Many of you are probably aware that the latest issue of the The Annals of the American Academy of the Political and Social Science pays tribute to cultural sociology. See, in particular, articles by Cal Morrill on the impact of culture on organizations, Francesca Polletta on social movements and culture, and Peter Levin on economic sociology and culture. (Peter’s take on culture and markets has been a topic of debate here before.) The general tone of these review essays is triumphant. Take, for example, Polletta’s description of social movement theorists’ use of culture:
To make a cultural argument in the sociology of social movements is to assert that culture constitutes the interests on behalf of which people mobilize. It is to assert that activists’
choice of tactics and targets is shaped—indeed, limited—by prevailing cultural beliefs. And it is
to assert that movements achieve significant effects as much by altering the cultural rules of
the game, both within politics and outside it, as by winning formal policy reform. Increasingly,
to make a cultural argument is to refuse to treat culture as a residual category that is invoked to explain what structure does not explain in accounting for movements’ emergence, what instrumental rationality does not explain in accounting for movements’ tactical choices, and what policy reform does not explain in accounting for movements’ impact.
Culture enters both sides of the equation here. Social movement scholars are not only interested in examining how cultural inputs affect tactical and target choices, but they’re also interested in how movement activity affects cultural changes. Movements are both embedded in particular cultures and yet they also actively strive to transform cultural elements that constrain them.
The representatives of this volume assure us that culture is no longer marginalized in sociology; it has taken the spotlight. Cultural sociology seems to have hit its stride and may be well on the way to becoming the dominant paradigm of contemporary sociology.