Sociology of cultural processes


His conceptions of culture:

– humanistic or classical conception (the philosophers of antiquity and the Romans …)

– anthropological or modern conception

In the nineteenth century Matthew Arnold said that culture represented “the best that has been thought and known”.

The anthropological conception of culture affirms itself at the end of the 19th century, but there were already hints in the previous century, with German thinkers (such as Herder).

Antithesis between “culture” (Kultur) and “civilization” underlined by Norbert Elias in 1936. Initially, the concept of culture was born on a “social ground”, that is as a differentiation and contrast with respect to the lifestyle of the aristocracy. CULTURE-CIVILIZATION antithesis.

The existence of a primitive culture is recognized (an idea neglected by the Enlightenment tradition).


Three components of culture in anthropology:

– religion, morality, law (what men think) _ sets of explicit norms and beliefs

– the customs and habits (what men do) that man acquires by being in a community

– Artifacts (what men produce) built not only as a work of art but also as objects of worship and daily use


Three main characters make up culture:

– Culture is learned [man-animal difference = man is capable of learning on a symbolic level]

– Most of the anthropological tradition also attributes to culture the character of the totality of man’s environment [the problem with this consideration is that in this way culture would overlap with society]

– Sharing: while admitting the existence of individual variability, to be defined cultural a phenomenon must be shared by a group.


The idea of ​​culture in three sociological traditions.

Sociology, since its beginnings in the second half of the nineteenth century, aims to be a general science of social phenomena.


The Chicago school

In America, the most important school is that of Chicago. It became famous for the analysis of the social processes triggered in the metropolis by the continuous flow of arrival of immigrants from Europe.

William Thomas and Florian Znaniecki analyze the process by which the culture of origin of Polish immigrants affects how they fit into the new community.

New method, ethnographic _ not only statistics are analyzed, but also autobiographical material. The present mediation role is also important.

As a result, Poles try at all costs to maintain their own cultural identity while integrating into American society.

Thomas again emphasizes the “cultural heritage” that every immigrant brings with him.

Theory of the “marginal man” (elaborated in Immigrants and America ) _ he who experiences an inconsistency between the cultural system of the community from which he comes and the new one: he suffers a double loss, his own status and his own meaning of himself.

Years later the spouses Robert and Helen Lynd started a study no longer on the metropolis, but on a medium-sized American city, which they called Middletown . The study method was that used by anthropologists to study primitive living communities, with a sort of “social anthropology of contemporary life”.

The most important fact of their work concerns the fact that while from 1890 to 1924 technology made great strides, the same did not happen for the cultural level.

Later, Park will also try his hand at a study of this kind, that is, with “urban microsociology”. He wrote The City, built on an eminently cultural understanding of the city. It also introduces the importance of the neighborhood and the possibility for individuals to live simultaneously in several different worlds, which was impossible until a few years earlier, with a lack of adequate means of communication. There is now much more mobility on the part of the population.

Park does not yet use the term “subculture” but anticipates its salient features, since it describes the cultural differentiation of the occupational suburbs, of the immigrant ghettos on an ethnic basis, all as “city within the city”.

Some primary relationships have been replaced by secondary relationships, which do not involve physical coexistence between people.

The forms of social control have also changed: public opinion has replaced village gossip.

Park, probably influenced by Simmel, also emphasizes the individualization of man, generated by the pluralization of contacts.

Another philosopher from the University of Chicago, George Herbert Mead developed a complex theory of the sociability of mind and identity.


The French School of Sociology

Sociology in France is linked to the name of Emile Durkheim. He, rather than under the influence of anthropology (characteristic of the American school), contributes to the constitution of the anthropology itself.

He does not use the anthropological method of modern primitive societies to study metropolis (Chicago school method), but uses ethnographic data to derive a general theory. For Durkheim anthropology and sociology do not differ by object of study, but by type of analysis (methodological difference _ anthropology studied the empirical description of primitive societies, sociology had to formulate a theoretical analysis on the matter).

Durkheim criticizes utilitarianism, not believing that everything can be based on the contracts stipulated by individuals. A pre-contractual solidarity is necessary and therefore it is not rationality and individual interests that keep society together, but something that constitutes their foundation,

identified in the symbolic dimension .

Durkheim also presents the concept of collective representations, or collective consciousness, that is, a set of strong feelings, norms and common values.

But it also affirms the emergence of a new religion of the individual.

The novelty of his thought lies in the identification of the objective and institutional character of culture.

There are collective representations and individual representations. Norms of exteriority and obligation regulate the representations and define the so-called “social facts”.

Durkheim supported the cognitive and moral character of culture, but also and above all, its ordering function.


The German sociological tradition

There is no real German sociological school, because there is no unitary approach.

The contribution of authors such as Georg Simmel and Max Weber is set in the historical and national context of Germany, which at the time was affected by two debates in particular:

– the methodological debate, on how to understand cultural phenomena, understood as the entire range of historical and social phenomena.

The historicists claimed the autonomy of the sciences of the spirit, for which, according to them, there could be no general laws analogous to those of the natural sciences. To the nomothetic method (of the natural sciences) was therefore opposed the idiographic method to describe the phenomena of historical and social life as they appear in their individuality. For Simmel, the sciences in general cannot aspire to an absolute ideal of truth. For Weber, the differences between the two sciences do not concern the object or even the method, but the cognitive purposes of the researcher (for him human beings are cultural beings).

– The controversy between idealism and materialism (following Marx’s critique of Hegelian idealism). The dilemma was whether cultural factors possessed their own autonomy and were able to influence social relations, or, conversely, represented a phenomenon

of the social economic structure, a mere reflection of reality. For Weber there is mutual conditioning between ideas and society.

Simmel analyzes the difference between objective and subjective culture and also individualism; it also emphasizes the innovation of culture.

For Alfred Weber, Max’s brother, two different worlds are recognized with the sociology of culture: one subjective of artistic elaboration and the other objective of scientific elaboration. It also takes up the antithesis culture / civilization and considers culture as an object in its own right.

Mannheim and Scheler worked out the foundations of the sociology of knowledge in the 1920s. At the center of their interest, the search for the relationships between existence and thought, between the aspects of knowledge and the social reality in which they develop. Scheler also distinguishes between factors

ideals, which constitute the spiritual sphere of culture, and real factors, in which it includes a great number of elements. Mannheim mainly studies political ideologies (liberalism, conservatism) and utopian beliefs.



