Karen A. Cerulo – Wikipedia

American sociologist

Karen A. Cerulo (born January 25, 1957 in Perth Amboy, New Jersey) is an American sociologist specializing in the study of culture, communication and cognition. Currently, she is a Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University[1] and the editor of Sociological Forum, the flagship journal of the Eastern Sociological Society.[2] From 2009 to 2010, she served as the Chair of the American Sociological Association’s Culture section,[3] and since 1999, she has directed the section’s Culture and Cognition Network.[4] Her book Identity Designs: The Sights and Sounds of a Nation won the section’s award for the best book of 1996 and her article “Scents and Sensibilities: Olfaction, Sense-making and Meaning Attribution” won the section’s 2019 Clifford Geertz Prize for Best Article.[5] Cerulo is a former Vice President of the Eastern Sociological Society.[6] In 2013, she was named the Robin M. Williams Jr. Lecturer by the Eastern Sociological Society;[7] she won that organization’s Merit Award in the same year.[8] In 2019, she was elected to the Sociological Research Association.

Background[edit]

Cerulo earned her B.A. from Rutgers University, graduating summa cum laude in 1980. She received her M.A. (1983) and Ph.D. (1985) in sociology from Princeton University.[9] Her dissertation was titled “Social Solidarity and Its Effects on Musical Communication: An Empirical Analysis Of National Anthems.”

Cerulo was an assistant professor of sociology at Stony Brook University from 1985 to 1990. She joined the faculty of Rutgers University in the fall of 1990.[1] In 1994, she received the School of Arts and Sciences’ “Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education.” In 2012, she won the university’s “Scholar-Teacher Award”,[10] an honor bestowed on faculty persons who have made outstanding contributions in both research and teaching. She chaired the Rutgers sociology department from 2009 to 2012, graduating with departmental

honors.[11]

Scholarship[edit]

Much of Cerulo’s work revolves around symbol systems and their role in communication. She studies both verbal and nonverbal systems, including language, music, graphic images, and scents. While most people focus on the content of symbols, Cerulo prioritizes symbolic structure. She defines symbolic structure as the spatial or temporal organization of a symbol’s constituent parts—i.e. the ways in which colors and shapes are combined in visual images or notes, sounds, odors or words are temporally sequenced in musical, olfactory or verbal messages. Cerulo argues that structure, like content, carries meaning for those creating and receiving symbol based messages. Therefore, it is important to understand how symbolic structure resonates with those involved in the communication process. Cerulo unfolds this agenda in several articles[12][13][14][15][16][17] and two of her books: Identity Designs: The Sights and Sounds of a Nation[18] and Deciphering Violence: The Cognitive Structure of Right and Wrong.[19] These works highlight two important findings. First, Cerulo shows that certain symbolic structures are associated with predictable reactions from those receiving messages. By uncovering and understanding these patterns, she argues, one can greatly enhance communication effectiveness. Second, she demonstrates that symbol structures vary in predictable ways according to the sociocultural conditions under which they are produced or projected. Contextual factors such as cultural heterogeneity, political or social stability, existing power structures, dominant systems of economic exchange, professional norms of expression, the nature of social ties, or levels of “collective focus” are all associated with certain variants of symbolic structure. (Collective focus is a concept developed by Cerulo to gauge the points of attention to which a collective body is directed at a given moment;[20][21] others have since utilized the term.[22][23][24]) Some describe Cerulo’s work on symbolic communication as a “demonstration of research ingenuity,”[25] one that “makes important contributions to debates about meaning and measurement.”[26] Moreover, “her answers to questions of how rather than what symbols communicate merit the attention of all scholars working in the sociology of culture and symbolic anthropology.”[27]

In line with her interest in symbolic communication, Cerulo has developed a number of quantitative indicators that capture the essence of symbol structures.[28][16][29][17][30][31] For example, her measures of musical structure capture elements of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic motion, ornamentation and dissonance. Her measures of graphic images capture levels of density, contrast and distortion. In dealing with scents, she measures the diversity, contrast and temporal ordering of scent components. These measures allow one to classify the relative complexity of symbol structures. As a result, Cerulo’s measures make cultural objects such as paintings, logos, anthems, songs, even perfumes accessible sources of social science data, amenable to the field’s most rigorous analytic methods. The development of these measures earned Cerulo recognition as “a methodological pioneer in symbolic research.”[32]

In addition to studying the tools of communication, Cerulo is also interested in communication media. She has written extensively on the ways in which new communication technologies can change definitions and perceptions of social actors, social groups, and appropriate sites of action. She also problematizes the distinction between direct and mediated communication and she explores the contexts in which social connectedness and social cohesion develop in lieu of physical co-presence.[33][34][35][36][37][38][39][40][41] Her work “presents a sophisticated typology of forms of interaction which goes beyond simple dichotomies like direct vs. mediated.”[42]

