|Theory of Culture|
source ref: ebookcul.htm
Richard Munch and Neil J. Smelser
This volume is the intellectual product of a conference on the theory of culture held in Bremen on 23-25 July 1988. It was sponsored by the Theory Sections of the American Sociological Association and the German Sociological Association and made possible by a grant from the Volkswagen Foundation.
The Bremen conference was the third such event. An initial conference was held in Giessen in June 1984 and resulted in the publication of The Micro-Macro Link (Alexander, Giesen, Munch, and Smelser 1987). The second was held in Berkeley on 26-28 August 1986 and resulted in the publication of Social Change and Modernity (Haferkamp and Smelser 1991). Those primarily involved in planning the Bremen conference were Jeffrey Alexander, Bernard Giesen, Hans Haferkamp, Richard Munch, and Neil Smelser. Haferkamp and Smelser agreed to be the principal organizers for the conference. This arrangement was interrupted by Haferkamp's tragic death in a drowning accident in the summer of 1987. Munch subsequently took up the collaboration with Smelser. The choice of Bremen-Haferkamp's home institution-and the dedication of this volume reflect the collective appreciation of both the work and the person of Hans Haferkamp on the part of German and American social theorists.
When the planners of the Bremen conference met originally to plan its theme, there appeared almost a spontaneous consensus: it should be on the theory of culture. That consensus was based on an appreciation, reached more or less independently by each planner, that the sociology of culture is one of those intellectual areas that has experienced a striking revitalization in both Europe and America over the past fifteen years or so.
That this vitality continues to this moment and promises to endure makes publication of this volume timely. The origins of the revitalization of the sociology of culture are complex, and we do not intend to analyze that episode of recent intellectual history in this volume. We might mention, however, a few of the threads:
-The rise of "movements" of cultural analysis, especially deconstructionism and semiotics, that penetrated many of the disciplines of social-scientific and humanistic study.
-The premium placed on the analysis of "meaning" that accompanied the phenomenological impulse in the "microsociological revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s.
-The decline of the materialist impulse in general and the classical Marxian emphasis in particular, especially in contemporary European scholarship.
-The simultaneous resuscitation of Marxian scholars such as Gramsci (1971), who insisted on the independence of the cultural factor in the historical process.
-The work of such individuals as Clifford Geertz (1973), Raymond Williams (1958, 1965, 1977), and Pierre Bourdieu (1984, 1990), and groups of scholars they influenced.
Some of these threads find expression in the essays composing this volume. In chapter 6, for example, Wuthnow reviews the efforts of several neo-Marxist scholars who have attempted to reconcile the Marxist stress on "external" (that is, economic and social-structural) determinants of cultural life with the "autonomous" status of culture as revealed by the "inner logic" of its texts. In chapter 11, Alexander enters the polemic over the centrality of "meaning" as a defining characteristic of culture. At the same time, a number of long-standing issues in cultural analysis appear as well, for example, Kalberg's and Eder's examinations (from different standpoints) of the relevance of Weber's thesis on Protestantism and the work ethic in contemporary Western German society.
Consistent with the theme of theory of culture that framed the Bremen conference, almost half of this volume contains contributions that are essentially theoretical. These chapters constitute part one. Smelser's introductory chapter picks up the theme of cultural coherence and incoherence, reviews its status in anthropological and sociological writings, and offers a theoretical critique of and suggestions for reformulation. Chapters 2 and 3 offer discussions of classical issues in the social-scientific study of culture. Halton calls for a resuscitation of the biological linkages of culture, using the human dream as a peculiarly apt avenue of access to those linkages. Eisenstadt addresses the long-standing issue of the stabilizing and order-maintaining functions of culture (rooted especially in Durkheim's sociology of religion) and its changing and transformative functions (rooted especially in Weber's sociology of religion). Chapters 4 through 6 are expository and critical of historical figures and traditions of the analysis of culture. Schmid details the changing conceptions of culture in the work of Parsons and subjects these changes to a critical review. Weiss takes up the theme-derived mainly from the writings of Jacob Burckhardt-of how culture comes to be represented in its special carrying agents (charismatic figures, geniuses, political leaders) and how these leaders represent it. And Wuthnow subjects the works of Eagleton, Jameson, and Bakhtin-all neo-Marxist in orientation-to an analysis of how they deal with the enduring and controversial issues of materialism, domination, and the degree of independence and autonomy of culture in society.
Parts 2 to 4 examine the themes of culture's relations with the polity, the stratification system, and the economic order. These chapters are also theoretical in orientation, but for the most part they incorporate systematic empirical data. In chapter 7, Swanson, using aggregative/correlational techniques on a large sample of societies, takes as his major "dependent variable" the degree to which cultures envision a collective purpose for their societies and relates this purpose to a variety of social-structural features of those societies that are conducive or nonconducive to the presence of that vision. In chapter 8, Renate Mayntz presents an empirical analysis-based on interviews with legislators-of the kinds of norms that govern the public and private behavior of legislators in the Federal Republic of Germany and thus contributes to the ongoing dialogue about political culture.
Chapter 9, by Richard Munch, begins with the theoretical formulations of Parsons. Munch isolates several hypotheses from Parsons's theory of action and subjects them to an empirical examination in light of patterns of social inequality in the Federal Republic of Germany. The work of Featherstone, appearing in chapter 10, is a valuable assessment and extension of the German critical school and the British cultural studies traditions. It deals especially with the idea of the production and consumption of culture (the "culture industry") and presses the argument that the organization of cultural consumption lies in the dynamics of maintaining and striving for status.
Jeffrey Alexander's essay (chapter 11) comments on a number of recent formulations of culture, but his main empirical issue is the significance of the recent "computer revolution" in advanced industrial countries. Alexander is constrained to show the balance between the rational/magical and the apocalyptic themes that have arisen as the computer has established itself as a regular feature of organized life. The concluding chapters deal with a contemporary issue in West German society, namely the de-coupling of the work ethic from definitions of prestige and self-worth. Both Kalberg and Eder attack the problems of the apparent decline of work and the work ethic and the rise of leisure in the Federal Republic of Germany. They approach those phenomena, however, from different directions. Kalberg, in chapter 12, analyzes the decoupling as an emerging result of the convergence of a diversity of economic, social, and political changes over the past century or more. In chapter 13, Eder, working more in the context of the neo-Marxian theory of crises of capitalism, treats the "de-coupling" as a kind of contradiction between the social-structural level (where work appears to be more central and essential) and the cultural level (where it appears to be decreasing). Eder's chapter is not so much an analysis of cultural change as it is an account of a crisis of class, especially the working class. Both Kalberg's and Eder's accounts of the culture of work in West Germany promise to be vastly complicated by the absorption of the East German labor force into the context of a unified Germany.
Alexander, J., Giesen, B., Munch, R., and Smelser, N. J., eds. 1987. The Micro-Macro Link. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Bourdieu, P. 1984. Distinction. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
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Geertz, C. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic Books.
Gramsci, A. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. New York: International Publishers.
Haferkamp, H. and Smelser, N. J. 1991. Social Change and Modernity. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Williams, R. 1958. Culture and Society. New York: Columbia University Press.
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