An "amorphous mist"? The problem of measurement in the study of culture

Amin Ghaziani
<span title="2009-07-29">2009</span> <i title="Springer Nature"> <a target="_blank" rel="noopener" href="https://fatcat.wiki/container/qsjosmlmlrhzlmbqvk6xqqf7j4" style="color: black;">Theory and society</a> </i> &nbsp;
Sociological studies of culture have made significant progress on conceptual clarification of the concept, while remaining comparatively quiescent on questions of measurement. This study empirically examines internal conflicts (or "infighting"), a ubiquitous phenomenon in political organizing, to propose a "resinous culture framework" that holds promise for redirection. The data comprise 674 newspaper articles and more than 100 archival documents that compare internal dissent across two
more &raquo; ... ly unstudied lesbian and gay Marches on Washington. Analyses reveal that activists use infighting as a vehicle to engage in otherwise abstract definitional debates that provide concrete answers to questions such as who are we and what do we want. The mechanism that enables infighting to concretize these cultural concerns is its coupling with fairly mundane and routine organizational tasks. This mechanism affords one way to release the culture concept, understood here as collective self-definitions, from being "an amorphous, indescribable mist which swirls around society members," as it was once provocatively described. Culture is "one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language" (Williams 1976: 87), one that has "acquired a certain aura of ill-repute...because of the multiplicity of its references and the studied vagueness with which it has all too often been invoked" (Geertz 1973: 89). Although the "cultural turn" buzz has subsided and despite efforts to move beyond it (Bonnell and Hunt 1999), the "cacophony of contemporary discourse about culture" (Sewell 1999: 35) continues unabated. 1 Conceptual debates over what the term means persist, which then have consequences for how to study it (Jepperson and Swidler 1994). One common route analysts pursue is to isolate what are called "cultural dimensions" from a distinct "social life." Examples range widely from how meaning-making and symbols affect Theor Soc
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