Workshop in Cultural Sociology, 2008-2009

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CCS Workshop Poster – 2008-2009

Workshop 9/5: Orientation

Welcome Back!

This week we will be focused on updates and planning. We hope you can all make it to this important meeting.

Please come prepared to say a few words about your summer and the progress you have made in your work. This would include things like writing thesis chapters, sending papers off for publication, being published, presenting at the ASA, collecting data or making field trips, going to Konstanz. Please also share your recreational adventures as well.

This year we welcome 4 incoming students: Tom Crosbie, Alison Gerber, Tim Malacarne and Christine Slaughter. We also welcome Jonathan Roberge and Andrea Cossu, both Post-Doctoral Fellows here for the year, and back for another year with us are Kirtsen Kraus, Sonja van Wichelen and Marc de Leeuw, and Pavel Barša will be with us until mid-October. Also joining us at the workshop this fall will be Esteve Ollé Sanz who will be appointed as a Post-doctoral Fellow in January.

We will have lunch during this meeting.

Workshop 9/12: Jeffrey Alexander

Struggles for Power and Cultural Pragmatics: Barack Obama’s Drive for the Presidency

To struggle for power in a democratic society one must become a collective representation; one must become a symbol of the civil sphere, but also of the extra-civil national, institutional, and primordial values that real existing civil spheres are compelled also to represent. To become a symbol is not only to achieve this status with one’s immediate supporters and party group, but to project this symbolic stature over a much wider domain. Struggles for political power are performances. They project meanings and styles to citizen audiences that are layered from close by to far away, and which, as well, are fragmented in all the familiar demographic ways. Winning power depends on creating performances that successfully breach some of these great divides.

Required Reading

Workshop 9/19: What is Cultural Sociology?
Discussion moderated by Nadya Jaworsky

When I find myself at an ASA cocktail reception answering the question, “What is cultural sociology, anyway? I give a pretty truncated answer, ranging from the accurate, but obviously rude quip, “the right way to study society” to “We believe in the relative analytical autonomy of culture as patterned structures of meaning that help explain a thing or two about behavior and social actors.” Either one sends people running, unless they happen to practice the sociology of culture.
Seriously – as I read this article, which depicts an interview with our very own Jeffrey Alexander, exploring many of the same questions I stutter through at these conferences, it helped me think about and reflect upon ways in which I personally envision and embrace the theory and practice of cultural sociology. And with so many new attendees to the Workshop, I thought it might be good to fill this week’s gap with a basic discussion of the nuts and bolts of this sub-discipline called cultural sociology.

Attendance is not mandatory, so please let Nadine know if you will attend, so she can plan for a fabulous lunch.

Required Reading

Workshop 9/26: Michael Galchinsky

Global Civil Culture: Crafting Universal Structures of Feeling.

Global civil culture represents a subset of the broader category “global civil society.” The latter phrase signifies the set of non-governmental associations, communications, and cultural works that provide the social underpinning to support global governance systems. To date, cultural works have rarely been noticed in discussions of global civil society. Rather these discussions have mainly focused on the number of international non-governmental organizations in existence. In purely statistical terms, global civil society would seem to be thriving. Today there are some 30,000-40,000 international NGOs with human rights platforms, as opposed to only a few tens or hundreds when the UN was established in the late 1940s. That statistic might suggest that today’s global civil society is more vigorous and successful than in its early decades—but in fact, something close to the opposite is the case. In my project, Global Civil Culture, I intend to research 1) the reasons why the establishment of a public structure of feeling in support of universal human rights seemed promising and necessary in the 1940s and 1950s; 2) why this project proved unsuccessful from the mid-1960s through the end of the century; and 3) in what ways, and with what success, the project has been revived since 9/11.

The paper titled “Global Civil Culture: Crafting Universal Structures of Feeling” is intended to be read first, because it presents the theoretical framework applied in the second paper, “‘The Mouthpiece of the Human Conscience’: Lily Montagu’s Human Rights Sermons.”

