Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Arthur Bueno presents a working paper on 'Social Life Beneath the Organism: On Durkheim’s Two Conceptions of Anomie'

This text is part of a larger project which aims at exploring the social theoretical and normative foundations of the concept of social pathology, a central stake of which consists in examining the underlying conceptions of social life that underscore the different uses of that concept by classical and contemporary authors. Based on a discussion of Durkheim’s arguments in The Division of Labour in Society (1893), this paper reconstructs his early notion of anomie and its corresponding organicist conception of social life. The arguments presented in this text are to be further developed in another paper dedicated to the analysis of Durkheim’s Suicide (1897) and the modifications that the concept of anomie underwent in that work. The main intention is to demonstrate that the processual understanding of social life that can be found in the 1893 book – though in largely underdeveloped form – is affected by further restrictions in Suicide, in which Durkheim’s organicist conception of society is even more emphatically articulated in terms of a holist and reified social ontology. On the other hand, the concept of “general vitality” – which is already present in The Division of Labour in Society – comes to play a more significant role in the 1897 book, thus allowing for a reconstruction of the concept of anomie via the articulation of the processual social ontology outlined in 1893 with the notion of general vitality developed in both works. As an appendix to this text, I included an outline on the concept of “general vitality” as it was presented in The Division of Labour in Society, containing as well initial suggestions on how it might be articulated to the notion of “feeling of unity” discussed in the paper.

Based on a discussion of Durkheim’s The Division of Labour in Society (1893), this paper addresses his early notion of anomie and its underlying social ontological tensions. After addressing three manifestations of the state of anomie presented by Durkheim (1), I discuss the differences between Comte’s and Durkheim’s conceptions of this phenomenon, based on which it will possible to understand the latter as characterized by an approach that is both antinormativist and anti-juridicist (2). Durkheim’s perspective on the relation between social integration and normative regulation is then be analysed in greater detail, with special emphasis on two possible interpretations of such a transition, on the basis of either an organicist “ontology of things” or an “ontology of processes” (3). Furthermore, it is argued that Durkheim expresses a clear preference for the former, with significant and problematic consequences for his concept of anomie (4), which might be avoided if the latter is articulated on the basis of the processual ontology previously outlined (5). Finally, the paper explores the consequences of this alternative conception for the analysis of a central aspect of anomie: namely, the “mechanical” character assumed by social life and the loss of meaning associated with it (6).

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