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The Site of the Social: A Philosophical Account of the Constitution of Social Life and Change

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Inspired by Heidegger's concept of the clearing of being, and by Wittgenstein's ideas on human practice, Theodore Schatzki offers a novel approach to understanding the constitution and transformation of social life. Key to the account he develops here is the context in which social life unfolds--the site of the social--as a contingent and constantly metamorphosing mesh of Inspired by Heidegger's concept of the clearing of being, and by Wittgenstein's ideas on human practice, Theodore Schatzki offers a novel approach to understanding the constitution and transformation of social life. Key to the account he develops here is the context in which social life unfolds--the site of the social--as a contingent and constantly metamorphosing mesh of practices and material orders. Schatzki's analysis reveals the advantages of this site ontology over the traditional individualist, holistic, and structuralist accounts that have dominated social theory since the mid-nineteenth century. A special feature of the book is its development of the theoretical argument by sustained reference to two historical examples: the medicinal herb business of a Shaker village in the 1850s and contemporary day trading on the Nasdaq market. First focusing on the relative simplicity of Shaker life to illuminate basic ontological characteristics of the social site, Schatzki then uses the sharp contrast with the complex and dynamic practice of day trading to reveal what makes this approach useful as a general account of social existence. Along the way he provides new insights into many major issues in social theory, including the nature of social order, the significance of agency, the distinction between society and nature, the forms of social change, and how the social present affects its future.


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Inspired by Heidegger's concept of the clearing of being, and by Wittgenstein's ideas on human practice, Theodore Schatzki offers a novel approach to understanding the constitution and transformation of social life. Key to the account he develops here is the context in which social life unfolds--the site of the social--as a contingent and constantly metamorphosing mesh of Inspired by Heidegger's concept of the clearing of being, and by Wittgenstein's ideas on human practice, Theodore Schatzki offers a novel approach to understanding the constitution and transformation of social life. Key to the account he develops here is the context in which social life unfolds--the site of the social--as a contingent and constantly metamorphosing mesh of practices and material orders. Schatzki's analysis reveals the advantages of this site ontology over the traditional individualist, holistic, and structuralist accounts that have dominated social theory since the mid-nineteenth century. A special feature of the book is its development of the theoretical argument by sustained reference to two historical examples: the medicinal herb business of a Shaker village in the 1850s and contemporary day trading on the Nasdaq market. First focusing on the relative simplicity of Shaker life to illuminate basic ontological characteristics of the social site, Schatzki then uses the sharp contrast with the complex and dynamic practice of day trading to reveal what makes this approach useful as a general account of social existence. Along the way he provides new insights into many major issues in social theory, including the nature of social order, the significance of agency, the distinction between society and nature, the forms of social change, and how the social present affects its future.

30 review for The Site of the Social: A Philosophical Account of the Constitution of Social Life and Change

  1. 5 out of 5

    Charlie

    I *think* I understand what this book is about, though much of it is minute argumentation with theorists outside my field. Schatzki is looking for an ontology, an account of what constitutes social life. He divides contemporary social theorists into two groups: those that focus on orders, that is, arrangements of entities, and those that focus on practices, bundles of activities. Both sets of theories attempt to account for elements of social life such as normativity and change. Examples of orde I *think* I understand what this book is about, though much of it is minute argumentation with theorists outside my field. Schatzki is looking for an ontology, an account of what constitutes social life. He divides contemporary social theorists into two groups: those that focus on orders, that is, arrangements of entities, and those that focus on practices, bundles of activities. Both sets of theories attempt to account for elements of social life such as normativity and change. Examples of order-centric theoretical concepts/approaches include Foucault's dispositif or apparatus, Deleuze and Guatarri's assemblages, and actor-network theory. Practice-centric concepts/approaches include Bourdieu's habitus, Anthony Giddens' structuration, discourse approaches such as that offered by Laclau and Mouffe, and some posthumanist accounts of agency, such as that offered by Andrew Pickering. Schatzki's key to combining order and practice is "the site," which is the object of sociological investigation. Site is not a physical place but an analytic concept. It is the "mesh" where order(s) and practice(s) meet in a constitutive way. The language of mesh gives Schatzki two things. First, he can insist that there is really a *social* in sociology that resists reduction to a single plane of ontologically-undifferentiated individual units. Second, he can avoid positing "the social" as a realm distinct from the individual, and thus avoid explaining how social entities or forces come to interact with individuals. Schatzki has little interest in analyzing "a society" as a holistic entity, but he does extend his notion of the mesh to cover the entire spatial and historical fabric of human existence. That is, a complete account of the intersections and evolutions of orders and practices would be a complete account of human social life. (By the way, he gives two examples of sites, which he describes narratively at some length: the Shaker medicinal herb business at New Lebanon and the NASDAQ.) The elements of time and transformation are important; Schatzki is clear that one of his goals is to offer a theory that places instability, irregularity, and transformation on an equal footing with stability and regularity. He talks not only about how individual orders and practices are open-ended and in flux, but also about how order-practice bundles exert causal force on each other. On the other hand, I also kind of have no idea what Schatzki is talking about. I had two significant problems understanding this book. Both might be my own fault, as I am a far from ideal reader, but I think they're worth mentioning, since I suspect others will have similar difficulties. First, though I think I understand the definitions, I'm still entirely unclear on how to recognize empirically a site, or an order, or a practice. How do I go about proving that any particular intersection of order and practice *constitutes* something? Which of the three do I recognize first and allow to lead me to the others? Because these three terms are defined in such interrelated ways, it seems I would have to grasp the whole from the outset. Related to this, Schatzki's comments on the enduring identity of sites despite transformation struck me as excessively brief (especially compared to his verbosity everywhere else) and insubstantial. How did Schatzki come to pick his two examples? My second problem is that I don't understand how the empirical sections of this book validate or express the theoretical portions. His descriptions of both the Shaker business and the NASDAQ are fascinating, but I was unable to see either why those descriptions required his theory or how they invalidated other theories. Assuming, though, that his descriptions do embody his theory, does the ability to produce a description coherent with a theory provide any kind of proof for it? Don't all the theorists he critiques do the same? What makes his description better, and how could I verify that? I almost wish that he had taken on a famous example such as the French penal system so that the reader could see how his theory would lead to a description that differed from Foucault's. In conclusion, I have the feeling there's more here than I was able to grasp. Particularly in Schatzki's concentration on time and transformation, site theory seems potentially useful for historical studies. Indeed, both of his examples are diachronic analyses.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mike

  3. 5 out of 5

    Robyn

  4. 4 out of 5

    Edan Weis

  5. 4 out of 5

    Anders Buch

  6. 4 out of 5

    Walter Fraanje

  7. 5 out of 5

    John

  8. 5 out of 5

    Hanni

  9. 4 out of 5

    Johanna Moisander

  10. 5 out of 5

    Arun Menon

  11. 5 out of 5

    mis fit

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dennis

  13. 5 out of 5

    thingpicture

  14. 4 out of 5

    Gerry Stahl

  15. 4 out of 5

    Donald E Jones

  16. 5 out of 5

    Amin

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ellery

  18. 4 out of 5

    Donald Brooks

  19. 5 out of 5

    Erich Luna

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tong

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ulisse Aldrovandi

  22. 5 out of 5

    Amoz Hor

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mayank Kumar

  24. 5 out of 5

    Will

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sebastian Isb

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rohith

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dora

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mira

  29. 5 out of 5

    Coral Han

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paul Sparks

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