14 marzo 2006

Theory: Assignment for Paper 2

Below is the assignment for the second paper in Classical Social Theory. Please note: the due date has been changed from Friday, 24 March to Tuesday, 28 March. So there will be a bit of extra time. Please feel free to come to office hours or contact me otherwise with any questions, or for advice on the paper.


Choose ONE of the following questions and compose a brief (4-5 pages) essay in response. Papers will be evaluated on the basis of the style, structure and reasoning brought to the argument.

Proper citation of sources is REQUIRED. The accepted format for citation of sources is the ASA format. The ASA Style Guide has been distributed to you and is also available online at:


Papers are due TUESDAY, 28 MARCH in class. Late papers will be refused.

  1. In The Division of Labor in Society, Durkheim argues that “organic solidarity” societies may appear to integrate individuals more weakly than “mechanical solidarity” societies, but that the dependence of the individual on the collective is, in fact, stronger. What is the basis for this argument? Given the social problems on which Durkheim concentrates most strongly (the breakdown of collective consciousness and the rise of anomie), is it possible to say that “organic solidarity” exists at all?

  2. For Marx, religion, law and collective beliefs are secondary phenomena derived from economic relations. For Durkheim, they are the central, original organizing social facts. What is the importance of this disagreement in terms of developing an understanding of society? Are there any particular facts which Marx’s or Durkheim’s model is better suited to explain?

  3. In The Rules of Sociological Method (W.D. Halls trans., Glencoe: Free Press, p. 82) Durkheim asserts: “In principle it may be postulated that social facts are more likely to be objectively represented the more completely they are detached from the individual facts by which they are manifested.” Why would this be the case? How does he illustrate this principle in his study of suicide?

  4. In “Estranged Labour,” Marx argues that the main problem with modern societies is that individuals suffer from being subject to too much power by an economic system that makes them unfree. In Suicide, Durkheim argues that modern societies regulate individuals too weakly, leaving them isolated, anomic, and lost. Society cannot be simultaneously too strong and too weak – which one of them is right?

Today in class we will discuss Durkheim's sociology of religion, and we will have a general overview of Durkheim on Friday. Then we move on to Max Weber!

19 febbraio 2006

On crime and "zero tolerance"

Having finished Martin Sanchez Jankowski's study of street gangs in Boston, New York and Los Angeles, it might be interesting to have a look at the feature today in the Boston Globe on the evidence for and against (mostly against) the "broken windows" theory of crime suppression (better known in New York under the label "zero tolerance"). It traces the theory through the career of one of its best known advocates, William Bratton, who headed police forces in Boston, New York and Los Angeles.

15 febbraio 2006

Theory: Bad Durkheim!

Thank you kindly for your papers on Marx. I will try to get them back to you in quick order. As you plunge into the works of Emil Durkheim, some of you may be interested in some theoretical tourism. The town of Bad Durkheim is known for its wine festival, and also for its sausages, which can be found at the Wurst market. It also has mineral baths, the famous "grape cure," and for those of you who like that sort of thing, a casino. No matter how bad the feeling of anomie, there is always Bad Durkheim.

09 febbraio 2006

Organized crime: First paper assignment


First comparative paper

Choose any two of the books we have been reading this semester on various aspects of organized crime and corruption (at this point in the term, that includes Gambetta, Sanchez Jankowski, and Bourgois), and develop a comparison of the two. The comparison may be based on the theoretical or methodological approaches, differences between the types of phenomena being considered in the book, conclusions drawn by the author, or treatment of a more specific empirical problem. Questions that you may want to consider in developing a strategy for comparison include:

What strategies are used by the author to gain information about organized crime? What are the relative benefits and drawbacks of these strategies?

How is the research problem of overcoming secrecy and gaining trust approached by the researcher?

How is the relationship between organized crime and the communities in which criminals operate and the institutions with which they interact conceptualized?

What general principles are used to exlain how illegal activity is able to function?

What elements of the rationality of organized crime are emphasized in the analysis?

What is the relative contribution of each to forming a general understanding of organized crime?

This list of questions is not exhaustive you can come up with your own and you will not be expected to treat all of them in your paper. The list is meant to help you in organizing your initial thoughts.

