Sociology Political Culture
by
Mabel Berezin, Emily Sandusky
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0201

Introduction

Political culture can be conceptualized as the matrix of meanings embodied in expressive symbols, practices, and beliefs that constitute ordinary politics in a bounded collectivity and regulated by institutions. In the early 1990s the union of politics and culture was relatively novel, and their analytical and empirical linkages generated methodological dilemmas. At the time, it was challenging to find scholars whose work fit into this emerging field. In the 21st century, the field of politics and culture borders on oversubscription, and the task is to figure out who is in and who is out. Then as now, interdisciplinarity characterizes the field of politics and culture. While methodological issues remain, it is now de rigueur to acknowledge culture in political analysis. As the interest in political culture has grown, two substantive areas have dominated the field: first, the study of nationalism and national identity and second, the theory and practice of democracy. Within each of these areas, it is possible to identify nodal contributions that helped set the research agenda within the field. In addition to these, religion, human rights, civilization, and security may be recalibrated within the area of politics and culture. This article begins with a review of classic anthologies and academic book series, followed by a listing of journals that are receptive to cultural and political analysis. The next section introduces the history and vocabulary of political culture. The bibliography then moves on to topic areas. It begins with the major political form of modernity, the nation-state. From there, it moves to nationalism and the institutions that define membership in the national state: from citizenship (i.e., legal belonging in the national state, to norms of inclusion and exclusion and practices of democracy) and from civil society to social capital. It concludes by looking at political and cultural forms across national boundaries.

Anthologies

Scholarly collections are tools that define the boundaries of a subfield. Classic anthologies in the subfield of politics and culture appeared in the late 1990s and early 2000s. These anthologies combine culture, comparative historical sociology, and political sociology. Steinmetz 1999 and Bonnell and Hunt 1999 specifically focus on the relation between history and culture. Harrison and Huntington 2000 focuses upon a Parsonian values approach to culture. Adams, et al. 2005 shifts the valence more to history and politics, but the anthology is still valuable for insights on culture scattered throughout the volume.

  • Adams, Julia, Elizabeth Clemens, and Ann Orloff, eds. 2005. Remaking modernity: Politics, history, and sociology. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    While this anthology is not specifically focused on culture, its contributors are known for their research in this area.

    Find this resource:

  • Bonnell, Victoria, and Lynn Hunt, eds. 1999. Beyond the cultural turn: New directions in the study of society and culture. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Historian Bonnell and sociologist Hunt teamed up to assemble works by a group composed primarily of historians with an interest in cultural topics.

    Find this resource:

  • Harrison, Lawrence E., and Samuel P. Huntington, eds. 2000. Culture matters: How values shape human progress. New York: Basic Books.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Represents research from a range of disciplines as well as journalism and development. Following classic modernization studies, this book takes a more value-oriented approach to culture.

    Find this resource:

  • Steinmetz, George, ed. 1999. State/culture: State-formation after the cultural turn. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This anthology added culture into the political sociology of the state. The contributors, including historians, sociologists, and political scientists, were breaking new theoretical ground as the leading and most innovative analysts of the 1990s.

    Find this resource:

Book Series

Two book series located at academic publishers defined the field of politics and culture in the 1990s and beyond. Both of these series included empirical works with a focus on politics and culture and are ideal locations to begin to get a sense of what historians, political scientists, and sociologists produced as they developed this subfield.

Journals

A range of journals, many of them interdisciplinary, publish works that discuss the cultural aspects of politics. These journals are for the most part eclectic as their subject matter. The seven journals listed here take up various dimensions of the culture/politics link. Comparative Studies in History and Society focuses more on the historical dimension of culture. Theory and Society and Sociological Theory focus, not surprisingly, on theory essay, many of which deal with culture. Qualitative Sociology often focuses upon ethnographic accounts of politics. Poetics tends to focus more on art works; Cultural Sociology and the American Journal of Cultural Sociology take a broader approach to culture and often take up political studies.

Vocabularies of Political Culture

Potential definitions of culture are multiple. This section briefly surveys the terrain and includes different approaches. Williams 1976 (cited under Culture as Interpretation) notes that culture in its original form was an agricultural term that described an action. It was a verb, not a noun. Culture became a noun (i.e., the medium in which things grow), as well as a verb in the 19th century. Williams’s insights underscore the dynamic as well as the sustaining dimensions of culture. Political cultural analysis fundamentally depends on the tension between change and sustenance (referred to positively as modernity versus tradition, negatively as progress versus reaction). Political culture is at the heart of 1950s and 1960s modernization studies. Almond and Verba 1989 (cited under Culture as Interpretation) measure the diffusion of Western values as an index of democratic dispositions. This values approach gave way to more nuanced approaches drawn from anthropology, literary criticism, and social science. Meaning, individual and collective, is constitutive of culture. Geertz 1973 (cited under Culture as Interpretation) lays out core tenets of cultural analysis. Addressing the problem of meaning, he argues that culture is a “template of and for reality”—suggesting that culture is a recognizable model as well as a guide to action. Bourdieu 1977 (cited under Culture as Boundary and Structure) initiated a structuralist approach to culture when he introduced the concept of habitus. Habitus suggests a structured mental space that a collective inhabits that shapes its behavior, beliefs, and practices. Arguing that habitus was too rigid a concept, Sewell 1992 (cited under Culture as Boundary and Structure) attempts to insert “agency” into habitus.

