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Culture, Structure, Identity, and Family Change

Highlights from the Culture Meeting

June 13-14, 2005

Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Many people made the Culture Meeting possible. Christine Bachrach (NICHD), Phil Morgan (Duke University), Jenna Johnson-Hanks (University of California, Berkeley), Hans-Peter Kohler (University of Pennsylvania) and Caroline Bledsoe (Northwestern University) organized the Meeting. Diane Eagle, Janice Wahlman, Brittany Dawson and Leila Rodriguez (NICHD) provided logistical support. Leila Rodriguez wrote the final report.

This report summarizes the results of the Culture Meeting held on June 13-14, 2005, at the Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch (DBSB) of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), National Institutes of Health. Co-hosted by the Explaining Family Change Project (EFC) and Duke University, the Meeting’s primary goal was the brainstorming of ways to incorporate the concepts of culture and identity into demographic research.
Demographic research cuts across many of the other social science disciplines. Common themes and even common research methods do not, however, translate into a common understanding of concepts. Because the invited scholars come from different disciplinary backgrounds (anthropology, sociology, demography, economics), a second necessary goal was to find synergies and contradictions in the ways that social scientists think about these notions.
The Explaining Family Change Project is a multidisciplinary undertaking towards the development of new models for understanding family variation and change. It aims to answer two basic questions: why do individuals organize into family units; and what accounts for how families are organized. Throughout this report, the different paradigms used to think about culture and identity will be related to these two basic questions; specifically to how each perspective can shed light into answering them.
Each section of this report corresponds to one of the seven presentations at the Culture Meeting. A short paragraph summarizing the topic presented is followed by a more detailed review of the presentation’s key points. This, in turn, is followed by a bulleted list of questions raised from the presentation, and a paragraph on the ensuing discussion. The final section of the report summarizes the synergies and contradictions in the way the different perspectives treat concepts of culture and identity. The theories and models we use affect the paths along which we reason. This report provides seven different ways of thinking about family change, which will hopefully lead to new questions and answers.

Greg Urban presented on the discourse-centered approach to language and culture. Key points in this perspective are that culture is localized in publicly-accessible signs; the non-transparency of meaning (what people say during an interview is not necessarily what they would say in other contexts); and the circulation of discourse.
The discourse-centered approach to culture has the central premise that culture is localized in publicly-accessible signs. The most important ones are actually occurring instances of discourse, and have a representational value. Because it is publicly accessible, it is possible to compare actual instances of discourse usage to empirically study the extent of sharing and continuity of culture (Urban 1991).
This approach diverts from mid-twentieth century scholars who viewed culture as a synthesis, where one society has one language and one culture. The three realms were seen as discrete units, and could be studied independently of one another. This synthesis became problematic because boundaries between cultures are not clear-cut, and cultural elements are not shared equally between individuals.
Culture is socially learned and socially transmitted. Because it travels from an individual or group to another, instead of asking questions about what someone’s culture is, the discourse-centered approach emphasizes questions about what travels between groups and people, and how it makes that journey. In other words, culture cannot be studied as a static entity; culture exists in motion (Urban 2001).
Different forces affect cultural motion. The first of these is inertia: culture that is already there will tend to be transmitted. Entropy is the tendency to disorder, which disrupts perfect copying or transmission of culture, and hence induces changes in the course of motion (“drift”). Interest in different cultural elements also affects their transmission. Different cultural elements may hold differing degrees of interest for individuals, and therefore achieve different breadth or rates of transmission and longevity. Finally, metaculture (or culture about culture) may impart a force to the object culture; for example, film reviews affect the acceptance of a film.
Families and kinship form part of circulating discourse. Narratives (myths, stories, news, gossip, etc.) are the discourse loci where expectations about kinship roles and other identities unfold. Roles are generalized rules about narrative expectations. The narratives about roles lead to specific behaviors, which would be fleeting without them. There is a circulatory relationship between discourse and action; discourse both makes and remakes social context within which it occurs.
This presentation triggered several questions:

  • Source of narratives and the relationship between the source and recipient

  • Movement of discourse

Narratives come from different sources. If they originate from an official person, they might not be culturally sensitive to the community. People decide whether or not to adopt a new discourse, and the relationships that people have with whoever is trying to bring discourse in community can be traced.

The circulatory property of discourse means that the circulation of representations requires conduits but creates them at the same time. Both the direction and acceleration of discourse are researchable.

