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The Future of Cultural Sociology - Andrew J. Perrin

On the morning of Monday, August 10, a panel of distinguished cultural sociologists gathered to discuss “The Future of Cultural Sociology.” The panel was organized by incoming section Chair Karen Cerulo and she asked me to moderate. The room was overflowing, and we had a spirited discussion featuring Karin Knorr Cetina, Joshua Gamson, Jeffrey K. Olick, Karen Cerulo, Viviana Zelizer and Ann Mische.

The panelists covered questions about what they did and did not expect to be the future of the sub-discipline and its relationship with other disciplines and other parts of sociology. Toward the end, a discussion emerged of just how much of a “big tent” cultural sociology should be vis-a-vis the sociology of culture. Another way of thinking about this dispute is to what extent the varying elements of cultural sociology—or the sociology of culture—mutually inform one another instead of existing in parallel with one another.

Unsurprisingly, we did not have time to finish the discussion in San Francisco, and so we are moving it online to the discussion area of CultureWeb, the section's website. You can join the conversation below:

To open the discussion I asked for suggestions of questions from section members via email. I received over 50 suggestions, and I distilled these into five big questions to get the ball rolling. The original questions are below, but the discussion was wide-ranging and went well beyond these areas!

1.) One member writes that “studies of communication media have become increasingly peripheral to the sociology of culture.” Several others ask how the panel sees media, particularly mass and interactive media modalities, in the future of cultural sociology. On a closely related note, what about the sociological study of language? How does, or should, it relate to cultural sociology?

2.) Another broad set of questions involves what I will call the kinds of culture, or as one questionwriter put it, “where Culture fits into culture.” One writer says that “sociology rarely gives...attention” to “the arts, literature, the mass media, especially film, fashion.” Others ask about areas for development in the sociology of music. I'd like to discuss both the frontiers for the study of these objects but also what affinities and roadblocks there are to combining the study of these cultural forms with the study of cultures as collective, unifying, or symbolic systems. As one writer asks: “What is the role of art, literature, music, etc. in other fundamental social relations, especially race, class, gender, etc.?”

3.) Two writers had similar questions that I think will be very interesting to explore. “What new areas or topics of cultural sociology aren't we likely to see in coming years? What are the barriers to doing cultural analysis on certain kinds of topics? Is the sky the limit?” “What questions do they think are likely to emerge from the field but are dead-ends, uninteresting, or otherwise hazardous?”

4.) We need to consider international comparisons. “What is the future of comparative cultural sociology, and how can we make the field more truly international?” “Is there a future for 'culture' in current approaches to globalization? Do we need a new paradigm of globalization to make room for culture?”

5.) Several writers asked about what might be called the utility of culture. Does the sociology of culture have policy relevance? What is it, and how? “What is the 'demon of our time' (Weber) and how should cultural sociologists be dealing with it?” “What is the relationship between very real and changing ecological conditions with 'environmentalism'” (or “the environment”) as social/symbolic phenomena?

The panel:

The crowd: