Sociology of Culture

If you’re interested, here’s the current (11.22.09) draft of my Spring 2010 syllabus for a graduate course on the sociology of culture. I welcome feedback. (I’m cutting out the prefatory matter on assignments, etc.) As you will see, I’m shopping around for a final topic…

Preliminaries: Orientation

January 14

Swidler, Ann. 1986. “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies.” American Sociological Review. 51: 273-86.

Williams, Raymond, “Culture.”  In Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, Expanded edition. (New York: Oxford UP, 1976; London: Fontana, 1988).

Alexander, Jeffrey C.. “Analytic Debates: Understanding the Relative Autonomy of Culture,” pp. 1-27 in AS.

Berger, Bennett.  1995.  “Culture: Varieties of Usage.”  Pp. 14-55 in The Sociology of Culture: Emerging Theoretical Perspectives.  London: Basil Blackwell.

Models of Cultural Analysis

January 21

Griswold, Wendy. 1994. Cultures and Societies in a Changing World. Second Edition. Pine Forge Press.

Schudson, Michael. 1989. “How Culture Works: Perspectives from Media Studies on the Efficacy of Symbols.”  Theory and Society 18: 153-180.

Griswold, Wendy. 1987. A Methodological Framework for the Sociology of Culture. Sociological Methodology 17: 1-35.

Mohr, John W.  1998.  “Measuring Meaning Structures.”  Annual Review of Sociology.  24: 345-70.

Culture and Social Structure: Durkheimian Approaches

January 28

Douglas, Mary, “Symbolic Pollution,” pp. 155-159 in AS.

Martin, John Levi, “What do Animals do all day? The division of labor, class bodies and totemic thinking in the popular imagination,” Poetics, 27 (2000), pp. 195–231.

Sahlins, Marshall.  “Food as Symbolic Code,” pp. 94-101 in AS.

Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll, “Sex as Symbol in Victorian purity,” pp. 160-170 in AS.

Background reading:

Durkheim, Émile, The Elementary forms of Religious Life (Free Press, 1997). “Introduction” (pgs. 1-18), and “Conclusion” (pgs. 418-448).

Culture and Social Structure: Marxist Approaches

February 4

Adorno, Theodor and Max Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” in Mass Communication and Society, Pp. 349-383 in J. Curran, M. Gurevitch and J. Wollacott (eds.). (Beverly Hills: CA: Sage, 1979 [1977]).

Benjamin, Walter, “The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” from Illuminations, Hannah Arendt (ed.).  (New York, Schocken Books [1969, c1968]).

Berger, John.  “The Suit and the Photograph,” Pp. 424-431 in MS.

Williams, Raymond, “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory,” Pp. 407-23 in MS.

Willis, Paul, “Masculinity and Factory Labor,” Pp. 183-95 in AS.

Background reading:

Marx, Karl. From “The German Ideology” (146-186); “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” (53-65); “The Manifesto of the Communist Party” (473-483); “Capital, Volume 1” (319-329).  In Robert C. Tucker, editor, The Marx-Engels Reader (New York: W.W. Norton, 1978).

Culture and Discursive Structures

February 11

Barthes, Roland, “The World of Wrestling,” pp. 87-93 in AS.

de Saussure, Ferdinand, “Signs and Language,” Pp. 55-63 in AS.

de Saussure, Ferdinand, “The Linguistic Sign,” Pp. 28-46 in Semiotics: An Introductory Anthology.  Indiana UP, 1985.

Seidman, Steven, “AIDS and the Discursive Construction of Homosexuality.”  Pp. 47-59 in S.

Somers, Margaret.  “The Narrative Constitution of Identity: A Relational and Network Approach.”  Theory and Sociology 23: 605-649 (1994).

Volosinov, V.  “Verbal Interaction,” Chapter 3 from Marxism and the Philosophy of Language.  Seminar Press: 1973 [1929].

