Workshop in Cultural Sociology, 2013 ~ 2014


Please note: Workshop readings are automatically available to current participants only and require authentication (username and password). Off-campus CCS Fellows can contact the CCS Administrator to gain access as needed.

The CCS Workshop is held in the 2nd floor seminar room at 210 Prospect Street and starts at 11:00 AM and ends at 1:00 PM, followed by lunch.


Workshop 8/30: Organizational Meeting

This week’s we meet at Noon at 204 Prospect Street, Room B02. Lunch will be served during the meeting.

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 fall we are happy to greet Dicky Yangzom, Anne Marie Champagne and Till Hilmar as new Junior Fellows. Andreas Jørgensen from the University of Copenhagen will join us for the year as a graduate exchange student. 2 visiting graduate students are with us this year – in the fall Andrea Karlsson from Lund University and in the spring Ekatherina Zuchova from Aarhus University.

We welcome back Visiting Fellow Ying Xiao from Shanghai University who will be here until late November. Also joining us as Visiting Fellows are Ilana Silber from Bar-Ilan University, Israel; Josetxo Beriain from Navarra University, Spain; Günter Leypoldt from the University of Heidelberg, Germany; Janet Chan from the University of New South Wales; and Mike Davis from Griffith University, Australia. We are so very pleased to have such a diverse and interesting group of visitors to work with again this year.

Workshop 9/6: Günter Leypoldt
Univeristy of Heidelberg, CCS Visiting Fellow

The Charisma of Literary Institutions

The topic I wish to pursue – institutional charisma – addresses the perception of value hierarchies. In the terms of the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, the encounter with a consecrated object can give us a sense that it “speaks to us from above” – Sloterdijk draws this phrase from a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, which describes how the fragment of a Greek sculpture in the Louvre has such a powerful effect on Rilke that it seems to be looking down at him from a superior position, as if to say to him: “You gotta change your life” (Du must Dein Leben ändern). The presence or the felt attraction of this museum artifact urges Rilke to raise himself up towards a higher sphere. And Sloterdijk considers this a perfect image for what he calls the “vertical tension” of cultural space, the phenomenon that whenever we enter the space of cultural production, we inevitably seem to experience this space as being polarized into more or less attractive regions – regions we experience as having a greater or a lesser “pull,” bringing us closer or further away from cultural authority. Perhaps the American sociologist Edward Shils had something similar in mind when he adapted Max Weber’s concept of charismatic authority to suggest, in the 1950s, that modern societies had a “charismatic center” around which they construct their systems of core values. The following draft is an attempt to explore the contact zones of institutional charisma and aesthetic experience by looking into Toni Morrison’s encounter with Oprah Winfrey.

Required Reading

Workshop 9/13: Mira Debs
Yale University, CCS Junior Fellow

Schooling Civil Society: Parents, Civic Participation and Urban Montessori Schools
My dissertation examines how parents choosing and participating in their childrens’ schools impacts parent identity and activism around racial and economic diversity in America. Historically, public schools have been significant sites of parental conflict over racial integration. Conversely, parents have also contributed significant resources to schools in order to support both the human capital of their children and opportunities for all children at a school. The delicate balance between familial self-interest and broader social change and the changing understandings that parents have about it become manifest in the ways that parents choose particular schools, engage one another and the school. I study this process at two public Montessori schools, where the Montessori method is used as a tool to entice a diverse group of parents to a struggling urban district. How does the commitment to a utopian pedagogy interact with broader social issues among the diverse school community? Through an eighteen month-long ethnography, I will study parents at two schools alongside studying several Montessori parent activist groups working at the national level to advance public Montessori schools and contribute to education reform. The findings from this dissertation will contribute to the literatures on the sociology of education, urban sociology, race and ethnic sociology, and cultural sociology.

