Despite their popularity and normalization, the public image of conspiracy theory remains morally tainted. Academics contribute by conceiving of conspiracy theorists as a coherent collective: internal variety is sacrificed for a clear external demarcation. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in the Netherlands, we explore variation in the conspiracy milieu through people’s own self-understanding. More particularly, we study how these people identify with and distinguish themselves from others. The analysis shows that they actively resist their stigmatization as ‘conspiracy theorists’ by distinguishing themselves from the mainstream as ‘critical freethinkers’. The trope ‘I am not a conspiracy theorist’ is used to reclaim rationality by labelling others within the conspiracy milieu the ‘real’ conspiracy theorists. Secondly, their ideas of self and other make three groups apparent: ‘activists’, ‘retreaters’ and ‘mediators’. Conspiracy culture, we conclude, is not one monolithic whole, but rather a network of different groups of people, identifying with different worldviews, beliefs, and practices.
Omnivorous cultural theory highlights the persistence of inequalities within gourmet food culture despite its increasing democratization, arguing that foods remain symbols of distinction through their framing as ‘authentic’ and ‘exotic’. Where these two frames have been shown to encompass problematic racial connotations, questions arise over how racial inequalities manifest in foodie discourse. Drawing from interviews with foodies of color living in Toronto, Canada, this article examines how these inequalities are reproduced, adjusted and resisted by people of color. It asks: how do foodies of color interpret and deploy dominant foodie frames of authenticity and exoticism? Analysis reveals each frame’s potential both to encourage cross-cultural understanding and essentialize or exacerbate ethno-cultural difference. Participants’ ambivalent relationship with foodie discourse (i.e. deploying it alongside critiquing it) highlights how cultural capital works alongside ethno-racial inequalities, and reveals the racial tensions remaining within foodies’ attempts to reconcile democracy and distinction.
There is currently a need for cultural sociology to readdress the work of humanistic and cultural Marxism. While recently much of this work has been dismissed, the appearance of more radical social movements and the ongoing crisis of neoliberalism suggest that it still has much to tell us. In this respect, this article seeks to readdress the writing of the historian E. P. Thompson, arguing that his work on the class-based and other social movements, poetics, critique of positivism and economic reason, utopia and the idea of the commons all have much to offer more contemporary scholarship. While the article recognises that the cultural Marxism of figures like Thompson cannot simply be resurrected, it does continue to offer a number of critical insights. By readdressing the internal complexity of Thompson’s writing, the argumentative strategy of this article suggests that cultural sociology needs to move beyond more simplistic understandings of cultural Marxism and more carefully explore what it has to offer. This is especially pressing in a world that after the financial crash of 2008 has become increasingly dominated by the values and practices of capitalism. In this respect, Thompson’s contribution to cultural sociology is to offer a more complex language of resistance and transformation than exists within other less class-based traditions of sociology.
‘Reality’ television is a global and highly popular television phenomenon. Despite its public and academic critique as cultural ‘trash’, the genre enjoys great economic legitimacy. In recent years, other ‘trashy’ television genres, such as soap operas, have gained aesthetic-artistic legitimacy alongside their economic legitimacy. Taking a Bourdieusian approach and using the discourse about Israeli ‘reality’ shows as a case study, this article addresses the question of whether a similar process is evident in television critics’ attitudes towards reality television. Using quantitative and qualitative content analysis of reviews of ‘reality’ shows between 2003 and 2014, the article shows that the main question debated in such reviews is the genre’s morality rather than its aesthetic value: for Israeli critics, it is the moral attributes of these shows, not their aesthetic or artistic worth, which determine their ‘quality’.
While Pierre Bourdieu argues that cultural capital is grounded in distinct aesthetic knowledge and tastes among elites, Francie Ostrower emphasizes that cultural capital grows out of the social organization of elite participation in the arts. This article builds on Ostrower’s perspective on cultural capital, as well as Milton Gordon’s concept of the ethclass group and Prudence Carter’s concept of black cultural capital, to elaborate how culture’s importance for class and ethnic cohesion is rooted in the separate spheres of arts philanthropy among black and white elites. The argument is empirically illustrated using the case of arguably the most prominent mainstream and African-American museums in New York City – the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) and the Studio Museum in Harlem (SMH). Findings show that relative to the Met board the SMH board is an important site of unification for elite blacks, and in comparison to the SMH board, the Met board is a notable site of cohesion for elite whites. This article advances theory and research on cultural capital by elaborating how it varies among elite ethclass groups. Moreover, it highlights how the growth of African-American museums not only adds color to the museum field, but also fosters bonds among the black middle and upper class.
Study of the consumption of counterfeit products casts consumers as reflexive agents who knowingly break the law (through the consumption of illegal commodities). Because this analysis is pitched at the level of meaning rather than structural constraints, it produces a misleading view of reflexive counterfeit consumption as being motivated by resistance or the wish to escape from normative coercion. This article contrasts this with approaches that prefigure meaning in explaining counterfeit commerce by treating the trade as an unavoidable structural feature of capitalism. That is, the structural logic of capital accumulation inevitably creates a black market of counterfeit commerce. It is a parasitic form of illegal consumerism which mirrors conventional capitalist organization, reproducing familiar dynamics of status differentiation.
How do music venues reconcile competing desires for popularity and uniqueness in their bookings? According to 25 semi-structured, in-depth interviews with the staff of licensed and unlicensed music venues, gatekeepers tended to prefer ‘weird’ music in terms of unconventionality and even obscurity rather than focusing on cultural similarity through genre conventions. Respondents described at least three ways to reconcile this internal tension of cultural-economic value. A few licensed venue administrators took popularity within the ‘underground’ as an index of value. Others constructed a narrative of building bands from obscurity to success in terms of both economic and cultural value. However, most respondents described strategies of differentiation between cultural and economic value in their economic relationships. This final way of understanding the cultural economy extends Zelizer’s theory of relational economics to find that economic actors do not only differentiate transactions according to social ties but also may differentiate their exchange relationships according to opposing value judgments.