Culture as Interpretation

These interpretive approaches to cultural analysis view culture holistically. In contrast to structuralist approaches, the authors rely on ethnographic observation and “thick description” (Geertz 1973 and Geertz 1983). Almond and Verba 1989 was the original attempt to outline a theory of politics and culture. Patterson 2014 follows in this mode but also incorporates a Geertzian approach. Williams 1976 provides a historical account of interpretation.

Culture as Boundary and Structure

Following Bourdieu 1977, these approaches to cultural analysis locate collective meanings in common practices and understandings within identifiable groups and tend to concentrate on identifying mechanisms by which groups include or exclude others. Lamont and Molnar 2002 as well as Sewell 1992 extend the Bourdieusian perspective.

  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511812507Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Introduces the foundational concept of habitus, described as the generative principle of cultural dispositions and practices that is both the product of objective structures and serves to reproduce these structures. Habitus has been critiqued for its rigidity (see Sewell 1992); it is difficult for an individual or a collectivity to transcend its limitations and definitions. First published in French in 1972.

    Find this resource:

  • Lamont, Michele, and Virag Molnar. 2002. The study of boundaries in the social sciences. Annual Review of Sociology 28:167–195.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.28.110601.141107Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Survey of boundary research across the social sciences that focuses on substantive areas of social and collective identity; inequality, professions, science and knowledge; and communities, national identities, and spatial boundaries.

    Find this resource:

  • Sewell, William H., Jr. 1992. A theory of structure: Duality, agency, and transformation. The American Journal of Sociology 98:1–29.

    DOI: 10.1086/229967Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sewell critiques and reformulates Giddens’s theory of structuration and Bourdieu’s concept of habitus and aims to reconcile structure with agency of social actors. Also tries to identify the possibility of change within structure and harmonize sociological and anthropological approaches to structure.

    Find this resource:

Culture as a Political Concept

Norton 2004 and Somers 1995 explicitly place culture within the realm of politics and focus on mechanisms of power within institutions. These studies highlight the malleability of culture as object and practice and emphasize its relationality. Wedeen 2002 uses data from her work on Africa to provide an anthropological and empirical take on political culture.

Nationalism and the Nation-State

The nation-state is the core of political culture. It has two dimensions: structural and cultural. In this section, we parse the components of the nation-state. The state is the bureaucratic aspect; the nation is the cultural aspect—the location of community, emotion, and national attachment. Institutions such as laws bind the two elements. The nation-state is a dyad—conceptually and institutionally—although in practice these two dimensions of the modern polity appear as one.

Nationalism

Nationalism is usually viewed as an extreme position, but it can be viewed on a continuum from patriotism to xenophobic extremism. Following early associations between the nation and solidarity in Renan 1996 and community of memory in Weber 1978, the nation is often understood as a community of shared feeling. Along with Weber and Renan, the classic works on nationalism include Deutsch 1953, and Anderson 2006. Most contemporary studies of nationalism are in conversation with these theorists.

  • Anderson, Benedict. 2006. Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. New York: Verso.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Anderson defines the nation as an “imagined” political community propelled by the expansion of print capitalism and vernacular languages that enabled “strangers” that shared culture and language to imagine one another. First published in 1983, this work sparked a renewed interest in nationalism.

    Find this resource:

  • Calhoun, Craig. 1997. Nationalism. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This accessible primer discusses nationalism in relation to ethnicity and kinship. It presents nationalism as a discourse, project, and ethical imperative distinctive of the modern era, especially in the context of colonialism, imperialism, and globalization.

    Find this resource:

  • Deutsch, Karl W. 1953. Nationalism and social communication: An inquiry into the foundations of nationality. New York: Wiley.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A classic modernization-era text that advances methods to measure communication of cultural information as a barometer for assessing national assimilation.

    Find this resource:

  • Ignatieff, Michael. 1993. Blood and belonging: Journeys into the new nationalism. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This personal account of post–Cold War conflicts between civic and ethnic nationalisms describes events in the former Yugoslavia, Kurdistan, former Soviet republics, and Northern Ireland.

