Production of Culture

The production of culture perspective focuses on the ways in which the content of symbolic elements of culture are significantly shaped by the systems within which they are created, distributed, evaluated, taught, and preserved. The initial focus was on the production of expressive symbols such as art works, scientific research reports, popular culture, religious practices, legal judgments, journalism, and other parts of the culture industries. Now the perspective is also applied to many situations where the manipulation of symbols is a byproduct rather than the purpose of the collective activity (Peterson 1976; Crane 1992, Peterson & Anand 2004).

In the 1970s, when the production of culture emerged as a self conscious perspective, it challenged the then dominant idea that culture values and social structure mirror each other, a view held by most Marxists and functionalists – among them Talcott Parsons. Breaking from the mirror view, the production perspective sees culture and social structure as elements in an ever changing patchwork (Peterson 1979). Research in the perspective draws freely on theories and methods developed in other branches of sociology. It is, however, distinctive in focusing on the consequences of social activities for the symbolic elements of culture (DiMaggio 2000).

Cultural production systems change slowly, but occasionally there is rapid change altering the aesthetic expression of a cultural expression. Such change is illustrated by the study that helped inspire the production perspective in culture, Howard and Cynthia White’s 1965 study Canvases and Careers. It showed the transformation of the nineteenth century French art world and the consequent emergence of Impressionist art. Six production factors are identified as making possible rapid cultural change. These include changes in law and regulation, technology, industrial structure, organizational structure, occupational careers, and the consumer market. The workings of these facets should be considered together as part of an interdependent production network (Peterson & Anand 2004).

Technology provides the tools with which people and institutions augment their abilities to communicate, while changes in communication technology profoundly destabilize and create new opportunities in art and culture. Technological innovations including radio, phonograph records, movies, television, and digitalized communication transformed art and popular culture in the twentieth century. At the micro level, the electronic manipulation of guitar sounds transformed pop music, and digital communication media have facilitated the rapid globalization of culture (Waksman 1999; Goodall 2000).

Law and regulation create the ground rules which shape the ways in which creative fields develop. Changes in copyright law have influenced the kinds of fiction that gets published, and restrictive notions of intellectual property continue to inhibit cultural expressions. Censorship of the culture industries has shaped what can be produced, and federal restrictions on multiple ownership of newspapers, and TV and radio deregulation, have led to less diversity in points of view being expressed.

Industrial fields and organizational structures in creative industries tend to be structured in one of three ways. There may be many small competing firms producing a diversity of pro ducts, a few vertically integrated oligarchical firms that mass produce a few standardized products, or a more open system of oligarches with niche market targeted divisions plus a large number of small specialty service and market development firms, where the former produce the most lucrative products, while the latter produce the most innovative (Negus 1999; Caves 2000).

Occupational careers develop in each cultural field. The distribution of creative, craft, functionary, and entrepreneurial occupations are determined largely by a field’s structure, which in turn helps determine the symbolic output. Careers tend to be chaotic and foster cultural innovation, as creative people build careers by starting from the margins of existing professions and conventions (Becker 1982; Grazian 2003).

Markets are constructed by producers to render the welter of consumer tastes comprehensible. Once consumer tastes are reified as a market, those in the field tailor their actions to create cultural goods like those currently most popular as measured with tools devised by producers (Turow 1992; Caves 2000).

The production perspective has proved a useful model for organizing ideas and research in five areas where the production of culture is itself not consciously sought. First, it has spawned the culture industries model in academic management research and become the prime model of post bureaucratic organization. Second, studies of the autoproduction of culture show that people produce identities and life styles for themselves from elements of traditional and mass mediated symbols. Third, studies show that cultural omnivorousness is replacing highbrow snobbery as people show their high status by consuming not only the fine arts but also appreciating many, if not all, forms of popular culture. Fourth, studies focused on resistance and appropriation show how young people take the products tendered to them by the culture industries and recombine them in unique ways to show their resistance to the dominant culture and to give expression to their own identities. Fifth, much of what is taken to be subcultural resistance is actually fabricated by the consumer industry. The contrast between the artifice of manufacture and the fan’s experience of authenticity is arguably the most important unresolved paradox of cultural sociology (Negus 1999; Peterson & Anand 2004).


  1. Becker, H. S. (1982) Art Worlds. University of California Press, Berkeley.
  2. Caves, R. E. (2000) Creative Industries. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
  3. Crane, D. (1992) The Production of Culture. Sage, Newbury Park, CA.
  4. DiMaggio, P. (2000) The Production of Scientific Change. Poetics 28: 107-36.
  5. Goodall, H. (2000) Big Bangs: Five Discoveries that Changed Musical History. Chatto & Windus, London.
  6. Grazian, D. (2003) Blue Chicago: Authenticity in Blues Clubs. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  7. Negus, K. (1999) Music Genres and Corporate Structures. Routledge, London.
  8. Peterson, R. A. (Ed.) (1976) The Production of Cul ture. Sage, Beverly Hills, CA.
  9. Peterson, R. A. (1979) Revitalizing the Culture Concept. Annual Review of Sociology 5: 137-66.
  10. Peterson, R. A. & Anand, N. (2004) The Production of Culture Perspective. Annual Review of Sociology 30: 311-34.
  11. Turow, J. (1992) Media Systems in Society. Longman, White Plains, NY.
  12. Waksman, S. (1999) Instruments of Desire: The Elec tric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience. Harvard University Press Cambridge, MA.

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