Papers should be on 6 to 8 pages in length, and are due in class on Friday, 24 February (advance notice: late papers will be refused). Proper citation of sources is required, according to the ASA format. The ASA Style Guide can be found online at this location:


Papers will be evaluated on the basis of the style, structure, reasoning and quality of the evidence brought to the argument.

08 febbraio 2006

Theory: Online resources on Marx

For working on your papers, you may want to seek some secondary sources outside of what you have got from the Edles and Appelrouth book and my lectures. Here are a few of the online resources on Marx that you may find most useful:
There are many more resources available -- I've tried just to offer a list of some of the ones that I think are best. You are also, of course, free to contact me with any questions, or for suggestions.

07 febbraio 2006

Organized crime: On illegal markets, and Gambetta's conclusions

First, with regard to illegal business: this is a place where Gambetta's distinction between organized crime in general (a group of forces joined together to engage in illegal activity, see 227) and mafias in particular (illegal organizations providing private protection to people engaged in both legal and illegal activity) is especially important. They are distinct groups in a relationship with one another. Mafias play a role in the regulation and “licensing” of organized crime. To conflate the two activities would be a mistake. However, there is a complicating factor: what Gambetta calls “the mafia's tendency to internalize key customers by turning them into members” (227). This might be thought of as a way of maximizing profit or enhancing regulation, or it might be thought of as additional protection for criminal activity, in the form of deterrence of law enforcement.

The strongest motivation for people involved in illegal activity to seek private protection: they cannot get protection any other way (this is underlined by the foolishness of the young person in Orem, UT who reported the theft of his marijuana to the police: reported by UPI here). The second strongest motivation has to do with the need for regulation of competition and the avoidance of violence.

There is another factor as well, having to do with both the potentially high profits to be gained from illegal business and the correspondingly high levels of risk: it is difficult for people wanting to set out in an illegal enterprise to get access to capital (230-231). Smuggling, drugs processing, and similar activities can be very lucrative, but they require a large capital outlay and banks, for obvious reasons, are not likely to finance them. Enter the mafia. This means that mafias agree not only to do the work of protection, but risk their credibility and resources as well. A consequence of this: there is a strong motivation for mafia groups to form partnerships with people involved in illegal trade. A further consequence of this is that the type of “regulation” involved is likely to take the form of a monopoly (232).

This behavior is a result of the very high level of risk involved at all steps of the process. To take the example of the narcotics trade, 1) it is complex, involving a web of suppliers, transporters, processors, intermediaries, and distributors in a loose network that spans the world; 2) there is a high level of instability at all steps of the process; 3) the expense involved is large; 4) there are no guarantees of quality; 4) the level of distrust among actors in the market is extremely high; 5) the risk of theft or deception is extremely high; and 6) the exposure to law enforcement is potentially very high. One of the reasons that much of the violence that we know about involves this type of trade is that violence occurs when arrangements go wrong. There are a lot of things that can and do go wrong in this type of business.

A “solution” that probably adds to the danger of violence in the drugs market: mafia groups will generally not “protect” a complete operation from beginning to end, but will instead “protect” one particular element, bringing several (possibly competing) groups into a single transaction (239). The potential for internal disputes to emerge is very high. This also contributes to the risk of discovery and prosecution (244).


1) The mafia “brand name” is an invaluable asset, enhancing reputation and contributing to mystique. This asset is carefully maintained, which helps to explain how there can be high degrees of both cooperation and conflict within the Mafia (245).

2) The degree of “high-level” coordination is low, and this coordination is inconsistent and weak. Effective everyday control rests with the individual “family,” of which there are many (245-246).

3) There are basic consistencies over time in terms of the size and membership of mafia groups, the bases of recruitment, and what might be thought of as “codes of behavor” (246-248).

4) One of the resources on which the Mafia draws for its survival is popular support (or at least toleration), which can be attributed partly to the fact that it supplies a resource which is widely regarded as useful and necessary (248).

5) It is possible to identify basic conditions which account for the emergence of mafias: distrust, labor supply, weak government, the emergence of new and unprotected forms of property. These conditions are by no means unique to Sicily (252-254).

Gambetta also has some predictions: in particular, it seems to him that there is a tendency for mafia organization to become more centralized, and he interprets this as a sign of weakness (254-255). It is possible (but not certain) that the large-scale prosecutions in the 1980s and 1990s had a major impact on the mafia, and also possible (but not certain) that institutions whose symbolic acceptance of mafia activity (such as the Church) may be backing off (255-256). Whether these apparent signs of decline lead to major, meaningful decline depends on some factors that remain uncertain, such as whether the institutions of government will be able to successfully provide the protection which the mafia has been providing.