The debate over the rise of eclecticism, more particularly Peterson’s ‘omnivore thesis’, has received much attention over recent years. For Lahire, eclecticism reflects less an increasing individual openness to a variety of cultural styles than intra-individual dissonances. Based on a large survey into cultural practices in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation (Belgium – N = 2021), this article compares these two notions with the aim of understanding the complexity of the structural relations that organise cultural tastes and practices into ‘cultural profiles’. I argue that omnivorousness cannot be reduced to dissonance but instead both notions characterise different configurations of cultural choices. More importantly, I show that identifying omnivorous and dissonant patterns matters less than understanding how these patterns emerge from tensions between existing and emerging cultural hierarchies at the individual and social levels.
Drawing on interviews with private and personal chefs, this study highlights the interplay between internal and external forces shaping boundary work. Private and personal chefs’ social and professional position is ambiguous, and their employment is precarious. In order to navigate their uncertain standing and assert self-worth, some drew boundaries between themselves and clients. They disliked clients who were wasteful, lacked the ‘right’ motivations for hiring a chef, or lacked the ‘right’ taste or approach to food. But rather than simply seeking to establish superiority, the chefs distanced themselves from and disregarded clients who seemed not to see them as they saw themselves – as skilled and valuable workers. This article argues that a desire for self-verification – to have one’s self-views verified by others – can activate boundaries. It suggests that an uncertain standing might foster this desire, and that workers’ views of themselves vis-à-vis other workers can drive their evaluations of clients.
Standard American disciplinary history holds that the ‘founding fathers’, inspired by ‘great men theorizing European modernity’, created a sister discipline in Europe’s image. This article proposes an alternative history, which locates the founding of American sociology in the writings of ‘pro-slavery imperialists’ Henry Hughes and George Fitzhugh. A methodologically nationalistic sociology of ‘race relations’, which isolates the study of race from issues of ‘general’ sociological concern, has substituted for sustained engagement with sociology’s colonialist and imperialist past. Racism has been made an anachronistic survivor in tradition, rather than a constitutive part of modernity. Rehabilitating this lost history is therefore vital for creating a new, global historical sociology, as is questioning the conceptual matrix that isolates the study of race and racism from issues of general sociological concern.
What should ‘global’ stand for in order to qualify ‘historical sociology’ when it aspires to move beyond its Eurocentric foundations? The answer to this question lies in the ability to investigate the limits that Eurocentrism imposes on the possibility of reformulating the world as a unit of analysis, and simultaneously in tackling the centrality of the colonial question in methodological and epistemological terms, rather than exclusively in historical terms.
This article presents a creative direction for public sociology: novel writing. Narrativity is embedded within much contemporary sociological work, and sociologists and novelists share a number of complementary approaches for understanding and interpreting the social world. This article argues that novel writing presents sociologists with a process and medium through which they can expand their work for a more public, engaging, affective, and panoramic sociology. Here, the historical development of sociological thought is considered as well as the recent progress of public sociology. Three key strengths of sociological novels are presented: promoting public sociology and interlocutor engagement; transforming knowledge exchange from mimetic to sympractic communication; and addressing issues of scope. Two recent sociological novels are discussed: Blue by Patricia Leavy and On The Cusp by David Buckingham, both published in 2015. Finally, two linked aspects for (thinking about) writing sociological fiction are explored: the concept of glocality and the methodology of ethnography. Employing creative mediums such as novels as public sociology may cultivate a wider, affective public engagement with significant academic ideas such as the sociological imagination. Sociological novels work to bring the local and global into dialogue, and may help achieve the scope and panoramic depth that sociology requires.
The discovery of a rock art site in 2008 by an amateur archaeologist spurred a wave of public interest in archaeology in Maragatería, Spain. As new discoveries took place, alternative archaeological discourses thrived facing the inaction of institutional and academic archaeologists. A long-term study of Maragatería carried out by the author serves to explore the construction of archaeological epistemic authority in a context where various social actors compete for dominance. Gieryn’s notion of ‘boundary-work’ serves to analyse the different strategies employed by academic and institutional archaeologists, amateurs and pseudoarchaeologists to build epistemic authority. This article draws on Latour’s affirmation that the legitimisation of scientific objectivity should rely on ‘trust’ rather than on ‘certainty’. Ethnographic research showed that the more archaeologists attempted to legitimise their authority by reclaiming certainty, the more pseudoarchaeology proliferated. In contrast, the work of amateurs restrained the growth of pseudoarchaeology by creating networks of trust.
This article is a historiographical and methodological intervention in the discussion of modernity, coloniality, and global history. It does two things. First, it highlights an important but neglected topic in the existing literature on modernity and globalization, viz. the significant role of science in traditional narratives of modernity. These traditional narratives have been challenged by new approaches in both history of science and history of modernity. The article goes further and provides a critique of these new approaches. It argues that they should take more into account the concepts of scale and region. Second, the article suggests a methodologically oriented and operational definition of region in the context of history of science and modernity. To illustrate this point, it discusses the potential and risks of adopting ‘Asia as method’ as an approach to global history of science and modernity.
