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Culture in Mind: Toward a Sociology of Culture and Cognition

By Karen A. Cerulo | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3

Signals and Interpretive Work

THE ROLE OF CULTURE IN A THEORY OF PRACTICAL ACTION

Diane Vaughan

In their introduction to The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis (1991), Paul DiMaggio and Walter Powell consider the possibility of a microsociological supplement to the macrosociological focus on structure, order, and persistence that has so far dominated research and theory in the new institutionalism. Searching for some answers, they analyze transformations in sociological theory since Parsons’ theory of action, transformations that offer alternatives to the Parsonian emphasis on norms and roles. DiMaggio and Powell suggest that elements necessary to a “theory of practical action” compatible with the new institutionalism can be found in the more recent cultural turn in contemporary social theory. This cultural turn: (1) “emphasizes the cognitive dimension of action to a far greater extent than did Parsons’”; and (2) “departs from Parsons’ preoccupation with the rational, calculative aspect of cognition to focus on pre-conscious processes and schema as they enter into routine, taken-for-granted behavior (practical activity)” (1991:22). DiMaggio and Powell conclude that ethnomethodology (Garfinkel 1967) and phenomenology (Berger and Luckmann 1966), in combination, offer an alternative, but one that leaves important questions unanswered. Specifically, how do the microprocesses of these theories produce social order? What is the role of interests and intentionality? 1

DiMaggio and Powell then consider three theorists whose work deals with the problem of social order in a way that gives some insight into microlevel sources of

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