Measuring Cultural Alignment: Surveys as Cultural Affiliation Networks
AdvisorBreiger, Ronald L.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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EmbargoRelease after 07/26/2021
AbstractIn recent decades, cultural sociologists have initiated research that brings network-analytic methodologies and relational theorizing to bear on the study of cultural phenomena. I build upon these ideas to study surveys as affiliation networks of persons and the cultural items on which they take positions. Specifically, I conceptualize the qualitative judgments that people make in response to cultural items in surveys as cultural alignments. This dissertation consists of four studies that elaborate my approach to the study of cultural alignment. Although conceptually unified, the empirical substance of these studies ranges broadly across environmental sociology, social networks, social psychology, and the sociology of taste. I discuss two methodological approaches to the study of cultural alignment. The study of individuals’ cultural neighborhoods — referring to an analytically circumscribed and theoretically justified set of cultural position-takings, such as tastes, values, preferences, attitudes, identities, etc. — involves exploiting the principle of duality to characterize individuals’ cultural position-takings in terms of how they correspond to global patterns of position- takings. In contrast, the study of networks of schematic similarity involves conceptualizing inter-individual cultural similarities as social ties. Once constructed, networks of schematic similarity can be analytically reduced to a more easily interpreted dimensional space or split into disparate schematic communities based upon the distribution of edges within the network. Rather than narrowly restricting attention to a circumscribed set of empirical concerns, the studies that comprise the dissertation are instead united by a relational sensibility and, in particular, by a commitment to studying culture through processes of alignment. First, I show how differences in patterns of cultural alignment can be used to explain the relative strength of theorized culture-action relationships. Second, I illustrate that agents translate the empirical properties of their positions within patterns of cultural alignment into the cultural categories they use in everyday boundary-work processes. Finally, I suggest that personal network formation and development are simultaneously processes of cultural alignment, such that individuals organize their relationships in relation to distinctive logics of resource retrieval. I relate the benefits of the cultural-alignment approach to five analytical criteria: (1) formalization of measurement, (2) analytic priority of formal features of culture, (3) a pragmatist semiotic approach, (4) opportunities for endogenous explanation, and (5) validity with respect to cognitive science.
Degree ProgramGraduate College