How sociology detaches itself from anthropology in four aspects:

1 – Analytical distinction between society and culture , which belongs to all three traditions (American, French, German)

2 – Typical aspect of the American and German tradition: the emphasis on differentiation within culture (e.g. analysis of differences within a

metropolitan industrial culture _ Chicago, or the importance of the historical and temporal dimension of cultural phenomena.

Durkheim underlines the problem of anomia (lack of rules), which generates “cultural disorder”.

3 – Innovative and creative capacity of culture _ importance given (especially by Americans and Germans) to differences between groups, to the presence of elites, to minority groups. Max Weber uses the concept of “charisma” to explain the origin of new systems of ideas.

4 – The importance of the forms of social interaction , with “socialization agencies” (family, teachers, groups of friends). This is the least developed feature of the sociological tradition.

Durkheim and the French seem to adopt a model closer to that of anthropology, where cultural transmission is seen as a conditioning process.

So sociology asserts itself in part by accepting anthropological perspectives, in part by rejecting them.


From Parsons to the new sociology of culture

Since the 1930s there has been a decline in sociological interest in the analysis of culture. From the late 1930s to the 1950s there were individual contributions, which remained isolated or underestimated (such as Norbert Elias or Florian Znaniecki or Robert Merton).

In the 1950s, in the United States, the empirical perspective of the Chicago school gave way to the much more theoretical and abstract one of structural-functionalism, developed by the sociologist Talcott Parsons. And this represents the best attempt to construct a general theory of action

social. Parsons operates both a restriction of the semantic sphere of the concept of culture, and abstracts it, identifying it as a reality that is not immediately ascertainable.

However, he also underlines the normative character of culture (no longer adaptive, as in primitive populations) and it is therefore defined as a set of behavioral models that enjoy a social consensus.

For culture to function as a compass, it must be based on a system of values.

He also makes explicit an aspect already developed by the “classics”, namely the need for the analytical distinction between society and culture.

He also elaborates a scheme in which he distinguishes four subsystems that intervene in social action: the personality, the culture, the social system and the biological organism.

The biological organism performs the function of adaptation, that is, it establishes a relationship with the physical environment.

The personality fulfills the function of achievement, that is, it mobilizes the psychic energies that serve to achieve certain purposes.

The social system represents the function of integration, that is, it establishes the forms of cohesion.

Culture performs the function of latency, that is, it provides the social actor with the motivation and sense of action through values ​​and norms that are internalized during socialization.

Cyber ​​hierarchy:

– Cultural system (the richest in information but poor in energy)

– Social system

– The personality [or psychic system]

– Biological organism (the richest in energy but poor in information)

From the end of the 1960s a new sociology of culture was born.

It considers fundamental for the analysis:

– the contradictions and inconsistencies within the cultural system;

– the problem of dissent and innovation on a cultural level;

– the relationship between culture and action.

The complex character of culture is emphasized, but it is also defined as a “toolbox”.

There is also a rapprochement between sociology and psychology, which is necessary for studying the laws that underlie preconscious cognitive processes.

Dimensions of culture

The sociology of the twentieth century gives a new definition of culture, according to Richard Peterson “culture is made up of four types of elements: norms,

values, beliefs and expressive symbols ».


Consistency / inconsistency

Cultural and non-cultural propositions differ on the level of coherence / inconsistency.

The coherence of the cultural system with the integration of society has often been confused.

Authors such as Rimmel and Coser have argued that conflict is not always a factor of disintegration, but can be and usually is an element of order: conflict, for example, sharpens the sense of group boundaries and strengthens the feeling of identity and of belonging. Rimmel has even stated that at times the enemy becomes even indispensable to the maintenance of the group, which is why in the absence of it the “scapegoat” is created.

The degree of integration of a culture varies from culture to culture. It is higher in simple societies, an example is the code of honor of the Mediterranean countries. In fact, if social complexity increases, there is also greater symbolic differentiation, the choices of the individual multiply and therefore individuals find themselves having to confront contrasting cultural models. There has also been talk of “cultural surplus”, that is, expansion of the collective imagination, which does not correspond to truly practicable actions and models of life.


Public / private

Culture is public because the propositions from which it is constituted are encoded in representations of groups and collective symbols. The language is public, since it is objectively accessible by all. The difference between public and private is clarified with the example of dance (p.62).


Objectivity / subjectivity

Durkheim is the first author, with his “collective representations” (also using the term “institutions”), to have welded the two dimensions, subjective and objective.

Durkheim emphasized the public and collective character of culture, deriving from this also its objectivity. There is no complete overlap between public and objective.

An important difference is learning a culture and being socialized there. Eg a scholar of Buddhism may know more than a believer, but doctrines do not have the meanings to him that they have to a believer.


Explicit / implicit

There is also talk of the explicit / implicit dimension of culture: there is a tacit culture. There are judgments that the subjects of a social group express, but for which they are unable to explain the reasons, sometimes the foundations of many norms are not known.


Components of culture


Two uses of value in common language: in the singular, something that is considered important (any object can become a value); in the plural, the ideals to which human beings aspire and to which they refer when making judgments.

In the social sciences, the term value mainly refers to the criterion of evaluation, that is the general principle on the basis of which we approve or disapprove of a certain way of acting or thinking.

The concept of value therefore differs from that of preference: preference indicates what you want, while value indicates what you should want, and therefore has a normative dimension.

Three dimensions of values ​​can be identified:

– affective dimension

– cognitive dimension

– selective dimension

Parsons formulates the pattern of structural variables:

– universalism / particularism dilemma

– performance / quality dilemma

– affective neutrality / affectivity dilemma

– specificity / diffusion dilemma


The rules

Norms were created to regulate concrete situations by “applying” values ​​(eg the value of honesty). The norms, even if they can be internalized, are formulated in a socially imperative way. Usually connected to them there are also sanctions: negative (punishments) or positive (rewards).

Norms are distinguished from the maxims of experience, but an outside observer finds it hard to distinguish them.

Another division is between constitutive norms (of something new, eg game rules) and regulatory norms (of something that already exists, eg religious precepts).

