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Omer Benjakob Matthias Revers

20/2/2012 Sociology of Culture

Hannah Arendt and the Strong Program for Cultural Sociology: An Arendtian Critique of the Strong Program In the following pages I will present the Strong Program for Cultural Sociology and attempt to critique it through the work and thought of Hannah Arendt. Firstly I will present the methodological program behind the Strong Program (SP). Secondly I will present the political philosophy of Hanna Arendt so as to lay the theoretical basis needed to critique any social or political theory through her ideas and concepts. Thirdly I will lay the basis for the comparison and critique through a discussion of differences in conceptualization of the social and the political in both Arendt and the SP. Next I will compare the SP's, and specifically that of Jeffery Alexander's, idea of the civil sphere to Arendt's concept of space of appearance. Afterwards I will try to locate, through the Arendtian concept of vita activia, where in the active life of man does the SP's topic subject fall. I will do so through the empirical and theoretical treatment by Alexander of the term social performance and Smith's and Jacobs' of narrative. Also, in this chapter and as part of this discussion I will compare and critique the SP's understand of the social in regards to Arendt's understanding of politics in general and political action, specifically. Lastly I will conclude this comparison with a discussion and comparison of the SP's idea of solidarity in comparison to Arendt's plurality. Chapter One Introduction: The Strong Program (SP) The strong program for cultural sociology, and not sociology of culture, is, as its name suggests, an attempt to incorporate both the needs for a rigid academic system of thought and methodology, whilst not loosing both the real life and theoretical implications and manifestations of culture influence in life. The premise of the strong program is an attempt take in to account and understand the effects of cultural codes in a scientific endeavor of sociology. This requires a two fold account, one of the scientific and analytic cultural codes and secondly of the different manifestations of these codes through real world action; while taking into account the highly dialectic relation between the both and the highly complex contingent realities of these action through a Geertzian thick description. The main premise of this type of sociology is a complete presupposition of cultural autonomy. This is what makes the program strong, in the sense that unlike weak cultural sociological schools of

thought, that treat culture as a feeble and ambivalent variable 1, the strong program assumes culture as a both an influencing and influenced entity, but does not leave it at that; rather it, for analytical reason, assumes this dialectic process as first influencing and only then as influenced as result of this exact process. So while it will treat reality as a cultural text it also assumes that this very research itself is the creation of a text functioning inside a set of norms, rules and genres that are an autonomous entity that can be widely called culture. For the scientific and methodological perspective or half of the strong program mission scientific ideas are cultural and linguistic conventions as much as they are simply the results of other, more objective actions and procedures. [...] science is understood as a collective representation, a language game that reflects a prior pattern of sense-making activity2. The research and scientific project must take into account the fact that it itself functions inside a cultural structure and speaks in its language. In light of this there is a need to treats culture as an independent variable, that functions as the back drop not just for the sociological action or content being researched, but also as the research itself. The results of this stand points calls for a sharp analytical uncoupling of culture from social structure3 in such a way that culture can understood through its manifestations and not just proven to exist as an influencing factor. This is to be understood as so important that Alexanders claim that a [c]ommitment to a cultural-sociological theory that recognizes cultural autonomy is the single most important quality of a strong program4. In addition to the premise of cultural autonomy, that allows culture to be studied in a detailed way, discovering its contents, codes and structures; there are two other defining [methodological] characteristics [...][1] [o]ne is the commitment to hermeneutically reconstructing social texts in a rich and persuasive way.[...] It is the notion of the culture structure as a social text that allows [us] to discover in what ways culture intersects with other social forces, such as power and instrumental reason in the concrete social world.5 Alexander is talking about a Geertzian thick description of the codes, narratives and symbols that create the textured webs of social meaning 6, a description that attempts at recreating the specific and contingent realties of the specific subject at hand. No more of vague and general descriptions, presupposing a social model (be it a la Marx, Weber or Durkheim) into which realty is poured into, but rather a detailed attempt to treat the text of realty as such and recreate it as such. Secondly and in light of such an attempt there is a need to marginalize abstract systemic logics as causal processes and rather to try [2] to anchor causality in proximate actors and agencies,
1 2 3 4 5 The Strong Program in Cultural Sociology, chapter 2 - http://ccs.research.yale.edu/about/strong-program/ The Strong Program in Cultural Sociology, chapter 2 - http://ccs.research.yale.edu/about/strong-program/ The Strong Program in Cultural Sociology, chapter 2 - http://ccs.research.yale.edu/about/strong-program/ The Strong Program in Cultural Sociology, chapter 2 - http://ccs.research.yale.edu/about/strong-program/ The Strong Program in Cultural Sociology, chapter 2, bold added- http://ccs.research.yale.edu/about/strongprogram/ 6 The Strong Program in Cultural Sociology, chapter 2 - http://ccs.research.yale.edu/about/strong-program/