    Find this resource:

  • Miller, David. 1995. On nationality. New York: Clarendon.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In defense of nationalism, Miller argues that nations are distinguished from one another by distinct “public cultures” that also shape special obligations to fellow citizens.

    Find this resource:

  • Renan, Ernest. 1996. What is a nation? In Becoming national. Edited by G. Eley and R. Suny, 41–55. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this 1892 lecture, Renan argues that nations are defined by solidarity that emerges from shared history and commitment to a common future, rather than individuals’ ascriptive characteristics such as race, language, or religion.

    Find this resource:

  • Smith, Rogers M. 2003. Stories of peoplehood: The politics and morals of political membership. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511490347Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Building on Anderson 2006, Smith articulates the “stories” that underlie political membership and identity. He focuses on “ethically constitutive” or specifically moral bases for national identities.

    Find this resource:

  • Weber, Max. 1978. Political communities. In Economy and society. Vol. 2. Edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich, 901–941. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Classical theory of political communities at the center of sociological literature on the nation-state. Institutional and cultural practices within territorially bounded political communities generate communities of memory, a decisive element of national consciousness.

    Find this resource:

Empirical Works

Nationalism is more than a community of like-minded persons who share an emotional space around the nation, real or imagined. Nationalism is embedded in institutional arrangements that inscribe individuals and collectivities into the nation. Many scholars have contributed empirical works to study the process of nationalism in individual nation-states. The basic approach is to use case study methods, either historical or ethnographic, to draw comparisons across diverse national states. Weber 1976 is classic historical analysis of this process. Brubaker 1992 is a paradigmatic statement that began a contemporary debate on nationalism from a cultural institutionalist perspective. Benson and Saguy 2005, Fox 2006, and Geva 2012 follow the Brubaker model to empiricize discussions of nationalism and national practice. Ferree, et al. 2002 analyzes different discourse practices to highlight national difference. Zubrzycki 2011 introduces the study of material objects to the study of nationalism.

  • Benson, Rodney, and Abigail C. Saguy. 2005. Constructing social problems in an age of globalization: A French-American comparison. American Sociological Review 70:233–259.

    DOI: 10.1177/000312240507000203Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Compares French and US news media framing of immigration and sexual harassment as social problems. Contributes to the debate about the role of globalization in producing cross-national cultural convergence or divergence.

    Find this resource:

  • Brubaker, Rogers. 1992. Citizenship and nationhood in France and Germany. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This comparative work argues that inclusive, state-centered French citizenship and ethno-cultural German citizenship shaped and were shaped by the emergence of nationhood in France and Germany. Theorizes a new concept of citizenship that is a culturally bound form of social closure, rather than a set of rights and obligations.

    Find this resource:

  • Ferree, Myra Marx, William Anthony Gamson, Jürgen Gerhards, and Dieter Rucht. 2002. Shaping abortion discourse: Democracy and the public sphere in Germany and the United States. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511613685Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Methodologically rigorous account of differences in German and US abortion discourse that the article argues are rooted in discursive opportunity structures, defined broadly as political systems, sociocultural contexts, and mass media norms that influence debate. The authors also evaluate abortion discourse using criteria drawn from democratic theory.

    Find this resource:

  • Fox, Jon E. 2006. Consuming the nation: Holidays, sports, and the production of collective belonging. Ethnic and Racial Studies 29:217–236.

    DOI: 10.1080/01419870500465207Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This ethnographic account compares Romanian and Hungarian students’ “consumption” of national rituals and symbols at national holiday commemorations and international sports competitions. Addresses national cohesion through the lens of cultural consumption.

    Find this resource:

  • Geva, Dorit. 2012. Conscription, family, and the modern state: A comparative study of France and the United States. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Geva compares conscription systems, highlighting the protection of male household authority in both France and the United States and addressing gender in military service and citizenship.

    Find this resource:

  • Weber, Eugen. 1976. Peasants into Frenchmen: The modernization of rural France. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Weber’s detailed historical account describes the dissemination of national consciousness into rural France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries through educational and military institutions along with improved roads and railways.

    Find this resource:

  • Zubrzycki, Geneviève. 2011. History and the national sensorium: Making sense of Polish mythology. Qualitative Sociology 34:21–67.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11133-010-9184-7Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This archival and ethnographic study of Polish mythology focuses on the material embodiment and sensory experience of national mythology as well as its contestation and transformation.

    Find this resource:

Identity

Psychologists often conceptualize identity as a dimension of individual personality. Macro sociologists, particularly political and cultural sociologists (Brubaker and Cooper 2000 and Somers 1994), treat identity as socially constructed and contingent. Individuals and groups have multiple identities. All are not salient simultaneously; indeed, they often become salient when opposition to them occurs (Kumar 2003 and Rivera 2008). Sociologists differ on whether to focus on collective or individual aspects of identity, and on which contingencies to emphasize. National identities are particularly complex (Lamont 1995). First, identities are located in law. National identities are located in citizenship law. This is the categorical dimension of identity. There is also an ontological or emotional dimension to identity—how individuals or groups feel or interpret their legal identities. Spillman 1997 takes this up in her study of comparative commemoration rites; Miller-Idriss 2009 takes these methods and applies them to youth culture in Germany.