Historical sociology can be understood both as a specific sub-field of sociology and as providing general conceptual underpinnings of the discipline, to the extent that it provides an understanding of the specificity of the modern state and the perceived emergence of modernity within Europe. The association of modernity with Europe (and with a European history limited to the self-identified boundaries of the continent) is commonplace and pervasive within the social sciences and humanities. What such an understanding fails to take into consideration, however, are the connections between Europe and the rest of the world that constitute the broader context for the emergence of what is understood to be the modern world and its institutions, such as the state and market. In this article, I suggest that integral to this misunderstanding, and its reproduction over time, is the methodology of comparative historical sociology as represented by ideal types. In contrast, I argue for ‘connected sociologies’ as a more appropriate way to understand our shared past and its continuing impact upon the present. I examine these issues in the context of historical sociological understandings of nation-state formation.
In recent times it has been argued that thinking with the concept of ‘modernity’ entails, or at least makes one prey to, Eurocentrism. Those who are troubled by this have sought to rethink the concept such that one can ‘think with’ modernity, while avoiding, or even challenging, Eurocentrism. This article surveys some such attempts, before moving on to argue that the question of whether modernity is principally a European phenomenon or not cannot be adequately framed without considering the knowledge within which the question comes to be posed; for the knowledge through which we represent and understand modernity is itself, in its origins, European (and modern), and thus the relations between this knowledge and the ‘real’ that it purports to characterize, also need to be interrogated. Doing so, the article suggests, complicates the task of understanding modernity in non-Eurocentric terms, and leads to the recognition that the concept of modernity is not simply a means by which we describe, grasp or apprehend a phenomenon external to it, but that it is itself involved in the production of the modern. If this is so, we are (West and non-West) modern, though not in the way that we have hitherto presumed.
From its inception the medium of writing has been a source of moral concern. The growth of the printed media reinforced these apprehensions. Fears about the media effect on the behaviour of readers became recurring phenomena – in some cases provoking reactions characterised as a moral panic. These periodic outbursts of disquiet can be best understood as panics about the potential impact of the media on public morality. Such reactions were not simply media panics but panics about the effects of the media. The focus of anxiety was not on any particular issue but on the threat to moral authority posed by the media on the outlook and behaviour of the public. By its very existence the media appeared to represent a potential threat to the moral order. Exploring the moral dimension of this reaction is essential for the study of moral panics.
Raymond Williams had an enduring interest in science fiction, an interest attested to: first, by two articles specifically addressed to the genre, both of which were eventually published in the journal Science Fiction Studies; second, by a wide range of reference in more familiar texts, such as Culture and Society, The Long Revolution, George Orwell and The Country and the City; and third, by his two ‘future novels’, The Volunteers and The Fight for Manod, the first clearly science-fictional in character, the latter less so. This article will summarise this work, and will also explore how some of Williams’s more general key theoretical concepts – especially structure of feeling and selective tradition – can be applied to the genre. Finally, it will argue that the ‘sociological’ turn, by which Williams sought to substitute description and explanation for judgement and canonisation as the central purposes of analysis, represents a more productive approach to science fiction studies than the kind of prescriptive criticism deployed by other avowedly ‘neo-Marxist’ works, such as Darko Suvin’s Metamorphoses of Science Fiction and Fredric Jameson’s Archaeologies of the Future.
Media convergence and growing financial pressure on the journalistic field have triggered significant changes in newsmaking cultures across the world. This article examines the challenges of media convergence in the newsroom of Valor Econômico, the main economic newspaper in Brazil. In particular, it explores how the introduction in 2013 of Valor Pro, a real time news service oriented to the financial market, changed newsmaking practices at Valor Econômico. The introduction of Valor Pro meant that journalists from the whole newsroom had to report news simultaneously for three platforms: the real time service, the online website and the printed paper. This shift not only intensified journalists’ workloads and altered the manufacture of news, but also increased financial pressure on the paper’s agenda. I argue that this shift – from producing news for the public towards producing news for the market – cannot be explained solely with reference to traditional political economic factors such as ideological decisions at editorial level and the structural properties of the Brazilian media sphere. Instead, drawing on resources from cultural sociology and from science and technology studies, I provide a richer explanation that acknowledges the impact of technological innovation, the shifting nature of news values, and the agency of journalists themselves. This article elaborates on seven months of ethnographic fieldwork in Valor Econômico’s newsroom in São Paulo between 2013 and 2015 and contributes to the literature on cultural sociology, media studies and science and technology studies.
This article aims to demonstrate the enduring relevance of Pierre Bourdieu and Luc Boltanski’s ‘La production de l’idéologie dominante’ [‘The production of the dominant ideology’], which was originally published in Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales in 1976. More than three decades later, in 2008, a re-edited version of this study was printed in book format as La production de l’idéologie dominante, which was accompanied by a detailed commentary, written by Luc Boltanski and entitled Rendre la réalité inacceptable. À propos de « La production de l’idéologie dominante » [Making Reality Unacceptable. Comments on ‘The production of the dominant ideology’]. In addition to containing revealing personal anecdotes and providing important sociological insights, this commentary offers an insider account of the genesis of one of the most seminal pieces Boltanski co-wrote with his intellectual father, Bourdieu. In the Anglophone literature on contemporary French sociology, however, the theoretical contributions made both in the original study and in Boltanski’s commentary have received little – if any – serious attention. This article aims to fill this gap in the literature, arguing that these two texts can be regarded not only as forceful reminders of the fact that the ‘dominant ideology thesis’ is far from obsolete but also as essential for understanding both the personal and the intellectual underpinnings of the tension-laden relationship between Bourdieu and Boltanski. Furthermore, this article offers a critical overview of the extent to which the unexpected, and partly posthumous, reunion between ‘the master’ (Bourdieu) and his ‘dissident disciple’ (Boltanski) equips us with powerful conceptual tools, which, whilst illustrating the continuing centrality of ‘ideology critique’, permit us to shed new light on key concerns in contemporary sociology and social theory. Finally, the article seeks to push the debate forward by reflecting upon several issues that are not given sufficient attention by Bourdieu and Boltanski in their otherwise original and insightful enquiry into the complexities characterizing the daily production of ideology.
