Cultural sociology must catch up in taking seriously recent initiatives in the sociology of culture and cognition, represented by the works of Omar Lizardo, John Levi Martin, Stephen Vaisey, and others. However, aiming at progress in cultural analysis, these theories are partly driven by an epistemic logic alien to cultural theorizing, making the very concept of culture redundant. To identify this anti-cultural strain within the ongoing cognitive turn in sociology, I propose an ideal-typical model—‘the informational theory of communication,’ which reduces culture to information. Although many cognitive scientists and sociologists of culture and cognition are aware of the limitations and counter-productivity of this model, and it might not exist in a pure form, I argue that, first, it is still clearly traceable in many of their arguments, and, second, that it can be seen as a cultural logic underlying a substantial part of their arguments. I posit that replacing this logic of explanation with the Durkheimian model of sui generis synthesis, the concept of emergence, and the idea of ‘boundary conditions’ not only allows us to integrate the insights of cognitive science into sociology, but also opens a way for sociology to contribute to the cognitive sciences.
The article of a well-known German social theorist Friedrich Tenbruck, which once provoked a heated debate among Weberian scholars, analyzes the works of Max Weber in terms of their thematic structure and general heuristics. The first section reconstructs the genesis and content of the idea that Economy and Society was the main work of the classic German scholar of sociology, an idea that was initially made popular among scholars by Marianne Weber. The second part is devoted to disenchantment as a fundamental process in the history of religion, the discovery of which is traditionally attributed to Weber’s famous work The Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism. The third part analyzes the broad conceptual field used by Max Weber to study Western rationalization. The fourth part critically analyzes the thesis of Western rationalization as Weber’s main, life-long topic, the thesis which was originally introduced by Reinhard Bendix. In the fifth part, an attempt is made to determine the exact place of Economic Ethics of the World Religions in the overall structure of Weber’s work. In the sixth part, the processes of Western rationalization are placed within the general context of Weber’s conception of the universal history understood as a field of tension between ideas and interests. The final section emphasizes the importance of Weber’s writings on the sociology of religion, with Economic Ethics of the World Religions in particular as the core of his entire mature sociology. It also poses the question of the problematic nature of various Weberian notions for contemporary sociology, and points out the persisting validity of Weber’s sociological diagnosis of the time for the analysis of current problems in the perspective of a world-wide historical significance.
In the narrative of Game of Thrones, a fantasy television drama, well-known elements of fantasymedia products successfully blend with their new forms. These elements connect to a specific emotional regime which refers directly to the emotional cultures of contemporary societies through its pessimistic coloring. Cultural pessimism stems from the complex, problematic situations in Europe and America which shape the context in which the television drama originated, and provides a glimpse into the social and political subconsciousness of these societies. The article attempts to reveal these situations by studying the actions and motivations of the drama’s characters, as well as the dramatized means and social framework of the action. The analysis shows that Game of Thrones can be read as a form of a cultural reworking of the experiences of the social and political upheavals in European and American societies. Cultural pessimism is a recipe for the success of this serial drama, but ultimately there is little that can counteract the destructive attitudes that dominate the cultures of contemporary Western societies
The paper is a review of a number of writings in the humanities and in social science devoted to George Martin’s series of epic fantasy novels A Song of Ice and Fire, and the television-serial drama Game of Thrones. At the beginning, we analyze the researchers’ most heuristically-fruitful intellectual reactions to Game of Thrones, that is, specific products such as texts that may be of interest to social theory. The main part of the article considers the institutional and discursive order of George Martin’s saga through the research lens of the classics of modern social theory, such as Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, and Max Weber. The paper then briefly touches upon the religious situation in Westeros, whose system of values and norms is paradoxically characterized by both post-secularism and a surge of religious fundamentalism. As a next step, it analyzes the political theology in the Game of Thrones, which is considered within the perspective of a transcendental legitimization of politics as proposed by Carl Schmitt. In conclusion, the paper considers Westeros’ cognitive landscape which consists of various competing epistemic sets (maesters, septons, white walkers, etc.), and structurally reproduces the situation in the societies of late modernity.
Note-taking is an ordinary, common student practice at universities, which is rapidly changing under the influx of electronic technologies for recording and storing audio and visual educational materials. However, little attention has been paid to the actual organization of note-taking. This chapter presents an ethnomethodological study of the real-world orderliness of note-taking. It shows that note-taking is a collaborative production of teachers and students: students take into account the details of teacher’s speech and gestures while teachers adjust their lecturing activities to the visible actions of note-taking students. The analysis, based primarily on the data from lectures for undergraduate students in a Russian university, shows that note-taking practices are interwoven into the choreography of classroom interaction, the local history of student learning, and the knowledge certification practices at universities. The preliminary description of the details of local material practices of note production and usage lays the foundation for the analysis of note-taking as a routinely organized and organizational situated activity.
