American Journal of Cultural Sociology

Published by Springer Nature
Online ISSN: 2049-7121
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This article explores the dilemmas and challenges of minority creative workers in the cultural industries in settler-colonial/postcolonial contexts. More specifically, it sheds light on how minority actors perceive their involvement at such a sensitive and precarious juncture. To that end, it examines the impact of the roles these actors play and the genres in which they are typecast, experiencing the intersection between their national identity, professional interests and the hegemonic narratives in films and TV series. The settler-colonial/postcolonial context allows us to ascertain to what extent and how this context manifests itself in the cultural industries and impacts the challenges and burdens that creative workers endure. We utilize the unique Israeli-Palestinian reality in which cultural products, such as films and series, are important tools of symbolic domination and legitimacy, in order to uncover important but hidden aspects of the complex systemic violence prevalent in the cultural industries. Thus, we provide a unique prism into the human ramifications of the audiovisual industries in conflict zones and allow a glimpse into the symbolic construction and dissemination of hegemonic narratives and their use for global branding.
A statue of the 21 Martyrs of Libya at the Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland in al-Our, Minya. Photo by Miray Philips, 2022
Memorial of the St. Peter and St. Paul Orthodox Church bombing in Cairo. Accompanying photos of the martyrs are wooden plaques narrating the day’s events in both Arabic and English. A large piece of glass preserves the stain of splattered blood on the wall. The glass also acts as a vessel for believers to leave written notes calling for the intercession of martyrs. Photo by Miray Philips, 2017
Cultural trauma theory illuminates the meaning-making process that collectivities undergo in the wake of tragedy. I advance this theory by attending to the role of interpretive fields, and specifically religion, in shaping the construction of cultural trauma. I approach religion as a cultural resource that offers meaning-making tools through which people negotiate the meaning and memory of violence. Based on transnational fieldwork among Coptic-Orthodox Christians, I examine competing cultural trauma narratives in response to a brutal wave of violence between 2015 and 2018. While the Coptic Orthodox Church advances a theodicy of martyrdom that transforms death into a blessing, this paper specifically explores how Copts themselves make sense of contemporary martyrdom. Three narratives emerge: First, some Copts embrace the theodicy of martyrdom, finding solace in the promise of the afterlife. Second, some Copts reject the theodicy of martyrdom in favor of a theology of advocacy that emphasizes the right to life. Third, some Copts negotiate a hybrid theology of advocacy and theodicy of martyrdom, emphasizing the right to life on earth and in heaven. These contested narratives reveal how religion shapes cultural trauma by both engaging with the problem of theodicy as well as ideas of citizenship and civic engagement.
This paper argues that the philosophy of Hegel exposes a fundamental and damaging bias in the field of Celebrity Studies. This bias takes the shape of privileging questions of techne over form. The dominant paradigm in the field is here called Triangulation. The paper describes this paradigm and critically evaluates it in terms of adequacy. Hegel’s concept of World Historical Individuals is discussed in order to show that the types of celebrity typically examined under the domain of Triangulation do not constitute authentic celebrity. The paper ends with a comparison of form and techne as instruments in the analysis of fame.
We have studied the operation of the male gaze in the aesthetic evaluation of contemporary artistic photographs containing explicit male and female nudity among heterosexual men and women. Apart from explicit evaluations, we also tracked the time it takes respondents to express their opinion as an indicator of cognitive deliberation, to see to what extent expressed opinions rely on nondeclarative inclinations or rather declarative considerations. We find that both men and women aesthetically prefer female nudity–in line with the male gaze–but men’s preference is more outspoken. Moreover, people’s values affect evaluation as well, with sexual conservativeness lowering the liking of artistic nudity in general and artistic sympathies increasing appreciation of male nudity in particular. Although neither respondent gender, nor sexually conservative values affect response time, people with more sympathetic values towards the arts think longer when assessing the beauty of male nudity. Our findings indicate that both the male gaze and sexual conservativeness operate as nondeclarative frames of reference that lead to routine reactions in aesthetic appreciation of artistic nudity, but values of sympathy for the arts operate as a form of declarative personal culture, which leads to a cognitive effort to overrule the male gaze.
Axis 1 and 2, active variables
Axis 1 and 2, supplementary variables
Axis 1 and 2, music venues
How do performances contribute to meaning-making processes in cultural fields? This paper focuses on the spaces where performances happen and how music is framed and staged by intermediaries. I engage critically with cultural pragmatics from a Bourdieusian perspective to argue that performance contexts are central to the structure of music scenes, and that fusion may be understood as a moment when the “rules of the game” (Bourdieu 1993) of a cultural field are enacted, perpetuated, or contested. This article points to the role that cultural intermediaries play in shaping performances, interpreting systems of collective representation, and achieving fusion. I devise a framework to analyze how the Parisian music scene is organized and structured by a pure/impure binary linking specific music genres to performance contexts. I also examine how cultural intermediaries in Paris work within this frame, playing with performance “rules” to shape audiences’ understandings and experiences of music in particular venues. Drawing on ethnographic observations conducted in two major venues, I show how bookers attempt to transform the “rules of the game” and position their venues as part of the avant-garde by mixing “pure” and “impure” elements of performance during the events.
Window decals advertise the exhibition “In the Peaceful Dome,” while the street sign for “College Lane” is reflected in the window.
Copyright: Laura Harris.
A gallery technician paints the gallery walls white, while a passing pedestrian is seen reflected in the window.
Copyright: Laura Harris.