Citizenship

Citizenship is the legal arrangement that inscribes individuals into the nation-state. National citizenship assumes complete participation in the national polity. Marshall 1964 provides the classic statement on modern citizenship as an attribute of persons. Somers 1993 and Soysal 1994 provide contemporary counterpoints to this view.

  • Marshall, T. H. 1964. Citizenship and social class. In Class, citizenship, and social development. 64–122. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Originally delivered in lecture form in 1949, this essay describes citizenship as a status of full members of a community and describes the sequential development of civil, political, and social rights of citizenship in Britain. Collection was first published in London in 1963 as Sociology at the crossroads.

    Find this resource:

  • Smith, Rogers M. 1997. Civic ideals: Conflicting visions of citizenship in U.S. history. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Drawing on citizenship laws, judicial opinion, and public policies, Smith argues that an exclusionary racist, nativist, and sexist civic ideal has been a key element in American political culture alongside liberalism and republicanism.

    Find this resource:

  • Somers, Margaret R. 1993. Citizenship and the place of the public sphere: Law, community, and political culture in the transition to democracy. American Sociological Review 58:587–620.

    DOI: 10.2307/2096277Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In a critical update to Marshall 1964, Somers uses evidence from 18th-century England to support a refinement of the definition of citizenship from a legal status to institutionally embedded political, legal, and symbolic practices.

    Find this resource:

  • Soysal, Yasemin. 1994. Limits of citizenship: Migrants and postnational membership in Europe. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    With the postnational model, Soysal conceives of a notion of citizenship appropriate for the postwar global system. Using the European guestworkers’ rights as a case, she situates individual rights of citizenship in universal personhood and human rights rather than nationhood and national rights.

    Find this resource:

Multiculturalism

National cultures are territorially bound. Multiculturalism is the theory of how multiple cultures coexist within national spaces. Kymlicka 1995 and Kymlicka 2007 are the classic statements on coexistence; Benhabib 2002 challenges Kymlicka for not taking sufficient account of diversity. Walzer 1997 develops the concept of “toleration regime” the legal and cultural structures that allow for different groups to co-exist within national boundaries. Zolberg and Woon 1997 empiricizes multiculturalism by comparing language and religion.

Cultures of Political Participation

The second major strand in the field of political culture is the attempt to come up with a culture of political participation. This literature focuses upon democracy. The literature contrasts itself to standard models of political participation that focuses upon individual choices in the electoral arena. There are three strands of this literature: first, a literature that focuses upon a normative discussion of democracy in practice; second, literatures on participation that focus on civil society or speech; and third, extra-institutional theories of democracy that focus upon social movements and protest.

Democracy as Political Culture

This section consists of normative approaches to a culture of democracy with empirical content used to exemplify theoretical points. De Tocqueville 1990 is the foundational work linking civic engagement to effective democracy. The social capital theory of democratic participation owes its origin to a contemporary reevaluation of De Tocqueville. Putnam 1993 argues that democracy is learned in small local settings where social capital rooted in a network of familiar of associations creates a form of trust that makes democratic governance possible. Kaufman 2002 provides a critical counterpoint.

  • Alexander, Jeffrey C. 2006. The civil sphere. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195162509.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examination of social solidarity and democratic discourse, as well as social movements and incorporation into the civil sphere.

    Find this resource:

  • De Tocqueville, Alexis. 1990. Democracy in America. New York: Vintage.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A classic study of early American society, first published in 1835. Examines links between democracy and political institutions, ideals, and customs, and draws clear connections between the United States’ political and civic culture and its political regime.

    Find this resource:

  • Kaufman, Jason. 2002. For the common good? American civic life and the golden age of fraternity. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Description of the rise and fall of American associationalism. Kauffman argues that rather than promoting democratic virtue, 19th-century competitive voluntarism entrenched racial and ethnic divisions and set the stage for Americans’ distrust of government and hostility toward social welfare policies.

    Find this resource:

  • Norton, Anne. 1993. Republic of signs: Liberal theory and American popular culture. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Through a textual “reading” of American culture and politics, Norton describes the enactment of liberal ideas in everyday habits and popular culture. The chapter “Our Homeland the Text” is a useful cultural treatment of the US Constitution.

    Find this resource:

  • Perrin, Andrew J. 2014. American democracy: From Tocqueville to town halls to Twitter. Malden, MA: Polity.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Perrin proposes a social concept of citizenship. He argues that the norms and practices that shape citizens’ interactions with one another and government are as important as the laws and institutions that define democracy.

