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Meanings of Social Life: A Cultural Sociology

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Overview

Modern men and women go about their lives without really knowing why. Why do we work for such a long time every day? Why are we so obsessed with technology? Why do we continuously construct scandals? Why do we finish one war only to fight another? If we had to explain these things, we would say "it just makes sense" or "it's necessary" or "it's what good (or bad) people do." But when we say that the war against terrorism is necessary and rational we use a rhetoric of good and evil, of friends and enemies, of honor, conscience, loyalty, of civilization and primeval chaos. These rhetorics rest on ideas and feelings, not just rational necessity, and they are of immense power and import. These rhetorics are cultural structures. They are deeply constraining but also enabling at the same time. The problem is that we don't understand them. That is the task of this book.

In this pathbreaking work, Jeffrey Alexander argues for a cultural sociology that will bring these unconscious cultural structures into the broad light of day. Exposing our everyday myths and narratives in a series of empirical studies that range from Watergate to the Holocaust, he shows how these unseen yet potent cultural structures translate into concrete actions and institutions. Only when these deep patterns of meaning are revealed, Alexander argues, can we understand the stubborn staying power of violence and degradation, but also the steady persistence of hope. By understanding the darker structures that restrict our imagination, we can seek to transform them. By recognizing the cultural structures that sustain hope, we can allow our idealistic imaginations to gain more traction in the world. A work that will transform the way that sociologists think about culture and the social world, this book confirms Jeffrey Alexander's reputation as one of the major social theorists of our day.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"...a collection of very worthwhile essays, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, for the book offers Alexander's most complete formulation of cultural sociology as a program and, through its diverse exemplars, lays his strongest claim to this program's potential.... The Meanings of Social Life provides the urtext for a new cultural framing of sociology."--John R. Hall, Contemporary Sociology

"With The Meanings of Social Life, Jeffrey Alexander has boldly staked his claim for the internal transformation of American sociology."--Fuyuki Kurasawa, Thesis 11

"The Meanings of Social Life is an intellectual tour de force that cements Jeffrey Alexander's reputation as a paradigmatic thinker in cultural as well as theoretical sociology."--Mabel Berezin, Newsletter of the Sociology of Culture Section of the American Sociological Asssociation

"This book is important for the clarity and liveliness with which it communicates the core ideas and real innovations cultural sociology offers the discipline, and I hope that it's widely read."--Lyn Spillman, Newsletter of the Sociology of Culture Section of the American Sociological Asssociation

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195306408
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 11/28/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey C. Alexander is Lillian Chavenson Saden Professor of Sociology at Yale University, and co-Director of the Center for Cultural Sociology.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Meanings of (Social) Life: On the Origins of a Cultural Sociology 3
1 The Strong Program in Cultural Sociology: Elements of a Structural Hermeneutics (with Philip Smith) 11
2 On the Social Construction of Moral Universals: The "Holocaust" from War Crime to Trauma Drama 27
3 Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity 85
4 A Cultural Sociology of Evil 109
5 The Discourse of American Civil Society (with Philip Smith) 121
6 Watergate as Democratic Ritual 155
7 The Sacred and Profane Information Machine 179
8 Modern, Anti, Post, and Neo: How Intellectuals Explain "Our Time" 193
Notes 229
References 271
Index 293
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