Professor Cerulo teaches courses in culture, media, social interaction, social deviance, and statistics. She has authored several books and articles in the areas of culture and cognition, symbol systems and meaning, media and technology, social change, decision making, identity construction, and measurement techniques.
Professor Cerulo's research addresses a variety of themes within the sociology of culture and cognition. Some of Professor Cerulo's works explore the social foundations of symbol systems -- music, scent, verbal scripts, and visual images. Her research examines the ways in which social actors use such symbols to construct personal identity, collective identity, and the identity of eras, events, and places. Her work also charts the ways in which social factors -- i.e. the nature of social ties, the stability of social environments, power structures, economic systems of exchange, and technological innovations – help to shape the content, form, meaning, and effectiveness of symbols. Her prizewinning article entitled “Scents and Sensibility: Olfaction, Sense-making and Meaning Attribution” (American Sociological Review) uses focus group data to understand the role played by neural, physical, and sociocultural elements when we process and racialize the messages contained in commercial perfume scents.
Professor Cerulo's writings are often noted for their contributions to the literature on measurement. She has developed a number of indicators designed to systematically capture verbal and non-verbal symbol structure. These measures render aural, olfactory, literary, and visual objects extremely accessible sources of social science data, amenable to all of the rigorous methods that are central to the social science tradition.
In recent years, Professor Cerulo has turned her attentions to the social and cultural foundations of cognitive concepts and schema. Her work pays special attention to the links between cultural sociology and cognitive neuroscience. She has edited and contributed both to special issues and special sections on this topic published in Poetics (2010) and Sociological Forum (2014; 2021). She also co-authored a review piece, “Rethinking Culture and Cognition” published in the Annual Review of Sociology (2021).
She is the author of "Never Saw It Coming: Cultural Challenges to Envisioning the Worst" (University of Chicago Press, 2006), "Deciphering Violence: The Cognitive Order of Right and Wrong" (Routledge,1998), and "Identity Designs: The Sights and Sounds of a Nation" – winner of the Culture Section's "Best Book Award, 1996" (The Rose Book series of the ASA, Rutgers University Press, 1995).
Spurred by some of the issues raised in "Never Saw It Coming," Professor Cerulo has just completed a co-authored book entitled "Dreams of a Lifetime: How Culture Shapes Our Future Imaginings" (with Janet M. Ruane). The authors argue that dreams are thought to be matters of an individual's heart and mind. But in this book, the authors explore the sociocultural dimensions that organize and structure what Americans do (or do not) dream about, the ways in which they dream, variations in dreams according to one's social location, and when, if ever, people stop dreaming.