Is Civil Society the Good Society? | Prof Jeffrey Alexander



well thanks very much andreas again this is a workshop I don't have a prepared script I like to have a prepared script actually but I don't so does the danger I speak too long Andreas is going to tell me after 15 minutes and I'll wrap things up and there's a I just to to to help me really and maybe also to give you some some terms to hang on to I've put together a few notes really so there's a one page that everybody should have at this stage the the Jeff's book the silver sphere is a very big book and there's a lot of a lot of ways in which one could approach it my book is much narrower in ambition it's primarily methodological book think there might be you know some implicit ideas about the good society in it but it's really a book about how to approach thinking about the good society so as I said it's methodological philosophies I'm going to start the three kinds of issues I want to throw out into the into the room and methodological issues I think they're more interesting than the word maybe suggests a second set of issues that have to do with imagination and social change and the third have to do with this civil sphere as a community of individuals bound by a particular kind of solidarity which is Jeff's idea of of the civil veer so I don't know how far I'm going to get but it's really really just taught to provoke discussion I am after Jeff's – Jeff and after Jeff's presentation so and the methodological issues the the the particular tradition of thinking about society as of which my own thinking has emerged is the critical social theory of the Frankfurt School people like Horkheimer adorn omar cruiser and more recently of course people like hammer mass and her generation critical tears in this tradition which goes back to Marx and for that to Hegel there's an emphasis on social transformation which is part of the reason why I started off by talking about a social transformation as something that is the the binds jeff's and my concerns together but in the particular tradition out of which I emerge the the the imperative the need for social transformation is central so you know Marx's famous eleven theses on Feuerbach the Philosopher's have only interpreted the world in various ways the point is to change the emphasis on praxis you know in doing something this is really central but what's particularly I think to the Franklin school tradition is the worry that people might not be aware of the social causes of their suffering of the kind of in Justices under which their suffering they might even be aware that they are suffering this is the problem that has often been given the title the problem of false consciousness or forty consciousness or ideology or whatever and I think there's a point I think one has to treat these debates about false consciousness very very carefully for reasons I'm going to come to in a minute but I think there is a point to this worry and in my own work in fact in my ever more increasingly and I have been reflecting on the question of transformation of perception so the fact that we might have to transform how people see things as a precondition for social change for the better but once one starts talking about changing people's perceptions of transformation of consciousness when immediately is confronted with another worry which I call the worry about epistemological authoritarianism so if anybody I've you know I've put on the on the on the on the handout for I mean by physiological and not authoritarianism presume illogical I mean in our thinking as in RM in how we think about knowledge so epistemological authoritarianism occurs in my view when Pyrrhus or a group of people grant themselves or other people and let's say for a particular group of people be they theorists are activists are granted privileged access to knowledge of truth in principle so some people are guaranteed not guaranteed but have privileged access to troops now I think this this this granting of access of knowledge of truth to a privileged group of people runs counter to the emphasis on in on the on respect for individual moral agency which seems to me and at indispensable premise of of any kind of social action and thinking about social action today so I think in the important we can't we have to respect individual moral agency and to do that we have to avoid epistemological authoritarianism and this means I put this on their hand eyes we have to be open to everybody's claims about the good life or the good society so there's a need for openness to everybody's ethical claims this is one aspect of what I call the need for radical reflexivity and I mean this both this radical reflexivity seems to be important both of the part of a very theory that is concerned with the good Society of the good life but it's also important for people who are on the ground working to achieve the good Society in the good life but radical reflexivity I mean two things I mean this openness to everybody's openness in principle to everybody's claims about the good life in good society or even specifically their arguments about the good life in good society but another aspect and like an idea was this other aspect under the heading epistemic rigidity because I think there's a danger for everybody I'm normally concerned with the danger as it arises on the level of theory but it arises also on the level of activism there's a danger of inflexibility and dogmatism in one's thinking about what the good life and good society is and and I call dust my laborer at his epistemic rigidity so any good theory about the good Society has to avoid epistemic rigidity and that means being open to every kind of argument about the good life I are the good society not just everybody's that's the kind of democratic requirements but also to every kind I think that can be quite uncomfortable a requirement actually and my very recent the RTA our papers I've been trying to teach through some of these things oh so how do we do this how do we how do we how do we ensure this radical reflectivity and I think one way which here you can do it is by being open or being and no more it opens – week by by by by maintaining a very strong link between theory and experience and that's the empirical basis of theory if you like I'm using empirical here in a general sense not just in the sense of a theory that relies on observation and experiment