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Enwinding Social Theory

Wind and Weather in Zulu Zionist Sensorial Experiences

Rune Flikke

This article discusses the theoretical potential of air, winds, and atmosphere as they place flux, transience, and motion at the center of the human predicament. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted among urban Zulu Zionists, it is argued that the winds blowing across the landscape of KwaZulu-Natal also blew through bodies and in the process restructured subjectivities. Through a general discussion of the phenomenal aspects of air, I argue that we need to approach our sensory relations to weather and atmosphere with a diachronic focus on changing local body-worlds. This is, I argue, a leap of the imagination that is needed in order to challenge the material and visual that implicitly underpin much social theory. Such a theoretical move is needed in order to properly approach weather-worlds.

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Nadia Ferrer

In current and future situations of trans-global crises, social dissent and related practices of resistance cut across conventional country boundaries. Expressions of dissent and resistance pursue change through unconventional practices not only to challenge current governance, but to re-invent participation. They seek to impact society by transforming acquired values, subjectivities and knowledge. Despite these transformations of people’s subjectivities, majoritarian theories examining social movements still focus on finding rational patterns that can be instrumentalized in data sets and produce generalizable theoretical outcomes. This paper problematizes how social theory makes sense of collective action practices on the ground. Everyday non-discursive practices prove productivity-led theories' increasing disengagement with their object while challenging the excessive bureaucratization of scientific knowledge (Lyotard, 1997). That is, people experiment collectively with their capacities, and create their own initiatives and identities which do not follow determined patterns but do-while-thinking. The dichotomist approach of majoritarian debates in collective action theory is critically analysed by introducing the work of ‘minor authors’ and ‘radical theorists’. The fundamental purpose of this paper is to open a discussion space between the field of social action theories and activism knowledge, hence encouraging the creation of plateaus that blur academic boundaries and construct new subjectivities beyond “the indignity of speaking for others” (Deleuze in Foucault et al., 1977. p. 209). Drawing on the experience of the 15th of May 2011 in Spain, I analyse how radical theory reflects on current movements and collectives."

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Jon Harald Sande Lie

Through its post-structural critique of development, post-development provides a fundamental dismissal of institutional development. Drawing on the work of Foucault, post-development portrays development as a monolithic and hegemonic discourse that constructs rather than solves the problems it purports to address. Yet post-development itself becomes guilty of creating an analysis that loses sight of individuals and agency, being fundamental to its development critique. This article discusses the discourse-agency nexus in light of the post-development context with specific reference to the grand structure-actor conundrum of social theory, and asks whether an actor perspective is compatible with discourse analysis and what—if anything—should be given primacy. It aims to provide insight into social theory and post-development comparatively and, furthermore, to put these in context, with Foucault's work being pivotal to the seminal post-development approach.

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Roland Axtmann

The notion of cultural plurality and the idea of intercultural dialogue have been central to the discussion of cosmopolitanism in both political philosophy and social theory. This point is developed in an exposition of the arguments put forward by Immanuel Kant and Hannah Arendt and through a critical engagement with Ulrich Beck's social theory of cosmopolitanism as a “social reality.“ It is argued that Beck's analysis fails to convince as a sociological extension of a long philosophical tradition and that instead of Beck's macrostructural analysis it is more promising to formulate an actor-centred sociological theory on the transnationalization of social spaces and the formation of a “cosmopolitan“ consciousness or awareness of transnational actors.

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Andreas Glaeser

The central concern of this article is the relationship between ethnography and social theory. With the help of 'consequent processualism', a social ontology that centers on the co-constitution of people, cultural forms, social relations, and the built environment, this essay makes an argument for what should be at the core of social theorizing: the principles underpinning the dynamics of processes in the nexus between actions and reactions, igniting social formation in webbed flows of effects across time and space. The article shows how consequent processualism is able to implode time-honored, reifying conceptual dichotomies, such as micro-macro, event-structure, agency-social structure, to open new vistas on the social. Building on consequent processualism, the essay argues on the one hand for the significance of theory for the practice of ethnography in identifying and delimiting fruitful field sites. Conversely, it advocates ethnography as the method of choice for developing social theory.

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Operationalizing the Theory of Social Quality

Theoretical and Experiential Reflections from the Development and Implementation of a Public Health Programme in the UK

Paul Ward, Paul Redgrave and Cathy Read

The main purpose of this short paper is to provide reflections on the potential to operationalise the Theory of Social Quality within public health and also on its utility for both public health policy and practice. In addition, we outline the inter-relationships between the theory of social quality and other areas of social theory and social policy. We do not attempt to provide a wide ranging or in-depth critique of social quality as it applies across the board in public health. Rather, we wish to provide an outline of a public health programme (or set of integrated interventions) which is currently running in a location in the UK (called Fit for the Future), and show how the different domains inherent within social quality may be operationalised.

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Bernard Dubbeld

Re-Imagining the Social in South Africa: Critique, Theory, and Post-Apartheid Society, edited by Heather Jacklin and Peter Vale

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Megan Thiele, Yung-Yi Diana Pan and Devin Molina

Karl Marx’s revolutionary call, ‘Workers of the World Unite’, resonates with many in today’s society. This article describes and assesses an easily reproducible classroom activity that simulates both alienating, and perhaps more importantly, non-alienating states of production as described by Marx. This hands-on learning activity gives students the opportunity to experience and process these divergent states. In reflecting, students connect their classroom experience to societal forces surrounding wage labour. A quasi-experimental design implemented across eight sociology classes at two U.S. university campuses – one two-year and one four-year college – points to the effectiveness of the activity. Evidence suggests that students are better able to grasp Marx’s theory of alienation, retain the knowledge over time and apply it to their own lives with this experiential learning activity.

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Jean-Pascal Daloz

This article is an extension of my book on The Sociology of Elite Distinction. In this work, I sought to offer a discussion on the merits and limits of the major models of interpretation dealing with social distinction when confronted with empirical realities in a large number of environments. Here, I propose some reflections about the way historians have been using these sociological models. Although universalistic propositions were often developed, I argue that most grand theories were typical products of their time and also of the societies respectively taken into consideration. The question therefore arises as to what extent their (retrospective) use by historians seeking a conceptual apparatus is always pertinent. It is concluded that many theoretical models are valuable providing we do not see them as “reading grids” that could be systematically applied but rather as analytical tools which are more or less operational according to the contexts studied.

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Investigating Australians' Trust

Findings from a National Survey

Samantha B. Meyer, Tini C. N. Luong, Paul R. Ward, George Tsourtos and Tiffany K. Gill

Trust has been identified as an indicator within Social Quality theory. As an important component of social quality, trust has become increasingly important in modern society because literature suggests that trust in a number of democratic countries is declining. Modern technologies and specialties are often beyond the understanding of lay individuals and thus, the need for trusting relations between lay individuals and organizations/individuals has grown. The purpose of the study was to examine the extent to which Australians (dis)trust individuals and organizations/institutions. A national postal survey was conducted with 1,044 respondents recruited using the electronic white pages directory. Findings from multivariate analyses suggest that income, age, sex, and health status are associated with trust in groups of individuals and trust in organizations/institutions. The findings highlight populations where trust needs to be (re)built. Future government policy and practice should utilize these findings as a means of facilitating social quality.