In recent years, Cerulo has worked to establish a dialog between cognitive neuroscience and cognitive sociology. Her edited collection, Culture in Mind: Toward a Sociology of Culture and Cognition,[43] as well as several review pieces [44][45][46][47][48] suggest viable links between these disciplines’ approach to conceptualization and schematization, habituation and attention, nurturance and attachment, cognitive styles, and memory storage. Cerulo’s book Never Saw It Coming: Cultural Challenges to Envisioning the Worst [49] also forwarded this agenda. In it, she builds on two cognitive scientific ideas, prototyping and graded membership, to explain a sociocultural phenomenon she calls “positive asymmetry”—i.e. a blind optimism associated with a disregard for worst-case scenarios. Cerulo’s work documents the widespread nature of positive asymmetry, tracking its influence in key events in the life cycle, the sites of work and play, and in the organizations and bureaucracies that structure social life. She shows that while definitions of best and worst change over time and place, the tendency to prioritize the best is rather constant. Most communities maintain cultural practices (what she calls “eclipsing”, “clouding” and “recasting”) that background materials dealing with worst-cases or negative concepts. Her work also identifies certain structural conditions under which these cultural practices are more or less likely to be used. “In a daring extrapolation, Cerulo argues that this individual grading is recapitulated in cultural cognition.”[50] She suggests that the cultural practices associated with positive asymmetry harness the brain’s propensity toward asymmetrical thinking. The practices take the mechanic of human brain operations and encode that process into a much more targeted and specialized experiential bias. Cerulo’s work concludes by reviewing both the helpful and debilitating consequences of positive asymmetry. She also questions whether this highly entrenched phenomenon can ever (or should ever) be corrected. Organizations expert Karl Weick says of the book, “This book is a welcome addition to an already growing literature on worst cases … What Cerulo adds to this mix is a mechanism, a catalog of cultural practices that make it difficult for people to envision the worst, a broader range of settings in which this imbalance plays out, initial efforts to characterize settings where negative symmetry is acceptable and encouraged, insistence that the unique details of worst cases are what is important, and a solid grounding at the individual level of analysis with the cognitive principle of ‘graded membership’.”[50] Journalist Barbara Ehrenreich called the book “remarkable” as it “recounts a number of ways that the habit of positive thinking … undermined preparedness and invited disaster.”[51] The book was the topic of an “Author Meets Critics” session at the 2008 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.[52] In an effort to spotlight Cerulo’s critiques of the optimism agendas forwarded in books such as Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, writer John Gravois initiated a campaign in Slate magazine to have Cerulo interviewed on The Oprah Winfrey Show. “The Secret tells us to visualize best-case scenarios and banish negative ones from our minds,” wrote Gravois. “Never Saw It Coming says that’s what we’ve been doing all along—and we get blindsided by even the most foreseeable disasters because of it.”[53]

Cerulo continues this line of research in her book, Dreams of a Lifetime: How Who We Are Shapes How We Imagine Our Future (with Janet M. Ruane).[54] In this book, (and other articles),[55] Cerulo and Ruane note that we are all free to dream about the future. But using interviews and focus groups, they show that where a person stands in social space—i.e. their social class, race, gender, stage of life, or encounters with disruptive live events—patterns people’s dreams and deposits both possibilities and obstacles into one’s mind, influencing what and how people dream, whether people embrace dreaming or simply give up on it. By exploring people’s future imaginings, Cerulo and Ruane uncover a new dimension of inequality—inequality ingrained in mind and body well before action or outcome unfold.

Selected publications[edit]

