Edelmann, Achim (2019). Boundary violations and adolescent drinking: Observational evidence that symbolic boundaries moderate social influence. PLOS ONE.
vol. 14 (11)
Scholars of social influence can benefit from attending to symbolic boundaries. A common and influential way to understand symbolic boundaries is as widely shared understandings of what types of behaviors, tastes, and opinions are appropriate for different kinds of people. Scholars following this understanding have mostly focused on how people judge others and how symbolic boundaries align with and thus reproduce social differences. Although this work has been impressive, I argue that it might miss important ways in which symbolic boundaries become effective in everyday social life. I therefore develop an understanding of how symbolic boundaries affect people’s ideas and decisions about themselves and their own behavior. Based on this, I argue that focusing on boundary violations—that is, what happens if people express opinions or enact behavior that contravenes what is considered (in)appropriate for people like them—might offer an important way to understand how symbolic boundaries initiate and shape cultural and social change. Using data from Add Health, I demonstrate the utility of this line of argument and show that boundary violations play an important role in channeling social influence. Conservative/Evangelical Protestants and to a lesser degree Catholics, but not Mainline Protestants are highly influenced by the drinking of co-religionists. I consider the implications for cultural sociology.