Linda Garro’s presentation demonstrated cognitive anthropology’s contribution to the study of culture and cultural knowledge. The content-oriented perspective, which emphasizes differential knowledge of cultural domains, is compatible with the focus on cultural models, which mediate information processing. Her process-oriented perspective stresses the interaction between historically-contingent available cultural resources and structure.
Cultural models (or cultural schemas or schemata) theory was introduced in the 1980’s. It states that in a large measure, information processing is mediated by innate mental structures (see Shore 1996). This perspective is compatible with the content-oriented view, which stemmed from the cognitive anthropology notion that culture is not a material entity. Rather, it is the form of things that people have in mind; a socially-transmitted information pool with which we do our own thinking.
While placing culture in the mind, this view does not necessarily contradict Urban’s claim that culture is essentially publicly-accessible. Asserting that culture is socially-transmitted implies that it also exists outside the mind, although this point was not delved into during the presentation or ensuing discussion (see “Introduction” in Strauss and Quinn 1997 for statement on cultural meanings as interaction between extrapersonal and intrapersonal realms).
Interest in intracultural variation stems from this cognitive definition, as well as interest in the ways in which differential opportunities to learn (such as those structured by gender) may contribute to that variability. In other words, this perspective seeks to understand why some people know more about certain domains and cultural practices than others. Intracultural variation, therefore, is accounted for by people having differential knowledge about cultural content (see Garro 2000).
Cognitive anthropologists developed an explicit methodology for discerning how people construe their world of experience from the way they talk about it. Methodologically, cultural schemas research tends to rely on conversations- you infer the existence of the cultural models from what informants say.
Garro favors an orientation towards process that revolves around the interplay between the range of historically-contingent cultural resources available for endowing experience with meaning, and the socially and structurally grounded processes through which individuals learn about, orient towards, and interpret possibilities. This dynamic view of culture is concerned with variability and change, and requires viewing individuals as actively involved in the construction of meaning, although only at times consciously (see Harkness, Super and Keefer 1992 for example on how cultural models gain directive force).
This form of meaning construction can often been seen as a socially-embedded narrative thinking, dependent upon culturally available resources that shape motives (see Strauss 1992). Individuals can simultaneously hold alternative interpretive frameworks, and what is seen as relevant may change through time and in relation to ongoing events. Emphasizing process in a content-oriented perspective allows one to study culturally-shared understandings of a particular phenomenon, and how these reflexive assessments that may be altered by new experiences.
Discussion following this presentation centered upon:

  • How to move from cultural schemas perspectives to the types of claims that family demographers want to make

  • What determines the different availability of schemas for people

  • How new information is integrated into pre-existing models

Cultural models can be thought of as prepackaged units insofar as they are composed of a set of ideas. People are exposed to models through social interaction and social structure. If a model no longer works, then people will use another one and in the process face different kinds of constraints.

Lynn Smith-Lovin discussed Affect Control Theory as a model mediating structural and processual views of how people are socially competent. The model states that during interactions, people import meanings from a larger culture to create local realities.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, structural-functionalists saw the knowledge of rules as the key to being a competent social actor. This view was criticized on the grounds that it is too static, and it was countered by processual models that stressed the creative actions of agentic social actors. Under this model, social structure is actually repetitive patterns of agentic social actors creating streams of action.
Affect control theory mediates structural and processual views on what it takes for people to be competent social actors. This model states that people create local realities during interaction by evoking symbols; importing meanings from the larger culture. Cultural meanings provide stability and patterns to social interaction. When people encounter a situation or role previously unknown, they are not completely lost, but rather use cultural meanings to process responses.
Affect control theory differs from symbolic interaction in several ways: it uses a common metric which is mathematical in form; it links culture to local interactions through measured meanings; it provides a social account of individual emotions, behaviors, attributes, and labeling; and it uses the situation and not the individual, as the unit of analysis.
The common metric is a very general measurement of meaning. It allows the use of impression-formation equations to describe how meanings change in different contexts and situations. These equations are actor-behavior-object regressions that help to see how actors’ impressions are shaped by their actions and the objects of those actions. Using those equations as descriptions of the empirical reality of how meanings change, the affect control principle is applied: that people try to maintain meanings during the course of interaction (see Robinson and Smith-Lovin 2006).
Evaluation, potency, and activity (EPA) dimensions are used to explain substantial variance in semantic meanings across vocabularies in a wide variety of language cultures. Within a culture, EPA meanings are relatively stable across a variety of important social dimensions (age, socioeconomic status, gender).
How, then, do meanings change as a result of situations, and of exposure to the actions of others? The dynamic part of this model is driven by a control-system. There’s a reference state: people are trying to maintain the culturally-given meanings that come with their and other people’s role identities and behaviors. There is also an observed state: this depends on the occurrences of a particular situation. Based on the difference between the two, there is a response to try and bring meaning back. The affect control principle dictates that individuals behave in ways that maintain their affective expectations generated by their meaning of the situation. Thus for example, during a business meeting each individual present is aware of his or her role and that of the others. If someone interrupts the speaker with an unexpected behavior (such as jumping on the table), he or she is disrupting the reference state, and someone will act in a way to make the situation meaningful again (such as reprimanding the person).
Deflection is the amount of disruption in the definition of the situation that’s produced by current events. Use of the common metric allows for a mathematical definition of that deflection. Deflection is a property of the situation and not of the individual. Hence, when deflection occurs in a situation between two people, a third person can repair the action. In the previous example, person to bring meaning back into the situation does not necessarily have to be the speaker or the interrupter. Meaning occurs at the level of the situation, so identity is more than an individual attribute.
The discussion following this presentation centered on two topics:

  • How reframing happens

  • How the model explains differences in meaning

Relabelling can happen through a very large deflection that affects enough people simultaneously that they have to think about things differently to make sense of them. Alternatively, it can occur through a combination of identities in the locus of one person that shifts meaning because of a greater structure. For example, as women evolved from caregivers to become also professionals, reframing of “women” occurred (for more on the model’s treatment of multiple identities see Smith-Lovin 2003).

