Bergesen, A.J. 2006. The Depth of Shallow Culture: The High Art of Shoes, Movies, Novels, Monsters, and Toys.

Bergesen, Albert J. 2006. The Depth of Shallow Culture: The High Art of Shoes, Movies, Novels, Monsters, and Toys.  Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Introduction/Ch1 – “Popular culture, almost by definition, is shallow. […] Modern popular culture is designed for the broad public with a commercial interest in mind; the desire is to entertain, not to educate or stimulate.   It is not designed to embody or express deep philosophy or be similar in stylistic form to the fine arts” (1). Classical sociological influence of Marx and Durkheim, where culture reflects the power arrangement in which culture is produced. (Cultural – External): Base of production and economics impacts the superstructure of culture. Argues that Durkheim abides by Base-Superstructure, but where base is not economic production, but the solidarity of society as a whole. (Individual – Internal) – argues that Weber notes personal interests and meanings are shaped internally (kx^ however, this is sourced from external religious ideologies, no?) – and, people’s developed meanings are not always representative of best economic or power interests.  Midlevel theory of “production of culture”  (Peterson and Anand 2004) which acts to connect the external and internal influences upon culture (kx^ yo, isn’t this the sociological imagination?). “Artworks and popular culture are not neutral material objects whose meaning can only arise from added human interpretation upon reading, viewing, hearing, or being played with” (6). – challenges Saussure in sign (object) and signifier (meaning)

Ch 4 – “There is a calm security that arises from a clearly defined and more or less well-ordered social universe.  (Anthony Giddens [1990] calls this the sense of ontological security.) This derives from the classic sociological notion that individuals inhabit a social world that involves both forms of physical association – social groups –and socially constructed universes of meaning – culture, broadly conceived.  This symbolic universe of received knowledge is categorically divided into various taxonomies of things and states of being.  Whether we call it our “habitus” (Bourdieu 1984), “sacred canopy” (Berger 1969), “socially constructed reality” (Berger and Luckmann 1966), “definition of the sitatuation” (Mead 1934; Blumer 1969; Mills 1940; Goffman 1959), or system of “primitive classification” (Durkheim and Mauss 1963), it refers to the cultural construction of a universe within which humans meaningfully act and interpret the world.  It is within such a symbolic universe that human life is experienced as normal and legitimate, and as such stable and secure” (67). Changes in this social order causes fright, anomie (Durkheim 1933, Douglas 1970), noting chaos in breakdown of social order. Douglas (1966) notes how perception of dirt marks danger in cosmological classification systems – the danger of mixing taxonomies, or coming from beyond currently defined categories.  Sociopolitical dangers can be turned into personified monsters, with use of ritual (even competing ills) to purge the danger.

Ch 6 – “”[…] art objects do give off such meanings, so they must come from somewhere else, somewhere outside the art object proper. They must, it was reasoned, come from various social understandings, theories, classificatory grids, or art critic interpretations that are read into, or laid upon, art objects. Social significance is now hypothesized to be brought to the object as part of an audience’s personal autobiography, class-based worldview, national temperament, or some other societally generated set of understandings through which the art is perceived or apprehended” (107).  Objects composed of signifiers (meanings), but signs arranged create a larger art composition  – (Bergesen 2000, 2005)  – kx ^disagree with following statement : “Art forms do not need external interpretation to yield social meaning, for the power of culture lies in its forms, not in the secondary act of interpretive framing” (117)


Berger, Peter. 1969. The Sacred Canopy. Garden City, NJ: Anchor.

Berger, Peter and Thomas Luckmann. 1966. The Social Construction of Reality. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday.

Bergesen, Albert J. 2000. “A Linguistic Model of Art History.” Poetics 28:73-90.

Bergesen, Albert J. 2005. “Culture and Cognition” in The Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Culture, edited by Mark Jacobss and Nancy Hanrahan.  New York: Basil Blackwell.

Blumer, H. 1969. Symbolic Interaction. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Douglas, Mary. 1966. Purity and Danger. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.

Douglas, Mary. 1970. Natural Symbols. New York: Pantheon.

Durkheim, Emile. 1933. The Division of Labor in Society. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Durkheim, Emile and Marcel Mauss.  1963. Primitive Classification. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Giddens, Anthony. 1990. The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday.

Mead, George Herbert. 1934. Mind, Self, and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mills, C. Wright. 1940. “Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motive.” American Sociological Review 5 (December): 904-913.

Peterson, Richard A. and N. Anand. 2004. “The Production of Culture Perspective.” Annual Review of Sociology 30 (August): 311-334.


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