Wednesday, August 06, 2008

We, the People - the Voice of the Civil Sphere

One of the difficulties in grasping what Jeffrey Alexander is getting at in The Civil Sphere is that he is very coy about describing what the civil sphere is. He defines it mostly by what it is not, or by criticizing previous definitions as not quite right, or by naming the other spheres that it defends its boundaries against.

The main spheres of social life that the civil sphere is distinguished from seem to be the state and the market. He also suggests that religion, family life, and perhaps race will be distinguished more fully hereafter.

The civil sphere is the place in public life in which there is a "public" -- where the People can develop a consciousness of themselves and voice their opinion. The insight of Theory Camp yesterday was that "We, the People ..." in the opening phrase of the Constitution is a powerful instance of the way in which the amorphous and ephemeral public of the civil sphere finds voice and remakes reality.

I am very interested in how Alexander is developing this idea. I may sound critical here, but really I am intrigued by the idea and am hoping he can pull it off.

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