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The production of culture perspective focuses on how the symbolic elements of culture are shaped by the systems within which they are created, distributed, evaluated, taught, and preserved. Initially, practitioners of this perspective focused on the fabrication of expressive-symbol elements of culture, such as art works, scientific research reports, popular culture, religious practices, legal judgments, journalism (Peterson 1976), and other parts of what are now often called the culture or creative industries. Recently, the perspective has been successfully applied to a range of quite different situations in which the manipulation of symbols is a by-product rather than the purpose of the collective activity (Crane 1992, Peterson 2001).
Looking back, the utility of the production perspective seems clear, but in the 1970s, when it emerged as a self-conscious perspective, it challenged the then-dominant idea that culture and social structure mirror each other. Then, a symbiotic relationship between a singular functioning social system and its coherent overarching culture was embraced by a wide range of theorists of contemporary society, including most Marxists who distinguished between social structure and cultural superstructure and functionalists such as Talcott Parsons. The former asserted that those who controlled the means of producing wealth shaped culture to fit their own class interests; the latter believed that a set of monolithic abstract values determined the shape of social structure. Breaking from these mirror views, the production perspective--like most of the other contemporary perspectives in cultural sociology--views both culture and social structure as elements in an ever-changing patchwork (Berger & Luckmann 1966, Peterson 1979, Schudson 2002).
A number of bellwether studies during and since the 1950s exemplified aspects of what would become the production perspective. For example, C. Wright Mills's 1955 essay, "The Cultural Apparatus," pointed to the role of the mass media in inadvertently shaping American culture. Howard S. Becker (1974) showed that artistic creativity is not so much an act of individual genius as it is the product of the cooperative effort of a number of people. The "news-making" studies of the 1970s (see, for example, Molotch & Lester 1974, Tuchman 1978, Gans 1979) exemplified the production perspective because they went beyond tracing the social dynamics of newsrooms to reveal how organizational routines determine what would be defined as "news." And, in her analysis of the "invisible colleges" where science is created, Diana Crane (1972) showed that the kind of scientific knowledge produced is a function of the reward system within a particular occupational community.
However, the early work that most completely embodies the production perspective is Harrison and Cynthia White's (1965) Canvasses and Careers. They found that theories associating changes in art with revolutionary changes in society or with the emergence of persons of genius could not account for the emergence of impressionist art in nineteenth-century France. They showed that the older royal academic art production system that had survived the economic turmoil and ideological changes of the French Revolution collapsed a generation later with the advent of the art market created by Parisian art dealers and critics, who promoted unconventional artists such as the Impressionists.
Together, these studies illustrate the emerging production of culture perspective insofar as they (a) focus on the expressive aspects of culture rather than values; (b) explore the processes of symbol production; (c) use the tools of analysis developed in the study of organizations, occupations, networks, and communities; and (d) make possible comparisons across the diverse sites of culture creation. In common they show that culture is not so much societywide and virtually unchanging as it is situational and capable of rapid change.
However, not until publication in 1976 and 1978 of collections entitled The Production of Culture, edited by Richard A. Peterson and Lewis A. Coser respectively, did scholars collectively recognize that these and other scattered studies illustrated elements of culture being shaped in the mundane processes of their production. The empirical studies were drawn from sites as diverse as science laboratories, artist communities, and country music radio stations. These two collections of essays signaled the emergence of the production perspective as a coherent and self-conscious approach to understanding how the expressive symbols of culture come to be (DiMaggio 2000).
This review assesses the success of the project in the quarter century since it was first formulated. To this end, we introduce a six-facet model of production. We then discuss numerous studies that illustrate one or more of these facets. We examine recent extensions of the production perspective to organizational research and to studies of informal relations, and finally we discuss critiques of the production perspective and sketch new opportunities.
SIX-FACET MODEL OF THE PRODUCTION NEXUS
Cultural products change slowly over time (Lieberson 2000), but occasionally such drift gives way to rapid change, altering the aesthetic structure of a cultural expression. We have already seen this in White & White's (1965) study of the transformation of the nineteenth-century French art world. Other studies of such rapid reinstitutionalization of a culture-producing system include Peterson & Berger's (1975) study of popular music, DiMaggio's (1982) study of visual art and symphony orchestra, Powell's (1985) study of book publishing, Crane's (1997) study of fashion, Peterson's (1997, pp. 12-32) study of country music, Ferguson's (1998) study of gastronomy, Ran et al.'s (2003) study of restaurants, and Lee's (2004) study of radio broadcasting. Such rapid change exposes the constituent elements comprising a field of symbolic production composed of six facets. These include technology, law and regulation, industry structure, organization structure, occupational career, and market.
