Cultural Theory

  • Omar LizardoEmail author
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


Contemporary cultural theory has acquired discipline-wide status as the only “subfield” within which quintessentially “theoretical” issues are widely discussed, while at the same time forming core parts of the research agenda. Cultural theory is also one of the few strands of modern theorizing that boasts having a “straight line” of succession stemming from the programmatic concerns that preoccupied the sociological classics. Cultural theory carries this status in spite of the fact that its central concept is a twentieth century anthropological importation made prominent in Parsons’s functionalism. This an odd situation because culture seems to be an inherently functionalist concept, and yet functionalism is the theory that is both accused with providing a misleading interpretation of the classics and, accordingly, the theory that contemporary “cultural” approaches use to define themselves against. In this chapter I argue that, in spite of the aforementioned pretensions, there is no straightforward conceptual link between modern cultural analysis and the work of the classics, precisely because the contention that the classics were budding cultural theorists is a convenient invention of functionalism in the first place. I close by suggesting that the “problems” of contemporary cultural theory, being problems inherited from functionalism, may only be soluble by abandoning the culture concept. Ironically enough the nineteenth century classics, especially Durkheim, and one twentieth century “classic,” namely Bourdieu, provide a model of how to do social theory without a culture concept.


Culture Social structure Social action 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA

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