Four Questions For Lisa McCormick

Originally published in Section Culture: Newsletter of the Section Culture: Newsletter of the ASA Culture Section. Winter 2018. Vol. 30 Issue 1.

Section Chair Ron Jacobs (SUNY Albany) interviews Lisa McCormick (University of Edinburgh), representing the new editorial team at Cultural Sociology

Ron Jacobs: How did you become interested in editing Cultural Sociology? Please tell us about some of your own research in cultural sociology.

Lisa McCormick: The announcement that Cultural Sociology was seeking new editors was made shortly after I arrived at the University of Edinburgh in September 2015. I was still unpacking my books when we started working on our proposal; our team of three [McCormick, with Isabelle Darmon (University of Edinburgh) and Nick Prior (University of Edinburgh)] formally took over in April 2016. To develop our vision for the journal, we began by reflecting on its history. When Cultural Sociology was first launched in 2007, it carved out a distinctive position by filling a conspicuous absence in the publishing landscape. Cultural studies scholars were well served by several publication outlets. Theory, Culture & Society had established itself as the journal for cultural theorists, while empirical studies of cultural production and consumption filled the pages of Poetics. Ten years later it is no longer the case that cultural sociologists are “conceptually homeless.” Strongholds have been established on both sides of the Atlantic and Cultural Sociology has gained a US counterpart in 2013 with the launch of the American Journal of Cultural Sociology. Cultural studies is no longer the close cousin against which cultural sociology defines itself; cultural sociologists now engage with a broader range of cognate disciplines. We welcomed the challenge of navigating this exciting juncture in the journal’s (and the field’s) history.

Two of my co-editors, Nick Prior and Isabelle Darmon, share my research interest in music, but we could not be more different in the approaches we take to this common empirical focus. Nick is known mostly for his engagements with a Bourdieu/ANT inspired approach to music; he is currently working on a book about virtual idols (such as Hatsune Miku, the first “crowd-sourced celebrity”) that will draw on the concept of assemblage to explore questions of representation, the body, vocality and participatory culture. Isabelle, in addition to her interest in music, does research in the sociology of food, the environment and sustainability, and classical social theory. She combined all these in a recent project on the orders of flavours and sounds; drawing on Weber, she considers how the dynamics of capitalism influence culinary and musical domains of practice. My work on music is informed by the strong program in cultural sociology. This influence is most apparent in the performance perspective I developed through my work on international classical music competitions, and it continues to shape my research on symphonic diplomacy after the Cold War and the use of music at funerals. Our new co-editor, Angélica Thumala (Edinburgh University), is the only member of the team who is not a sociologist of music of some description. She brings an expertise in the sociology of religion, consumption, elites and reading. She is currently working on a project about the personal and political significance of reading in Latin America and the UK.

RJ: What do you see as some of the key points of similarity and difference when comparing cultural sociology in the UK and the US?

LM: The biggest difference is that cultural sociology has a more distinct identity in the US than in the UK. One contributing factor is the ASA Culture Section; there is no counterpart in the BSA, which means that cultural sociologists are scattered across several research “streams”. Another contributing factor is the tension between “cultural sociologists” and “sociologists of culture” in American sociology. This has raised the intellectual stakes and prevented a stagnant consensus from taking hold concerning the field’s self-definition. A related difference is that cultural sociology has never been considered a “fringe” area in British sociology, as it was in the US. The sociological study of cultural forms and processes has long existed in some shape or form; British sociology escaped the “Parsons effect” and therefore never had to rehabilitate the culture concept. As a result, British sociologists adopt this identifier much more casually and without much adjustment in the approach or substance of their work. Regarding substance, research on the arts (music, literature, visual art, etc.) is much more prominent in the British context.

The most obvious points of similarity are the enduring influence of Bourdieu and the considerable empirical research activity based on extending and refining Peterson’s “omnivore thesis”.

RJ: Your journal is one of the key sites organizing an international community of cultural sociologists, and yet it is also an official journal of the British Sociological Association. What kinds of things do you do to manage these two somewhat different missions of the journal?