but also a theory does actually draws on real experiences in the world I think that's something you know connecting so something that I see very strongly in Jeffrey Alexander's work and it connects him up with the tradition of theorizing out of which I'm coming like axel hanukkah most recently who emphasizes this very much but also have a mass and before him the early critical schools here's who said you know critical theory starts from the bottom up with the real experiences of suffering so this is so we start with experiences it experiences in the world should stop us becoming epistemic the riches but they won't because experiences it's not enough it's not enough and so because there's a further worry I think we have to be open to in order to avoid epistemic rigidity we have to be open to all kinds of experiences so not just all kinds of arguments and claims but claims based on all kinds of experiences and some of these are likely to challenge us and be disruptive so we then the broader challenge is the what I call the epistemic reliability of experiences and arguments based on experiences how can we you know how can we know that this experience is something worth taking seriously just because we feel fair doesn't mean it's something that's valuable so I think this is a challenge for theory and for any theorizing about Society is to to distinguish our tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu and develop critical resources for the for evaluating and claims about the good life in good society that are made on the basis of experiences so we can't because experiences this I think would collect up with something that coordinate is going to be mentioned in his paper this afternoon my view of experience is not that experience is entirely constructed socially I think I think experiences are mediated in all sorts of ways through subjectivity which is always in a social setting through culture through language and you know lots of mediating factors so experiences are never you know naive are just out there and this is one of the questions I would like to – to ask or to talk about with with Jeff afterwards or as I see it's a basis for a discussion in the book it seems to me the book is concerned with social with with with social movements are the how should I process I think it's there's an immediacy about the body the ethical claims or the claims about suffering in the in the discussions of social movements in the book which are it's also I want to contest them but I'm saying one can't just rely on not every social movement is a good social movement so not every experience we need the critical apparatus for experience I wonder how that fits in to to I like to know more about what you what you think about that so this is sort of a set of questions really about critical evaluation of experience and this brings me to the second cluster of questions imagination I think both in Jeff's book the silver sphere and in my book to good Society there's a strong emphasis on imagination so maturation is driving our aura as a motivating force and more generally as a driver for social change for the better imagination in terms of all I just said I think it's clear that imagination is one important a way in which we can counter the tendency towards epistemic rigidity because the imagination opens up new possibilities and it gets us in all sorts of ways I mean I'm not I'm not going to I think it's the not going to get to offer an account of how the imagination works or what what forums of of a literary ways movies and so on poetry theories themselves speak to our imaginations so I think it's maturation is very is very important but the imagination and this can expect to experience the imagination speaks to the effects and chose to the emotions and to the effects more generally and as well as to the intellect so I'm I struggle with the question of how to keep the affective and rational and components of of of kava kind of the concern for social transformation together I mean it comes back to customer experience species are effective but we reflect on our experiences the two things are absolutely bound up together but we can't we can't we can't emphasize effect which I think some critic adheres to actually just suffering you know suffering it's that should speak to us that's you know that's right up to a point we can't emphasize effect without critical engagement rational gate engagement with the effect I think that's true imagination too so he also needs a critical theory of the imagination and this is something I wanted to ask a Jeff Moore about as well last cell remark so I think I'm okay Andreas um I just about finish up here these are these are this is a moves in a slightly different direction I mean just throwing out some some some thoughts for discussion here and say pick up on on some things I said in a review essay I wrote on Jeff's book a number of years ago and there are the disparate points I think we're connecting up my first point would be to say that in order to avoid epistemic rigidity we need to have we need to encourage and promote encounters with others so other people but also other forms of other news and this seems we very much part of the utopian idea of multicultural incorporation that for me is a central ingredient of Jeff Alexander's book so this is something that speaks me at the same time I would like to I think one can't just assume that all the kinds of openers to the other are good I mean my wonder question was raised it is are there pathological forms of openness to the other so where we lose our identity by you know submerging ourselves in the identity of the other as many I think examples of that authority another kind of question about openness the other is how exactly is this going to come about I mean what dry and I think this is this is this is something we need to think about now but if from the point of view of avoiding epistemic rigidity it's a kind of encounters with the other that we need will often be disturbing ones the ones I really challenge us and the core of our identity now nobody wants to have a disturbing encounter with others so are these the kind of question I'm asking is do we have to just to hope these things happen of the same accord or are there other ways in which institutionally we can encourage and the kind of disruptive I would call them disruptive encounters was the other that might be important