on January 29, 2005
Wendy Griswold's "Culture and Societies in a Changing World" provides serious students of sociology with an elegant model -- the "cultural diamond" -- with which to approach the analysis of cultures and societies. This model is comprised of four vertices: the social world (or context), the cultural object (the item or ritual under examination), the creator of the object, and the receiver of the object. In the first four chapters, Griswold takes the reader through various ways of understanding each vertex, as well as the interplay between each; the final three chapters examine social problems, organizational cultures, and the wired world, as each relates in different ways to cultures.
This short book (175 pages) offers the reader numerous examples and analytical tools in the search for cultural meaning within society. Griswold draws on writings and studies from both classical authors (e.g., Marx, Durkheim, Geertz) and more contemporary researchers. Her writing is at times almost too compact and efficient for my taste; a bit more elaboration on each point would have clarified some points -- hence my initial caveat that this book may not be for novices. However, this observation should be taken only as a personal preference, since the book provides solid theoretical underpinnings and examples that are right up to the moment (most evident in her frequent references to current events in the Middle East). Perhaps the closing chapter is the best in terms of tying cultures and societies together: "Cultures in a Wired World" is the most engaging and intriguing chapter as it provokes some serious thought about the Internet and its impact on the communities to which we belong.