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Sociology of culture

Offer semester
2nd semester

Lecture time
Tuesday 4.30pm – 6.20pm

Lecture venue

Course description

Cultural Sociology is one of the fast-growing and fuzzily-bounded fields in sociology. The course will be divided into three parts. First, it will begin with mapping the elusive concept of culture and engaging in both classical and contemporary sociological debates over culture. Specifically, it will introduce students to the debates about the relation between culture and society, culture and meaning, and culture and action. The second part of the course will inquire the relation between culture and social inequalities, examining the interaction between culture and social structure, gender inequality, labor, and globalization. The last part of the course will focus on the role of culture in everyday lives, such as fashion and body, economic activities, religion, and collective action.

The course will be run as a mix of lectures and classroom discussions. Students are expected to participate actively in class by raising questions, contributing ideas, engaging in small group discussions and debates, etc.

Course learning outcomes

  • Comprehend the basic sociological concepts of culture.
  • Engage in the sociological debates over the role of culture in social inequalities and everyday lives across different societal contexts.
  • Acquire analytical and research skills by developing empirical research projects to demonstrate a sociological understanding of the key theoretical debates over culture.


Classroom participation and activities 15%
Tutorial participation and activities 15%
Short positional papers based on readings 30%
Group project presentation 20%
In-class Mid-term 20%

Required reading

Bellah, Robert N. , Richard  Madsen, William  Sullivan, Ann  Swidler, and Steven  Tipton. 1985. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Tr. By Richard Nice. MA: Harvard University Press. Pp.260-317 (Ch.5).

Chan, Cheris Shun-ching. 2009. “Creating a Market in the Presence of Cultural Resistance: The Case of Life Insurance in China.” Theory and Society 38(3):271-305.

Geertz, Clifford. 1973. “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” in The Interpretation of Cultures. NY: Basic Books. Pp.3-30 (Ch.1).

Griswold, Wendy. 1994. Culture and Societies in a Changing World. CA: Pine Forge Press. Selections.

Hochschild A. Russell. 1997. The Time Bind. NY: Metropolitan Books. Selections.

Mears, Ashley. 2011. “Pricing Looks: Circuits of Value in Fashion Modeling Markets.” Pp.155-77 in The Worth of Goods: Valuation & Pricing in the Economy, edited by Jens Beckert and Patrik Aspers. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pun, Ngai. 2005. Made in China: Women Factory Workers in a Global Workplace. Durham and London: Duke University Press. Pp.77-108.

Ritzer, George. 2008. The McDonalization of Society 5. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press. Selections.

Swidler, Ann. 1986. “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies,” American Sociological Review, 51:273-86.

Watson, James (ed.) 2006 [1997]. Golden Arches East: McDonald’s in East Asia. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Pp.1-38.

Weber, Max. 1992 [1930]. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. NY: Routledge. Selections.

Zelizer, Viviana A. 1978. “Human Values and the Market: The Case of Life Insurance and Death in 19th-Century America.” The American Journal of Sociology 84(3):591-610.

Recommended reading

There are no specific prerequisites, but an acquaintance with some basic sociological terms and concepts is assumed.

Course co-ordinator and teachers