capital, we can find groups of people who have 'similar' distributions. These are 'classes' in the
logical sense -- people who occupy the same cell in a cross-tabulation. BUT, we can't necessarily assume that these classes are self-recognized. This is the
long standing differentiation between classes in-themselves vs. classes for themselves.
What exists is a space of relations, out of which may or may not emerge a class per se.
We can compare this to Marx’s theories of class, in which he assumes that groups form from similarity, but it does not explain how the groups form. Instead, through a theoretical ‘slight of hand’, the
essential questions are spirited away:
We don’t ask about the political work needed to organize and created a self-recognized, mobilized class
Don’t explain how the formal ‘classes’ of social scientists are related to the actual, living classes in society.
Classes and class fragments develop “habituses”—roughly but not quite subcultures
The Perception of the social world and political struggle.
One must account for how actors see the world to make sense of how they act. That is, we ned to look to the social construction of identity.
One's perspective in the world is due to two things:
1) 'Objective': People see the world differently because they occupy a different space in the world.
2) 'subjective': The tools brought to bear, the language used, are all the products of previous struggles, and influence the meaning of the very dimensions
that people array themselves along.
Thus, not only are people seeing the world from different spaces, but the very view of that space, the relevant value of any given quantity/quality
distribution is different depending on a group's past history of struggle.
While Bourdieu argues that people TEND to accept the position they find themselves in, there is social change, and it comes from struggles for power related
to (1) and (2).
in an earlier essay, Bourdieu writes
“Knowledge of the social world and, more precisely, the categories which make it possible, are the stake par excellence of the political struggle, a struggle
which is inseparably theoretical and practical, over the power of preserving or transforming the social world by preserving or transforming the categories of
perception of that world.”
These are social categories: racial, social class, economic categories, that change over time
So being able to define the dimensions of status, to identify the subject of political debate and shape the way issues are seen to be related are all symbolic actions,
and they are the means through which politics are carried out. Thus, being able to control these means gives one control of political outcomes. The power of
naming is crucial.
? Political rhetoric about abortion: proponents use ‘right-to-choose’ language, opponents use ‘rights-to-life’ language.
? Use of the word ‘Liberal’ in presidential campaigns
Symbolic Capital: Any capital when it is perceived by an agent as self-recognized power to name, to make distinctions.
It follows that objective power relations reproduce themselves in symbolic power.
The power to create titles
Citizenship is bestowed by the government,
The definition of ‘adult’ or ‘graduate’
“It is the most visible agents, from the point of view of the prevailing categories of perception, who are the best placed to change the vision by changing the
categories of perceptions. But they are also, with a few exceptions, the least inclined to do so.”
Why? Because they benefit from the current arrangement. That those in power control the means to power creates a cycle, whereby they reenforce the power
that they have. Bourdieu refers to this as the “circle of symbolic reproduction”.
Symbolic power rests on legitimate recognition your brother-in-law can’t declare you a graduate of the university. The title ‘graduate’ can only be made by
those with legitimate control of symbolic power.
Symbolic order and the power of naming.
Symbolic power can be arrayed along a dimension of intensity/legitimacy:
Insult Official Naming
Low power High Power
We can think about the proliferation of titles in current work and occupations. This rise (sanitary engineer, executive assistant, vice president, e.g.) follows FROM the
desire of groups to NAME THEMSELVES, and thus make their own distinction. The move in contemporary society to provide all with a new name, is a struggle for legitimate power. Racial epithets are the imposition of place by a ruling class on a
ruled class, and when the POWER associated with those epithets can be reversed, then the group has gained the symbolic upper hand.
e.g. minority groups referring to themselves in terms of racial “slurs”—not just the N word—Chinese, Jews, immigrants in America (greenhorns, FOBs)
Bourdieu points out that rewards separate a title from a task. Thus, a part-time person doing the same work as a full time person will likely be paid less (even by the
hour) than the person who officially occupies the position. Or, for example, a nurse and a doctor often do exactly the same things, but the doctor will make
Because symbolic power is a useful power, something that can be used to gain resources in multiple dimensions, it is clearly the subject of controversy.
