John Mohr, Professor of Sociology at UC Santa Barbara. "Measuring Cultural Meaning"

Blumer Room - 402 Barrows Hall

What are cultural meanings?  In what ways can we use quantitative measures to capture meanings? How have social scientists changed their approach to measuring meanings over the years?  From the original invention of attitude measures by W.I. Thomas nearly a century ago, to the mapping of meaning fields by Kurt Lewin, the analysis of semantic differentials by Charles Osgood, the emergence of cognitive anthropology and network mappings of cultural discourse systems by sociologists over the last 20 years to the modern use of “topic model” technologies by computer scientists, the formal study of cultural meanings has changed dramatically over the last century, but the core questions about the nature of meaning and the central dilemmas of cultural interpretation continue to confound us.  In this talk, Prof. Mohr will address the conceptual problems and the historical progress of the social scientific approach to quantifying the study of cultural meanings and address the questions of where does the field stand today and where is it headed tomorrow?


John Mohr received his PhD from Yale University in 1992. His primary interest is in the empirical study of meaning systems, including applications of formal methods of relational (network) analysis to the study of discourse in institutional systems. He has studied the rise of bureaucratic forms of rationalization in the American social welfare sector, faculty activism on campus, and the discourse systems that surround changes in affirmative action programs in higher education. He is currently analyzing U.S. National Security Strategy discourse systems and finding ways to use textual analysis tools from the computer sciences to analyze cultural systems. He has also been active in developing programs for broadening participation in graduate education. With Roger Friedland, he co-edited Matters of Culture: Cultural Sociology in Practice (Cambridge University Press, 2004) and with Barbara Harthorn The Social Life of Nanotechnology (Routledge, 2012).  He has served as chair of the ASA section on the sociology of culture and currently serves on the editorial boards of Theory and Society, Poetics and The American Journal of Cultural Sociology.