specifying in detail just how culture interferes with and directs what really happens [...] resolving issues of detail who says what, why, and to what effect [in such a way] that cultural analysis can become plausible according to the criteria of a social science.7 In summary the strong program is based on three main points; [1] cultural autonomy, [2] a thick description that attempts to recreate the realty as a text, through a text and [3] a straight forward attempt at mapping and understanding the causality between the agents, their motivations and interests, and the autonomous cultural structure. To state this in purely methodological terms there is an attempt to create a scientific structure of deductive argumentation in which the presupposed universal is an autonomous structure of culture, and the particulars are the specific and contingent realties that create or manifest said culture. The unique or additional point here is that the content itself is not (solely) empirical realty, which in itself holds no meaning but rather, as an attempt to create a meaning based sociology8, to treat it as a text, made up of sets of genres and cultural codes that demand detailed clarification and development. In this way we have on the one hand an academic model that allows for a scientific research while taking into account meaning. Treating reality as a text, while not just leaving it at that, but rather an attempt to understand the different empirical manifestations as meaning-basedand-aimed actions, that require the cultural backdrop to have meaning and scientific structure to be analyzed. Throughout this paper I will reference two types of sociological content presented via the strong program and its leading members. The first, which will be referenced vis-a-vis the work of Jeffery Alexander, will treat performative action as its text. In his work Alexander focuses mainly on how real world performative action, by agents, is predicated on cultural structures that allows allow action (social or political) meaning. Secondly I will reference some of the works by Philip Smith and Ronald N. Jacobs, whose focus is more on narratives and how they reference and are predicated on other more classical cultural forms (such as theater). They use what Alexander calls communicative institutions of social civil society9 to try to uncover the narrative and logic of the sense-making process of meaning. These narrative sense-making processes are, in their (culturally autonomous thinking) based on literary and theatrical genres, that help us make the leap from empirical content to normative judgments and meanings. Both of these types of research represent perfectly the strong program thinking, in that they assume cultural autonomy (for example literary genres) and use them to try to untangle the processes of specific meaning making mechanics (for example newspapers and the narratives they create to explain political and social events). More specifically if we take the newspaper and the narratives
7 The Strong Program in Cultural Sociology, chapter 2 - http://ccs.research.yale.edu/about/strong-program/ 8 Alexander, 2011; 88-90 9 Alexander, 2006; 5

they create, we can see they are treated both as the text and the end-result, they are both the meaning maker and meaning signifier. We use cultural narratives to understand cultural narratives and in this sense the cultural backdrop is an accurately taken term from the world of theatre, in the sense that it uses a predefined set of codes and technical procedures to give content meaning. More so, what both of these have in common is a commitment to cultural autonomy in an attempt to give empirical data meaning. Without this autonomous presupposition the thick description and the specific casual relations (the two secondary criteria of the strong program mission) lose their substance, as they lack the cultural backdrop to connect (empirical) fact to (social) meaning. All this comes comes together with the merging of structuralism and hermeneutics, because while the former offers possibilities for general theory construction, prediction and assertions of the autonomy of culture. The latter allows analysis to capture the texture and temper of social life. When complemented by attention to institutions and actors as causal intermediaries, we have the foundations of a robust cultural sociology10.

Chapter Two: Hanna Arendt The political philosophical work of Hannah Arendt is as wide as the term itself and covers topic subjects from history to political action, from communication theory to economics, from the ancient polis to Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and Eichmann's trail in Israel. To narrow her down and focus on the task at hand I will, in the following chapter, present three concepts that can be found in her works that are relevant to a critique of any kind of social theory, in general, and one that is based on a (normative and academic) desire to base such a theory on real world actions and realties, specifically. These three concepts are vita activia, space of appearance and her definition of politics, specifically in its relation and contrast to social. To do so I will make use of her philosophical magnum opus The Human Condition (1958). Arendt starts her book with conceptualizing the human condition (the situation in which men [and not man] find themselves) through three different types of activities that correspond to [...] the basic conditions under which life on earth has been given to man 11. Each one of these corresponding activities comprise the vita activia, the active life of man, and aim to deal or satisfy mans different needs and realties. The three activities and there corresponding conditions are: [1] Labor [...] which corresponds to the biological process of the human body, [2]Work [...] which corresponds to the unnaturalness of human existence [...and] provides an 'artificial' world of things, distinctly different from all natural surroundings and [3] Action, the only activity that
10 The Strong Program in Cultural Sociology, chapter 6 - http://ccs.research.yale.edu/about/strong-program/ 11 Arendt, 1958; 7

goes on directly between men without the intermediary of things or matter, corresponds to the human condition of plurality, to the fact that men, not Man, live on earth and inhabit the world12. Of the three the most relevant for our discussion are work and action. Labor, the human activity connected to our biological life, is concerned mostly with satisfying our never ending physical need; we feed ourselves only to be hungry a few hours later, and much like our modern day laundry routine, labor is done solely for its temporary end result and never for its completion- we do our laundry just so we can do it again. Therefore, though influential, it, as an activity, is ever recurring and never unique, and therefore lacks the ability to be meaningful in and of itself or give meaning to something. All three actions that comprise the vita activia require the existence of other men, even labour is distinct from animal labor in this sense13, however only action cannot even be imagined outside the society of men14. Work, whose corresponding human condition is that of the artificial, of the man made, of worldliness15. This work is the act of populating our world with man made objects, it is a result of the work of our hands [...and not] from the labor of our bodies16. These objects, be them our houses and cities or the fruits of our more modern industry, are unique and relevant to our discussion as they help create the human condition of others, men constantly create their own, self made condition, which [...] posses the same conditioning power as natural things17. The reason for this is that [m]en are conditioned beings because everything they come in contact with turns immediately into a condition for their experience18. The fruits of our work are done for the end they produce, this product or artifice is created for its use, which in turn does not destroy it (unlike with labor). The products we create are durable and they possess the durability that [John] Locke needed to establish property [and] the 'value' Adam Smith needed for the exchange market19. These, and not the fruits of the labour of our body, are the base for value and economy and, to a major extent, society itself. They create society in the sense that they create things of direct use value that survive to the extent that they can have exchange value, and in this regard they create the world of men (and not nature). This is important in two respects, firstly, value, as an economic and social term requires and is predicted on social meaning, value, especially exchange value, is not and cannot be inherently found in the object itself. Value is only acquired in respect to a social significance. Secondly these products, and their value (vis-avis their use and durability) are conditioners themselves, creating the world of worldliness, our
12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 Arendt, 1958; 7 (bolds added ) Arendt, 1958; 22 Arendt, 1958; 22 Arendt, 1958; 7 Arendt, 1958; 136 Arendt, 1958; 25 Arendt, 1958; 25 Arendt, 1958; 136