Finally, reframing can occur through social networks, as having positive social connections with numerous people can change one’s view of particular situations. The model tends to assume consensus with subcultural differences. People can agree on meanings, but not necessarily labels. For example, people tend to agree on what constitutes an abortion, but not on the label, as some see it as a medical procedure, others as a crime.

Using the example of Turkish “honor killings” in Berlin, Kathy Ewing focused her presentation on how discourse controlled by powers such as the media can shape cultural meanings, and how culture can operate at levels beneath those of the predominant discourse.
Recently, three Turkish brothers gunned down their sister at a bus stop. The event was first treated as a regular murder by the newspapers. A discussion was held at a local school near where the murder occurred, and several young Turkish boys claimed that the girl deserved to be murdered. The school principal was outraged, and the situation turned into a large media event. The press said this was the sixth “honor killing” in Berlin over four or five months. This series of murders didn’t spark interest until the last one occurred in conjunction with the media event, which was followed by policy recommendations on how to handle the integration of the Turkish community.
Ewing uses this background to explain how powers such as the media can shape cultural meanings through discourse. Ewing defines culture as the practices by which people negotiate meaning, status and action. Therefore, it is more appropriate to use the term “cultural practices”, which captures the processual nature of culture. Like culture, identities are not static. People have multiple identities and shifting selves. Identities are highly contextual and shift from one moment to the next as relationships shift.
Most anthropologists address causality vaguely. Like Foucault, many focus not on the causes of discursive shifts but on their consequence. Instead of searching to isolate individual factors that cause change, this approach seeks to understand the conjunction of factors involved in it.
The media too, cannot be placed in a straightforward cause and effect relationship. The media interacts with a number of different factors to produce sometimes dramatic changes in people’s practices and understandings. In the case of the Turkish honor killings, the media flurry and ensuing open discussion of certain topics that had previously been considered taboo (such as patriarchal oppression and enslavement of women in Turkish Muslim homes) occurred in conjunction with other events that enabled such discussion to occur. The September 11 attacks, the murder of Theo Van Gogh in Amsterdam, added with the fact that youth gangs have been emerging, plus a movement that made it “cool” to be foreign/Turkish led to surge in honor killings as a means way of obtaining status. The meaning of honor killing has then been transformed from a village tradition to a status-enhancing practice for Turks in Germany. The media, however, discussed the killings as a sign that the Turkish community is not integrating, and is reenacting a village tradition in Germany today.
One of the effects from the media flurry is that political proposals that before had been seen as too conservative are now being presented as the next step that Germany should take in handling integration problems. The media controversy enabled the furthering of a political process that hadn’t been possible before (such as banning girls from wearing headscarves in school when previously only teachers were prohibited from doing so).
Finally, there are some methodological considerations stemming from this perspective. Along with shifting identities and experiences, the structure of people’s memories shifts too. If people have shifting, negotiated identities, in terms that are themselves fluid, the questions asked in an interview must be carefully planned, as each identity evokes different memories. Identities are labels that people attach to themselves or that are attached to them. Discourse analysis involves trying to uncover the layers of what goes into constituting a particular utterance.
Following the presentation, several questions were raised on:

  • The relationship between German national identity and media interpretation of honor killings

  • Changed meanings of the killings versus the media conflating them

  • How ideas on integration have changed from this example

Developmental idealism is important, for this model closely informs our notions of who we are. German national identity formed as it recovered from the Nazi era, and the Turkish honor killings enable them to define an “other”-which they are not. German media links the village tradition with the honor killings in Berlin. Because these events are recent and are still being played out in the media, there have been few long-term effects yet. However, change in what is permissible in talk and policy proposal is already a consequence. Furthermore, the two reactions in the Turkish community have been an expression of outrage to the murders, and worries about the disruption of relationships of Turks to German natives.

Miller McPherson used the Blau space model to explain how organizations change over time in response to their composition. This model, he argues, can be applied to study other entities such as preferences, schemas, and meanings.

Industrial societies are very complex and exhibit great social differentiation. Social space has evolved into numerous dimensions. This differentiation can be represented in its simplest form on a two-dimensional grid, with traits such as social rank and material wealth as its axis. In such a grid, the points represent individuals. McPherson defines social structure as the probably of contact between two people. This definition explains the organization of the points (people) in Blau space (McPherson 2004).

