The Institute for Emancipatory Constructionism
The Alexander School of Cultural Sociology

I would like to make one further observation about Alexander’s cultural sociology as a whole, one that is meant to remind us that theoretical development, however much it may be centered around the life-work of one particular thinker, is ultimately very much a social and collaborative process. My observation is that Alexander has succeeded to a remarkable degree in establishing his distinctive cultural theory and empirical research program as a collective enterprise; indeed, I have long felt that one can fairly speak of the existence of a UCLA School – or now an Alexander School – of cultural sociology.

Emirbayer, Mustafa, "The Alexander School of Cultural Sociology." Thesis Eleven. Sage. 2004; 79; 5.

Jeffrey Alexander works in the areas of theory, culture, and politics. An exponent of the “strong program” in cultural sociology, he has investigated the cultural codes and narratives that inform diverse areas of social life.

Jeffrey C. Alexander, Lillian Chavenson Saden Professor of Sociology Co-Director, Center for Cultural Sociology (CCS). Yale University. Retrieved on May 24, 2009.

The Center for Cultural Sociology provides a focus for meaning-centered analysis in the social science tradition, with openings to normative themes such as democracy, justice, tolerance and civility. Drawing on classical and contemporary social and cultural theory, CCS students and researchers develop concepts and methods that illuminate the cultural texture of social life at both individual and collective levels. They apply these to understanding the full range of activities and processes from local to global levels. Because culture is always closely intertwined with the patterning of social organization, the CCS is centrally concerned with institutional life and the intersection of culture with social structure.

Center for Cultural Sociology. Yale University. Retrieved on May 24, 2009.

In my later efforts, incorporating semiotics and poststructuralism, I tried to develop something new, a cultural sociology ....

The ambition of my cultural sociology has been to open up this black box, to provide the internal architecture of social meaning via concepts of code, narrative and symbolic action, so that culture can finally assume its rightful place as equivalent to, and interpenetrated with, other kinds of structuring social force. I have developed this internal architecture by incorporating and reinterpreting certain central aspects of the late Durkheim, phenomenology and micro-sociology, symbolic anthropology, structuralist semiotics, narratology, post-structuralism and deconstruction. Yet, even while elaborating the architecture of culture structure, I have tried not to lose sight of the broader aim, which is to theorize society as a whole.

Alexander, Jeffrey C., "Why Cultural Sociology Is Not ‘Idealist’: A Reply to McLennan." Theory Culture Society. Sage. 2005; 22; 19.

Michel Foucault’s works, and the poststructural and postmodern theoretical program they have initiated, provides the third weak program we discuss here. Despite its brilliance, what we find here, yet again, is a body of work wrought with the tortured contradictions that indicate a failure to grasp the nettle of a strong program. On the one hand, Foucault’s (1970, 1972) major theoretical texts, The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Order of Things, provide important groundwork for a strong program with their assertion that discourses operate in arbitrary ways to classify the world and shape knowledge formation. His empirical applications of this theory should also be praised for assembling rich historical data in a way which approximates to the reconstruction of a social text. So far, so good. Unfortunately, there is another hand at work. The crux of the issue is Foucault’s genealogical method; his insistence that power and knowledge are fused in power/knowledge. The result is a reductionist line of reasoning akin to functionalism (Brenner 1994), where discourses are homologous with institutions, flows of power, and technologies. Contingency of those texts. This binding of discourse to social structure, in other words, leaves no room for understanding how an autonomous cultural realm hinders or assists actors in judgement, critique or in the provision of transcendental goals that texture social life. Foucault’s world is one where Nietzsche’s prison house of language finds its material expression with such force that no room is left for cultural autonomy, and by implication, the autonomy of action. Responding to this sort of criticism, Foucault attempted to theorise self and resistance in his later work. But he did so in an ad hoc way, seeing acts of resistance as random dysfunctions (Brenner 1994: 698) or unexplained self-assertions. These late texts do not work through the ways that cultural frames might permit ‘outsiders’ to produce and sustain opposition to power.

In the currently most influential stream of work to come out of the Foucaultian stable, we can see that the latent tension between the Foucault of the Archaeology and Foucault’s genealogical avatar has been resolved decisively in favor of an anti-cultural mode of theory. The proliferating body of work on ‘governmentality’ centers on the control of populations (Miller and Rose 1990; Rose 1993), but does so through an elaboration of the role of administrative techniques and expert systems. To be sure, there is acknowledgment that ‘language’ is important, that government has a ‘discursive character’. This sounds promising, but on closer inspection we find that ‘language’ and ‘discourse’ boil down to dry modes of technical communication (graphs, statistics, reports etc.) that operate as technologies to allow ‘evaluation, calculation, intervention’ at a distance by institutions and bureaucracies (Miller and Rose 1990: 7). There is little work here to recapture the more textual nature of political and administrative discourses. No effort is made to go beyond a ‘thin description’ and identify the broader symbolic patterns, the hot, affective criteria through which policies of control and coordination are appraised by citizens and elites alike. Here the project of governmentality falls short of the standards set by Hall et al., which at least managed to conjure up the emotive spirit of populism in Heath era Britain.

Alexander, Jeffrey C. and Smith, Philip , The Strong Program in Cultural Sociology. Center for Cultural Sociology. Yale University. Retrieved on May 24, 2009.