    Find this resource:

  • Putnam, Robert D. 1993. Making democracy work. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This influential empirical analysis of social capital demonstrates that historically contingent variations in civic engagement, political equality, trust, and associational participation explain differences in the effectiveness of late-20th-century Italian regional governments. The theoretical contribution is clearly described in the final chapter.

    Find this resource:

  • Schudson, Michael. 1998. The good citizen: A history of American civic life. New York: Martin Kessler.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces changes in conceptions of citizenship and participation in the public sphere across four eras of American history.

    Find this resource:

Political Participation Through Civil Society and the Public Sphere

The principal idea behind these works is that democracy is a process of deliberation or talk in the public sphere. Citizens come together, discuss ideas and make democratically constituted decisions (Eliasoph 1996 and Eliasoph 1998). This view of democracy focuses upon openness and transparency and the importance of “talk.” Habermas 1989 sets forth the seminal argument in this perspective, which has dominated a more theoretical view of democratic participation. Polletta 2006 introduces the importance of storytelling to democratic discourse.

  • Eliasoph, Nina. 1996. Making a fragile public: A talk-centered study of citizenship and power. Sociological Theory 14:262–289.

    DOI: 10.2307/3045389Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Eliasoph introduces “civic practices,” a concept intended to capture the social norms that govern the co-creation of contexts for political talk in the public sphere. This concept is extended with more ethnographic evidence in Eliasoph 1998.

    Find this resource:

  • Eliasoph, Nina. 1998. Avoiding politics: How Americans produce apathy in everyday life. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511583391Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This ethnographic account illustrates how civic etiquette among volunteer, social, and activist groups produces political apathy by circumscribing political conversation in the public sphere. Eliasoph suggests that associational participation without a group culture that cultivates political talk is not sufficient for generating politically minded civic life.

    Find this resource:

  • Habermas, Jürgen. 1989. The structural transformation of the public sphere: An inquiry into a category of bourgeois society. Translated by Thomas Burger. Cambridge, MA: MIT.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Habermas outlines the historical origins and weakening of the public sphere as a site of citizens’ communication and criticism vis-à-vis the state. Originally published in German in 1962.

    Find this resource:

  • Polletta, Francesca. 2006. It was like a fever: Storytelling in protest and politics. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226673776.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Addresses the role of narrative in politics and social movements. Drawing on case studies, Polletta examines how stories develop and how they are employed, the contexts of storytelling, and how norms and conventions constrain the content and effectiveness of movement narratives.

    Find this resource:

Political Participation Through Social Movements

Social movements develop outside the realm of institutionalized politics when political institutions fail to address the needs of the constituency (Eliasoph and Lichterman 2003, Lichterman 1996, and Lichterman 2005). Movements can go from peaceful to violent (Goodwin 1997 and Calhoun 1994). Some movements seek to change institutions and some simply ask for full representation in existing institutions. The initial studies of social movements were based on opportunities and available material resources, including formal policy changes. The model movements were the American civil rights movement of the 1960s and the labor movements of the 1920s onward. Cohen 1985 identified a “new” type of social movement that was based upon identities and norms and not specific grievances. As a result, claims were more normative and diffuse. Women’s movements, peace movements, green movements, and student movements were examples of this new mode of politics (Skrentny 2006). Since the demands were not specific and quantifiable scholars began to consider the cultural and emotive component of claims (Benford and Snow 2000).

  • Benford, Robert D., and David A. Snow. 2000. Framing processes and social movements: An overview and assessment. Annual Review of Sociology 26:611–639.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.26.1.611Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Review article with concise descriptions of the concepts and processes related to collective action frames, or sets of beliefs and meanings that support social movement mobilization. Produced by the authors of the theoretical works at the core of the framing literature.

    Find this resource:

  • Calhoun, Craig. 1994. Neither gods nor emperors: Students and the struggle for democracy in China. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Calhoun gives a narrative account—much of it firsthand—of the 1989 Chinese pro-democracy movement and then provides analysis of culture and public discourse in the movement.

    Find this resource:

  • Cohen, Jean L. 1985. Strategy or identity: New theoretical paradigms and contemporary social movements. Social Research 52:663–716.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This theoretical work outlines the features that differentiate the social movements that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, highlighting their orientation toward democratizing social institutions and focus on communication and collective identity.

    Find this resource:

  • Eliasoph, Nina, and Paul Lichterman. 2003. Culture in interaction. American Journal of Sociology 108:735–794.

    DOI: 10.1086/367920Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Drawing upon ethnographic observation of civic and activist groups, Eliasoph and Lichterman develop a concept of “group style” or patterns of group interaction that filter culture into group activity and shape civic and political engagement.

