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  • Mark 10:56 am on November 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , cultural sociology, ,   

    The promise of the populist president 

    From this extremely astute essay by Isaac Reed:

    A widespread ideational feature of monarchical societies (variably realized) is the investment of the common people in a king or queen as their protector against the predations of the aristocracy. The peasant, immediately subject to his lord, reaches to the monarch—the ultimate location of the sacred, the place where the body politic meets the body natural—as a shield against the unfairness and violence of the world, and in particular as a shield against the exploitation of the poor by the rich. In modernity, one may hazard, it is society itself, and its complex institutional environment, that embodies this promise of protection. This was articulated and felt, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, through belief in the nation in a way that is not obviously available today for those who seek an institutionally well-developed version of an open and fair society.

    However, we should be clear that the crisis is not only the crisis of “the nation,” but also—and perhaps more urgently—the crisis of all of the institutional developments that replaced the image of the king as the defender of the weak against the strong, and, in their very development, made social life not only about the strong and the weak, but also about justice as fairness, and equality as the precondition for the pursuit of distinction.

     
  • Mark 10:35 am on May 20, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , cultural ontology, cultural sociology, , Rein Raud   

    The strange fate of ‘culture’ 

    Meaning in Action is a thought provoking book by Rein Raud, motivated by the strange fate which has befallen ‘culture’. At precisely the time when “the concept of culture, sloppily defined or not at all, is occupying an increasingly central place in social and political debate” the study of the concept has become ever narrower, such that “it has almost become improper to theorise about culture in broader terms” (1). In its place he argues for an approach to culture that “is able to account for all phenomena related to the production, dissemination, transmission and interpretation of meaning” (6). Culture in this sense is the “total of our efforts to make sense of our world” from the smallest to the largest scale, from the individual through to whole societies; it must be studied from parallel perspectives of textuality and practice, paralleling the distinction Margaret Archer makes between the cultural system and socio-cultural interaction. It is a compelling framing and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this book which I happened to pick up at random.

     
    • Sourav Roy 10:53 am on May 20, 2019 Permalink

      I have been increasingly thinking of something akin to ‘Semantic Capital’ especially related to Contemporary Visual Arts where the endless interpretability of an object of art determines its status across the global art markets’ different venues, systems and cultures. This book might be helpful. Bookmarked the Kobe preview. Will read.

  • Mark 7:19 am on July 3, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: cultural sociology, , ,   

    Getting inside people’s frames: reflexivity and cultural sociology 

    In recent months I’ve been slowly working through some of Jeffrey Alexander’s work. I’m interested in what cultural sociology has to offer as I begin to try and extend my PhD research on internal conversation & biography into my planned post-doctoral work on the sociology of thinking. However I’ve found Alexander’s work slightly hit and miss, occasionally leaving me wondering whether I’ve misunderstood his project or perhaps overestimated its potential relevance to my own. This post on Daniel Little’s book has clarified my sense that cultural sociology is highly relevant to me but also something I need to be critical when engaging with:

    It seems clear that human beings bring specific frameworks of thought, ideas, emotions, and valuations to their social lives, and these frameworks affect both how they interpret the social realities they confront and the ways that they respond to what they experience. Human beings have “frames” of cognition and valuation that guide their experiences and actions. The idea of a practical-mental frame is therefore a compelling one, and it should be a possible subject for empirical sociological investigation.

    […]

    The term “cultural sociology” is sometimes used to try to capture those research efforts that try to probe the meanings and mental frameworks that people bring to their social interactions. We can postulate that human beings are processors of meanings and interpretations, and that their frameworks take shape as a result of the range of experiences and interactions they have had to date. This means that their frameworks are deeply social, created and constructed by the social settings and experiences the individuals have had. And we can further postulate that social action is deeply inflected by the specifics of the mental and emotional frameworks through which actors structure and interpret the worlds they confront.

    http://understandingsociety.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/getting-inside-peoples-frames.html

    I think these internal constraints and enablements are underemphasised in Archer’s work on reflexivity. They are integral to her account of meta-reflexivity, in the sense that such individuals come to orientate themselves to a cause they have encountered or jury-rigged together from elements in their environment, but she lacks a comprehensive theory of what these resources are. The elements necessary for such a theory, an extremely sophisticated one in fact, can be found in her wider body of work – the distinction between the cultural system and socio-cultural relations, as well as the various situational logics that obtain at this interface, simply needs an account of how cultural relations are mediated at the level of everyday life to flesh out this aspect of human experience.

    I’ve conceptualised this in terms of recurrent relations between ‘me’ and ‘I’ – at any given moment, my repertoire of routine responses is conditioned by the cultural elements I reflexively orientated myself to at a previous moment in time, in turn shaping how I respond to present cultural variety and coming to constitute the ‘me’ to my ‘I’ at some future point in time. In other words, I’m always constrained by my past but presently able to act freely* within them. I like this framework and it seems to work quite effectively, with my intention being to flesh it out at much greater length when I extend my PhD thesis into a monograph.