Organized crime: Illegal protection in legal markets

Sometimes a “consumer” of protection can also be a “producer” -- that is, it can happen that prosperous businesspeople or professionals are also members of the criminal organization. But as a general rule, it seems as though this is a formal arrangement to regulate access to protection. Gambetta's chart (161-162) shows that for the most part, people who play a prominent role in mafia organizations do not play a prominent role in professional life – they do low-level jobs, run small businesses, or farm. There is a disincentive for successful private businesspeople to become Mafia members, as they would be compelled to distribute favors.

What is the form of “contract” between providers of protection and their clients? The evidence (as in many other cases!) is sketchy, but there seem to be signs that 1) contracts are negotiable to a certain extent; 2) they can be long-term or mafia groups can be hired for specific instances, with mafiosi preferring long-term contracts, and 3) there is a competition between mafia organizations and law enforcement over the provision of protection (164).

Are mafia organizations in competition with one another? It looks like the potential is always there, but competiion is dangerous: it can easily lead to violence.

Are they in competition with their clients? This would appear to depend on how powerful the client is. A powerful client has the ability to shape the relationship of the business with the mafia organization.

Some of the protection is of what might be called a “general” nature. This has to do with relations between criminal groups and the local population. So mafiosi will attempt to regulate street crime and some other behavior (166-167) – this is probably related to the need to cultivate if not the acceptance of the population in the area where they operate, at least their toleration. This function is limited, however, as it is unpaid (at least in the direct sense).

When protection is in the form of services to a business, it takes the form of “solving problems” (168). Gambetta describes the service as “dispute settlement” (169). It could also be thought of, to borrow a phrase from the vocabulary of labor relations, as “binding arbitration.” In this case the reputation (and threat) associated with the mafia organization is sufficient that parties in dispute will accept the side taken by the “protector.” This process may involve violence, but as we discussed in relation to Mafia “trademarks” last week, part of the goal of maintaining a menacing reputation is to make the practice of violence unnecessary.

The classic form of “protection” may be protection against crime, especially theft (171-174). Here the relationship is considerably more complex than simply intimidating petty criminals. Consider the following possibilities:

1.In order to make a plausible argument that theft can be prevented by protection, it may be necessary to demonstrate that theft will happen without it. This means that mafia groups have to either engage in theft or have arrangements with people who do.

2.Theft may be a source of income, since the return of stolen goods may involve a reward.

3.The burden of providing protection may be very high, especially since the punishments for committing crimes that violate the system established by organized crime are often severe (Gambetta has the gruesome descriptions, I won't repeat them).

Another form of “protection” can lead directly to conflict between mafia organizations: “protection against rival taxing authorities” (175). Sometimes, however, “protectors” and extortionists find common cause (176).

Forms of payment for protection: money is used, certainly, but also – exchange of favors, directing business a certain way, portions of profit, or partnership in a concern. In these types of cases, there is a continuity between cultural practices and criminal ones: the use or threat of violence may not necessarily be involved.

However: in many cases the effective distribution of favors requires the maintenance of contacts at more than simply an informal level. Contact in the business and professional worlds is eased by the maintenance of contacts with the political world (183-187). Gambetta postulates the existence of a “market for votes” (184) in which politicians are the buyers and organized crime groups the sellers, but the structure of this “market” may be very difficult to determine. It appears to relate mostly to the distribution of favors.

Generally about protection: it may (often?) involve false promises, extortion, and violence. But at the same time “such services are often useful to and actively sought out by customers” (187). Still, private “protection” is an unregulated business, and when it goes bad, the consequences can be severe.

One of these is the use of violence to achieve the mafiosis' own ends, at the expense of the client (188-189). The clients may also abuse the power of protection against their competitors (190).

Another of these may be that the regulation of crime is not limited only to its prevention (190-191). Involvement with crime allows mafiosi to extract profit both from perpetrators (as a cut of the profit) and from victims (as the price of protection) simultaneously. This temptation may be difficult to resist, for obvious reasons.