Required Reading

Workshop 10/3: Andrea Cossu

Coding the Resistance:
The Italian Communist Party and the Dilemma of Symbolic Ownership

By the end of the 1940′s, the Italian communist party successfully became the major entrepreneur of the memory of the Italian Resistance against fascism. Subsequently, the Resistance itself became the Republic’s difficult past, problematically commemorated by the state and remembered with pride by the communists and the socialists. Hegemony-based explanations, as well as theories of symbolic conflict, do not explain this process in a satisfactory way. The paper, which is a very preliminary draft, argues that in order to understand these processes of appropriation, a specific focus on culture is needed. I argue that the Pci came to own legitimately the memory of the Resistance at the end of a process in which three factors played a relevant role: the political culture of the organization, the culture of commemoration of the communist party, and the memory of commemoration itself.

Required Reading

Supplemental Reading

Workshop 10/10: Jonathan Roberge

What is Critical Hermeneutics?

Some ideas and theories become so popular that nobody knows exactly what they signify anymore. Critical hermeneutics is on the verge of becoming one of these. Although many use it in art history, pedagogy, literary studies, methodology, etc., it remains difficult to find analytical or even somewhat systematic definitions of the concept itself. In other words, few have explored the question of what critical hermeneutics fundamentally is. With more specific regards to the human sciences, I would like to suggest here that such a definition is intrinsically linked, and always refers back to, the simultaneously old and new question of ideology. This question lies at the source of the sociological discipline, its history inseparable from the emergence of modernity, while simultaneously revealing a malaise that is present, current, and profound. Ideology continues to be a concept that is far from being unproblematic, namely because it can be a real semantic labyrinth and also because of its polemic nature. Nevertheless, there is no denying the continued usefulness of this concept, the fact that it is almost impossible to go without it. Wanting to understand ideology is thus having the intuition that it condenses within itself all the great paradoxes of culture, its diverse tensions, and the very possibility of critical hermeneutics on a dual epistemological and ontological front.

Required Reading

Workshop 10/24: Roberta Sassatelli

Politics of Consumption. Framings, Contexts and Identities

In current social scientific discourse, the word ‘commoditisation’ denotes a particular social construction of things: it is the social process through which things are produced, used and exchanged as commodities. Whatever its connotations in both scientific and ordinary language, the commoditisation process is often described as enlarging: in fact, there are very few things or services that can never be sold under any circumstances. Even with those ‘priceless’ objects which are not for sale, such as particularly significant art works symbolising the identity of a museum or even sacred relics, there is always the possibility that they could be transformed into commodities, to be ceded in a moment of absolute necessity for an enormous amount of money. Likewise, even that which at first sight seems to have no value for anyone can become a commodity.

Required Reading

Supplemental Reading

Workshop 10/31: Marco Santoro

Writing Mafia: The Politics and Poetics of Cosa Nostra

Against the influent sociological interpretation of mafia – of Sicilian mafia, in particular Cosa Nostra – as an industry (of violence and/or protection) I read mafia as a form of politics, i.e. a cultural expression of political life, whose identity and boundaries can be perceived only against the background of “the state” (modern, national and constitutional) as an historical type of political organization. It is only assuming the “pensée d’Etat” (Bourdieu) as a master narrative and standard of reference that we can assess mafia as “deviant” and, more fundamentally, perceive a complex of symbols and practices strongly embedded in the local society as “evil”. In order to understand mafia power and its legitimacy (and therefore its capacity of reproduction/innovation) we have to go “beyond the state” and to decipher in themselves the cultural meanings in which this power is embedded and which give sense to its existence and working for both its holders and its subjects.

From this perspective, the symbols of mafia (i.e honour, omertà, silence, kiss, blood, family, etc.) are not instrumental/regulative means of an industry useful as marketing devices, nor simply irrational and redundant relics of a pre-modern (and pre-statual) condition, but are constitutive of ‘mafia’ as both a political institution and discourse. But mafia as a political discourse is not a simple thing: the discourse of mafia is analytically different from the discourse on mafia. While the latter is usually built on a rigid binary opposition between the sacredness of politics (monopolised by the state) and the profanity of the market (mafia as a business and an industry), or alternatively between “good” (i.e. the democratic code of the state and /or civil society) and “evil” (i.e the code of a totalitarian, violent and irrational anti- or counter-state, similar to the Hobbesian “state of nature”), the discourse of mafia exhibits a more fragmented, even contradictory structure of symbolic items, where apparent oppositions (i.e. rule and power, office and persnality, friendship and self-calculation, equality and hierarchy) are justaposed and sometimes even fused.

