On the Emotional State: Workshop 2 Friday, November 2nd, 2017, Queen’s University Belfast

If any of you are around Belfast/Queen’s University on Friday feel free to drop in to this!


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Is Civil Society the Good Society?

This is a fascinating exchange, recorded in Dublin a few months ago, between Jeffrey Alexander and Maeve Cooke on the relationship between, and their their perspectives and positions on, the ‘civil society’ (sociology) and the ‘good society’ (philosophy).  It can be viewed as a conversation between their respective books on these topics – Cooke’s Re-Presenting The Good Society (2005) and Alexander’s The Civil Sphere (2006).  I have read the former some years ago and found it excellent.  I was particularly interested in the central deployment of imagination and affect in her arguments there.  I have not yet read Alexander’s book, which is 800 pages long, but have plans to.  The UCD blurb is below:

Professor Jeffrey Alexander (Department of Sociology, Yale University) and Professor Maeve Cooke (UCD School of Philosophy, University College Dublin) discuss: “Is Civil Society the Good Society?” at a special workshop in Dublin, Ireland (06 Sept 2013).

Professor Alexander, who is the Lillian Chavenson Saden Professor of Sociology at Yale University, was in Ireland to receive an honorary doctorate from University College Dublin in recognition of his “considerable contribution to sociology”.

“Jeffrey Alexander is one of the leading figures if not the intellectual voice of modern cultural sociology. His many books, most outstanding perhaps The Civil Sphere (Oxford University Press 2006), The Performance of Politics (Oxford University Press 2011) and his studies on cultural trauma such as Remembering the Holocaust (Oxford 2009), are milestones in the field”, said Dr Andreas Hess, UCD School of Sociology, who read the official citation at the conferring ceremony in University College Dublin.

“In contrast to other attempts such as the sociology of culture or cultural studies, the focus is not only on the arts, theatre, music, modern media and so forth but Alexander’s cultural sociology combines the aspirations of classic sociology of a Max Weber or Emile Durkheim with some of the new insights from linguistics, social anthropology, and the philosophy of language and applies these to a wide range of social phenomena.”

“In his opus magnum The Civil Sphere and in the follow-up study The Performance of Politics Alexander tries to apply cultural sociology to modern civil society and its politics. They are attempts to understand the complex relations and interactions between established institutions and the more flexible or elastic civil sphere in which public opinion is being formed and in which various conceptualisations of justice are discussed and begin to take shape. As Alexander shows convincingly in the case of Obama’s first presidential campaign, the civil sphere is also the place where the open democratic struggle for symbolic representation and meaning takes place − with outcomes that are not always predictable,” continued Dr Hess.

Call for Papers – Poesis: The ambivalent creation of truth.

Poesis Hands
Call for Papers: (Submission deadline 1st of November)
Sixth International Political Anthropology Workshop in Ireland on
Poesis: The ambivalent creation of truth.
29th & 30th of November, 2013
Waterford Institute of Technology
Organised by the Department of Applied Arts, Waterford Institute of Technology, the Journal International Political Anthropology, and the School of Sociology & Philosophy, University College Cork
Conveners: Tom Boland (Sociology, WIT, tboland@wit.ie,)
                   John O’ Brien, (Sociology, WIT, jfobrien@wit.ie)
Poesis, from the Ancient Greek (ποίησις) means production or composition. This creativity is central and vital to humanity; from language, story and song through objects, homes and art to political and social institutions. To study society and culture separately is scarcely tenable: this conference concerns the centrality of meaning, narrative and even beauty to human life. Yet, in modernity poesis and culture are often relegated to being little more than entertainment or even frothy ideology which distorts ‘real’ social processes. Furthermore, for academics oriented to investigating, interpreting or even measuring social forces, how poesis creates truth is a matter of deep ambivalence.
There is nothing more poetic than the sense, or even the sensation, of moving through fiction towards the truth. As Nietzsche pointed out, all of our truths are fictions which we have ceased to recognise as creative poesis: the foundational concepts of philosophy, theology and all the modern disciplines emerge from stories. Inevitably, we live culturally within one fictional world or another, or even in many worlds that overlap in complex ways. Yet, we are ambivalent about this poesis: Whose fiction is it? Does fictional mean false, ideological and erroneous? And what might happen if the fiction starts to wear thin – will there be disenchantment, alienation or renewal?
The intersections of culture and society are no narrow specialism, but increasingly a concern common to many disciplines. Cultural anthropology, at least since Geertz, has taken the meaning-making practices of human societies as a central area of inquiry. Cultural sociology has grown from a minor field to a central paradigm. Literary and performance theory, musicology and cognate disciplines have become increasingly concerned with culture and context, from new historicism to reader response theories. This conference will bring together papers concerned with poesis and culture from all of these areas which engage with the ambivalent status of truth after the cultural turn, the historical turn and the performative turn.
The question of poesis and truth cannot be confined to the sepulchral realms of high art or the distracting froth of popular culture. Despite the dominance of technocratic discourse, the political world is animated by fictions, from universalising utopian visions to images of the nation. Ultimately politics is a contest over meaning. Similarly that thing which we sometimes call ‘economic reality’ is also a storied world, with confidence, booms and busts the material of our contemporary morality tale. The tale of technological world domination, the bildungsroman of entrepreneurial success, the Faustian pact of progress and the carnival world of the market are all fictions. And of course, culture is now an industry, so that tourism, advertising and education are sites of the production and consumption of poesis and truth.
However, this brings us to problems of distinction: Are all societies alike in creating meaning? Modernity is associated with a dearth of meaning, a decline of poesis and truth becoming singular and univocal – but is this our near-sighted parochialism? Are all elements of society meaning-making? Every human action exists in a nexus of meaning, but it is hardly an undifferentiated continuum, and surely there are particular sources of meaning which deserve academic attention, from poetry, to religion, to authority, to ritual and beyond.
We invite plenary and session papers on:
–          Poetry and truth, theory and meaning.
–          Society as a fictional world: in modernity and beyond.
–          Politics as the contested field of meaning.
–          Poesis and everyday life.
–          The marketplace for meaning and productive poesis.
Deadline for abstracts is Friday 1th of November 2013.
Feel free to contact the convenors earlier for consultation and information