Historical Cultural Sociology

February 18

Elias, Norbert.  The Norbert Elias Reader: A Biographical Selection.  Ed. By Johan Goudsblom and Stephen Mennell.  New York: Blackwell.  “Court Society as a Sociological Problem” (pg. 12-17); “The Kitch Style and the Age of Kitch (pg. 26-35).

Ikegami, Eiko.  2005.  “Bringing culture into macrostructural analysis in historical sociology: some epistemological considerations.”  33: 15-31.

Schwartz, Barry.  “Memory as a Cultural System: Abraham Lincoln in World War II.”  American Sociological Review.  Vol 61, No. 5 (Oct., 1996), 908-927.

Sewell, William H. Jr.  “Ideologies and Social Revolutions: Reflections on the French Case,” Journal of Modern History, 57 (1985), 57-85.

Cultural Fields

February 25

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Field of Cultural Production. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993). Pp.29-73.

Ferguson, Priscilla P.  “A Cultural Field in the Making: Gastronomy in 19th-Century France.”  American Journal of Sociology.  Vol. 104, No. 3 (Nov., 1998), pp. 597-641.

Roy, William G.  “‘Race Records’ and ‘Hillbilly Music’:  Institutional Origins of Racial Categories in the American Commercial Recording Industry.”  Poetics, Vol. 32, Iss. 3-4 (June-August 2004), pp. 265-279.

Production of Culture

March 4

Becker, Howard.  “Art as Collective Action.”  American Sociological Review.  Vol. 39 (6): 767-776.

Bielby, William T. and Denise D. Bielby, “All Hits are Flukes: Institutionalized Decision Making and the Rhetoric of Prime-Time Program Development,” American Journal of Sociology, 99 (1994), pp. 1287–1313.

Hirsch, Paul M.  “Processing Fads and Fashions: An Organization-Set Analysis of Cultural Industry Systems,” American Journal of Sociology. 77 (1972): 639-659.

Lopes, Paul D., “Innovation and Diversity in the Popular Music Industry,” American Sociological Review. 57 (February 1992): 56-71.

Markets as Culture

March 18

Anand, N. and Richard A. Peterson.  2000.  “When Market Information Constitutes Fields: Sensemaking of Markets in the Commercial Music Industry.”  Organization Science.  11 (3): 270-284.

Espeland, Wendy N. and Mitchell Stevens.  “Commensuration as a Social Process.”  Annual Review of Sociology, 24 (1998): 313-43.

Fourcade, Marion and Kieran Healy. 2007. “Moral Views of Market Society.” Annual Review of Sociology. Vol 33.

Zelizer, Viviana. 2000. “The Purchase of Intimacy.” Law and Social Inquiry. Vol 25(3): 817-848.


March 25

Bourdieu, Pierre.  Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984). Chapter 1 (pp. 11-96), Chapter 5 (pp. 257-317).

DeNora, Tia.  “Music as a Device of Social Ordering.”  Music and Everyday Life.  Cambridge UP.  2000.

Griswold, Wendy, “The Fabrication of Meaning: Literary interpretation in the United States, Great Britain and the West Indies.” American Journal of Sociology, 92 (1987), pp. 1077–1117.

Radway, Janice.  “Interpretive Communities and Variable Literacies: The Functions of Romance Reading.”  Pages 465-486 in MS.

Shivley, Jo Ellen.  1992.  “Perceptions of Western Films Among American Indians and Anglos.”  American Sociological Review.  57: 725-734.

Simmel, Georg.  “The Philosophy of Fashion,” 187-206 in Simmel on Culture.  David Frisby and M. Featherstone (eds.).  (London: Sage, 1997).


April 1

Lizardo, Omar.  2006.  “Cultural Tastes and Personal Networks.”  American Sociological Review.  71 (5): 778-807.

Bryson, Bethany, “‘Anything But Heavy Metal’: Symbolic Exclusion and Musical Dislikes,” American Sociological Review, 61 (1996), pp. 884–899.