I develop here this political-cultural interpretation of mafia by focusing empirically on some recently found written documents, that is the “pizzini” (little pieces of paper) used by Cosa Nostra boss Bernardo Provenzano to communicate with his followers about Cosa Nostra business – business which can be framed as “economic” only in so far we overlook the political and moral frames which structure the discourse (and the practice) of mafia offering the grounds for its symbolic and material power. In the concluding section of the paper, I set forth some speculations about the possible impact of writing (and of “graphic reason”) on the institutional logics of mafia.

Required Reading

Workshop 11/7: Kate Nash

The Cultural Politics of Human Rights

How does culture make a difference to the realization of human rights in Western states? It is only through cultural politics that human rights may become more than abstract moral ideals, that they may be made meaningful in structures that transform states into defenders of human rights rather than violators. In this workshop we will discuss: i) a methodology for mapping and analysing the emergent ‘intermestic’ human rights field; ii) comparative case studies from the US (concerning the Alien Tort Claims Act) and the UK (the Pinochet case) which show how the authority to define human rights is being created and contested within states.

Required Reading

Workshop 11/14: Thomas Kern

Cultural Performance and Political Regime Change

The question of how culture shapes the possibilities for successful democratization has remained a controversial issue for decades. This article maintains that successful democratization depends not only on the distribution of political interests and resources; to seriously challenge a political regime, the advocates of democracy require cultural legitimacy as well. Accordingly, the central question is how democratic ideas are connected to the broader culture of a social community. This issue will be addressed for the case of South Korea. The Minjung democracy movement challenged the military regime by connecting democratic ideas concerning popular sovereignty and human rights to existing cultural traditions. The dissidents substantiated democratic values by (1) articulating an alternative concept of political representation against the authoritarian regime, (2) increasing the cultural resonance of their concept by linking democratic ideas to traditional narratives and practices, (3) developing a rich dramaturgical repertoire of collective action, and (4) mobilizing public outrage by fusing the above three elements within historical situations.

Required Reading

Workshop 12/5: Valentin Rauer

Cultural (Dis)order in Classical Sociological Theory

The concept of a ‘social order’ goes back at least to the ancient Greek world, and so does the concept of ‘disorder’. Nevertheless, those concepts show to be greatly versatile. Social order has experienced the latest modifications in the course of the ‘cultural turn’ (Alexander & Seidmann 1990; Archer 1996). The cultural turn replaced the previously functionalist concept which was based on social roles by a “meaning-oriented concept” (Reckwitz 2001: 15). Current definitions of social life are normally referred to the cultural sphere, as for instance: “Social life now appears to be ordered by meanings and beliefs; human beings live together in cultures, and they recognize the similarity or strangeness of the other not by their class locations but by their identities.” (Friese & Wagner 1999: 101; Hervorh. V.R.)

Required Reading

Supplemental Reading

Workshop 12/12: Elizabeth Breese

Iconic Anxiety: Meaning, Celebrity and the Underage Pregnancy of Jamie Lynn Spears

Magazines featuring celebrity photographs and stories about their “personal” lives adorn supermarket checkout lines. Television shows and entire cable channels are devoted to the lives of celebrities, the “rich and famous.” Lately, celebrity magazines have devoted many photographs and column space to the transgressions of a group of young women who are extremely thin and extraordinarily wealthy, even compared to celebrity standards. The real or alleged anger-management issues, substance abuse problems, and eating disorders of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and the Olsen twins seem to form a rotating monopoly of the covers of celebrity magazines. Is the obsession with celebrities – and, more specifically, their transgressions – merely an idle preoccupation of a gossip, and beauty, obsessed society? Or, as the current sociological literature suggests, is the celebrity system primarily the product of the capitalist system? This literature proposes that individuals’ interest in celebrity is best explained as a result of unfulfilled psychological desires created by capitalism.

