January 6, 2009

General Info

Welcome to my gateway site for teaching and mentoring students in the general areas of cultural sociology and sociology of culture.

Very generally, "cultural sociology" is a term used by scholars who believe that all sociological inquiry is ultimately interpretive and needs to be approached from a cultural perspective. It is a term coined in coincidence with a broader cultural turn in the social sciences in the 90s and 2000s. Jeffrey Alexander's "strong program" approach fits here (an argument for a Durkheimian approach that sees symbol systems as social facts that constitute the moral order and social relations); but other approaches fit here, too, like Lamont's work on symbolic boundaries or Bourdieu's work on habitus and practice.

"Sociology of culture" is an older term and is used by those who tend to view certain topics and objects as more appropriate for cultural analysis than others (high culture, popular culture, subcultures, the culture industry, etc.) Its use often implies a contrast with, or complementarity with, "structure" or structural location as a different aspect of social reality. A different strain of work, that emphasizes that culture can be designated as a set of empirical objects of investigation, is sometimes included under the "sociology of culture" label -- Swidler's "cultural toolkit" article, Griswold on cultural objects, Mohr's work on meaning and measurement. The "sociology of" in such usage denotes an empirical and neo- or post-positivist orientation in such work.

From my perspective, the important thing is not so much the term, but the keeping in mind of these important things:

* Certain "social facts" affect our lives whether we are aware of them or not,
and regardless of how we interpret them
* Most, if not all, social facts are confronted by agents who encounter those facts
meaningfully and interpret them
* Social scientists of all stripes interpret social reality as they classify, categorize,
and apply theoretical concepts
* Good social science involves the use of a scientific method that presents one's
interpretations as based on data, and therefore as interpretations that can be
critiqued, refined, or refuted
* The power to interpret and classify is, along with the power to physically coerce,
one of the fundamental forms of social power