Future Imaginings: Public and Personal Culture, Social Location, and the Shaping of Dreams*

Karen A. Cerulo, Janet M. Ruane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Using data derived from focus groups, interviews, and the content analysis of widely circulated cultural scripts on dreaming, we document the social patterning of people’s future imaginings. People attend to, store, and activate different cultural scripts in building dreams for the future. These scripts derive from “pubic culture”—widely available repertoires, including values and beliefs; concepts; story frames, scripts, and narratives; customs, practices, and rules. We show that one’s “social location”—where class, race, or gender place people in social space—influences the particular cultural scripts ingrained in people’s minds. We also show that people use different forms of “personal culture” (nondeclarative and declarative, along with their accompanying cognitive styles) in expressing their dreams to others. Those attuned to the dominant scripts about dreaming, (generally those in privileged social locations), more often rely on nondeclarative culture in reporting what and why they dream. Those at odds with dominant scripts (generally those in less privileged locations) more often rely on declarative culture in explaining what and why they dream. Our study uses dreams to shed light on the relationship between public and personal culture—a task called for by current work in culture and cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1345-1370
Number of pages26
JournalSociological Forum
Issue numberS1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • cognition
  • culture
  • dreams
  • future imaginings
  • inequality
  • social location


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