This article reports on a mixed-methods study of the cultural valuing of ‘interactive fiction’ or ‘text adventure games’: a formerly commercial videogame genre sometimes associated with electronic literature but here argued to be best understood in context of the under-researched phenomenon of ‘retrogaming’ or ‘old school gaming’. It is argued that a model for the study of retrogaming scenes is provided in Lena and Peterson’s account of ‘traditionalist’ musical genres, and that these in turn exhibit similarities with Bourdieu’s ‘field of restricted production’. On the basis of qualitative analysis of interviews and documents and quantitative analysis of valuing behaviour on a website used by the interactive fiction community, it is proposed that entrance into the mutually-valuing peer group of interactive fiction developers is facilitated by possession of two intangible resources: linguistic capital (in the form of proficiency in Standard English) and development capital (in the form of expertise with programming languages specific to the production of interactive fiction), where development capital is a new concept that may be extensible to other technically-oriented digital cultures (for example, the working cultures of professional software developers and the communities that form around open source projects). Expressions of value in the form of star ratings were collected procedurally through data scraping, and represented as a directed graph. Seidman’s k-core was innovatively used as an instrument for detecting mutually-valuing peer groups within that graph. It is argued that this methodology has general application for the study of cultural value and its production within social networks (both online and off), including networks associated with more established cultural fields such as art and literature.
This article expands recent attempts to theorise the role of culture’s materiality in Pierre Bourdieu’s relational epistemology. Drawing on empirical research about the reception of rock and jazz in Italy, and focusing on the evaluative practices of Italian critics, the article theorises cultural evaluation as a social encounter between the dispositions of social actors (i.e. their habitus) and the aural, visual and narrative properties of cultural objects. The article argues that such encounters produce relational aesthetic experiences, which are neither a property of social actors (e.g. their class) nor of cultural artefacts, but emerge from interactions between the socio-historical specificity of the habitus and different cultural materials. This theoretical synthesis, it is argued, can account for meanings and affects which, albeit co-produced by embodied dispositions, are neither reducible to such dispositions nor to practices of distinction. Further, it can account for the formative power of aesthetic experiences, that is, the extent to which they create durable dispositions and attachments.
The sociology of literature has a troubled history. Across the past 50 years, proposal after proposal has attempted to develop a method and bridge the cultural division between the social sciences and literary studies. Focusing on the most recent attempt to revitalise the field, this article examines the legacy of the ‘two cultures’ in current debates about the politics and value of method. Departing from the Marxist tone of preceding arguments, James F. English’s (2010) description of the sociology of literature bears the influence of the recent turn away from critique toward alternative modes of inquiry. Tracing the logic of this turn, my article questions whether an opposition between critical and ‘new’ genres is a useful step forward for the sociology of literature or a continuation of the two cultures divide its intervention aims to rethink. Furthermore, it considers what is at stake in recent disciplinary representations of critical sociology and the intellectual fate of ideology critique.
In recent decades, research on ‘political apology’, wherein the state apologizes to victims of its past wrongs, has multiplied, as redress movements based on human rights have proliferated around the world. Since most of this research has been conducted by political philosophers, however, analyses of political apologies tend to adopt formal and normative perspectives. To propose an alternative, empirically-grounded approach, in this paper, I develop the ‘cultural pragmatics’ of political apology. To this end, I first conceptualize political apology as a social performance aimed to ‘re-fuse’ an impaired relationship between the perpetrator state and the victim individual. This conceptual move enables systematic analysis of political apology in terms of six elements constitutive of social performance: collective representations, actors, audience, means of symbolic production, mise-en-scène, and power. To elaborate this model of the cultural pragmatics of political apology, I then examine the protracted dispute over wartime atrocities that Japan committed against South Korea.
Although discounts in art markets are commonplace, the phenomenon remains largely unresearched. This paper looks at how art market actors understand the functions of discounts, focusing on ‘suppliers’ of the market and drawing on qualitative interviews with artists and art dealers from New Delhi and Mumbai, conducted in January–April 2013. The theoretical basis of this paper is a cultural sociological stance on the functioning of markets, showing how a shared system of norms and values affects the operation of a market. Two circuits of commerce are distinguished in the Indian art market: internationally oriented artists and dealers, whose attitude towards discounts is shaped by the desire to defend the aesthetic value of art; and locally oriented artists and dealers, who are positive about giving discounts and embrace them as a legitimate element of their national culture.
In recent years, a small but prolific network of French magicians and their allies have taken calculated, systematic, and very public steps to reposition magic as a form of high culture, produced and received according to a set of distinctively artistic criteria, and linked institutionally to the realm of fine arts. They call what they are doing ‘new magic’ (la magie nouvelle). This article takes a conversation analytic approach to a verbal disagreement between one of new magic’s principal proponents and a relatively senior music scholar who questions how art-like new magic really is. The speakers mutually accomplish the activity of arguing by realizing associated design features such as negative personal assessments, overlapping talk, format tying, sarcasm, bald directives, and interruption. In so doing, they also co-construct interactional identities as cultural insurgent and cultural gatekeeper, shaping this particular speech event as a skirmish in a conflictual and unresolved process of artification.
