- Conceptual confusion
- The economics of cultural categories
- What are phenomena?
- What counts as sociocultural?
- Constructing phenomena
- Explanations and phenomena
Jim Harrison made the following comment on the last post:
… I have trouble understanding how you distinguish the s and the c in your pseudo equation. You mention folk taxonomic as an example of sociological distinctions, but if such taxonomies aren’t part of culture, what’s left to put under c Maybe distinguishing s and c just don’t matter much to you. A line or two later you’re talking about sociocultural phenomena.
It’s a fair point. I was very unclear. But, as the sign says, this is where stuff goes through my head and ends up splattered on the screen, without much happening in between the two.
First off, I don’t think there is a sharp demarcation between sociological and cultural “spaces”, nor between the sociocultural and the biological. Instead, I think that human development is all three. Biology proffers dispositions to develop in particular ways, sociology sets the constraints and resources, and culture sets the prior “art”, as it were, that developing humans acquire and then set about modifying. Since all three domains, as it were, are in my view about the acquisition and use of resources that affect the fitness of the individuals, there is selection going on at all three levels, and this is what defines them as domains in the first place.
The diagram I used was a little misleading. A much better one, with extra colour, is this:
since trees and other nonsocial facts are not constructed by humans, while houses and other social facts are constructed by social dynamics. Cultural facts are symbolic and passed on through imitation and education. Moreover, what is a sociological fact can affect the nonsocial and cultural and vice versa. Categories about each “domain” are constructed to a degree, but what they are constructed to represent are environmental, and the environment is “natural” (that is, not socially constructed), sociological (constructed to represent social organisation and patterns) and cultural (constructed to represent the symbolic milieu). Since humans always have constructed their environment to a degree (the so-called “niche construction” hypothesis applied to humans), we are now, and have always been, in our “natural” environment. However, there is another way to conceptualise niche construction: as the individual adaptive environment that buffers development against “strict” natural selection. Organisms adapt individually within the degrees of freedom allowed by their biology. When this has a cost to fitness, natural selection takes over.
So natural selection, social selection and cultural selection represent three layers of selective processes with the consequent differences in the rates of their evolution. However, they are unlinked in many ways: cultural selection can be slower than sociological and even biological – consider biological selection against diseases brought about by trade, a social process, and the cultural changes that entails, for example. This is a complex interplay of evolutionary forces.
Still, the variables in my “equation” can still be given values, if we can identify for any given trait, biological through to cultural, what the modal values are. If not – if it is too complex to do so – we can still understand what the forces are to a degree of precision allowed by the particular case.