“Culture studies” and the culture complex

Authored by: Tony Bennett

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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In Reassembling the Social, Bruno Latour argues that culture “does not act surreptitiously behind the actor’s back” but rather is “manufactured at specific places and institutions, be it the messy offices of the top floor of Marshal Sahlins’s house on the Chicago campus or the thick Area Files kept in the Pitt Rivers [sic] museum in Oxford” (Latour 2005: 175). He goes on to characterize this close attention to the sites where things are made as a distinguishing trait of work conducted in the tradition of science studies. In doing so, he counterposes these concerns to those of “sociologists of the social” who aim to bring to light hidden structures—of language or of ideologies, for example— in order to account for social actions in ways that social actors themselves are unaware of. This passes over the more mundane and material processes of making culture that Latour highlights. In what follows I explore the implications of Latour’s approach for the analysis of the relations between culture and the social. I suggest that science studies and, more generally, actor–network theory (ANT) provide useful models for the development of forms of cultural analysis—which, analogically, I shall call “culture studies”—capable of illuminating how culture operates as a historically distinctive set of assemblages, the “culture complex” of my title, which act on the social in a variety of ways. I then relate these concerns to those of Foucauldian governmentality theory to suggest how the analysis of culture might best be approached when viewed as part of a field of government. Finally, I consider the implications of these approaches for the development of a properly historical approach to the tasks of cultural analysis. (In addressing these issues, I draw on, modify, and add to discussions in Bennett 2007a, 2007b.)

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