There is also a distinction by degree of formalization, from the highest (legal norms) to the lowest (“micro-rituals”). The deontological rules that define professional ethics are also important.


The concepts

The category of concepts is very broad. It includes the descriptive propositions of reality. While the norms dictate what must be done, the concepts dictate what the reality around us is. The former, therefore, say what reality must be, the latter what reality is.

Distinction between:

– factual beliefs (things you know)

– representational beliefs (beliefs, opinions, convictions)


The symbols

Symbol, sign capable of evoking a relationship between a concrete object and an abstract idea (eg the scepter is the symbol of sovereignty). Semiology studies signs in the context of social life.

Symbols must be distinguished from signs, which have a predominantly informative value (eg road signs).

Other signs that should not be confused are trademarks, which have a reminiscent function (broken branches where one has passed).

Symbols have an intersubjective character, ie they are shared by a social group. They are also part of the explicit dimension of culture, that is, they represent a knowledge that individuals are able to express, but without developing reasoning and arguments.



Culture and social structure

Important distinction between culture and society: culture refers to propositions and representations about nature, man, society and their relationships;

society refers to the structure of social relations, small and large groups. This distinction implies a relative autonomy of culture and the consideration of the fact that between culture and society there is a two-way relationship , that is, there is a reciprocal influence.

The admission of the autonomy of culture has allowed a specialization and an evolution of culture in social life.

Culture as a “compass”

What is the significance of culture? Many authors have developed the idea that the function of culture consists mainly in giving meaning to our actions and an order to experience,

constituting a sort of “compass”.

Why do you need a compass? Anthropologists affirm that the reason lies in the lack of the instinctual organization of man compared to other mammals, and therefore the need

to build it.

So the consequence is a social construction that lasts a lifetime, with a stability that is always subject to change. In this way culture, from being an ornament, becomes a necessary characteristic for life.

The problem of relativism

In modern times, philosophers such as Pascal, Montagne and Montesquieu have drawn attention to the multiplicity of ways of thinking and acting, that is, the relativism of cultural worlds.

On the subject two poles:

– reductionist models (which include Marxism, cultural materialism) which tend to minimize cultural variability, arguing that the variations are only superficial and hide deeper uniformities

– relativist models (phenomenology, historicism, sociology, anthropology, which insist on the uniqueness of each culture, and therefore on the profound variation from one culture to another. For sociologists and anthropologists it is above all a problem of method _ study cannot be tackled of

a culture with prejudices, applying patterns produced by one’s own group, but it is necessary to adapt.

Relativism is therefore an attitude aimed at countering ethnocentrism (our civilization is the center of all things), which had characterized the research of anthropologists, missionaries, travelers.

However, there are, on the other hand, cultural universals , or traits common to all cultures (eg the incest taboo and the Oedipus complex; the norm of reciprocity – reciprocating favors or advantages).



Cultural pluralism

Cultural pluralism can be defined as a diversity in social values ​​and norms. Pluralism manifests itself above all in modern society, but something similar happened in the societies of the past. In them, for example in the agricultural state-society, culture was segmented horizontally, that is, there were clear divisions of state, caste, group. Things change with the industrial, mobile and unstable society.

True pluralism occurs when a society is industrialized and when there is a high degree of geographic and social mobility. Durkheim and Simmel had already dealt with the topic of social complexity, identifying two characteristics: the increase in the number and variety of elements of

system, and the multiplication of interdependent relationships between the same elements.

Simmel, however, emphasizes another important aspect: in premodern society the individual was linked from birth to a limited number of groups, within a system of concentric social circles. With social complexity this organization is lost: it is possible that the individual passes away from

a “world” to another in the same day, being part of various groups, which perhaps do not have elements in common (eg sports club and volunteer group).


Subculture is a conceptual tool that serves to represent a cultural differentiation that occurs in modern industrial society. Three distinctive features:

– the prefix sub, which describes the culture of the group as subordinate, subordinate to the wider culture, thus presenting itself as a “niche”. Subordination because individuals are defined by others and by themselves as deviant. This is the case with delinquent subcultures.

– the concept of subculture is based on differences of class, ethnicity, or simply geographical.

– all subcultures have one thing in common: they are acquired only through interaction with those who already share the cultural model.

In order to speak of subculture, therefore, there must be a system of interactions at the micro-social level that expresses specific cultural models.

The analysis of subculture has a long tradition of studies, and has its origin in the School of Chacago, for a period ranging from the twenties to the sixties. However, only with Cohen’s study of criminal gangs is it made explicit. He provides a portrait of the delinquent subculture:

it is concentrated above all in the male sector of the youth of the working class. The subculture of youth gangs is free, that is, to obtain only recognition from others. Subculture is destructive because it takes its norms from the surrounding culture and turns them upside down. Furthermore, the gang does not specialize in a criminal activity, like adults, but does from time to time what gives immediate hedonism. A second line of research is linked to the University of Birmingham, during the 1970s. The focus of interest shifts from subcultures

offenders to youth subcultures in general (mods, punks, skinheads). Youth subcultures also mostly belong to the working class. According to Hall and Jefferson, subculture is a compromise solution between the need to be autonomous and maintain identification with

parents. Subcultures adopt traits of the culture of origin, and an enhancement of masculinity.

Those who belong to a group identify themselves with the use of objects (Vespa for Mods, pins for Punks), for a certain type of hairstyle, or for listening to a certain type of music. All this to form a distinctive style. Even in Italy, in the 1980s, metropolitan youth subcultures were established,

but in a less effective way than the equivalent English subcultures.

High culture, popular culture, mass culture Sociology has tried to make a distinction between high culture, popular culture and mass culture. The debate begins in the 1920s.

In pre-industrial society, high culture is solely for the benefit of a social elite, on the other hand, popular culture is the patrimony of everyday life, of people’s festivals.

According to some, the transition to mass industrial society produces negative effects on popular culture, which undergoes a total metamorphosis, degenerates and submits to the logic of consumption, becoming mass culture, with characteristics of standardization and superficiality.

The notion of mass culture has both a descriptive character (it is for the mass) and an evaluative character (it is considered negatively).

The Frankfurt School in Germany (with thinkers such as Adorno and Lowenthal) proposed the theory of semiculture, affirming the presence of a cultural industry based on mass media and aimed at cultural homologation.

