“Discovering culture” in interaction: solving problems in cultural sociology by recovering the interactional side of Parsons’ conception of culture

  • Anne Warfield Rawls
  • Jason TurowetzEmail author
Original Article


According to Lizardo (2016), the concept of culture, as it originated with Parsons, is one of the “foundational notions” of modern sociology, such that “the most basic theoretical debates in the discipline…now take place largely under the auspices of ‘cultural theory.’” Unfortunately, to the extent that contemporary conceptions of culture are traced to Parsons, contradictions in cultural theory are also blamed on his legacy: with cultural theorists turning to anthropology, semiotics, and philosophy for solutions. We argue instead that problems in cultural theory are not a consequence of Parsons’ legacy per se, but of a one-sided focus on his early work that ignores the interactionism of Parsons’ later position. The resulting emphasis on the symbolic side of Parsons’ legacy, as developed in anthropology by Geertz (Parsons’ PhD student, 1950–1956), to the exclusion of the social practice-oriented side developed in sociology by the later Parsons and Garfinkel (Parsons’ PhD student, 1946–1952), has left cultural theory in a state of incompleteness. We propose a rapprochement between Garfinkel’s interactionism, which treats the order properties of practices as interactional media of cooperation in the making of culture, and the prevailing symbolic approach, to reintegrate the two sides of Parsons’ conception of culture.


Cultural theory Garfinkel Parsons Durkheim Social interaction Ethnomethodology 



Research in the Garfinkel Archive is being supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) through the Collaborative Research Center “Media of Cooperation” (SFB 1187). We thank in particular our colleagues Tristan Thielmann and Erhard Schüttpelz at the University of Siegen.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bentley UniversityWalthamUSA
  2. 2.Garfinkel ArchiveNewburyportUSA
  3. 3.University of SiegenSiegenGermany

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