Groups fight over the right to control the naming process.
“Every field is the site of a more or less openly declared struggle for the definition of the legitimate principles of division of the field.” (p.242)
Alliances in the Political Field
Those who occupy similar, but distinct social spaces (or who are in similar, but distinct patterns of social relations) tend to form alliances (though, again,
How do people at the bottom of a symbolic power system gain capital to change the present point of view?
Bourdieu says it happens through alliances with those who have the ability to control symbols. For example, the intellectuals will ‘embezzle’ symbolic power for
the workers. These alliances occur where there is a similarity in their position in the structure, across dimensions of the structure. Thus, workers are the
dominated group in the production/economic realm, while intellectuals are the dominated group in the cultural realm. The one helps the other because of the
similarity of their situation. For Bourdieu, this was Marx’s error: to look only within the economic realm for the emergence of classes.
Critiques of Bourdieu (general)
too agonistic, too focused on struggle and competition
isn’t Bourdieu himself an example of why he is wrong?
too Parisian, too French, and perhaps too old
VII. Culture and Morality
Andrew Sayer "Class, Moral Worth and Recognition"
Capital—people value what is available to them; Bourdieu: the poor refuse that which they are refused
Michelle Lamont: Cultural and Moral Boundaries in the United States
Symbolic Boundaries and Status
The study of “symbolic boundaries” and “cultural repertoires” is an important theoretical area within cultural studies, and it is mostly a French-American venture.
Lamont’s research is especially qualitative and interpretive. Her writings are based mostly on interviews she has conducted over the years with, e.g., middle class Americans and French citizens, working class Americans and others.
Lamont is from Quebec, which is a part of Canada with a heavy French influence, so she has been able to investigate two cultures—the Anglo-American world and France and French Canada—from a unique perspective.
Her theoretical ideas:
“symbolic boundaries” the types of lines that individuals draw when they categorize other people
“boundary work” work of maintaining distinctions between one’s own group and other groups
Types of symbolic boundaries
drawn on the basis of moral character
honesty, work ethic, integrity, consideration for others
wealth, power, professional success
education, intelligence, manners, taste, command of high culture
People in different countries value these boundaries differently. For example in America moral and socioeconomic qualities are more highly valued, while in France culture is more important
In both countries socioeconomic boundary work seems to be on the upswing
e.g. New Yorkers seeing Midwesterners as parochial
Businessmen seeing intellectuals as unrealistic
accountants, bankers, marketing executives, realtors
Social and cultural specialists seeing businesspeople as materialistic
e.g. artists, social workers, priests, psychologists, researchers, teachers
French seeing Americans as puritan moralists
She compares American and French members of the upper middle class
Midwesterners versus New Yorkers
Parisians versus residents of Clermont-Ferrand
Businesspeople versus social and cultural specialists
So Bourdieu looks at the social world and sees groups in conflict over forms of capital, attempting to reproduce their capital in their children, and struggling over symbols that define their existence. Naturally, one wonders whether his ideas reflect social reality, say, in France, or if he’s right about France, perhaps the situation is different in the U.S. Does having “refined tastes” in art, music, wine, home decorations and so on mean as much in the U.S. as it does in France? Maybe it does in some regions more so than in others (e.g. rural versus urban areas, Los Angeles versus Boston).
Questions like these are Michele Lamont’s starting point. To answer these questions, she employs a number of concepts, most of which are not terribly original (and many of which overlap):
1) symbolic boundaries, boundary work
2) high-status signals
3) evaluative criteria, “criteria of purity” (Mary Douglas)
4) cultural resources versus structural situations
5) structures of thought that organize perceptions of others (think of Foucault’s modes of objectification and dividing practices, and of Berger and Luckmann)
Her method is the individual interview—not the statistical analysis of survey data: Bourdieu’s method—which tends to corroborate a view of “boundary work” that is more individualistic than Bourdieu’s analyses of “social space.”