It must also be said that historical research has shown how extremely diverse popular culture was.

Popular culture, moreover, is not an imitation of the elite culture, but there is an interaction between the two (eg Dante bringing to the people projects designed for the aristocracy / nobles who have fun with the peasant dances). The intermediaries between the two “worlds” were the adventitious printers, creators of the booklets


The very definitions of high and popular culture are not stable, but change over time: what may seem the heritage of a high culture can become typical of popular culture and vice versa.

Culture and social classes

Values ​​and beliefs do not vary by chance, but follow lines of social division.


Class and conscience for Karl Marx

In complex societies there are structures of economic and social inequalities. These inequalities take on characteristics summarized with

the name of classes.

The stratification in classes is different than, for example, two traditional systems:

– the Hindu caste system (which divides the whole of society into distinct and hierarchically ordered hereditary groups, with a contrast between pure and impure)

– the system of the classes of the feudal states (with a structure based on the value of blood: people were classified according to the class to which they belonged by birth, not based on wealth).

The traditional structures of inequality had, however, one common feature: everyone could not change their status and then sophisticated systems of religious legitimation of the social order had developed.

With the birth of capitalism, with the English and French revolutions, the systems of justification and legitimation collapse and new values ​​emerge, linked to the idea of ​​equality.

Since the 17th century, philosophical doctrines have also insisted on the naturalness of equality, which is the opposite of the previous belief (naturalness of inequality).

Karl Marx places the emphasis on social classes at the heart of all his work. For him they have a predominantly economic foundation and there are two main classes:

– the bourgeoisie, owner of the means of production

– the proletariat, which has only its own workforce and has to sell it to survive

Marx distinguishes between “class in itself” (that is, the objective location of persons) and “class for oneself” (which refers to the subjective dimension, to the individual’s awareness of belonging to a community).

He also states that there is an economic structure that determines a political and legal superstructure: the whole of reality is a reflection of the underlying economic relationships.

Marx also emphasizes the notion of practice and the need to concretely analyze material life. The practice Marx talks about is:

– the working one with which the conditions of existence are reproduced

– that which transforms the social relations of production Marx also argues that class consciousness emerges with homogeneity within a class (reduction of differences in language, religion, etc.) and concentration of the productive forces in the same place (large establishments facilitate communication among members of the same class).


Classes and classes according to Weber

While Marx wanted the collapse of capitalism, Weber questioned its origins. In his training, Weber was influenced by Marxism. Weber was concerned that his work was only seen as a reversal of the Marxian thesis.

While for Marx the classes are located within the relations of production, for Weber the privileged place in which they are constituted is the market.

The emphasis is on distribution rather than production.

Marx spoke of owners and non-owners, Weber adds two relationships: the relationship between creditors and debtors and the relationship between sellers and buyers.

In addition to the class, Weber analyzes the stratification by class. While the classes are linked to the economic sphere, the classes are located in the sphere of culture. Subjects belonging to different classes can belong to the same class, and vice versa. The class tends towards social closure and its own

characteristic is the search for social prestige.

Weber uses the term “elective affinities” (by Goethe) to underline the non-deterministic, but reciprocal and bilateral character between the socio-economic reality and the cultural configuration, with moral and religious values.

It presents comparative studies in which it shows different religious orientations:

– a mystical religious orientation, in which the individual becomes one with the divinity, and the individual seeks salvation for himself (typical of oriental religions, Asia and especially India). This orientation foresees the dominant presence of high intellectual strata .

– when a hierocratic stratum is formed , that is, a group of individuals dedicated to the professional care of the cult, it will tend to subject salvation to its direct control. Religiousness therefore has a ritualistic character.

– The warrior layers of chivalry were extraneous to mystical attitudes, but were unable to have a rationalistic view. Their form of religiosity hinged on the idea of ​​destiny.

– the peasant stratum , whose existence was linked to the production of the land, showed an affinity with a religiousness of a magical type, aimed at obtaining the favors of spirits.

– the bourgeois strata do not live only on the land like the peasantry, but have a rationally oriented way of life. A religiosity that promises an ethical regulation is therefore related to them. This religiosity has historically manifested itself in prophetic religions (such as Christianity) with which believers felt themselves to be instruments of God.

Weber also wants to demonstrate the thesis that modern capitalism was favored by the spread of the Protestant religion after the schism following the Reformation. According to him, the carrying class of the spirit of capitalism is not the traditional bourgeoisie, but the industrial middle bourgeoisie. He

identifies a configuration of values ​​of capitalism:

– the conception of gain as an end in itself (not as a means to reach some other end, to satisfy material needs, but to invest in new wealth)

– the idea of ​​professional duty (the individual feels a moral obligation towards his professional activity) The capitalist ethos, to assert itself, therefore had to clash with a traditionalistic way of behaving.


Social stratification and culture in contemporary sociological research

Thompson, an English historian, criticizes Marx’s interpretation, stating that the class is not an entity, but a set of relations. He states that the organized and self-aware working class was that of the industrial period in the local traditions of the 18th century.

Richard Hoggart states that in the mid-twentieth century, many specificities in the working class were still recognizable. Group identity was still deeply felt, its culture was also expressed in consumer choices.

Today it is difficult to recognize a relationship between the working class and culture, so close as to form a real community.

Even if class boundaries are more mobile, the class character of many cultural orientations has not diminished. Two examples.

Jack Goody analyzes the culinary culture of major societies in Europe and Asia, and states that it has always been associated with social hierarchies.

The difference between upper classes and lower classes did not concern only the quantity of food, but also the complexity of preparation, the ingredients used, and more importantly, the label and order of the courses.

Great changes occur with the expansion of the middle class, which with recipe books and behavior manuals “break” the culinary hierarchical organization.

Basil Bernstein instead focuses on the relationship between language and social classes. According to him, the class system has influenced the social distribution of knowledge. Through socialization, working-class children acquire a restricted code, which realizes context-dependent meanings. The middle-class children, on the other hand, assume an elaborate code, which is based on meanings that are also independent of the context.

The different performance of working-class and middle-class children is therefore not due to a deficit of the former, but to a difference in learning and use of language.

The French sociologist Piere Bourdieu went beyond the purely economic definition of classes for Marx.

