Switchings under uncertainty: The coming and becoming of meanings


Poetics: Journal of Empirical Research on Culture, Media and the Arts

décembre 2010, vol. 38, n°6, pp.567-586

Départements : Management et Ressources Humaines

While structure and culture often are proclaimed dual and yet autonomous, this paper spells out a processual approach in which structure and culture are seen as intertwined and interdependent formations. To that end, we aim at understanding how meanings come to be, then build into process, and become integrated in a set of constructs of differing scopes, scales, and levels collectively known as “culture.” Meanings are “sparks” generated by irregular switchings across socio-cultural compounds called “netdoms,” mixtures of social networks and semiotic domains. Switchings originate from identities mitigating uncertainty from biophysical sources and from attempts at control by other identities. A “story” concatenates meanings in a relational structure within a horizon of possibilities. Netdoms constitute the fabric of socio-cultural life, wherein domains—through stories—provide the interpretive texture, while networks—through relations—supply the social texture. Socio-cultural formations invoking more complex compounds of stories (story-lines and plots) thereby frame social time, enabling, through narratives, mobilization for social action. We further model a level of syncopated complexity, denoted “style,” which illuminates the puzzle of how culture and structure fit together. (Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Seminar Series in Social Network Analysis in Manchester, UK on January 15th, 2008, at the Harvard Business School on March 17, 2008, and at the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco on August 8, 2009.)