social human condition. Action is the most unique of the three. It corresponds to the human condition of plurality- the fact that man finds himself in a world inhabited by men, not Man 20. Each one of these men holds a unique potential to act, to start something that will put others into action; this potential, found in each one of us is natality, our endless potential found in the moment of our birth to begin something, to act and influence others in a way that will influence the course of life in an unpredictable way, because each man is unique, so that with each birth something uniquely new comes into the world21. Acting and action is the vita activia of politics, and it, unlike work and labour, is not done for the sake of anything but rather only for itself, for my ability and desire to manifest my naitality and influence and gain the respect of the plurality. The political action creates the new and testifies to our natality in the sense that the fact man is capable of actions means that the unexpected can be expected [...and that man] is able to preform what is infinitely improbable22. The action is connected to language and speech, they are the prerequisite and the main tool for interaction between men. If action as beginnings corresponds to the fact of birth, if it is the actualization of the human condition of natality, then speech corresponds to the fact of distinctness and is the actualization of the human condition of plurality, that is, of living as a distinct and unique being among equals23. Through speaking and acting men show who they are, [...] and thus make appearance in the human world24. Action is, in Arendt's thought, the sphere of meaning, this is were and how meaning and normative ideas become connected to the real material world, and her understanding of the political is just this- the ability to start something, to put something into action through the connection of speech and action among and with men. Politics is our ability to act, however, beside the basic (human) conditions that facilitates this, it is predicated on an other criteria, which is not part of our inherent condition, and this leads us to our second concept- space of appearance. The space of appearance comes into being whenever men are together in the manner of speech and action 25, this is a result of the meeting of men and therefore precedes all formal constitution of the public realm and the various forms of government. The space of appearance is not the civil sphere we know today or the result of any organized form of interaction or organizations of men; it can be also as a result of these, but it precedes them, and more importantly, the active organization of men can lead to its disappearance. This space is the prerequisite for political action, for the
20 21 22 23 24 25 Arendt, 1958; 7 Arendt, 1958; 178 Arendt, 1958; 178 Arendt, 1958; 178 Arendt, 1958; 178 Arendt, 1958; 199

beginnings; and it is potentially there, but only potentially, not necessarily and not forever 26 but only whenever free men come freely together. However this freedom is not inherently there or promised to us, especially in a world where political control is axiomatic and non negotiable as a fact but only as form. Our vita activia, especially the (political) action and the space of appearance it requires can help us understand Arendt's main point, and that is that [n]o human life, not even that of the hermit in nature's wilderness, is possible without a world which directly or indirectly testifies to the presence of other human beings.27 Chapter Three: Political vs Social This space of appearance can lead us to a more clear discussion and understanding of the third concept- politics- and start to make the move back from political philosophy to a sociological theory or program. For Arendt the space of appearance and politics are to many extents the opposite, or at least in constant tension with, the social and the civil sphere. For Arendt action and plurality are a major problem both for political ruling forces and political philosophy to such an extent that to battle them we created government and administration, both of our life and our actions, to manage the problem of action and plurality. Action contains three problematic and frustrating qualities; [1] the unpredictability of its outcomes, [2] the irreversibility of the process and [3] the anonymity of its authors28. In light of this both political philosophy and administration (vis-a-vis government) have tried to manage managing the unmanageable. Politically this has been done be raising the political control to an axiomatic standing via the meshing of the political into social. Philosophically this has been done by disconnecting acting and speaking and instead connecting action to making, or in other words by distorting and blurring the distinction between work and action. Through a long historical and philosophical argument Arendt claims that so as to be able to minimizing the inherent dangers in action and plurality we have shifted the historical disconnection found in the greek polis between action and work and merged them together29. In her thinking political action is done just for the sake of our natality. Politics as a sphere of men amongst men, communicating through argumentation via our language, was historically distinct from the social or personal realms of work and labour, which were considered pre-political and based on physical violent control. To be able to be political in the polis, i.e to be a citizen able to come to the space of
26 27 28 29 Arendt, 1958; 199 Arendt, 1958; 22 Arendt, 1958; 220 Arendt, 1958; 192-195, 220-229

appearance and talk and hopefully act, one had to physically conquer the personal and social realms of teleological laboring and working30. To act and participate in the normative and political one had to physically finish and satisfy the needs of our other two human conditions. The realm of politics is therefore not done for the sake of anything but our naitality if and only if we have mastered the other two actions. The social and modern day reality of politics is the exact opposite. We understand politics not as the end of our physical life but rather as the facilitator of such a life. Politics is not about action and plurality but rather a teleological undergoing aimed at relieving some of the burdens of our biological needs and to facilitate our work (vis-a-vis the economy, but not exclusively). Historically this has been done by placing the contemplative life (vita contempltiva) above the real one active one (vita activia)31, and more so by making making our main goal. In this sense our meaning making actions have stopped being for the sake of our natality and uniqueness (via action) but rather have come full circle in an attempt to effectively serve and create our human condition instead of expanding it. Politics specifically has now become the means to an end and not the end in-itself. Our function of speech has been ripped apart from acting so as to make space for the political making- the making of our (new) human condition as only making and laboring social animals and not the zoon politikon that Aristotle knew. This disconnection is rooted originally in Plato's Republic, in which contemplation becomes superior to action and real world matters, which become its cheap shadows. However, this historical philosophical process, though not linear, is more than obvious and rampant up-till today. The modern age, in its early concern with tangible products and demonstrable profits or its later obsession with smooth functioning and sociability, was not the first to denounce the idle uselessness of action and speech in particular and politics in general32, but it certainly embraced and maximized the practice to the level of an art. A perfect example of this would be our concept of nationality, which connects the political to a certain geographical area and the administration of it while the polis, properly speaking, is not the city-state in its physical location; it is the organization of the people as it arises out of the acting and speaking together, and its true space lies between the people living together for this purpose, no matter where they happen to be33. In the greek polis one had to defeat the okio, the home, the biological and social labour and work, to become political solely in the ability to be potentially available to act and to be part of the creation of the space of appearance and partake in it as a free equal.
30 31 32 33 Arendt, 1958; 23-26 Arendt, 1958; 220-229 Arendt, 1958; 220 Arendt, 1958; 198