The points on the grid can be randomly associated (which does not occur with social phenomena), or they can have homophilous association. With homophilous association, the probability of contact between two people is a declining function of distance in Blau space. When two points are distant from each other, the probability of contact is very small. Network distance, then, is produced by distance in dimensions in Blau space. The homophily principle applies to almost all social distinctions, such as age, race, gender, height, education.
Organizations can also be represented on the grid, as boxes overlapping with the points or individuals who belong to them. If a random sample of individuals and a random sample of organizations are represented on the grids, the boxes will be located where the most people are. The boxes or organizations are not static; they change in response to the exit and entry of new members and where they are located in Blau space. New members might mean that the organization changes little, that its mean shifts, or that it acquires increased variance (for details on how organizations change, see McPherson, Popielarz, and Drobnic 1992). Underlying this organizational model is the homophily principle: network connections between people inside the organization and those outside it dictate the entry into and exit from the organization.
Organizational change constitutes a dynamic process as organizations grow and decline, expand and contract, and move around. This system can be modeled with a set of equations. Organizations (as well as any other niche represented in Blau space) compete for people’s limited time and energy. There are forces of attraction and repulsion in this model, as boxes jostle each other and produce over time “the dance of the adaptive landscape”. Niches form social entities, and they spread and contract in dynamic interaction with other niches. This model explains change in the mean of the niche, change in the dispersion of the niche, and change in the density of exploitation in the niche (see McPherson 1983 for more on the ecological model of the competition of social organizations).
This model can be expanded beyond organizations to situate preferences, identities, cultural artifacts, and meanings in Blau space. Such entities will also be clustered into niches. The location and size of these niches fluctuates over time; new social forms are more likely in regions with heavily overlapped membership, and old social forms are most likely to die in overlapped regions. Conflicting social forms are more likely to occur in overlapped regions. This model can explain why certain attitudes, or memberships, or marriages, or don’t occur.
The family can be conceptualized as an entity in Blau space, and as such will overlap with other entities. The attitudes, beliefs, associations, and other social entities that inhabit the family niche are measurable. Changes in family structure are associated with changes in other entities in the niche.
This model is advantageous in that it is applicable to all social survey variables. It provides a metric for understanding the relationships among a wide variety of social entities, and it provides a dynamic model which combines entities into populations, communities, and systems.
Miller’s presentation raised the following questions:

  • The effect of large historical events on Blau space

  • Role for agency in the model

Events such as a war alter the composition of Blau space, by pulling out the young men from the system. The model, however, does not specifically address agency. It focuses on the dimensions of Blau space which characterize positions under the homophily principle.

The main principles of the model are the central importance of thinking ecologically and the importance of homophily.

Hans-Peter Kohler presented the results of research on social networks and fertility decisions using data from the Kenya Diffusion and Ideational Change Project and the Malawi Diffusion and Ideational Change Project ( This work uses the concepts of social learning and social influence to explain the mechanisms through which social networks influence a woman’s use of family planning methods, and contraceptive decision-making more generally. Network density becomes an important factor in determining which mechanism operates.
While the “diffusion of innovation” has become an important aspect of explaining fertility change during the demographic transition, diffusionist arguments often do not specify the micro understandings of why social interaction processes matter and how diffusion and social influences occurs through social networks. To fill this gap, Kohler and colleagues started a project in Kenya collecting longitudinal social network data about who and how many people respondents talk to about family planning. They found that there is much talk about both HIV and family planning, and that often these conversation networks are large. Most network ties are “close” ones, such as relatives from the same compound, but respondents also had many “weak” ties.
Their model incorporates two mechanisms that explain why interactions matter: social learning and social influence. When a person faces a decision under uncertainty (such as whether or not they should use family planning methods- and if so, which), engagement in a social network allows them to talk to someone who has already made a decision. This interaction is essentially a learning process and thus constitutes social learning. This concept implies that the interaction has no effect on a person’s preference, but rather the individual engaged in the interaction to obtain additional information and reduce uncertainty. In contrast, when social interactions primarily operate by reinforcing norms or influencing a person’s preferences, social influence occurs.
Kohler his colleague’s data provides a way of studying this distinction by measuring network density (with whom ego had conversations and also the relationships of ego’s network partners among themselves) and by studying how networks with different densities affect fertility decisions. They argue that information about the density of networks provides a way of distinguishing between social learning and social influence. In particular, if a person wants to maximize their learning component in the face of uncertainty, they presumably want to select a network where individuals don’t know each other very well and therefore select a relatively sparse network. If social influence dominates in social interaction processes, however, it can be expected that dense networks – that is, networks in which members tend to know each other – are more important than sparse networks. Dense networks are likely to have stronger effects in terms of norms-reinforcement, and they are likely to exert a stronger influence of preferences and attitudes of individuals toward family planning.
Their empirical model is a regression analysis model where family planning use is the dependent variable. The explanatory variables of the model include a measure of density as well as an interaction between percentage using family planning and network density. If the interaction is relevant, then networks with different densities have differential effects on the family planning use of the respondent (see Kohler, Behrman, and Watkins 2001 detailed statement on the model).
The results suggest that there is a striking dual existence of both the dominance of social learning and social influence in the two Kenyan regions: in some areas, social influence is found to be the dominating mechanisms through which social interactions affect fertility decisions, and in another region, social learning is the dominant mechanism. Kohler argues that the main difference between the two regions is related to market integration. The region that is more integrated in market activities has a reduced social influence effect, but the social learning component remains.
Support for this argument is also provided by Susan Watkins’s qualitative research that has been conducted as part of the Kenya Diffusion and Ideational Change Project. In particular, her analyses describe how innovations enter the population through various pathways by demonstrating how perception of children’s values has changed in Kenya in response to socioeconomic and political changes, and family planning programs (see Watkins 2000).
Kohler also described how formal models of social interactions can explain a micro-foundation for “diffusionist explanations” of fertility change, and these models can explain how social interactions can result in (i) path-dependence and persistent heterogeneity in the adoption of innovations (such as low fertility or family planning), (ii) social multiplier effects that reinforce the effect of socioeconomic changes on fertility behaviors, and (iii) multiple equilibria that represent high/low fertility regimes and allow for rapid “fertility transitions” as populations move from the high to the low fertility equilibrium.
Questions following this presentation centered on:

