Chapter 4: Sociological Analysis of
By Silvana Rodarte
Berger,A. A. (2016) What Objects Mean: AnIntroduction to Material Culture (2nd ed.). NY, NY: Routledge.
Methodology: Sociological Theory
Definition: It deals with attempts that
sociologists and other scholars have
made to understand how institutions,
function in society.
Sociology is the study of human beings in groups and
institutions. It includes areas such as marriage, family,
class systems, race, gender, religion, and other aspects of
August Comte 1798-1857
used the term “sociology”
to integrate theoretical
and practical studies of
human beings. “…to know
in order to predict in
order to control”. He
wanted to know how
people organized their
French scholar Emile Durkheim 1858-1917, known
as founder of French sociology. He argues there
two beings within him: individual (physical
endowments) and social (ideas and values shaped
by social order). We are in society as society is in
us. Artifacts are in society and society is reflected
Method: Duality of our nature has its
consequence in the practical order, the
irreducibility of a moral ideal to a utilitarian
motive, and in the order of thought, the
irreducibility of reason to individual experience.
Method: We have individuality, which
is based on our physical
endowments, the fact that we are
“organism”, and we are also, at the
same time, social beings, whose
ideas and values are shaped, to
varying degrees, by the social order.
Definition and Characteristics: Focus on whether an
institution ( or something else) helps contribute to the
stability and maintenance of society, in which case the
institution is “functional” or helps contribute to the
destabilization and breakdown of society, in which case
the institution is “dysfunctional” or “dysfunctional”. If it
plays no role then its “non-functional”. There’s more to an
object than its primary function.
Six aspects of functionalism: Functional-
helps maintain entity. Dysfunctional- helps
destabilize the entity. Non-functional- plays
no role in the entity. Functional alternative-
substitutes for original function. Manifest
functions: obvious, stated reason for using
something. Latent function unconscious
factors involved in using something.
Method: We can apply functionalism to
components of institutions and to all kinds
of different entities, including artifacts,
asking what function the artifact has for
Method: Example of cell
phones. Manifest function is
to be able to make phone
calls just about everywhere.
Latent functions involve
anything from helping deal
with loneliness and keeping
track of children to making
people feel powerful by being
able to summon others at
their command, so to speak,
by punching a few numbers in
a cell phone.
Method: From functionalist perspective, we
can ask questions about artifacts and have an
analysis on different aspects. For example,
using cellphones, a functional aspect would
be it connects with others. A dysfunctional
aspect would be it disturbs others, or wastes
time. A non-functional aspect would not be
present. A functional alternative aspect
would be it substitutes for traditional phone.
A manifest function aspect would be it makes
phone calls, and sends texts to others. Lastly,
a latent function aspect would be it controls
others, and avoids loneliness.
Methodology: Taste Cultures
Definition and characteristics- Typologies are
classification schemes. One typology done by Herbert
J.Gans in his book “Popular Culture and High Culture”
talks about wanting to defend people who like popular
culture against attack by elitists who like high or “elite”
cultures. He argues for aesthetic pluralism, pointing out
that each taste culture finds media and fashions to its
interests. Taste cultures entertain us, inform us, and
beautify our lives. They consist of values, the cultural
forms which express these values: music art,
Method: Gans defended his idea by suggesting that in
America there are a number of different popular
cultures and elite cultures, each of them is part of
what he described as taste culture.
Method: Gans points out that choices people make
about the objects they purchased are connected
to one another.
Example: People who read “The New Yorker”
tend to like foreign films, listen to classical
music, eat gourmet foods, and choose
Method: Five distinct taste cultures on
America offers us a way of thinking about
who uses what kind of material culture.
High Culture- socioeconomic-cultural elites. Upper Middle
Culture- executives, professionals, managers, spouses Lower
Middle Culture- older lower-middle class people Quasi-Folk
Low Culture- unskilled blue collar and service workers Youth,
Black, and Ethnic Cultures Psychedelic and multimedia art
Tie-dyed and unisex clothing Paraphernalia of drug culture.