This paper introduces the concept of form of life, socially shaped and shared meaning structures of actors situated in material contexts, as a tool for the cultural-sociological analysis of biographies and life trajectories. Following the principles of structural hermeneutics, such an analysis of life-forms treats the interview text as manifestation of a deeper holistic meaning structure, embodied in narratives, binaries and metaphors, without suppressing the contradictions and tensions inherent in every form of life. Finally, the empirical applicability of our approach is illustrated with examples from the qualitative strand of a broader longitudinal panel study as well as an in-depth case study.
We investigate the parallelism between aesthetic experience and the practice of phenomenology using Viktor Shklovsky's theory of 'estrangement' (ostranenie). In his letter to Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Husserl claims that aesthetic and phenomenological experiences are similar; in the perception of a work of art we change our attitude in order to concentrate on how the things appear to us instead of what they are. A work of art 'forces us into' the aesthetic attitude in the same way as the phenomenological epoché drives us into the phenomenological one. The change of attitudes is a condition of possibility of aesthetic and/or phenomenological experience. Estrangement is an artistic device that breaks the routinised forms of perception: one sees the thing as new and does not just "recognise" it automatically. Shklovsky insists that it is possible if one experiences or feels the form of the work of art - in an affective and even sensuous way. We claim that this is similar to the phenomenological seeing, or intuition, which, according to Husserl, should be devoid of all understanding. Phenomenological epoché can also be described as a philosophical technique that aims to arrest the 'ready-made', 'taken for granted', 'pre-given' meanings in order to access a new meaning which is not yet stabilised, the "meaning-in-formation". It is not enough to turn from what appears to how it appears; one has to oscillate between these conflicting attitudes, or rather to keep them both at the same time thus gaining a kind of a 3D-vision of meaning in its becoming. This double life in two different attitudes (or, following a Husserlian metaphor, 'double bookkeeping') can be clarified in terms of Roman Jakobson's theory of antinomic coexistence between the poetic and communicative functions of language. The notion of 'double life in two attitudes' uncovers the role that ostranenie can play in the philosophical transformation of the subject based on variety and essential mobility of the affective components involved. Proposing a phenomenological interpretation of a passage from Samuel Beckett we show how the radicalisation of ostranenie can lead even to 'meta-estrangement': to estrangement of the everyday 'lack of estrangement'. We conclude with a remark on the productivity of this form of estrangement in the phenomenological context.
Book review: Mario Rainer Lepsius. Max Weber und seine Kreise: Essays (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 2016).
This paper explores how Levinas redefines the traditional notion of prophecy, shifting the emphasis from the content of prophecy to the figure of the prophet, thus making prophetic inspiration a key feature of ethical subjectivity. The principal aim of the paper is to analyse the resulting triangular structure involving God and the Other. This structure is inherently unstable because God is incessantly stepping back in kenotic withdrawal. I show how this fundamental instability is reflected in the structure of the phenomenalisation of God’s glory, the structure of obedience to God’s order, and the structure of the authorship of prophecy. The prophetic experience is marked by heterogeneity; it can never be completely appropriated. Responsibility for the Other brings the subject to light as a witness of the glory of the Infinite, but not as the subject of self-identification.
The paper reflects upon the relevance of Weber's sociology in the 21st century. In the first part importance of his sociology is explained by referring to the idea of a state that is now returning back into the political and social realm. The second part overviews the contributions to the special issue dedicated to the intellectual legacy of Max Weber.
Mystery plays a fundamental though not fully acknowledged role in modernity, serving as an important means for the re-enchantment of social life. Thus, under certain conditions, seemingly unimportant events can attract enormous attention and emotional involvement. One of those cases is the Dyatlov Pass Tragedy that occurred in 1959 in the Northern Urals, where nine hikers died under mysterious and still unknown circumstances. Nowadays, a half-century later, there are thousands of lay researchers searching for the truth and constructing competing explanatory accounts. In this paper, I propose the ‘trigger-narrative model,’ explaining the relation between mystery, governing narratives, and forms of sacrality, and apply it to the Dyatlov case. I argue that mystery is a ‘complex emotional attractor’—a symbolic mechanism shaped by the configuration of ‘elementary attractors’—‘strange’ things, symbols, or events, challenging commonsense narratives, which eventually maintains uncertainty and emotional tension. Every pattern of perception concerning mystery can be characterized by the tie between a trigger and its corresponding narrative; this tie is based on the transgression of the narrative by a trigger event. This model allows us to understand the cultural construction of mystery, which is crucially important for explaining how deep cultural structures energize people’s urges, concerns, and fascinations.
