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MForm Function Bangleatthew Thomas, Kyoto

This post originally published at classicalsympathies.com

Statement of Intent and Concern: Berger and Luckmann on Typification and Reification

Everything’s connected.  Reading the classics, which do not talk about sunsets, has made many sunsets, in all their colors, intelligible to me.
Fernando Pessoa

An apprehension of reification as a modality of consciousness is dependent upon at least relative derefication of consciousness, which is a comparatively late development in history and in any individual biography.
Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman

This is the first in a projected series of posts which will represent an attempt on my part to synthesize a variety of theoretical and practical concerns that confront me as I approach thirty-five.  This post will begin with Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality, a book we have looked at before here on Sympathies.  I have re-posted the original post so that readers can familiarize themselves with the work.

A good deal of the writing on this blog has taken as its theme the relationship between the individual and the institution, and we have seen various attempts to come to terms with the ideal stance of one who, as we all do, exists within the grasp of institutionalization.  In The Social Construction of Reality, Berger and Luckmann spend 45 pages on the topic of institutionalization, and what they have to say provides me with my jumping off point.  They make the point that while man (and yes, The Social Construction of Reality, published in 1966, uses the outdated gender-specific catch-all term for humanity), makes his world, he is given to losing sight of this and projecting (“reifying”) aspects of the social world so that they are perceived as entirely external and beyond his control.  “Man’s self-production is always, and of necessity, a social enterprise.  Men together produce a human environment, with the totality of its socio-cultural and psychological formations” (51), but, being prone to reification, they will sometimes “{apprehend} the products of human activity as if there were something else than human products–such as facts of nature, results of cosmic law, or manifestations of divine will.  Reification implies that man is capable of forgetting his own authorship of the human world {and experiencing it} as a strange facticity, {…} over which he has no control” (89).

When mis-apprehending (social) reality as something other than the product of his own action and consciousness, he forgets that “the social world was made by men–and, therefore, can be remade by them,” but, ironically, “reification is a modality of consciousness {…} Even when apprehending the world in reified terms, man continues to produce it” (89).

Even when apprehending the world in reified terms, man continues to produce it.  I would like to extrapolate this to mean that the perception of sedimented, externally controlled or created, facticity continually creates the very facticity in question.  Put slightly differently, the denial of agency diminishes, uncreates, free-will, while the exercise of free-will depends in large part, perhaps entirely, on the strength of one’s belief in it.

Now, this is not to argue that reification is simply false-consciousness, or that groupings within society do not go to considerable trouble to perpetuate and legitimate reification of their activities.  Berger and Luckmann make this quite clear in their analysis of what they call “socially segregated subuniverses of meaning” such as “Hindu castes, the Chinese literary bureaucracy, or the priestly coteries of ancient Egypt” (85), not to mention lawyers, doctors, television pundits, university English departments.  They write that subuniverses  “become esoteric enclaves {…} to all but those who have been properly initiated into their mysteries {…} The outsiders have to be kept out {but} If the subuniverse requires various special privileges and recognitions from the larger society, there is the problem of keeping out the outsiders and at the same time having them acknowledge the legitimacy of this procedure.  This is done through various techniques of intimidation {…} mystification and, generally, the manipulation of prestige symbols” (87).
And generally the manipulation of prestige symbols.  Indeed.  Those who engage, consciously or unconsciously, in the manipulation of prestige symbols are, in Berger and Luckmann’s language, involved in creating a “typification.”  The acceptance of typifications, in turn, sediments social facticity and brings into being a taken-for-grantedness in the performance of social actors.  “The typification of forms of action requires that these have an objective sense {…} In the course of the action there is an identification of the self with the objective sense of the action {…} Although there continues to be a marginal awareness of the body and other aspects of the self not directly involved in the action, the actor, for that moment, apprehends himself essentially in identification with the socially objectified action {…} In other words, a segment of the self is objectified in terms of the socially available typifications” (72-3).  The authors point out that after the actions of the typified actor have been carried out, in, say, the privacy of the home, the meditation chamber, the confessional, the actor may re-establish a certain “role distance,” but this distance is apt to shrink again when the times comes once again for the actor to take up the role by re-activating the segment of the self objectified in terms of the currently applicable socially available typification.

This discussion inevitably brings us back to Mr. Inch’s post about sartorial conformism/ non-conformism.  Longtime readers will recall that Mr. Inch wrote, “Reflection on MT’s devotion to this apparently innocuous task, knotting a piece of cloth around his neck each morning, leads us towards what has become a key element of many recent theories of ideology. Derived from Pascal’s advice to non-believers, ‘kneel and pray, and then you will believe’, the French philosopher Louis Althusser sought to assert the materiality of ideas, and how ideology works through our actions as well as our words to define us as certain sorts of subjects.  For Michel Foucault, one of Althusser’s students who sought to break with Marxism and the concept of ideology, the knotting of that neck-tie might have been considered a ‘practice of the self’, a way of disciplining oneself in line with a particular matrix of power and knowledge. The question that I think both of these thinkers struggle to address, however, is the extent to which we are able to shape our own selves, rather than simply being shaped by power.  What scope do we have to resist the power embedded in these apparently mundane everyday motions? {…} By kneeling to pray, or standing in front of the mirror adjusting the knot, we perform belief and so take on socially available identities.  And as for the rest of us in that office – what was the effect of not knotting the tie each morning? At times there were no doubt some who reveled in the non-conformity of that not knotting.  In truth, however, did our alternative practices of the self not simply reproduce a slightly different, perhaps less respect-able but nonetheless conformist, relationship to the rules and rituals that regulated life in that particular setting?  Was not wearing a necktie not just another kind of necktie after all?”

In truth, however, did our alternative practices of the self not simply reproduce a slightly different, perhaps less respect-able but nonetheless conformist, relationship to the rules and rituals that regulated life in that particular setting? Read the rest of this entry »

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