Required Reading

Workshop 9/20: Joseph Klett
Yale University, CCS Junior Fellow

The deep meaning of noise in an emerging audio platform

Personalized audio is an emerging technology meant to adjust for the differences between user bodies, where physical and perceptual distinctions affect the experience of sound. This subjectified platform is conceived in opposition to objectivist accounts of audio which assume the possibility of a perfect technology around which listeners differ in quality. To explain this change, I use ethnographic observations from the R&D lab of a large audio firm. Using the engineers’ discourse and practices, I argue this opposition parallels critiques of the modernist concept of “noise” from postmodern social theory. Introducing cultural sociology to enrich STS scholarship on design fictions and values in design, I make the analytical distinction between technical classifications and moral codifications to argue this change in understanding and its manifestations in design results from the redefinition of “noise” to distinguish “good noise” as an engineering concept with deep meaning.

Required Reading

Workshop 9/27: Kieran Healy
Duke University

Classification Situations
This paper explores the productive effects of financial classifications, specifically in credit markets, and proposes a revised approach to the concept of class. We argue that the consumer credit system works both as a leveling force and a condenser of new class categories. e primary division in a credit market is that of inclusion versus exclusion, i.e., whether one has access to credit at all. Over the past twenty years, the system has greatly broadened its scope, reaching groups that were previously not incorporated. We can observe this leveling tendency in the expansion of credit amongst lower-income households, the systematization of overdra “protections”, and the unexpected and rapid growth in the “fringe banking” sector. e second division is made amongst the creditworthy. Here, too, there has been a marked change in the kind and degree of credit people can access, fueled by the rise of scoring technologies, which classify and price people according to the credit risk they represent. We suggest these new classification situations are important and overlooked drivers of life-chances. As such, they ought to play a more important role in how we think about social structure in the neoliberal era.

Required Reading

Workshop 10/4: George Steinmetz
University of Michigan, CCS Faculty Fellow

Toward A Bourdieusian Analysis of Empires: Rescaling Field Theory
Beginning with a reading of Pierre Bourdieu’s recently published lectures at the Collège de France on the state, this paper elaborates a neo- or post-Bourdieusian theory of empires. Several specific revisions of Bourdieu’s political theory are suggested. Empires should be distinguished from states. The scale of fields cannot be assumed to be coextensive with the nation-state, but often extends beyond those boundaries. Modern colonial empires consisted of a multiplicity of states, or state fields. Colonial state fields, like metropolitan state fields, were characterized by competition for specific forms of symbolic capital. Because metropolitan and colonial states were not governed by the same species of symbolic capital, however, circulation by officials among colonies or between metropole and colony was never unproblematic. Such movement was contingent on the various states being part of a unified field. The combination of metropolitan colonial offices and overseas colonial states typically constitutes an imperial administrative space, rather than a field per se. In addition to the plurality of states associated with the conquering power, colonial empires typically preserve indigenous or conquered states. The entire imperial formation is thus a multi-layered congeries of states and other political formations. Any concept of a “flat earth” is immediately called into question by empires, which are both intricately striated and oppressively partitioned, while also being conducive to some more fluid processes of transculturation. The paper draws on examples from the British, German, and French empires.

Required Reading


Workshop 10/18: Omar Lizardo
University of Notre Dame

A Theory of Cultural Embodiment
In this paper I develop a theory of the different ways in which culture comes to be embodied in persons. The basic premise of the theory is that culture becomes personal in two analytically and empirically distinct forms, which I label declarative and non-declarative. Non-declarative culture is tightly linked to use and experience manifesting itself itself primarily in the form of cultured capacities. Declarative culture, in contrast, is primarily tied to language-dependent competences aims at the explicit verbalization of meaning in discourse. As such, declarative culture can be partially independent form experience and context and is not necessarily tied to use. I go on to examine the contrasts between these two forms of cultural embodiment and argue for the genetic, pragmatic, and contextual primacy of non-declarative over declarative culture in contexts in which culture is linked to action. I close by outlining the implications of the theory for some of the \hard problems” in contemporary cultural theory.

Required Reading

Workshop 11/1: Isaac Reed
University of Colorado, CCS Faculty Fellow

How To Think About Events: A Sociohistorical Perspective
How do people talk, write, and thus communicate in the middle of a crisis, when the social world
trembles? The idea that meaning and ideation operate differently during a crisis has a long pedigree—stretching back to Marx and then through to Arendt, Parsons, and Habermas, among others—as does the idea, somewhat more controversial, that meaning and ideation matter “more” during what Reinhard Bendix called “troubled times.” Despite this, we have only the beginnings of a unified theoretical framework for accounting for this phenomenon.