In this chapter, I argue that the Durkheimian theory of the sacred is a crucial yet not fully recognized resource for cognitive sociology. It contains not only a theory of culture (which is acknowledged in contemporary sociology), but also a vision of culture-cognition relations. Thus, Durkheimian cultural sociology allows us to understand the crucial role the sacred/profane opposition plays in structuring culture, perception and thought. Based on a number of theories, I also show how another opposition – between the pure and impure modes of the sacred, allows us to explain dynamic features of the sacred and eventually provides a basic model of social change. While explicating this vision and resultant opportunities for sociological analysis I also criticize ‘cognition apart from culture’ approaches established within cognitive sociology. I argue, thus, that culture not only participates in cognition but is an intrinsic ingredient of the human mind. Culture is not a chaotic and fragmented set of elements, as some sociologists imply to a greater or lesser degree, but a system; and as such it is an inner environment for human thought and social action. This system, however, is governed not by formal logic, as some critics of the autonomy of culture presuppose, but by concrete configurations of emotionally-charged categories, created and re-created in social interactions.
Review of the book: K. Allen. Weber: Sociologist of the Empire (London: Pluto Press, 2017).
Encyclopedia article. The article offers a philosophical and sociological analysis of the concept of power. The author starts from an intuitively reliable definition, according to which power is an asymmetric and stable social relation. Characterization of power as a relation dismisses its substantial definition as a quality, ability or force. The substantial definition turns out to be ineffective in the theoretical perspective because power implies correlation of forces and not simply force. The relation between two agents does not fully describes the power relation since one of the parties is usually backed by superior resources. This fact indicates a stable asymmetry inherent in power. However, this asymmetry is not absolute in its nature: power as a social relation persists only if subordinate party has a relative freedom of action. Thus, the time horizon of power is established: the asymmetry of forces during a power struggle turns into asymmetry during the end of this struggle, which forms, in case of preservation and consolidation of second asymmetry, a third asymmetry that is stable power. The spatial horizon of power is formed not by the bodies of agents but by actions, which are expected within the framework of the relationship. These actions in their turn presuppose motivations. As the social differentiation grows and the communication network becomes more complicated, it would be difficult to understand the motivations of the parties. We might treat the concept of power in many alternative ways: either as a necessary component of social life or as disguised coercion; either as a universal or a specific relation; either as a purely individual relation or as a feature of the relations of different communities; either as an effect achieved in spite of resistance or as an opportunity to achieve an effect enhanced by solidarity. The article concludes with a brief overview of contemporary definitions of power, provided by social theory (M. Weber’s classical definition, post-Parsonian concepts of power by R. Dahl, M. Mann, N. Luhmann and S. Lukes) and political philosophy (H. Arendt).
The author presents a philosophical analysis of the film “Blade Runner 2049” (2017, directed by Denis Villeneuve) — the sequel to the famous film “Blade Runner” (1982, directed by Ridley Scott). Both films are read as a political-theological statement. They feature creatures that are bi‑ ologically almost indistinguishable from humans, the “replicants”. They are used to colonize distant planets and are forbidden to live on Earth. In the first film of 1982, the design of the replicants presupposed an ear‑ ly death, and they rebelled against humans because they wanted to live longer. In the second film, their design presupposes submission, but they rebel again against such slavery. The script can be understood as a history of man’s relationship with the Creator. The film’s intrigue fur‑ ther addresses the notion of miracle in connection with the notion of revolution. The replicant’s ability to have children, and thus to refute the boundary between them and the humans, is presented as a miracle. However, only those who possess authority and power to set the norms and laws can proclaim a miracle as such. In the film, this right is as‑ signed to the replicants: their uprising means the transfer of the trans‑ cendent into a plan of immanence. Their belief in a miracle lies precisely in the fact that the Creator, and the belief in the Creator, is not necessary.
In this interview we are talking with outstanding Russian sociologist and philosopher Igor S. Kon about history of the revival of Soviet sociology in the early 1960s as well as about history of the Institute of Sociology. The narrative begins with a story of the emergence of relations with the Russian and American sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin, and, more broadly, with a story of the review of Western ideas in Russian sociology. In this regard, a specific place takes the story of Soviet censorship and Kon’s attempts to influence the change in the rules for its implementation in the field of science. Distinct subjects are the ‘seminar movement’ in sociology, seminars of Yuri Levada, sociologists’ meetings in Kääriku. Names of many prominent Soviet sociologists who stood at the origins of the revival of sociology in Russia are mentioned.