Culture in Mind: Toward a Sociology of Culture and Cognition

By Karen A. Cerulo | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9

Tracking Discourse

David L. Altheide

This chapter addresses communication and experience. The following pages are a modest attempt to set forth the relevance of mass communication formats and content for analysis of the intersection between culture and cognition. My work also attempts to bridge some conceptual and methodological divides in mass communication research. The paper prioritizes a conceptual and methodological approach to the study of mass media—tracking discourse. This approach looks for key words and follows them across time and various topics in order to see how these elements emerge as powerful symbols that in turn guide individuals-as-audience-members to extend these symbols across arenas of experience in the quest for meaning. Ongoing news media research involving “fear” will be used as an example of the process.

How we think and how we act are connected in several paradoxical ways. One social science perspective on this process, set forth in the work of George Herbert Mead (Mead and Morris 1962) and a legion of symbolic interactionists (Blumer 1969; Hall 1997), is that mind, self, and society are intricately connected. The general emphasis is on the communication and interpretation processes that play out in social interaction between two or more individuals. For Mead, brains and minds are not synonymous, and indeed, mind is not something that is entirely owned and operated by the individual; it is something posited and affirmed as a kind of beacon of meaning and orientation. While Mead was not overly concerned with physiology or the electronics of constructs such as synapses and the like, he was aware that all are social constructions (Brissett and Edgley 1990), that our actions provide a context of meaning for audiences to affirm whether we are thinking at all, whether there is a mind behind the face, and above all, whether things make sense. Several generations of sociologists and psychologists have studied how social reality is presented, affirmed, discussed, and

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