Her main findings:
1) symbolic boundaries and “boundary work”
looser boundaries in U.S., less consensus
moral boundaries are important, and Bourdieu ignores them
moral and socioeconomic boundaries are more important in the U.S., but are on the rise in both countries
cultural boundaries are clearer and stronger in France
symbolic boundaries are nation-level phenomena: there’s less regional variation within countries than one would think (NY versus Indianapolis, Paris versus Clermont-Ferand)
“social trajectory” matters a lot in people’s evaluative criteria, i.e. upwardly versus downwardly mobile (Bourdieu does not overlook this at all, though)
cultural specialists versus for-profit workers: occupational area matters a lot more in the U.S. than in France; overall capital matters more in France
Much of this is likely due to the high level of geographical mobility in the U.S.
Diverse ways of experiencing high culture—more emotional, social, “self-actualization” in U.S.; more expressly intellectual in France
VIII. Cultural Consumption
DiMaggio and Mukhtar, "Arts Participation as Cultural Capital in the United States" (bottom of page)
Richard Peterson and Roger Kern, "Changing Highbrow Taste: From Snob to Omnivore" (bottom of page)
Snobs and Cultural Omnivores
Richard Peterson and Roger Kern, "Changing Highbrow Tastes: From Snob to Omnivore"
When we read Bourdieu, we may sense that he’s not entirely right when it comes to the contemporary scene. Do ambitious people really sip wine, go to museums, etc to lift their status and distinguish themselves from others?
Isn’t that all a bit too Parisian, and too old?
Peterson and Kern discuss why this “snob model” is right for certain locations and certain historical periods, such as the late 19th century in the United States.
Anglo-Saxons wanted to distinguish themselves from recent immigrants from Italy, Russia, Ireland, Poland, Greece and so on. They wanted to distinguish their “highbrow” culture from immigrants’ “lowbrow” culture.
Sociologists interested in the arts, media, taste, status, high culture and so forth sometimes refer to Bourdieu’s approach as the “snob model”
But the snob model does not seem to capture the tastes and interests of elites in America today. Highly educated American elites today are likely to be involved in a wide range of low-status activities.
Rich white suburban teenagers listen to rap music. College students listen to world music, Latin music, Afro-Caribbean, rap, popular music.
P&K discuss highbrows, snobs, and omnivores.
Highbrows – like elite culture – classical music and opera
Snobs – highbrows who do not participate in lowbrow (cultures of poor marginal groups, such as blacks, youth, isolated rural people) or middlebrow (commercial, mass cultural) activities
– a perfect snob refuses to engage in any lowbrow or middlebrow activities
these are very rare in the USA – a study in Detroit in the 1960s of 1,400 people did not find one perfect snob
you could probably find a few in New York City, certainly in Paris
Omnivores – enjoy a wide range of lowbrow and middlebrow cultural activities
Remember Bethany Bryson’s article on Musical Dislikes -- patterned tolerance and multicultural capital
P&K find that “omnivorousness is replacing snobbishness”
Omnivores do not like everything, but they are open to appreciating everything
In a way it is opposed to snobbishness, which is based on rigid rules of exclusion
Discriminating omnivorousness replacing snobbishness reflects multiculturalism and relativism in society over ethnocentrism
Omnivores appreciate music differently than other people. They do not identify with it.
Why the shift from snobbishness and to omnivorousness
devaluation of snobbishness because of widespread availability of highbrow culture in the media
rising education levels
geographic migration and social class mobility have mixed people holding different tastes
mass media presents lots of cultural materials to many people
value change from group prejudice, supported by racist social science, to tolerance and diversity
art world change from 19th century European scene, where theorists in the European Royal Academies believed that there were absolute standards of beauty and vulgarity
This consensus was swept away by market forces and aesthetic entrepreneurs in the 20th century (impressionists, Picasso, expressionists, minimalists, postmodernists)
Obviously the value of art was a product of its social circumstances, not of the art itself
generational politics Youth culture has become a viable alternative to “adult” culture
globalization and new elites for whom inclusion and omnivorous is probably a more useful way to create distinction than exclusion and snobbishness.
