Courses‎ > ‎

Sociology of Culture Blog

Notes for Final Exam

posted Aug 4, 2010, 1:29 PM by Gabe Ignatow

Symbolic Boundaries and Status

 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

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


“high-status signals”


“boundary work” work of maintaining distinctions between one’s own group and other groups



Types of symbolic boundaries


                      moral boundaries

                                drawn on the basis of moral character

                                                honesty, work ethic, integrity, consideration for others


                      socioeconomic boundaries

                                wealth, power, professional success


                      cultural boundaries

                                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

Bethany Bryson

“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)à dislike more genres (not confirmed)


Educated Tolerance Educationà 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

The Sociology of Culture and Cultural Production

  Philip Smith, 167-182

  Richard Peterson, Why 1955? Explaining the Advent of Rock Music (in reader)


This is a different area of cultural studies from what we have seen so far in this course, although it resembles in some ways Horkheimer and Adorno’s Critical Theory, as it is focused on cultural products including mass media and popular culture—music, films, television, novels etc.


We can call this perspective the production perspective

Less abstract than much of the theory we have dealt with so far, less general, philosophical

More concrete



This is good and bad, depending on your appetite for social and cultural theory, which can be visionary, imaginative, and sometimes difficult


The Production Perspective is a current approach; that is people are using it and developing it today to study things they care about


The production perspective covers several fields, including communications, media studies, and sociology


When we talk about culture here, we are talking about


Culture as an institutional sphere devoted to the making of meaning

                             i.e. art, music, theater, fashion, literature, religion, the media, education


This definition is from William Sewell, from the start of the course


So culture here is not values or ideas or beliefs or rituals or identities (as in cultural studies and other areas)




In the production perspective scholars study the culture industries, although they do so more carefully than Horkheimer and Adorno ever did

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

The Production of Culture


The “production perspective”


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).





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 à 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.

Review Sheet for Final Exam

posted Aug 2, 2010, 3:59 PM by Gabe Ignatow

The exam will be at 11:30 on our final day of class (next Wednesday, August 11)

Michele Lamont, Symbolic Boundaries and Status (Spillman)

Bethany Bryson, Symbolic Exclusion and Musical Dislikes (Spillman)

DiMaggio and Mukhtar, "Arts Participation as Cultural Capital in the United States" (bottom of page)

Richard Peterson and Roger Kern, "Changing Highbrow Tastes: From Snob to Omnivore" (bottom of page)

Dan Winchester, Embodying the Faith (bottom of page)

Gabe Ignatow, Culture and Embodied Cognition (bottom of page)

Philip Smith, 167-182 (Smith)

Richard Peterson, Why 1955? Explaining the Advent of Rock Music (Spillman)

Paul Dimaggio, "Cultural Entrepreneurship in 19th-Century Boston" (bottom of page)

Wendy Griswold, American Character and the American Novel (Spillman)

Symbolic boundaries

Boundary work

Moral boundaries

Cultural boundaries

Socioeconomic boundaries

Cultural specialists

For-profit workers

Musical dislikes

Cultural omnivores

High-status exclusiveness

Educated tolerance

Symbolic racism




embodied religious practices

ritual prayer, fasting

Food Addicts Full of Faith

Overeaters Support Group

cleanliness metaphors

self language

Patterned tolerance

Multicultural capital

“tolerance line”

Production of culture

Culture industries



American character

American novels

European novels

Copyright law

Review Sheet for Exam 2

posted Jul 26, 2010, 12:28 PM by Gabe Ignatow

The yanomami
The sacred
The profane
Collective effervescence
American civil religion
Robert Bellah
Democratic code
Counter-democratic code

Social Field/Power Field

Cultural Capital

Social Capital

Financial Capital

Social Reproduction



Notes for Quiz this Wednesday

posted Jul 26, 2010, 12:16 PM by Gabe Ignatow

Cultural Anthropology

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.


Clifford Geertz

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, Moral Maps, "First World" Conceits, and the New Evangelists


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.




Notes for Exam 2

posted Jul 26, 2010, 12:02 PM by Gabe Ignatow   [ updated Jul 26, 2010, 12:22 PM ]

(these notes are for intended for use only as a supplement to the class readings and lectures!)

Durkheim and the Neo-Durkheimians


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)


                  Matrimonial Classes


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.