The ideas of the New Left and the recently emerged alter-globalisation movements are marginal within current policy debates concerning the English education system. Here I seek to demonstrate the interconnections between the New Left and the alter-globalisation movement and suggest that these ideas contain a powerful corrective to the increasingly authoritarian present. The next part of the article considers the development of neoliberalism both in a theoretical context and since the arrival of the new Conservative–Liberal government in the UK. Here I outline the rapid transformation of English schools under the academies programme and look at how it has been explicitly linked to ideas of ‘moral collapse’ evident in the popular discourse of ‘Broken Britain’. Especially significant in this respect has been the labelling of comprehensive schools as ‘failures’ and the explicit imposition of more authoritarian understandings of pedagogy. I seek to explore both the rapidity of this transformation in the context of the dissatisfaction with the idea of comprehensive schools shown by the political Right and the Third Way’s reworking of socialism. Finally I briefly consider more progressive alternatives for schools and education by returning to the idea of the democratic commons. In this respect, the cultural Left needs to explore more radical alternatives beyond the defence of comprehensive schooling which sounds both nostalgic and misplaced within our global times.
Despite the large amount of sociological work on human embodiment very little has been done on the embodiment of music or musicking. In this paper I seek to open this area up by way of two key concepts: ‘body techniques’ and ‘music worlds’. Specifically I seek to explore the role of body techniques within music worlds. The first part of the paper engages with the work of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Culture Studies on subcultures, considering how this might shed light upon the body techniques used by audiences in music worlds. The second part turns to artists, support personnel and their body techniques. In this second part specific attention is given to the interplay between body techniques and other key elements of music worlds, namely networks, conventions, resources and places.
Based on findings and suggestions originating from educational research, several cultural sociologists have claimed that the education system has contributed to the erosion of the institutionalized character of fine arts throughout the 20th century. However, empirical research to substantiate this claim is scarce. We focus on secondary education in Flanders to study the centrality of high culture. Our goal is twofold. First, we want to reflect on the ways the education system can – via the process of institutionalization – infuse certain cultural products with status. Second, we offer an exploratory analysis by studying whether the extent of institutionalization of traditional high culture in the education system has decreased over the course of the 20th century. Our analyses indicate that, in the period 1930–2000, both high and low cultural forms are increasingly being represented in the school context. However, we find that the increase of high culture is especially situated in the academic track – the most prestigious track, designed to cultivate the future elite. In this way, throughout the 20th century, the education system continued to channel high culture to the upper social strata of society, thus infusing these forms of culture with status.
While parental encouragement or parent-led consumption transmits cultural practices from parents to children, the reasons parents provide regarding why they encourage cultural engagement remains unclear. Using music as a case study, and through analysing semi-structured interviews, this research explores how parents express and actualise their desire for their children to learn to play a musical instrument. Results suggest that respondents do not strongly associate musical practice with developing valued character traits nor with social or educational attainment. Instead, parental encouragement to play music is shaped by family ties and the parental perception of ‘natural’ talent in their children. Parental perception of natural talent is most common among parents who themselves play an instrument and among those parents who play music with their children. Family and musicality are the most commonly cited reasons for encouraging music and these are found among all educational groups. Without dismissing the importance of social position, this evidence suggests that parents articulate their preferences toward musical participation in terms of familial cohesion and shared identity.
This article develops the notion of ‘sound environment’ as a new way of theorizing the relationship between music, audiences and everyday life. The article draws on findings from an empirical case study conducted with young people between the ages of 21 and 32. In focusing on this age range, we consider ‘mundane’ music consumption practices in contrast to the more ‘spectacular’ forms of youth cultural music consumption often documented in academic work. In an age characterized by the increasing omnipresence of music, young people hear or listen to music in various configurations, for example, by mobilizing a particular music technology and content or hearing music while shopping in a department store, visiting a friend at home, or travelling in an elevator. Drawing on the concept of the ‘sound environment’, this article looks at variables of space, time and body to explain the contextualization of music in everyday life.
What is the basis of the value and pleasure that participants derive from participation in music worlds? Participants often have a great passion for those worlds and for the artists, works, identities and conventions which constitute and populate them. Sociology, however, is not very good at explaining or exploring such passion and commitment. To do this in relation to music requires that we take the pleasures and satisfactions of ‘musicking’ (i.e. all activities pertaining to music) seriously. This paper calls for an interrogation of the mechanisms and dynamics of music’s intrinsic pleasures. We argue that it is necessary to explore the mechanisms involved in the intrinsic pleasures of musicking, and that to do so means analysing the ‘internal goods’ of music worlds and the role that conventions play in the production of pleasure and commitment.
Makeover television shows are notorious for presenting oppressive and unrealistic images of women, but a sizable portion of makeover contestants are men. What does this mean for the impact of such shows on gender culture? Using data collected from transcripts of five different programs, we find that gender, power, and heterosexuality intertwine within makeover plots in three ways. First, makeover shows link the promise of personal transformation to uncovering an accentuated femininity or masculinity lurking beneath surface-level shortcomings. Second, shows featuring male contestants make status and wealth central to their transformations. While female contestants focus on their bodies, men are offered opportunities and encouragement to engage in ‘manhood acts’ (Schrock and Schwalbe, 2009): deliberate efforts to claim membership in the privileged gender group. Third, makeovers rely upon heteronormative understandings of masculinity and femininity as opposites that attract. For men in particular, heterosexual relationships (whether real or imagined) provide the evidence within each episode that their makeovers have successfully rehabilitated their masculinity and their gender privilege. Thus the presence of men in the makeover genre reifies existing ideologies of gender inequality in which social status is a requisite component of masculinity, deference to men is a requisite component of femininity, and a male-dominated heterosexuality is a requisite component of both.
Of the many challenging issues facing cosmopolitan thought today, a major one is the problem of conceptual and cultural translation, since it is often the case that cosmopolitanism is highly relevant to Indian and Chinese thought, even though the term itself is not used in the sources or in the interpretations. Three problems are addressed, namely universalist versus contextualist positions, Eurocentrism, and the problem of conceptual and cultural translations between western and non-western thought. The central argument is that cosmopolitanism thought needs to expand beyond its western genealogy to include other world traditions. However, the solution is not simply to identify alternative cultural traditions to western ones which might be the carriers of different kinds of cosmopolitan values, but of identifying in these different cultural traditions resources for cosmopolitics. In this way critical cosmopolitanism seeks to find an alternative both to strong contextualist as well as strong universalist positions.