He identifies three different forms of capital:

– economic capital (i.e. the level of material resources, such as income and property)

– social capital (the networks of social relations in which individuals are inserted)

– cultural capital (in the two components of school capital and inherited capital)

Bourdieu also states that the upper classes try to assert their “taste”, to distinguish themselves from the lower ones.

There is also a clear class diversification of consumption, which with a scheme he divides into four possible combinations (high cultural capital / high economic capital, low cultural capital / low cultural capital, high cultural capital / low economic capital, low cultural capital / capital cheap high) v. page 111.

The bourgeoisie also wants to distinguish itself from the lower classes, and finds a natural ally in the new petty bourgeoisie.

Bourdieu also dwells on the concept of habitus: he understands it as a system of lasting dispositions, that is, as inclinations to perceive, think and do in a certain way.

Also important is the analysis of how much cultural capital affects life. According to Bourdieu, cultural capital at school affects subjects such as English, history, less with mathematics, which is learned in school.

Music tastes can also depend on the class: the higher classes listen to classical music, the lower ones prefer country or western.

Weber’s analysis of the culture of capitalism has stimulated an entire line of research, which has dealt with the importance of the value of success in the culture of contemporary industrial society.

McClelland affirms that contemporary industrial society finds in its culture the dominant value of “achievement”, that is the aspiration to success. However, there are ambivalences, i.e. the aspiration for success does not involve all social strata in the same way _ the lower classes are

less motivated than those above.

The lower strata, however, show a marked interest in affiliation, that is the value of solidarity, of free time, of improving family ties.

Over the years, postmaterialist values ​​(the defense of nature, the quality of life, political participation) have established themselves and have replaced materialist values ​​(success, income, economic stability).

Culture, identity and generations

The problem of generations from the sociological point of view was treated in a particular way by Karl Mannheim.

He examines the role of age groups, ie generations, as social factors that favor the formation of particular styles of thinking.

He criticizes two different ways of dealing with the problem of generations:

– the positivists (who considered generation to be only a biological reality)

– the romantic – historicist conception (which understands the generation more as a rather mysterious spiritual entity.

Mannheim recognizes a quantitative and a qualitative dimension of time. The time interval that separates the generations thus becomes a time of which one has a subjective experience, a time that can be understood a posteriori.

Being part of the same generation does not mean living the purely chronological contemporaneity, but having the same significant experiences and undergoing the same dominant influences.

Mannheim distinguishes between collocation and concrete group. The location indicates a condition common to other individuals, in which one finds oneself without necessarily being aware of it. The concrete group is instead made up of individuals who have conscious relationships among themselves.

Mannheim’s great merit is that of having underlined the difference that exists between generation as a historical-social category and age as an ascribed characteristic, that is, linked to biological nature.

A social generation is made up of people who are more or less the same age and who have shared some politically relevant experiences (e.g. those who were between 18 and 33 in 1918 were part of a generation for which those years were decisive for the formation of thought


In the late 1950s, a rebellious youth emerged, characterized by hostility towards the social system but ideologically mute.

At the beginning of the sixties, the rebel wave was replaced by a new generation, which proposed its own cultural models based on pacifist values ​​(the beat culture).

At the end of the seventies the nonconformist but poorly politicized generation was followed by another one that gave rise to radical political movements (the generation of ’68).

Erikson’s thesis: youth _ interval, waiting in which the individual is allowed a vast social exploration free from specific obligations.



Four theoretical approaches

The relationship between culture and society is two-way.

The most important questions raised by the sociological tradition can be grouped under three main headings:

– the dependence of cultural forms on social structures (culture is understood as a variable dependent on culture)

– the role that cultural forms play in social development (independent variable

– the social processes on the basis of which culture is transmitted from one culture to another, spreads and transforms itself.

Four main models can be identified that concern the emergence of cultural forms.


The functionalist models

The term “functionalism” was born in the 1930s. The social sciences intend to identify the function that culture plays in establishing and maintaining the social system.

Malinowski argued that the function of culture is to satisfy the basic needs of group members.

Radcliffe-Brown instead thought that the function of culture was not the satisfaction of individual needs, but the preservation of the overall social structure (an idea similar to that of Durkheim).

Merton distinguishes between manifest function and latent function (eg with the rain dance it may not rain _ manifest function, but dance can strengthen the unity of the group _ latent function).


The causalist models

The idea is that culture is directly caused by processes that escape the consciousness of individuals. Different types of causes: biological, psychological, economic or social.

Vilfredo Pareto attributes the origin of values ​​and beliefs to psychic causes.

Marx and Durkheim argued the importance of social causes (substructures and superstructures).

Sociologists David Bloor and Barry Barnes have developed the “strong program” of sociology of knowledge, arguing that even the achievements of the natural sciences do not belong to the pure world of ideas, they are part of culture and can be traced back to social dimensions.

Since the 1970s, a study perspective has emerged in the United States that we call “culture production”. The thesis is that the institutional and organizational aspects of the cultural industry condition the content of cultural products. Peterson and Berger, for example, showed that innovation

aesthetics in popular music is associated with periods of high competition among record companies.


The instrumental models

The theory holds that individuals act by calculating the cost / benefit ratio of each action and therefore follow their own interest.

According to Elster, there are three versions of utilitarianism:

– the rules are ex post rationalizations of one’s own interest

– people follow the rules for fear of being sanctioned if they don’t

– we adhere to social norms because they often have beneficial consequences.


The interactionist models

These models differ markedly from the instrumental models. In fact, they do not give priority to the instrumental calculation, but to the communicative interaction between individuals engaged in practices (from coordination in family life to coordination at work).

Social norms do not emerge from calculation, but from the repetition of solutions to recurring problems experienced in the past.

There are problematic situations that cannot be faced on the basis of experience, and then the participants, if they have contrary ideas, must “negotiate” a meaning.


The structuralist models

The term “structuralism” derives from the application to the analysis of culture of the so-called “structural” linguistics, linked to the name of Saussure, which was interested not in the history of language but rather in its internal structure.

And then Levi Strauss focuses on culture considered in itself.

Ideology as a cultural system

Beginning in the nineteenth century, Christian religions enter into competition with other sources of legitimacy that claim to base social and collective life on systems of secular ideas and values. The first post-Christian ideologies are nationalism, liberal individualism and communism.

