Binding significance to form: Cultural objects, neural binding, and cultural change

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Abstract

In sociology, a cultural object is the “binding” of significance to a material form. But, how do people “bind” otherwise discrete elements as a single element? In cognitive neuroscience and the philosophy of mind, this is known as the “binding problem.” Sociologists can learn from research on binding, as it deepens our understanding of cultural objects, learning, and social change. Binding is the process by which a material “token” is assimilated into (or expands the boundaries of) a cognitive “type,” or resists such typification thereby leading to the formation of a new cognitive “type.” Cultural objects are simultaneously types and tokens, and the interplay between them results in a fundamental cultural instability. “Binding” is an attempt to stabilize meaning in two ways: the first, innovating, is implicated in the emergence of a cultural object, and the second, indexicalizing, in its maintenance and extension. However, even the process of indexicalizing a well-established type—i.e., the proliferation of tokens—provides the material fodder from which to innovate new types. Attention to binding processes in the production and reception of cultural objects reveals important insight into the dynamics of cultural change and stability.

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Taylor, M. A., Stoltz, D. S., & McDonnell, T. E. (2019). Binding significance to form: Cultural objects, neural binding, and cultural change. Poetics, 73, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.poetic.2019.01.005

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