In this extent sociology, was born in Ardentian sin, both in the regard that it is a vita contempltiva (an activity aimed at understanding for the sake of such and not action) and more importantly in the fact that it is based on the social and not the political reality of life, which treats man as plenum of men instead of a political multitude of men. Though a very dangerous generalization, sociology is based on some conception that men (and not man) are organized in such a way that influences them, and that this organization, be it natural or synthetic, is a prerequisite for (social) plurality. Though sociology does not by default understand society as contradictory to politics, in most cases the opposite is true, but Arendt does. The reason for such is her understanding that any attempt to do away with plurality is always tantamount to the abolition of the public realm itself. In other words, the need to organize society in an administrative way, and the acceptance of such a structure as axiomatic, as has been the tradition and underlying presupposition of social and political philosophers since Plato, is exactly this, an attempt to manage the plurality and the resulting action; and this, for her, initials the death of the space of appearance. The public realm, the place of the space of appearance, is different to the civil or social sphere mainly in the sense that we are not free in the civil sphere as we were in the public realm. Arendt's public realm, which can be reached only by conquering the pre-political and mandatory work and labour, is where one is free because he is expected neither to rule or be ruled34. Our conception of the civil sphere, where the discourse of civil and social society takes place, is predicated on the fact that we are free only from politics. In the modern world politics is a function of society and our civil discourse works only in as much as it different from it. We can understand this as the sets of rights we have allowing us to function in a civil sphere (that they facilitate) and through this sphere we can influence the political structure to again facilitate our civil and social lives. Our civil realm is not autonomous from politics but it does fall on the connection between our public and private lives while willingly disconnecting both from the political. So while politics has been nationalized our public and private lives constantly flow into each other thus unifying them and privatizing them in that they are meant to serve the most basic necessities of our private biological and social life. Chapter Four: The Public realm vs the Civil Sphere- prerequisites for action and performance Sociology in general and the Strong Program of cultural sociology specifically, is not so directly committed to regulation of the plurality and to meshing the political and social (the public and private), but it does presuppose both as distinct categories, and therefore (indirectly) accepts them. Alexander claims that we need a new concept of civil society as a civil sphere, a world of values
34 Arendt, 1958; 32 (bold added)

and institutions that generates the capacity for social criticism and democratic integration at the same time. Such a sphere relies on solidarity, on feelings for others whom we do not know but whom we respect out of principle, not experience, because of our putative commitment to a common secular faith35. Beside the basic fact that Alexander understands the underpinning of political action as based on solidarity and not plurality, we can clearly see that his civil sphere is one that generates the capacity for social criticism and not political action, which is based on an unfacilitated and unmediated connection of men, their words and action. Both the strong program and Arendt agree on the fact that our lives are of those among men, and more so, that a public (either purely public or civil) space is required for action as it's prerequisites. In this regard there is common ground between the strong program and Arendt on the topic of language as well. Arendt says that the realm of politics rises directly out of acting together, the sharing of words and deed36 and language is as important to the SP as it treats life, culture and their interactions as such. For Arendt language is what allows us to partake in action and it is also it's prerequisite. Both her and the SP understand language as the basic most tool needed to create interactions between men. For Alexander language tends to be seen as a creative force for the social imaginary rather than as Nietzsches prison house. As a result, discourses and actors are provided with greater autonomy from power in the construction of identities37. Uniquely the SP treats itself, as an academic endeavor, in the same way as it treats language in lifeas a sets of codes and structures the predicate the ability to find and give meaning to actions and objects. In this regard we can see the basic difference between Alexander's conception of the civil sphere and Arendt's space of appearance; while language for Arendt is a tool for the call to action and its actualization, for the SP, language is what gives life and its reflective activities, that try to comprehend it, their meanings. For Arendt it is a tool for (the vita activia) action and for them it is the structure of (the vita contmepltiva) of meaning. However, for Alexander and his fellow SP thinkers, language is not just this contemplative tool, but also forms and primes us for giving action meaning in a real and not just analytical way. For them, though reflective and contemplative, language is also the structure of our social thought, and therefore for our social action. The civil sphere and the actions that take place in it must use the language of the language (and culture), not (just) as speech, but as meaning making. However, meaning is not solely derived from language, but also from what we have previous called autonomous culture. This culture and its manifestations will be the major difference between the SP and Arendt because, as we will see, culture and its different manifestation do not fall solely in the vita activia of action but rather more under making.
35 Alexander, 2006; 4 36 Arendt, 1958; 198 (quoting Homer) 37 The Strong Program in Cultural Sociology, chapter 5 - http://ccs.research.yale.edu/about/strong-program/

