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Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2014.40:1-30. Downloaded from www.annualreviews.orgby Professor Orlando Patterson on 09/01/14. For personal use only.SO40-FrontMatterARI8 July 20146:42

SO40CH01-PattersonARIANNUALREVIEWS1 July 20149:14FurtherAnnu. Rev. Sociol. 2014.40:1-30. Downloaded from www.annualreviews.orgby Professor Orlando Patterson on 09/01/14. For personal use only.Click here for quick links toAnnual Reviews content online,including: Other articles in this volume Top cited articles Top downloaded articles Our comprehensive searchMaking Sense of CultureOrlando PattersonDepartment of Sociology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138;email: opatters@fas.harvard.eduAnnu. Rev. Sociol. 2014. 40:1–30KeywordsFirst published online as a Review in Advance onMay 2, 2014beliefs, cognition, culture, meaning, norms, pragmatics, schema, valuesThe Annual Review of Sociology is online atsoc.annualreviews.orgAbstractThis article’s doi:10.1146/annurev-soc-071913-043123c 2014 by Annual Reviews.Copyright All rights reservedI present a brief review of problems in the sociological study of culture,followed by an integrated, interdisciplinary view of culture that eschewsextreme contextualism and other orthodoxies. Culture is defined as theconjugate product of two reciprocal, componential processes. The firstis a dynamically stable process of collectively made, reproduced, andunevenly shared knowledge structures that are informational and meaningful, internally embodied, and externally represented and that providepredictability, coordination equilibria, continuity, and meaning in human actions and interactions. The second is a pragmatic component ofculture that grounds the first, and it has its own rules of usage and apragmatically derived structure of practical knowledge. I also offer anaccount of change and draw on knowledge activation theory in exploring the microdynamics of cultural practice and propose the conceptof cultural configuration as a better way of studying cultural practicein highly heterogeneous modern societies where people shift betweenmultiple, overlapping configurations.1

SO40CH01-PattersonARI1 July 20149:14Power, power everywhere,And how the signs do shrink,Power, power everywhere,And nothing else to think.—Marshall Sahlins (2002), Waiting forFoucault, StillO how they cling and wrangle, some who claimFor preacher and monk the honored name!For, quarreling, each to his view they cling.Such folk see only one side of a thing.—Parable of the Blind Men and the ElephantAnnu. Rev. Sociol. 2014.40:1-30. Downloaded from www.annualreviews.orgby Professor Orlando Patterson on 09/01/14. For personal use only.Udanam vi.4 (transl. F.L. Woodward, 1948,p. 83)PART 1: INTRODUCTIONThe Unsettled State ofCultural SociologyThe sociological study of culture, like itsanthropological counterpart, is riddled withacademic contention: tired and torturedconceptual contestations about the natureof culture itself (Sewell 2005, pp. 152–74;Sangren 2000, pp. 20–44; cf. Patterson 2007);debilitating uncertainty about the nature andcentrality of meaning (Wuthnow 1987, pp. 64–65); rejections of hard-won methodologicalclaims (Biernacki 2012); repeated and oftenunproductive agenda settings; sweeping dismissals and dogmatic overreaction to the errorsor biases of previous traditions of scholarship(Swidler 1986; cf. Friedland & Mohr 2004b,pp. 13–17; King 2000); the untenable ditching,with the bathwater of the Parsonian past, offoundational concepts such as values and normsthat strike most scholars in other disciplines assimply preposterous (Hechter & Opp 2001);political oversensitivity, especially in regard torace and inequality, entailing the endless flogging of long dead and buried horses such as “theculture of poverty” thesis (Skrentny 2008); thedogmatic rejection of causal explanations at oneextreme (Geertz 1973, p. 14) and, at the other,explanatory evasiveness more generally (withthe notable exception of some studies in socialmovement and economic sociology) (Levin2008, Polletta 2008) or questionable claims of2Pattersonuncoupled cultural autonomy and causation(Alexander 2003, pp. 11–26; cf. Friedland &Mohr 2004b, pp. 5–11; Kaufman 2004); andoutright contradiction, when deployed, inthe causal use of culture—bad, even racist,when used to understand the poor or minoritybehavior; good, and desperately grasped, whenused to explain the racial IQ gap (Patterson2001, Serpell 2000; see also Vaisey 2010).To make matters worse, the subject is alsopolitically fraught, both within and outside theacademy, especially in our current age of identity, where leaders and activists as well as scholars challenge each other, not only on the interpretation of their cultures, but also on thevery definition and meaning of culture itself(Wright 1998). Oversensitivity to identity politics and claims is another reason for one of themain failings of current studies of culture, mentioned above: the flight of the vast majority fromcausality or comparative generalizations for fearof being labeled racists or essentialists. Thus,even though cultural sociologists (fearful of social irrelevance) have recently begun to tiptoetheir way back to a consideration of inequality,poverty, and minority problems (see, for example, Charles 2008, Small et al. 2010), it is stillde rigueur to eschew robust causal explanations(Vaisey 2010), except for those who huddle behind the Gallic shield of Bourdieu, often at thecost of undercutting critical components of histheory (Stevens 2008, p. 104); instead, a softand nebulous neo-Weberian verstehen reigns,in which the cultural sociologist is reduced tolittle more than a mouthpiece for his or hersubjects’ understanding of their culture and behavior. And these understandings are plaguedby what Bourdieu calls the “discourse of familiarity,” which often leaves unsaid preciselywhat is so important that it is taken for granted(Bourdieu 1977, p. 18) or is saturated with thevery essentialism that these cultural sociologistscondemn in each other.Another serious problem that besets sociological studies of culture is the chronic fallacy ofthe blind people and the elephant, in which eachinsists that the part of the elephant he or sheis touching constitutes its entirety. The main

Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2014.40:1-30. Downloaded from www.annualreviews.orgby Professor Orlando Patterson on 09/01/14. For personal use only.SO40CH01-PattersonARI1 July 20149:14reason for this error is the tendency by manyof the leading practitioners to redefine the fieldand carve out “new” agendas (for a laudable recent exception, see Binder et al. 2008, particularly pp. 6–14). Sadly, what Wuthnow observedin the late 1980s remains largely true: “Replications fail to replicate; refutations fail to refute;replies fail to convince; and the dismissals typically dismiss too much or too little” (Wuthnow1987, p. 7). The result is a persistent lack of consensus or rigor in defining culture, an issue that,as Small & Newman (2001) noted, “has tormented both sociologists and anthropologistsfor decades, and there is no reason to believewe will ever arrive at a consensus” (p. 35). Notonly has this undermined the cumulative process that is essential for progress in any arenaof study, but it has also undercut the reputationof cultural studies generally. Although we arerepeatedly told that there has been a “culturalturn” in sociology and related disciplines going back to the 1980s (Bonnell & Hunt 1999,Friedland & Mohr 2004b, Steinmetz 1999; cf.Biernacki 2000), and indeed, the culture sectionof the American Sociological Association is nowone of the largest, most noncultural sociologistsare still wary of culture and either shun any exploration of its role in their explanatory modelsor go out of their way to point out its lack ofimportance or relevance.A further problem is the baneful isolation ofcultural sociologists from major developmentsin the study of culture in the nonhistorical socialsciences. There have been significant borrowings from cognitive psychology thanks to thepioneering work of Cicourel (1973), DiMaggio(1997), Cerulo (2010b), Zerubavel (1997),Benford & Snow (2000), and more recentscholars [see the special issue of Poetics (Cerulo2010a)]. However, these infusions have comefrom cognitive scientists who, notoriously, arenot particularly interested in culture (Hutchins1995, pp. 353–54). The parochialism to which Irefer is the shocking neglect of work on culturein other disciplines such as anthropology (withthe notable exception of Clifford Geertz),psychological and cross-cultural anthropology,evolutionary cultural studies, and even socialpsychology except for the rump still in thediscipline. The frustrating part of all this isthat an abundance of first-rate work on cultureamong sociologists resides in the particularsections of the elephant they embrace (seethe excellent literature reviews in Binder et al.2008). This is especially true of the agendasetters, once they get down to the empiricsof their craft. Thus, Jeffrey Alexander (2003,chapters 2–4; 2012) when not pushing his“strong program,” has written superb studieson the Holocaust and the general problemsof evil and trauma. Swidler’s (1986) widelycited programmatic paper on culture has gonefurther than most in downplaying the causalsignificance of cultural knowledge structures,values, and norms in social life (Schudson1989, p. 156), even though, as Vaisey (2009,p. 1687) points out, it rests on the flawedcognitive premise “that moral judgment wouldhave to operate through conscious thought tobe causally efficacious” (see also Vaisey 2008;for a more conciliatory critique of Swidler,see Lizardo & Strand 2010). Nonetheless, hernow classic works with Bellah on Americanculture are arguably among the most powerfuldemonstrations of the role of values, ideology,and moral order in modern society (Bellah et al.1985), and her recent study of chieftaincy inrural Malawi is a full-throttle, volte-face returnto the centrality of norms, values, and stablecultural knowledge structures in explainingsocial processes (Swidler 2013). Similarly,Lamont’s energetic promotion of the ideaof boundaries as central to cultural analysisbegan as a worthwhile effort to synthesize andapply previous work on the subject (Lamont &Fournier 1993). Unfortunately, the relative significance of the concept has subsequently beengreatly exaggerated and its emphasis misplacedfrom that of Barth’s (1969) definitive (thoughincreasingly neglected) statement as well asthose of previous and later scholars (Bourdieu1984, 1989; Douglas 1966; Durkheim 1912[2008]; Firth 1973; Turner 1969). There is farmore to culture and interaction than incessantboundary work. What Fiske (2010, p. 969)wrote of hierarchical differences holds Making Sense of Culture3

