Theorizing Modern Society as a Dynamic Process: Volume 30

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(18 chapters)
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The thing about naïveté is its hermetic tendency. One imagines having graduated out of it, but imagination proves only its own potentials. It is of course good to be held to account by the question that circulates through so much of our belletristic literatures (as in, for instance, Edward St Aubyn's Bad News): How can one think one's way out of a problem, when the problem is the way one thinks? Yet an extra layer of diagnosis need not result in anything beyond itself. I can easily glimpse the chiaroscuro of another mind and thus know of the limits of my knowledge of its furnishings without knowing what they (the limits or the furnishings) are, or even whether the clarity is meant to be hidden by, more than hide, the dimness. But is inner presentation/apprehension of one's own self-portrait any more diamantine, any less naive, in its “obviousness”? And if it should be, at any moment, where/what are the reliably timely markers? When, therefore, I experience increasingly complex realities – layer upon layer, cut and recut and repackaged – without commensurate increases in production of value, am I experiencing a mind-blindness?– An out-take from “After Fin de partie

Purpose – We make a case for bridging two types of logics – analytic and dialectic – for explaining processes of social-historical change, and maintain that a successful bridge between these two logics depends on a variety of conditions and most especially the type of analytic logic or model one employs for capturing dynamic processes.

Methodology/approach – Conventional models of social change processes typically presuppose ergodic social worlds and are problematic as analytic approaches generally and most certainly are not fertile grounds for feeding dialectic theorization. Instead, we propose modeling dynamic processes that begin by assuming a nonergodic social world – one in flux, one that is nonrepeating, one within which model process and parameter structures are historically contingent and change with time, one that is autocatalytic, creating and changing its own possibilities.

Findings – We develop the line of thinking adumbrated above and illustrate these modeling strategies with empirical examples from US labor movement history. Results from these examples lend much weight to our proposals. Thus, this chapter demonstrates that concerns about the use of ergodic assumptions and about greater use of dialectical reasoning when studying social processes are not idle speculations within theoretical commentaries but have practical consequences in the conduct of research and the building of better theory.

Research limitations/implications – To approximate such an approach, social scientists should avoid cross-sectionalist and longitudinal modeling strategies that presuppose stability and homogeneity in parameter and process structures. Homogeneity and stability in parameter and process structures should be demonstrated, not assumed.

Originality/value – Rather than accepting the alienated spheres of social science analytics and dialectic theory, our proposal presupposes nonergodic social worlds and takes pragmatic steps for estimating analytic models that are more amenable to dialectic reasoning. Models that take nonergodicity seriously not only have the potential to produce better, historically grounded analytics but are also best suited to bridge with dialectic logic, thus taking advantage of the strengths of both forms of logic.

Purpose – Appreciating the continuing relevance and contribution of Theodor W. Adorno's work requires acknowledgement of the difficulty to grasp his philosophy in a way that is consistent with that which is to be understood, as the necessary first step to achieving concordant understanding.

Design/methodology/approach – To assay an understanding of Adorno's quest for the object beyond the concept, it is best to undertake a journey through the complexity of his thinking, beginning with the book he wrote with Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment.

Findings – The difficulty to capture the substance of philosophy in a manner that allows for representation arises from the inherently processual character of philosophy, which is always both unfinished and without secure summation of report at any step along the way. Indeed, the difficulty is all the greater with respect to Adorno, in light of his postulate that philosophy “must strive, by means of the concept, to transcend the concept.”

Research limitations/implications – Adorno's obsession to overcome the compulsion of identity made him perceptive and blind at the same time. To liberate his insights from their reconciliatory-philosophical shroud, one would have to expose the concept of rationality to the same obsessive gaze under which false generalities dissolve in Adorno's philosophy.

Originality/value – The inherently processual character of Adorno's philosophy makes his writings especially germane to present conditions of modern society, as they highlight the importance of efforts to develop theories that are sufficiently sensitive to the dynamic character of modern society, including its inconsistencies and its contradictions.

Purpose – There has been very little development of the capacity of dialectical logic during the last hundred years or so, while the capacity of post-Cartesian analytical logics has expanded greatly in response to efforts to understand more and more complex theoretical and empirical problems, though still within the limits of analytical strictures such as externality of relations and the principle of the excluded middle. This chapter pursues relative lines of development in analytical and dialectical logic.

Design/methodology/approach – After presenting as background a congeries of personal experiences, reflections, and reviews, the chapter addresses some of the lessons relating to the neglect of dialectical logic (e.g., the notion of contradiction as error, and the idealization that is condition to it), in order to work toward some clarifications, developments, and challenges of dialectical logic (past, present, and future). Along the way providing comparisons with analytical logic, the emphasis will be on the contributions of several theorists, including Adorno, Marx, and Habermas.

Findings – Some illustrations of under- and undeveloped capacity are proposed with regard to dialectical-conceptual formations of identity/difference relations, unity of opposites, and quality/quantity relations, as well as contradiction as condition and as consequence of processes wherein various realities are produced. A number of challenges are outlined, with an invitation to scholars to pursue better development of the power of dialectical logic.

