The Origins Of Modern and Cultural Contemporary Sociology

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 5:30 PM
Room: Booth 49
Oral Presentation
Jeffrey ALEXANDER , Yale University
This presentation will trace the origins and development of the "strong program" in cultural sociology. In the face of the unproductive struggle between a functionalism that equated culture with social integration and a conflict theory that negated culture altogether, there emerged an effort in the 1980s to reread the classics in cultural terms that would undermine the tradition/modernity divide. One result of this rereading was that the late Durkheim (1912) of sacred/profane, symbols, rituals, and solidarity displaced the middle period Durkheim of Division of Labor, Rules, and Suicide. Alongside this rereading, the effort to create a new sociological approach to culture turned to developments in the humanities -- to the linguistic turn in philosophy, to structural linguistics and anthropology, to semiotics and post-structuralism, and to narrative theory in literature. Some of these developments had already been made available to sociology in the writings of the trio of cultural anthropologists that had emerged a generation earlier, the 1960s and 70s -- Mary Douglas, Victor Turner, and especially Clifford Geertz. There had also been a "cultural turn" in European social science, motivated by these same developments, which produced a turn toward culture in the critical works of Foucault and Bourdieu and the Birmingham school of cultural studies. The strong program argued that these European reactions to the cultural turn failed to recognize the relative autonomy of culture. Sociologizing a series of key concepts in the humanities, the strong program developed a way of thinking about culture in a new way.