Sociology of culture
, or cultural sociology
, is one of the most popular fields of sociology
, particularly in the United States. Cultural sociology is a methodology
that incorporates cultural analysis
into interpretations of social life. Cultural sociologists are influenced by many social and cultural theories. More than other fields of sociology, cultural sociologists tend to explore interdisciplinary social and cultural theories including, but not limited to, postmodern and poststructural theory. Scientific investigation and the production of empirically verifiable analysis (especially in terms of testable theories) is considered taboo among many, but not all self proclaimed cultural sociologists.
Culture includes the ideas, norms, artifacts, and symbols of societies and emphasizes the meanings of these things. Sociology of culture studies cultural impacts on societies and of social interaction. Sociology of culture is incredibly varied with many different approaches and emphases.
While some fields of sociology are defined by their object of inquiry or dependent variable (for example, sociologists of law study of the variation in law), cultural sociology is a cluster of paradigms. The American Sociological Association section for the sociology of culture states that the sociology of culture is a "perspective" that "considers material products, ideas, and symbolic means and their relation to social behavior." As a perspective on social life, those that practice cultural sociology study all aspects of social life, including diverse topics such as racism, fascism, love, and trade associations, education, gender, science, and family life.
Development of sociology in culture
Early researchers and development of cultural sociology
The sociology of culture grew from the intersection between sociology, as shaped by early theorists like Marx, Durkheim, and Weber, and with the growing discipline of anthropology where researchers pioneered ethnographic strategies for describing and analyzing a variety of cultures around the world. Part of the legacy of the early development of the field is still felt in the methods (much of cultural sociological research is qualitative) in the theories (a variety of critical approaches to sociology are central to current research communities) and substantive focus of the field. For instance, relationships between popular culture, political control, and social class were early and lasting concerns in the field.
As a major contributor to the Conflict Theory
, Marx's ideas also dealt with culture. Marx's belief of culture is that the most powerful members of a society are those who live in the ruling class. These members set up the culture of a society in order to provide the best interests to that society. He has also talked about how a society's economic status determines their values
Durkheim had the belief that culture has many relationships to society which include:
- Logical- Power over individuals belong to certain cultural categories, and beliefs such as God.
- Functional- Certain rites and myths create build social order up more by having people create strong beliefs, the more people who believe in these myths will strengthen social order.
- Historical- Culture had its origins in society, and from those experiences came evolution into things such as classification systems.
Weber innovated the idea of a status group as a certain type of subculture. Status groups are based on things such as: race, ethnicity, religion, region, occupation, gender, sexual preference, etc. These groups live a certain lifestyle based on different values and norms. They are a culture within a culture, hence the label subculture. Weber also had the idea that people were motivated by their material and ideal interests, which include things such as preventing one from going to hell. Weber also explains that people use symbols
to express their spirituality, and that symbols are used to express the spiritual side of real events, and that ideal interests are derived from symbols.
Researchers used ethnographic
methods, participant observation, and interpretation of culture to develope ideas about the origins of culture. Anthropology studies the human and usually by studying ancient civilizations they get their ideas. By becoming part of a civilization and a culture, one can better understand how they make their decisions and go about living their life.
Malinowski collected data from the Trobriand Islands. Descent groups across the island claim parts of the land, and to back up those claims, they tell myths of how an ancestress started a clan and how the clan descends from that ancestress. Malinowski's observations followed the research of that found by Durkheim.
Radcliffe-Brown put himself in the culture of the Andaman Islanders. His research showed that group solidification among the islanders is based on music and kinship, and the rituals that involve the use of those activities. In the words of Radcliffe-Brown, “Ritual fortifies Society”. Radcliffe-Brown's observations also followed the research of that found by Durkheim.
- Parsons arrived to the conclusion that anthropology is the science of culture.
- In an anthropological sense, culture is society based on the values and ideas without influence of the material world (Radcliffe-Brown). “The cultural system is the cognitive and symbolic matrix for the central values system” (Parsons).
- Culture is like the shell of a lobster. Human nature is the organism living inside of that shell. The shell, culture, identifies the organism, or human nature. Culture is what sets human nature apart, and helps direct the life of human nature.
Major areas of research in sociology of culture
Theoretical constructs in Bourdieu's sociology of culture
In order to understand the potential applicability of Bourdieu's theories to the study of computer-mediated communication and its virtual environments, it is necessary to first understand the constructs underlying the theories. Bourdieu's model of society and social relations has its roots in Marxist theories of class and conflict. Bourdieu characterizes social relations in the context of what he calls the field, defined as a competitive system of social relations functioning according to its own specific logic or rules. The field is the site of struggle for power between the dominant and subordinate classes. It is within the field that legitimacy—a key aspect defining the dominant class—is conferred or withdrawn.
Bourdieu's theory of practice is practical rather than discusive, embodied as well as cognitive and durable though adaptive. A valid concern that sets the agenda in Bourdieu's theory of practice is how action follows regular statistical patterns without the product of accordance to rules, norms and/or conscious intention. To explain this concern, Bourdieu explains habitus and field. Habitus explains the mutually penetrating realities of individual subjectivity and societal objectivity after the function of social construction. It is employed to transcend the subjective and objective dichotomy.