Holt, Douglas B. 1997. “Distinction in America? Recovering Bourdieu’s Theory of Tastes from Its Critics.” Poetics. 25: 93-120.

Peterson, Richard A. and Roger M. Kern.  “Changing Highbrow Taste: From Snob to Omnivore.”  American Sociological Review, 61 (October 1996): 900-907.

Stratification within Cultural Communities

April 8

DiMaggio, Paul.  “Classification in Art.”  American Sociological Review, 52 (August 1987): 440-455.

Faulkner, Robert R. and Andy B. Anderson.  1987.  “Short-Term Projects and Emergent Careers: Evidence from Hollywood.”  American Journal of Sociology.  92 (4): 879-909.

Lamont, Michele.  1987.  “How to Become a Dominant French Philosopher: The Case of Jacques Derrida.”  American Journal of Sociology.  93 (3): 584-622.

Lang, Gladys and Kurt Lang.  “Recognition and Renown: The Survival of Artistic Reputation,” American Journal of Sociology, 94 (1988), 79-109.

Genre and Boundaries

April 15

DiMaggio, Paul.  1982.  “Cultural Entrepreneurship in 19th Century Boston.”  I & II, Media Culture and Society.  4: 33-50, 303-322.

Lena, Jennifer C. and Richard A. Peterson. 2008. “Culture as Classification.” American Sociological Review.

Lamont, Michèle, and Virág Molnár. 2002. “The Study of Boundaries in the Social Sciences.” Annual Review of Sociology. 28: 167–95.

Griswold’s article (ASR/AJS?) on copyright and comparison between American and British books in the 19th century.


April 22


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9 responses to “Sociology of Culture

  1. Thanks for sharing this – it looks great so far.

  2. Looks like a great course! My only significant change since I started my culture grad course is that I teach less “old” stuff in favor of surveying current work in culture – a tradeoff, to be sure, but I think worthwhile.

  3. Jenn Lena

    Andy–I’m headed in that direction, too. About 15 or 20% of the above will be new to the course, and all of it stuff from the last 10 years. But I’m trying not to re-prep entirely. Baby steps.

    That said, I’m a heartbeat away from taking out the linguistics week and replacing it with something more current and interesting to our students. Culture and cognition is the obvious choice, I think. And I’ve still got that last week to schedule.

    Oh, and I would skip some of the western marxism stuff (and others) if they were getting it from other courses.

  4. joshmccabe

    I noticed you broke down two of the weeks into Durkheimian and Marxist approaches, but there is no Weberian approach. How come?

    I ask because I know nothing about the sociology of culture. Is there no such thing as a Weberian approach? Is it just not that prominent?

  5. Jenn Lena

    There is a Weberian approach to culture, yes. (If you are interested, there are two examples marked as such in the Alexander and Seidman edition, and I think a good description of the approach in their editors’ introduction.) I would argue that it is implicit in the majority of works on the syllabus (after the fifth week or so), but I don’t find that teaching it as a singular approach is very helpful to students. There is also a Simmelian approach, and a Luhmannian approach, and actually several others that played in the tournament of champions.

  6. wow, great syllabus. even more than the particular readings i like how you broke them into weeks, which is really the trick to making a grad syllabus as it implies creating order from the fuzziness of the literature.
    my only quibble is that i would have included Stuart Hall’s “Marxism Without Guarantees” in the Marxism week but that’s mostly because I hate Marxism and I see his essay as a very sophisticated internal critique that for all intents and purposes arrives at p-o-c by the end. there’s also a very interesting point which i see as parallel to the “markets as culture” thing that there can be different orders of reality that aren’t mutually exclusive.

  7. Pingback: 12 weeks of culture « Code and Culture

  8. Pingback: Programa De PóS-GraduaçãO Em EducaçãO – Ufjf « What’s Popular?

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