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:



Democratic Code

                active, autonomous, rational, reasonable, calm, controlled, realistic, sane


Counter-democratic code

                passive, dependent, irrational, hysterical, excitable, passionate, unrealistic, mad


Social relationships

                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



Cultures of Technology


Technology is a big target for cultural theory, because in modern societies, and in much modern social theory, technology’s relationship to culture and society is a deterministic one. Technology is, in Alexander’s phrase, a “dead hand” pushing social and cultural change.


Technological developmentsà society, social change

                e.g.          gun powder, steel production                            colonial conquest

windmill                                                 food production

automobile                                                           residence patterns

commercial jet airliner                        travel, business, residence

                                personal computer                                              work patterns

                                internet                                  communication patterns, privacy

Technological developmentsà culture

e.g.   automobile                                                                  “car culture”—decorate our cars, value our cars as more than mere transportation, etc.

                                mass production, industry modern art, modern design

                                streamlined airplanes                          art deco design

television                                               cultural degradation, massification

cable television                                    cultural fragmentation

industrial machinery                           social science theories (e.g. Freudianism, systems theory)

email                                                      written and spoken language


Yet social scientists are beginning to recognize that the converse is true as well, and have been paying increasing attention to the ways social organization encourages or impede technological innovation.

societyà technological innovation

Economic approaches—e.g. Robert Merton, Neil Smelser and others have argued that high labor costs encouraged the industrial revolution (they also argued for the importance of Methodist values)

 Network theorists—point to the role of interpersonal and interorganizational ties in fostering technological advances (e.g. Powell 1999)


The “cultural turn” in the social sciences has thus far yielded fewer insights on technological innovation. (However, there is a large literature that is critical of the incursion of technology into cultural life, although theoretically, this literature shares the presuppositions of research that celebrates the effects of technology in the modern world, i.e. that technology is the causal agent in cultural change: e.g. Neil Postman 1993; Talbott 1995; Charlene Spretnak 1997; Shelly Turkle 1997; Slouka 1995; Ullman 1997).


Cultural historians have made more progress, and in recent years have begun to rewrite the role of technology in Western culture. Beginning in the late 1960s and ’70s, historians began to reconsider the relationship between technology and religious culture in the West since the Middle Ages.


White, for example, traces contemporary moral approval of technology to a Christian ascetic tradition that, contrary to Weber’s famous argument in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, preceded the Calvinists and instead goes back throught the monks to Jewish roots.


The Christian embrace of technology, i.e. the equating of technological progress and spiritual virtue, can be traced back through monastic iconography to the ninth century. Since that time, the “medieval affirmation that technological advance is morally benign” has been essentially unanimous, and remains an axiom of the modern West.



Recently, even more ambitious and far-reaching efforts have been made to illuminate the powerful, persistent influence of religion in fostering technological innovation. Noble (1997), echoing White, has carefully documented what he argues is a millennium-old trend in western culture, wherein particular strands of Christian religious faith have inspired and grounded the development of the “useful arts.” From Benedictine monks’ innovations in machine design, metal-casting, glass-making and tinning, to Freemasonry, space exploration, and computer technology, in the West, millenarian and eschatological religious understandings have long inspired technological achievement.

Noble argues that the Western tradition of religiously inspired technological experimentation has been shrouded by a century and a half of “secularist polemic and ideology” (p. 4). Yet the modernist intellectual tradition running from Marx to Habermas (outlined in Alexander 1992: 299-305) fails to explain popular religious construals of a range of 20th-century technological phenomena, from the atom bomb to artificial intelligence, the possibility of human cloning, and the promise of computer technology (cf. Noble 1997: 115-142).


Alexander on the “Sacred and Profane Information Machine”


Alexander takes on both Weber’s rationalization thesis and Marx’s commodification thesis, and for that matter he is not enthusiastic about any broad, deterministic theory of social change. E.g. McDonalization, rationalization, commodification, modernization, globalization, and so on. Nor is he a fan of rational-choice models of individual behavior, nor Realpolitik models of collective behavior.  Why?  Because he is a cultural theorist, and wants to show how culture and meaning and nonrational processes are a part of all social processes.


For Alexander, cultures are like languages, loosely structured by binary codes (sacred/profane, good/evil)


Social scientists ought to be able to read cultures like texts, that is to understand, in an empathetic way, cultures as systems of meaning for social groups.

