Sociology 266: Sociology of Culture           Spring 1999

Prof. Chris Smith, Thursdays 2:00-4:50PM

This seminar will explore important literature in the sociology of culture, to consider how engaging in cultural analysis can enhance our empirical understanding of the social world. Key questions we will explore include: What exactly is “culture?” Of what does it consist? What is its analytical scope or domain? How does culture “work” in social life? And how does it relate to that which is not culture? How can culture be empirically accessed, measured, or interpreted? Etc. In general, we will try to approach culture as an explanatory factor, and not merely as a dependent variable to be explained by other more allegedly-fundamental “structural” or “material” variables; in other words, we will pursue a cultural sociology, and not merely a sociology of culture. The seminar will also recurrently seek to move beyond abstract theoretical debates—while incorporating their useful insights—always to consider issues of empirical and analytical utility, asking how any given approach informs or enhances our empirical inquiry and analysis. The seminar readings are designed to help prepare students to take the doctoral exam in Sociology of Culture. 


We will be reading the following books, which are available in the bookstore, in part or in their entirety:

              Jeffrey Alexander & Steven Seidman, Culture and Society, 1990

              Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, 1976

              Peter Berger & Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality, 1967

              Sherryl Kleinman, Opposing Ambitions, 1996

              Michèl Lamont, Money, Morals, and Manners, 1992

              George Thomas, Revivalism and Cultural Change, 1989

              Robert Wuthnow, Meaning and Moral Order, 1987

We will be reading only one chapter of Marshall Sahlins’, Culture and Practical Reason (1976), but the full book itself is also for sale in the bookstore. Bennett Berger’s, An Essay on Culture (1995) is not required, but recommended as an easy read, and also for sale in the bookstore. In addition to these books, a collection of chapters and articles listed below is on reserve in the Hamilton grad library. (NOTE: Readings listed below which are indented and in paretheses are only recommended, not required.)


Students are expected to complete the assigned readings and to participate constructively in the seminar discussions. Students must also write one paper—due at the end of the semester—related to the course materials. Papers may focus in depth on some theorist, school of thought, or analytical problematic in the sociology of culture; or papers may develop, in some depth, specific ways that cultural analysis can inform and enrich an actual empirical project on which they are working. Papers must be approved by the professor beforehand.


WEEK 1 (Jan 7) Introduction

WEEK 2 (Jan 14) General Orientation

              Raymond Williams, “Culture” (from Keywords)

Robert Wuthnow, “Introduction: New Directions in the Empirical Study of Cultural Codes” (Introduction to Wuthnow (ed.), Vocabularies of Public Life)

Jeffrey Alexander, “Analytic Debates” (A/S Part I)

Clifford Geertz, "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture"

(Sherri Ortner, "Theory in Anthropology Since the Sixties")

(Craig Calhoun, "Social Issues in the Study of Culture”)

(R. Wuthnow and M. Witten, "New Directions in the Study of Culture")

(Diane Crane, “Introduction: The Challenge of the Sociology of Culture to Sociology as a Discipline” (chapter 1 in Crane, The Sociology of Culture))

(Ewa Morawska and Willfried Spohn, “`Cultural Pluralism’ in Historical Sociology: Recent Theoretical Directions” (chapter 3 in Crane, The Sociology of Culture)

WEEK 3 (Jan 21) Culture as Constitutive of Social Life


Marshall Sahlins, “La Pensée Bourgeoise–Western Society as Culture,” (chapter 4 of Culture and Practical Reason)

Viviana Zelizer, “The Marking of Money,” (chapter 1 of The Social Meaning of Money)

Julie Brines, “Economic Dependency, Gender, & the Division of Labor at Home” (skim)

Jeffrey Alexander, "Social Structural Analysis"

(Wilhelm Dilthey, “The Human Studies” (A/S 1))

(for a dissenting view: Bennett Berger, An Essay on Culture)


WEEK 4 (Jan 28) Parsonian Functionalism and its Critique

Talcott Parsons & E. Shils, “Values and Social Systems” (A/S 2)

Robert Merton, “The Normative Structure of Science” (A/S 5)

S.M. Lipset, “Values and Democracy” (A/S 6)  

Michael Hechter, “Values Research in the Social and Behavioral Sciences” (chapter 1 of The Origin of Values)