How is meaning produced in and around the art gallery? Sociological answers to this question are limited by a narrow focus on inter-gallery group interaction and cognitive interpretation. I argue that such approaches would be strengthened by accounting for the diverting effects of gallery context and atmosphere, both in and beyond the gallery. Art gallery windows offer a lens through which to explore how issues of context and atmosphere are negotiated in and around an art gallery in everyday life. I trial this approach using data from a fourteen-month case study of Bluecoat, a city center art gallery in Liverpool, UK, which has a series of windows that mediate between the gallery and the neighboring shopping street. The windows partition zones of meaning; frame vision; contribute to the symbolic meanings of a gallery’s exterior architecture; and modulate its interior atmosphere. The analysis models a meaning-centered sociology of the art gallery that moves beyond interpretation and towards a broader understanding of the currents of meaning in and around the art gallery.
In cultural fields, where audiences view meaning as indeterminant, how do experts communicate their interpretations of multivocal artworks? Drawing on an archival dataset of contemporary art reviews, I examine how critics discuss ambiguous and complex meanings. Critics do not convey multiple, discrete meanings but instead focus on the relationships among multiple meanings. In particular, they use spatial metaphors to map these relationships. They describe the imagined physical features of spatial metaphors, such as shape, density, and movement, to portray concepts as discrete or intermingling, synchronously or asynchronously activated, having equal or unequal importance, or having a fixed or fluid relationship to one another. Critics’ portrayals of these different infrastructures through which meanings are linked shape their overarching interpretations of works. By articulating different kinds of multivocality via spatial metaphors, critics guide audiences to attend to certain meanings and their relationships, without foreclosing multivocality and ambiguity in meaning.
What meanings of democracy are invoked in talk about democratization and music, and how does this discourse reflect struggles over democracy in our time? Contemporary music scholars and commentators have relied on ‘democratization’ to measure the promises and possibilities of music in the digital age. Yet ‘democracy’ is conceived in this discourse as a technological rather than a historical achievement, undermining its normative foundation. Two historical instances in which musicians and critics in the US engaged in democratic controversies through music highlight the contingency of the linkage between network metaphors and liberal notions of the public sphere that underpin the current democratization discourse. Debates about American classical music in the mid-nineteenth century and jazz in the mid-twentieth illustrate that notions of democracy are tied to historical context and contested as different social issues and conflicts arise. I suggest that critical analysis of music attend to the contested meanings of democracy in the contemporary period, noting its uncomfortably close association with libertarianism. Finally, I reflect on whether democracy might be decoupled from network structures and reconnected to historical struggles in this rethinking, or if different criteria are needed to speak to the question of why or how music matters.
This paper uses the general framework of the Strong Program to analyse popular music criticism and reconstruct the cultural codes of Stalinism in Czechoslovakia (1948-1953). I focus on the ambiguous place of jazz music, challenging the conventional narrative that Stalinists rejected jazz on political grounds. Building on Kurak-in's work on the impure sacred (2015) and integrating it with the Strong Program perspective on music, I argue that, at the height of Stalinism, jazz held an uncertain position between purity and pollution. While some critics argued that it was the music of the oppressed black American proletariat, hard-line Stalinists treated it as a profane, imperialist influence and a moral hazard. I suggest that the distinction between the sacred and the profane is not always self-evident to actors, triggering intense processes of symbolic and performative negotiation. This uncertainty resulted in the regime's ambiguous policies towards jazz.
This paper introduces the French sociology of art to English-speaking scholars. Its story begins with a shift from the humanities to social sciences through the use of empirical methods, and a change in focus from artworks to the social conditions of their production, mediation, and reception. This meant, initially, a positivist turn, relying on a strong explanatory and determinist paradigm using social origins, positions in a “field,” hidden interests or types of “capitals” as basic and unquestioned tools. Then an interactionist turn appeared, based on the observation of actual interactions between various actors within “art worlds” or “artistic fields.” Then an interpretivist turn happened, addressing the collective representations of art and artists, the values according to which people valuate artworks, and the hierarchy and classifications of artistic genres. Finally, a pragmatic turn introduced a general sociological trend investigating the actual processes owing to which artworks circulate, how things become endowed with the status of an artwork, as well as the conditions and meaning of artistic recognition. Because such issues cannot be fully addressed through the lens of a standard explanatory sociology, this article calls for a descriptive, pragmatic, qualitative, interpretivist, and value-neutral turn, inducing a new French sociology of art.
Focusing on the case of Inigo Philbrick and his alleged fraudulent overselling of artworks by Rudolf Stingel, we offer a new theory of art market scandal that builds upon Alexander’s framework of the pure and impure, and Adut’s concept of transgressive publicity. We argue that the presence of an art market creates latent impurity, according to the Hostile Worlds conception of markets as an impurification of art. The further financialization of an artwork into shares redoubles money’s impurification of art by creating what we term a financial simulacrum. Philbrick’s case allows us to expand Adut’s theory from mapping an art scandal of moral decency to conceptualizing an art market scandal of financial transgression. We argue that financial transgression—as enabled by the increased securitization of art—depends on the persona of the art dealer as intermediary, a projection that is itself a simulacrum. Thus, we frame Philbrick archetypally as hydroponic, validated, novel yet neutral, and self-pardoning. Drawing on interviews of expert insiders and close reading of court documents and press articles, we contribute a model of art market scandal that encompasses the dual artistic and financial nature of traded artworks and the shared art-industry risk of regulation.
Thomas Jennings, defendant in the Clarence Hiller murder case. The handwriting (in reverse) reads: “Thomas Jennings alias ‘Bill’ [sic] Jones murderer of C.D. Hiller. Thomas Jennings [illegible].” 1910.
Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection, Chicago History Museum
Front-page headline from a Chicago Examiner story about the Hiller case, announcing Jennings’s guilty verdict. Latent fingerprint evidence was central to the prosecution’s argument, and pictures of fingerprints circulated in a variety of popular media. November 11, 1910.