Sociology has largely ignored the contribution of the German Nobel-Prize-winning chemist Wilhelm Ostwald to the sociology of energy, mainly due to Max Weber’s (1909) dismissive reception of Ostwald’s ‘energetical thought’. This article reclaims Ostwald’s significance for contemporary sociology, through a translation and exposition of ‘Sociological Energetics’, first published in 1908 as the final chapter of a popular book on energy. Ostwald’s deliberations, which derive from his engagement in contemporary debates on thermodynamics and energetics, brought him into contact with classical sociologists, including Rudolf Goldscheid, Georg Simmel, Ferdinand Tönnies and Weber. Ostwald’s contribution to sociology lies in his focus on the cultural significance of energy relations and transformations. In their encounters with Ostwald and energetics, Simmel, Tönnies and Weber all reveal the potential importance of Ostwald’s work on energy relations in thinking productively about the relationship between technology and culture.
This article explores changes in media and political culture in the US since 11 September 2001. Our specific focus is opinion media on cable television, in particular Fox News Channel’s Hannity & Colmes program. We argue that the events of September 11 provided an opportunity for conservative pundits to respond to some of the cultural limitations that had been associated with the cable talk format, creating a new cultural environment for mediated political debate in the US. These changes have pushed the cable talk shows even further away from the dominant practices of the journalistic field, turning them into clearly-delineated partisan interpretive communities, in which the crafting of political narratives is moving beyond the control of political party leaders.
‘Is this art?’ is a question often raised by museum visitors when encountering contemporary artworks. But what factors influence museum visitors’ judgement on contemporary art? To what extent do visitors’ prior knowledge, socio-demographic background, emotional experiences, and specific aspects of the artwork itself, influence their judgements? In the context of the Swiss National research project eMotion – Mapping Museum Experience, we investigated these questions experimentally. The site specific intervention created by the renown artist Nedko Solakov in the St. Gallen Fine Arts Museum allowed us to conduct such a concrete experiment. We interpreted the findings by statistical analyses of the data gathered from entry and exit questionnaires (n=291) in view of sociological art theories dominant in the last few decades. Against theoretical expectations, we found that the judgement art/non-art was driven by several factors not anticipated by those theories.
In aesthetic terms, the category of ‘sound’ is often split in two: ‘noise’, which is chaotic, unfamiliar, and offensive; and ‘music’, which is harmonious, resonant, and divine. These opposing concepts are brought together in the phenomenon of Noise Music, but how do practitioners make sense of this apparent discordance? Analyses that treat recorded media as primary texts declare Noise Music to be a failure, as a genre without progress. These paint Noise as a polluted form in an antagonistic relationship with traditional music. But while critiques often point to indeterminate structure as indicative of the aesthetic project’s limitations, we claim that indeterminacy itself becomes central to meaningful expression when the social context of Noise is considered. Through observational and interview data, we consider the contexts, audiences, and producers of contemporary American Noise Music. Synthesizing the performance theories of Hennion and Alexander, we demonstrate how indeterminacy situated in structured interaction allows for meaning-making and sustains a musical form based in claims to inclusion, access, and creative freedom. We show how interaction, not discourse, characterizes the central performance that constructs the meaning of Noise.
In recent years, sociological research on cosmopolitanism has begun to draw on Pierre Bourdieu to critically examine how cosmopolitanism is implicated in stratification on an increasingly global scale. In this paper, we examine the analytical potential of the Bourdieusian approach by exploring how education systems help to institutionalize cosmopolitanism as cultural capital whose access is rendered structurally unequal. To this end, we first probe how education systems legitimate cosmopolitanism as a desirable disposition at the global level, while simultaneously distributing it unequally among different groups of actors according to their geographical locations and volumes of economic, cultural, and social capital their families possess. We then explore how education systems undergird profitability of cosmopolitanism as cultural capital by linking academic qualifications that signal cosmopolitan dispositions with the growing number of positions that require extensive interactions with people of multiple nationalities.
This essay proposes that shame may be one of the keys to understanding our civilization: shame or its anticipation is virtually ubiquitous, yet, at the same time, usually invisible. Since the vernacular term for shame is wildly ambiguous, a tentative definition is proposed. C.H. Cooley’s idea of the looking-glass self implies that shame and pride can be seen as signals of the state of the social bond. Theoretical work by Cooley and Erving Goffman imply ubiquity, and empirical studies by Norbert Elias and by Helen Lewis provide support. Elias’s and Lewis’s findings also suggest that shame is usually invisible; Elias stated this proposition explicitly. Furthermore, like other emotions, such as fear, shame can be recursive, acting back on itself (shame about shame). In some circumstances, limitless recursion of shame may explain extreme cases of silence or violence. To the extent that these ideas hold true, there would be an urgent need to apply them to many of our most crucial social and political problems.
Max Weber’s music writings (including his unfinished ‘Music Study’) have always mesmerized readers but their importance for analysing music as a cultural domain has only started to be acknowledged. This paper focuses on Weber’s approach to the inner ‘developmental momentum’ of the music domain through his study of the particular tension that pervaded Western harmonic music. By showing how composers, performers, instrument manufacturers, art recipients and the instruments themselves had to grapple with such tension, Weber was able to give an account of the inward connection to an art sphere and its structuring effects, whilst also bringing social, economic and technological factors to bear. In the current debate on the desirable ways for a renewed sociology of culture to develop, Weber’s music writings present us with a path at once precarious and bold, an account of inner connections and outer relations, which, against Weber himself, also provides bases for aesthetic judgement.