from the point of view of encouraging this kind of identity formation and that maybe brings me to the second set of questions which had to do it okay with institutions just maybe that's all I'd say and one this is something I mean III want to ask Jeff as well where do schools and universities and you know school is from nurses whose onwards education institutions are they part of the civil sphere are they Anan civil sphere that you know is in tension with the silver sphere and I mean that raises questions again about the boundary between the civil and 9/7 fear but it would seem to me irrespective of that question that education has to be at the center of any project of the good society and and then we need to think more carefully about educational institutions and educational practices and I wanted to know more I wanted to hear more from Jeff about education and educational institution practices so that's really it Oh honest thanks me and that was really interesting um I have my own kind of response to Maeve's work and then get as a way of introducing some themes in mind and then I think I'll come back to the Prussian Sharia is but also those are good for another general discussion um I mean I've always been connected but separate from the tradition of critical theory I've maintained there are as I think made us in the beginning of her many kinds of critical theory not only the Frankfurt School which is a big point of her work mave says that critical theory depends on having access to a regulating the regulating idea of the good society and this is already kind of a radical reinterpretation of the Frankfurt School tradition context and the good society is an idea that's context independent but she says but not context-free the good society is separated off from the actual society that we live inside of and it's not possible for people actually to have the good society in the place we live in our own time it can never be institutionalized to use a sociological tone as such only some aspects of a good society or some dimensions or some elements but it is necessary to have the idea of a good society institutionalized and that's a very much the core of my own I agree completely with that and it's the point I was trying to make about the civil sphere and Martin Luther King that it's very important to have the if you want the ethical or the moral idea of a utopian we're all always available and in fact it is always available so I I see this continuum from this abstract ethical utopias down to everyday life as it actually is and everyday life as it is is a compromised formation between some realization of aspects of these and the exigencies of institutions which are not just capitalist ones or market or economics but all different kinds of institutions which have their own their own demands the other implication of well not implication what may have says is that the fact that this idea has to be a regulative one and not part of the society as it is means that what the good society is specifically in other words what the the nature of the institutions affects interactions and identities of the society which is defined as good cannot ever be spelled out because that would mean that it isn't can't be separated really and I think that's a very important point and it's of course completely different than let's say utopias as there as they exist in a particular time in place so a utopia of socialism or utopia of are you of a gender free society or a vibrational integration these are institutionalized forms of the good society which arise because of social movements or strains or responses to possibilities in a particular time in place but the utopian content of this regulatory idea has to be consistent with in the this is mavis argument the normative principles of modernity which she defines and this is a problem for me come back to that my individual autonomy agency self-realization and rationality which she defines this enormity of modernity and so those are the generalized principles of the good society which she says our universal capacities but implies that they've been sharpened and put upfront in the historical period that she describes as modernity so these principles are at the core of the good society which is the regulative idea that provides a transcendental reference upon which critical thinking rests and could and the implication the capacity for critical social action in a particular time and place and although I come back I'll come back in a moment ask some questions about these normative principles and the relation to modernity I want to say that I basically feel very comfortable with this perspective and that it is as I've suggested at the core of my own idea of the civil sphere I see it as an organizing regulative idea not a set of substantive institutional arrangements because I wanted to define it in a way which can explain many different kinds of part of social movements and demands from the Renaissance really or even going back to the medieval Parliament's or going back to Greek the Greek polis that I believe that actually this idea is 2500 years old and has assumed many different forms and will assume many different forms in the future that we don't imagine now just as if you would have talked to somebody in 1850 and said that the the definition of the good society or a good civil sphere will be where women are completely equal and that where they can be in the and don't have to have children people would have thought that was the most absurd and fantastic thing that they would have ever heard it would have been considered or that the notion of disability would be a major challenge for the society as to realize the civil sphere or a good society that or that gay and lesbian people that would become a central focus for a whole society for decades but if seem laughable if not criminal and I suspect that in a hundred years there will be many other things that right now we can't even imagine that will have been raised and come on to the agenda of society including a global issue that but the civil sphere remains the same in mind for you as an ideal of a regulative idea and won't really differ that much in terms of its core principles because because it's been around for a long time it will become enriched of course just as I think the civil sphere as it exists is the result of many intellectual and social movements becoming layered