Howard S. Becker


For any picture, ask yourself what question or questions it might be answering. Since the picture could answer many, questions, we can decide what question we are interested in. The picture will, of course, suggest that some questions are likely to find answers in it. For instance, Owens's pictures of pantries and refrigerators clearly suggest that they will answer questions about what kinds of food the inhabitants of the houses store and presumably eat, while other pictures in Suburbia suggest that they will answer other questions about the housekeeping arrangements of these people. Even in the simplest societies, no two people learn quite the same cultural material; the chance encounters of daily life provide sufficient variation to ensure that. No set of cultural understandings, then, provides a perfectly applicable solution to any problem people have to solve in the course of their day, and they therefore must remake those solutions, adapt their understandings to the new situation in the light of what is different about it.