Self practices – mental and bodily activities through which individuals try to give a shape to their existence – have been a topic of interest in the social science literature for over a century now. These studies bring into focus that such activities play important roles in our relationship to our social environment. But beyond this general insight we still do not have a framework for elucidating what kind of roles/uses have been attributed to self practices by social theorists historically. Through an analysis of the works of 5 major contributors to the literature (Durkheim, Mauss, Simmel, Giddens and Foucault), the article highlights three distinct conceptualizations, which draw attention to the adaptive, defensive and transformative uses of self practices. Adaptive uses allow individuals to adjust their conduct to collective norms; defensive uses serve the maintenance and protection of self-identity despite de-individualizing pressures; and transformative self practices target the development of alternative ways of living. It is further suggested that the framework developed in the article can provide important clues about the different ‘practical’ solutions offered by social theorists to the problems that modern individuals face in constituting themselves as autonomous subjects.
The article highlights two contrasting ways in which social theorists have been trying to define the ontological boundaries of sociology since the early days of the discipline. Some (e.g. Durkheim, Weber, and critical realists) have attempted to demarcate social reality as a causally autonomous and qualitatively distinct realm in a segmented/stratified universe. Others (e.g. Tarde, Spencer, Luhmann, sociobiologists, and actor-network theorists) have postulated a more open (or flat) ontological space and blurred such demarcations by either rejecting the causal autonomy of sociological phenomena, or their qualitative distinctiveness, or both. So far, there has been little convergence between these two orientations since according to the former, the opening of the boundaries is likely to give way to reductionist conceptions of society, whereas the latter tends to associate rigid boundaries with essentialism. Through a close examination of these opposing orientations, the article aims to shed light on current ontological dilemmas of sociology.
As is widely observed, social network sites (SNS) constitute a new environment of interaction where users encounter various challenges that they usually do not encounter in other environments. This study aims to provide an in-depth understanding of how users deal with the challenges in this unique environment, paying particular attention to the ways in which they examine and reflect on their social ties and networks. On the basis of 36 semistructured interviews with Facebook users, the article presents the hypothesis that participants of SNS develop a tendency to become highly observant and inquisitive about their networks and are frequently involved in an activity that the authors call analytic labor.
In this study I aim to develop a sociological understanding of why certain techniques of cultural transmission are more easily accepted in some societies than in others. With this aim in mind, I present a comparative analysis of the contrasting approaches to music education in Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire. While, as a major technique of cultural transmission music notation found relatively widespread acceptance in Western Europe at least since the eleventh century onwards, most musicians in the Ottoman Empire resisted its adoption until the end of the nineteenth century. The analysis focuses on the ways in which the choices of Ottoman and West European musicians interacted with broader social and political processes in the two societies. In the light of this analysis, it is suggested that technologies used in cultural transmission can be seen as parts of a broader assemblage and their rejection or acceptance can be conditioned by a series of socio-political concerns.
Most groups have social distance norms that differentiate “us” from “them.” Contrary to a widespread assumption in the sociological literature, however, these normative distinctions, even when they are collectively recognized, do not always overlap with the affective orientations of group members in a uniform manner. Relations between normatively close members of a group are not always warm and friendly, and normatively distant groups can sometimes be an object of reverence and love. In this study, a typology of five different ways in which normatively distant groups can be perceived is presented: as competitors, allies, symbols of otherness, saviors, and ambivalent figures. Each type tends to emerge under certain circumstances and triggers different affective orientations. This typology is not a substitute for a general theory, but it aims to provide preliminary insights for investigating why affective orientations toward normatively distant groups take different forms and, more generally, to motivate further inquiry into the relationships between different dimensions of social distance.
Little attention has been paid to the role of strangers in the social division of labor that is otherwise a key concept in sociological theory. Partly drawing upon Simmel, this article develops a general framework for analyzing the “uses” of “the stranger” throughout history. Four major domains in which strangers have often been employed are identified: (1) circulation (of goods, money, and information); (2) arbitration; (3) management of secret/sacred domains; and (4) “dirty jobs.” The article also explores how these activities relate to the characteristics of stranger-relations. It is suggested that such an inquiry, in addition to helping us to understand how the presence of strangers in a society affects the processes of social differentiation, might equip us with a conceptual framework often lacking from purely political and ethical considerations of stranger-relations.
In light of immigrant autobiographies written in 20th-century North America, this paper examines the widespread thesis that children of immigrants are caught between their parental community and the host society, and therefore constitute a “problem group.” Autobiographies provide a more complex picture than what this model portrays, indicating not just an “ambivalent” existence but also a life imbued with dreams of a new identity. Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari's work on “minor literature,” the author suggests that the realization of these dreams is a central aspect of the so-called “problem of the second generation.”
À la lumière d'autobiographies d'immigrants écrites dans l'Amérique du Nord du XXe siècle, l'auteur de cet article étudie la thèse très répandue selon laquelle les enfants des immigrants sont pris entre leur communauté parentale et leur société hôte, et, par conséquent, qu'ils constituent un « groupe problème ». Les autobiographies fournissent une image plus complexe que ce que décrit ce modèle, indiquant non seulement une existence « ambivalente », mais également une vie imprégnée de rêves d'une nouvelle identité. S'inspirant des travaux de Deleuze et de Guattari sur la « littérature mineure », l'auteur suggère que la réalisation de ces rêves constitue un aspect central du soi-disant « problème de la deuxième génération ».
Scholarly activity presupposes a certain distance from the concerns of everyday life, which has both liberating and crippling effects. Bourdieu’s reflexive sociology hopes to undo these crippling effects by making the scholar aware of the limits of his/her ‘liberation’. Through his emphasis on the practical content of social life, Bourdieu provides a powerful alternative to theoretical critiques of contemporary society advanced by sociologists such as Adorno. At the same time, read against the background of Adorno’s ‘critical theory’, this reflexive move itself appears as a limitation. Due to its emphasis on the conditions of sociological knowledge, reflexive sociology tends to subordinate ‘theory’ to ‘epistemology’ and, therefore, hinders the sociologist from imagining a different society. Read together, Bourdieu’s and Adorno’s works provide important insights about two potential dangers that remain on the path of the sociologist. Adorno’s critique of ‘scientism’ implies that adhering to an epistemological principle may not be enough to escape the ‘ fallacious’ representations of social reality, while Bourdieu’s critique of ‘theoreticism’ implies that one cannot grasp social reality without ‘touching’ it.