and layered on top of each other from Judaism and Christianity to socialism through the Eco lot to also national revolutions etc now the convergence between naves vision and mind or the complementarity it goes further than this in what I as a cultural sociologist because in a way the civil sphere is perhaps two different things it's a macro sociology in general and it's also a cultural sociology it's also normative of course because mave argues that the principles of the good society do not operate on society by virtue of their truthfulness they don't gain their power through the force of rational argument some so it's a radical challenge to at least know in my view and to most of the harbor Marcion tradition and most of the tradition of that I would say the Socratic tradition of deliberative democracy which is based on the notion of argumentation the power of the goods of the good society depends not she says on the ontological status or truth on making arguments for truth but on persuasion people in society have to be become convinced that there can be a good Society and that we cannot assume an addressee will hear what the good society says so now what this transforms the rational let's say Conti in a Socratic tradition into sociologically as a problem of performativity in terms of its operationalization and mave doesn't say that in that way but she says it in her way for persuasion to become possible the good society must become what she calls a picture in in other words it has to become an aesthetic force in the moral imagination tell her reference to the imagination which she made in her talk is is a movement into of course aesthetics and a movement outside of traditional political philosophy of which is traditionally separated from that and it's an effort to move beyond deliberation achieve insights around who's the great anti-democratic thinker although a socialist thinker at the time he wrote his work on myth but she embraces his notion of myth has warmly colored and clearly defined images so the good society must become she says a fiction now that's really I this is very a very strong movement from from moral to aesthetic theory or with moral and combining it with aesthetic and the good society then has to operate poetically to become what she calls an effectively imbued mode of having power to achieve and effectively imbued motivating power it must have incarnations quote in flesh and blood so rather than convincing via truth or belief she cites Colorado so she doesn't in tribute to Coleridge famous declaration that poetry depends on called the willing suspension of disbelief in other words entering into a fictive relationship to the principles of what of what she calls modernity I call the discourse of the civil sphere through exactly the kind of experience that King provides in this marvelous speech which is a form of poetics which is something we didn't talk about that and if we saw him speaking you know if you saw the video you'd realize that this was an aesthetic and moral experience and not a form of reasoning in a traditional sense so one of that this pushes Mae's argument from philosophy into cultural sociology and aesthetics and it's something I very much one of the main basis of the civil sphere as a quiz to present a critical alternative to the Socratic tradition while maintaining a normative commitment strongly to democracy but to redefine how democracy works not just in the edge of mass media which is important but how it's always worked why were there all the schools of rhetoric in ancient Greece it wasn't just an issue of arguing from truth and rationality as in Socrates presents it that the success of the civils here depends on telling a good story and on a narrative on an aesthetic process of dramatization which presents a protagonist as a hero or an oppressed subject who can rise up through a process of revelation and provide epifanov moments of identification acceptance and reconstruction which then allow institutions to be opened up and transformed in some significant way let me just make a few notes in conclusion on where I disagree with me but I don't you know there are disagreements and one is that I don't tie the civil sphere to modernity but to democracy the implications of this I think are pretty significant because I seem identity as something that's also really awful and good so I want to say it's both things and that the principles of modernity are also there's good principles and then there's bad prints in this I'm sure Maeve agrees with me about that but it's just to me there's much to lose a use of the term modernity throughout all of our sciences so I don't conceive of the civil sphere as a social condition or as part but as a dis course as a way of talking in writing and experiencing that come out of a series of empirical social movements and intellectual developments which I've mentioned earlier and as such the principles of the civil sphere and this is one of the major points of my book are also are not just the positive ones of rationality and inclusion but the negative ones of irrationality and exclusion so that the civil sphere our very idea of community going back to the Greeks is based on exclusion and inclusion and that's why the bad parts of modernity aren't residual categories that reflect a failure for there to be a civil sphere but they are the they reflect the paradoxical quality of any community which is that all communities are based on who deserves to be part of us and who doesn't deserve to be and community spend as much time on working on who can't why people can't be part of our community as they do on how they can and that's a sad thing but that's life that is everything who can be part of this University well there's a lot of time spent on that you unless you get these grades and those who do this and this so you can't be and there's always a sense that when more inside others are outside the dynamic of the civil sphere as I see it is about Nick is about that boundary oh one of the dynamics is this this dynamic interplay of then people say but I actually deserve to be inside that the working class deserves to be inside the civils here or the african-american or women or disabled people or immigrants and then the people in the core group of the yes I know I mean this entire society is promised on scum like you not being able to be part of it so if you want to be part you have