(Talcott Parsons and Edward Shils, Toward a General Theory of Action (esp pp. 20-27)

(Judith Blake and Kingsley Davis, “Norms, Values, and Sanctions”)

(Jeffrey Alexander, “The Revolt Against the Parsonian Synthesis” (chapter 7 of Twenty Lectures)

(Michael Schmidt, “The Concept of Culture and Its Place within a Theory of Social Action” (chapter 4 in Richard Münch and Neil Smelser (eds.), Theory of Culture)


WEEK 5 (Feb 4) Social Construction and Cultural Legitimation  

Peter Berger & Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality

WEEK 6 (Feb 18) Recent Theoretical Statements I: Meaning, Action, and Structure

Wm. Sewell, "Toward a Theory of Structure"

Wm. Sewell, "The Concept(s) of Culture"


WEEK 7 (Feb 25) Recent Theoretical Statements II: Meaning, Action, and Structure

Anne Swidler, "Culture in Action"

Michael Schudson, "How Culture Works"

Steve Derné, “Cultural Conceptions of Human Motivation and Their Significance for Culture Theory” (chapter 11 in Diane Crane, The Sociology of Culture)


WEEK 8 (March 4) WEEK 9 (March 11) Coherence and Incoherence in Culture

Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (pp. 3-84)

George Thomas, Revivalism and Cultural Change (pp. 1-102)

(Neil Smelser, “Culture: Coherent or Incoherent” (chapter 1 in Richard Münch and Neil Smelser (eds.), Theory of Culture))




WEEK 10  (March 18) Marxian, Weberian, and Durkheimian Approaches

Alexander and Seidman, chapters 11-17

(Jeffrey Alexander (ed.), Durkheimian Sociology: Cultural Studies)


WEEK 11 (March 25) The Symbolic Interactionist Approach

Howard Becker, "Culture: A Sociological View"

Michael Schwalbe and D. Mason-Schrock, "Identity Work as Group Process"

Sherryl Kleinman, Opposing Ambitions

(Erving Goffman, “Out-of-frame Activity” (A/S 9))

(Clifford Geertz, “The Balinese Cockfight as Play” (A/S 10))


WEEK 12 (April 1) Robert Wuthnow I

Robert Wuthnow, Communities of Discourse (Introduction)

Robert Wuthnow, Meaning and Moral Order (TBA)


WEEK 13 (April 8) Robert Wuthnow II

Robert Wuthnow, Meaning and Moral Order (TBA)


WEEK 14 (April 15) Pierre Bourdieu I

David Swartz, Culture and Power (pp TBA)


WEEK 15 (April 22) Pierre Bourdieu II

Pierre Bourdieu, "Structures, Habitus, Power" (in Outline of a Theory of Practice)        Pierre Bourdieu, Distinctions (Ch 5)


WEEK 16 (April 29) Michele Lamont

Lamont, Money, Morals, and Manners (TBA)





1. The “Production of Culture” School: for starters, Richard Peterson, (i) "Revitalizing the Culture Concept” (AJS 1979), (ii) The Production of Culture, (Sage 1976) and (iii) “Cultural Studies Through the Production Perspective: Progress and Prospects” (chapter 7 in Diane Crane’s The Sociology of Culture).


2. “High culture” vs. “popular culture” issues: e.g., Mukerji and Schudson (eds.), Rethinking Popular Culture (Calif 1991), Christopher Geist and Jack Nachbar (eds.), The Popular Culture Reader (3rd Ed.) (Bowling Green 1983), Howard Becker, Art Worlds (Calif 1982), Judith Blau, The Shape of Culture (Cambridge 1989), Herbert Gans, Popular Culture and High Culture (Basic Books 1974).


3. The Skocpol vs. Sewell debate on “structure” vs. “culture” in revolutions: Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions (Ch 1); Sewell, “Ideologies and Social Revolutions” and Skocpol, “Cultural Idioms and Political Ideologies in the Revolutionary Reconstruction of State Power,” both in Journal of Modern History, Vol. 57, No 1 (March): pp. 57-96.


4. Jürgen Habbermas: The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (MIT Press 1996), Between Facts and Norms(MIT Press 1996).


5. Norbert Elias: The History of Manners (Pantheon 1987), The Norbert Elias Reader (Blackwell 1998).