Required Reading

Workshop 11/8: Todd Madigan
Yale University, CCS Junior Fellow

Perfect Fools: Sanctity, Madness, and the Theory of Ambiguous Performance

Required Reading

Workshop 11/15: Sorcha Alexandrina Brophy
Yale University, CCS Junior Fellow

Crafting Community Values: Ideology in Organizational Politics
Religious higher learning institutions provide a unique opportunity to consider the relationship between different institutional logics because they are located at the interstices of two potentially conflicting logics—that of “religion” and “academia.” In this article, I consider how institutional logics are invoked in organizational politics by examining a conflict between faculty and the board/administrators at a conservative Protestant college as they crafted an official position statement on social issues. Recent literature on organizational politics has considered how clashes between conflicting logics can bring about integration within organizations. Here, I explore one mechanism by which this occurs by investigating the role of shared ideological commitments in organizational politics. I describe the organizational politics at Reformation College as not simply the outcome of a “battle” between conflicting logics, but as the political activities and rhetorical strategies that these groups engage in in order to colonize a predominant logic—that of religious orthodoxy. These efforts are undergirded by shared ideological commitments, even as institutional structures make this logic less readily accessible to one of the groups. I demonstrate that shared ideological commitments make organizational integration possible by allowing a subordinated group to interpret ground lost in organizational politics as necessary ideological decisions and by impelling groups to maintain engagement with one another despite incompatibilities in their orientations toward the organization.

Required Reading

Workshop 12/6: Rachel Sherman
New School for Social Research

Seeking the Symbolic Middle: Privilege and Legitimation Among Liberal Elites in New York City

This paper uses interview data to look at how wealthy consumers in New York City feel and talk about their privilege, particularly in terms of their consumption decisions. These interviews reveal that elites try hard to distance themselves from widespread images of wealthy people as entitled, excessive in their consumption, and exotic. In contrast, they represent themselves as symbolically in the middle, in the following ways: by focusing on those above them; by defining expenditures as meeting basic or otherwise legitimate needs; and by thinking of themselves as “good people,” meaning they appreciate their advantages, are nice to other people, and “give back” to society. These findings have implications for broader theoretical questions about the cultural and sentimental foundations of legitimate inequality in the U.S.

Required Reading

Workshop 12/13: Ilana Silber
Bar-Ilan University, CCS Visiting Fellow

Boltanski and the Gift: Beyond Love, Beyond Suspicion…?

Required Reading

Workshop 1/17: Shai Dromi 
Yale University, CCS Junior Fellow

Prenormal Activity: Scientific Paradigms and the Genesis of Social Fields
Field analysis has been surprisingly vague in explaining why fields emerge in specific historical circumstances, and has often attributed the establishment of new fields to skilled actors alone. This paper proposes that fields emerge as a response to pre-existing cultural tensions a community experiences, and to pre-existing attempts to alleviate the resultant uncertainty. In order to account for this process, this paper adapts Thomas Kuhn’s model of the progress of scientific revolutions to the study of field genesis. The model details four phases: (1) the prenormal, a period in which social action and thought surrounding a specific social issue is sporadic and lacks consensus; (2) the paradigmatic, a period in which particular solutions to the problem become exemplary and provide new interpretive tools to address similar problems; (3) the normal, a period in which social activity proceeds with little reflection, except when dealing with anomalies to the existing explanatory framework; and (4) crisis, which is a period when the accumulation of anomalies gives rise to intense theorizing and experimentation with new arrangements. This in turn may lead to the rise of new fields or to the reconstruction of existing fields. To exemplify, the paper turns to the emergence of the field of transnational humanitarianism, and shows that the rise of its traditional main actor, the Red Cross, was in fact a response to a long standing set of tensions and currents in European social life.