    Find this resource:

  • Goodwin, Jeff. 1997. The libidinal constitution of a high-risk social movement: Affectual ties and solidarity in the Huk Rebellion, 1946 to 1954. American Sociological Review 62:53–69.

    DOI: 10.2307/2657452Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Empirical work that points to the role of collective actors’ affective and sexual ties in weakening the mid-20th-century Huk Rebellion in the Philippines by undermining solidarity, collective identity, and discipline among the insurgents.

    Find this resource:

  • Lichterman, Paul. 1996. The search for political community: American activists reinventing commitment. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511628146Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Participant observation-based comparison of four local environmental groups. Lichterman suggests that an emphasis on self-fulfillment and personal expression, deemed personalism, is not incompatible with political commitment.

    Find this resource:

  • Lichterman, Paul. 2005. Elusive togetherness: Church groups trying to bridge America’s divisions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In addition to addressing the role of religion in civic life, Lichterman’s ethnography speaks to associationalism more broadly, arguing that civic groups’ ability to forge social connections can be constrained by deeply embedded group customs and discursive habits.

    Find this resource:

  • Skrentny, John D. 2006. Policy‐elite perceptions and social movement success: Understanding variations in group inclusion in affirmative action. American Journal of Sociology 111:1762–1815.

    DOI: 10.1086/499910Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Empirical demonstration that social movement success, in this case inclusion in federal employment affirmative action, varies with differences in policy influencers’ subjective definition and categorization of the social groups that movements represent.

    Find this resource:

History and Culture

Many cultural sociologists are also comparative historical sociologists who have taken a cultural approach. The beginning work in this genre was Hunt 1984, a study of the political iconography of the French Revolution. Drawing on anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, Sewell 1996a and Sewell 1996b explicitly adopt a micro-level comparative cultural history by developing the theory of the event. His major insight was that things we look at as singular, such as the “storming of the Bastille,” are composed of numerous micro-moments. Wagner-Pacifici 2010 extends Sewell’s idea of events to emphasize their variability. Historical studies of political culture tend to be case specific. Berezin 1997 takes on spectacle in fascist Italy. Ikegami 2005 chronicles civic culture in Japan. Steinmetz 2007 and Wedeen 2015 take up issues of colonialism and domination.

  • Berezin, Mabel. 1997. Making the fascist self: The political culture of interwar Italy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Berezin analyzes case studies of public political commemoration and ritual to demonstrate the fascist project to reject the core of liberalism by fusing individual public and private identities.

    Find this resource:

  • Hunt, Lynn A. 1984. Politics, culture, and class in the French Revolution. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An examination of the political symbols and social practices of the French Revolution focused on rhetoric, rituals, and imagery. The significant step forward in this work is Hunt’s conception of the French Revolution as a political process that established a completely new political culture. First published in 1984.

    Find this resource:

  • Ikegami, Eiko. 2005. Bonds of civility: Aesthetic networks and the political origins of Japanese Culture. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Description of premodern Japan’s loosely networked groups committed to aesthetic practices such as poetry, flower arranging, and the tea ceremony. Illustrates an alternative route to a horizontal public sphere and collective national identity—through aesthetic publics rather than Tocquevillian voluntary associations.

    Find this resource:

  • Sewell, William H. 1996a. Three temporalities: Towards an eventful sociology. In The historic turn in the human sciences. Edited by Terrence J. McDonald, 245–280. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this introduction to “eventful” sociology, Sewell contrasts an eventful conception of temporality with teleological and experimental conceptions, focusing on path-dependence, temporally heterogeneity, and contingency in eventful temporality.

    Find this resource:

  • Sewell, William H., Jr. 1996b. Historical events as transformations of structures: Inventing revolution at the Bastille. Theory and Society 25:841–881.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF00159818Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this clearly introduced application of his approach to theorizing historical events, Sewell argues that the structural transformation precipitated by incidents surrounding the capture of the Bastille established the modern conception of political revolution.

    Find this resource:

  • Steinmetz, George. 2007. The devil’s handwriting: Precoloniality and the German colonial state in Qingdao, Samoa, and Southwest Africa. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226772448.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this comparative work, Steinmetz traces the effect of precolonial European ethnographic representations on German colonial native policies.

    Find this resource:

  • Wagner-Pacifici, Robin. 2010. Theorizing the restlessness of events. American Journal of Sociology 115:1351–1386.

    DOI: 10.1086/651299Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Wagner-Pacifici challenges the boundedness of events and describes a semiotic approach to tracking the meanings and pathways of “restless” events across time and space, drawing on the 9/11 Commission Report as a case.

    Find this resource:

  • Wedeen, Lisa. 2015. Ambiguities of domination: Politics, rhetoric, and symbols in contemporary Syria. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226345536.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Ethnographic account of rhetoric, symbols, and spectacle used by the Syrian regime. Wedeen argues that Syrians were not expected to believe the “fictions” constructed by the cult of Syrian President Hafiz al-Asad but rather to perform as if they believed. Originally published in 1999. The 2015 edition includes a new preface in which Wedeen discusses the Syrian uprising.