Chicago Public Library Digital Collections
Page Three illustration of the Hiller family, from a story about the case. The portraits of Mr. Hiller, Mrs. Hiller, and their daughters dramatized Jennings’s alleged violations of the Hiller household. Chicago Examiner, September 20, 1910.
Chicago Public Library Digital Collections
“$500 Reward for Two Hours Work”: advertisement for the University of Applied Science fingerprint training course. November 1922 issue of Popular Mechanics, page 143.
“Surveillance culture,” according to an influential body of scholarly work, is characterized by the habitual use of surveillance technologies that connect people and machines in webs or assemblages. The origin of this culture is pinned to the political and economic interests of private tech and the security state. This understanding of surveillance culture, however, leaves unanswered important questions about social relations, collective norms, and the broader interpretive space in which surveillance practices are located. To address them, I use civil sphere theory to explain the popularization and dissemination of mass surveillance techniques in the early-twentieth century United States. I draw on two specific popularization efforts: identity deceptions unmasked by the Chicago Police Department’s fingerprint experts; and private sector surveillance entrepreneurs, self-styled as “Fingerprint Men.” Linking these domains were surveillance narratives, stories about intimate crime that threatened the civil sphere. Surveillance narratives were effective not because they were factually accurate (they often weren’t) but because they offered riveting accounts of urban life that drew on cultural scripts concerning race, risk, and morality. Historical and cultural analyses of these narratives shed new light on surveillance culture as a space of semantic relationships among discourse and symbols.
Previous research conducted in Swedish schools and beyond has shown how newly arrived migrant students are excluded by peers from the majority population and by longer-term residents. The novelty of the present article is its focus on the opposite: how peer interaction between newly arrived and other students arises in superdiverse school settings and what this interaction means for newly arrived migrant students. A multidimensional theoretical perspective with a focus on social interaction within school is utilized to illuminate the drama of social life. Ideals of the civil sphere, superdiversity, habitus and conviviality are combined, the goal being to create links between macro- and micro-levels. Peer interaction is analyzed as meaningful per se, rather than as an exchange value. This is valuable from a subjective perspective in relation to the notion that being ordinary is a key to belonging. The analysis shows the lived interconnectedness between ideals, institutions, practices, and individuals’ life experiences. The data are drawn from ethnographic fieldwork undertaken during one academic year in two middle schools [högstadiet] and 42 interviews with newly arrived migrant students and school staff in Sweden.
The average number of imported events each president evoked per year
Coupling of memories (national and foreign) with the ten most frequently used imported memories
In light of the incessant passage of ideas, images, cultural products, and people across cultures and borders, this research—located in the third wave of memory studies—examines how foreign events are imported and incorporated in national political rhetoric. Examining speeches made by American presidents (1945–2020), this analysis shows that the practice of importing events is affected by time, structure, and meaning-making processes. First, imported events are affected by epochal considerations and attest to the power of the present. Second, imported events are presented during non-commemorative occasions and are evoked together with national past events. Third, whether through legitimization, confirmation, or appropriation, imported events are constructed for the sake of enhancing the American nation and affirming its greatness. Imported events, thus, provide new strategies of nationalism in globalized cultures. At the same time, imported events—by now memories—are sought after and by mere appearance pierce the heart of the nation. With this research, we contribute to core questions in collective memory, tying political, cultural, and social considerations with regard to the continuing transformation of collective memories in a constantly changing world.
This article develops a conceptual framework to explain how local actors engage in grassroots reputational making activities to separate themselves, their homes, and their city from stigmas that mark places with bad reputations, and how these reputational making activities become institutionalized in urban regeneration practices. Through a case study that draws from field notes and 36 in-depth interviews in Buffalo, New York, this paper examines how ordinary residents mobilized through garden tourism to make a new place reputation in relation to the Rust Belt stigma. Residents mobilized through one of two cultural frames: reputational reframing or reputational expansion. Reputational reframing is the discourses, narratives, and social activities geared toward changing an existing place’s reputation in relation to external stigmas. Reputational expansion is the discourses, narratives, and social activities geared toward diversifying or seeking inclusion into the emerging place reputation. The extent that local actors use reputational expansion was conditioned on the degree of their perceived success of reputational reframing. This study has broader implications on how place reputations matter in the debates over urban regeneration in ordinary American cities.
A robust literature addresses the historical transformation of executions, but it does so without attention to sound. To help us understand how the audible aspects of executions impacted these transformations, we develop a concept we call sonic flaws. Sonic flaws are characterized neither by their loudness nor their nuisance quality. Rather, sonic flaws are sounds that not only intrude upon but also undermine the social settings in which they are heard. As transgressions of not only the sonic but also the moral order, the notion of sonic flaws also captures sonic conflicts and resistances by sonic means. Based on an analysis of newspaper accounts of executions in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, we identify the construction of sonic flaws around three different types of sounds: sounds of emotions, sounds of death, and sounds of resistance. Most importantly, we show how managerial efforts to address sonic flaws turned the execution into a space guided by middle-class sensibilities and dominated by an aspiration for silence.
The visualization of the trends and patterns across the three groups
Conceptual and thematic diagram. The diagram visualizes attitudes toward skin color in bicultural contexts via appearance-related decisions in daily contexts. Results from the three groups not only reveal how attitudinal construction is culturally and contextually dependent, but also how everyday decisions reflect a collective level of sociocultural values and symbolic cultural cues. As personal appearance-related decisions are a combination of self-expression and representation of oneself to the world, women’s decisions also shape collective sociocultural cues.