The criteria that allow the identification of an ideology are:

– a world view with a high degree of internal coherence

– produced by intellectual groups, but spread to large sections of the population

– function of legitimizing the power relations present in a social group

Power and ideology are closely linked. A power becomes legitimate when it manages to make its decisions accepted as well founded and justified.

The thesis of the end of ideologies, in the early 1960s, argued that ideologies would end because the structure of the welfare state would solve all the most important social issues, replacing the “ideologues” with the “experts”.

“Political religions” were then identified, such as communism in the USSR and Hitler’s National Socialism. In National Socialist ideology there was a notable coherence and richness of themes: the centrality of Volk’s ethno-racial idea and space for myth, with the Aryan myth. There were also numerous rituals and ceremonials.

Four conceptions of ideology can be identified which summarize the historical events that the term has undergone.


Ideology as a defect of reason

Francesco Bacone supports the theory of the “idol”, to explain the distorted forms of thought and the causes that produce this distortion. He develops the theory to analyze the elements that can affect human thinking.

With this conception he opens the way according to which “prejudice” is based on a complex of irrational impulses, conditioned by the dominant interests of powerful social groups (the great accused was the clergy). Prejudice is therefore considered a conscious manipulation of the classes

subordinates by the powerful.


Ideology as false knowledge

For Marx, ideology is understood as metaphysical thought, which inverts or overturns real relationships (according to idealism, ideas are autonomous, Marx’s critique instead claims that they are a direct emanation of reality).

Example of the dark room.

In “capital” Marx analyzes the problem of the “commodity fetishism”, by which he means that ideology treats the real relationships between people as if they were relationships between things, objectifying and naturalizing them. Thus the trader thinks that it is the goods that are exchanging each other.

For Marx, ideology is therefore a false consciousness, that is, a false representation that is produced without it being produced by us being aware of its falsity.


Ideology as rationalization

According to Vilfredo Pareto, human beings are distinguished from animals because while acting moved by impulses and instincts, they are anxious to present them in the form of rational reasoning and arguments.

Ideological forms therefore operate as a posteriori rationalizations, without being aware of them. The mechanism is the same as the Marxian “false consciousness”, but it does not apply to society, but to the psyche – they are therefore Pseudoragionamenti.

Ideologies can be analyzed under the objective aspect (based on the logical link with which the data are connected), subjective (based on the reasons that individuals have for accepting the ideology), finally, for their social usefulness (independently from their truth as they are

positively or negatively affect society).

Ideology as a conception of the world of an era

According to Mannheim, we must pass from a particular conception of ideology to a total conception of ideology, when we shift our attention from the psychological level to that of the way of facing and interpreting the reality of an entire historical epoch or social group.

Mannheim considers important an interpretative method for the study of cultural products, detached from the methods of study of the natural sciences.

Identify three levels of meaning:

– objective meaning (concerning the identification of an action)

– expressive meaning (subjective intention of the social actor)

– documentary meaning (total meaning)

Mannheim therefore wants to present a positive and neutral conception of ideology, to go beyond the concept of ideology as false consciousness [Marx] or pseudo-reasoning [Pareto]

Common sense as a cultural system

It is a set of thought frameworks, representations and schemes that present both cognitive and symbolic aspects, used by subjects on an implicit level.

Boudon gives us the example of the rain dance. When we consider this gesture irrational, we do it because we are using notions of cause and effect, but without being aware of it.

Common sense includes not only general categories and notions, but also ways of representing others and perceiving the social environment.

Thus stereotypes are created, with the related self-protective motivations.

Common sense also includes the so-called micro-rituals and pragmatic rules, which go by the name of ethnomethodology.

Harold Garfinkel made his students experience breaking the rules of micro-rituals (speaking too close, etc …)

The study of implicit knowledge has been analyzed by sociology in particular from two orientations:

– the durkhemian school

– American pragmatism


The durkhemian school

Durkheim and Mauss argued that the fundamental categories (of cause, space, time) were collective representations and not products of the individual mind.

This makes them real social institutions.

Durkheim elaborates a theory that works its way between two theories, empiricism (which holds that the human mind is a kind of warehouse and the individual accumulates all his knowledge there) and Kantism (according to which the human mind is a kind of lighthouse, which selects through a priori, not based forms

on experience).

Durkheim discards both currents, formulating instead the thesis that society is at the origin of knowledge: it comes before the individual and to maintain itself it needs its members to communicate with each other.

Everything is logical for him, the classification according to genus and species derives in totemic societies from the division of tribes into phratries, with a classification based on opposition.

Durkheim also speaks of time: there is not only chronological time, but also social time, once common to the group.

Social time is a divided and measurable time, with a calendar that expresses the rhythm of the community and guarantees its regularity.

Norbert Elias underlines the intertwining between “social time” and “lived time” and culminates with “exact time”, standardized and calculated with specific tools.

Marcell Mauss outlines an important analysis of the genesis of the category of person , considered a fundamental category like that of time and space.

From the notion of “character” present among tribal populations, to the notion of a person with rights and duties in ancient Rome, and then in the more recent period in which the person assumes a sacred character, he is conceived as an entity endowed with autonomy and responsibility moral.

Marcel Granet explained that Chinese thought is based on analog intuition, the Chinese language is not organized for the purpose of recording concepts, but for practical purposes.

Maurice Halbawachs underlined the importance of collective memory, a real social construction, the point of intersection of continuous flows of memory.

Public ceremonies (April 25) serve to renew citizen participation and strengthen social ties.


American pragmatism

American pragmatism links everyday reasoning not to calculation, but to the repetition of problem solutions in the practices of everyday life.

Alfred Schutz’s work is important, defining the foundations of common knowledge in everyday life:

– Objectivity (everyone perceives everyday life as objective, built before we came into the world) _ eg. the language.

– Intersubjectivity (reality presents itself to me as a world that I share with others) _ real life is as real for me as it is real for others

– Naturalness (common sense adapts a natural attitude towards the world around me) _ I suspend the doubt: when I call my uncle in America I don’t think about how to do it

– Typizations (in the world of life you meet people and perceive them on the basis of “typing schemes”) _ they provide me with a structure of expectations: if someone comes with a shoulder bag, I think he is a postman

– Fund of common knowledge (people interpret their situation using a fund of knowledge and symbols common to all.

