Culture and Cognition

The field of sociology of culture addresses questions of the social creation and implications of symbols, language, ideas, art, religion, science, media, law, institutions, interactions, and subjective experiences. The field also provides distinct frameworks for approaching social research, and theoretical perspectives on the nature of human action and thought. It is a big and diverse subfield of sociology that accommodates many substantive topics, theoretical traditions, and methodological perspectives. Many cultural sociologists are interested in using the lens of culture and insights about shared meanings to understand issues such as inequality, race, gender, politics, health, migration, economics, and organizations.

The Rutgers sociology department has been at the forefront of an approach to culture that takes seriously the role of cognition, including mental representations, cognitive processes, and their interaction with the body. Scholars of culture and cognition are interested in topics such as: the nature of mental structures, representations, and memory; the social bases of cognitive processes; and processes of human behavior. Work in this area often draws on insights from cognitive psychology and neuroscience. Professors Karen Cerulo and Eviatar Zerubavel have pioneered important and distinct perspectives on cognition and culture that are widely acclaimed and used within sociology. Several faculty (Cerulo, Gerson, Shepherd, Zerubavel) pursue work on these topics.

Faculty and students at Rutgers work on a number of topics within the sociology of culture including how technology, art, and media are produced and contribute to the circulation of symbols and meanings (Cerulo, Chaudhary, Clarke, Jones, Kempner, McLean, Shepherd); how knowledge and expertise are produced and deployed (Cerulo, Clarke, Jones, Kempner, Lee, MacKendrick, Shepherd); how social networks capture interaction, meanings, and relationships (McLean, Shepherd); how social context contributes to the meaning of identity, especially regarding race, class, religion, sexuality, and gender (Borocz, Brooks, Cerulo, Chaudhary, Dinzey-Flores, Gerson, Jones, MacKendrick, Salime, Stein, Zerubavel); how the physical body, bodily experiences, and representations of the body interact with the social world (Cerulo, Kempner, Lee, MacKendrick, Stein); and finally, how aspects of culture are associated with differential power and can be deployed in the service of power and exclusion (Borocz, Brooks, Cerulo, Dinzey-Flores, Jones, Lee, McLean, Salime, Stein, Zerubavel).

The Center for Cultural Analysis at Rutgers provides faculty and graduate student fellowships to pursue work in cultural sociology. Graduate students interested in this area have pursued many different types of projects using diverse methods and approaches to research. We offer a wide array of graduate classes in this area, and graduate students interested in the sociology of culture benefit from methodological training in qualitative methods, narratives, ethnography, quantitative methods, and network methods, among others. Our graduates have been highly successful in crafting award-winning articles and dissertations, and in obtaining outstanding placements upon completion of our program. At the undergraduate level, students interested in the study of culture and its associated phenomenon can take classes in the Sociology of Culture (220), Seminar in Cognitive Sociology, Law and Society, Race, Science, and Medicine, and topics classes such as Food, Culture and Society. Many undergraduate sociology majors pursue honors projects related to the sociology of culture.