Production of culture

August 26, 2009 at 4:31 am 1 comment

[Below is a recent list Peterson wrote outlining the production of culture perspective. You can view it as an update to his ARS with N Anand. Pete wrote it to accompany a talk he gave and circulated it to some friends. I copy-edited/tagged it and am posting it with permission. If you know links for any of the non-tagged citations email me or put them in the comments and I will update the post. –Gabriel]

| Richard A. Peterson |

Examples of works written in the spirit of the Production of Culture Perspective

Created for the working conference
Euro-Pop: The Production and Consumption of a European Culture
Villa Vigoni, Lake Como, Italy 9-10 June, 2009

Richard A. Peterson

A. The production of culture perspective focuses on the ways in which the content of symbolic elements of culture are shaped by the systems within which they are created, distributed, evaluated, taught, and preserved. Initially practitioners of this perspective focused on the fabrication of expressive-symbol elements of culture such as art works, scientific research reports, popular culture, religious practices, legal judgments, journalism, and other parts of what are now often called “the culture industries”. More recently the perspective has been successfully applied to a range of quite different situations where the manipulation of symbols is a by-product rather than the purpose of the collective activity.

In the 1970s, when it emerged as a self-conscious perspective, it challenged the then-dominant idea that culture and social structure mirror each other. A symbiotic relationship between a singular functioning social system and its coherent overarching culture was then embraced by a wide range of theorists of contemporary society including most Marxists who distinguished between material structure versus superstructural values on the one hand and functionalists — among them Talcott Parsons. The former asserted that those who controlled the means of producing wealth shaped culture to fit their own class interests; the latter believed that a set of monolithic abstract values determined the shape of social structure. Breaking from these mirror views, the production perspective — like most of the other contemporary perspectives in cultural sociology — view both culture and social structure as elements in an ever-changing patchwork. In this view then culture is seen as not so much society-wide and virtually unchanging as it is situational and capable of rapid change.

A number of bellwether studies of the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s exemplified aspects of what would become the production perspective. [See, for example, the studies discussed in section C. below.] Such studies illustrate the emerging production perspective in so far as they: a. Focus on the expressive aspects of culture rather than values, b. Explore the processes of symbol production, c. Use the tools of analysis initially developed in the study of organizations, occupations, networks, communities, and symbolic interaction, and d. Make possible comparisons across the diverse cites of culture creation.

While there was a scatter of provocative studies, not until publication in 1976 and 1978 of collections entitled The Production of Culture, edited by Richard A. Peterson and Lewis A. Coser respectively, did scholars collectively recognize that these and other scattered studies illustrated elements of culture being shaped in the mundane processes of their production. The empirical studies were drawn from sites as diverse as science laboratories, artist communities, and country music radio stations. Some authors have found it convenient to understand the dynamics of production in terms of six constraints or facets which include law and regulation, technology, industrial (field) organization, organizational form, career dynamics, and markets. (See sections D. and E. below.)

B. The most recent summary statement of the perspective (from which the statement above is largely drawn) is:

C. Thirteen works that were very useful in the early formulation of one or all facets of the production perspective. Include:

  • Mills, C. Wright. 1951. White Collar: The American Middle Class. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Highlights the vital causes of the shift from the entrepreneurial to the organizational (white collar) middle class and the ramifying consequences of the change.

  • Selznick, Phillip. 1952. The Organizational Weapon: A Study of Bolshevik Strategy and Tactics. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Shows how the structural form of organization affects its cultural effectiveness.

  • Stinchcombe, Arthur. 1959. “Bureaucratic and Craft Administration of Production.” Administrative Science Quarterly. 4:168-187.
  • Demonstrates that the structural organization of work determines the sorts of products that can be produced.

  • White, Lynn, Jr. 1962. Medieval Technology and Social Change. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Chronicles the central role of changing technology in effecting productive systems.

  • Jacques, Ellul. 1964. The Technological Society. New York: Knopf.
  • Lays out the many ways in which differences in techniques rather than ideology underlie changes in society and culture.

  • White, Harrison C. and Cynthia A. White. 1965. Canvases and Careers. New York: Wiley.
  • Shows the close link between the organizational forms of artistic forms and both careers and the art produced.

  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1967. “Systems of Education and Systems of Thought.” International Social Science Journal 19:338-358.
  • Shows that knowledge does not depend on the ‘spirit of the age’ but on the particular habitus learned in specialized ‘intellectual clans’.

  • Hirsch, Paul. 1972. “Processing Fads and Fashions.” American Journal of Sociology 77:639-659.
  • Demonstrates that changes in popular music can be understood by examining the structure of the music industry.

  • Molotch, Harvey and Marilyn Lester. 1974 “News as Purposive Behavior.” American Sociological Review 39: 101-112.
  • News people do not simply report the news, but they decide what events should be reported and how they should be framed.

  • Crane, Diana. 1976. “Reward Systems in Art, Science and Religion.” American Behavioral Scientist 19:719-734.
  • Shows that reward systems available to cultural workers shape the sorts of cultural products produced.

  • Peterson, Richard A. 1976. “The production of culture: a prolegomenon.” Pp. 7-22 in Richard A. Peterson, editor. The Production of Culture. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
  • Becker, Howard S. 1978. “Arts and Crafts.” American Journal of Sociology 83
  • Shows that the nature of cultural objects produced is a function of the expectations of the work environment in which they work.

  • Griswold, Wendy. 1981. “American Character and the American Novel.” American Journal of Sociology 86:740-65.
  • Humanists asserted that the many 19c American-authored novels about man-against-the-wilderness reflected an element of The American Character. In fact parlor romances were the most favored novels but the workings of copyright law account for the paucity of American writers of this genre.

D. The following are works that touch ALL six facets of the Production Perspective.

E. The following are works that use the Production of Culture paradigm though not all reference the perspective per se. Citations are grouped together by the facet which is of prime importance. A number deal with several other facets, so browse accordingly. The references cited below should be considered illustrative and not definitive or all inclusive. Please send suggestions for additions to:

Thanks to John Ryan, Paul DiMaggio, Shyon Baumann, N. Anand, Loic Wacquant and Gabriel Rossman who contributed suggestions for the list. Thanks also to Rossman for editing the list and adding the URLs. Baumann noted that “It’s tough to step back and identify when the PofC perspective is being used because it seems like a (the?) natural sociological stance today.”






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1 Comment

  • 1. production of culture-palooza «  |  August 26, 2009 at 11:05 am

    […] the reference list for his 2004 ARS paper on the production of culture (with N Anand). Gabriel has posted the entire list, complete with links, on his blog. A couple of thoughts on this. First, this […]

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