Schemas, Interactions, and Objects in Meaning-Making1
Sociologists agree that there is something cultural that exists within individuals, in interactions, and in objects. And yet the process through which the culture inside individuals interacts with the culture outside of them is only partially understood and is generally untested. Relying on a novel quasi-experimental design, we investigate how the culture within individuals, interactions, and objects operates in the making of shared meanings. First, we find that cultural schemas set a baseline for shared meanings of objects. Second, we find that shared meanings are also made through interactions, and more vociferously between individuals with shared schemas. Third, we find that objects encoded with meanings set a higher baseline in interpretive clarity than more ambiguous objects. Lastly, we find that schema similarity and interactions jointly lead to greater shared meanings for more ambiguous objects, suggesting that individuals within groups work rapidly toward generating institutionalized and objectified meanings for objects when those assigned meanings do not yet exist. Findings begin to uncover the routine mechanisms of shared meaning creation, pointing toward new empirical frontiers in culture and cognition.
Rawlings, CM; Childress, C
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