The mechanisms of cultural reproduction

Explaining the puzzle of persistence

Authored by: Orlando Patterson

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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The preoccupation with change has led to neglect of what is most important about culture: that it is the source of predictability, persistence, and pre-existing solutions to recurring problems of social life. Culture is defined as the production, reproduction, and transmission of relatively stable informational processes and their public representations, variously distributed in groups. Seven mechanisms of cultural reproduction are distinguished. Enculturation is the transmission of cultural knowledge through social learning and imitation between and within generations. Institutional persistence is the routinization of normative, taken-for-granted processes. Structural persistence is the reproduction of non-institutionalized cultural patterns due to the continuity of structural factors. Frequency-dependent persistence results from the disproportionate selection of a cultural variant on the basis of its popularity or rarity. Communication-based reproduction results from dynamics of the communicative process, which influences the availability of information in ways that confirm existing cultural knowledge or disconfirm novel ones. Reinterpretation is the persistence of cultural meanings and practices through their recasting in terms of more established or accepted patterns. Embedded reproduction is the survival of a cultural pattern by its cryptic insertion into a dominant institution or meaning system where it lies hidden until its later projection back into the social world.

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