We integrated cosmetic and appearance-related scenario elicitation and in-depth interviews to explore aesthetic attitudes toward skin color in bicultural contexts among three groups of emerging Chinese adults. Results indicated that Chinese women, who grew up in China until age 18 and then moved to the US, generally leaned toward Chinese culture, found lighter skin more beautiful, and chose shades of makeup foundation lighter than their skin color. Chinese adoptees, raised in the US by Euro-American parents, leaned toward Euro-American culture, considered tanned skin more attractive, and chose darker colored foundations in most social contexts other than professional. Chinese Americans, raised in the US by first-generation Chinese parents, expressed mixed preferences. Women’s preferences revealed how everyday decisions reflect cultural beliefs and symbolic values behind skin color, suggesting that attitude formation is contextually dependent. People favor different shades of foundation makeup for different occasions, suggesting agentic awareness and the use of behavioral modification to gain acceptance in a given context. Appearance manipulation is a form of self-expression and conveys sociocultural cues. Understanding subtle sociocultural meanings and aesthetics in complex cultural contexts has significant implications for body image and colorism-related research, promoting the exploration of cultural influences on appearance, ideal skin color internalization, and decision-making.
Interaction between cultural trauma and stigma (management) in intimate groups
Cultural trauma after mass violence poses challenges in micro-social settings. Children and grandchildren of the perpetrator generation address these challenges in multiple, more or less fictionalized, biographies and family histories, explored here for the case of the Nazi Regime and the Holocaust. Their books serve, at one level, as quarries for harvesting depictions of interactive situations in which intra-and intergenerational sets of actors manage stigma through practices of silencing, denying and acknowledging in the context of family and friendship circles. At another level, biographies themselves constitute efforts at managing the authors' spoiled identities through their conversation with an imagined audience. In retelling family history and reporting interactive situations, authors are torn by the desire to engage with-and cleanse themselves from-a polluting past and to maintain family loyalties and affective bonds.
Predominant Sacrifice Narratives in American Rifleman from 1975 to 2019
Protagonists of Blood and Service Sacrifice Narratives in American Rifleman 1975–2019
Sacrificial causes in the American Rifleman 1975–2019
This paper presents a case study of how a fringe idea moves into the cultural mainstream. In its cultural and political project to defend the Second Amendment, the National Rifle Association (NRA) embraced New War culture, a counter-cultural response to the trauma of the war in Vietnam, which extended warrior honor to armed men defending their families from an increasingly hostile world and a suspect government that might try to disarm them. Using textual analysis of the American Rifleman, we explore how the NRA co-opted narratives of soldiers' sacrifice for the nation to promote a New War cultural message. We find that magazine contributors retooled the traditional narrative to feature non-military protagonists, to differentiate the nation from the government, and to spotlight freedom as a sacrificial cause. With their strong civil religious overtones, the NRA's sacrifice narratives served as value-laden signposts that elevated the Second Amendment to a sacred God-given freedom, extended the consecration from sacrifice to encompass their mainstream audience of gun owners, and identified political and cultural enemies. These classic American narratives of soldiers’ sacrifice for the nation were thus co-opted to deliver a simultaneously patriotic and anti-government counter-cultural message that would resonate with mainstream American culture.
This paper examines what arrested individuals expect from the police, and the moral grammars they rely on to evaluate police behavior. Drawing on interviews with recently arrested suspects in the Cleveland city jail, we analyze the moral grammars, or common worlds, that residents invoke to reflect on interactions with law enforcement. We find that respondents care about two different moral dimensions in policing. At one level, they want police to treat them with civility and politeness, and to respect their rights—thereby treating them equally with other residents in the city. Yet at a second level, they want police to show care and empathy for their local situation, and to recognize that policing the neighborhoods in which they live is different than policing other parts of the city. As a result, we find that residents who are arrested by the police deploy two orders of worth: a civic order, grounded in fairness, legal rules, equality, and civic belonging in the polity; and a domestic order, based on a politics of community and difference, emphasizing empathy, local knowledge, and personal experience. We demonstrate how individuals assess and test the moral promise of institutions to offer moral recognition, redress, and repair.
Prevailing perspectives attribute higher education’s immense and increasing importance in modern societies nearly exclusively to the economic value of a college degree and role of higher education in the legitimation of stratification. This forecloses consideration of the possibility that higher education’s power and influence may derive, in part, from its own considerable moral or symbolic significance in modern culture. Through analysis of in-depth interviews with adult undergraduates in the United States I explore the meaning of higher education in contemporary culture, drawing principally on institutional theory. The bachelor’s degree emerges as the central and default indicator of not only intelligence but valued moral traits: responsibility, tenacity, and ambition. College completion confirms/constitutes graduates as agentic selves to both others and themselves, and indicates assimilation of scientific and cosmopolitan universalism. I suggest that these findings can be explained through three interrelated, institutionalized interpretation rules: education is a strong moral good, education changes the self, and education accesses the universal. And I argue that we must take seriously the insight—often made but little-explored—that higher education is a quasi-religious as well as an economic institution.
In this article I delineate the cultural structure underlying much (if not most) of what goes by “spirituality” in the popular discourse of twenty-first century liberal democracies—which I call the religion of the heart. I begin by reviewing the disparate academic literatures relating to the shift from “religion” to “spirituality,” explicating why the study of spirituality remains both marginalized within the sociology of religion and deeply fragmented. I then lay out the theoretical foundations of a cultural sociological approach to the study of religion, which I use to synthesize the existing sociological and historical literature on “spirituality.” I supplement this synthesis with data from my own empirical research in order to offer a systematic representation of the religion of the heart’s ten core tenets and how they relate to one another. I then conclude with a reflection on the implications my analysis holds for the sociology of contemporary religion.