    Find this resource:

Memory and Commemoration

Collective memory is the popularization of national histories and commemoration describes the ritual or semiotic practices that disseminate histories to citizens (Olick and Robbins 1998 and Fritzsche 2001). Memory practices can be cohesive as in Schwartz 2008 and Schudson 1992 or divisive as in Jansen 2007. They can destigmatize social statuses (Armstrong and Crage 2006) and normalize national trauma (Simko 2012, Wagner-Pacifici and Schwartz 1991).

  • Armstrong, Elizabeth A., and Suzanna M. Crage. 2006. Movements and memory: The making of the Stonewall myth. American Sociological Review 71:724–751.

    DOI: 10.1177/000312240607100502Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this comparison of the 1969 Stonewall Inn riots and four similar events in US cities, the authors argue that Stonewall is remembered as the origin of the gay liberation struggle because gay activists defined the event as commemorable and had the resources to established resonant commemoration rituals.

    Find this resource:

  • Fritzsche, Peter. 2001. The case of modern memory. Journal of Modern History 73:87–117.

    DOI: 10.1086/319880Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This review of a range of books on memory published in the 1990s features work by journalists and scholars of history, English, literature, and cultural theory.

    Find this resource:

  • Jansen, Robert S. 2007. Resurrection and appropriation: Reputational trajectories, memory work, and the political use of historical figures. American Journal of Sociology 112:953–1007.

    DOI: 10.1086/508789Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Jansen presents Latin American historical figures’ reputations as contested cultural objects. He describes how reputational trajectories shaped the opportunities available to the social movements that draw on these figures.

    Find this resource:

  • Olick, Jeffrey K., and Joyce Robbins. 1998. Social memory studies: From “collective memory” to the historical sociology of mnemonic practices. Annual Review of Sociology 24:105–140.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.24.1.105Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This review includes a useful history of the study of memory across multiple disciplines along with an outline of contemporary sociological approaches.

    Find this resource:

  • Schudson, Michael. 1992. Watergate in American memory: How we remember, forget, and reconstruct the past. New York: Basic Books.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Drawing on journalists’, politicians’, and textbook publishers’ accounts of Watergate, Schudson documents the trajectory of narratives surrounding the scandal and its aftermath as objects of collective memory.

    Find this resource:

  • Schwartz, Barry. 2008. Collective memory and abortive commemoration: Presidents’ Day and the American holiday calendar. Social Research 75:75–110.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Schwartz details the history of the US holiday calendar and describes a postmodern turn in American public holidays. He introduces the concept of abortive commemoration to describe “fruitless” holidays that continue to be celebrated but no longer hold a clear meaning or the power to engage.

    Find this resource:

  • Simko, Christina. 2012. Rhetorics of suffering: September 11 commemorations as theodicy. American Sociological Review 77:880–902.

    DOI: 10.1177/0003122412458785Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Simko argues that commemoration serves to generate meaning from deeply unsettling and traumatic events and draws on differences in events, carriers groups or memory agents, audiences, and histories of commemoration to explain the divergent meanings evoked at 9/11 commemoration sites.

    Find this resource:

  • Wagner-Pacifici, Robin, and Barry Schwartz. 1991. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Commemorating a difficult past. American Journal of Sociology 97:376–420.

    DOI: 10.1086/229783Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A detailed description of the design and establishment of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The analysis highlights the problem of commemorating a controversial military conflict that ended in defeat.

    Find this resource:

Performance

Analyses of collective public performance borrow Durkheim’s notion of “collective effervescence” to explain how stylized behaviors in public space bind a group, emphasizing group membership and solidarity. Geertz 1980 provides a performative account of political power by analyzing rituals of state in 19th century Bali. Alexander 2004 extends the Durkheimian framework with a binary approach to public ritual based upon pragmatism as social philosophy.

  • Alexander, Jeffrey C. 2004. Cultural pragmatics: Social performance between ritual and strategy. Sociological Theory 22:527–573.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.0735-2751.2004.00233.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Alexander draws on performance studies to analogize social performance to theatrical performance. He argues that social performances are experienced as authentic, integrative, and ritual like only so far as they “re-fuse” actors’ expression with audience reception of symbols and collective representations that have become increasingly segmented or “de-fused” in complex societies.

    Find this resource:

  • Geertz, Clifford. 1980. Negara: The theatre state in nineteenth-century Bali. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this paradigmatic account of ceremony, politics, and power, Geertz describes a “theater state” distinguished by court rituals and royal spectacles that enacted representations of status and political order.

