Rethinking the social: from society to zones of social making.
University of Southampton, School of Social Sciences: Sociology and Social Policy,
‘Apocalyptic’ theories of the social, from different theoretical schools of thought, declare that diverse social, cultural, economic or technological changes have impacted negatively on contemporary social life to the extent that the social is reduced, minimised or is even ended. In particular, macro-historical changes have had consequences for the regions in which actors communicate, interact and socially construct. These pronouncements are concurrent with some lack of confidence in social theory itself. While accepting that the characteristics of modernity have substantially altered since the nineteenth century, this thesis argues that inadequate attention has been given to the way in which its consequences for ‘sociation’ have been conceptualised. Three schools of apocalyptic thought are identified and discussed: ‘dislocation’ theorists (Habermas, Giddens and Bauman); social constructionists (Berger, Berger and Kellner) and cultural absorptionists (Baudrillard, Lash and Urry). In each case the consequences of change have been registered to effects and experiences in the ‘ground of social activity’: i.e. reciprocity, mutuality and situated exchange show more ironic distance, insincerity, moral expropriation, ambivalence, alienation, simulation and dissimulation. This thesis argues that our understanding of this ground of social activity, based on a simplistic model of reflexivity and skill, is not at a detailed enough level of analytic resolution to warrant these claims. However, in identifying flaws in the development of apocalyptic claims, a more sustainable account is produced, ‘the zone of social making’. Based on a return to the work of Weber and Schutz, the new account suggests that the symptoms of late modern life are better viewed as chronic features of sociation, constitutive of constructive activity itself. An alternative, more detailed model of activity is proposed
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