Mapping Diversity Discourses. Note Discourses may address immigration or integration, with the same set of “concerns” as noted in the figure
Pragmatism and the shifting of acceptable/unacceptable boundaries
This article seeks to understand how values enter into political discourse via justification and how those values are negotiated over time. The article maps out the terrain of diversity discourses, both as a specific type of discourse and as an example of ethical, moral and pragmatic modes of argumentation. The author examines Swedish “diversity discourses” in the periods of 1968–1975 and 1991–1995 in an effort to tease out the pragmatic, moral and ethical aspects of these discourses. Diversity discourses are defined as discourses regarding how much and what kind of diversity is acceptable or desirable in a society, as well as how such diversity should be handled. I find that values, both contextually-dependent ethical values and universal moral values, rather than being “prior” to politics, arise out of the intersection of pragmatic, ethical and moral discourses. What is moral and ethical, then is colored by the particular nexus of moral, ethical and pragmatic concerns such that what is acceptable at one particular time and location, may be unacceptable in another, even coming from the same actors with the same ideological commitments. Shifts in the ethical/moral modes of justification, then, lead to shifts in who is included in a democratic community.
This paper builds on two leading models of artistic practice, the “network-building” and “autonomous sphere” approaches, to show how an expressive work can reverse the normal antinomy between artistic recognition and commercial success and become an immediate crossover hit. Focusing on a single “pointy” case from the world of literature—the 1996 novel Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace—I ask whether a set of unique social dynamics attends the process of making a “cultural splash.” In the case of Infinite Jest, success came from occupying an intermediate position in the “space between fields” and eliciting a complex, mutually referential response from cultural intermediaries. In this way, the book attracted samplings of recognition and renown, the contrasting reputational ingredients associated with an enduring cultural appeal. Nevertheless, the novel’s declining reputation in recent years suggests that we should differentiate a cultural splash from the better-known dynamics of canonization and classicization. In the paper’s final section, I conceptualize a cultural splash as an effect generated by works that undergo a “fast transcendence” by unmooring themselves temporarily from the limiting effects of being counted as “art” or “pop.”
Median Household Income by Race/Ethnicity in Bushwick, 2006 & 2014.
Source 2006 1-year American Community Survey; 2014 1-year American Community Survey.
Exterior of CastleBraid.
Source Taken by author, early 2016
Sidewalk stencil reading “Gentrification is the New Colonialism.”
Source photo taken by author, early 2016
Sidewalk stencil reading “Your Luxury is Our Displacement.”
Source photo taken by author, early 2016.
A sizable body of research on arts-based gentrification has documented how artist residences have been strategically deployed by developers to kick-start capital reinvestment and lure so-called “creative class” professionals into formerly disinvested neighborhoods. Yet researchers rarely investigate how actual occupants of such residences perceive their role in neighborhood change. Addressing this gap, this article examines how residents of CastleBraid—a controversial luxury apartment complex designed for artists in Bushwick, Brooklyn—mediate tensions between their espoused preferences and the well-known negative consequences associated with gentrification. Drawing on the cultural sociology of Pierre Bourdieu, I argue that CastleBraid residents meaningfully account for gentrification through the practical logic of a particular group habitus which reinforces a shared identity and validates their presence in Bushwick. Moreover, I argue that these gentrification accounts constitute a form of symbolic violence which obscures underlying patterns of spatial inequality through misrecognition and the denial of gentrifiers’ privilege. Throughout, I argue that a renewed engagement with Bourdieusian theory may facilitate insights into gentrifier meaning-making that transcend the usual stylized typology of gentrifiers.
Both lay understandings of crisis moments and influential psychological models of cognition in times of uncertainty emphasize how crises limit thinking. Conversely, scholars as diverse as Foucault, Swidler, Bourdieu, and Butler have elaborated generative conceptions of crisis, which specify crises as moments of change, transformation, and heightened cognition. The research presented here takes up the question of how crises become thinkable, as actors gradually make sense of a newly uncertain context. Against a backdrop of polarization on the topic, in-depth interviews with 60 businesspeople navigating the coronavirus pandemic show that they see public health and economic well-being as interrelated. This has important effects on how businesses interpret and implement government directives and public health guidelines, from choosing to close before being mandated to do so, to staying closed even when allowed to reopen. Taken together, these findings substantiate generative models of crisis while drawing attention to the polysemous justifications elaborated by actors as they navigate shifting cultural and social scaffoldings.
This article focuses of the relation of cultural sociology to Francophone sociologists, showing that this analytical orientation remains little known among them. Such gap can be bridged, however, if one brings attention to the developments of Jeffrey Alexander’s type of cultural sociology on the one side, and Louis Quéré’s and Daniel Cefaï’s works on the other, along the lines of redefining the Habermasian concept of the public sphere, either by Alexander’s civil sphere concept, or Cefaï’s and Quéré’s interests for the performative dimension of actors engaged in public arenas. Such an encounter centers on the interpretation of the roles of social movements and media in shaping sociological analysis, and emphasizes the differences that exist between pragmatism and hermeneutics as interpretive tools. While the opposition between pragmatism’particularism and hermeneutic’s universalism would seem to be irreducible, it is rather their dialectical relation which is at stake, opening up the way for a transcultural vision of things. My own interpretation locates this transcultural vision as a challenge for the bridging of those two types of approach, by providing an example and arguments in this direction.
Current research on artistic groups suggests the career benefits of being place-based. This article examines the Chicago Imagists—a group defined by local recognition in Chicago and limited national renown—to explain the limits of these benefits when actors’ interests within a local scene diverge. Studying critical discourse on the Imagists from the 1960s to 1980s, we explain how “critical circles,” tied to the interests of regional evaluators, mediate artistic reputations. During initial group formation, Chicago artists and critics shared the goal of developing a distinct local art. However, critics’ investment in defining the boundaries of a “Chicago” style to further their careers ultimately diverged from Imagists’ investment in mastering a broader “American” style to further theirs. Chicago critics’ ensuing debates about the parochial limits of the label—and New York critics’ framing of Imagist work as provincial—further came to organize the very regionalism Imagist artists hoped to evade. We argue that attending to the divergent interests in the cultural field within which collaborative circles operate expands understanding of how affordances of place shape artistic careers. This study has further implications for theorizing the interplay of impression management and strong program perspectives on cultural wealth.
