Sociology of Culture
In the reading by Santoro and Solaroli, the main discussion refers to the analysis of the sociology of culture and cultural sociology in terms of the two perspectives, e.g., Pierre Bourdieu and Jeffrey Alexander. The former serves as a background for the criticism suggested by the latter, as Alexander has introduced new ideas on the contemporary sociological paradigm highlighted in the concept of ‘strong program.’ The main approach of this sociological intervention is to incorporate a deeper meaning of culture in the social realm, as the previous (weak) programs (including Bourdieu) lack “the deepest structure of social life, the inner engine of social action, and the constitutively meaningful dimension of society” (Santoro and Solaroli 49). In this respect, the core of Alexander’s criticism revolves around the previous claims and methods proposed by Bourdieu without diminishing their meaning for the rise of a new scientific thought in the field of cultural sociology.
The theory by Bourdieu represents a particular vector of a weak and insufficient understanding of the cultural phenomena, as well as cultural analysis. By uncovering the weak points in his theory and redefining their meaning amid the current flows in sociology and culture, it is possible to strengthen Bourdieu’s theory in conjunction with Alexander’s standpoints included in ‘strong program.’ In other words, Alexander’s standpoints aim at refreshing the established scientific achievements in their relation to the new realities and changes going on in the ever-changing society.
For Alexander, culture encompasses the realm of meanings without which the sociological project cannot be complete. In this respect, his theoretical approach criticizes the four ‘weak programs,’ including “Foucaultian social theory, British Cultural Studies (BCS), an eclectic (and mostly American) ‘production and reception of culture’ research stream and, last but not least, Bourdieu’s work” (Santoro and Solaroli 51). However, Alexander does not diminish the meaning of the works by Foucault, Bourdieu, and BCS, as these sociological schools served as a prerequisite for the contemporary new vision of sociology of culture versus cultural sociology.
However, there is a strong argument that none of the aforementioned sociological schools could manage to perceive meanings and symbols constituting culture and its power to shape the socio-political and economic spheres of life. In other words, previous sociological efforts were not enough to underline and support the autonomous character of culture and its independent development. Alexander’s ‘strong program’ follows the notion that, in analytical terms, culture is “potentially autonomous from social forces and social structures, and exists beyond, beside and behind them – therefore asking for an autonomous investigation, independently from other dimensions/spheres” (Santoro and Solaroli 51). In its methodological approach, ‘strong program’ tends to reconstruct and transform social texts in a more convincing way so that to enrich their symbolic meanings. It also connects cultural capacity to interfere in the social realm with the actual actors and agencies responsible for it.
Culture is not one of the applicable variables in the meaning of social life, as it is a so-called ‘thick’ variable able to dictate its postulates and meanings independently. The thing is that Bourdieu failed to perceive and incorporate the language of variables and the social ontology it presumes so that to create a transmissible new theory with a new sociological paradigm (Santoro and Solaroli 53). Alexander’s theoretical approach makes the record straight in initiating a new way of understanding culture from a stronger vision of its overall effect on society.
It stems from the initial positioning of culture at the core of social networks and sociological enterprise, overall, based on the assumption that culture is “a truly sociological object to be analyzed in its inner constitution and as a force in itself, capable of producing effects on its own” (Santoro and Solaroli 53). This stance is uncompromising in its new vision of culture within the sociological research. Earlier, the most renowned sociologists were unwilling or unable to assume the core place of culture and cultural studies within the realm of sociological enterprise. However, Alexander expanded on that thought with a new vision of culture as a significant milieu of the sociological research. To make it plain, ‘strong program’ is actually encouraging sociologists to ‘go into’ culture as “the deepest structure of social life” (Santoro and Solaroli 54). In this respect, sociologists should clearly understand a tight and interrelated character of social and cultural life because the latter is apparent in the background of the former.
A critical introduction of the ‘strong program’ puts emphasis on the relative cultural autonomy understood by its analytical autonomy in addition to the previously mentioned concrete autonomy. The latter relates to the previous old school of sociology understanding autonomy of culture in terms of its superficial/obvious primary place in the social realm, whereas analytical autonomy delves deep into the meaning of culture. Moreover, the concrete autonomy of culture was the main theoretical framework for Bourdieu. However, its analytical type let him move to the idea of the further theorizing and description of culture in its significant features.
Notably, ‘strong program’ views culture in terms of codes and narratives, having a straightforward effect on the public opinion, collective conscience, and historical development. The main argument is that binary codes along with cultural narratives give powerful grounds to the cultural structure with the emergence of the ‘collective conscience’ circulating in the public sphere (Santoro and Solaroli 57). That is, social groups and communities are able to understand their cultural identity, uniqueness, and the entire world by means of the cultural codes and narratives. They are able to reach the logic of living through shaping the idea of discerning good from bad and learning lessons from the past for the sake of creating a bright future. The ‘strong program’ makes strong public connections among individuals, as it considers cultural structures in a dialogical relation with social interactions. In addition, Alexander expanded the materiality of cultural and social practices by the concept of performance, which is more multidimensional (Santoro and Solaroli 59). It includes a variety of codes, scripts, texts, narratives, meanings, symbols, and others cultural features, making sense as a part of history and a tool of present times. Alexander considers meaning more visible, using the concept of iconicity relating the ‘agentic’ nature of icons in their ability to interact between “aesthetic surface and discursive-moral depth” (Santoro and Solaroli 61).
Therefore, the article highlights ‘strong program’ by Alexander and associates as a sufficient and timely replacement of the theory by Bourdieu and other sociologists. It supports fractalization in cultural theory, touching on hermeneutics and structuralism. However, on the other side, ‘strong program’ states that field and institutions emerge from narration and deeply rooted systems of meaning (Santoro and Solaroli 68). In other words, Alexander’s theory seeks proliferation of the discourse on the sociology of culture in terms of its fractal distinctions. Based on the theory by Bourdieu, ‘strong program’ offered new approaches, methods, and tools to foster the cultural debate on new meanings and issues in culture.
Santoro, Marco and Marco Solaroli. “Contesting culture: Bourdieu and the strong program in cultural sociology.” n.d. 49-76. Print.