  • The distinction between social learning and social influence

Both concepts can be thought of as a continuum. In most contexts it is likely to find both mechanisms operating. It is useful, however, to think about social learning as an exercise to reduce uncertainty. Where social influence is weak, social learning remains.

Rachel Kranton presented an alternative model to the classic economic models of coordination game versus punishment stream to explain individual rational choice. Her alternative model incorporates notions of identity and has additional explanations for preferences.
The central tenet of classical economics is the individual rational decision-making actor. This precept raises the question of why people facing the same set of economic incentives make different fertility decisions, and what factors besides economic incentives are affecting these decisions. While the classical economic model embraces the concept of preferences (individual actors make choices to maximize utility given these preferences), these are narrowly defined. Behavioral economists incorporate concepts of self-control and cognitive biases into economic models, but preferences are still treated largely as individualistic- they display no particular pattern within society.
Culture and social norms are treated as equilibria. Economists explain group patterns as “equilibrium” outcomes. Two models explain these outcomes. The first is the coordination game. The choice to drive on the left or the right side of the street, for example, requires multiple equilibria: either everybody drives on the right or on the left. Different societies find different equilibria. Culture and social norms are simply aspects of equilibrium of the coordination game.
The second model is one of repeated interactions and sanctions. As rational actors interact with other people over time, they make choices, some of which can be punished by others in the future. Knowing this prevents actors from making particular choices in the present. The incentive for the punisher to punish the deviator is that failure to do will result in him or her being punished by someone else. Individuals follow norms, then, to avoid being punished. This model relies on repeated streams of punishment, which sustain the equilibrium. While both highly popular, neither one of these two models accounts for change in norms, or differences across groups.
Kranton and colleague George Akerlof formulated an alternative model that argues that preferences themselves can be a way of modeling culture and “social norms”. Preferences may be systematically different in different groups, as people have notions of their identity, which affects preferences. By incorporating identity into economic analysis, the tradeoffs and interplay between norms and economic incentives can be observed (see Akerlof and Kranton 2005).
Their model uses an extended utility function that incorporates identity (defined as a person’s sense of self) as a motivation for behavior. In the function, identity is based on social categories and how people in these categories should behave. Identity affects economic behavior through four channels. First, it changes the payoffs from one’s own actions. Second, it changes the payoffs of others’ actions. Third, the choice of different identities affects an individual’s economic behaviors. Finally, the social categories and behavioral prescriptions and behavioral prescriptions can be changed, affecting identity-based preferences (for a detailed explanation of this utility function and its application, see Akerlof and Kranton 2000).
Modeling identity departs from social difference. Each society has its own set of social categories, and appropriate and inappropriate behaviors (norms) associated with each. Following these norms gives people a sense of being in that particular social category. If an individual is offended by another one’s actions that violate the norms for behavior, he or she will sanction that. The choice of identity may be the most important economic decision an individual makes, as this will dictate their preferences.
Following this presentation, participants asked about:

  • Defining “identity” as anything that structures preferences and patterns

Identity is not the only factor structuring these preferences. Without identity, it’s still possible to detect patterning, but it won’t be socially-defined. Identity, then, is what structures social patterning.

The Culture Meeting ended with a discussion on the ideas provided by the seven speakers. Participants discussed synergies and contradictions in the way the presentations addressed notions of culture and identity. These are offered as concluding remarks of this report.

  • What is culture?

Participants agreed with the notion that culture is a process and not simply a material entity. As such, it is subjected to interpretation, negotiation, and reconfiguration. Culture is highly repetitive, and leads to patterning. Such shared patterning by social actors is what in fact constitutes social structure.

