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date: 17 April 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This article demonstrates how cultural sociology may contribute to, and further enrich, contemporary efforts to understand difference-based interactions in a non-reductionist way. More specifically, it explains how a systematic understanding of symbolic structures may be particularly useful in fostering the recent emphasis on boundary-making, rather than collective groups, as the focus of analysis. The article begins with a discussion of two major traditions in the study of difference-based phenomena such as ethnicity, migration, race, nationality, and foreignness: urban ecology and structural anthropology. It then considers the relationship between symbolic and social boundaries before turning to the generation of researchers who, since the 1960s, have pursued research programs oriented toward shifting the emphasis from collective actors to boundary-making processes. It also explains how such research programs have effectively challenged any simplistic vision of difference-based phenomena in terms of bounded groups defined by “natural” cultural differences.

Keywords: cultural sociology, difference-based interactions, boundary-making, collective groups, difference-based phenomena, urban ecology, structural anthropology, symbolic boundaries, social boundaries, cultural differences

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