SO40CH01-PattersonARI1 July 20149:14all boundaries, that “they are not the onlygame going in social encounters. Indeed,interdependence matters more because peopleimmediately detect others’ intentions for goodor ill and live in cooperative or competitiverelationships over time.” Nonetheless, Lamont(1994, 2002, 2009) has given us valuableaccounts of the cultures of class, ethnicity, andacademic knowledge.Meaning and Divisions inCultural SociologyAnnu. Rev. Sociol. 2014.40:1-30. Downloaded from www.annualreviews.orgby Professor Orlando Patterson on 09/01/14. For personal use only.I sympathize with Wuthnow’s (1987, pp. 64–65) comment that the concept of meaning maywell be “more of a curse than a blessing incultural analysis” due mainly to its elusiveness.Nonetheless, differences over the meaning ofmeaning lie at the heart of fundamental theoretical issues in the study of culture. Thereare three basic approaches to cultural sociology,and in each, meaning is treated differently.First is what may simply be called thesociocultural approach in which the focus is oncultural knowledge structures and their uses ingiven social contexts. Here, meaning is used inits simplest and most commonsense form, i.e.,as something that is conveyed or signified in afairly transparent way by language that “retainsits rootage in the commonsense reality of everyday life” (Berger & Luckmann 1967, pp. 38).The reigning assumption is the unabashedlymodernist one that social life can be viewed asa coherent reality to people, and we can “takeas data particular phenomena arising within itwithout further inquiring about the foundations of this reality” (Berger & Luckmann 1967,p. 19; see also pp. 43–46). Such an assumptionis, of course, precisely what is rejected in postmodernist cultural analysis, but the implosionof such thinking in the neighboring disciplinesof reflexive anthropology and (literary) culturalstudies, along with the “tragic” cautionarycase of Alvin Gouldner (Chriss 2000; Sahlins2000, pp. 38–39; Spiro 1996), has simplyreinforced the mainstream modernist viewin sociology. Nearly all the classic works inAmerican cultural sociology such as those of4PattersonHerbert Gans, W.F. Whyte, Elliott Liebow,Robert Bellah, and Daniel Bell were written inthis tradition, and in spite of the high-profile“turn” to semiotics, this remains true of many,perhaps most, of the best work being producedby established and younger scholars (see theexcellent edited volumes by Binder et al. 2008,Friedland & Mohr 2004a, Hall et al. 2010).Second is the sense of meaning as subjectiveand intersubjective understanding. Here,meaning refers to how someone understandsor makes sense of themselves and their world,regardless of its objective validity. The studentof culture here reports, to the best of herability, her interpretation of these subjectiveand intersubjective meanings or understandings and does not assume that any realityexists independent of such understandings.This is the verstehen approach to meaning,famously associated with Weber, althoughit preceded him, and is the foundation ofinterpretive sociology. Again, deep philosophical issues persist, which phenomenologistsstruggle with, as to what exactly is goingon in the reports of cultural sociologists onwhat they have heard and observed (Berger &Luckmann 1967, pp. 19–46; Schutz 1967). Itis arguable whether the act of interpretation,expected of most analysts, does not distort andmisrepresent the understandings being conveyed, an issue that led Bourdieu to scour suchstudies, including phenomenological attemptsto resolve the matter (Bourdieu 1977, pp. 20–22; 1989). More recently, the utility of in-depthinterviewing, that methodological workhorseof this tradition of cultural research, hasbeen seriously challenged by several youngerscholars (Vaisey 2009, pp. 1688–89; Martin2010) and its adherents dubbed “cognitiveculturalists” by Pugh (2013) in her measuredresponse to their foray (cf. Vaisey 2014).The third broad kind of cultural sociology isthat of cultural and social semiotics, the studyof the language, symbols, rituals, metaphors,codes, and other signs used in communication.The emphasis is on how meaning is maintained,manipulated, made, and expressed throughdifferent signifying modes in different contexts.

Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2014.40:1-30. Downloaded from www.annualreviews.orgby Professor Orlando Patterson on 09/01/14. For personal use only.SO40CH01-PattersonARI1 July 20149:14Semiotic studies have three divisions. The first,which somewhat grandiosely claims to represent the cultural turn (for a push-back amonghistorians against this so-called turn, see Cooket al. 2008, part 1), focuses mainly on historical studies and is closely allied to parallel developments in the historical profession as wellas literature (Bonnell & Hunt 1999, Steinmetz1999). It follows Geertz (1973) in seeing societyas a text, the role of the cultural analyst being toread or interpret its meaning through “thick descriptions” (p. 5), or as the editors of one of theagenda-setting volumes of this “cultural turn”faithfully put it: “Henceforth, symbols, rituals,events, historical artifacts, social arrangements,and belief systems were designated as ‘texts’ tobe interrogated for their semiotic structure, thatis, their internal consistency as part of a systemof meaning” (Bonnell & Hunt 1999, p. 3). In addition to Geertz, Foucault and other poststructuralist philosophers such as Roland Barthes,Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, and FredericJameson strongly influence this group. Hence,language is viewed as nontransparent, and discursive strategies, as well as ideology and theirrole in exercising and subverting power, are favored themes. John Hall (2004, p. 110), whoknows this group well, has gently reminded it ofa chronic weakness, that of “succumbing to theidealism, historicism, or teleology that sometimes afflict histories of culture.”The second subgroup of social semiotics(see Van Leeuwen 2005, Vannini 2007) differs mainly in its focus on contemporary lifeand its somewhat uneasy location in the symbolic interactionist tradition of sociology. Although members of this subgroup claim to tracetheir intellectual ancestry more to Peirce andAmerican pragmatism, they are equally influenced by modern poststructuralist thinkers, especially M.A.K. Halliday and Roland Barthes.Their central concept, the semiotic resource,replaces that of “signs” and refers to the potential for meaning making of anything usedin communication—physical expression, movement, artifacts, pictures, music, whatever—andthe way they are articulated in social contexts, which may themselves have rules for howthese resources are to be used (Van Leeuwen2005, pp. 3–4). This branch of social semiotics,though on much surer methodological footingthan its better-known historical counterpart,has not won wide acceptance in cultural sociology, at least in the United States.The third branch of social semiotics isa major subfield in cultural sociology. Itoriginated more in the symbolic anthropologyof Durkheim & Mauss (1903 [1963]), carriedforward in the early semiotic work of Bourdieu(1979) and the British school of symbolicstudies, most notably Mary Douglas (1966),Raymond Firth (1973), and Victor Turner(1969). The works of Ikegami (2005) onTokugawa Japan, Berezin (1997) on the political culture of fascist Italy, and Wacquant’s(2004) carnal sociology of boxing are exemplarycases of this branch of cultural sociology. Several of my own earlier works fall in this school,though paling in comparison with those of theseyounger scholars (Patterson 1969 [1995]; 1978;1982, chapters 2, 8, 11; 1991, chapters 7, 8).Assumptions and PropositionsA synthetic analysis that defines both what culture is and does and the nature of the wholebeast over and beyond its favored parts may beachieved—still using the parable of the blindpeople and the elephant—by listening carefullyto each person’s account of the part of the elephant they are touching and analyzing. I do notclaim to be able to see where my colleagues remain blind. Instead, my interpretation is thatwe are all blind in the search for truth. I havelistened, and below is what I have found. Beforegetting to it, however, let me state a preliminaryset of propositions that disclose, hopefully, mypoint of departure and biases and provide someorientation to what follows.I understand culture as the conjugateproduct of two interconnected, componentialprocesses (see Figure 1). The first is a dynamically stable process of collectively made,reproduced, and unevenly shared knowledgeabout the world that is both informational andmeaningful. It is what Sahlins (2000, p. 286) Making Sense of Culture5

SO40CH01-PattersonARI1 July 20149:14Component ofconstituted cultural knowledge(symbolically shared schemata)Declarative:embodied, externalProcedural:routine, distributedEvaluative:Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2014.40:1-30. Downloaded from www.annualreviews.orgby Professor Orlando Patterson on 09/01/14. For personal use only.norms, valuesKnowledge activation:use, production,reproduction, transmissionO.C. andother networkflowsConfigurationsPracticalcultural knowledgeContext:structural, historica

of culture here reports, to the best of her ability, her interpretation of these subjective and intersubjective meanings or understand-ings and does not assume that any reality exists independent of such understandings. This is the verstehen approach to meaning, famously associated with Weber, although

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