  • Cerulo, Karen A. and Janet M. Ruane. (2022). Dreams of a Lifetime: How Who We Are Shapes How We Imagine Our Future. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691229096
  • Cerulo, Karen A., Vanina Leschziner, and Hana Shepherd. 2021. “Rethinking Culture and Cognition.” Annual Review of Sociology 47: 63-85.
  • Cerulo, Karen A. (2018). “Scents and Sensibilities: Olfaction, Sense-making and Meaning Attribution.” American Sociological Review 83(2): 361-389.
  • Cerulo, Karen and Janet M. Ruane. (2014) “Apologies of the Rich and Famous: Social, Cultural and Cognitive Explanations of Why We Care and Why We Forgive.” Social Psychology Quarterly 77: 2: 123-149.
  • Cerulo, Karen A. (2010) “Mining the Intersections of Cognitive Sociology and Neuroscience.” Poetics 38: 2: 115-132.
  • Cerulo, Karen A. (2009) “Non-Humans in Social Interaction.” Annual Review of Sociology vol. 35: 531-552.
  • Cerulo, Karen A. (2006) Never Saw It Coming: Cultural Challenges to Envisioning the Worst. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226100332.
  • Cerulo, Karen A. (2002) Culture in Mind: Toward A Sociology of Culture and Cognition. New York/London: Routledge. ISBN 041592944X.
  • Cerulo, Karen A. (1998) Deciphering Violence: The Cognitive Structure of Right and Wrong. New York/London: Routledge. ISBN 0415917999.
  • Cerulo, Karen A. and Ruane, Janet M. (1998) “Coming Together: New Taxonomies for the Analysis of Social Relations.” Sociological Inquiry 68: 3: 398-425.
  • Cerulo, Karen A. (1995) Identity Designs: The Sights and Sounds of A Nation. The Arnold and Caroline Rose Book Series of the American Sociological Association. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0813522110.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b “Cerulo, Karen A”. www.sociology.rutgers.edu. Retrieved May 16, 2022.
  2. ^ “Sociological Forum”. Wiley. 2010. doi:10.1111/(issn)1573-7861.
  3. ^ “Past Section Officers”. www.ibiblio.org. Retrieved May 16, 2022.
  4. ^ “Culture and Cognition”. www.sas.rutgers.edu.
  5. ^ “Sociology of Culture Award Recipient History”. www.asanet.org. Retrieved May 16, 2022.
  6. ^ “ESSnet” (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-03-19. See p. 4., accessed June 10, 2015.
  7. ^ “Past Lecturer”. www.essnet.org. Retrieved June 10, 2015.
  8. ^ “ESS Merit Award”. www.essnet.org. Retrieved June 10, 2015.
  9. ^ Archived 2015-05-31 at the Wayback Machine , accessed May 16, 2022.
  10. ^ “Footnotes | July/August 2012 Issue | Announcements”. See section on Awards. Accessed May 16, 2022.
  11. ^ “Cerulo, Karen A”. sociology.rutgers.edu. Retrieved May 16, 2022.
  12. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. (1984) “Social Disruption and Its Effects on Music: An Empirical Analysis.” Social Forces 62(4): 885-904.
  13. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. (1988) “What’s Wrong With This Picture?: Enhancing Communication Effectiveness Through Syntactic or Semantic Distortion.” Communication Research 15(1): 93-101.
  14. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. (1989) “Socio-Political Control and the Structure of National Symbols: An Empirical Analysis of National Anthems.” Social Forces 68(1): 76-99.
  15. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. (1993) “Symbols and the World-System: National Anthems and Flags.” Sociological Forum 8(2): 243-272.
  16. ^ a b Cerulo, Karen A. (1995) “Designs on the White House: TV Ads, Message Structure, and Election Outcome.” Research in Political Sociology vol. 7: 63-88.
  17. ^ a b Cerulo, Karen and Janet M. Ruane. (2014) “Apologies of the Rich and Famous: Social, Cultural and Cognitive Explanations of Why We Care and Why We Forgive.” Social Psychology Quarterly 77(2): 123-149.
  18. ^ Archived 2015-05-11 at the Wayback Machine ; https://www.amazon.com/Identity-Designs-American-Sociological-Association/dp/0813522110 , accessed May 16, 2022.
  19. ^ “Deciphering Violence: The Cognitive Structure of Right and Wrong”. www.routledge.com. Retrieved May 16, 2022.
  20. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. (1995). Identity Designs: The Sights and Sounds of A Nation. The Arnold and Caroline Rose Book Series of the American Sociological Association. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0813522110.
  21. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. (2002) “Individualism Pro Tem: Reconsidering U.S. Social Relations.” Pp. 135-171 in K. A. Cerulo (ed.), Culture In Mind: Toward A Sociology of Culture and Cognition. New York: Routledge.
  22. ^ Purcell, Kristen. (1997). “Towards a Communication Dialectic: Embedded Technology and the Enhancement of Place*.” Sociological inquiry 67(1): 101-112.
  23. ^ Keogan, Kevin. (2002). “A sense of place: the politics of immigration and the symbolic construction of identity in southern California and the New York metropolitan area.” Sociological Forum 17(2): 223-253.
  24. ^ Liao, Tim F., Gehui Zhang, and Libin Zhang. (2012). “Social foundations of national anthems: theorizing for a better understanding of the changing fate of the national anthem of China.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 42(1): 106-127.