These explanations – that interest in celebrity is “fluff”, celebrity is created by capitalism, and that our interest in celebrity is rooted in psychological desires which are particular to capitalist society – fail to sufficiently explain the importance of celebrities in contemporary society. I propose that the relationship between celebrity and society is best understood as a locus of collective meaning making and negotiation in contemporary United States. I will discuss Jamie Lynn Spears’s 2007-2008 pregnancy to argue that the transgression of a fairly minor celebrity becomes a social drama on a scale disproportionate to her fame status because her actions are an instance of a larger social anxiety of the celebrity icon.

Required Reading

Workshop 1/16: Organizational Meeting

Welcome Back!

This week we will be focused on updates and planning. We hope you can all make it to this important meeting.

Please come prepared to say a few words about the progress you have made in your work. This would include things like writing thesis chapters, sending papers off for publication, being published, presenting at conferences and workshops, collecting data or making field trips.

This Spring we welcome 2 new Visiting Fellows: Volker Heins and Ivana Spasic. Esteve Ollé Sanz is also joining us for the year as a Post-Doctoral Fellow.

We will have lunch during this meeting.

Workshop 1/23: Ron Eyerman

Political Assassination, Traumatic Event and Cultural Trauma

The readings I am presenting are not on the topic I originally had planned to speak about. Instead I present the Introduction and Chapter 3 of my book in progress on political assassination as cultural trauma which continues my research on Theo van Gogh expanding it to Sweden and the United States.

Required Reading

Workshop 1/30: Jesse Einhorn

Trust, Finance and Crisis: A Cultural Reconstruction of Three Economic Sociologies

This paper began its life as my field exam and will probably end up being a big chunk of the theory chapter in my dissertation, which is a comparative-historical study of U.S. financial crises. I’m also toying with the idea of submitting it for publication as a stand-alone article. Because it started out as my field exam, it leans a bit too much in the lit review direction, and the affirmative theory argument needs to be more in the foreground. Still, the basic framework is in there.
As far as feedback goes, I’m particularly interested in hearing peoples’ thoughts about how these arguments might be applied to the current financial crisis. As it stands, most of the empirical examples in the paper are taken from 19th century financial history, since that’s where my dissertation research has been focused. However, if I do submit this as an article, I’ll probably want to substitute in some examples from the current crisis, and try to make it more relevant to recent events. Beyond that, I’m looking forward to hearing what people think about the general theoretical arguments, and how these relate to the broader ‘strong program’.

Required Reading

Workshop 2/13: Carolyn Ly

An Iconic Typology of Film Images: The Empirical Case of Asian Americans

Almost a century ago the first moving picture images of Asian Americans appeared in theaters across the United States. Early twentieth century depictions offered images of Asian Americans as possessing certain characteristics which were distinguishably different or “other.” A century later, Asian American representations in film have changed yet the images presented in films such as the recent box office hit Gran Torino, still depict Asian Americans in ways which relate to films produced over nine decades ago.

Existing literature within sociology, cultural studies, and critical film and media studies have previously focused on describing film portrayals of minorities or historically stigmatized groups as relatively unrelated stereotypical depictions. I offer an alternative understanding which views film representation as a system of related meanings and representations of Asian Americans which is manifested through a typology of icons. I argue that these images are historically related and have changed over time while still retaining embedded meanings. Additionally, my research provides insight into an area previously lacking in existing literature; the ways in which viewers receive film images. More specifically I will provide analysis of a non-random sample of 33 viewers’ responses to varying iconic U.S. film images of Asian Americans.

I look forward to everyone’s comments and suggestions. I am especially interested in feedback regarding my attempt to integrate a Cultural Sociology approach with existing normative understandings of film depictions of minority or stigmatized groups. Additionally, I would appreciate feedback on the degree of illustrative success of the films, respondents, and quotes which were discussed and included in the paper. I apologize ahead of time for the “rawness” of the paper specifically; any grammatical errors I missed, the excessive use of footnotes which have yet to be converted, and the inconsistent formatting of references.