Through this short discussion of language and its function in both Arendt's and the SP's understanding of reality we can move on to a more detailed account of the difference between the two. This difference is, at its most basic, the desire of Arendt to create an activity based understanding of politics; while the SP is aimed at creating and understanding the meaning based faculties of society and its reflective discourses, both academically and socially (vis-a-vis the civil sphere). The manifest differences stem from the fact that the SP wants to untangle the web of meaning in a meaningful way, and in such presuppose and accept what Arendt fights to correct. While from a reverse perspective Arendt completely losses the meaning based and meaning giving mechanics of action, and to a major extent presupposes them as non autonomous vis-a-vis language and culture. The SP's search for meaning is rooted in the idea that we can treat culture as a distinctly autonomous sphere. Through this autonomous sphere we can analytically understand the different manifestation of this culture and how it facilitates and gives meaning to different activities. However, like Arendt, they understand that the civil sphere is not a given inherent situation but rather one that is created under a certain set of conditions. For Alexander the idea of democracy [...is] a way of life. Democracy is not a game governed by technical rules. It is a world of great and idealizing expectations, but also overwhelming feelings of disgust and condemnation. [...] Democratic life shifts back and forth between a transcendental language of sacred values of the good and profane symbols of evil, but these shifts are mediated by institutions that push for agreement in difference, such as voting, the rule of law, and the ethics of office38. The presupposed form of organization is understood as the facilitator through both its technical structure and its idealistic discourse, giving and receiving meaning via a set of language and cultural codes that need to be studied and uncovered. This discourse and its facilitating forms are very specific, and interestingly do not immediately fall under anyone of Arendt's categories. The SP's uniqueness in regards to Arendt is their treatment of culture not as either action or making but as the autonomous backdrop for both. This conception of the civil sphere does indeed deepen the Ardentian sin through its presupposition of some form of political control and the blurring of the social making and the political acting as distinctly private, and not solely public. Alexander assumes that the structure of civil society may rest upon a cultural structure, but it is hardly merely discursive in its shape and form. It is filled with institutions, organizations of communication and regulation39. In this very basic sense the civil sphere is not free, not because it is predicated on an autonomous culture, but rather because it aims to mold the actions of men so as to synchronize between the language, culture and physical manifestations and that of the men that attempt to understand and act within it.
38 Alexander, 2006; 4 39 Alexander, 2006; 4

The content of this culturally based action and its facilitating institutions are mediated, and to understand them we must recognize [...] the world of public opinion, which is the sea inside of which the civil sphere swims40. The public opinion is very obviously a mediated attempt at understanding and facilitating action. It and its statistical quality is directly an attempt at managing the plurality of human, both by disconnecting their action from the direct connection to the world and by lumping all men together and giving power only to them as a single, yet complex, unit that reacts and has this or that opinion in regards to the distinctly different (political or social) unit. The public opinion is the middle ground between the generalities of high-flown discourse and the ongoing, concrete events of everyday life. It is filled with collective representations of ideal civility41. We now have a slightly clearer picture of the true face of the SP's civil sphere. It is highly regulated and mediated, in complete contrast to Arendt's public space. It is made up of representations and is itself a representation of ideal civility. There is a mediated symbolic or representational connection between what Arendt would call action and its ability to influence. The content itself, which Alexander treats as performative actions and others from the SP members as content or narrative is always predicated on a discursive realm42. It is in this realm that the the cultural autonomy can be treated vis-a-vis its different manifestations, and where these manifestations receive meaning beyond there purely cultural form and language. Both Alexander's and others understanding of narrative is based on what Alexander calls communicative institutions and thecommunicative institutions of civil society are composed in part of mass media. Newspapers and television news are factual media; they record, but they also select and reconstruct in civil terms what actually goes on in a societys life. Fictional media such as novels, movies, and television comedies and dramasdo much the same thing, but at a temporal remove from immediacy and under the guise of high and popular art. Mass media institutions respond to opinion, but they also structure and change it43 Surprisingly and sadly from an Arendtian perspective, what we can currently understand as action also partly falls under these types of institutions; [c]ivil associations, such as Mothers against Drunk Driving or Moveon.Org, are also vital communicative institutions in civil life44. However these actions, as representations that function as and through the communicative institutions of civil society have influence but not power in the more instrumental sense [...;] the broad solidarity that constitutes the people must have teeth in it45. Like Arendt, Alexander
40 41 42 43 44 45 Alexander, 2006; 4 Alexander, 2006; 4-5 Jacobs, 1996a; 1238 Alexander, 2006; 5 Alexander, 2006; 5 Alexander, 2006; 5

understands that the ability to communicate is not enough to ensure the freedom needed to create either her space of appearance or his civil sphere. However, unlike Arendt, he accepts that this freedom comes only through the ability of the people to access to the violence monopolized by the state [...through v]oting and party competition [that] create civil power. They allow representatives of civil society not only to insert themselves into state bureaucracy but to formally control it46. So while communication is a necessary cause for this space or sphere it is not sufficient. More so, and again while exuberayting the Arendtian sin, Alexander accepts the axiomatic control and suggests to to rethink law as a form of symbolic representation. Law highlights, stereotypes, and pollutes actions that are considered threatening to civil society. The regulatory power of such legal representations is extraordinary. They constitute simultaneously symbolic constructions and normative judgments, and, in the name of the civil community, they can draw upon coercion and even control the bureaucratic state. [...]Law applies the sacred principles of civil discourse case by case, in real historical time; in order to do so, it must identify and punish the profane 47. Or in Arendt's language, action or the potential for action is not enough, we need the control to facilitate both the (communicative) institutions and their ability to have meaning. The law and control both create and give meaning to actions and in this regard make the connection between our actions, language and normative ideas, and allow these to take hold, or at least influence, the facilitating structures of society both because of there cultural meaning and significance and through the democratic structures and rights. These structures themselves are political only in the sense that they are anti political or social, and function as such in both there content and end result while using cultural form to give meaning and bring it all together through the different actions or narratives that desire to influence them. What can be called action, either in the compromised modern version of an action aiming at changing the political / social structure, or in the more classic Arendtian sense of a performative act attempting to influence men to more action via language, are hinged on the existence of a space for such. However, the SP wants to add that it is also predicated on the specific ethics and institutions48 of the civil sphere and the cultural codes and narratives that allow for it to have meaning. For this reason, not only must the field of sociology and its attempt to understand society take (and use) the cultural element, its language and genres, into account but the actual social movements must [also] be rethought49. From an SP perspective there must be both an analytical / academic shift and a political one.
46 47 48 49 Alexander, 2006; 5 Alexander, 2006; 6 (bold added) Alexander, 2006; 6 Alexander, 2006; 6 (bold added)

