The cultural turn

Language, globalization, and media

Authored by: Mark Poster

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 The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, Daniel Bell (1984), as early as 1976, discerned a new importance to culture as a social question, placing it high in the category of dangers, threats, and disruptive forces. Bell noticed recent changes in culture that implied a departure from the individualism of the rational self that had grounded the culture of modernity since the Enlightenment. Youth were moving away from the modern figure of the individual as autonomous and centered, toward avenues that Bell perceived only dimly but nonetheless did not like. Culture for him had become a general social problem. Others soon followed his lead in decrying the drift from rationality that was widespread and growing, notably Christopher Lasch in The Culture of Narcissism (Lasch 1979). The question of culture was thereby considerably raised in stature on the agenda of sociology, given the prominence of Bell as a leading social theorist. I believe Bell got it right in his perception of a deep change in culture but perhaps not for the reasons he gave, nor for the negative value he placed on the phenomenon. Surely the great theorists who founded sociology—Max Weber, Auguste Comte, Emile Durkheim—all considered culture as central to their domain of inquiry. Yet Bell was on to something new and distinct from the earlier theorists. I cannot trace in detail these changes in the discipline of sociology as they pertain to the question of culture, however important this project may be. Instead I will focus on three large trends that I believe have, in distinct but interrelated ways, altered at least for the time being, and probably well into the future, the way sociologists consider the question of culture. The three trends I shall discuss are the linguistic turn, globalization, and new media.

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