Required Reading

Workshop 2/20: Jeffrey Guhin

Tabling Irony: Ironic Narratives, Structural Rejection, and Moral Stakes

It is my argument that irony not only ought to be understood through sociological conceptions of liminality and play, but that, in its narrative form, it provides one of the major forums for both of these in contemporary life. The trickster, fool, and carnival might no longer exist in contemporary social life, but the liminal and playful—for which they have been identified as universal symbols—are alive and well and are often expressed through irony.

Required Reading

Workshop 2/27: Ivana Spasić

Distinction, The Serbian Way: Everyday Discourses of Status and Difference

The aim of this paper is to examine to what extent and in what ways Bourdieu’s concept of distinction may be useful in understanding a society vastly different from the one Bourdieu himself started from. This is be done by confronting Bourdieu’s theory expounded in Distinction with interview data collected in Serbia in 2002. It is shown that Bourdieu’s theory can be mapped onto Serbian data only with difficulty. People failed to comply with expectations in their ways of talking about social structure and social differentiations, often borrowing discursive strategies that the theory would ascribe to other social profiles. The only language of distinction was provided by the elusive notion of “culture”. Beside that, new dimensions of distinction were found: morality, urbanity, politics. The conclusion is that the departures of data from theory are to due both to the cross-cultural (and cross-historical) translation and to internal difficulties of Bourdieu’s theory.

Required Reading

Workshop 3/6: Volker Heins

Travel Writing and the Politics of Reflexivity: Flânerie without Borders?

What forces shape our collective sensitivity to differences between ‘us’ and ‘others’? Who decides about the significance of these differences? What follows from that for the structure of attitudes of respect or disrespect for distant strangers? My aim in this essay is to explore a particular segment of media representations of distant strangers, namely the genre of travel literature. Drawing on Walter Benjamin and recent contributions by various theorists on classical and modern travelogues, the essay presents some fresh ideas about how this important genre at the intersection between ‘factual’ and ‘fictional’ media contributes to changing civil discourses about the world. I first show how Critical Theory contains different models for reflecting on modern travel that can be applied to the criticism of travel writing. I then explain how Edward Said’s study of Orientalism came to dominate the debate. Next, I review and revise the critique of Orientalism by offering a reading of a few selected literary texts. In my conclusion I hope to show how these reflections might turn out to be useful for rethinking the connections between travel, travel writing and the contours of new forms of a global civil consciousness.

Required Reading

Workshop 3/27: Jeffrey Olick

What is Social Memory Studies: Area, Paradigm, Field, or Fad?

Required Reading

Workshop 4/3: Sarah Moore

Epidemics and Rumors: Exploring the Representation of Drink-spiking in the British Media and its Relationship to Belief
This paper explores the representation of drug-facilitated sexual assault (DFSA) in the British media, and particularly the use of rumour and the metaphor of the epidemic. A central aim is to consider the relationship between media reporting and belief in routine DFSA, not – to be clear – to make an argument for media effects, but because this case study allows us to consider how the structure, tone, and style of reporting might interact with belief. I am not, in other words, concerned with the question of whether newspapers, by sheer force of repetition, have urged public recognition of DFSA as a problem, but rather how specific narrative formulae and tropes may have helped shape belief in routine drug-facilitated sexual assault. The second aim of the paper is to consider the efficacy of the labels ‘moral panic’ and ‘crime legend’ for understanding the media treatment of drug-facilitated sexual assault. I suggest that media coverage of DFSA, though fitting each of these categories to some degree, is best understood as a ‘cautionary tale’ – and that this might be a useful concept for studying other crime stories in the media.

Required Reading

Workshop 4/10: Marc de Leeuw

That’s Not Fair! Stability and Coherence as Cultural Practice

This paper compares the notion of fairness and stability in John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice (1972) with Ann Swidler’s notion of the cultural ‘tool-kit’ in her famous article “Culture as Action: Symbols and Strategies” (1986) which is a key-text of the so-called ‘practice turn’ in sociology.

