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Cultural Sociology

Cultural Sociology

How do people create status differences and maintain boundaries between groups? What are the social mechanisms of price setting in commercial markets? To what extent is the circulation of information and emotions different in social networks of various forms? How do new genres appear in music? What is the role of cultural capital in the recruitment practices of organisations? To what extent are the meanings of violence related to the severity? How are international beauty standards (re)produced? What is the role of emotions and culture in class room interactions? How do people develop a relationship with a place, and acquire a place-based identity?

These are just some of the questions we ask about social life. Clearly, at the cultural sociology programme group we study a wide variety of social phenomena. Also, we use a broad array of data and research methods and techniques, such as observational data, network analysis, computer simulated modelling, various forms of interviewing, video-analysis, statistical modelling of very large N datasets, and Q-analysis.

Dynamics of culture are crucial to understand social life

While the above questions show the broad interests that are represented in our group and our pragmatic approach to social scientific methodologies, we share an understanding that the dynamics (invention, accumulation, diffusion, adjustment and dissolution) of culture is crucial to understand human social life. Without culture, social life would be hard to imagine. While other species mostly rely on their instincts in order to survive, human beings use culture to do so. It is human nature to use culture in at least two different ways.

First of all, people (re)produce meaning as we engage with others, with the objects which surround us and with the environment we are part of; we categorize and identify. For instance, in some situations we categorize others on the basis of gender, in others on the basis of their race, their nationality or, frequently, on the basis of some mixture of categories. In doing so, we include and exclude, and reproduce symbolic and moral boundaries in order to make that happen.

Secondly, unlike other species, we turn the world and ourselves into an object that we can try to understand and act upon. Culture in this sense can be understood as the great manifold of such expressions, including religion, music, literature, body ornaments, science and art. These forms of culture are usually enacted and embedded in institutions, organizations, fields, practices and social networks. We thus study the way in which particular cultural fields and organizations operate – such as fields of education, fashion, fine art, literature, media, music and sport – and their embedding in larger social structures of classes, nations and transnational fields. We also investigate how some groups are more able to monopolize their cultural expressions at the cost of marginalizing those of other groups.

The programme group Cultural Sociology studies culture in these two senses: the meaningful dimension of human life, as well as the cultural elements which human beings reproduce within, at least to some extent, institutionalized settings. We believe that those two senses of culture are closely interconnected and cannot be studied in isolation. 


The programme group members are affiliated with several research centers within the University of Amsterdam: the Amsterdam Research Center for Gender and Sexuality, the Centre for Urban Studies, the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies, and the Amsterdam Center for Globalization Studies. Over the past years, programme group members have received external funding from national or international funding organizations both from academic funding organizations (ERC, NWO) and various private stakeholders.

Programme leader 

prof. dr. O.J.M. (Olav) Velthuis

Olav Velthuis