“Anything But Heavy Metal”: Symbolic Exclusion and Musical Dislikes
Music has many roles in social life, creating solidarities and encouraging political resistance.
People engage with music in many different ways in different areas of life.
Music becomes part of people’s identities, the way they identify themselves and draw closer to or else distance themselves from other groups and individuals.
While social exclusion is a well-understood sociological phenomenon, “symbolic exclusion” is the topic of Bryson’s paper. Symbolic exclusion is, in a word, taste.
Symbolic exclusion is a form of Lamont’s boundary work, the work of drawing lines between ourselves and others so as to establish our place in the social world.
Bryson examines musical exclusion and musical tolerance
From Bourdieu, we expect that elites will behave in a snobbish manner regarding music and musical tastes, excluding, or discriminating against, certain types of lowbrow music
Yet the opposite seems to be true: highly educated people are more musically tolerant than are people with less education, that is they are more open to more different kinds of music
Yet she finds that educated people are more tolerant generally but also very intolerant to low-status music, or music associated with uneducated people, such as country or gospel music in the United States
She calls this patterned tolerance
She refers to multicultural capital
High Status Exclusiveness (wealth, education, occup prestige)→ dislike more genres (not confirmed)
Educated Tolerance Education→ fewer dislikes
Symbolic Racism: Racist Whites will dislike non-white music (confirmed)
Patterned Tolerance: People who dislike few genres will dislike those types of music associated with people with less education
College students don’t listen to, or they say they dislike: heavy metal, rap, gospel, country
There exists a “Tolerance Line” between high-statues cosmopolitanism and low-status group-based cultures.
Omnivorousness and Snobbery Continued
Lizardo and Skiles (assigned)
Consumption study of music appreciation and television viewing
Test of the “highbrow omnivorousness” hypothesis
2001 survey data
The Eurobarometer includes stratified probability samples of citizens of the EU aged 15 and over residing in the 15 EU countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.4
Highbrow omnivorousness hypothesis (music): across all EU countries, highbrow respondents are either more or equally likely to consume non-elite musical genres as other respondents.
Highbrow omnivorousness hypothesis (television): across all EU countries, highbrow respondents are either more or equally likely to consume a wide range of different types of popular television programming as other respondents.
Find different patterns of highbrow television watching in different countries
Use DiMaggio’s organizational theory of culture (discussed next week)
DiMaggio points to the fact that most popular culture is produced in accordance to neither a pure ‘‘craft’’ system in which the creator is highly autonomous, nor according to a pure ‘‘bureaucratic’’ system with little creative initiative and a lot of top-down control.
most popular culture industries have developed a compromise between these two administrative arrangements, settling on what he refers to as a brokerage system. In a brokerage system, boundary personnel—such as book editors, movie producers, talent agents and other representatives—intervene between creators and culture-industry managers
Depending on the specific incentive structures and socially prescribed interests of these actors, and their relative closeness to either the creative or managerial pole, brokerage arrangements in popular culture production fall along a spectrum between two extremes. On one end, boundary personnel strike a balance in acting on behalf of the interests of both the cultural creator and industry managers—thus balancing autonomy and marketability concerns—which DiMaggio refers to as pure and entrepreneurial brokerage. On the other end, boundary personnel are simply extensions of the production organization, which DiMaggio describes as centralized brokerage.
In the countries that score below the median in the commercialization and profit orientation factor score, fine arts consumers are more likely to report having watched a broader range of different types of television programming genres. In countries that feature higher-revenue, higher-profit-performance television industry systems the result is reversed: more intensive fine arts participants are less likely to consume a broader range of television programming styles.
commercialized, profit-oriented cultural industry systems
encourage highbrow snobbery
more demographic targeting, fragmentation
less commercialized, profit-oriented contexts
weaker highbrow snobbery
Examines the omnivore thesis in light of interview data with 55 people from Bristol, UK, ages 18-53, on their life histories and lifestyles
Focus is on music; for Bourdieu nothing affirms one’s class...and more infallibly classifies than taste in music.”