I think I will have to call this an exploratory paper or a pre-work-in-progress paper (let’s discuss the title!) because I am still trying to figure out if the topic itself is interesting enough to pursue: I want to examine notions of coherence and stability in epistemology, ethics and cultural sociology. Put in a different way: I am trying to find out what ‘order’ means in ethics and cultural sociology. If a ‘just order’ in ethics means to establish ‘fairness’ (John Rawls) as core ethos of a ‘legal sphere’ the question is how this relates to the actual practices of citizens in the ‘civil sphere’ (Alexander). But I am not (yet) comparing Rawls and Alexander. Instead I take Ann Swidler’s work that represents the ‘practice turn’ in sociology. I mainly try to sketch a comparison between a legal theory of fairness/ social stability with a theory in which strategies of stability are considered part of a cultural ‘tool-kit’. In the cultural tool-kit values (do good, be just) appear often as just instrumental for action while being disconnected from the actual values (you can be a non-believer all your life but still, through the influence of our cultural environment, motivated by Calvinist guilt). Swidler shows that in actual practices and strategies of action we do not follow abstract values but cultural habits, rituals and performances. The actual question is: what motivates us to do certain things and avoid others? Rawls’ theory of justice connects abstract principles with the hope that these principles evoke particular actions or behaviour (to be just, fair, pursuing the common good and so on). But there is a clear tension between the autonomous choices of a moral person to do good and the sociological understanding of how cultural practices steer action. While in Rawls justice results from a legal procedure, in Swidler our motivations come from cultural informed practices. How do ‘legal procedures’ and ‘cultural practices’ connect or disconnect and what does this mean for forms of legal/ social order? I guess that the concept of ‘regimes of justification’ of Boltanski/ Thevenot could help us here but I was not able to examine their work for this paper.

Required Reading

Workshop 4/17: Karen Painter

Carmina burana and Nazi Ritual

As one of the most continuingly popular works from the past century, Carmina burana poses the question, can music be fascist—or did its ideological function reside only in the experiences of its original reception, and the critical language that both shaped and recorded those experiences? This paper will draw on a vast archive of early reviews, dating from 1937 to 1944 to develop categories of experience that can be—or even explicitly were, in some cases—associated with
Nazi ideology and culture. Most critics relished the music’s aesthetic of violence, whether from the sonic power or the near brutal simplicity of the score. This reaction stemmed primarily from the disjunction between listener expectations and the score’s radical simplicity of form, texture, and melodic writing, which encouraged submission to music as rhythm, or raw sound. In addition, the old
German and Latin texts, as well as a fragmented structure aspiring to arc-like unity, contributed to a distancing effect that proved suitable for a “fascist sublime.” The work’s postwar popularity makes deciphering these early categories of reception a particular challenge as we seek music’s evolving function as social practice.

Required Reading

Workshop 4/24: Sonja van Wichelen

The Making of Global Adoption: Cultural Politics, Economics, and Ethics

Children’s rights and trafficking issues are central to the contemporary debate on international adoption. Whereas advocates of international adoption see the phenomenon as providing orphaned children with a loving home and family, opponents argue that contemporary practices of global adoption primarily caters to family-making demands of western childless couples at the expense of children and possible birthparents in developing worlds. Moreover, they assert that it also enhances the growth of a baby market, which is often accompanied by systematic child trafficking. This latter ethical stance seems to be acknowledged and advocated in international conventions on inter-country adoption. Nevertheless, despite these dissuading institutional measures, “adoption markets” in western nations are evolving and expanding.

My research project on global adoption focuses on the paradoxical tension between the growing adoption market on the one side and international legal discourses seeking to curtail the practice on the other. How can we explain a growing industry of children’s bodies while ethical standpoints articulated in transnational conventions strongly deter such a development? My central objective is to describe and explain this paradox by analyzing the ways in which the “adoptee-body” is established, constituted, and contested in different empirical adoption fields. I approach the adoptee-body as irrevocably linked to the biopolitics of the adoption market. In fact, markets are a constitutive – if semi-invisible – condition for the existence of the concept. Yet, I also argue that biopolitics is not enough to explain the disjuncture in markets and ethics. Through a comparative analysis of justifications in American and European practices of international adoption, I seek to illuminate a distinct cultural pragmatism underpinning meaning-making processes in configuring the “adoptable child”.

Required Reading