Formal models of culture

Authored by: John W. Mohr , Craig M. Rawlings

Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  July  2010
Online publication date:  September  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415474450
eBook ISBN: 9780203891377
Adobe ISBN: 9781134026159


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By our accounting, a formal model of culture is, first of all, an output from a quantitative study of collected data that seeks to describe, explain, interpret, or otherwise represent some feature, aspect, or content of culture. As a model, the output has been transformed into a summary or a representation (in reduced form) of the data that purports to be analogous (in some fashion) to the phenomena under consideration. Thus, it is precisely the use of quantitative methods or the formal analysis of data that distinguishes work included in the present classification. In this essay, we trace some of the broad contours of change in the history of how culture has been modeled. We simplify this task in two ways. First, we focus on just one arena, American sociology in its first century or so of professional formation. Second, we highlight just one difference, distinguishing interpretative from non-interpretative intents. Thus, in the history presented here we look separately at models of culture that have explicitly hermeneutic goals in contrast to those that don’t. Practitioners of the former sort want to use formal tools to make interpretations that they hope unlock useful readings of texts. Those of the latter persuasion usually seek robust measures of cultural forms that can be fitted onto other explanatory frames.

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