The dominant classes: express a taste for difficult and obscure forms of music, particularly classical
The petite bourgeoisie: aspirational, consume popularised forms of legitimate (difficult, classical) music
The dominated: prefer simple, repetitive structures; passive, absent participation
Omnivore thesis: the dominant classes will express a taste for variety and eclecticism, have a ‘cosmopolitan habitus’
Atkinson argues that these dynamics are evident within genres more than between them
There are ‘hierarchies of legitimacy’ within genres:
difficult versus light classical
underground versus pop rap music
In-depth interviews revealed:
- the importance of childhood musical experience, particularly learning to play ‘noble’ instruments
- a result of boureois parents’ ‘concerted cultivation’ of their children’s leisure time
- popular, rock music from their childhoods
- still stratified in terms of artistic rather than commercial
- e.g. Dylan, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Elvis Costello for the dominant class
- Bon Jovi, Shania Twain, Madonna, Eminem, Michael Jackson, Queen for the dominated
- The dominated expressed an ‘aversion to the alien’ (classical, abstract intellectual pop is terra incognita)
- The dominated expressed a desire for physical release
- “Cultural goodwill” of the petite bourgeoisie
- Like classical music compilations, film scores
Cultural consumption study of humor, which is understudied in sociology.
Is humor class-based? Are elites comedy omnivores?
SNL, Seinfeld, HBO comedy
Blue Collar Comedy Tour, Larry the Cable Guy, Jeff Foxworthy
Friedman used a survey of British comedy taste from a comedy festival and 24 follow-up interviews.
Only found omnivorousness among the upwardly mobile who had a ‘habitus clive’ or divided habitus.
Omnivorousness was less a purposeful choice than a results of lifecourse trajectories that left respondents with affinities to both lowbrow and highbrow comedy.
These upwardly mobile (first generation college graduates) were neither wholly comfortable with the comedy of their upbringing (too racist, crass) but also lacked the linguistic confidence to convert their new “legitimate” comedy tastes into cultural and social capital.
Combination of aspiration and status anxiety leads to “uneasiness” and “dissonance” due to “contradictory matrices of socialization” (from Bernard Lahire). They often placed themselves in uneasy social situations.
The dominated have an embodied disposition of ‘disinterestedness’ or a ‘disinterested aesthetic’ without emotional or moral “interest” in a work of art.
“culturally privileged respondents used their embodied reserves of cultural capital to read and decode comedy in ways that are knowingly inaccessible to those from less privileged backgrounds.”
Appreciate “dryness” and “subtlety” in humor.
The dominant engaged in what can be called “class racism” in “pathologizing” the dominated via a range of aggressive and disparaging aesthetic, moral, and political judgments on the basis of lowbrow comedy taste
IX. The Culture Industries
clip from The Devil Wears Prada (Cerulean Sweater)
Peterson and Anand, The Production of Culture Perspective
or the “production perspective” in the sociology of culture
Alternative to strict market-based accounts of culture industries
H&A: the “culture industry” (singular)—shapes our knowledge and interpretation of current events, other cultures, international opinion of the United States
So much for cultural reception studies.
Why do people watch certain movies, certain kinds of movies, with certain themes?
Why are certain forms of music, television, film, and literature popular in certain places at certain times?
Where do museums come from? Concert halls? Libraries? Monuments? War memorials?
Sociologists discuss certain categories of people: gatekeepers and sponsors
Gatekeepers are taste-makers who work within and outside corporations to separate out certain cultural products (films, bands, songs, actors, television shows) because they believe they will become popular and profitable. These people work as agents, and for media corporations. They have to be hip, on the cutting edge of fashions.
Sponsors are wealthy and powerful individuals and organizations who provide resources (money, social and political connections) to promote certain cultural products and projects (museums, orchestras, theatres) that suit their tastes and interests. Sponsors include wealthy patrons, municipal governments, and even states.
