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Session Overview
RN07_01a_P: Sociology of Culture General Session I
Wednesday, 30/Aug/2017:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Anna-Mari Almila, University of the Arts London
Location: PC.2.11
PANTEION University of Social & Political Sciences 136 Syggrou Avenue 17671 Athens, Greece Building: C, Level: 2.

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Where is the Joyful Society? Community and the Return of the Uncanny

Joost Van Loon

Catholic University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Germany

“Vrolijk Gezelschap”, a painting by Jan Steen, can be deployed to illustrate “pre-modern sociality”. As a signature hallmark of Jan Steen, it creates an ambience of chaos, noise, diversity and an absence of authority, order and sense of purpose. This stands in sharp contrast to Durkheim’s sketches of the organic solidarity that is required to support the functionally differentiated constitution of modern, industrial nation states and which formed the basis of Parsons’ conception of the evolution of society. Vergesellschaftung (a term Simmel deployed to describe the process of the unfolding of society) seems to be equated with the erosion of enjoyment, perhaps only to be replaced by a spectacle of entertainment, organized by the culture industries. In this paper, I reflect on the concept of joy, an affect that – unlike hope and fear – seems to be missing from contemporary sociological reflections on, for example, political culture. As from the start of the discipline, there have always been sociologists who have been critical of Vergesellschaftung in favour of more “cozy” concepts such as “community”, I will also consider the issue of “joy” as an affective charge of “communitas” and reflect on the pleasures (rather than joys) of repressing the strangeness within that are always part of this and seem to erupt with the catharsis of self-assertive identity politics. I discuss an example of contemporary “right wing populism” in Europe in the light of Freud’s concept of the uncanny with an aim to sociologize this as the antithesis of the joyful society.


Mark D. Jacobs

George Mason University, United States of America

How should the sociologist read a scandal? Scandals are not aberrant events, but rather ubiquitous ones; whether routine or sensational, they animate social interaction and cultural emergence. Society is only possible, according to Georg Simmel, because individuals exist simultaneously within it and without it. This premise implies that secrecy is one of the omnipresent forms constitutive of social life . As Edward Shils argues, this form itself creates some degree of fascination independent of content. And as Shils’s student Erving Goffman details in his landmark description of “the presentation of self in everyday life” (in many respects, an elaboration of Simmel’s essay “Secrecy and the Secret Society”), secrecy thus motivates the dramaturgy of everyday life, in which members of competing “teams” collude “backstage” to orchestrate the “frontstage” performances designed to protect their own secrets and expose those of others; indeed it is this process that describes the boundaries of the respective teams and helps create social identity. This dramaturgy is the stuff of scandal, which is therefore itself a universal form of social life. The scandal unfolds according to what Marshall Sahlins terms “the structure of the conjuncture,” along the fault-lines of social change and cultural emergence. The key to comprehending a scandal, as a number of case studies will suggest, rests in underlying social tensions and competing cultural frames.

More Than a Product: Strengthening Literature in Sociological Analysis

Jan Vana

Masaryk University, Faculty of Social Studies, Czech Republic

Literature is more than a reflection of social structure. Literary texts communicate emotions to the reader by means of their aesthetical function. Demonstrating the importance of aesthetics in the sociological analysis of literature, (1) I summarize the historical development of social knowledge which is usually referred to as “sociology of literature”. (2) I discuss the uses and limits of the dominant Bourdieusian approach towards literature. (3) Building on the strong program of cultural sociology, I provide an outline of the concept of iconicity and the phenomenology of reading to sketch a novel approach in the sociology of literature, which is explanatorily powerful, but also sensitive to meaning structures as well as the reading experience of literary texts. In the final chapter, (4) I demonstrate this approach in analyzing the novel Sister by Czech writer Jáchym Topol, a literary reflection on (and not just of) the Velvet Revolution.

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