    Find this resource:

Production of Material Culture

Material culture encompasses the range of objects and practices that serve as physically bounded sites of collective meaning. Bourdieu 1984 lays out a theory of material objects and class distinction. Expanding on Bourdieu, the articles in this section focus upon different sites of materiality such as theater (Berezin 1994), food (De Soucey 2010), advertising (Schudson 1984), opera (Stamatov 2002), and news (Smith 2005).

  • Berezin, Mabel. 1994. Cultural form and political meaning: State-subsidized theater, ideology, and the language of style in fascist Italy. American Journal of Sociology 99:1237–1286.

    DOI: 10.1086/230411Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Drawing on a detailed description of theater in fascist Italy, Berezin demonstrates that theatrical form (including staging and acting style), rather than the content of individual plays, conveyed fascist meaning. The broader argument is for sociological attention to the meaning that inheres in artistic form as well as content.

    Find this resource:

  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this highly influential theoretical and empirical study of culture and social class, Bourdieu employs quantitative analysis of French consumption habits to demonstrate patterned social class-distinctions in lifestyles, tastes, and aesthetic judgments. Originally published in French in 1979.

    Find this resource:

  • De Soucey, Michaela. 2010. Gastronationalism: Food traditions and authenticity politics in the European Union. American Sociological Review 75:432–455.

    DOI: 10.1177/0003122410372226Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Using an examination of officially designated and protected traditional foods, De Soucey describes ways in which state regulatory structures reflect and operationalize nationalist political and cultural values in a context of increasing European and global economic integration.

    Find this resource:

  • Schudson, Michael. 1984. Advertising, the uneasy persuasion: Its dubious impact on American society. New York: Basic Books.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Schudson suggests that advertising articulates and serves as a reminder of American capitalist values. He argues that the power of advertising to sell products has been overstated.

    Find this resource:

  • Smith, Philip. 2005. Why war? The cultural logic of Iraq, the Gulf War, and Suez. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226763910.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Following Jeffrey Alexander’s “strong program” in cultural sociology, Smith makes a case for the autonomy of cultural discourse in shaping states’ decisions to go to war.

    Find this resource:

  • Stamatov, Peter. 2002. Interpretive activism and the political uses of Verdi’s operas in the 1840s. American Sociological Review 67:345–366.

    DOI: 10.2307/3088961Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Stamatov highlights the role of “activist” audience members in interpreting Verdi’s operas and producing and disseminating political meaning.

    Find this resource:

Sacred and Secular Culture

Religion is the institutional location of what Durkheim labels “sacred and profane.” Bellah 1967 in his discussion of “civil religion” in the United States puts forth a classic statement on how secular religion may inform a nation’s vision of itself and its place in the world. Geertz 1968 follows in the Bellah mode, showing how national political cultures can affect what a single religion, Islam, means in different geographic locales. In contemporary political culture religions are another landscape of contention. Bowen 2007 and Bail 2012 show how Islam becomes a site of contention in Europe and the United States. Zubrzycki 2006 illustrates how the memory of the Holocaust is reconstructed and neutralized in contemporary Poland. The works in this section show that the shape of religious contention is greatly influenced by the national political culture.

  • Bail, Christopher A. 2012. The fringe effect: Civil society organizations and the evolution of media discourse about Islam since the September 11th attacks. American Sociological Review 77:855–879.

    DOI: 10.1177/0003122412465743Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This mixed-methods study finds that fringe civil society groups captured mainstream media attention with emotional anti-Muslim messages that effectively redirected mainstream discourse and realigned organizational networks and resources. A rare example of empirical work that points to a mechanism for the evolution of popular discourse.

    Find this resource:

  • Bellah, Robert N. 1967. Civil religion in America. Daedalus 96:1–21.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Bellah describes how civil religion—the set of institutionalized beliefs, symbols, and rituals that express the public religious dimension of American democratic culture—shapes broader American institutions.

    Find this resource:

  • Bowen, John R. 2007. Why the French don’t like headscarves: Islam, the state, and public space. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400837564Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Bowen situates the controversy over headscarves in French public schools in the context of the particular ways in which republicanism and laїcité intersect with Islam in postcolonial France. Laїcité is the term for the singularly French form of state secularism that requires regulation of religious expression in the public sphere.

    Find this resource:

  • Geertz, Clifford. 1968. Islam observed; Religious development in Morocco and Indonesia. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The four lectures that comprise this foundational text for the anthropology of Islam compare the religious styles of Islam in Morocco and Indonesia.

    Find this resource:

  • Zubrzycki, Geneviève. 2006. The crosses of Auschwitz: Nationalism and religion in post-communist Poland. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226993058.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This in-depth analysis of nationalist and religious conflict in post-Communist Poland hinges on one event, the 1998 “War of the Crosses.”

    Find this resource:

back to top

Article

Up

Down