Another consequence (and possibly the worst of all of them) may be that mafia groups may use clients as a way of undermining their mafia competitors. Clients most often do not know whether their “protectors” are weak or strong, or whether they are gaining or losing strength. Customers are placed at risk by the fighting itself, and may be placed at risk by the outcome of the fighting (192). Keeping ahead of the game would require a customer to have knowledge about relationships between mafia groups that they cannot reasonably be expected to have.

What is it all about, fundamentally? Gambetta says it is about “arrangements that thwart economic competition” (195). The term for this in economics would be a cartel. Others might call it a racket. The goal is, by way of agreements between suppliers and clients, and between potential competitors, to protect economic operators from competition – for a price, which is less than the profit to be gained by such an arrangement. Gambetta defines these as “collusive agreements” (197).

Collusion is possible in lots of businesses. Mafias tend not to be the guarantors of collusion in businesses which have either 1) high barriers to entry, or 2) sufficient power to enforce collusion on their own (steel, oil, high technology...). Instead they thrive in fields where there is inelastic demand and low barriers to entry (food, clothing, transport, garbage collection...) (197).

Additional conditions: instability in markets. This may either mean that “protected” businesses need to secure entry into new markets (in times of expanding prosperity) or need cash to remain in business (in times of shortage). Either condition invites organized crime to enter as a “partner,” in which case they “invariably overstay their welcome” (198).

Consequences of cartels: “less efficient production, higher prices, and smaller firms” (Reuter, quoted 202). Absence of initiative. Large-scale construction contracts (214-220) probably offer the best example, where markets are kept “orderly,” but to the detriment of the consumer (in most of these cases, the government).

But, the big question: why was mafia control largely broken at the fruit and vegetable market, but not at all at the fish market? Gambetta's answers (211-214): 1) to a limited extent, policy (expanded market and more licences), 2) breadth and dispersion of supply more difficult to control, 3) credit out of the hands of “middlemen.” In any case, it is not certain that the control is broken.

Challenge of the week: Figure out Gambetta's taxi puzzle (220-225)!

Organized crime: Mafia symbolism and "branding"

Much of the Mafia image revolves around symbols associated with mysticism (symbols borrowed from religious orders, secret societies, military history), mystification (unique bits of terminology, coded language) and styles of self-presentation (a reciprocal cross-feeding of local and global cultural resources with images borrowed from literature and art). There is drama associated with Mafia identity and Mafia activity, even if much of the actual activity of people involved in such groups is in fact quite unglamorous and dull.

There are two ways of dealing with this complex of symbolism. One is to take it all at face value, and to understand the mythology of the Mafia as a (realistic) representation of the actual thing. The other is to disregard the whole complex of symbols as an elaborate fiction. Gambetta opts for a middle path, arguing that the myth lends force to a reality which would not otherwise be able to manifest itself (129), that is to say that the image of organized crime is both related to reality (even if this relation is in many ways distorted or instrumentalized) and useful in constructing reality (in the sense that real mafiosi draw on and take advantage of myths).

The use of symbols is related to the maintenance of secrecy. It allows communication to take place by suggestion rather than directly, and the lack of detail plays a role in maintaining a menacing atmosphere (131), which may allow for threats to made more successfully than they might be if they had to be made directly, or if they had to made in such a way that the content of the threats was clear. The point: even if symbols are not true, they are not meaningless either.

A good number of the images associated with organized crime in popular thinking (a style of dress, sunglasses, paricular types of coded speech and gesture) come from popular film. Here the influence can be reciprocal: mafiosi may model styles of presentation after images in film, and in some cases (Gambetta cites news reports indicating that the Japanese yakuza does this, 135) may actively participate in the promotion and production of some of these images.

Symbol Number One: the name Mafia. It is not a word native to the Italian language or to Sicily. Gambetta's best guess is that it came through the Arabic language by way of slang. See his linguistic-historical discussion (136-137). He suggests, the very word mafia was generated externally from a fictional source loosely inspired by the real thing, but that also the word can be said to have created the phenomenon (137). Organized crime groups existed, but a playwright (probably inadvertently?) created a collective label and a brand name for them. Similarly with the popular label cosa nostra (literally: our thing), which seems to have made a journey from an informal expression of evasion (one of many) to a semiofficial label (the FBI capitalizes it as La Cosa Nostra and abbreviates it to LCN).

