The Meaning of Culture: Moving the Postmodern Critique Forward

By Kenneth Allan | Go to book overview

ual self is without difficulties in postmodernity. On the contrary, individuals are overwhelmed by the amount of available stimuli, tend to be very reflexive, and do have problems with depression and other such emotional issues, undoubtedly traceable to postmodern, social factors. But the postmodern model has been incomplete on this point as well. Issues of emotional energy, ritual enactment around the self, and the presence of secondary culture must be considered in order to make our understanding of the problems and their extent more robust and true to lived-experience.

Postmodernism is but the clearest contemporary example of the replication of the fundamental error of structuralism. Meaning is not produced nor directly reproduced through the structural relations of the cultural system but through human action and interaction. As I have demonstrated, each major perspective of culture has shifted its emphasis in analysis to the systemic/structural level and has simultaneously neglected affect-meaning. In light of the dynamics of postmodernity, this change is ill-advised. It is not enough simply to analyze a set of elements in terms of their relations one to another, nor is it enough to "tell the story" of a group's culture; rather, what is of paramount importance is what people do with their culture in interaction and how they produce cultural reality. Contemporary cultural analysis must focus on the processes of meaning production, reification, and stabilization at the micro-level. In particular, analysis must investigate the ritualized behaviors of people in encounters and the level of emotional energy that is consistently reproduced as a result of those behaviors vis-à-vis the emergent cultural identities.


NOTES
1.
It should be noted that interaction intensity appears to be limited apart from the processes explicated in the model. Within an interaction there is an ebb and flow between intense and more relaxed sequences. If an individual's "chain" (to borrow Collins' [ 1975, pp. 133-160] term) of interactions were charted, a similar type of ebb and flow would be noted apart from the reed for ontological security. There is apparently a satiation point for people vis-à-vis interaction intensity and emotional energy.
2.
It is also true that organizational elements tend to cluster around institutional forms. For example, the perpetuation of a collective's culture through formal education is facilitated by the organizational attributes of the educational system. But it is not the case that the organization of a school and the institutional form of education are one and the same. The institution is a cultural phenomenon that consists of highly ritualized and regionalized typified behaviors.
3.
Goffman's concern is with the symbols of class status. When there is consonance between the individual in an encounter using a status-sign and their status position, the individual experiences self-affirmation and group solidarity emerges

-173-

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