The culture as schemas view further argues that people have access to a range of schemas, which may be more or less articulated, more or less elaborated, more or less compelling, and more or less applicable in a given situation. The ways in which participants discussed culture subjected the concept to different levels of abstraction.

  • Where is culture?

There were two views on this question: culture exists in people’s minds, versus culture is found in publicly-accessible signs. These are seemingly contradictory statements, yet it is crucial to think of culture as being in both places; such view explains why culture affects individual behavior and why individual agency can “move” cultural norms and shared practices. The publicly-accessible signs can be considered discourse which reflects what goes on in people’s mind. The most important signs are narratives, which are captured in interviews.

Culture can also be represented in Blau space. The fact that meanings and models are socially embedded means that they are socially structured—that is, unequally distributed within a population, within “Blau space,” and even within a cultural group. People may have more or less knowledge of and access to particular schemata.

  • What is its purpose?

There was general agreement on viewing culture as providing means (to understand new situations). People do not tend to interpret the world de novo, but use schemas, mental maps, or short cuts to understanding situations, treating “this” as an example of a broad category of similar “thises”. In any given situation, there are not only the abstract schemas and the concrete action, but also an intermediary process of matching—deciding which maps or schemas are relevant and how they apply.

Culture defines models for action. By providing meanings and maps for interpreting specific contexts, culture also provides preferences associated with different identities. These preferences motivate specific behaviors. Insofar as culture provides motivations, rather than resources, it probably does so through offering particular kinds of imagined future selves.

  • How is culture transmitted? How does it change?

Social interaction and social networks are essential to the transmission of culture. Contact with other people provides individuals with the different schemas that they can draw on to give meaning to particular situations.

Context is a crucial determinant in cultural change. Cultural categories are not fixed, and since context is always changing, culture must too. Culture’s inertial characteristic means that it does not change unless it has to. When a particular situation arises where deflection occurs from people’s reference state, there is some sort of response to try and bring meaning back. Some circumstances may require that cultural meanings themselves change to return to a new reference state.
People rely on a cultural schema until it is no longer useful for giving meaning to situations (often because of entropy); they then make use of another one. More or less subconsciously, individuals “choose” how to make sense of specific contexts.

  • What methodological implications arise from this?

To understand why individuals organize into family units and what accounts for how families are organized, it is imperative to think about the cultural processes at work, and how they relate to people’s identity.

To understand “culture”, meaning and interpretation are fundamental, whether this is expressed in words or in numbers. Culture might explain something or give meaning to it; either way it is possible to gather adequate data.
Meaning is non-transparent: what individuals respond in an interview situation is contextual. Interviewers must be attentive to how wording of questions invokes more or less of some aspects of an individual’s identity.

Appendix I: Meeting Agenda
Culture, Structure, Identity and Family Change

June 13-14, 2005

6100 Executive Boulevard, Rockville, Maryland

5th Floor Conference Room


Monday, June 13
10:00 am Introductions and Logistics Chris Bachrach/S. Philip Morgan
10:15 How research in the area of language and linguistics can inform theories and approaches to studying other forms of culture

Speaker: Greg Urban, University of Pennsylvania, Anthropology

Moderator: Jenna Johnson Hanks
12:00 pm Lunch brought in
12:30 pm “Cultural models” approaches in anthropology that draw on cognitive

science, and other anthropological approaches to understanding and

measuring culture

Speaker: Linda Garro, University of California, Los Angeles

Moderator: S. Philip Morgan
2:15 pm Break
2:15 pm Research in social psychology and anthropology that provides insights

into how culture “happens” in social groups, e.g., through group

identification, social influence, and social learning
2:15-3:30 Speaker: Lynn Smith-Lovin, Sociology, Duke University

Moderator: Hans Peter Kohler

3:45-5:00 Speaker: Kathy Ewing, Anthropology, Duke University

Moderator: Chris Bachrach

5:00 pm Announcements and logistics
5:15 pm Adjourn for the day
Dinner 6:30 pm: All participants invited

Sweet Basil, 4910 Fairmont Ave, Bethesda

Tuesday, June 14
8:30 am Continental breakfast available in meeting room
9:00 am Announcements and logistics
9:15 Research in sociology that addresses the diffusion of behaviors and ideas

over social space, through the interactions of social networks and the

influence of media and other institutions
9:15-10:30 Speaker: Miller McPherson, U. of Arizona and Duke University

Moderator: Jenna Johnson Hanks

10:45-12:00 Speaker: Hans-Peter Kohler, University of Pennsylvania

Moderator: S. Philip Morgan

12:00 pm Lunch brought in
12:30 Research in economics that integrates group identification, and the

preferences associated with group identification, into economic “utility

functions” that help to predict behavioral choices

Rachel Kranton, Economics, U Maryland

Moderator: Chris Bachrach
1:45 Break
2:00 Open discussion Moderators: Chris Bachrach, Hans Peter Kohler, Jenna Johnson Hanks, S. Philip Morgan
4:00 Announcements, logistics, adjournment