So in a sense Mafia or cosa nostra are corporate names. But they are different from the corporate names of legal corporations, because they cannot be promoted through advertising or protected by trademark. This means that any kind of advertising, which creates a resource of identity on which mafiosi can draw, relies on informal cultural means of diffusion. One implication of this is that usages by people outside the group are at least as important as usages by people inside the group (140). Insiders have a role, however: a successful trademark works if 1) it is adopted by them, and 2) if there is some means of maintaining exclusivity over it (141).

So how consistent and stable are the rituals by which possession is maintained? Any semireligious people in here: in my experience, when my family tries to do a religious ritual, we are always faced with the problem of people who are familiar with different versions of it, or who do not know it, or who know only parts of it. My favorite sentence in Gambetta's trademarks chapter is his quotation of a newspaper report from Hong Kong: When police raided a Triad initiation ceremony recently they discovered that celebrants were conducting the ritual by reference to a description in the police manual (149). This tells us two things: 1) as with other kinds of rituals, mafia rituals suffer from the erosion of content, meaning and knowledge that happen over time, and 2) the existence of the ritual itself may be as important as any content of the ritual; this is what maintains the collective identity of the group. Perhaps more importantly, the mystical (or mystifying) elements of the ritual establish the uniqueness of the world that has been entered by means of it.

What to conclude from this:

1) fiction contributes to the creation of reality;

2) one of the contributions of fiction was to establish a valuable trademark in the form of the mafia name and image;

3) the trademark is maintained on the one hand by successfully preventing others from making use of it;

4) and on the other hand by a system of mutual recognition of the right to use it.

This helps us in a couple of ways: it explains some of the interaction between fact and fiction in the social life of illegal organizations, and it also explains how a collective Mafia identity can be maintained, regardless of how loosely interconnected the groups of people involved in it might be.

31 gennaio 2006

Theory: First paper assignment (Marx)

Here is the assignment for the first theory paper! I'll distribute paper copies in class today, and have a few pieces of advice as well. Some people may be interested in my grading standards -- I tend to follow the guidelines described in this document by the Bok Center at Harvard, which sets out criteria for A, B, C and "other" papers.


Choose ONE of the following questions and compose a brief (4-5 pages) essay in response. Papers will be evaluated on the basis of the style, structure and reasoning brought to the argument.

Proper citation of sources is REQUIRED. The accepted format for citation of sources is the ASA format. The ASA Style Guide is available online at:


Papers are due TUESDAY, 14 FEBRUARY in class. Late papers will be refused.

  1. A central component of Marx’s critique of capitalism is the category of species being, both as an ideal to which contemporary life can be compared and as a goal for humanity to reach. What is meant by the term? Why are humans not able to achieve species being in a capitalist society? Why does Marx contend that people will be able to achieve it eventually?

  2. Marx argues that just as every previous historical arrangement has fallen victim to its own internal contradictions, capitalism will eventually do the same. So far, this appears not to have happened. It is possible that his prediction was correct, but that the “revolutionary moment” has not yet been reached – do you find any evidence for this possibility? It is also possible that Marx may have made some mistakes in his analysis which led him to make an incorrect prediction – do you find any evidence for this possibility?

  3. In Marx’s argument, alienation is an inevitable consequence of the existence of private ownership of the means of production. How are these two factors connected to one another? Is alienation at bottom a moral category or a material fact?

  4. Friedrich Engels eulogized Marx at his funeral in 1883, claiming “Just as Darwin discovered the law of evolution in organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of evolution in human history.” Assess Marx’s “law of evolution” and suggest some conclusions as to whether Engels was overstating the case or not.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

27 gennaio 2006

Sociology of culture: Some definitions and models

The big question, to which we do not necessarily have an answer, is this: What is culture?