Research limitations/implications – An unduly defensive posture against perceived threats from both analytics and empirics (experiences of world) has surely been part of the obstacle to advancing dialectical logic, though one should not underestimate the resistances stemming from poor institutional-disciplinary support for the risk-taking activities required for innovation and development.

Originality/value – Dialectical logic is important to investigations of process dynamics in a number of ways, most especially insofar as contradiction is a major driver of processes, in particular processes that tend to follow trajectories that from the perspective of analytical logic are unexpected and/or illogical; for dialectical logic takes the event of contradiction as not merely indicative of error in the process of propositional reasoning but instead or also as an outcome of specifiable sequences of structurally conditioned behaviors, actions, and chains of effects at supra-individual levels of the production of realities.

Purpose – This essay attempts to answer the question, “What distinguishes inter-human influence from other forms of influence?”

Design/methodology/approach – Specifying the micro-foundations of social structures in terms of communicative inferences necessitates a revision of the concept of social structures (and institutions) as distributed, and hence, uncertain, structures of expectation. Institutional realities are generated in linguistic interaction through the indirect communication of generic references. The generalizing function of language – in particular, abstraction and memory – coupled with its reflexive function, to turn references into things, are sufficient to generate both social structures and institutions as collective inferences.

Findings – Social relations are fundamentally communicative relations. The communicative relation is triadic, implying an enunciator, an audience, and some referential content. Through linguistic communication, humans are capable of communicating locally with others about others nonlocally. Institutions exist only as expectations concerning the expectations of others. These expectations, however, are not only in the mind, and they are not exclusively psychological entities. Linguistically, these expectations appear as the reported statement within the reporting statement, that is, they are constituted through indirect discourse.

Research limitations/implications – An important implication for current sociological theory is that, from the point of view of a sociology defined as communication about communication from within communication, institutional realities should not be reified as existing naturalistically or objectively above or behind the communications through which they are instantiated.

Originality value – This approach, then, is decidedly anti-“realist.” The goal of such research is to examine the inadequacy of nonreflexive models of social order. Accounts of how sets of social relationships emerge will remain inadequate if they do not reflect upon the cognitive and communicative processes which make possible the consideration of such structures.

Purpose – This chapter focuses on the status of Emile Durkheim's work in the United States, and on the prospects of its rehabilitation in light of the crisis of theory engendered by the critique of the theory of the sign and the paradox presented by the application of terms that invoke an inertial view of culture to everyday discourse.

Design/methodology/approach – How is it possible to reconcile the most general aspect of the internal life of the sociality that Durkheim places under the name of “solidarity,” with the theoretically expansive idea of social movements and with an idea of a generative culture radically different from the inertial institutional concept attributed to Durkheim? Our argument depends on conceiving of society as a course of activity, therefore, according to internal relations among subjectivities and objectivities. The main ontological assumptions of the human sciences are that humans and human affairs are essentially social and that sociality is irreducible and irrepressible. That difference lies at the heart of every attempt to identify something as unitary, complete, and stable.

Findings – Culture is tied to social movements, where the latter are thought of as expressions of the “becoming” of society. An understanding of the dynamics of culture requires revisiting dialectics and “internal relations.” The challenge to the idea of meaning based on the exchange of signs requires a reformulation of basic categories of human science. When the social is thought of as historical, it is necessary to think of history as immanent rather than as a condition or temporal course. Therefore, one is driven back to Marx by way of Hegel, where “history” refers to the contradictory character of whatever can be said about the social. It follows that every instance of unity is merely ostensible and cannot be relied on as a primary referent of a social science.

Research limitations/implications – “Culture” can no longer stand for something inert; rather, it appears as radically generative and reflexive. Further, it is not independent of economic reality, though it has the sort of weight that makes economism impossible.

Originality value – This chapter will stimulate more insightful appreciations of the work of Emile Durkheim, relative to his typical reception in U.S. social science. For instance, to reappropriate Durkheim for theoretical purposes, it is necessary to work through the problems raised by poststructuralism and the literature of ethnomethodology and its adjacent areas of research, with attention to the ontological presuppositions of theories of human affairs and the epistemological requirement of all the human sciences, that theory find itself in its object and its object in itself.

Purpose – This contribution draws on the processually proceeding historico-genetic theory developed by Günter Dux, in order to reconstruct the emergence of normativity as a central mode of human social organization from nonnormatively ordered prehuman societies.

Design/methodology/approach – In the first step, some of the most important premises and core arguments of historico-genetic theory are being explicated, as well as its conception of society. These are then illustrated with reference to the socio-genesis of normativity and of morality as a special kind of normativity. The chapter concludes with an attempt to evaluate the productiveness of historico-genetically oriented explanations.

Findings – According to sociological accounts, only human beings are able to develop mentally construed sociocultural forms and worlds, which are mediated through thought and language, and stabilized and secured by means of normativity. For the modern, natural scientifically shaped antimetaphysical understanding of the world, however, the normative constitution of human social forms of cultural organization as a distinguishing mark of the conditio humana can only be understood as a successor organization to a natural-historical precursor.