After briefly examining how expert authority has been constructed through an “associative” perspective, which privileges institutional relationships, I argue for the complimentary adoption of an “enactive” perspective, which centers on how experts demonstrate and earn authority with individual clients and communities. I synthesize scholarship revealing the uses of communication in expert–client relationships to argue that an enactive perspective allows for the study of how experts use “reiterative multivocality” to demonstrate to clients that they possess expert knowledge that is tailored to their interests, stakes, and values. Reiterative multivocality is the process of reaffirming, in different voices and formats, terms and symbols considered centrally important by other experts at the time. It allows experts to communicate authoritativeness through reiterating signs that reflect the collective’s efforts to maintain authority in response to shifts in client expectations. I focus on the case of expert authoritativeness in medicine, examining how it is constructed and maintained. The article argues that authority is not rooted solely in institutions but is developed and maintained by individual experts and clients, and that the language and processes used in the construction of authoritativeness is of central importance to sociologists. I expand upon the implications of both perspectives for method.
Memory struggles over historical characters in contentious politics have often been framed as reputation struggles in which the valence of a character is disputed by adversarial groups. However, antagonist actors often invoke and appropriate the same revered character to endorse contradicting political goals. These struggles often revolve around a different dimension of the character’s memory: the significance of the character’s legacy. In this study, I examine three strategies employed to battle over the political legacy of Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas. I introduce the term Legacy Work to explain how actors in contentious politics transform or preserve the meaning of political legacies and provide a sociological answer to the question “What would leaders of the past have us do today?”
Six types of direct cultural self-constitution
Though the cultural turn is well behind us, sociologists of culture have yet to agree upon a clear definition of their subject. Recent efforts in this direction have characterized culture as a meta-concept, identifying and disentangling its constituent parts. Building on the two- and three-dimensional models that have emerged of late, while also taking stock of the longer history of sociology’s struggle to reconceptualize culture after Parsons, we argue that culture is best understood via a four-facet model. Culture, we argue, consists of discourse, which is oriented toward meaning, and practice, which is oriented toward action. But both discourse and practice have implicit and explicit dimensions: they consist of underlying generative structures and concrete manifestations. To demonstrate the four-facet model’s value for empirical analysis, we use it to address the high-profile methodological debates that have recently roiled the field, pitting ethnography, interviewing, and survey research against one another as the ideal mode of accessing culture writ large. Rather than arbitrating among methods, we show, the four-facet model specifies how each approach contributes to cultural analysis, facilitating conversation in places where disagreements currently appear intractable and underwriting methodological pluralism.
The idea of chance, and more specifically, distinctive ways of managing chance, played a decisive role in shaping Renaissance Florentine culture, humanist philosophy, everyday Florentine practices, and Florentine social institutions. Humanist discourse around the notion of fortuna labored to reconcile the evident existence of fortuitous events with Christian understandings of the orderliness and goodness of the world. With Alberti and Machiavelli, chance becomes more capricious and less embedded within a specifically Christian cosmology, pointing the way to more modern understandings of the interplay of contingency and agency. Meanwhile, we see significant management of risk in commercial life, modifications to the rule of selecting office-holders by lot in political life, and techniques for managing the fatefulness of social interaction within Florence’s patronage-based social system, all of which suggest the importance of chance in structuring key Florentine social institutions. Overall, Florence exhibited neither primitive nor fully modern methods of theorizing chance, complicating simplistic binary understandings of what was in fact a complex cognitive shift across historical epochs.
In this article, I examine the case of a viral film entitled “Plandemic,” its sequel, and the epidemiologist that is its main subject, and develop a cultural sociology of conspiracy theorizing through the concept of “performative conspiracy.” I argue that the Plandemic case represents a cultural performance within the (ongoing) serious social drama of the Covid-19 pandemic. I focus primarily on the “alternative” narrative put forth by the Plandemic case; however, the (Western/US) “mainstream” narrative becomes clear as well. Both call upon the same sets of binary oppositions, chief among them, science vs. blind faith, truth vs. deception, and evidence vs. supposition. Audiences, who are themselves fragmented and differentiated, are exposed to multiple narrative paths. Within the mainstream, they encounter an apocalyptic-turned romantic story, in which science, evidence, and the truth, the sacred trio, will lift humanity out of perilous danger. Plandemic’s alternative narrative begins in a tragic tone and builds apocalyptically into a tale of terror, waged by the very same forces of science, truth, and evidence, to create a “plague of corruption” that will “kill millions.” To conclude, I reflect on the potential implications of the increasing popularity of conspiracy theorizing about Covid-19.
Number of highlighted titles in the table of contents by type, 1934–1945
Number of coded themes in major non-fiction articles, 1934–1945
Number of titles for original and new items in the commemorative issue by type
In early twentieth-century Japan, girls’ magazines provided their young readers with a site to creatively express themselves, but when these magazines became channels of propaganda in WWII-era Japan, much of that independence was suppressed and the popularity of the magazines faded. Nevertheless, in 2009, a 100-year commemorative issue of one of the most influential magazines, Shōjo no tomo (Girls’ Friend), was published. In this study, we explore what was included, excluded, and marginalized in the commemorative issue and how editorial choices were made. Bringing together research in cultural sociology, memory studies, and Japanese girls’ culture, we investigate how Shōjo no tomo was made to fit with contemporary contexts of gender identity and collective memory of the war. Our data show that themes about creative independence were preserved and elaborated, emphasizing expression and empowerment through writing, while support for war was marginalized and an anti-war interpretation was highlighted. The lead editor of the commemoration reconstructed narratives of shōjo identity and agency to justify these editorial choices and to deemphasize contradictions between feminism and nationalism in Japan. Our study contributes to research on commemorative practices by highlighting how narrative accounts of identity and agency can be transformed through successful commemorations.