LM: Cultural Sociology is undoubtedly more than a journal for British scholars writing on British topics. Take for example our most recent issue (Vol 12 No 1): authors are drawn from an impressive range of international institutions – Switzerland, Australia, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and South Korea – writing on a range of topics from the international scene. In addition to welcoming a diverse authorship, we have developed several strategies to cultivate our international reach and appeal. For example, we have introduced occasional “regional spotlights”, which offer perspectives on cultural sociological traditions, fields and scenes around the world. The inaugural article (Vol 11 No 4) by Dmitry Kurakin offered an intellectual history of the causes and consequences of the “missed cultural turn” in the Soviet Union and Russia. Future “regional spotlight articles” will further illuminate how cultural sociology has taken root and flourished beyond the Anglophone context.

Another mechanism of internationalisation is the composition of the editorial board, whose influence is also reflected in the pages of the journal. We were delighted when Professor Lyn 
Spillman (University of Notre Dame) agreed to serve as the American editor, and this year we welcomed Dr. Daniel Muriel (University of Deusto, Spain) as the new European book reviews editor. Professor Spillman is ensuring that our book reviews section includes reviews of important recent monographs in American cultural sociology, while Dr. Muriel will commission reviews of significant publications that are not yet available in English. Our new co-editor, Angélica Thumala, will also be an asset in this respect thanks to her fluency in the Spanish language, and her continuing affiliations with the World Bank and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. Angélica will oversee “regional spotlights” about Latin America. Between the editors we have language competency in several additional languages, including French, Swedish and Japanese.

At the same time, we never lose sight of the journal’s established reputation and role in promoting British sociology. Our main activities in this vein include participating in conferences and sponsoring events. We regularly contribute to professional development sessions on academic publishing organised by the BSA. At the 2017 BSA annual meeting in Manchester, we marked the journal’s tenth anniversary by hosting a panel on “Cultural Sociology and Contemporary Capitalism” (the video podcast is available on our website). We have also organised a panel for the forthcoming European Sociological Association Midterm conference, when the research networks on the Sociology of Art and the Sociology of Culture will congregate in Malta. The panelists, who are all recent contributors to the journal (and UK-based academics), will cast light on the economic, political, social and cultural ambivalences of “heritage” in British coastal towns and cities. In October 2018, the journal will co-sponsor a symposium in London on cultural trauma organised by two of our editorial board members, Kate Nash (Goldsmiths, UK) and Eric Woods (University of East London, UK). Finally, we have enhanced the journal’s social media presence by introducing a Twitter feed. In addition to drawing attention to OnlineFirst articles and new issues, we have been “live tweeting” from conferences and events to generate discussion.

RJ: What are some of the recent debates and special issues that you have organized in your journal that you found to be particularly exciting? What future plans do you have for special issues in the journal? 

LM: We could not have chosen better timing for publishing the special issue that came out last year on “Producing and Consuming Inequality: A Cultural Sociology of the Cultural Industries” (Vol 11, No 3, guest edited by Dave O’Brien, Kim Allen, Sam Friedman and Anamik Saha). Since it was published in June 2017, public concern about race, gender and class discrimination in the creative professions has only increased. In addition to its topicality, we are also pleased to see that the special issue has engaged the interest of scholars working on this topic in related disciplines, such as cultural policy and cultural economics. We hope that this will help to secure sociology’s place in research on a topic that was increasingly being considered the domain of media studies, cultural studies and business management.

More special issues are planned. This year we are publishing an issue on “DIY Music” guest edited by Andy Bennett (Griffith University, Australia) that will feature both theoretical articles and empirical research on musicians’ careers in Austria, Italy, China and Taiwan. We are also preparing a special issue on “Artification” guest edited by Roberta Shapiro (EHESS, Paris), which will include an article by Diana Crane (University of Pennsylvania). Later, Jason Mast (University of Warwick, UK) and Erik Ringmar (Lund University, Sweden) will be guest editors for a special issue on “Cultural Sociology and the Cognitive Neurosciences.”

As can be seen from the above, there is much going on in the journal Cultural Sociology, which reflects the vitality of our field. My fellow editors and I extend a warm welcome to share with us your thoughts, ideas, research and questions.