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Discourse and the Construction of Society: Comparative Studies of Myth, Ritual, and Classification / Edition 1

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In this bold theoretical work, Bruce Lincoln explores the ways in which myth, ritual, and classification hold human societies together--and how, in times of crisis, they can be used to take a society apart and reconstruct it. Without overlooking the role of coercive force in the maintenance (or overthrow) of social structures, Lincoln argues his thesis with compelling illustrations drawn from such diverse areas as Platonic philosophy, the Upanishads of India, ancient Celtic banquets, professional wrestling, and the Spanish Civil War. This wide-ranging interdisciplinary study--which draws on works in history, semiotics, anthropology, sociology, classics, and indology--offers challenging new insights into the complex dynamics of social cohesion and change.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Discourse and the Construction of Society is a game changer—simple as that—and so a book that I've passed along to countless people over the years. Each chapter is an example of how the academic study of religion ought to be done if it is to be something other than well-meaning cheerleading or idle voyeurism (to name two roles Lincoln himself has time and again critiqued convincingly). Having a new edition, with new material, invites yet another generation to take seriously issues of power, identity, rank, contest, the past, the future, and the always crafty ways that we try to signify this world of ours." —Russell T. McCutcheon, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, University of Alabama

Reviews of the Previous Edition:

"I read Bruce Lincoln's Discourse and the Construction of Society with pleasure and profit; he has the art of stating complicated ideas plainly without simplifying them, and the gift for finding telling examples; together these two qualities make his book engaging—and also useful. It is a kind of kit for thinking about society."—James Redfield, University of Chicago

"Offers a perspective on how different processes of orally delivered discourse can be used for the creation, maintenance, or disintegration of society. It raises our consciousness of the power of discourse, not only as narrative that informs but also as polemic that can create and destroy."—Oral History

"Lincoln's works always bring a breath of fresh air, and this one no exception....His use and treatment of a multiplicity of fields make his work relevant to many disciplines, including the history of religions, anthropology, sociology, political science, and semiotics. Highly recommended."—Religious Studies Review

"Discourse and the Construction of Society is a helpful monkey wrench for canonbusters, cultural and political activists, and other demystifiers of dominant discourse. In this cross-disciplinary study...Lincoln...examines the role of symbolic discourse and its ugly cousin, force, in constructing society."—Voice Literary Supplement

"The book's heterogeneity is vivid and its author adroit—his sense of loose links among rituals of resistance from highbrow politics and lowbrow media events alike should make good classroom fare."—American Anthropologist

"I read Bruce Lincoln's Discourse and the Construction of Society with pleasure and profit; he has the art of stating complicated ideas plainly without simplifying them, and the gift for finding telling examples; together these two qualities make his book engaging—and also useful. It is a kind of kit for thinking about society."—James Redfield, University of Chicago

"Lincoln's splendidly eclectic cultural critique unveils both the conceptual rigidity and the flexible uses of classification in social and political life....An exemplary achievement, arrayed in arrestingly lucid prose."—Michael Herzfeld, Choice

"Deserves to be widely read by people interested in social history."—Journal of Social History

"A masterful and imaginitive argument for the centrality of symbolic action in modern societies."—P. Manning, Michigan State University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195079098
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 12/28/1992
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 9.25 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Bruce Lincoln is Caroline E. Haskell Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions in the Divinity School, the University of Chicago. He has published four other books, including Priests, Warriors, and Cattle: A Study in the Ecology of Religions, which won the American Council of Learned Societies Prize as Best New Book in History of Religions in 1981.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
Force and Discourse 3
Myth, Ritual, and Ideology 5
Classification and Counterclassification 7
Sentiment and Society 8
On the Writing of this Book 11
Part I Myth
1 Myth, Sentiment, and the Construction of Social Forms 15
The Putney Debates and the Power of the Past 15
Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution 17
Ancestral Invocations and Segmentary Lineages 18
Myth and the Construction of Social Borders 21
Toward a Redefinition of History and Myth 23
2 The Politics of Myth 27
The Instrumentality of the Past 27
Variation and Contestation 29
Myth, Countermyth, and the Iranian Revolution 32
3 Competing Uses of the Future in the Present 38
The Flat Earth and Social Egalitarianism 38
Mountains, Law, and Order 42
The Instrumentality of the Future 45
Part II Ritual
4 Ritual, Rebellion, Resistance: Rethinking the Swazi Ncwala 53
On Ritual and Social Stability 53
The Ncwala Summarized 53
Scholarly Approaches to the Ncwala 57
The Problem of the Right-hand Insila 59
The King's Powers of Execution 61
Aspects of the Reign of Sobhuza II 63
The Afternoon of the Great Day 66
Domination, Resistance and the Politics of the Colonial Ncwala 71
5 Banquets and Brawls: Aspects of Ceremonial Meals 75
The Royal Feast at Tara 75
Battles over the "Champion's Portion" 81
Beef and Liberty 84
6 Festivals and Massacres: Reflections on St. Bartholomew's Day 89
Ritual and the Deconstruction of Social Forms 89
Background to a Massacre 90
A Royal Wedding: The Failed Ritual of Social Integration 93
A Ritual Massacre: The Feast of St. Bartholomew, 1572 96
Analysis of a Socioritual Drama 98
7 Revolutionary Exhumations in Spain 103
On the Brink of Civil War: July 1936 103
The Spanish Church and Anticlerical Violence in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries 110
Millennial Antinomianism 114
Rituals of Collective Obscenity 116
Iconoclasm 117
Sanctity, Corruption, Profanophany 124
Part III Classification
8 The Tyranny of Taxonomy 131
The Classificatory Logic of a Domestic Arrangement 131
Taxonomic Structure and Hierarchic Rank 133
Multimodular Classification 136
9 The Dialectics of Symbolic Inversion 142
A Provocative Inversion and the Disruption of Society: Duchamp's Fountain 142
Inversion, Counterinversion, and Political Reform: Menenius Agrippa and the Plebeian Secession 145
Dialectic Manipulations and Preservation of the Status Quo: "All-Star Wrestling" 148
10 The Uses of Anomaly 160
Places Outside Space and Moments Outside Time 160
Social Bonds and Interstitial Categories 162
Anomaly and Danger 164
Androgynes, Toadstools, and Others 166
Unconcluding Postscripts 171
Notes 175
Bibliography 205
Acknowledgments 219
Index 221
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