Method: The reading we do in books and newspapers,
and magazines serves the purpose of giving us notions
about what objects and other kinds of material culture
are appropriate for individuals who are members of each
socioeconomic class or taste culture.
Method: advertising teaches us to be
“discriminating” consumers and to recognize
what brands go with what kind of people.
Wearing brand names seems to make us feel good
about ourselves and in our minds, name brand
objects are indicators of success.
Methodology: Uses and Gratifications Provided by Artifacts
Definition and Characteristics: Originally
developed by media theorists to see the uses
people made of the media they consumed and
the gratifications the various media genres
List of uses and
gratifications provided by
1. To have beautiful things
Method: There is a kind of
psychological reward we get
from having desired and
beautiful things to wear and
have in the house, which leads
to the feeling of success.
2. To find Diversion and
Method: Process of purchasing objects
enables us to escape from mundane
preoccupations, and gives us a sense of
Example: Buying a smartphone or T.V are
used to entertain ourselves.
3. To Imitate Model We Respect
Method: According to Rene Girard, we purchase
things advertised using celebrities because we
imitate their desires.
4. To Affirm Aesthetic Values
Method: Choice we make in clothing or
jewelry reflects our “taste”, our aesthetic
value, our status. Our choice of objects
may be connected to our lifestyles.
Method: We can do the same thing for
artifacts and theorize about the uses
people make of the objects they have and
the gratifications these objects have for
Methodology: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender
Definition and Characteristics: Race involves
categorizing people by their genetic heritage (three
racial categories: Negroid, Mongoloid, and
Caucasian). Some objects are gender specific.
Example: (birth control bills,
Method: As more people from different races marry one
another and have mixed-race children, the utility of race as a
construct seems questionable.
Ethnicity refers to groups such as Jews, Italian-Americans, abd
Hispanics that share certain religious, racial, national, and
cultural traits and cuisines.
Method: Example, a bagel. From Jews but has become widely
popular that it has lost its ethnic identity.
Method: Marketers use race and ethnicity to
plan advertising campaigns.
Definition and Characteristics: Status is the
position an individual has in some group, or
that a group has relative to other groups.
Sociologists suggest there are two kinds of
status: ascribed (based on factors such as
gender, our age, and status of the family in
which we are born) (traditional societies),
and achieved (based on our merits, our
abilities, and our success in various
endeavors) (Modern societies).
Method: One of the ways we demonstrate our
status to others is by purchasing objects that
function as status symbols, artifacts that
suggest our wealth and socioeconomic class.
Definition and Characteristics: role refers to
behavior expected of people who have a
particular status. Our role behavior is generally
unconscious. “Dramatic role presentation”
deals with conscious efforts individuals make
to create a positive impression among other
Method: Full professors have more status and play different
roles than associate professors and assistant professors.
Socialization refers to teaching people what
roles to play in various situations in which they
Method: Fashion is an area where one can display improper
socialization by wearing clothes that are not appropriate to one’s
status. Example: Motorcycle riders wear leather jackets and ne may
be acting like one but does not own a motorcycle.
Method: For example a mother can be an
executive at a corporation, and a member of a
Methodology: Jean Baudrillard’s “The
System of Objects”
Definition and Characteristics: Jean Baudrillard was a French
Marxist, sociologist, and semiotician. Perspective on
material culture: Baudrillard alerts us to the many different
qualities of objects and the variety of roles they play in our
lives- private and public. He is interested in what objects
reveal about social relations and society in general.
Method: For classifying objects we look at: the size,
degree of functionality, relationship to its own
objective, gestures connected with it, form, duration,
time of day in which it appears, material that it
transforms, degree of exclusiveness or sociability
attendant on its use, etc.
Method: Baudrillard states that
advertising is pure connotation. It
contributes nothing to production or to
the direct practical application of things,
yet it plays an integral part in the system
of objects, not merely because it relates
to consumption but also because it itself
becomes an object to be consumed.