As Durkheim and Weber tried to understand Australian aborigines, Native Americans, and Calvinists, so we should try to understand contemporary, modern cultures.


Alexander critiques neo-Marxists and critical theorists (we will read some of this work later) for being anticultural, for assuming that technology and economics drive social and cultural change, just as Marx argued that control of the means of production (the base) drives changes in the superstructure (schools, religions, values, culture, ideas, politics).


Alexander argues that it is impossible for a society to be dominated by technological rationality, as Weber, Marx and others have long predicted, because the “mental structures” of humankind are, in crucial respects, unchanging. Human rationality never exists in a pure form, but is always tied into irrational systems of psychological defense, systems that are both primordial and cultural.


In a sense, Alexander wants to do for the personal computer, for modern technology, what Freud did for the mind and Weber did for capitalism in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: reveal its cultural and irrational dimensions in a rational way.


The personal computer and the internet have had profound effects on modern society. As such, and as Durkheim would have expected, the rhetoric and legitimating myths of the computer age are rife with religious themes. Alexander examined religiously based popular conceptions of technology in the United States—generally a religious, Christian country, but one that has been at the forefront of most modern technology—between the end of the second world war and 1975 (roughly the dawn of the age of the personal computer), and unearthed a Durkheimian pattern. In popular magazines (Time and Newsweek) and lay technology magazines (Popular Science), innovations in computer technology were introduced to the public wrapped up in a “transcendental and mythical discourse...filled with wish-fulfilling rhetoric of salvation and damnation” (p. 308). Alexander finds apocalyptic themes, themes of salvation, and even themes of the computer as the antichrist, the devil. Time and again, the marvels of computer technology were treated as sacred, existing at a remove from the profane world, and computer specialists as lay priests, intermediaries between technological divinity and the laity. Time, for example, wrote in 1965 of the “new breed of specialists [which] has grown up to tend the machines,” who “ have formed themselves into a solemn priesthood of the computer, purposely separated from ordinary laymen [and] speak[ing] an esoteric language that some suspect is just their way of mystifying outsiders” (Time, April 1965; qtd in Alexander 1992: 310). Completing their analogy three years later, Time wrote: “When we want to consult the deity, we go to the computer because it’s the closest thing to God to come along” (Time, March 1968).


“Idea Hamsters” on the “Bleeding Edge”: Profane Metaphors in High Technology Jargon

This was my first published article, and in a sense what I ended up doing was extending Alexander’s argument, which has roots in both Freud and Weber.


1) I argue that sacredness is not a consensual part of modern/postmodern culture the way it perhaps once was, and that the profane is worth thinking about more.


2) I argue that we can use theories of metaphor, and develop methods of analyzing metaphors, that can teach us a lot about culture. We can borrow ideas and methods from linguistics and cognitive psychology.


So it turns out that Silicon Valley people use a lot of jargon, and a lot of profane jargon, that is jargon with symbolism of bodies, animal, and death (all profane things).


This profane jargon has increased over time, and there is more of it in Silicon Valley than in other industries.


This jargon is structured in a binary way, that is in terms of a binary code, of

sacred/profane = technological progress/backwardness

For theorists of technological rationalization, Silicon Valley should be the most rational, most rationalized place in the world, as it is the source of so much of our everyday technology. But Silicon Valley has its own culture of technology, and it is a culture that is in many ways consistent with a centuries-old cultural code characterizing especially communities of innovation, in which technology is seen as sacred, and resistance to technological progress as profane.



Pierre Bourdieu, Snobs, and Omnivores


Bourdieuàsymbolic 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



Main ideas:

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




Distinction (excerpt)


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.


Bourdieu's Opponents:

   (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) " 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.'


Is this paranoid? Overdramatic??


 This allows us to see the social world in two ways, as the positions themselves thusly: (take culture and econ as examples)


           Hi Culture


             |     A



   Poor ---------------------------- Rich


             |  B

         c   |


           Low Culture


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,

not necessarily).


