There is a strand of cultural sociology that seeks to empirically study social action from a different angle. It differs from ordinary sociology insofar as structure is regarded as a profoundly cultural phenomenon. Thus, cultural sociology amounts to a perspective on the social world and is not a sub-discipline of sociology.
Major turns in the social sciences came along with the (re-)introduction of new sites for empirical research. Social researchers "reinventions" ranged from linguistics, visual images, rituals and stories to public spaces. One may dismiss these turns as academic chic. Yet, the amplification of research modes has its roots in a specific epistemology.
Cultural sociology's epistemology does not juxtapose culture and structure, but regards structure as dependent and co-constitutive of culture. This axiom pragmatically overcomes dichotomies and categorical borders, which often hinder us to ask productive and thrilling questions about the social phenomena we encounter.
Fresh researchers with an interest in empirical work are sometimes confused by these theory-driven notions. As Ann Swidler notes that the prevalent approaches to culture can be difficult to grasp firmly. What is culture then? And more precisely, where and how should I start thinking about the phenomenon I want to study?
We will explore why cultural sociology is more than an eloquent academic chat or too slow journalism. The first three sessions introduce fundamental theoretical concepts and lay the foundation for a common lexis. In the subsequent sessions, we will jointly work on approaches that support you to stay in control of your research, to deal with the collection and evaluation of data and to cope with the uncertainties of a non-linear research process. Having already a research interest is an asset, but not a precondition for participation.
Because the relevant literature is mainly written in English, a good command of the language is a precondition for a satisfying participation. The seminar can be held in English or German, depending on participants' preferences.
You will neither find classical postmodernist, nor skepticist thinkers in the syllabus. Though there is at times quite some overlap with these philosophical currents, the discussed approaches are informed by a historical-comparative sociological tradition. This tradition calls for a critical analysis of the dialectical interactions through which humans shape their history.
Kristin Luker, Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences. Research in an Age of Info-Glut (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).
Kathy Charmaz, Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide through Qualitative Analysis, Reprint 2011 (London: Sage Publications Ltd, 2006).
Howard S. Becker, Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).
Michèle Lamont and Virág Molnár, “The Study of Boundaries in the Social Sciences,” Annual Review of Sociology 28, no. 1 (2002): 167–95.
Ann Swidler, “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies,” American Sociological Review 51, no. 2 (1986): 273–86.
William H. Sewell Jr, “A Theory of Structure: Duality, Agency, and Transformation,” American Journal of Sociology 89, no. 1 (1992): 1–29.