Academically there must be a shift to a perspective that treats reality as culture and reading culture as a text is complemented, [...], by an interest in developing formal models that can be applied across different comparative and historical cases. In other words, narrative forms such as the morality play or melodrama, tragedy and comedy can be understood as types that carry with them particular implications for social life50. Not only is our understanding hinged on culture, academically we must understand it as such and aim to use the ongoing work in literary and more classic cultural interpretations to create a parallel model that is relevant and helps clarify and understand society, its working and meaning making practices. Politically what can be called action will be the use of these genres and cultural language via the representations, not to destroy or call into dramatic action, but rather reform both the system and our motivations to interact with it. Actions in the SP sense are not motivated simply by cognitive perceptions of rational interest, and their success hardly depends on mobilizing resources in the material sense. Social movements are rooted in subjectivity and dependent on symbolic communication. Anchored in the idealized discourses and communicative institutions of the civil sphere, social movements have one foot in some particular injustice and the other in promises about the general good51. The reason for this is not only because of what we have called the cultural autonomy but rather because of the specifically democratic52 form and content the civil sphere functions in. Political actions and groups aiming at fixing their situation must appeal to the greater good and this reflects the duality of social position in complex social systems and fragmented civil spheres. [For example t]he civil rights and feminist movements were not only about the particular interests of racial and gender groups. They were about the reconstruction of social solidarity, about its expansion and repair. To be successful, they had to convince people outside their groups; they could do so only by interweaving their particular struggles with universal civil themes.53 Chapter Five: The Problem of Meaning: Performance and Narratives as Action and Work As has been stated the SP treats performance and narratives as its main object of study. We have seen on what background this takes place- cultural autonomy and a civil sphere. Let us now attempt to treat these through Arendt's perspective, but first let us try to understand how these attempts line up with what we have already discussed. Up-till now we have discussed and critiqued the SP through Arendt's thought, but it is only fair to
50 51 52 53 The Strong Program in Cultural Sociology, chapter 5 - http://ccs.research.yale.edu/about/strong-program/ Alexander, 2006; 7 Democratic in the modern and not Greek polis sense Alexander, 2006; 7 (bold added)

do the reverse as well. It is safe to assume that Alexander would not accept Arendt's philosophical approach or at least complete perspective as they lack any ability to pinpoint meaning and untangle it vis-a-vis its specific manifestations and uses. In this sense Arendt's thought is a week program that stutter[s] on this issue54 of meaning. For Alexander these types of theories tend to develop elaborate and abstract terminological (de)fences that provide the illusion of specifying concrete mechanisms as well as the illusion of having solved intractable dilemmas of freedom and determination. The SP believes that the quality is in the detail [... and f]or most of its history, sociology [and other social fields], both as theory and method, has suffered from a numbness towards meaning55. Both theoretically and physically meaning has been completely missed, and this is due to the misassumption that culture, because it is socially created, must be treated as such, and not as an autonomous set of codes and language games able to give the very same societies that created it meaning. This has led to a failure to deal with the specific details and causal relationship between cultural codes and specific actions. The need is to understand meanings as infinitely malleable in response to social settings [and] recognize the dramatic narratives [for example] as inevitably structured by constraining cultural codes relating to plot and character, for it is the combinations between these make any kind of drama a possibility56 and any kind of action in the civil sphere is just this- drama- drama as a performance or drama as a text. Specifically the genre is the SP's analytical tool for understanding the connection of culturally autonomous codes and real world action. The reason for the growing interest in narrative and genre theory57, in both literary and philosophical circles, stems from the fact that narrative forms such as the morality play or melodrama, tragedy and comedy can be understood as types that carry with them particular implications for social life58. The genres help frame action in regard to a certain order (beginning, middle and end) and connect this order to normative ideas, thus bridging action, codes and wanted political results. Theoretically, besides all the points and arguments already made on this subject, genres and this type of thinking allows for specific reconstructions of causal action together with their underlying dramatic and cultural backdrop while still being able to move to a generalized theory. To understand this through Arendt's state of mind I will now check two examples of SP studies through an Arendtian paradigm, in an attempt to understand where the SP's subject topics are located in regards to her thought. The first SP paper I will use will be Alexander's (2004) attempt at presenting the classic sociological topic of rituals as social performance that can, while
54 55 56 57 58 The Strong Program in Cultural Sociology, chapter 2 - http://ccs.research.yale.edu/about/strong-program/ The Strong Program in Cultural Sociology, chapter 2 - http://ccs.research.yale.edu/about/strong-program/ The Strong Program in Cultural Sociology, chapter 4 - http://ccs.research.yale.edu/about/strong-program/ The Strong Program in Cultural Sociology, chapter 5 - http://ccs.research.yale.edu/about/strong-program/ The Strong Program in Cultural Sociology, chapter 5 - http://ccs.research.yale.edu/about/strong-program/

[d]rawing on the new field of performance studies, [...demonstrate] how social performances, whether individual or collective, can be analogized systematically to theatrical ones59. Or put more simply: how can rituals be understood as social performances that function through well known theatrical genres, and thus allow us to understand their specific dynamics better. Secondly I will reference Smiths work regarding narratives, specifically his work on the narratives of the Second Gulf War and the process leading up to them, and his treatment of the Rodney King Beatings. I will try to check and compare these in regards to Arendt's discussion of the vita activia. Specifically I will try to locate these performances and narratives and understand where they fallmaking or acting- and if so why- for what end- are they done. The premise being that end is the main difference between working and acting in that acting is done for the sake of our natality and itself and making to create a useful object. A second criteria I will use is that of durability, in that products of our work are lasting while our actions are fleeting and exist only while there is a space of appearance of men amongst men. Performance For Alexander cultural performance is the social process by which actors, individually or in concert, display for others the meaning of their social situation [through] a plausible performance, one that leads those to whom their actions and gestures are directed to accept their motives and explanations as a reasonable account60. These actors present themselves as being motivated by and toward existential, emotional, and moral concerns, the meanings of which are defined by patterns of signifiers whose referents are the social, physical, natural, and cosmological worlds within which actors and audiences live61. So we have two main conditions of the social performance; [1] actors portraying a social situation and [2] that this situation occurs within a certain world that is common to both performer and audience. This situation itself and its structure must be known or understandable to the audience, both in form and content, for there to be a connection of such. Alexander understands these conditions as symbolic references, and divides them into foreground and background, not by mistake borrowing these terms from the world of theatre. One part of this symbolic reference provides the deep background of collective representations for social performance; another part composes the foreground, the scripts that are the immediate referent for action62. The foreground is the performances immediate referential text 63 while the deep background is the symbolic world of content that is being referenced and presupposed by the performance. Both grounds are are structured by codes that provide analogies and antipathies
59 60 61 62 63 Alexander, 2004; 527 Alexander, 2004; 529 Alexander, 2004; 530 Alexander, 2004; 530 Alexander, 2004; 530