EFC Executive Session 4-5 pm (Bachrach, Kohler, Johnson-Hanks, Morgan, Bledsoe, Bianchi, Casper, DiPrete, Evans, Sanders)

This meeting is jointly sponsored by the Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch (DBSB) of NICHD, the Explaining Family Change Project, and Duke University.
Contact Persons:

Chris Bachrach, NICHD,

S. Philip Morgan, Duke University,
Appendix III: Biographical Sketches of Presenters

Kathy Ewing, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Religion at Duke University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Since then she has served as Visiting Lecturer at the University of California, San Diego; Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University; and as Visiting Professor at Bogazici University in Turkey and McMaster University in Canada. Her research interests include globalization, identity, migration, psychological anthropology, and religious movements. Her areal specialties are Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia.
Linda Garro, Ph.D., is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Los Angeles. She received her Ph.D. from Duke University. Her research interests include cognitive anthropology, medical anthropology, and research methods. Geographically, she focuses on Mesoamerica and northern North America.
Hans-Peter Kohler, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Sociology and Research Associate at the Population Studies Center at the University of Pennsylvania. In his research he attempts to integrate demographic, economic, sociological, and biological approaches in empirical and theoretical models of demographic behavior. Specifically, he is interested in the determinants of low and lowest-low fertility in Southern and Eastern Europe, and the role of interaction processes for fertility and AIDS-related behavior. He has published two books, co-edited a third one, and has published over fifty articles and reviews. Dr. Kohler received his Ph.D. in Economics at the University of California at Berkeley.
Rachel Kranton, Ph.D., is Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland. Previously she has been a Visiting Associate Professor at Princeton University, a consultant for the World Bank, and has worked for USAID and Catholic Relief Services in Cairo, Egypt. Her fields of interest include microeconomics, industrial organization, development economics, economics of institutions, and behavioral economics. She has received numerous honors and awards for her teaching and research. Dr. Kranton received her Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley.
Miller McPherson, Ph.D., is Research Professor at Duke University and Professor at the University of Arizona. He received his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University. Before joining the staff at Duke, he held faculty positions at Cornell University, the University of South Carolina, and the University of Nebraska. He has interest in the areas of organizations, associations, social networks, and quantitative methods. His current work involves applying his general ecological theory of affiliation to cultural entities such as attitudes, beliefs and social identities. He has over forty articles published in scholarly journals.
Lynn Smith-Lovin, Ph.D., is Robert L. Wilson Professor of Sociology at Duke University, and is an affiliated faculty with Women’s Studies and the Duke Interdisciplinary Initiative in Social Psychology at that institution. Previously she was Associate Professor at the University of South Carolina, Associate Professor at Cornell University, and a Professor at the University of Arizona. She received her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research areas encompass social psychology, emotions, and gender. She has published over sixty articles and book chapters, a book, and numerous book reviews and commentaries.
Greg Urban, Ph.D., is Arthur Hobson Quinn Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests concern cultural and linguistic anthropology, cultural motion, discourse, corporations and culture, South American Indians, and metaculture. Dr. Urban has published over forty articles in scholarly journals, is the author of three books including Metaculture: How Culture Moves Through the World (2001) and has co-authored four more. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.
Appendix III: Meeting Participants
Culture, Structure, Identity and Family Change

June 13-14, 2005

6100 Executive Boulevard, Rockville, Maryland

5th Floor Conference Room


Christine A. Bachrach

Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch

National Institute of Child Health & Human Development

6100 Executive Boulevard, Rm. 8B07, MSC 7510

Bethesda, Maryland 20892-7510

Phone: 301.496.9485

Suzanne M. Bianchi

Department of Sociology

University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742
Phone: 301.405.6409
Caroline Bledsoe

Department of Anthropology

Northwestern University
1810 Hinman Ave.   