  25. ^ Athens, Lonnie. (1999). “Review of Deciphering Violence: The Cognitive Structure of Right and Wrong.” Contemporary Sociology 28(5): 581-582.
  26. ^ Spillman, Lynette. (1997). “Review of Identity Designs: The Sights and Sounds of a Nation.” Contemporary Sociology 26(2): 244-245.
  27. ^ Schwartz, Barry. (1997). “Review of Identity Designs: The Sights and Sounds of a Nation.” Sociological Inquiry 67(1): 125-127.
  28. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. (1988) “Analyzing Cultural Products: A New Method of Measurement.” Social Science Research 17: 317-352.
  29. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. (1998) Deciphering Violence: The Cognitive Structure of Right and Wrong. New York/London: Routledge. ISBN 0415917999.
  30. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. (2015) “The Embodied Mind: Building on Wacquant’s Carnal Sociology.” Qualitative Sociology 38: 1: 33-38.
  31. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. (2018). “Scents and Sensibilities: Olfaction, Sense-making and Meaning Attribution.” American Sociological Review 83(2): 361-389.
  32. ^ Schoenhals, Mark. (1996). “Review of Identity Designs: The Sights and Sounds of a Nation.” American Journal of Sociology 1(2): 603-604.
  33. ^ Cerulo, Karen A., Ruane, Janet M. and Chayko, Mary. (1992) “Technological Ties That Bind: Media-Centered Primary Groups.” Communication Research 19(1): 109-129.
  34. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. (1997) “Re-framing Sociological Concepts for a Brave New (Virtual?) World.” Sociological Inquiry 67(1): 48-58.
  35. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. and Ruane, Janet M. (1997) “Death Comes Alive: Technology and the Re-conception of Death.” Science As Culture vol. 6 no. 28 part 3: 444-466.
  36. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. (1997) “Identity Construction.” Annual Review of Sociology. Vol. 23: 385-409.
  37. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. and Ruane, Janet M. (1998) “Coming Together: New Taxonomies for the Analysis of Social Relations.” Sociological Inquiry 68(3): 398-425.
  38. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. ( 2002) “Individualism Pro Tem: Reconsidering U.S. Social Relations.” Pp. 135-171 in K. A. Cerulo (ed.), Culture In Mind: Toward A Sociology of Culture and Cognition. New York: Routledge.
  39. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. and Barra, Andrea. (2008) “In the Name of …: Legitimate Interactants in the Dialogue of Prayer.” Poetics 36: 5-6: 374–388.
  40. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. (2009) “Non-Humans in Social Interaction.” Annual Review of Sociology vol. 35: 531-552.
  41. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. (2014) “Communication in the Internet Age.” Pp. 370-378 in M. Sasaki et al. (eds.) The Concise Encyclopedia of Comparative Sociology. The Netherlands: Brill
  42. ^ Diani, Mario. 1999. “Social Movement Networks Virtual and Real.” http://www3.nd.edu/~dmyers/cbsm/vol2/bgham99.pdf Archived 2014-03-27 at the Wayback Machine , accessed May 16, 2022
  43. ^ “Culture in Mind: Toward a Sociology of Culture and Cognition”. www.routledge.com. Retrieved May 16, 2022.
  44. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. (2010) “Mining the Intersections of Cognitive Sociology and Neuroscience.” Poetics 38: 2: 115-132.
  45. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. (2014) “Continuing the Story: Maximizing the Intersections of Cognitive Science and Sociology.” Sociological Forum 29: 4: 1012-1019.
  46. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. 2015. “Culture and Cognition.” Emerging Trends in Sociology. R. Scott and S. Kosslyn, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9781118900772.etrds0063/abstract, accessed May 16, 2022.
  47. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. 2019. “Embodied Cognition: Sociology’s Role in Bridging Mind, Brain and Body.” Pp. 81-100 in W. Brekhus and G. Ignatow (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.
  48. ^ Cerulo, Karen A., Vanina Leschziner, and Hana Shepherd. (2021) “Rethinking Culture and Cognition.” Annual Review of Sociology V47: 63-85.
  49. ^ Never Saw It Coming. press.uchicago.edu. University of Chicago Press. Retrieved May 16, 2022.
  50. ^ a b Weick, Karl. 2008. “Review of Never Saw It Coming.” American Journal of Sociology 113: 6: 1762-1764.
  51. ^ Ehrenreich, Barbara. 20098. Bright-sided: How the relentless promotion of positive thinking has undermined America, p. 10. New York:Macmillan.
  52. ^ Meeting Program: http://convention2.allacademic.com/one/asa/asa08/index.php?click_key=1&cmd=Multi+Search+Load+Person&people_id=1127966&PHPSESSID=sqm40fep1uffagf8qejt9kukb3 , accessed June 10, 2015.
  53. ^ Gravois, John (May 16, 2007). “Think Negative!”. Slate Magazine. Retrieved May 16, 2022.
  54. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. and Janet M. Ruane. (2022). Dreams of a Lifetime: How Who We Are Shapes How We Imagine Our Future. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  55. ^ Cerulo, Karen A. and Janet M. Ruane. (2021) “Future Imaginings: Public Culture, Personal Culture, Social Location, and the Shaping of Dreams.” Sociological Forum 36: SI: 1345-1370.

External links[edit]