From the Sociology of Culture to Cultural Sociology: Theoretical Drifts, Experimental Methodologies, and Critical Interventions

Since its beginnings as a discipline, sociology has thematized the concept of culture. While some theoretical currents have considered it an exhausted concept for interpreting social phenomena, others have incorporated it as a key vector for deciphering the transformations of modern society. Although the words society and culture have a common etymological origin – Latin -, when compared, their theoretical-analytical derivations have been characterized by tensions and problems (some unsolvable and others unavoidable to confront). There is an extensive bibliographical list that accounts for this.

However, the trajectory of this analytical framework over the last fifty years has allowed for an unprecedented reflexive deployment. Despite its tensions and debates with anthropology and cultural history, sociology achieved a high-performance analytical status based on a precise and (self-)legitimized methodological scaffolding. The sociology of culture then emerged as a reflexive appendage that signified a research revolution: from statistical and qualitative methodological tools, and the formal administration of dominant theoretical frameworks, findings began to reveal that attitudes, values and meanings were determined by the social status or social position of the individual. Considered as an objective approach to all phenomena, this reading matrix not only served as concrete proof to denounce the profound inequalities existing in late 20th century societies, but also had a significant impact on political decision-making. Today, in fact, it is difficult to do without theoretical frameworks based on this heritage.  

Although the reading of social phenomena from that sociology of culture has provided key inputs for thinking about the present, a few decades ago another sociology has taken up theoretical principles from various disciplinary sources, including Paul Ricoeur’s philosophy of culture. One such sociologist is Jeffrey C. Alexander, who has argued for the need to reformulate the sociology of culture into cultural sociology. If traditional sociology resorts to a standardized approach to study “the whole”, cultural sociology would be inclined towards an analytical approach which considers culture by its own logic and which is not entirely determined by social and economic structures. On the contrary, such structures – defended as determining factors by class inheritance – are seen by cultural sociology as epistemological obstacles to a true understanding of culture in contemporary society. Understanding how human actors make sense of their social actions in their social contexts – that is, in their social structures – is a key exercise in studying processes of signification. Social interactions, transfers of meaning and the influences these have on people’s actions are the focus of cultural sociology.

The meanings we dispute in everyday life – both with the anonymous and with those close to us – change the way in which we categorize our shared reality. The cultural elements that surround us and that challenge us in our biographical trajectories serve, in this way, to elaborate vocabularies, grammars and orientations that vary over time but that give meaning to our lives. These postulates – which are certainly fed by schools and lines of thought that are fundamental to sociology, such as symbolic interactionism, cultural studies and Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s idea of the “social construction of reality” – renew interest in studying how certain symbolic formations generate power, inequalities, and conflicts in certain societies. In this sense, making sense is not something that belongs to the individual or that is reduced only to subjective experience, but a collective work of meaning. It is the interactions between large, medium, and small groups that reinforce meanings and change them. In short, the production of meaning is a permanent task between social structures and individual subjectivity, which leads us to remember that culture is always the name of a problem.

This theoretical architecture is particularly relevant in the current iberoamerican scenario. Latin America, Spain and Portugal have not only experienced unprecedented political processes and revolutionary demands in their societies – Ecuador, Chile, and Colombia, for example, have witnessed recent social revolts fighting for a new social order based on principles of equity, rights, dignity, and solidarity – but have also been impacted by the effects of the pandemic on the most diverse orders, social and individual. Today, society is challenged by emerging views and meanings that call for new understandings (and also new dissents) on social vulnerability, economic exclusion, cultural unrest, and symbolic violence. Today’s questions focus on political and social elites and demand symbolic reparation to do justice to historical inequalities.

This edition of Pléyade seeks to research the formation of new cartographies of thought from cultural sociology in Ibero-America. It aims to publish articles that explore various theoretical and empirical problems that take analysis the symbolic elaborations in progress as their axis, as well as the political-cultural parameters that are defining everyday life forms. Within this framework, this special issue is interested in articles that not only explore methodological, epistemological, and theoretical problems of cultural sociology, but that also present and promote a broad speculative interdisciplinary agenda. For example, we welcome questions and problematizations of the emerging meanings and symbols of memory, social movements, indigenous claims, feminist rebellions, perceptions of space (architectures and urbanisms), the experience of going to the cinema, museums and other artistic spaces, the normative demands of fast fashion, the challenges of body neutrality, the promotion of ethical consumerism, and others. In short, the aim is to establish a framework of analysis through which the current symbolic sensibilities of the Ibero-American space can be understood.   

The following is a non-exhaustive proposal of possible contributions to be presented in this special issue of Pléyade:

  • New qualitative and quantitative methods in cultural sociology 
  • Emerging meanings and symbols in memory studies
  • Social movements and new political sensitivities
  • Precariousness, social vulnerability, and fragility
  • The gender perspective in culture: cultural goods produced by women
  • Culture, care, and sustainability
  • Rituals, symbols, and struggles of urban and rural indigenous claims?
  • Forms, logics, and norms of feminist rebellions 
  • Changing perceptions of urban space in contexts of rebellion/social outburst 
  • The virtual experience of going to the cinema, museums, and other art spaces 
  • The normative and one-dimensional demands of fast fashion
  • Challenges to the recognition of difference in body neutrality
  • New sexualities and symbolic recognitions of non-binarity 
  • Hegemonic definitions, resistances, and body identities
  • Reconfigurations of the notion of disease and contagion during the pandemic
  • Imaginaries of the future in the post-pandemic context

Guest editors:

Dr. Tomás Peters. Instituto de la Comunicación e Imagen, Universidad de Chile.

Dra. Cristina Guirao. Departamento de Sociología, Facultad de Economía y Empresa, Universidad de Murcia, España. 

Shipments until: January 31, 2024

Languages: English, Portuguese and Spanish

Date of publication: issue 33, July 2024.

Manuscripts will be evaluated by a double-blind refereed committee.