At different times, due to social, technological and economic changes, different networks of sponsors and gatekeepers can emerge, leading to cultural changes and the popularization of new genres of art and music (e.g. impressionist painting in the early 19th century, which was initially rejected).
Paul DiMaggio, Market Structure, the Creative Process, and Popular Culture (in reader)
Here we have a more general article presenting ways of theorizing popular culture, and contrasting these to purely economic approaches and other approaches. This is typical of economic sociology, another area in which Paul DiMaggio is active.
He is generally concerned with the quality of cultural products available to the public. This informs his research on museums and other cultural institutions.
Discusses “mass society” and “mass culture” arguments about popular culture, which like Critical Theory itself presume a decline in the quality of cultural products available to, in this case, Americans
abundance, diversity, vitality → homogeneity, blandness, triviality
rationalization, individualization and alienation, creation of big national markets and homogeneous tastes and preferences
Mass culture is criticized by both cultural conservatives and radicals
conservatives: mass culture uses sex and violence to make money (the lowest common denominator), does not respect traditional religious values
radicals argue that elites create bland, dumb mass culture products to encourage people to consume uncritically
e.g. Critical Theory, Habermas and the “colonization of the life world”
Innovation becomes rare as market forces rule: cultural products must appeal to the lowest common denominator, base urges…and large markets
DiMaggio argues that Mass Culture theories rest on one of two simplistic economic assumptions
free market assumption: what the public wants, the public will get (conservative)
monopoly assumption: a few organizations control cultural production and dictate taste (radical)
But there’s absolutely nothing concrete about these sorts of assumptions, and this is where a bit of sociological realism is needed. Real cultural products (books, movies, television programs, music) are produced by for-profit organizations that face the constraints of the market. Some are produced by not-for-profit organizations that face other constraints and pressures.
But, then again, some culture industries seem to follow the mass culture model. Others seem to follow a niche or specialization model.
books, records, films, television programs
television programs, mass-circulation magazines, school textbooks, mass-market paperback novels
What determines the form of particular culture industries, and the degree of creativity they allow artists?
DiMaggio follows Peterson and others in arguing that degree of oligopoly in a culture industry is the key to understanding its degree of creativity and innovation versus homogeneity
DiMaggio wants to know if this is true for the culture industries as a whole, not just for popular music
Makes a few assumptions
Managers in culture industries want to create predictability, reduce uncertainty
Latent Demand for a diverse range of cultural products
Innovation comes from below (from artists), is not really encouraged by culture industry bureaucracies
So he argues that managers in culture industries want to control markets, to prevent competitors from entering them, and to control creative talent so that they create cultural products in a regular, predictable, efficient way
So American television executives (only three networks) had been able to control their industry for a long time (until cable and satellite TV), while the recording industry has had uneven success at doing this
Brokerage Systems of Administration
Brokers – essentially agents who represent artists to corporations, and corporations to artists, but generally work for the corporation
Entrepreneurial Brokers – brokers do not work for culture industry firms
Centralized Brokers – network television, textbooks
See Table on p. 160
DiMaggio finds that, generally, culture industries have become less concentrated over the last few decades due partly to technology (cable and satellite TV, CDs, DVDs) and also to demographic specialization.
The Critical Theory “nightmare” of cultural homogenization is probably unfounded.
Richard Peterson, Why 1955? Explaining the Advent of Rock Music
Rock music, or some form of it, is a nearly universal form of music. Where did it come from? Why? And why did it begin in 1955? If we are interested in these sorts of questions, a production of culture perspective can be very useful, as it is very concrete, pointing to specific social, economic, and technological processes that shape what we listen to, eat, and watch.
In 1955 a rock aesthetic replaced the jazz aesthetic in American popular music
Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Perry Como → Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, and many more
Can we use a supply side explanation to account for this change? That is, people like Elvis Presley came and revolutionized the music scene?
But at any given time there are many creative, special talents, most of whom do not get recognized
What about a demand side explanation? That is, at some points in time there are major demographic changes, e.g. more young people, and they demand different kinds of music and other cultural products that reflect their own lives, not the lives of their parents’ generation. People want music that speaks to them.