Evanston, IL 60208-1330

Phone: 847.491.4825
Peter Brandon
Department of Sociology

University of Massachusetts Amherst

W33D Machmer Hall
Phone: 413.545.4070
Lynne Casper

Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch

National Institute of Child Health & Human Development

6100 Executive Boulevard, Rm. 8B07, MSC 7510

Bethesda, Maryland 20892-7510

Phone: 301.435.6983

Tom DiPrete

Columbia University/Duke University, Sociology

Phone: 212.854.5826

V. Jeffery Evans

Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch

National Institute of Child Health & Human Development

6100 Executive Boulevard, Rm. 8B07, MSC 7510

Bethesda, Maryland 20892-7510

Phone: 301.496.1176

Katherine P. Ewing

Arts and Sciences Council

Duke University

102 Social Sciences

Durham, NC 27708-0088

Phone: 919.684.5170

Jennifer Johnson-Hanks

Department of Demography

University of California, Berkeley

2232 Piedmont Avenue

Berkeley, CA 94720

Phone: 510.643.5646

Linda Garro

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Los Angeles

241 Haines Hall

375 Portola Plaza

Los Angeles, CA 90095-1553

Phone: 310.206.6249
Rosalind King

Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch

National Institute of Child Health & Human Development

6100 Executive Boulevard, Rm. 8B07, MSC 7510

Bethesda, Maryland 20892-7510

Phone: 301.435.6986

Hans-Peter Kohler

Department of Sociology

272 McNeil Bldg

3718 Locust Walk

Philadelphia, PA 19104-6297

Phone: 215.898.7686

Fax: 215.898.2124


Rachel Kranton

Department of Economics

University of Maryland
College Park, MD  20742
Phone: 301.405.3487


Annette Lareau

Department of Sociology
Temple University

756 Gladfelter Hall

Philadelphia, PA 19122

Phone: 215.204.5594

Fax: 215.204.3352

Miller McPherson

Department of Sociology

Duke University

348B Soc/Psych Bldg.

Durham, NC 27708

Phone: 919.660.5787

S. Philip Morgan

Sociology Department

Duke University

268 Soc-Psych Bldg.

Durham, NC 27708-0088

Phone: 919.660.5747

Fax: 919.660.5623

Susan Newcomer

Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch

National Institute of Child Health & Human Development

6100 Executive Boulevard, Rm. 8B07, MSC 7510

Bethesda, Maryland 20892-7510

Phone: 301.435.6981

Isabel Otero


Phone: 301.435.4434


Leila Rodriguez

Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch

National Institute of Child Health & Human Development

Seth Sanders

Department of Economics

University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742
Phone: 301.405.3497
Lynn Smith-Lovin

Department of Sociology

Duke University

348A Soc/Psych

Durham, NC 27708

Phone: 919.660.5786

Greg Urban
Department of Anthropology
University of Pennsylvania
325 University Museum

33rd & Spruce Streets

Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: 215.898.0895


Appendix IV: List of Background Reading for Culture Meeting
Akerloff, George A.; Kranton, Rachel (2000) “Economics and Identity” The Quarterly Journal of Economics CXV(3) 715-53
Akerloff, George A.; Kranton, Rachel (2005) “Identity and the Economics of Organizations” Journal of Economic Perspectives 19(1) 9-32
Garro, Linda C. (2000) “Remembering What One Knows and the Construction of the Past: A Comparison of Cultural Consensus Theory and Cultural Schema Theory” Ethos 26(3)275-319
Harkness, Sara; Super, Charles M; Keefer, Constance H. (1992) “Learning to be an American Parent: How Cultural Models Gain Directive Force” In: D’Andrade, Roy; Strauss, Claudia (eds.) Human Motives and Cultural Models Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Kohler, Hans-Peter; Behrman, Jere R; Watkins, Susan C. (2001) “The Density of Social Networks and Fertility Decisions: Evidence from South Nyanza District, Kenya” Demography 38(1) 43-58
McPherson, Miller (1983) “An Ecology of Affiliation” American Sociological Review 48(4) 519-32
McPherson, Miller; Popielarz, Pamela A; Drobnic, Sonja (1992) “Social Networks and Organizational Dynamics” American Sociological Review 57(2) 153-70
McPherson, Miller (2004) “A Blau space primer: prolegomenon to an ecology of affiliation” Industrial and Corporate Change 13(1) 263-80
Quinn, Naomi (1996) “Culture and Contradiction: The Case of Americans Reasoning About Marriage” Ethos 24(3) 391-425
Rindfuss, Ronald R; Choe, Minja Kim; Bumpass Larry L; Tsuya, Noriko O. (2004) “Social Networks and Family Change in Japan” American Sociological Review 69(6) 838-61
Robinson, Dawn T; Smith-Lovin, Lynn (forthcoming 2006) "Affect Control Theory" In Burke, Peter (ed). Sociological Theories in Social Psychology Stanford: Stanford University Press
Shore, Bradd (1996) Culture in Mind: Cognition, Culture, and the Problem of Meaning New York: Oxford University Press
Smith-Lovin, Lynn (2003) “Self, Identity, and Interaction in an Ecology of Identities” In Burke, Peter J; Owens, Timothy J; Serpe, Richard T; Thoits, Peggy A. (eds.) Advances in Identity Theory and Research New York: Klewer Academic/Plenum Publishers
Strauss, Claudia (1992) “What Makes Tony Run? Schemas as Motives Reconsidered” In: D’Andrade, Roy; Strauss, Claudia (eds.) Human Motives and Cultural Models Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Strauss, Claudia; Quinn, Naomie (1997) A Cognitive Theory of Cultural Meaning Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Urban, Greg (1991) An Approach to Culture and Language: Native South American Myths and Rituals Austin: University of Texas Press
Urban, Greg (2001) Metaculture: How Culture Moves through the World Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
Watkins, Susan Cotts (2000) “Local and Foreign Models of Reproduction in Nyanza

Province, Kenya” Population and Development Review 26(4) 725-59

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