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Sociology of Culture: An Introduction

Опубликовано на портале: 07-02-2004
Кафедра: Социология
Дисциплина: Социология
Год: Fall 2002
Язык: Английский
Тематические разделы: Социология, Социология культуры

Aннотация:
Социология культуры – одна из наиболее широких, быстро развивающихся и противоречивых суботраслей социологии. Она включает социологию искусства, медиа и популярной культуры, религии, науки, права, языка, когнитивную социологию, социологию знания и идей и наверняка что-то еще, о чем автор может и забыть. Культурный анализ – также важная составляющая прочих социологических суботраслей (исторической, экономической, стратификационной). Культура не слишком похожа на отдельную область социальной жизни. Скорее – это аспект любого социального феномена.



Sociology of culture is among the broadest, fastest-moving, and most fuzzily-bounded of sociology's "subfields," encompassing sociology of the arts (in­clud­ing sociol­ogies of art, literature, and music); sociolog­ies of mass me­dia and of pop­ular cult­ure, of religion, sci­ence, law, and language; cognit­ive soc­iology, sociology of know­ledge and of ideas; and doubtless oth­ers I have forgotten. Moreover, cultural analysis is an important aspect of all other sociolog­ical subfields, having attained a prominent position in such areas (to name just a few) as historical sociology, economic sociology, and the study of social inequality. Although the seminar's topic makes institutional sense, it is intellect­ually odd, because "cul­t­ure" is less a distinct area of soc­ial life than an aspect of almost any phenomenon one might study. This raises four tempt­ations in syllabus-build­ing, two of them OK, and two of which I have resisted.

A bias towards institutional studies: If one identifies the sociology of culture with the study of distinct institutional areas (art, religion, science, law), one has the great advant­age of a bounded subject area, the study of which can attend even-handedly to the full range of practices and structures that constitute the institution in question. Arguably, sociologists of culture have made particular headway in these areas, and these areas are repre­sented on the syllabus (but not disproporationately so).

A bias towards studies with cultural "dependent variables." Studies may be recog­nized as cultural in so far as they try to explain cultural phenomena – ideolog­ies, attitudes, val­ues, schemata, or discourse, for example. There is lots of good work of this kind, and it will be represented on the syllabus – but, again, not to the exclusion of other material.

The third and fourth temptations reflect not conventions of classifying subject matter, but an ir­ony associated with the fact that every phenomenon has a cultural aspect. If an art­icle at­tempt­ing to explain something that is not itself "culture" -- for example, a behav­ior­al or structural reg­ul­ar­ity or historical event -- appears to be about "culture," the author is likely to have overest­im­ated the influence of culture and slighted other fact­ors. In so far as culture is inte­grated properly into the analy­sis, the work may appear not to be "about culture" at all. This invites the syllabus-maker to indulge:

A bias towards metatheory: If in empirical work a preoccupation with culture may lead to an analytic imbalance, in theoretical work it is perfectly legitimate to ask how cultural aspects of phenomena can best be con­ceived and studied. This is im­portant work -- soc­iology's theoretical and methodological treatment of culture is far less advanced than its treatment of structural phe­nomena -- but only as a guide to, not a substitute for, research. Rather than start with meta-the­ory, we spend the first 5 weeks on empir­ical work, which prepares us to consider programmatic claims in week 6.

A bias towards studies that overemphasize the importance of the cultural aspect of their sub­ject. The sociol­ogy of culture suffers in so far as its practitioners are tempted to cheer for cultur­al variables for their own sake. (The situation has gotten worse now that culture is fash­ionable: when most authors ignored culture, a paper that merely ack­nowledged culture's import­ance seemed to be "about" culture. Now that everyone be­lieves culture matters, the thresh­old is high­er.) We will be vigilant in our efforts to detect cases in which auth­ors place a thumb on the scales when weighing the importance of culture relative to other explan­at­ory factors.

Aside from this, there is so much interesting work spread out over such a vast sub­stantive ter­rain that selecting just enough for six weeks (the per­petual problem of mi­ni-courses) is even harder than usual. A syllabus that organized weeks around in­ter­esting substantive or the­or­etical quest­ions about which there is a tradition of good work would run on for many semest­ers. (I've lim­ited myself to 5 or 6 assigned readings per week. For more, see recommended readings and the supplementary reading list, awarded as a door prize to all students attending the first meeting.)

Instead, the approach of this seminar is to begin with relatively "micro" perspectives on culture -- cognitive, constructionist, and so on -- and to move towards more "mac­ro" perspect­ives over the course of the seminar, ending with a theoretical stock-taking in week 6. This approach has the ad­vantage of producing a fairly broad survey, for as one moves from micro to macro the sorts of con­structs people use to represent culture tend to change, as do the kinds of things they study and the means they use to study them.

The syllabus also reflects a bias towards em­pir­ical articles. I focus on articles be­cause they are shorter than books, and therefore we can read more of them. (Some books I'd like to assign are listed under "recommended readings.") I focus on the empirical because the point of the soci­ol­ogy of culture is to explain things -- about either culture or other phen­om­ena that cannot be un­derstood without reference to culture. (Note that this view does NOT entail a rejection of in­ter­pret­ation, as sociological explanat­ions of culture usually re­quire interpretation as a necessary step.) I define "explanat­­ion" broadly, but exclude op­ining without evidence. Other biases: against duplicating other graduate courses and (though I've tried to fight it), towards literatures (e.g., on the arts rather than science, micro or meso rather than macro issues) with which I am more familiar.

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Сергей Арсеньевич Ерофеев
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