martes, 1 de mayo de 2007

Sobre "The Civil Sphere", de Jeffrey Alexander

Excelente reseña, sobre un libro que parece fundamental. Veo que no está en la biblioteca de la PUCP, pediré que lo compren...

Social Skills, by Alan Wolfe
The New Republic
Issue date 04.23.07
Alan Wolfe is a contributing editor at The New Republic

The Civil Sphere, by Jeffrey C. Alexander (Oxford University Press, 2006, 793 pp., $35)


Can sociology be saved? It ought to be. Not long ago, sociology was the most promising of the social sciences. At a time when economists had not yet discovered rational actors and political scientists belonged to government departments, sociology was the American social science most in touch with the great minds of Europe. Inspired by Emile Durkheim and Max Weber, sociologists wrote books that grappled with the contradictions and the potentialities of the modern condition. Even when it was in the grip of academic professionalism, sociology was distinctive. America's most famous sociologist during the 1940s and 1950s was Talcott Parsons of Harvard, a dreadful writer and a builder of imponderably complex classifications, but for all his abstruseness Parsons addressed many of the salient issues of his time (notably McCarthyism) and many of his collaborators and students--Edward Shils, Robert K. Merton, Robert Bellah, Neil Smelser--became giants in the field.

By the time the 1960s rolled around, radical students were ready for sociology--and sociology was ready for them. Out at Berkeley, Nathan Glazer and Seymour Martin Lipset greeted the New Left with something less than enthusiasm; for them, the student movement seemed uncomfortably close to European extremism. But then there was Columbia's C. Wright Mills, a Camus-like figure to the radicals of his day, whose books were read as holy scripture. And even if the radical students did not like what thinkers such as Daniel Bell or David Riesman said about them, their understanding of American society was deepened by The End of Ideology and The Lonely Crowd. In the heady atmosphere of the time, sociology, like left-wing politics, looked like a growth industry. The idea that one or the other--let alone both--would enter a steep period of decline simply did not seem possible.

Sociology is not completely dead, even if some of its former adherents, such as Peter Berger and Irving Louis Horowitz, have written its epitaph. There are figures--William Julius Wilson, Richard Sennett, Orlando Patterson, Paul Starr--who write for a broad general public. And others--Jerome Karabel, Kristin Luker, James Davison Hunter--have written important books that help Americans to understand such contentious issues as university admissions policies, abortion, and the culture war. Yet sociology does not attract the best and the brightest among college students, and few of its practitioners have become household names. (In 1954, David Riesman was on the cover of Time!) The field no longer has much use for its European originators. Half of the discipline is engaged in number-crunching, while the other half does thinly disguised (or completely overt) left-wing politics. Meanwhile, academics from all the social sciences, including sociology, turn to economics for models of human behavior, while political science attracts significant numbers of undergraduate majors and speaks to the issues central to the disasters of the Bush years. So sociology exists, but it does not flourish. Some universities have closed their sociology departments down. Others just leave them underfunded, knowing full well that their poorly paid members have nowhere else to go.

One reason why sociology may be in trouble--the most serious reason, come to think of it--is that it lacks both an agreed-upon subject matter and a distinctive methodology. Economists study things involving money, and even those who apply their skills to non-economic subjects, including faith and family, are linked to their disciplinary colleagues by the commitment to a common method. Political scientists have a pretty good idea of what politics is, and while they study power in many locations, including the international arena, they typically agree that power involves, in Harold Lasswell's pithy formulation, who gets what, when, and how. But what is sociology's proper area of study? It once was "society," a broad term that includes both economics and politics; but sociologists, given their current troubles, would be hard-pressed to be so confident and imperialistic today. Yet if not society, what? Unless sociologists can define with some precision a subject and a method unique to them, they will never recover the intellectual prestige that they once enjoyed.

Jeffrey Alexander's new book is the most audacious attempt in recent memory to establish a turf for the discipline of sociology. Alexander's aim is to offer "a new theory of society by defining a new sphere, its cultural structures, its institutions, and its boundary relations with discourses and institutions outside it." Sociology, in Alexander's view, does have a distinct subject matter and methodology, and he is going to tell us what they are and demonstrate what insights they can provide. These are big claims. If Alexander, who is certainly one of the most significant sociological theorists in the United States, makes good on his claims, his discipline has the potential to flourish once again. But if someone with his abilities and his accomplishments fails, then sociology is in worse trouble than we imagined.


The subject matter of sociology, Alexander argues, is civil society...

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1 comentario:

Ernesto dijo...

Hablando de libros en la biblio de la PUCP, hace unos meses lei a un blogger (muy conocido por sus ideas de derecha conservadora) que no era facil encontrar libros de la escuela austriaca de economia y si mas keynesianismo, es eso cierto?