There is a growing body of empirical research on national patterns of cultural consumption and how they are related to social stratification. This paper helps to broaden the basis of comparison by focusing on cultural patterns in Turkey, a developing, non-Western, and predominantly Muslim context. Our analysis of cultural tastes and activities using data from a new nationally-representative survey shows three broad cultural clusters that clearly map onto differential positions in the social structure and are largely differentiated by degree and form of engagement with Turkey’s emerging cultural diversity, particularly their orientation towards Western cultural forms. In general, local cultural modalities do not distinguish groups, attesting to the robustness of local culture. The results are discussed in light of previous work on cultural patterns in other national contexts.
Theorized as a Bourdieusian field, this article examines changes inside the tattoo world resulting in the valuation of certain tattoo practices as art and some actors taking ‘fine art’ positions within it. The category of tattoo art is distinct from tattoo because it positions the practice away from its traditional historic moorings as a lowbrow craft and occupation requiring a rudimentary level of technical skill. In contrast, tattoo art is created and evaluated within academic discourses and traditional fine art ideologies that stress innovation, creativity, and exclusivity. In addition to mastery of the medium, that is, applying the tattoo to skin, tattoo artists create original works that qualify as artistic by art world conventions. This process of artification has changed the symbolic meanings and valuation of a practice, imbuing tattoo art with cultural legitimacy from the inside.
Here I seek to explore the cosmopolitan foundations of the idea of human rights. The argument begins by considering the popularity of the idea of human rights in a globalized and fast-moving commodified and digital culture. At this point I consider whether the idea of human rights might be considered to be a modern utopia similar to the role that art and nature played in the Romantic movements of the 19th century. Further, I defend human rights against those who simply see it as a form of neoliberalism or as largely ineffective against the power of the state. At this point I investigate some of the Durkheimian work within cultural sociology that has sought to investigate human rights as a form of moral community. The main problem with this view is that it has little to say about human freedom. However, viewed through a cultural lens, the global spread of human rights is connected to the idea of human dignity. While there is never likely to be a global consensus on this term, it does retain an important philosophical anchoring in Kantian ideas. More recently this debate has been revived by the critical reception of the work of Agamben and his idea of ‘bare life’. If human rights can indeed be connected to the struggle for a dignified and meaningful life, then the idea of ‘bare life’ remains an important conceptual advance. However, by considering the work and legacy of Du Bois, Gilroy and others, we can also see how the term dignity might take on other meanings in different settings. Finally, I argue that the idea of dignity and human rights could yet provide an important focus for resistance against the imperatives of capital and state in these neoliberal times.
Today’s complex film world seems to upset the dual structure corresponding with Bourdieu’s categorization of ‘restricted’ and ‘large-scale’ fields of cultural production. This article examines how movies in French, Dutch, American and British film fields are classified in terms of material practices and symbolic affordances. It explores how popular, professional, and critical recognition are related to film production as well as interpretation. Analysis of the most successful film titles of 2007 offers insight into the film field’s differentiation. Distinction between mainstream and artistic film shows a gradual rather than a dichotomous positioning that spans between conventionality and innovation. Apparently, the intertwining of small-scale and large-scale film fields cannot be perceived as a straightforward loss of distinction or an overall shift of production logics, but rather as ‘production on the boundaries’ in which filmmakers combine production logics to cater to publics with various levels of aesthetic fluency and omnivorous taste patterns.
This article addresses to what extent literary critics in the United States, the Netherlands and Germany have drawn ethnic boundaries in their reviews of ethnic minority writers between 1983 and 2009 and to what extent these boundaries have changed in the course of ethnic minority writers’ careers and across time. By analysing newspaper reviews, we find that American reviewers less often mention the ethnic background of Mexican American authors than their Dutch and German colleagues refer to the background of Moroccan and Turkish minority writers. While these relatively strong ethnic boundaries become weaker over time in the Netherlands (boundary shifting), Turkish German authors encounter particularly strong boundaries in subsequent book publications (ethnicization). In the US the reverse is true: ethnic boundaries weaken after the debut has been reviewed (boundary crossing). The findings are likely to be the result of national differences in the chronic accessibility of ethnic classifications (US and Germany) and specific field dynamics (Netherlands).
The ‘new’ sociology of culture has provided us with valuable insights regarding the performative, corporeal, and unpredictable dimensions of art tasting, which the ‘old’, critical sociology of art failed to recognize. But how can we profit from these insights without committing the sin of the denial of the social (and social structures in particular)? This article suggests that these insights may be incorporated into the critical sociology of art once we are ready to substitute reified tasting techniques for reified tastes as our main objects of study. Relying on works in anthropology, philosophy, history and neuroscience, I urge us to put tasting techniques at the heart of our research agenda in cultural sociology. This will enable us to simultaneously give full account of the subjective, unique art-tasting experiences which are informed by specific tasting techniques, as well as of the role the same techniques play in social reproduction and social closure.
The article introduces and comments upon the themes developed in the interview with the sociologist of science and technology Trevor Pinch in this issue of Cultural Sociology. The paper outlines the trajectory of his work since the late 1970s, from the birth of Science and Technology Studies (STS), until his current interest in the relationship between music, technologies, and society. The paper focuses on the growth of the field of STS, pointing out the many interconnections between STS and the wide intellectual universe involving cultural studies, cultural sociology and symbolic interactionism. The paper also considers the leading role Trevor Pinch has played in the shaping of the field of ‘sound studies’, an interdisciplinary field focused on the study of the sonic dimensions of societies, tracing the initial development of this area and how it represents a new set of interconnections between STS and the sociological study of culture.
