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Talcott Parsons' Contribution to the Conceptualization of Cultural Systems

Sat, August 12, 8:30 to 9:30am, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 517C


Talcott Parsons’ work on a highly differentiated conceptual action frame of reference was motivated by the attempt to elaborate a non-reductionist theory of action. For Parsons, a non-reductionist perspective led, through a long series of theoretical develoments, to the formulation and analysis of the inherent logics of several “subsystems of action,” the connections among them, and clarification of the significance of the environment of the action system, e.g., the physical and biological preconditions of human action. As a consequence, he formulated the sociology of culture in terms of a clear, highly analytic, non-reductionist conception of cultural systems and subsystems. He then used this conception to clarify the relationships of culture, including functionally differentiated subsystems of culture, to social, economic, and individual-personal factors in processes of social action. In one of his most important applied studies on culture – The American University – he exemplifies his broader theory with a comprehensive analysis of the cognitive-rational subsystem of culture and the complexes of institutions needed to maintain and extend it within modern socities. Some of Parsons’ students, especially Robert Bellah and Clifford Geertz, became major figures of the sociology of culture and of cultural sociology through elaborations and refinements of his understanding of culture.