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





Michelle Lamont: Money, Morals, & Manners



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


“high-status signals”


“boundary work” work of maintaining distinctions between one’s own group and other groups



Types of symbolic boundaries


                      moral boundaries

                                drawn on the basis of moral character

                                                honesty, work ethic, integrity, consideration for others


                      socioeconomic boundaries

                                wealth, power, professional success


                      cultural boundaries

                                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

Wednesday schedule

posted Jul 26, 2010, 11:42 AM by Gabe Ignatow   [ updated Jul 27, 2010, 7:04 PM ]

1) Watch some of "Warriors of the Amazon"

2)  Lindsey Hooten will discuss "Idea Hamsters on the Bleeding Edge"

3) Professor Ignatow will discuss "The Discourse of American Civil Society"

4) 10-point quiz on Cultural Anthropology

5) Lecture on Bourdieu

10-point quiz this Wednesday on Cultural Anthropology

posted Jul 26, 2010, 11:39 AM by Gabe Ignatow   [ updated Jul 26, 2010, 11:41 AM ]

the quiz can cover ideas from: Ruth Benedict, Clifford Geertz, and Richard Shweder

Review Sheet for Exam 1

posted Jul 16, 2010, 11:08 AM by Gabe Ignatow

For the exam this Wednesday, you should be familiar with all of the readings and lectures from Parts I-III of the course: 

Part I:  Introduction

   Sewell, Smith, and Spillman

Part II: Critical Theory and its Critics

Philip Smith, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Liebes and Katz, and Bourdieu

Part III: Max Weber and Values Analysis

Smith, Weber, Turner, and Huntington

You should be able to define and knowledgeably discuss these key terms--although you are responsible for everything from the assigned readings and lectures.

Newtonian paradigm


Hypothesis testing

Cause-and-effect relationshipgs

"linguistic turn"

"cognitive revolution"

Sociology of culture

Cultural sociology

Culture as "cultivation"

Folk culture

Culture as learned behavior

Culture as creativity/agency

Culture as systems of symbols and meanings

Culture as a life-system, way of life

Culture as meaning

Historical materialism

Communist revolution

False consciousness

"Opium of the people"


Commodity Fetishism

Class consciousness


"Organic intellectuals"

Culture industry

"lowest common denominator"

reception studies

referential statements

critical framings

ludic keyings

invisible censorship

fast thinkers

the circular circulation of information



Purposive rationality




Bryan Turner

Islamic asceticism

Sufi mystics





Social capital

Supplementary Notes for Exam 1

posted Jul 16, 2010, 11:04 AM by Gabe Ignatow   [ updated Jul 18, 2010, 8:02 PM ]

These notes are not intended to serve as a replacement for doing the readings or taking your own notes from the class lectures and discussion. They may be useful for some of you, however.


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 à 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

Cultural sociology

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

Philip Smith, What is Culture? What is Cultural Theory?

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)

William H. Sewell, jr. The Concepts(s) of Culture


Lynn Spillman, Culture and Cultural Sociology

Sewell is a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin, Lynn Spillman teaches at Notre DameUniversity. Their two chapters provide good overviews of cultural theory and cultural sociology.

Please don’t worry if you don’t know some of the names they mention.

Let’s start with Sewell’s chapter.

In order to present the various conceptions of culture that have cropped up over the years, Sewell does a lot of splitting and categorizing of ideas. The first split is a major one, and it’s between 2 understandings of culture:

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.

Lynn Spillman

Argues that culture usually refers to

1. intellectual, spiritual, aesthetic development of an individual, group, or society

2. intellectual and artistic activities

3. way of life of a community or society

Culture is about meaning, while much of sociology, and the social sciences generally, ignores meaning

Marx on Religion à 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.

Philip Smith gives us a good overview of the interplay of Marxist thought and ideas about culture in his chapter. He makes three main points

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?

George Lukacs

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 stateintellectuals, 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

Max Weber and Religious Values



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.


                      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


  1. equality
  2. civility
  3. individualism
  4. time orientation
  5. religious outlook
  6. optimism versus pessimism
  7. “trust” and social capital
  8. “rationality”


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.


Exam Schedule for Undergraduates

posted Jul 13, 2010, 9:47 AM by Gabe Ignatow   [ updated Jul 21, 2010, 11:59 AM ]

Exam 1 (25%): Wednesday July 21 at 11:30am
this exam will cover: Part I - Part III of the course

10-point quiz: Wednesday July 28
the quiz will cover Part IV

Exam 2: (30%): Monday August 2 at 11:30am
this exam will cover Part V through the article by Small, Harding, and Lamont

Final Exam: Wednesday August 11, in class, at 11am
the final exam is not comprehensive: it covers everything after the article by Small, Harding, and Lamont

1-10 of 11