The mechanisms of cultural reproduction

Explaining the puzzle of persistence

Authored by: Orlando Patterson

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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One of the most challenging problems in the sociology of culture has been steadfastly neglected by the discipline—the puzzle of persistence. This may in part be explained by the discipline’s preoccupation with change, its understandable disdain for cultural determinism, the well-based suspicion of essentialism, and the laudable need to acknowledge the role of meaning-making and agency in cultural analysis. These are all concerns that reflect the errors of an earlier generation of scholars, but they are erroneously associated with the question of cultural reproduction and persistence. Whatever the reasons, it is unfortunate that an understanding of the most fundamental feature of culture—that it is the prime source of the predictability and stability without which human society is impossible—is now largely left to other disciplines such as psychology (Nisbett and Cohen 1996), evolutionary studies (Boyd and Richerson 2005), cognitive anthropology (Cole 1996), and even economics (Barro and McCleary 2006)

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