The first day of Theory Camp reminded me why I like to study collaboratively with people different from me.
Jeffrey Alexander and Philip Smith argue that social solidarity rests on a shared commitment to basic values. The sophistication of their approach is that the values are expressed as antinomies, pairs of opposing ideas. These pairs are not quite identical relations to one another, but they are homologous relations. The work of culture is drawing analogies from what one pair would lead one to do in one situation, to what a homologous pair would lead one to do in an analogous situation. Since we have to do the work of making these analogies, and there are alternative analogies that others could draw, we are free to make different choices from other people even within our shared culture.
I was caught up short by Olivia's summary: culture rests on feelings. My first reaction was, no, culture rests on ideas. The more I thought about it, though, the more I could see that she was right. Culture does rest on ideas. But solidarity rests on our feelings of attachment to these ideas. The ideas don't automatically generate their own emotional attachment. People are not normally willing to live and die for ideas alone, but for the imagined community of people who passionately share those ideas. Moreover, as Alexander makes clear in several works, most of us are not consciously aware of what the pairs of opposing ideas are that we live by -- we just work with them as we need to.
Thank you, Olivia - Theory Camp has paid for itself already.