Cultural Analysis

September 27, 2017 by  
Filed under A Monday AM BLOG

According to cultural sociologist Jeffrey Alexander (2003, p. 4), the task of cultural sociology is “to bring the unconscious cultural structures that regulate society into the light of the mind…we must learn how to make them visible.”  In other words, one goal in the study of culture is to make the invisible visible. Doing so is important because we can reveal patterns that may be important for people to realize, of which they may be otherwise unaware. This may potentially lead to changes in their attitudes and/or behavior.

In an article that examines agency in narrative texts, Franzosi and colleagues (2012) ask “How can we measure something that is not there?” How we go about making culture visible in a systematic way is the focus of this page and the project of the Culture Lab in general. Sociologists and other scholars studying culture employ a range of methods to do so. We offer brief descriptions of some methods —  Content and Interpretive AnalysisExperiments, Ethnographic Interviews and Survey Research — along with illustrative examples of studies that employ them. Different research questions demand different approaches to collecting and analyzing data. Each method has benefits and weaknesses and selecting a method is dependent on the question about culture being asked. For more information about methods of analyzing culture, you may also want to check out a special issue in Qualitative Sociology titled: Methods, Materials and Meanings: Designing Cultural Analysis.

Why use Content/Textual Analysis versus other Methods to study Culture? 
There are many advantages to systematically analyzing culture through examining texts such as books, newspapers, films, magazines, or social media which make up the shared context of the social world. Content Analysis is especially valuable for its ability to not only capture trends over time, but to reveal otherwise hard-to-detect, obfuscated patterns within a mass of cultural messages. Additionally, depending on the kind of content available, researchers can access purposeful communication over time (such as laws and policies), as well as unintentional and covert messages embedded in public discourse and media content, and can examine variations in content intended for different audiences. Moreover, textual analysis is an unobtrusive form of studying communication and has the strong benefit of being replicated by other scholars to substantiate researchers’ findings. Finally, content or textual analysis enables researchers to answer theoretical questions about culture with empirical evidence, making for especially compelling arguments. Other methods can be excellent for assessing culture. Pugh (2013) outlines the benefits of approaching cultural analysis through interview techniques.

How have you measured and analyzed culture?  What are examples of other exemplary studies?  Continue the conversation here.

Alexander, Jeffrey C. 2003. The Meanings of Social Life: A Cultural Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Franzosi, Roberto, Gianluca De Fazio, and Stefania Vicari. 2012. “Ways of Measuring Agency: An Application of Quantitative Narrative Analysis to Lynchings in Georgia (1875-1930).” Sociological Methodology 42:1-42.

Pugh, Allison. 2013. “What Good Are Interviews for Thinking about Culture? Demystifying Interpretive Analysis.” American Journal of Cultural Sociology 1:42-68.

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