Rural Missouri previously had among the highest numbers of “mom and pop” methamphetamine laboratories in the United States, but after the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act was passed (2005) such laboratories declined dramatically. Today, industrially produced methamphetamine imported from Mexico, ice, dominates in the United States (DEA in: National Drug Threat Assessment. United States Drug Enforcement Administration, 2020). Our analysis of semi-structured interviews conducted in 2019 with 40 women involved in the methamphetamine market in rural Missouri shows their cultural responses to this market shift. Our data revealed widespread nostalgia towards former, locally produced meth types, along with rumors regarding the new ice. The rumors resembled horror stories and portrayed the imported ice as a dangerous fungus, and also thematized “Mexicans”/“cartels,” and the federal government. We interpret nostalgia and rumors as cultural symptoms following the loss of control over means of meth production and resulting limited knowledge about production and contents of ice. Additionally, ice represents a pressing power threat in response to perceived racial heterogenization, changing of rural communities, and interconnected threats to their collective identities.
A correction to this paper has been published:
Over the past decade, a community of strong program cultural sociologists has developed from Latin America against the background of local traditions in the study of culture that mostly have been influenced by Gramsci and Bourdieu. Here, we will provide an overview of this community—its members, sites of production, and recent publications which mark the leading edges of iconic power theory, cultural trauma theory, social performance theory, and civil sphere theory. In particular, we will try to flesh out how the members of this emerging community have gone about extending the horizon of strong program cultural sociology while seeking to maintain their tune with local intellectual sensibilities in the study of culture across the region.
Clifford Geertz was a key protagonist in the development of “interpretive social science,” but much of our understanding of his position as an intellectual neglects the crucial years before the publication of The Interpretation of Cultures. In this article, I argue that there is a common thread in Geertz’s early work and that it addressed, quite sophisticatedly, the reworking of the concept of cultural system, which he wrote on from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s. This research program was first developed in the context of the “basic social science” that characterized Harvard’s Department of Social Relations, and it had the support of key figures in that network. Geertz’s position in that intellectual debate was as a contributor to the development of a theory of culture that could address issues left unsolved by structural-functionalism and action theory. In that process, Geertz gradually developed a more interpretivist reading of the cultural system, while maintaining the support of his original network. The article offers some conclusions about the role of support within attention spaces in cases in which emergent intellectual positions can lead to the definition of new research programs.
This paper proposes a mixed-method sociosemantic network analysis of meaning structures in practice. While social and institutional fields impose meaning structures , to achieve practical goals, field participants gather in groups and locally produce idiocultures of their own. Such idiocultures are difficult to capture structurally; hence, the impact of practice on meaning structures is underrated. To account for this impact, we automatically map local meaning structures-ensembles of semantic associations embedded in specific social groups-to identify the focal elements of these meaning structures, and qualitatively examine contextual usage of such elements. Employing a combination of ethnographic and social network data on two St. Petersburg art collectives, we find the seemingly field-imposed meaning structures to be instantiated differently, depending on group practice. Moreover, we find meaning structures to emerge from group practice and even change the field-wide meaning structures.
Photograph of Asafo Flags, which were included in “Mapping and Marking”, the first room of the Artist and Empire exhibition (Tate Photography 2015a)
Photograph of the Gilbert Installation, which was included in “Imperial Heroics”, the third room of the Artist and Empire exhibition (Tate Photography 2015b)
Photograph of several paintings, which were included in “Power Dressing”, the fourth room of the Artist and Empire exhibition (Tate Photography 2015c)
In this paper, I propose a new approach for understanding the meaning of memory politics, which draws upon the archetypal literary criticism of Northrop Frye. I suggest that the four archetypes elaborated by Frye—comedy, romance, tragedy, and satire—can be used as a heuristic device for interpreting the contested historical narratives that are associated with the politics of memory. I illustrate this approach through a case-study of Artists and Empire: Facing Britain’s Imperial Past, an exhibition held at Tate Britain in 2016, amidst increasing contestation over the meaning of the British Empire. In sum, I find that the exhibit narrated Britain’s imperial past as a comedy, in which a key theme was the progressive cultural mixing of the British and the people they colonized. To conclude, I discuss the implications of such a narrative for constructing an inclusive, postcolonial British identity. As an alternative, I draw on Aristotle to suggest that a tragic narrative would have been more propitious.
According to Lizardo (2016), the concept of culture, as it originated with Parsons, is one of the “foundational notions” of modern sociology, such that “the most basic theoretical debates in the discipline…now take place largely under the auspices of ‘cultural theory.’” Unfortunately, to the extent that contemporary conceptions of culture are traced to Parsons, contradictions in cultural theory are also blamed on his legacy: with cultural theorists turning to anthropology, semiotics, and philosophy for solutions. We argue instead that problems in cultural theory are not a consequence of Parsons’ legacy per se, but of a one-sided focus on his early work that ignores the interactionism of Parsons’ later position. The resulting emphasis on the symbolic side of Parsons’ legacy, as developed in anthropology by Geertz (Parsons’ PhD student, 1950–1956), to the exclusion of the social practice-oriented side developed in sociology by the later Parsons and Garfinkel (Parsons’ PhD student, 1946–1952), has left cultural theory in a state of incompleteness. We propose a rapprochement between Garfinkel’s interactionism, which treats the order properties of practices as interactional media of cooperation in the making of culture, and the prevailing symbolic approach, to reintegrate the two sides of Parsons’ conception of culture.
