Making Sense of Culture


Patterson, Orlando. 2014. “Making Sense of Culture”. The Annual Review of Sociology 40:1-30.


I present a brief review of problems in the sociological study of culture, followed by an integrated, interdisciplinary view of culture that eschews extreme contextualism and other orthodoxies. Culture is defined as the conjugate product of two reciprocal, componential processes. The first is a dynamically stable process of collectively made, reproduced, and unevenly shared knowledge structures that are informational and meaningful, internally embodied, and externally represented and that provide predictability, coordination equilibria, continuity, and meaning in human actions and interactions. The second is a pragmatic component of culture that grounds the first, and it has its own rules of usage and a pragmatically derived structure of practical knowledge. I also offer an account of change and draw on knowledge activation theory in exploring the microdynamics of cultural practice and propose the concept of cultural configuration as a better way of studying cultural practice in highly heterogeneous modern societies where people shift between multiple, overlapping configurations.

Last updated on 06/19/2014