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Session Overview
RN29_01a_H: Social Theory
Wednesday, 30/Aug/2017:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Esther Oliver, University of Barcelona
Location: HB.1.14
HAROKOPIO University 70 El. Venizelou Street 17671 Athens, Greece Building: B, Level: 1.

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From collective representations to social imaginaries: Castoriadis’ contribution to the social sciences

Christopher John Gilleard

University College London, United Kingdom

This paper considers Cornelius Castoriadis’ writing on the social imaginary from the perspective of the tradition established by Durkheim of considering collective representations as social facts. While Durkheim was at pains to distinguish between individual and collective consciousness, interest in the latter has shifted from sociology to social psychology, in the study of ‘social representations’. At the same time, Castoriadis’ interest in how society represents itself tom itself in and through the ‘radical’ imaginary has been used to advocate for the importance of personal agency and subjectivity as a source of social change rather than the stability and solidarity encapsulated by more structuralist interpretations of collective thought. While writers such as Charles Taylor have used the term social imaginary to represent shared assumptions, beliefs and narratives as a means of sustaining trust, Castoriadis’ writings emphasised the role of the imaginary as a creative source of meaning making rather than a mechanism for relaying common beliefs. While recognising that collective representations do constitute social facts, in the sense intended by Durkheim, the present paper argues that the creative, ‘radical’ aspect of the imaginary produces a surplus of signification attached to any particular collective representation – of class, gender, race or sexuality for example. This surplus – the polysemous nature of social imaginaries – increases as the resources for any symbolic organisation of social thought expand, serving as a radical resistance to each and every attempt at culturally essentialising beliefs, belongings and identities.

Theorization of Social Governance in China and its Possible Meaning to European Sociology

Hongwen Zhu

Beijing Normal University, China, People's Republic of

A definition of sociology is popular in European academics, Sociology is a social science that uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about society. Empirical investigation and critical analysis are the two main methods in sociology and therefore sociology could be categorized into two forms, i.e. empirical sociology and critical sociology. Social governance in today’s China is a very popular topic not only in the field of social policy but also in the sociology. Social governance has become an important theme of sociology. The research and practice of contemporary Chinese sociology is obviously different from European one but it is probably a new way of the development of contemporary sociology.

The problem of a rationalized cultural structure of the civil sphere: a critical interpretation of Jeffrey C. Alexander’s symbolic code of liberty

Veronika Frantová

Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic

This paper critically elaborates on the concept of a binary symbolic code of civil society by Jeffrey C. Alexander and Philip Smith and through this narrowly-focused conceptual critique intends to contribute to a wider debate on the role of emotionality and rationality in the public space. Alexander is one of the few who has managed to make a breakthrough with the new paradigm in the last decades of social theory development. However, institutionalization of a "Strong Program in Cultural Sociology" without adequate reflection on its epistemological foundations bears the risk of cultural sociology becoming a hidden representative of neofunctionalist ideology instead of a critical discipline. Alexander limits himself to the critique of repressive forces of the non-civil spheres against the civil sphere, and as the only possible inclusive strategy offers a translation of so far exclusionary qualities of the referents into positive characteristics of the civil code of liberty. Contrary to this approach, I emphasize that the ideal of rationalized modernity that Alexander reveals through the symbolic code of the civil sphere still reflects hegemonic relations. Thus, I suggest deconstructing the inner structure of the civil code. Following one stream of the critique of Alexander's concept (Rabinovitch 2001; Meeks 2001), I particularly focus on the elimination of emotionality and irrationality from the discourse of civil society and show that they can be perceived and strengthened as positively civil, rather than being constrained to the familial or other non-civil spheres.

For a holistic social science

Risto Heiskala

University of Tampere, Finland

Sociologists, political scientists and economists do not read each other’s work, and very few of them want to know anything about such synthetic research programmes as political economy or historical materialism not to mention the results of natural sciences such as biology. The paper deals with the questions, how did we end up to this situation and, more importantly, how can we create a holistic research programme, which shows the path away from that balkanized state toward a social science, which understands that society is one totality, treats it as such and is thus capable to face the fatal problems of our time? Its strategy is to make a journey from political economists and Marx through Weber to Michael Mann’s historical sociology with the so-called IEMP model for the study of ideological, economic, military and political power sources in its core. For creating capacity to properly treat the material side of society and tackle such fatal problems of our time as environmental crisis, violence reduction and inequality an even more extensive model is developed. In the spirit of the short-lived attempts for reconstruction of historical materialism by Habermas, Eder, Giddens and others in the turn of the 1970s and 198s that approach unifies to one conception natural, artefactual, cultural, economic, violence-related and political sources of power and thus establishes what can be called the NACEVP model of social research.

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