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Sociology   >   Culture

Is Culture Thick, Thin, or Both?

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In this course, Dr Jon Mulholland (University of the West of England) explores culture. In the first lecture, we think about whether culture is thick, thin, or both. In the second lecture, we think about consumer culture and how it is linked to the current sustainability crisis, including the development of resistant consumption. Next, we think about gender in body building, finishing on a question of whether female body builders challenge or reinforce traditional gendered body norms. In the fourth and final lecture, we think about global culture, looking at cultural hybridity and reactive nationalism.

Is Culture Thick, Thin, or Both?

In this lecture, we think about whether culture is thick, thin, or both, focusing in particular on: (i) Auguste Comte and Émile Durkheim as early thinkers in sociology; (ii) the idea of culture as a ‘fuzzy concept’, being one that is contested and without consensus; (iii) Brian Steensland’s definition of culture from his 2011 book, Sociology of Culture; (iv) Mishler and Pollack’s 2003 paper, which introduced the idea of ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ culture; (v) Edward Burnett Tylor’s 1871 definition of culture as that which is acquired by a person as a member of society; (vi) understanding thick culture as a tangible prerequisite for social life; (vii) understanding thick culture as being essential for social life, fundamental to who we are, pre-existing and outliving us, holistic, externally bounded and externally homogenous, a coherent cluster of orientations, and durable; (viii) criticisms of conceptualising culture as ‘thick’, by viewing it as essentialist, reductionist, conservative and empirically unjustified; (ix) understanding thin culture as empirical, constructivist and rational, endogenous, individualist, relatively unbounded and diverse, heterogeneous and ambivalent, as well as being dynamic and in a constant state of flux; (x) Zygmunt Bauman’s proposition that late modernism encourages individuals to believe in their own uniqueness; (xi) Paul Gilroy’s ‘changing same’, used to describe how migrant populations combine past, present and future in a dialogue between what is constant and what is changing; (xii) Andreas Reckwitz’s proposal that there is a conflict between perceptions of thick and thin culture in postmodernism; (xiv) two key questions to consider being whether formulations of culture as thick and think are in contest (with examples) and whether the future of how culture is thought about is promising.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Mulholland, J. (2023, May 26). Culture - Is Culture Thick, Thin, or Both? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Mulholland, J. "Culture – Is Culture Thick, Thin, or Both?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 26 May 2023,


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Dr Jon Mulholland

University of the West of England