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Session Overview
RN07_08: Sociology of Culture: Theory
Thursday, 22/Aug/2019:
6:00pm - 7:30pm

Session Chair: Anna-Mari Almila, University of the Arts London
Location: GM.335
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Geoffrey Manton, Third Floor 4 Rosamond Street West Off Oxford Road

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Against Culture: Sharing, Sameness And Belonging

Joost Van Loon

Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Germany

How do sociologists understand collectives? From their earliest inceptions, sociological reflections have associated the formation of collectivities with the sharing of values and beliefs, for which the term culture often functions as a short cut. Anthropologists have subsequently extended this with the notion of “shared practices”, as these give more a concrete, empirical sense of actual manifestations of the collective life of particular groupings of human beings (also referred to as communities). The emphasis on shared is extremely important here, but a fundamental question can be raised: does sharing require c.q. engender sameness? This is furthermore important because the move from sharing to sameness is capitalized by a third concept: belonging.

This paper offers two theoretical interventions in the Sociology of Culture: Firstly, we must continue to conceptually differentiate between sharing, sameness and belonging and resist the temptation to amalgamate then into one by means of the concept of “culture”. By exposing this move as a false abstraction, a plea will be made to keep our conception of culture empirical and thus practice-based. Secondly, the differentiation between sharing, sameness and belonging enables us to avoid the idealist pitfall of conflating “collectivities” to mental projections of desires and beliefs. Following Tarde, Simmel and ANT, it can be shown that desires and beliefs defy the dualism between the mental and the material, and instead shift our focus to practices of objectivation in terms of experiences and prehensions that form the basis of sharing, that may or may not engender sameness but are certainly not confined to an assumed primordial necessity of belonging.

Beyond Diversity: A Critical View from and on the Sociology of Culture

Lisa Gaupp

Leuphana University of Lueneburg, Germany

Diversity – understood as multiple social belongings – is now one of the hot topics in sociology. Intersectional approaches repeatedly criticize discrimination processes disregarding the overlapping social identities of individuals. Other approaches with more deconstructed notions of diversity, focusing on processes of interweaving and interconnectedness, have given a further boost to concepts such as hybridity, cosmopolitanism or transculturality. Still other important approaches in the sociology of culture explore socially and habitually incorporated as well as spatially, aesthetically or globally constituted practices of diversity. The paper critically outlines these different concepts of diversity, their underlying assumptions and their epistemological foundations in the sociology of culture.

In a second part, drawing on empirical studies in the fields of music and the performing arts, the economic and organizational power relations involved in the production of cultural structures and processes of diversity are discussed. While global art worlds are presented as borderless and diversity is almost considered a value in itself, at the same time these art worlds are criticized for being “too international”, for standardizing an international canon that largely excludes, for example, “refugee” artists. So is diversity a “white word”? Thus, this paper explores the origins of diversity in art worlds from different sociological perspectives, asking what traditions, assumptions and habits have emerged from the concept of diversity and, in turn, what impact they may have had on the concept itself.

Theorising Aesthetic Value Judgements: In the Moment and Over Time

Simon Stewart

University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom

In this paper, I theorise aesthetic value judgements at micro and macro levels and consider ways in which these judgements can be analysed sociologically. At a micro level, value-judgements are dependent on a number of contextual factors that extend from the interaction between habitus and field to the layout of the room and the presence of other people. Studying the interaction between individuals and cultural objects ‘in the moment’ throws up all kinds of problems. For a start, not all value judgements are immediately apparent even to the individuals making them. Furthermore, if we ask individuals about their value judgements, we rely on their retrospective accounts. If we study aesthetic value judgements at a macro level, we are confronted with something huge and seemingly intangible: a supra-critical voice that extends its reach over time as tastes are transferred from one generation to another. This supra-individual voice is heterogeneous and full of contradictions. It is cumulative and derives from all those who make value judgements in the field of culture. Inevitably, some voices are louder than others and macro-level judgements are consolidated by institutions, by awards and prizes, but they are also contested and what was once prized fades into obscurity. Just as in Simmel’s view, society is the sum total of interactions, I argue that this supra-individual voice is nothing but the sum total of all micro-level judgements but it seems to take on a life of its own.

Affect-Mood-Meaning: Theoretical Reflections on the Constitution and Analysis of Culture in the 21st Century

Andreas Schellewald

University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

The paper will engage in a critical reflection on how the field of cultural sociology today understands its central term of discussion. (1) In a first step, present developments of an individualized, mediatized, digitized, and aestheticized society will be outlined. Confronted with these changes in the spatio-temporal organization of contemporary social life and structure, the ways classical conceptualizations of identity and belonging are rethought within cultural sociology and beyond will be reconstructed. Herein the paper takes a particular focus on works that return their attention to affective, emotional, material, and pragmatic dimensions of social and cultural life. (2) In a second step, having worked through and synthesized current debates, the paper is then going to develop a simple and broadly-applicable methodology (Affect-Mood-Meaning) along which these dimensions can more efficiently be used to adjust classical understandings of culture for contemporary societies. Understanding classical meaning-structures such as roles, tastes, or expectations as constituted in signifying and narrative practices, in symbolic representations, the proposed methodology is going to add a core dimension of embodied experiences such as feelings and emotions to this constitution. From a humanistic and phenomenological perspective, cultural moods are outlined as reoccurring patterns of being affected by one’s surrounding socio-material environment. Herein mediating between reason and emotion, moods create a feeling of aliveness and constitute a sense of place. Henceforth setting people’s affective engagements as an analytical starting point, the paper closes with reflections on the theoretical, analytical, and political consequences for constituting culture as generative, dynamic, and creative process.

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