Religion as a cultural system

When a set of beliefs, values ​​and symbols concern the nature of superhuman beings and the relationship with the human world, we speak of religion.

Talking about religion as a cultural system means talking about its distinctive features:

– the presence of a structure of meanings, expressed in doctrines, dogmas, precepts and symbols

– the individual is inserted in a sacred cosmic order (religion connects the microcosm to the macrocosm, placing the individual in a universal order)

– religion has a public character

There are various types of religion, which can be classified according to different criteria.

Max Weber considers the great universal religions, those that do not involve only a local area, but vast territories.

Two classification criteria:

– image of the world

– way of obtaining salvation

The image of the world can be theocentric (Western and Middle Eastern tradition) or cosmocentric (Asian tradition).

In the Western and Middle Eastern tradition, salvation is sought with man as an instrument of God. Weber calls this concept “asceticism”.

In the Asian tradition, man is conceived as a container of the divine. This conception is called “mysticism”.

Furthermore, religions have expressed themselves in various organizational forms (priests, worshipers).

The church is a stabilized community of believers, to which one belongs by birth, characterized by the clergy who are dedicated to religious organization.

The sect (in a positive sense) is distinguished from the church: one belongs to it not by birth, but by choice. So the community is much smaller. [eg. Jehovah’s Witnesses]

When we talk about religion as a social phenomenon, two interpretations are taken into consideration: causal and functional.

While causal explanations try to account for the cultural aspects of religion by bringing them back to antecedent social conditions, functional explanations refer to the consequences of these same aspects for society or for social actors.

Durkheim, speaking of the functions of religion, argues that religion strengthens the bonds that connect the individual to the society of which he is a part.

The anthropologist Malinowski also said that magic often resolved situations of strong emotional tension by creating security.

Merton _ manifest functions and latent functions

For Luhmann, religion reduces modern social complexity, considering the world as a whole.

Theodicy _ solutions concerning the incongruity between destiny and merit.

Religion in modern society has changed from previous centuries.

The urbanization and differentiation of society have changed the very presence of religion in everyday life.

A Western process of rationalization has taken place (everything can be dominated by reason). The progressive autonomization of religion has also occurred.

Weber points out that the process of “disenchanting the world” took place precisely at the hands of Judaism and Christianity (Protestantism in particular).

There was the process of secularization, that is the process by which certain sectors of society and culture are removed from the dominion of institutions and religious characters.

In the West, institutional differentiation is an acquired trait and the separation of church-state was quickly achieved.



Two theoretical approaches

How does it happen that values, norms and beliefs have an impact on people’s concrete behaviors?


Socialized actor model

According to Talcott Parsone, during childhood a process of internalization of the values ​​shared by the community takes place in the individual.

Subsequently, the values ​​inserted in the personality are transformed into deep motivations.

Compliance is ensured by social control mechanisms (sanctions, social disapproval). These provisions make the behavior of individuals in the community predictable.

This model has been very influential, especially in explaining the influence of culture on politics.


Model of social identity

To explain this model, Francesca Cancian starts from the observation that the connection between values ​​and behaviors is not always clear.

You state that normative beliefs are linked to behavior only if the beliefs are shared by a group and serve for its identity


The members of a group may share many beliefs, but only those that define their identity as members of a social position will be related to the action.

Individuals act in accordance with a norm because it is the way to validate their identity.

This delimits possible significant actions.

  1. It is impossible to be a witch until the existence of this identity has been accepted.

The role of the Protestant ethic in the development of modern capitalism

Max Weber focuses on the cultural conditions that favored the development of capitalism: he identifies an important point in the religious ethics born with the Protestant Reformation.

Weber starts from a statistical regularity _ the capitalist entrepreneurs are of the Protestant religion.

Why? Weber points out that the characteristics of capitalism emerged only in the West at a certain time.

With the Protestant reform there is a break with Catholic ethics: monastic ascesis are devalued to make way for secular ascesis (or success in work). Luther introduces the idea of ​​the universal priesthood.

With Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, there could be fatalism. Instead they all sought success in professional work to ensure eternal salvation. _ this therefore leads to capitalism.


The effects of culture on economic growth: comparative research

Weber carries out a comparative analysis of universal religions, with an “a contrary” confirmation of his thesis on capitalism influenced by Protestantism.

The religions of Asian tradition, in fact, have hindered the development of the economic rationalism typical of modern capitalism, favoring instead a traditionalist economic ethics.

There has not been for these countries the development of an ethical prophecy (with an envoy of God who imposes commandments, which happened in the West), but of an exemplary prophecy, which does not impose obligations on the masses, but gives advice.

Confucianism did not develop either ethics, but it was the one that most opposed the development of capitalism. Why? The religiosity was purely magical, with values ​​centered on ancestor worship and devotion to the family.

Also, the big problem was that of trust. Without trust, societies remain “familistic” [as Fukuyama says], that is, tied only to the family sphere.

Inglehart carries out a comparative analysis and elaborates an index of the motivation for success and how much it affects economic development: Japan, China, South Korea have a high motivation index but little obedience / Nigeria and South Africa, on the contrary, have great obedience and wedding ring

religious. In the middle are the United States and Europe.

Culture and political development

The research program on political culture has developed thanks to American political science since the 1960s.

The basic thesis is that every political system is linked to a culture, which generates dispositions and influences individuals in the way they act.

Eckstein formulates three postulates regarding political culture:

– the actors do not respond to situations, but respond through the mediation of guidelines

– orientations vary according to cultural conditions – orientations are not acquired automatically, but are learned through a process of socialization.

This covers the same semantic area of ​​the concept of “national character”, extensively studied after the war [ex. as a child we are oriented to think in a certain way …]

The concept of civic culture represents a clarification of the concept of political culture.

It is a “mixed political culture”, a mixture between the ideal-typical “activist” model (of those who are politically active) and the “passivist” one (those who have trust and deference to authority). _ Almond and Verba study.

The Italian culture was not mixed, as for example in Great Britain, but particularist: with restricted trust in the family, the same traits that Edward Banfield had called AMORAL FAMILISM.

