Complex Cultural Concept (CCC)

Complex Cultural Concepts are primary data and, thus, a typical point of departure for the building block approach. These concepts play an important role in the identity politics of social formations, where they typically take on specific, oftentimes contested, meanings for insiders. Often, however, a CCC is taken up by a number of different formations, which understand it in divergent ways and put it to separate uses. Many of the terms that scholarly formations (i.e., different disciplines) use as analytical tools are themselves CCCs – as is the term “culture” itself. This is also the case with most of the “critical terms” in the study of religion. Thus, for example, ritual, meditation, sacred, prayer, magic, and mysticism are terms that cover a range of different practices and phenomena across, and even within, specific formations.

Due to their instability and variable use, the building block approach does not operationalize CCCs or seek to explain them as such. Rather, it seeks to explain the behaviors to which they refer in the context of specific social formations. So, for example, if we take “magic” as our point of departure, we must specify the formation in which we are studying “it”, redescribe “it” in behavioral terms, and pose our research questions in basic concepts (e.g., what actions are performed? How are they performed?). The outcome of such a study cannot be a theory or an explanation of “magic” in general, but of a specific patterned practice, which a given formation may characterize as “magic,” but which other formations may characterize differently.


By Egil Asprem & Ann Taves (2016). License: CC BY-SA 3.0.

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