The belief that culture is symbolically coded and can thus be taught from one person to another means that cultures, although bounded, can change. Cultures are both predisposed to change and resistant to it. Resistance can come from habit, religion, and the integration and interdependence of cultural traits. For example, men and women have complementary roles in many cultures. One sex might desire changes that affect the other, as happened in the second half of the 20th century in western cultures (see women's movement), while the other sex may be resistant to that change (possibly in order to maintain a power imbalance in their favor).
Cultural change can have many causes, including: the environment, inventions, and contact with other cultures. For example, the end of the last ice age helped lead to the invention of agriculture. Some inventions that affected Western culture in the 20th century were the birth control pill, television, and the Internet.
Several understandings of how cultures change come from anthropology. For instance, in diffusion theory, the form of something moves from one culture to another, but not its meaning. For example, the ankh symbol originated in Egyptian culture but has diffused to numerous cultures. Its original meaning may have been lost, but it is now used by many practitioners of New Age Religion as an arcane symbol of power or life forces. A variant of the diffusion theory, stimulus diffusion, refers to an element of one culture leading to an invention in another.
Contact between cultures can also result in acculturation. Acculturation has different meanings, but in this context refers to replacement of the traits of one culture with those of another, such as what happened with many Native American Indians. Related processes on an individual level are assimilation and transculturation, both of which refer to adoption of a different culture by an individual.
Griswold outlined another sociological approach to cultural change. Griswold points out that it may seem as though culture comes from individuals – which, for certain elements of cultural change, is true – but there is also the larger, collective, and long-lasting culture that cannot have been the creation of single individuals as it predates and post-dates individual humans and contributors to culture. The author presents a sociological perspective to address this conflict,
Sociology suggests an alternative to both the unsatisfying it has always been that way view at one extreme and the unsociological individual genius view at the other. This alternative posits that culture and cultural works are collective, not individual, creations. We can best understand specific cultural objects... by seeing them not as unique to their creators but as the fruits of collective production, fundamentally social in their genesis. (p. 53)
In short, Griswold argues that culture changes through the contextually dependent and socially situated actions of individuals; macro-level culture influences the individual who, in turn, can influence that same culture. The logic is a bit circular, but illustrates how culture can change over time yet remain somewhat constant.
It is, of course, important to recognize here that Griswold is talking about cultural change and not the actual origins of culture (as in, "there was no culture and then, suddenly, there was"). Because Griswold does not explicitly distinguish between the origins of cultural change and the origins of culture, it may appear as though Griswold is arguing here for the origins of culture and situating these origins in society. This is neither accurate nor a clear representation of sociological thought on this issue. Culture, just like society, has existed since the beginning of humanity (humans being social and cultural). Society and culture co-exist because humans have social relations and meanings tied to those relations (e.g. brother, lover, friend). Culture as a super-phenomenon has no real beginning except in the sense that humans (homo sapiens) have a beginning. This, then, makes the question of the origins of culture moot – it has existed as long as we have, and will likely exist as long as we do. Cultural change, on the other hand, is a matter that can be questioned and researched, as Griswold does.
Computer-mediated communication as culture
Computer-mediated communication is the process of sending messages--primarily, but not limited to text messages--through the direct use by participants of computers and communication networks. By restricting the definition to the direct use of computers in the communication process, you have to get rid of the communication technologies that rely upon computers for switching technology (such as telephony or compressed video), but do not require the users to interact directly with the computer system via a keyboard or similar computer interface. To be mediated by computers in the sense of this project, the communication must be done by participants fully aware of their interaction with the computer technology in the process of creating and delivering messages. Given the current state of computer communications and networks, this limits CMC to primarily text-based messaging, while leaving the possibility of incorporating sound, graphics, and video images as the technology becomes more sophisticated.
Cultural activities are institutionalised; the focus on institutional settings leads to the investigation "of activities in the cultural sector, conceived as historically evolved societal forms of organising the conception, production, distribution, propagation, interpretation, reception, conservation and maintenance of specific cultural goods". Cultural Institutions Studies is therefore a specific approach within the sociology of culture.
Key figures in today's cultural sociology include: Julia Adams
, Jeffrey Alexander
, Ron Eyerman
, Andreas Glaeser
, Wendy Griswold
, Michele Lamont
, Stjepan Mestrovic
, Margaret Somers
, Yasemin Soysal
, Lynette Spillman
, Ann Swidler
, Diane Vaughan
, Annette Lareau, Diana Crane, Karin Knorr Cetina
, Eva Illouz
and Sarah Gatson
- Stark, Rodney. 2007. Sociology: Tenth Edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Learning, Inc.ISBN 049509344-0
- Walker, Gavin. 2001. Society and culture in sociological and anthropological tradition Thousand Oaks, CA : Sage Publications.
- Peacock, James L. 1981. Durkheim and the Social Anthropology of Culture Social Forces, Vol. 59, No. 4, Special Issue.
- Lawley, Elizabeth. 1994. The Sociology of Culture in Computer-Mediated Communication: An Initial Exploration
- Swartz, David. 1997. Culture & Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu Chicago, IL : University of Chicago Press.
- Griswold, Wendy. 2004. Cultures and Societies in a Changing World. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
- Swidler, Ann. 1986. Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies American Sociological Review, Vol. 52, No. 2.