Sociology | Advanced Topics
S660 | 3807 | Armstrong


Topic:  Sociology of Culture

The sociology of culture is one of the most vibrant and amorphous sub-
fields in the discipline.  On the one hand, cultural sociology refers
to the study of social arenas that are specifically recognized as
cultural, such as art, literature, music, mass media, and popular
culture. On the other hand, cultural sociology endeavors to
understand the role culture plays in all arenas of society.  Thus,
cultural analysis plays an important role in a variety of other
sociological sub-fields, including social inequality, economic
sociology, political sociology, social movements, organizational
analysis, and the sociology of gender and sexuality.  The goal of
this seminar is to present an introduction to the core themes and
questions in this area of study.

The syllabus is organized around groups of questions roughly
corresponding to different research traditions in the field.  During
the first two weeks we attempt to develop a preliminary answers to
the questions: what is the sociology of culture? And, what is
culture? The second section of the class traces the evolution of work
in the “production of culture” tradition.  This work concerns itself
with the production and distribution of cultural objects and cultural
meanings.  Embarking on this research requires us to tackle the
question of the relationship between culture and society. In what
sense does “culture” reflect “society”?  The third section of the
class presents an overview of research concerned with the
relationships between culture and social stratification. A rich body
of scholarship, both European and American, has documented close
relationships between class and cultural hierarchies.  If the second
and third section concerned themselves with the production of meaning
and hierarchy, the fourth section can be seen as concerned with the
production of “taken-for-grantedness.”  This work, which intersects
with institutional analysis, focuses on the constraining aspects of
culture, on how culture limits what is “thinkable” and “doable.”  We
will explore what it means to say that cultural is “constitutive.”
An overview of cultural sociology is incomplete without an assessment
of cultural change, and the role of culture in social change more
generally.  Thus, the final section of the class reviews current
research on culture and transformation.  This requires a robust
understanding of how culture guides social action.