Required Reading

Workshop 1/24: Alison Gerber
Yale University, CCS Junior Fellow

Making Cents and Nonsense of Art: Commensuration and Decommensuration in Artistic Practice

This article extends Zelizer’s work on social processes of valuation and Fourcade’s discussion of divergent routes to commensuration with market value. The author explores patterns in visual artists’ accounts of expected ‘returns’ on investments of money, time, space, energy, and other finite goods in their artistic practice. Artists account for investments with narratives of speculation and credentialing – narratives that point to diverse forms of straightforward market valuation – but they also point to vocationalist and communitarian returns, and these narratives depart from easy commensuration with market value. Such diverse accounts are associated with distinct routes to the valuation of artistic practice as well as disparate career outcomes. This article proposes a preliminary typology of accounts of investment in the arts field, and argues that a systematic analysis of this typology – or of such a landscape of valuation in any field – requires an understanding of a continuum between commensuration and its opposite, developed here as the concept of decommensuration.

Required Reading

Workshop 1/31: Jonathan Roberge
Université du Quebec, CCS Visiting Fellow

Being the King Kong of Algorithmic Culture is a Tough Job After All:
The Justification Regimes of Google and the Meanings of Glass
(with Louis Melançon)

This article explores the growing importance of algorithms in digital culture and what they may tangentially mean for the visibility and interpretation of culture as a whole. Taking Google as a prime example of a company that participates in widespread information overload while simultaneously providing some algorithmic answers to it, we show how it exhibits four different regimes of justification: the techno‐scientific, economic, political, and moral‐aesthetic. These efforts to gain legitimacy are interlinked and operate as a network that is both highly performative and adaptative. For instance, Google now constructs on, and translates such justifications in order to have its Project Glass widely, if not universally, accepted. But there is another influential mode of performativity at work: the mounting criticism of the device. In the 18 months following the public announcement of Glass, we have observed the media phenomenon and passionate debate it has sparked in the United States. What Glass represents is being contested on multiple grounds and this, in turn, indicates that its meanings will likely remain profoundly ambiguous for some time to come.

Required Reading

Workshop 2/7: Francesca Polletta
University of California, Irvine

Chapter One of Democracy Now

In this first chapter of a planned book, I draw attention to a contemporary enthusiasm for participatory and bottom-up forms of decision-making. I ask where this enthusiasm comes from, how people understand the purpose and place of participation, and how those understandings affect what people expect and get from their political and economic institutions. I argue that grasping the social relationships on which people have modeled participatory initiatives gives us purchase both on continuities and change in the practice of participatory democracy. It also helps to account for the challenges that groups have faced in trying to enact participatory initiatives.

Required Reading

Workshop 2/14: Frederick Wherry
Yale University, CCS Director

Economic Ritual Chains

This paper develops the concept of Economic Ritual Chains (ERCs) to explain how people, objects, and places use rituals to make difficult moves: how to move from job candidate to employee in elite workplaces; how to move from being an undesirable to a desirable locale in place branding; and how to change one’s status from one brand category to another. Actors rely on an existing set of stories about the roles of origin and destination as well as an existing set of partly improvised scripts to make role-changing moves. Much of the action happens at identifiable audition sites, following the performance order. Unlike its parent concept of Interaction Ritual Chains, ERCs do not adapt a Pavlovian understanding of group interactions where more emotional energy is better. Instead ERCs temper the assumptions of rational action by insisting that energy draining actions may be part and parcel of successful ritual chains. Performances rely on moral commitments that bring to fore the understandings of and motivations for action that sometimes defy rational choice.

Required Reading

Workshop 2/21: Abigail Saguy
University of California, Los Angeles

Coming Out of the Shadows:
Using Cultural Opportunities in the Undocumented Immigrant Youth Movement (with Laura Enriquez)

Drawing on participant observations and 195 interviews, this article shows how the undocumented immigrant youth movement has used structural, cultural, and discursive opportunities to overcome obstacles for mobilizing undocumented youth and to pursue social change. Specifically, we show how this movement has adopted, transformed, and (incompletely) institutionalized the cultural trope of “coming out” – first developed by gay rights activists – in this new context. This case sheds light on the means by which social movements can mobilize a fearful constituency and encourage public talk about forms of inequality that are risky to reveal.