    I’m hoping cultural sociology will be very useful for this purpose but thus far it hasn’t been. Little helpfully sums up what is of value in cultural sociology but also why I don’t like what I’ve read thus far:

    But this kind of research becomes especially interesting if we find that the mental frameworks and systems of meanings that actors bring with them actually make substantial differences to their social actions and the choices that they make. In this case we can actually begin to create explanations and interpretations of social outcomes that interest us a great deal. (Why are some extremist militants so ready to put on suicide vests in actions that are almost certain to bring about their own deaths?)

    http://understandingsociety.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/getting-inside-peoples-frames.html

    My problem here is with the failure to conceptualise the interface between the personal and the cultural – it’s a parallel to what I earlier referred to as the lack in Archer’s work of an account of how cultural relations are mediated at the level of reflexive individuals (it’s there in parts, it just hasn’t been worked out thoroughly). Little refers to this as a need for cultural sociology to pay “more attention to the interface between frame and actor”. I don’t think this is simply an oversight but something which would constitutively reorientate the entire approach – I think it would involve an engagement with the ontology of media (e.g. books), biographical questions about how culture reorientates lives and an analysis of the cognitive processes by which ideas are appropriated. At the very least ‘cultural frames’ are inflected through the path-dependent orientation of particular individuals but I think I’d argue for the stronger claim that they are transformed through this appropriation or rejection by individuals – with this individual action contributing to the reproduction or transformation of the frames themselves which are more broadly in circulation within the social world.

    *I’m talking purely about internal constraints and enablements here for sake of brevity. Obviously external constraints/enablements, as well as the relations between those operating internally and externally, would be considered in practice.

     
  • Mark 3:07 pm on May 6, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: cultural sociology, musical worlds, , post-punk, , , , ,   

    Podcast – Exploring the Emergence of Underground Musical Worlds 

    From the Sociology@Warwick Seminar Series in May 2012.

    Nick Crossley from Manchester University discusses his use of social network analysis to explore the early development of punk and post-punk musical worlds in the UK. Read more about this research here and here.

     
  • Mark 11:58 am on January 2, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: cultural sociology, cultural system, , socio-cultural context, socio-cultural interaction,   

    An introduction to Margaret Archer’s hugely under-appreciated work on culture (cannibalisation of the unpublished chapter part 2) 

    The term ‘culture’ carries considerable intellectual baggage yet is rarely subject to extensive conceptual scrutiny. Our use of it is simultaneously everyday and abstract, concrete yet nebulous and, as a consequence, operationalizing it within the context of research necessitates a degree of specificity which it profoundly lacks when utilised within lay discourse. Therefore drawing on Archer (1996) I wish to distinguish two specific aspects of culture which play related though distinct roles in the formation of identity: the socio-cultural context and the cultural system. The former refers to the webs of relationships within which every individual is entwined within a range of geographical, familial and institutional contexts. These relationships are causal and pertain to interpersonal interaction. The latter relates to the ideas existent within society or, as Archer puts it, the “corpus of existing intelligiblia […] all things capable of being grasped, deciphered, understood or known by someone” (Archer 1996: 104). Intelligiblia of this sort is to be distinguished from expressive aspects of human cultural production i.e. it relates to those ideas susceptible to propositional understanding rather than, say, aesthetic expression. As Archer explains this point:

    “Obviously we do not live by propositions alone (any more than we live logically); in addition, we generate myths, are moved by mysteries, become rich in symbolic and ruthless in manipulating hidden persuaders. But all of these elements are precisely the stuff of Socio-Cultural interaction. For they are all matters of interpersonal influence, whether we are talking at one extreme of hermeneutic understanding (including religious experience at the furthest extremity) or of the manipulative assault and battery of ideas used ideologically.” (Archer 1996: xviii-xix)

    Ideas of this sort stand in logical relations to each other in virtue of their intelligibility and truth-functionality: in so far as they implicitly or explicitly make claims about what is or is not the case then these claims stand in relations of contradiction or agreement with each other. For example while the schools of thought they represent may enjoy little or no acquaintance, a work of postmodern philosophy and a physics text book might assert contrary propositions about the nature of the physical world and, through doing so, implicate themselves in a reciprocal logical relationship in virtue of what they argue is or is not the case.

    Existence within the cultural system is not dependent upon human awareness, acknowledgement or understanding of an idea. In this claim Archer is developing Karl Popper’s account of ‘world 3’ as the domain in which the products of the human mind (such as scientific theories and scientific problems) take on an objective existence vis-à-vis their creators  (Gorton 2006: 32-34). For instance the propositional content of this chapter continues to exist even if the chapter itself is neither read nor valued, as do the logical relations in which this content stands vis-à-vis that of other academic books and papers. However unnoticed they may contingently be at a particular point in time, the products of the human mind retain their capacity to be understood. One particularly striking instantiation of this capacity was the recovery of largely forgotten classical texts which are generally deemed to have been a crucial driver of the renaissance. Line spacing needs to be made consistent

    It is self-evident that these two areas of cultural life “do not exist or operate independently of one another” but rather “overlap, intertwine and are mutually influential”. As such we can acknowledge that access to the cultural system is always socio-culturally mediated, through institutions such as libraries and publishing houses, while still retaining a distinction that is fundamentally analytical. Rather than implying some radical separation of the two domains (clearly they are distinguishable without being distinct) it asserts that distinguishing between them facilitates an explanation of cultural processes which would otherwise escape us. Through drawing this distinction between the socio-cultural context and the cultural system it is possible to isolate dynamics which pertain to each in turn, as well as second-order interactions between the two.

     
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