This interview with Trevor Pinch, one of the most significant scholars in contemporary Science and Technology Studies (STS), reconstructs his career from the second half of the 1970s onwards, emphasizing the various points of contact and differences between social studies of science and technology, and several different approaches and authors in cultural sociology, cultural studies and culturalist approaches to the study of society. In doing so, the interview traces the evolution of debates in the sociological study of culture in relation to contemporaneous developments in the social study of science and technology. The interview moves on to explore one of the areas where Trevor Pinch has been active in recent years, namely the social and cultural study of music technologies. The interview ends with a reflection upon the political perspectives implicit in studies of science and technology generally, and in the work of Trevor Pinch particularly.
This paper integrates the US civil sphere, European media as practice, and social psychological literatures to demonstrate how people construct their own civil purity and become pure. It uses in-depth interview data to uncover a language of civil purity that people draw on to construct their own belonging in civil society. It argues that some people create an imagined public-at-large that they infuse with polluting qualities associated with the binary cultural codes of civil society. This image functions as a mental heuristic, against which people compare themselves and see themselves as ‘better than’ on a number of moral values associated with civil society. This process of constructing civil purity is linked to one of the civil sphere’s two fundamental social institutions, namely communication. As a form of nonfiction media with record lows in trust and credibility, the mainstream news serves as a social topic through which we can witness the construction of civil purity.
In recent years, sociology in Britain – and in national contexts influenced by British sociology – has been diagnosed by various parties as suffering from a wide range of ailments. These forms of self-criticism become ever more acute in terms of their potential effects as huge transformations in university funding regimes are brought to bear on the social sciences. But none of these critiques engages satisfactorily with what is a much more foundational and serious set of problems, namely the very nature of sociology itself as a historically-situated form of knowledge production. Sociology claims to know the world around it, but in Britain today much sociology seriously fails in this regard, because it operates with radically curtailed understandings of the long-term historical forces which made the social conditions it purports to analyse. A sophisticated understanding of the contemporary world is made possible only by an equally sophisticated understanding of very long-term historical processes, precisely the sort of vision that mainstream British sociology has lacked for at least the last two decades. This paper identifies the reasons for the development of this situation and the consequences it has for the nature of sociology’s knowledge production, for its self-understanding, for its claims to comprehend the contemporary world, and for its apparent social ‘usefulness’. A markedly more self-aware and historically-sensitive sociology is proposed as the answer to the pressing question of what aspects of sociology should be defended in the turbulent context of British higher education today.
Although examinations of social memory have largely focused on societies and large populations, much remembrance occurs within bounded publics. This memory, especially when it is held in common, ties individuals to their chosen groups, establishing an ongoing reality of affiliation. I term this form of memory work as sticky culture, recognizing the centrality of the linkage of selves and groups. To examine how sticky culture operates, I examine the social world of competitive chess with its deep history and rich literature. More specifically, I examine forms through which chess publics are cemented through remembrances of the past, focusing on the hero, the critical moment, and validated styles. Champions, memorable games, and recognized strategies establish a lasting public.
This article examines philanthropist George Soros’s reputation in the United States, Russia and post-Soviet Lithuania from the 1990s to 2005–6. A billionaire currency speculator and left-wing philanthropist, Soros has a ‘difficult reputation’. Attacks from American right-wingers and post-Soviet authoritarians circulated internationally, but his reputation was not constituted globally as extreme globalization theorists might predict. We draw on Bourdieu’s analysis of the international circulation of ideas and emphasis on local context. Reputational entrepreneurs in the United States, Russia and Lithuania certainly made extensive use of internationally circulating attacks in the age of the internet. Nonetheless, Soros’s reputation served domestic political needs and was interpreted within a local cultural context, suggesting the value of a ‘sceptical’ perspective on globalization debates on how reputational attacks travel and are received.
This article examines the production of ‘high culture’ and how it shapes social mobility. I observe how the second generation of immigrants from North Africa have succeeded in rising up the Israeli social hierarchy by appropriating established modes of cultural expression. The founders of the Israel Andalusian Orchestra became aware that the road to full integration was closed to them by the politics of difference, that the way to total segregation from wider Israeli society was closed by economic and ontological dependence on the national state, and the option of multi-culturalism condemned them to a permanently marginal status. They realized that they needed a new political approach and that cultural appropriation was the way by which they could reclaim their ethnic identity yet still establish themselves among the élite of Israel.
Extending Bourdieu’s work, this paper introduces the concept of location as a supplement to the concepts of position and disposition in understanding how strategies are enacted in cultural fields. To illustrate my argument, this paper is organized into four sections. First, the applicability and extension of Bourdieu’s theory of cultural production is discussed. Particular emphasis is placed on illustrating how the concept of location adopts an intersubjective understanding of reflexivity in order to address some of the limitations of Bourdieu’s concepts of position, disposition and strategy. Second, two different strategies of legitimation (crowd pleasing and crowd commanding) adopted by DJs within the field are outlined. Third, the importance of location in the use of these strategies in the field of black popular music-making is illustrated. Finally, this paper concludes by summarizing the key dimensions of the concept of location and suggesting how the concept has broader applicability in other cultural fields.
The loss of iconic buildings and artifacts can result in public mourning which may even overshadow the loss of human life. Cultural trauma theory examines how such processes are socially constructed, but has focused on events of great human suffering, ignoring the power of objects. Discourse analysis of two months of Italian media coverage following the 1997 Umbria-Marche earthquake and local interviews in Assisi show that a cultural trauma was articulated around the damaged Basilica of St Francis of Assisi and its fragmented Giotto frescoes. In addition to factors specific to Italy, I compare ten recent worldwide cases of artistic loss, some of which became cultural traumas while others did not, in order to determine the critical factors in creating a cultural trauma of objects: the comparative loss of human life, the object’s totemic significance to the collective, and the time-frame until the object can be repaired.