May 2015

"Cultural Resources and Cultural Distinctions in Networks" (with Stephen Vaisey, Poetics 2014 )

While scholars have long argued for the importance of cultural forms in determining the nature of social relationships, expositions of related concepts and mechanisms have remained vague and subject to multiple interpretations. Addressing this shortcoming is the challenge that I take up in this paper. I compare two prominent understandings of culture to explicate and test the different mechanisms they imply for how cultural tastes affect social relationships. I draw upon a longitudinal network dataset that traces relationships among college students over the course of an academic year and apply an actor-oriented network modeling technique to explain the development of relationships over time. I show that an understanding of cultural tastes as “resources” or “skills” (A. Swidler) is incomplete and that if we are to adequately account for the development of social relationships then it is also necessary to approach culture as a “system of distinctions" (P. Bourdieu).

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Figure: Network among students across time. Ties defined as having socialized at least once since the start of the current academic term; network limited to students with complete information for all terms; node size as a function of degree.