Cultural analysis in historical sociology: The analytic and concrete forms of the autonomy of culture

Sociological Theory 9 (1):53-69 (1991)
Abstract
In an effort to clear away confusions regarding the role of cultural analysis in historical explanation, this paper proposes a new approach to the issue of cultural autonomy. The premise is that there are two forms of cultural autonomy, analytic and concrete. Analytic autonomy posits the independent structure of culture-its elements, processes, and reproduction. It is achieved through the theoretical and artificial separation of culture from other social structures, conditions, and action. Concrete autonomy establishes the interconnection of culture with the rest of social life, and is achieved by fleshing out the historically specific formulation of particular cultural structures. In addition to theoretically specifying the two forms of cultural autonomy, I demonstrate analytic and concrete autonomy in practice by examining two works that incorporate culture into the analysis of the same historical event. The rewards of recognizing both analytic and concrete cultural autonomy are twofold. First, cultural reductionism can be countered by establishing that culture is structural. Second and more important, once the independent nature of a cultural form is established, its causal contribution to concrete historical situations can be assessed accurately and integrated into historical explanation
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