82.1 Sentiments and social stratification

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 10:45 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Jens AMBRASAT , Free University Berlin, Department of Sociology, Germany
Christian VON SCHEVE , Department of Sociology, Free University Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Affect Control Theory (ACT) argues that language based sentiments are systematically associated with specific social actions. Through socialization, individuals acquire culture specific norms and attitudes manifest in the affective meanings of language. Therefore, knowledge of and the sense for affective meanings are socially shared phenomena that can be measured with Osgood’s semantic differential technique. Cross cultural research has shown that affective meanings depend on the cultural and social background of individuals. In this tradition, sentiments have been shown to be quite stable within societies, where society is mostly equated with “nation” and assumed to be a cultural “container”. We question this assumption by conceiving of culture not primarily in national or geographical terms, but in terms of meaning making. Ever since Marx, research on social stratification has shown that different cultures also exist within societies, which can be conceived of using concepts such as class, milieu, or lifestyle.

In this contribution, we explore the affective knowledge of different cultures within German society using data from a representative (quota sample based) survey we recently conducted. A sample of 3.000 Germans rated a total of 910 words on the three affective core dimensions of the semantic differential, i.e. evaluation, potency, and arousal. We demonstrate that sentiments are significantly associated with the social structural background of individuals. Likewise, we show that social stratification – and especially milieus – can be adequately described in terms of affective meanings. Our data show that various milieus are associated with different sentiments for at least some relevant words. According to ACT, these systematic cultural differences within society result from past experiences and socialization conditions.