There have of course been a lot of different definitions over the years, not all of them consistent with one another. Generally when somebody attempts to define culture, they are also attempting to specify the social role that culture has. Here are just a few of the best-known definitions (see more definitions, and a discussion, at this site):
  • Matthew Arnold (1869): “Culture is then properly described not as having its origin in curiosity, but as having its origin in the love of perfection; it is a study of perfection. It moves by the force, not merely or primarily of the scientific passion for pure knowledge, but also of the moral and social passion for doing good. As in the first view of it, we took for its worthy motto Montesquieu's words: 'To render an intelligent being yet more intelligent!' so, in the second view of it, there is no better motto which it can have than these words of Bishop Wilson: 'To make reason and the will of God prevail!'”
  • Edward Tylor (1871): “culture or civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”
  • TS Eliot (1948): “Culture may even be described simply as that which makes life worth living.”
  • Clifford Geertz(1973): “Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs”
  • Raymond Williams(1958): “We use the word culture in these two senses: to mean a whole way of life--the common meanings; to mean the arts and learning--the special processes of discovery and creative effort. Some writers reserve the word for one or other of these senses; I insist on both, and on the significance of their conjunction. The questions I ask about our culture are questions about deep personal meanings. Culture is ordinary, in every society and in every mind.”
These are only a few of the definitions that have been very influential. A comprehensive review of all of the definitions of culture that are in use somewhere would probably be impossible, and might be pointless. A couple of things would seem to proceed from a comparison of these definitions. First, there is an implicit difference between elite and popular culture. Second, there is a lack of agreement as to whether culture is something added to everyday life or an integral part of everyday life. Third, there is an implicit distinction between culture seen as a way of life and culture seen as cultural production or the products of cultural creativity.

It would be difficult to argue that one of these definitions is the “correct” one. Each one of them highlights some aspect of cultural processes, and we will be trying to consider, if not all of them, then as many as we can. One topic of dispute that is centrally important to us: to what degree is culture a product of other social forces, and to what degree is culture an independent influence on social forces? That is to say, is the general direction of influence from culture to society or from society to culture?

An answer to this question is also, in part, an answer to the question of cultural meaning. Some of the general approaches to answering the question of where cultural meaning comes from and whether/why it matters:
  • “Reflection” theory, version 1 (Marxist): Cultural production offers a mirror of the social (material) world. “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but their being that determines their consciousness.” What does this mean in practice? Fundamentally, it means that while people are creative, and can produce ideas, they cannot produce just any idea – the range of consciousness is constrained by the material conditions under which people live. So culture, in this view, is at best a source of information about the syptoms of the material arrangements in any historical period.

There's another element to the Marxist version of “reflection” theory. It implies not just that culture occupies a position, but also that it has a purpose. The dominant ideas in any period are the ideas of the people who are dominant, and which justify their dominance. That is to say, most culture has an ideological purpose (in Marxist theory, the definition of ideology is narrower than in everyday usage: as Barthes argues, the phrase “dominant ideology” is redundant).

One possible example: the popularity of crime films and television programs contribute to fear of crime, which is used to encourage the expansion of the size and reach of various types of law enforcement.
  • “Reflection” theory, version 2 (functionalist): Humans have a concrete need to understand and interpret the social world in which they live, and this need is met by cultural products. The interaction between culture and society helps to maintain a balance between freedom and constraint, and also offers a set of interacting “inputs” through which people in societies can recognize and adapt to change.
The basic assumption of all functionalist theories is that if anything exists (and especially if it survives) then it must fulfil some important purpose. The challenge for theory is then to discover this purpose.

A possible example: the popular film Brokeback Mountain combines symbols in a way that encourages public discussion, and it is taken both as marking a change in values about sexual orientation and as a way of trying to encourage the change to take place more quickly.
  • Culture as an intervention into society (Weberian): Cultural products come together to create an image of the world, which can be a framework for action that changes the social environment. People are motivated by their perceptions and understandings, and some of these come through culture. The prime example for Max Weber was in his study The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, where he used religious ideas to try to answer the question of why people would be attracted to a system that demands so much and offers very little satisfaction. His answer: the technological conditions for the rise of capitalism were around for a long time before capitalism “took off” -- what was necessary was for there to appear a group of people who saw capitalism as offering way of living that was consistent with their values. So culture is what determines whether changes elsewhere will lead to social change or not.
Possible examples may have to do with the bizarre shift of rock n roll music (from “revolutionary” music at the time of its origins to generational and cold-war propaganda), or with the consequences of technology (internet: revolution in communications or convenience for shopping?). The idea here is that cultural predispositions determine whether or not a new force will change a social situation.
The point of drawing these distinctions? One of the primary motivations is a more or less purely intellectual one: to try to figure out where culture fits into a larger social picture. But also a part of the reason has to do with the relationship of individuals to culture: we see it as a source of identity and value, argue over whether elements of it are good or bad, invest energy into determining whether it is “real” or “fake.” These are ways putting all of that effort into a context that can make it understandable.