Examining how rock music displaced swing bands and crooners to become the dominant form of U.S. popular music in just three short years between 1954 and 1956, Peterson (1990) first used the six-facet model. Before rock, innovations in technology were in the hands of the major corporations; after rock, technological advances worked to the advantage of smaller independent firms, and the same change occurred in the workings of law and regulation. Four firms dominated the industry structure of the swing/crooner era. Because of destabilizing changes triggered by the alterations in law and technology, large numbers of independent record companies and radio stations successfully entered the field by making music targeted at a specific audience. In the swing/crooner era, the bureaucratic organizational structure of the dominating firms facilitated the efficient monopolizing of all the factors of production but could only respond slowly to changing popular tastes. In the rock era, innovative, small, loosely structured organizations gained market share by being attuned to changing tastes of a particular slice of the public. In the crooner era, participants typically lived out their occupational careers as specialists within one corporation, but rock-era workers in the small companies had little job security, and many specialists in major firms worked on short-term contracts. The safe but often stultifying bureaucratic environment was replaced by the tension-filled freedom of freelance work. In the swing/crooner era, the market for popular music was identified as one homogeneous mass, and the oligarchs competed for a larger piece of the pie. Beginning with the rock era, the market became defined as an ever-expanding set of heterogeneous niches.
Changes in each facet seemed mundane, but working together they made possible the rapid displacement of the swing-based crooners and ushered in the rock revolution that made way for the diversity of popular music that followed. This facets scheme is a convenient way of organizing our discussion of a range of studies using the production perspective. Although most studies are mentioned in conjunction with only one facet, most are relevant to other facets as well.
Technology provides the tools with which people and institutions augment their abilities to communicate, and changes in communication technology profoundly destabilize and create new opportunities in art and culture. The classic example is the role played by the invention of the printing press in overturning the world of the Middle Ages, creating the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation (Eisenstein 1979).
At the microlevel, DeNora (1995) shows that Beethoven's ability to express his skills as a performer/composer depended on the development of a new music-making machine, the pianoforte. Beethoven's playing style was notably heavy, emotional, and imprecise, making him a mediocre harpsichordist but ideally suited to the pianoforte because, as its name suggests, the instrument could be played very loudly or softly and sensitively, thus expressing a wide range of emotions (Goodall 2000). Beethoven and most later composers chose the pianoforte for composing large orchestral works, and as Goodall (2000, p. 175) notes, "the structure of a vast amount of orchestral music owes its shape to the mind set of the piano." Were it not for the advent of this technology, Beethoven would have remained a provincial musician on the streets of Vienna, and the world would not have his magnificent body of work (DeNora 1995).
The amplification, manipulation, and transmission of sound radically altered music in the twentieth century (Thompson 2002). Recording and radio made it possible to project sounds over time and space (Chanan 1995), and the use of microphones enabled soft-voiced crooners such as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra to displace full-voiced operatic pop singers such as Enrico Caruso (Lockheart 2003). More recently, the electronic manipulation of guitar sound transformed pop music (Waksman 1999), and the digitalization of music provided perfect pitch to those unable to carry a tune (Peterson & Ryan 2003). Digital communication media have also facilitated the rapid globalization of culture. Now art market prices (Crane et al. 2002) and television programming are instantly available worldwide (Kretschmer et al. 2001, Roe & De Meyer 2001, Bielby & Harrington 2002). Digital media have also influenced culture by making possible the creation of cybergroups focused on musical tastes (Ryan & Peterson 1994, Marshall 2001, Lee & Peterson 2004), and through digital sampling rap music has created a new venue for discussing racial identity and politics (Lena 2003).
Law and Regulation
Law and regulation create the groundrules that shape how creative fields develop. Griswold (1981) shows how changes in copyright law can influence the kinds of novels that are published. She notes …