and by narratives that provide chronologies, [...]to configure social and emotional life in compelling and coherent ways64. These analogies and narratives are not exclusively theatrical and can range from 'time immemorial' myths to invented traditions created right on the spot, from oral traditions to scripts prepared by such specialists as playwrights, journalists, and speech writers65; or any man made mode of communication (or communicative institution). Just as these can reference structures that are not solely theatrical the performances themselves are not solely theatrical, for example [r]itual performances reflect the social structures and cultures of their historically situated societies [... and] in early societies, I wish to suggest, were not so much practices [as has been previously assumed by sociologist, but] as performances, and in this they indeed are made of the same stuff as social actions in more complex societies 66. So again, not only are these performances not based solely on theatrical narratives they themselves are not theatrical, and any ritual or action that answer to our criteria can be considered a social performance. Specifically Alexander is claiming that the rituals that so interested the early anthropologists and sociologist were no so unique or primitive as they assumed, only they were more clear and distinct from our modern performances. For example the symbolic roles that define participation in such ritualized performances emerge directly, and without mediation, from the other social roles actors play67. The chief or priest of the society was also the chief or priest in the ritual performance, unlike today were the connection between real world and performance is less clear. From an Argentina perspective it can seem we are looking at something that looks like action. These performances are done by men, amongst men. They exist as such only through the mutual relation of audience and actors, where without one there is no other. So they, like action, are fleeting and demand some sort of mutual space for their immediate existence whose survival is based on the existence of such a space and relation. However, here the social performances start to stray away from classic definition of action, because not all performances occur in what can properly called a space of appearance. The ritual for example takes place in what might be more accurately called a civil sphere, it may be called this in so much as it is a regulated space that allows for communication to occur via cultural and technical codes and rules. Alexander himself admits that the existence of such a sphere is possible even in non democratic societies, in which, though functioning as a space for communication based on language and codes, and can be understood it such, it lacks the formal teeth that make democracy unique and give actions real meaning68 and not just symbolic one.
64 65 66 67 68 Alexander, 2004; 530 Alexander, 2004; 530 Alexander, 2004; 534 Alexander, 2004; 535 Alexander, 2006; 5

Secondly these performances do not occur by free men in an attempt to present their uniqueness and/or to motivate others. Rather they function as a function of society representing their social reality and the actors, most times, are just that, and not the real deal. Even when they are, say in the case of the priest in the ritual or the politicians in a political debate between different nominees for the presidency, then they are not free in that they function under either the rules or structures of the either the back or foreground; if not real technical rules denying them the ability to fully bring to light their uniqueness. Secondly, in this regard, the audience is not of equals, they cannot take the stage nor be motivated to act in the same sphere the preforming is going on. Thirdly and most importantly this type of performance, though fleeting and contingent on the actor / audience relationship for the existence of its space, are not done for the sake of the uniqueness and of the performers but rather as an attempt to serve the social order. Even in their most rebellious they reiterate the codes and realty in such an extant that, though they are fleeting, they are useful. They serve a purpose distinct from that of its performers and audience, and whether they try to entertain or motivate, they are done for an end-result that is not political. This end result and the teleological thinking behind social performances are, if anything, social, and not political, and therefore not deserving to be considered action. Rather they fall interestingly on the border between acting and making, for on the one hand they are in a space of men and do attempt to call them into something, however and on the other hand they are useful, and are in most cases commodified and regulated so as to be as such. Wether this is good or bad news for Arendt's theory is up for debate, one could easily claim that her categories are irrelevant or even romantic as Alexander claims69, but it still informs us about the not so obvious functions and drawbacks of both the Alexander's claim, and his and the performances attempt to influence life in a political way.

NarrativesNarratives are different in that they function almost solely located at the civil sphere level of reality. For example in his treatment of the Rodney King beating, Jacobs is attempting to examine how the event of the beating was constructed into a crisis, analyze the attempts to resolve the crisis by political elites, and compare how these attempts were interpreted by two newspapers, the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Sentinel.70. There is no act here, accept maybe the beating itself. Rather there is an attempt to understand the metaphysical event of the beating, as constructed by newspaper and their use of multiple and overlapping narratives in their coverage of the Rodney King crisis [... and show] that there was an interaction between the narration of the crisis and the