Required Reading

Workshop 2/28: Andrew Cohen
Yale University, CCS Junior Fellow

How do Admen Make Creative Decisions? Lessons from the Agency

This paper further examines the question posed by Frédéric Godart and Ashley Mears (2009): faced with high uncertainty, how do producers in the cultural economy make creative decisions? Godart and Mears contend such choices are based on strategic status considerations regardless of being expressed as a matter of personal taste; while cultural producers in the fashion industry deploy the rhetoric of individual taste to explain their selections of fashion models, it is instead information shared through social networks that signals the quality of the model and leads to specific choices. However, in the advertising industry, the particularity of client-agency relationships limits the generalizability of Godart and Mears’ findings. This poses two important questions: first, what influences the choice sets made available for cultural producers? And second, in the absence of the status mechanism Godart and Mears describe, how are creative decisions made? To answer this, I look to the advertising industry, where agencies must internally develop advertisements to present to their clients. Drawing on 6 months of participant observation in two advertising firms, I argue advertisement production is a process of cultural matching, in which advertising agencies must first make sense of the local evaluative frames and sets of collective representations of their clients, then skillfully perform the value of their work to these clients. I conclude with implications for economic sociological theory and advertising practice.

Required Reading

Workshop 3/7: Stephen Vaisey
Duke University

Accounting for Variance in Cultural Depth: Conceptual Clarification, a Method, and an Empirical Test (with Omar Lizardo)

Required Reading

Workshop 3/28: Nick Couldry
London School of Economics and Political Science

The Myth of “Us”:
Digital Networks, Political Change and The Production of Collectivity

This week’s workshop will be held from 12:30 to 2:25. Lunch will be served on the first floor of 210 Prospect Street at 11:45

Required Reading

Workshop 4/4: Jeffrey Alexander
Yale University, CCS Director

Social Crisis and Societalization: A Cultural Sociology of Boundary Tension and Civil Repair

Drawing from cultural sociological concepts and employing narrative methods, this essay develops a theory of “societalization” to explain social reaction to three recent, globally significant upheavals – the financial crisis, church pedophilia, and media phone-hacking. While each of these strains was endemic for years and even decades, they had failed to generate broad crises: Reactions to strains were confined inside institutional boundaries and handled by intra-institutional elites according to the cultural logics of their particular spheres. The boundaries be-tween spheres can be breached and the “steady state” disrupted only if there is code switching. Rather than institutional logics, strains are interpreted according to the cultural logics of the civil sphere. When intra-institutional strains become interpreted as challenges to civil discourse and interests, there is societalization. Inter-sphere boundaries become tense and there is widespread anguish about social justice and the future of democratic society. New scripts transform strain into trauma, once admired institutional elites become represented as perpetrators and honorable citizens constructed as helpless victims. In such conditions, the civil sphere becomes intrusive; projecting symbolic pollution and promoting legal intervention, the newly energized civil sphere triggers state-sponsored institutional repairs that aim for civil purification. While initially contrite, institutional elites soon engage in backlash efforts to resist reform. A war of the spheres ensues and, eventually, there is movement back to steady state. No matter the extent of civil repair, societalization cannot prevent the future eruption of social strains. In a differentiated and plural society, tensions between spheres remains, and episodic outbursts of societalization inevitable.

Required Reading

Workshop 4/11: Martina Löw
Technische Universität Berlin

Managing the Urban Commons: Public interest and the representation of interconnectedness

Required Reading

Workshop 4/18: Isabel Jijon
Yale University, CCS Junior Fellow

The Universal King? Memory, Globalization, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Collective memory research is only beginning to explore how a nation’s past is interpreted beyond its national borders. One theory maintains that when people encounter a foreign Other’s past, they learn to identify with this Other and can establish transnational bonds of solidarity (Levy and Sznaider, 2002). However, this theory only looks at the local resonance of foreign representations – at how well representations align with local myths, values, and assumptions. I argue that representations also vary in terms of global salience – the perceived world historical importance of a past figure or event. By examining representations of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Ghana, South Africa, and Mexico’s media, I find that globally salient representations do not necessarily encourage solidarity but they do allow local actors to create a shared global vocabulary and to participate in the same global conversation.

Required Reading