Whether the result of purposeful nation-branding projects or longstanding traditions, associations endure between specific nations and the particular goods they produce. Such associations can be harnessed on behalf of the symbolic and economic value recently recognized as national cultural wealth. Further, the cultivation of impression management strategies about geographical origins is requisite for specialty food firms: terroir is a foundational convention of the gourmet food industry, and its potential value is significant. For entrepreneurial firms in the specialty food market, the process of strategically connecting to cultural wealth would seem to depend upon their particular geographic location. But while some national origins add both symbolic and economic value to cultural products within the global marketplace, others potentially threaten that value. In this paper, I read closely the discursive data contained on a nearly complete collection of two case study firms’ food packages (N = 100) to illustrate the firms’ unexpectedly divergent perceptions of cultural wealth, despite their identical national location. I further analyze interview data to describe the vital (and potentially valuable) interaction between producer perception, imagination, and cultural production. By redirecting analytical attention toward profit-seeking producers, this paper aims to increase the analytical power of the concept of cultural wealth.
Positing Muslim positionality in Europe as an undercaste helps to make sense of how cultural stratification, rooted in associations with incivility, has resulted in deep and unrelenting inequalities experienced by diverse Muslims. Based on two years of ethnographic research with a Muslim community in Berlin as well as a survey of secondary research, this paper both theorizes and empirically showcases the process by which Muslims have become synonymous with incivility, and how this affects opportunities and inclusion across the educational, economic, residential, and private spheres. By drawing parallels with other instances of caste-based status differentiation in the West, specifically the Jewish experience in Europe and Black experience in the USA, it further illuminates how cultural stratification through associations with incivility (as a modern secular coding of impurity) that endures for generations functions in the contemporary world. Employing the concept of caste deepens the cultural turn that has replaced economic or legal explanations of Muslim marginality in Europe. And it awakens a dormant sociological vocabulary that allows for a more precise theoretical understanding of this empirical social phenomenon and thereby the possibilities—and limits—of pluralism in modernity.
Emergent levels of culture and their higher-level relations
Emergent levels of Americans’ understandings about religion’s role in life
Sociology has increasingly drawn on concepts from the cognitive sciences to better theorize and measure culture, particularly nondeclarative personal culture beneath the level of conscious awareness. Despite several advances, these “cognitive cultural” concepts are drawn on selectively, and limited work has attempted to assemble them into a coherent framework, leading to conceptual murkiness and ambiguous use of terms like “schema.” This article synthesizes literature on culture and cognition to develop a conceptual model of four interrelated but distinct types of cultural knowledge beneath the level of explicit discourse. Drawing on emergence theories, the author theorizes how these types relate to each other, as well as to discourse and public culture. The utility of the model is then illustrated using the empirical case of American religious understandings. These types of cultural knowledge have distinct qualities and, consequently, distinct roles in influencing thought, speech, and action. Assembling them into a coherent framework can improve scholarly accounts of how culture influences important substantive outcomes, how culture and cognition interact, as well as methods for studying nondeclarative cultural knowledge.
Frequency of ratings, IoL and WT
Mean review length (in words) by rating, IoL and WT
Reviews per calendar year, IoL and WT
Mean rating by calendar year, IoL and WT
Mean centred rating for top 25 positive and negative keywords, IoL and WT
Bourdieu argues that legitimate or ‘highbrow’ cultural products depend for their appreciation on a style of consumption grounded in cultural knowledge acquired through formal education. To explore this idea, all available customer reviews of two Man Booker prize-winning novels—Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss (2006) and Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger (2008)—were collected from the website. Analysis of these reviews focussed on styles of cultural consumption, as implied by the relationship between the words in the reviews and the numeric ‘star ratings’ that accompany those reviews. Positive reviews resemble discourse on the same novels by what Bourdieu calls ‘professional interpreters’ or ‘professional commentator[s] on texts’ in their tendency to interpret formal features in relation to political and philosophical themes, while negative reviews instead express disappointment that these novels do not measure up to ‘middlebrow’ standards, highlighting the novels’ lack of characteristics apparently considered conducive to readerly enjoyment. Mentions of the Man Booker Prize itself were associated with negative evaluations of both novels, often featuring in expressions of confusion or anger.
Social knowledge mediated by the iconic experience of reading
The aesthetic structure of the text
Following the strong program in cultural sociology, I propose a “literary turn” to recognize literary texts “as relatively autonomous cultural entities” with their own agency. This article is part of a larger project connecting cultural sociology with the sociology of literature and literary theory to develop a strong program in the sociology of literature. Instead of approaching literary fiction as an object of analysis, sociology and literature can contribute to social knowledge in a symmetrical way, where fiction is not devalued vis-à-vis social scientific inquiry. Just the opposite: recognizing the specificities of literary communication, we can access textures of social life that are only hardly graspable by sociology. A crucial step is to examine how social knowledge comes into existence when reading a fictional text. Embracing the structural aesthetics of Roman Jakobson and Jan Mukařovský, I modify the concept of iconicity to capture the iconic experience of reading through which literature mediates social experience that is iconic of broader social phenomena. I demonstrate my approach by analyzing the Czech novel Bliss was it in Bohemia by Michal Viewegh (Bliss was it in Bohemia, Jantar Publishing, London, 1992). Building on social aesthetics, I discuss implications of my model for sociological theory, textual representation, and sociological explanation in general.
Top-cited authors
Philip Gorski
  • Yale University
Ronald Eyerman
  • Yale University
Nicolas Demertzis
  • National Centre for Social Research, Greece
David García-Marín
  • King Juan Carlos University
Maria Luengo
  • University Carlos III de Madrid