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Meaning and Moral Order

Meaning and Moral Order: Explorations in Cultural Analysis

Robert Wuthnow
Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 450
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  • Book Info
    Meaning and Moral Order
    Book Description:

    Meaning and Moral Ordergoes beyond classical, neoclassical, and poststructural theories of culture in its attempt to move away from problems of meaning to a more objective concept of culture. Innovative, controversial, challenging, it will compel scholars to rethink many of the assumptions on which the study of ideology, ritual, religion, science, and culture have been based.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-90925-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Cultural Analysis
    (pp. 1-17)

    The founders of sociology all recognized the importance of culture in social life. Emile Durkheim spent nearly fifteen years at the peak of his career investigating the beliefs and rituals of primitive religion in an effort to grasp the symbolic bases of moral community. Max Weber was concerned with problems of culture to an even greater extent. From the Protestant ethic thesis to contributions on rationalization and comparative religions, his work was prominently oriented toward the values and norms that regulate and legitimate social institutions. From a quite different perspective, Karl Marx dealt extensively with ideology and class consciousness, with...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Beyond the Problem of Meaning
    (pp. 18-65)

    Like any other academic discipline, sociology has its own distinctive traditions. Members of the discipline share certain experiences that come from having read the same books and discussed the same ideas. Everyone knows something about Max Weber or Talcott Parsons and has heard ofStreet Corner Societyand path analysis. It is not that these traditions are necessarily important in any cosmic sense, only that they are part of the shared subculture of the discipline. In a field divided into numerous subspecialties, as sociology currently is, these common experiences may be relatively few. They may consist only of having read...

  6. CHAPTER THREE The Structure of Moral Codes
    (pp. 66-96)

    The problem of moral order, prominent in the classical tradition in the work of Durkheim, has in recent years also become a matter of broader interest. Questions about moral commitments to public responsibilities, changes in moral convictions, moral bases of self-worth, and the corrosive effects of modern culture on morality have arisen. These questions have obviously far-reaching ramifications in fields such as ethics, theology, education, and public policy. They also have an important cultural dimension and thus provide an opportunity to explore some of the ideas about culture that have just been outlined. This chapter draws primarily on Mary Douglas’s...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Ritual and Moral Order
    (pp. 97-144)

    Mary Douglas has written that the term “ritual” has become “a bad word signifying empty conformity” (1970:19). In her view this is not only a mistaken but also an unfortunate understanding of the term. Modern society cries out for a sense of community, for an enlivened spirit of commitment to moral obligations. All around are signs of fragmentation into purely self-interested competing social units, from the selfish individual to the self-serving nation-state. Yet the role of ritual, both actual and potential, in maintaining moral order has gone largely unrecognized. Although ritual is profoundly important in all the world’s great religions...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Moral Order and Ideology
    (pp. 145-185)

    The idea of ritual being a symbolic-expressive aspect of social life suggests an analog for understanding the social role of ideology. If the moral order consists of definitions of the manner in which social relations should be constructed, then signals concerning these definitions need to be sent—signals that social relations are indeed patterned in the desired manner and that actors can be counted on to behave in expected ways. These signals are in part communicated by social arrangements and actions themselves, as in the case of a simple economic transaction expressing definitions of expectations among the parties involved. But...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Social Selection Among Ideological Forms
    (pp. 186-214)

    One purpose of examining ideologies in relation to the social environment is to account for part of the wide variation evident in ideological forms. As suggested in the previous chapter, ideologies are vastly diverse, but not as diverse in any given social setting as we might imagine them to be. Some ideologies seem to be better suited to particular environments than others. We can therefore make some headway toward understanding the culture in which we live by considering how different environments reinforce certain ideologies and hinder others.

    An essential starting point for this kind of investigation is the assumption that...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN The Moral Basis of Cultural Change
    (pp. 215-264)

    Theories of cultural change have emphasized broad evolutionary patterns. The two theories of cultural differentiation mentioned in Chapter 6, for example—those of Bellah and Habermas—are cast in terms of an explicit evolutionary framework. Others—Talcott Parsons and Niklas Luhmann, for example—have adopted similar models. Still others, although rejecting the strict periodization of these schemes, have nevertheless stressed the gradual, linear, and unidirectional character of cultural change. Most of these arguments are framed, explicitly or implicitly, in assumptions about modernization. Most deal with advanced industrial societies and assume that other societies will eventually follow the same patterns. Most...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT The Institutionalization of Science
    (pp. 265-298)

    Cultural forms are produced, selected in different social environments, and institutionalized. The process of institutionalization increases the likelihood that a particular cultural form will continue to be reproduced even if the environment changes. Through this process, culture ceases to be merely a set of ideas and becomes a social institution.

    People typically do not invent or adopt new ideas without the assistance of some institution that has disseminated these ideas. The relations between ideas and the social environment are thus mediated by institutions. In these institutions, social resources are channeled specifically into the creation, dramatization, and dissemination of ideas. These...

  12. CHAPTER NINE State Structures and Cultural Reform
    (pp. 299-330)

    Although historical problems have been attracting renewed interest in sociology, many of the theoretical assumptions on which sociological models of historical processes are constructed still remain tenuous. This is particularly the case in studies of the relationship between social structure and ideology. Research on this topic often suffers from being rooted in subjective social psychological assumptions that are inappropriate or at best untestable with historical materials. These assumptions need to be reexamined for the historical sociology of ideology to advance. As a means to that end, this chapter reexamines a study that represents one of the most rigorous efforts to...

  13. CHAPTER TEN Conclusion
    (pp. 331-350)

    At the outset, distinctions were drawn among four levels of cultural analysis: subjective, structural, dramaturgic, and institutional. In the explorations that have been presented these distinctions have served as general guidelines. It remains to consider explicitly what has been discovered about the uses and limitations of each. These considerations will also serve as a basis for some broader conclusions about the purposes of cultural analysis and the problem of meaning and moral order.

    To review briefly, it was suggested in Chapter 1 that culture has often been approached in the social sciences with a strong emphasis on the subjective. Beliefs,...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 351-378)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 379-416)
  16. Name Index
    (pp. 417-424)
  17. Subject Index
    (pp. 425-435)