to become exactly like us which itself is pretty interesting because most societies until modernity didn't allow anybody to be like them anyway so but then there's this negotiation there's this conflict and intensity about opening up or closing down and then you have backlash movements like Nazism like the anti-immigrant movement which say no we don't want to expand this civil sphere we want to narrow it which is a very important dynamic and I think should be in our minds today because I think Europe is experiencing in certain respects a backlash against the civil sphere and especially against the idea of Europe as a new European civil sphere but also partly inside of most European countries there's obviously a growth of right-wing organizations and possibilities of anti-immigrant backlash so I think that speaks to this last point that may have raised about other hood and the possibility of rigidity pathological forms of multiculturalism my idea is that multiculturalism I mean it's a very complicated issue but I'm multiculturalism has to be based on a sense of shared commitment to the idea of a civil sphere and that it D values therefore particular cultural instantiation of it for example in the u.s. for most of its history being a wasp was equivalent to being a member of the civil sphere a white anglo-saxon Protestant now nobody would ever use the term wasp of course the Irish were victims of the Canaria of the possibility of the civil sphere – wasp business there were some of the first victims of that but that changed and there there's an opening of that but it's still a struggle in terms of let's say Hispanic City and things like that but today I feel that multicultural has become an N word in Europe in many parts of Europe that people on the left and my are turning against multiculturalism and blaming it for the problems of for the immigration problems and saying that the immigrants don't want to become part of European societies and that they blame that on multiculturalism which just lets people be as they are and says we should give up everything and just accept all these different kinds of people so I think it's a very very real issue today though so I think I made clear that I feel very comfortable and I've learned so much from this work in terms of imagination the idea of I haven't spoken directly about experience but I mean when I think about experience well let me just tie that Fatherhood the idea of a common experience of life is fundamental to solidarity and then new way of changing victimized and victimizers sense of the goodness of their experience is critical so the Second Life feminist movement had to convince women that the experience of subordination and deference or the experience of femaleness was a form of subordination from the cultural sociological point of view that was one of the great accomplishments of feminism very few women would have said I feel dominated and subordinated in 1960 10 or 15 years later they did this is a gigantic transformation of consciousness in relationship in terms of their relation this to the civil sphere and the good Society and I think that's what made means by a critical apparatus a critical evaluation of experience and Martin Luther King said as other black leaders say that his goal was to create a new Negro a new person who would be very dissatisfied with his or her experience finally about schools and churches I mean the idea one of the things about modernity and the social theories of modernity is that they all work with ideas of spheres of different spheres in society religion and States the world of laws or all the families Marx's idea of the economic sphere becoming pathologically independent and colonizing the other spheres are Harbor masses idea also so I put the civil sphere I said in this book I'm trying to create a new sphere so this is the civil sir the civil sphere is as important as the economic sphere as important as a state as important as religion here's what the civil sphere is it's a set of discourses and meanings that if you look at those meanings there different from the meanings and discourses of these other spheres and I also say that there are communicative and regulative institutions in the civil sphere communicative our mostly media and civil associations regulate of our the law and voting and I and so I'm trying to define this this area so yes the thing is that then then what about all the other good institutions in society like schools and churches and that's always been a criticism of the civil sphere in terms of you know schools are more important than newspapers in terms of creating aren't they I mean it seems many people would say there have a lot more important they're creating good society then some tabloid or you know even The Guardian or whatever and churches because they're so close to the carrier of the ideal the ideals of society might only argument against that is that I don't believe well that first of all there's there's overlapping between spheres and I say there's three ideal typical relations one is a facilitating input that to the civil sphere another is destructive intrusion and then there's a possibility of civil repair schools of course our primary primary socialization that's how sociologists would talk about schools not necessarily that doesn't exclude enlightenment because learning learning rationality is also part of socialization rationality and autonomy but and I think that the schools are obviously fundamental to this and that that's why there's such such an object of conflict I don't think of them as institutions of inside the civil here because I don't think that they're primarily related to democracy I think they're primarily related to socialization and I don't think the relations inside of schools are very democratic although I understand that those tensions between them and there being more opened up but I see schools as fairly authoritarian institutions churches I also I think have a different well which is salvation and and purity of the sacred although again and I consider that quite different from democracy as identified the civil sphere but it clearly in the history of the United States the churches have been critical to almost every movement of reform from well from the American Revolution or churches were critical to abolitionism to the civil rights movement etc you

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