Originality/value – This chapter introduces the theoretical perspective of contemporary German social theorist Günter Dux to English-speaking readers, and provides a critical assessment of his work.

Purpose – The main objective of the chapter is to map out some of the most significant possible political consequences of the Internet for the state, citizenship, human rights, and other areas.

Design/methodology/approach – The chapter analyzes the phenomena at the level of sociological theory. Its theoretical scope extends to political theory.

Findings – The Internet offers immense potential toward improving the nation state in terms of human rights yet in a manner that may well be foiled by several cultural, political, and economic factors. By transforming national boundaries into nongeographic borders that operate transnationally and subnationally, and by abstracting from the cybernaut's physical body, the Internet may challenge prevailing notions of state, private property, bodily autonomy, and political personhood, all of which connect discrete bodies with bounded territories. It might free citizenship rights and protections from state capture and denationalize the connection between membership in a particular political community and the enjoyment of rights. It might advance human rights by changing civil society by generating, first, a space where subjugated groups and individuals could agitate for their interests online without putting their bodies on the line and, second, critical public opinion in place of merely mass opinion. It would contribute to a post-national identity where it multiplied local practices to generate global awareness and identified normatively universal human rights in local, particular communities while still recognizing individuals’ special obligations to those local communities.

Research limitations/implications – This speculative trajectory remains all too vulnerable to nondigital settings beholden to particular values, cultures, power systems, inequality, hierarchy, and institutional orders; to market forces and controls; to governmental authority and censorship; and to the global maldistribution of wealth and technology. Liberal democratic political communities should monitor and control the cultural, political, and economic factors that threaten to undermine the Internet's potential toward improving the nation state in terms of human rights. Those committed to promoting the Internet's potential have the task of specifying these factors at the various relevant empirical micro-levels of social organization.

Originality value – Most analyses of the Internet either overestimate or underestimate its potential. Here the analysis strives for a balance uncommon in the literature. That balance may be of value primarily to other scholars working in related areas and secondarily to persons involved in public policy and other forms of politics.

Purpose – The discourse about civil society is closely tied to the role of collective action in general, and of social movements in particular. Yet the origins of the recent emphasis on civil society are located in the 1980s – the time period during which the wave of neoliberalism began its rise and spread.

Design/methodology/approach – In order to properly situate the concept of civil society and related debates, they must be linked to efforts to delegitimate and demonize the state that also started gaining momentum during that decade.

Findings – The historical context of its emergence suggests that civil society may not be so much an analytical category for purposes of social research, but a theoretical category that is imbued with political content, both positively and negatively – both as a means to promote progressive ends, and as an expression of the context in which those ends started to face mounting resistance.

Research limitations/implications – At the very least, the concept of civil society has a tendency to distract – both by design and by default – from important questions and challenges, such as those related to the role and persistence of structures of inequality in early 21st century global civilization.

Originality/value – A promising starting point to circumnavigate the counterproductive consequences of the use and abuse of the civil society concept and debate for social research may be its explicitly dynamic conceptualization.

Purpose – The process of European integration presents an excellent opportunity for analyzing the social construction of society under modern conditions, and simultaneously for identifying a central pseudo-problem that has preoccupied sociologists, namely: how to define “society.” This attempt to link the sociology of European integration and the sociological theory of society must achieve two tasks: while the latter must explain how presupposing an unequivocal understanding of “society” is problematic, the former must provide a reference frame for evaluating empirical information about the practical use of the term, “society,” within actually existing societies.

Design/methodology/approach – Modern sociological thinking requires that we take seriously the roles and place of actors in society. As a consequence, sociology is obligated to engage in second-order observations. Sociology must observe how people observe and interpret society, and how such observations shape their actions.

Findings – Second-order observations directly influence the sociological use of the term “society”; yet sociology must not rely on a seemingly ready-made understanding of society. It is for this reason that the process of European integration is a stroke of luck for sociology. The process of European integration irritates sociological routines and offers rich empirical data, enabling us to analyze the social construction of a society empirically.

Research limitations/implications – As a sociological concept, “society” has different meanings depending on whether it is used for first-order observations or for second-order observations.

Originality value – The dialectics between institution building and action in the Euro crisis will spur a development quickly transcending the nation-state, concretizing in practice the well-known critique of “methodological nationalism.”

John Hamilton Bradford completed his dissertation entitled “Systems, Social Order, and the Global Debt Crisis” in 2010 from the University of Tennessee. He has since taught sociology as Lecturer at the University of Tennessee and the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and in Fall 2012 will be joining Mississippi Valley State University's Department of Social Sciences as Assistant Professor. His current research interests include the meaning and function of social scientific explanations, the sociology and political economy of money and finance, formalizing sociological theories with multi-agent computer simulations, and the sociology of environmental risk and policy.

Cover of Theorizing Modern Society as a Dynamic Process
DOI
10.1108/S0278-1204(2012)30
Publication date
2012-10-12
Book series
Current Perspectives in Social Theory
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78190-034-5
eISBN
978-1-78190-035-2
Book series ISSN
0278-1204