Interpreting Culture


Interpreting Culture

Rethinking Method and Truth in Social Theory

Joseph D. Lewandowski

205 pages


September 2001


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About the Book

Scholars have conducted the study of culture in two general ways: as an observer science, where behavior and world-views are measurable, rational, and subject to impartial examination; and as an interpretive art, where a scholar actually participates in the understanding of cultures. In view of increasingly manifest problems with both stances, Joseph D. Lewandowski proposes an alternative, one that capitalizes on the strengths of both schools of interpretation and in fact underpins the work of major social theorists of the modern era, including Adorno, Foucault, and Bourdieu.
Gathering insights from a wide array of anthropologists, archaeologists, and philosophers and applying them to case studies in the United States, Lewandowski develops a practical model of culture and method of interpretation that are built around the concept of "constructing constellations." According to this concept—drawn from the work of Simmel, Kracauer, Benjamin, and Adorno—cultures are made up of social fields, embedded social practices that are continually created and patterned in certain ways, akin to constellations. The constellations of embedded actions and beliefs in different settings, such as ghetto life in New York or the world of boxing in Chicago, are, Lewandowski argues, observable, measurable, and ultimately comparable.

Author Bio

Joseph D. Lewandowski is an assistant professor of philosophy at Central Missouri State University.


Interpreting Cultures provides readers with . . . [an] often provocative reading of Adorno and Benjamin, and it bridges philosophical, sociological, and ethnographic literatures in a novel way. The text carefully moderates contemporary debates by articulating a model of social theory that insists on a context-sensitive vision of truth. . . . Lewandowski . . . insists that social analysis must remain situated, in dialogue with the material reality it seeks to interpret, and capable of producing change. These core tenets of the book prove potent, and thus students and scholars working in these fields would prove unwise to ignore ‘the logic of constructing constellations’.”—Cultural Critique

"Lewandowski's Interpreting Culture is a highly original and signal contribution to debates about interpretation and culture in the philosophy of the social sciences. With its rich discussions of urban sociology, race, and other examples from the social sciences, this book should inform and challenge philosophers and social scientists alike."—James Bohman, author of New Philosophy of Social Science