Beyond Cultural Clumps

Clumppity-Clump Traditional approaches to the study of culture begin with “cultural clumps” and theorize from there. Like the devil, these clumps have been given many names throughout history. For instance, the unqualified use of the term “culture,” from Tylor’s famous definition onward, is usually meant to refer to such a …

A Sociology of “Thinking Dispositions”

In a recent interview about his life and career, the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman said two particularly interesting things. First, he said much of his current work is focused on individual differences in what he refers to as “System 1” and “System 2” thinking. He discussed his …

A Finer Grained Taxonomy of Artifactual (Cultural) Kinds

In a previous post, I reviewed a taxonomy of cultural kinds proposed by Richard Heersmink. Under this classification, there are four families of artifacts: Embodied, perceptual, cognitive, and affective. Perceptual artifacts in their turn could be classified into three distinct “genera”: Corrective, enhancing, or substitutive, depending on the way they …

A Taxonomy of Artifactual (Cultural) Kinds

In previous posts, I made a broad distinction between the two “families” of cultural kinds. This distinction was based on the way they fundamentally interact with people. Some cultural kinds do their work because they can be learned or internalized by people. Other cultural kinds do their work not because …

Thick and Thin Belief

Knowledge and Belief A (propositional) knowledge (that) ascription logically entails a belief ascription, right? I mean if I think that Sam knows that Joe Biden is the president of the United States, I don’t need to do further research into Sam’s state of mind or behavioral manifestations to conclude that they …

Can Schemas Motivate?

In an influential paper entitled “Schemas and Motivation,” the cognitive anthropologist Roy D’Andrade once remarked on the curious lack of relation (with reference to anthropological theory) …between culture and action. Of course, one can say ‘people do what they do because their culture makes them do it.’ The problem with this formulation is that …

Culture and Action, or Why Action Theory is not Optional

The main reason social scientists study culture is because of the (sometimes implicit) hypothesis that culture “affects” or “causes” action (Swidler 2001a, 2001b; Vaisey 2009). If culture was a causally inert cloud of stuff floating around doing nothing, it would not be worth anyone’s attention. That is, cultural theory and …

Ontic Monism versus Pluralism in Cultural Theory

As discussed in a previous post, bundling ontic claims about culture have been used to argue that culture is a single kind of thing and demarcate the boundaries of cultural kinds. This can be referred to as ontic monism about cultural kinds. Thus, a theorist might say, following Kroeber (1917), …

Cultural Kinds, Natural Kinds, and the Muggle Constraint

Cultural Kinds as Natural Kinds A key implication of our previous discussion on cultural kinds (see here, here, here, and here). Is that cultural kinds should be thought of as being in the same ontic register as the other kinds studied in the physical and special sciences. These include biological, …

Culture “Concepts” as Combination of Ontic Claims

Throughout the history of cultural theory, a number of “culture concepts” have been proposed. The standard way of thinking about these is as competing notions bound to forever stand in conflict. But it is possible to see the various proposals as more than purely “conceptual” or “definitional.” Instead, using the …

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