69 Alexander, 2006; 45-46 70 Jacobs, 1996a; 1239

sequence of events71. The event of the beating itself is unique as it was videotaped, and this facilitated its durability as a crisis, through what cannot be understood as anything but a perfect example of the political and social implications of Walter Benjamin's claim about the mechanical reproduction. Through its mechanical reproduction via the communicative institutions it was able to undergo a process of narration. In general the role of narratives are twofold, firstly they allow individuals, groups, and communities to "understand their progress through time in terms of stories, plots which have beginnings, middles, and ends, heroes and antiheroes, epiphanies and denouements, dramatic, comic, and tragic forms"72. Secondly, by connecting their self-narratives to collective narratives, individuals can identify with such "imagined communities" as class, gender, race, ethnicity, and nation73; so narratives allow groups both to understand themselves as such and to give meaning and significance to reality as a group. Today in the age of media certain events require narration. Certain events require meaning through or mostly through such narration. Here a crisis becomes a "media event," announced through an interruption of normal broadcast schedules, repeated analysis by "experts," and opinion polling about the central characters involved in the crisis74. The outcome of such events depends [...] on the interaction between narrative construction and event sequence." Events such as the Dreyfus affair, Watergate, and the Rodney King beating become important plot elements for the different narratives of civil society and nation, and for this reason they can be extremely consequential for social outcomes75. The point here is that though metaphysical they become real through there narrative construction. The same argument, though through different content is made in regards to the Second Gulf War by Smith (2005) argues that only through narrative construction of Saddam in an apocalyptic light based on a genre of the same type, can the Bush administration properly frame the rational required for war in the civil sphere of democratic discourse who's consent it requires. In both cases the main entities that do this framing are communicative institutions, mainly, but not solely, mass media. The mass media and its products mediate and create the realty vis-a-vis this narration. If we return to Arendt we can clearly see that though these can actually call for an action, through this group understanding via the narratives, it is clearly not an action. Firstly mass media create worldly things in the most physical (newspapers) and metaphysical (media event vis-a-vis a crisis) sense. Secondly this is done as a result of work by craftsman and not free men acting out of their desire to be unique. Thirdly, even if these objects are fleeting, they are aimed themselves at creating value and meaning as an end. more than they are preoccupied with calling or putting
71 72 73 74 75 Jacobs, 1996a; 1239 (bold added) Jacobs, 1996a; 1240- quoting Alexander and Smith, 1993; 156 Jacobs, 1996a; 1240 Jacobs, 1996a; 1241-1242- quoting Scannell, 1995 and Dayan & Katz, 1992 Jacobs, 1996a; 1241-1242

people into motion. They may facilitate such an action, say by helping African Americans understand and frame their consciousness in regards to the Rodney King beating, and therefore lay the basis for community organizers to take to the street or act. But they themselves (as creating and working entities) are not focused on such an endeavor. Therefore, unlike performance, narratives are solely in the realm of, and a result of, work. They aim to create the social and not political world in the most basic sense. So while slightly referencing action, most of the SP's topic subjects are work, or at least somewhere closer to work then to action. If we were to set up a spectrum between the two with the pure political action on one end and pure object-creating oriented work at the other then we could place performance closer to action then narrative, however they would still both closer to work than say a flash mob. Chapter SixSummary: Plurality vs Solidarity We have discussed many differences between these two different types and schools of thought. We have seen how the SP focuses mostly on the social and civil sphere while Arendt is preoccupied with the political and the space of appearance. We have given this distinction more breadth by comparing the two and examining the different topic subjects of the SP through Arendt's categories of work and action and have seen how the SP does not just theoretically deal with making and action but is also empirically bound to these realms. I think that it is this empirical worldliness that is both the strong and soft spot of the SP. Academically it is attempting at bridging the polarized relationship of meaning and theory, whilst losing neither. This forces them to leave at times their more realist approach for a slightly more positivistic one, or at-least attempting to quantify in a reductionist fashion some of the units and agents in their attempt to untangle the cultural web of meaning and action. However even the realist position leaves them open to critique from an Arendtian perspective, but as has been stated, this is not by default a bad thing. This stems from the more basic fact that the SP is dealing with society of men and not with the truly free Greek polis that Arendt has and mind. Through their dealing with society they indirectly and involuntarily presuppose the distinctions which Arendt understands as the death of politics, uniqueness and to many extents freedom itself. The main point I wish to finish with is a return to the two most basic concepts of the two actors of this paper; Arendt's plurality and the SP's solidarity. Arendt wishes to see us as a multitude of men amongst men, each one unique, and therefore comprising a plurality of individuals free from interventions that meet of their own free will to act and be unique for the sake of these qualities and no other. While the SP, presuposing society and the need to facilitate it, both technically (vis-a-vis

democracy) and cultural (vis-a-vis narratives and genres), wishes to see us as a fractioned society that must strive for solidarity so as to be able to use the (specific) codes of democracy to advance both our (fractional) interest and our (societal) greater good, through and with one an other. They see this solidarity as the main prerequisite for a vital and democratic civil sphere as democracy, and its specific codes, demand76.

76 Smith & Jacobs; 1997, 60

Bibliography1. Alexander, Jeffery C. & Smith, Philip; The Strong Program for Sociology. http://ccs.research.yale.edu/about/strong-program/ Accessed: 20/2/2012. Also published in The Handbook of Sociological Theory, edited by Jonathan Turner (New York: Kluwer, 2001), and in Alexanders The Meanings of Social Life(New York: Oxford, 2004). 2. Alexander, Jeffery C. Fact-signs and cultural sociology: How meaning-making liberates the social imagination. (2011) Thesis Eleven. http://the.sagepub.com/content/104/1/87.citation Accessed: 20/2/2012 3. Alexander, Jeffery C. The Civil Sphere (2006). Oxford University Press. New York, New York. 4. Arendt, Hanna. The Human Condition (1958). The University of Chicago Press. Chicago and London. 5. Jacobs, Ronald N. Civil Society and Crisis: Culture, Discourse and the Rodney King Beating (1996). The University of Chicago Press. Chicago and London. 6. Alexander, Jeffery C. Cultural Pragmatics: Social Performance Between Ritual and Strategy. (2004) Yale University Press. 7. Smith, Philip. Why war?: The Cultural Logic of Iraq, the Gulf War, and Suez (2005) Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 8. Jacobs, Ronald N & Smith Philip. Romance, Irony and Solidarity (1997). Sociological Theory, Vol. 15, No. 1. The American Sociological Association

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