Formal models of culture

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

Routledge Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138288621
eBook ISBN: 9781315267784
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter reviews how formal and quantitative methodologies have been used to study culture and cultural phenomena, with a focus on the history of American sociology over the last century. The chapter begins by defining a formal model of culture as a reduced form representation of empirical data that seeks to capture or represent a cultural process or a cultural meaning. The chapter emphasizes that both the data and the data analysis are (inevitably) run through with socially constructed assumptions and socially ordered technical practices, but also recognizes the unique contributions of formalization (using either simple Boolean logics or complex statistical models) in allowing for a unique style of cultural analysis and insight. The chapter focuses on six time segments stretching from 1900 to 2018 (the pre-formal phase, the formalist turn, the institutionalization of the formalist program, fragmentation, the cultural turn, and the formal models of culture in an era of big data). The chapter finishes with a review of some important current trends in the formal analysis of culture that are developing in areas such as computer science and the digital humanities.

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