The areas indicated by terms such as 'culture', 'ideology' and 'representation' have in recent years been the subject of extensive and increasing analysis and debate. As the editors of this collection of essays we aim at offering a contribution to this debate, not so much by taking up a position, but by attempting to locate problems and outline developments. The papers published here were originally given at the 1978 conference of the British Sociological Association, the theme of which was 'Culture'. As organisers of this conference we were faced with the problem of defining the area of work which would be embraced by that vexed and ambiguous term. This problem of definition led us to consider the more fundamental question of the relationship between work in the area of 'cultural studies' and the traditional concerns of institutionalised academic sociology. Given the virtual non-existence of any sociology of culture we were confronted by a field that was largely unmapped: consequently in selecting papers for the conference, we were unable to adopt a strategy either of reflecting 'the state of the art' or of providing a showcase for the 'best' work being done in the field. In defining the theme we were therefore necessarily forced to take up a position on what we considered to be important points of development and lines of future work.