In the case of rock music, the oldest of the baby-boomers was only 9 years old in 1955.
Richard Peterson argues that it was changes in the commercial culture industry itself that led to the popularity of rock music. These changes were legal and technological and business changes.
1909 “United States Copyright Law”—protected artists from sheet-music companies
ASCAP—American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers—formed to collect royalties from public performances—dominant by 1930s
As late as 1950 an oligopoly of only 18 music publishers controlled all the music which could reach the public ear. Everything.
The ASCAP oligopoly produced safe, smooth, melodic music with muted jazz rhythms and harmonies.
The work of black musicians in the blues, jazz, and r&b and later soul was excluded, as was Latin and country music. These musical forms were only for local audiences, and were not national.
In 1939 BMI, a new licensing agency, was formed by radio networks, but could not induce publishers and songwriters to defect from ASCAP. So instead, they began signing black, Latin, and country music singers and songwriters.
ASCAP, the musical oligarchy, failed to come to terms with radio networks over licensing fees in 1939, so these networks turned to BMI and began to provide exposure to black, Latin, and country music, although change was slow and rock had not yet been invented.
Technology and Patent Law
Columbia (12-inch, 33 1/3 rpm LPs) versus RCA (7-inch, 45 rpm)
Deal between two brokered by government
RCA small disks are durable, can be shipped by mail, hold singles, allowed for musical experimentation
1947—FCC approves more broadcasting stations
Popularization of TV and transistor radio—cheaply made by Japanese—encourages “Top 40” radio format
Wendy Griswold, American Character and the American Novel (in reader)
She addresses literary theory, in particular the assumption, broadly held, that literature (and cultural products generally) reflect changes in society. So to understand history or modern society, one can learn a lot by studying changes in cultural products like art, literature, and music.
Like DiMaggio’s analysis of the claims of Critical Theory and other cultural critics (conservative and radical), Griswold’s analysis is sociologically realistic and, in a sense, deflating
We can begin by wondering where the novel form came from in the first place, how and why it became so popular.
Popular novels were a product, in part, of the rise of the British middle class in the 18th century, and especially of housewives who could not read Latin and were not interested in poetry, but who were literate in English and wanted entertainment.
18th century was also a time of great interest in the human personality.
Also the rise of booksellers (rather than wealthy patrons) who paid authors by the number of pages.
The result is the novel, which is not too hard to read, devoted to the individual personality and character, and to topics of interest to middle class women.
But nineteenth century American novels are not like this. They are usuallyabou men or boys fleeing society, having adventures in the wilderness far from women (Huckleberry Finn, Moby Dick, Last of the Mohicans, Red Badge of Courage. Why?
Something about the “American character”? Something about the national psyche? Puritan morality?
Wendy Griswold did a sociological study. She took a random sample of American novels published from 1876-1910.
She hypothesized that overall, the content of these novels would not be so different from that of European novels, because European critics tended to focus on what made American novels unique and ignored those that looked a lot like European novels.
Then she wanted to find economic, legal, organizational factors that could explain the uniqueness of American novels. She finds this in copyright law, which allowed legal piracy (copying and selling) of novels by foreign writers until the late 19th century (1891). Publishers made huge profits this way (how could they not?)
Griswold hypothesizes that American novels will be different from European novels until 1891 (because until then they needed to be unique to sell well), but afterward they would become more conventional, concerned with love, marriage, money, morality etc. This is just what she found.
For example, in the earlier period American novels were much more likely than European novels to depict social mobility.
In the earlier period American novels were much more likely to have middle class protagonists, while European novelists had upper class protagonists.
Social reform (prison reform, temperance, treatment of women, cruelty to animals) was more prominent in American novels in the first period, less so in the second period.
American novels were more likely to be set in small towns in the first period.
American novels were more likely to be humorous in the first period.
All of this supports a sociological perspective, in particular a production of culture perspective, on the novel.