It is not enough to unify the institutional structures, it is necessary to make the presence of the “civic spirit” (civicness) work well, that is the fabric of norms, rules, values ​​rooted in the associative fabric that favor social cooperation and the pursuit of the collective good.

Several researches have identified the presence of political subcultures in the Italian context (white subculture in the north-east, or Christian Democratic dominance, red subculture in the center, social-communist dominance).

The concept of civic culture is complex and can be broken down into three dimensions:

– morality (which refers to values ​​expressed in the form of judgments)

– trust (which refers to cooperative orientations and expectations in joint action)

– identification (which refers to the sense of belonging to a territorial community).

The moral dimension can be divided into three factors:

– empowerment (taking a risk for oneself and for others)

– rights (defense dimension of fundamental human rights)

– civicism (condemnation of conduct harmful to public interests)

Culture and consumption

Neoclassical economic model _ the consumer acts rationally, has the ability to acquire all the necessary information on the quality and prices of goods.

For some, our society would become the “consumer society”.

The consumer himself is anonymous, he is just a target.

Why do people want what they want? Symbolic value of assets _ acquired for prestige and distinction from others.

The upper classes try to differentiate themselves from the lower ones by buying surplus goods, to distinguish themselves socially, with a conspicuous consumption of goods.

This causes the imitation of the lower classes, but when they “imitate”, the upper classes already change their taste, making everything “old”.

Fashion phenomenon _ there is imitation, but also on the other hand, differentiation, to stand out from the others.

Habitus according to Bourdieu _ unifying principle of the choices and social practices made by a social actor (what to eat, how to dress), all this constitutes a lifestyle.



Communication processes

Culture circulates mainly through language, the main form of objectification. Concepts are expressed with language. There is a complex process of interaction between language and thought. There are also non-verbal cues (typical of Mediterranean cultures).

One of the main characteristics of language is its universality – men have to communicate.

It can be considered an element of prestige and can have a collective identification function.

Relativistic hypothesis of Sapir – Whorf: the structure of a language conditions the way in which the individual understands and perceives reality.

Elements of communication:

– issuer

– receiver

– code

– channel

– context

A term can denote or connote something, but if the element that connotes is not present in reality it is difficult to understand [eg. for an Aboriginal who does not know what a horse is].

Three aspects of cultural transmission processes linked to mass communication:

– technical means of transmission (important relationship between technique and culture, which can fuel collective memory) – difference between degrees of participation (between watching TV and reading a book)

– the institutional apparatus of transmission (hierarchical structure, rules, organization) – Hirsch’s cultural industry system _ various filters before arriving at the product, inputs and outputs – space – time distancing:

o face-to-face interaction _ coexistence, therefore shared space-time, many symbolic clues, action addressed to a particular subject, dialogic communication (bidirectional)

o mediated interaction _ separation of space-time contexts, contraction of the set of symbolic clues, action addressed to a particular subject, dialogic communication (bidirectional)

o quasi-mediated interaction _ separation of space-time contexts, contraction of the set of symbolic clues, action directed towards different indefinite subjects, communication to one direction


With socialization the individual becomes a fully social being, with learning and inner appropriation of meanings and general rules, but also adaptation to various structures.

Primary socialization:

– acquisition of basic skills, during childhood, lasts until school

Secondary socialization:

– period in which specialized roles are learned, linked to school and the world of work

There are rites of passage that mark the passage of the boy from the world of youth to the adult world (residues _ graduation parties, bachelor parties).

Socialization agencies _ school, family, peer group, church, army, mass communication.

Socialization is a continuous process, never definitively completed.

There is socialization to old age and death, there is resocialization _ eg. religious conversion

Socialization conflicts: presence of too many socialization agencies.

Problem of the erosion of traditional hierarchical structures (the role of the teacher, of the parents is weakened, many more compromises).


Conditioning paradigm

Talcott Parsons intends to specify the psychosocial mechanisms that link the individual personality to the culture of a society.

Parsons thinks of socialization as a conditioning process (like Durkheim), in which subjects passively learn shared values. It relates to Freud’s psychoanalysis. Several stages:

– oral dependence (child – mother identification)

– anal crisis

– mother – child differentiation

– Oedipal crisis

– latency (the child learns the different roles in the family)

– adolescence

– maturity (differentiation between family environment and other environments


Interaction paradigm

According to this paradigm, the individual is not passively conditioned, but is active and adapts by enriching his own cognitive resources in a conscious way.

The formation of the child’s moral judgment depends not only on the internal logic of development, but also on the character of the interaction system in which he is inserted.

The process leads to the recognition of the “generalized other” by the child.

Institutionalization and legitimation

Institutionalization: process by which some social relations and actions are objectified to taken for granted by the members of a social group.

Institutionalization is a process that guarantees cultural persistence and preservation regardless of internalization. There are varying degrees of institutionalization.

Legitimation, on the other hand, designates the process of justification and explanation.

Symbolic universes _ create a significant order in which each phenomenon finds its place.

Eg: death can be legitimized by resorting to religious and mythological interpretations.

The cultural change

How does the culture change?

Endogenous explanations at the macrosocial level

Two examples.

Auguste Comte: the law of the three stages.

Human thought evolves through three stages:

– theological phase

– metaphysical phase

– positive phase

Weber: the development of Western rationalism is an endogenous process, an “internal necessity”.

There is religious disenchantment and modernization.


Macrosocial exogenous explanations

For Durkheim the development of individualism is the effect of the intensification of the division of labor.

Norbert Elias analyzes the process of monopolization of power, stating that the courts, constituting themselves as “peaceful spaces”, favor the emergence, after an evolution, of “good manners”. The monopoly of physical violence is also established.


Endogenous explanations at the microsocial level

The change in cultural orientations would be due to the effects of the orientations themselves, which generate disappointment in the subjects and therefore the desire to change [Hirschman].

Tarde states that cultural tastes change according to the “contagion”, as in fashion.


Exogenous explanations at the micro-social level

Weber presents the theory of “charisma”.

The charisma wants to explain the innovation in belief systems.

Routinization of the charism _ the new belief system is made systematic by the intervention of a group of official interpreters.

Inglehart _ from the postwar period onwards postmaterialist values ​​have been established.

Economic factors act on the individual hierarchy of needs: if I am well and my primary needs are met, I can devote myself to secondary needs, for example related to culture.


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