Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Solidarity Rests on a Feeling For Ideas

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.


Kelly L said...

So I hear you're the reason why I won't see my favorite cousin before he leaves for New York! I randomly found your blog a few months ago and added you as a bookmark right away. Once I put it together that you and Nate were both at Centre, I asked if he knew you. I had no idea he worked with/for you- it's a small world, I guess, or maybe a higher power wanted me to find your blog. Either way, keep up the great writing- I really enjoy reading it. Just ask Nate, it takes a lot for me to make a habit out of anything religious. It's not my fault- I was raised Catholic.

Anonymous said...

Three things came to mind when i read this:

1. the old saying that a soldier doesn't die for an idea but for his buddy in the unit.

2. Didn't Pat Buchanan write a book or article titled "America Is Not An Idea."

3. In an Outlook article posted this week Jerry Andrews made this comment about the debate surrounding an action at the recent GA: "This was the triumph of relationship over doctrine, emotion over reason, connection over confession."

Eastis said...

I like this insight, too. One of the things that I find both intriguing and impossible about Jeff's "strong program" is the reliance on the semiotic pairs, the binaries, etc. because the explanation may fall apart unless one accepts that humans are (almost?) hardwired to prefer being solidly on one side of a seesaw than in the middle. That's the only way it'll work below the level of consciousness. Yes, different people or groups of people may have different interpretative analogies (the source of cultural change and diversity), but everyone has to really, really want to make analogies in the first place, and be committed to using them, however imperfectly they fit the new situation, as the basis for action.

By pointing out the emotional content of solidarity, and bringing out the Durkheim, Olivia's comment adds something to that. The ideas can't "sell" on their own--you need a collectivity that you really, really want to belong to.