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Abstract

The subject of this article is the relationship between cultural sociology and approaches to culture in other social science disciplines. What are the characteristics of the theoretical environment, in which cultural sociology is operating? The article begins by reviewing the literature on interdisciplinarity. Many authors argue that interdisciplinarity is increasing or should be increasing, but the general consensus is that disciplinary isolation is the norm. From this perspective, the relationships between disciplines can be understood in terms of trading zones, in which fields in different disciplines have little in common, theoretically, or empirically. Interdisciplinary communication in ‘trading zones’ requires that participants laboriously construct a set of terms that permits them to exchange ideas. Alternatively, I propose that clusters of fields in different disciplines are linked by free-floating paradigms. Participants in disciplines that share ‘free-floating paradigms’ are able to communicate with one another more readily. The article presents evidence for the second interpretation, drawn from survey articles in disciplinary handbooks. Disciplines and fields in which the study of culture draws from the same pool of paradigms and models and shares a set of lines of inquiry with cultural sociology include traditional disciplines, such as anthropology, communication, geography, history and psychology, and interdisciplinary fields, such as cultural studies, communication, feminist theory, material culture, science studies, and visual culture. Interdisciplinary fields – particularly cultural studies – perform an important role in diffusing paradigms across disciplinary boundaries. Free-floating paradigms are associated with the work of major theorists, such as Lévi-Strauss, Barthes, Foucault, Bourdieu, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Clifford Geertz, Bruno Latour, Adorno, Gramsci, and Habermas.