Seraching for a viable defintion of society - formation and figuration
To understand societal processes it is important
first to define exactly what society is. This is even more important if we aim
on the development of policy measures. If they are designed to be successful in
providing a long-term answer on challenges, going beyond administrative and/or
superficial measures it is particularly important that they provide an answer
the multidimensionality of the field, i.e. the complex links to other aspects of
social life and to “environmental” aspects (referring to the natural and
social environment alike)
the challenge of “being accepted” – where acceptance is necessarily a
question of “bearing” rather than agreement.
This requires to look for a definition that defines
society on the basis of “people living together” rather than one which
refers to “people being together”. The difference simply is that the latter
can refer to a “formal” point of definition – usually the mingling of
“state” and “society”. This neglects that “societies” can well exist
on a sub-national level as well as it does not take into consideration that
“supranational societies” can – and in fact do – emerge. Both aspects
are of topical meaning. Globalisation, the emergence of political and/or
economic blocs (NAFTA, EU, GATT et altera are important even if they are [not
all] such supranational societies) and regionalisation and a distinct
re-nationalisation show how delicate and tricky the consideration is.
To provide some ground for such search for a valid
definition some definitions and explanations are listed in this section, which
the importance of various aspects of the issue and#
own considerations possible.
By figuration we mean the changing pattern created
by the players as a whole – not only by their intellects but by their whole
selves, the totality of their dealings in their relationships with each other.
It can be seen that this figuration forms a flexible lattice-work of tensions.
The interdependence of the players, which is a prerequisite of their forming a
figuration, may be an interdependence of allies or of opponents.
Norbert Elias: What is sociology?;
Although we mighty speak of “dance in general”,
“no one will imagine a dance as a structure outside the individual”. Dances
can be danced by different people, “but without a plurality of reciprocally
oriented and dependent individuals, there is no dance.” Figurations,
like dances, are thus “relatively independent of the specific individuals
forming it here and now, but not of individuals as such”.
Robert van Krieken: Key
Sociologists – Norbert Elias;
Figurations are seen as meshes of interdependence. As such
they limit autonomous action as it consists of social dependencies. In
consequence we find a corridor consisting of interdependencies between many
individuals which gains some independence and can exist beyond the individuals.
What is characteristic is the fact that these figurations
do consists nevertheless of independent human beings and that the relationship
is characterised by a shifting asymmetrical power.
An earlier term used by Elias was the one of
Instead of using the term society the historical
materialism as general sociology of Marxism orients the term socio-economic
formation of society or economic formation. As such the term is first and
foremost expression of a specific level of abstraction. The term is only
meaningful if and when it grasps essential relationships and characteristics of
a society independent from their multiple superficial appearances. Formation,
reflecting upon the society in their total entity, has to abstract from these
concrete and immediate appearances and reproduces the essential patterns.
However, this does not mean that formation is just a theoretical construct.
Rather, formation exists as inner structure of a concrete society, the essence
and reflecting their objective foundation.
Taking this real-historical foundation as point of the
reference the next question is how to define the substantial dimension of this
‘I have already pointed out that from the standpoint of the
old (not old for
“The first work which I undertook for a solution of the
doubts which assailed me was a critical review of the Hegelian philosophy of
right. . . . My investigation led to the result that legal relations as well as
forms of state are to be grasped neither from themselves nor from the so-called
general development of the human mind, but rather have their roots in the
material conditions of life, the sum-total of which Hegel, following the example
of the Englishmen and Frenchmen of the eighteenth century, combines under the
name of civil society, that, however, the anatomy of civil society is to be
sought in political economy. . . . The general result at which I arrived . . .
can be briefly formulated as follows: in the social production of their life,
men enter into definite relations . . . relations of production which
correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive
forces. The sum-total of these relations of production constitutes the economic
structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political
superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.
The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and
intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that
determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines
their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material
productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of
production, or—what is but a legal expression for the same thing—with the
property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of
development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.
Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic
foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly
transformed. In considering such transformations, a distinction should always be
made between the material transformation of the conditions of production, which
should be established in terms of natural science, and the legal, political,
religious, aesthetic or philosophic—in short, ideological—forms in which men
become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as our opinion of an
individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of
such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this
consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life,
from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the
relations of production. . . . In broad outlines Asiatic, ancient, feudal, and
modern bourgeois modes of production can be designated as progressive epochs in
the economic formation of society."
Structuration theory: basic points
1. All human beings are knowledgeable agents.
'Objectivism' fails to appreciate the complexity of social action produced by
actors operating with knowledge and understanding as part of their
consciousness. People understand the world, often better than sociologists
2. The extent of people's knowledge of the world is
bordered on the one side by the unconscious and on the other by the
unacknowledged conditions and intended consequences of action.
3. Day to day life is bound up with the reproduction
of social institutions and hence it is a valuable area of study. The context of
day to day interaction is an important area of study.
4. The predominant form of day to day activity takes
the form of routine - behaviour which appears to outsiders as extreme and
bizarre becomes routine after a while, for example with violent or 'evil'
behaviour. The Nazi Holocaust was able to be carried out with such murderous
efficiency partly because it was for the most part a routine activity for those
5. Constraints on behaviour associated with
structural properties of the system are not unique, but are only one type of
constraint on the individual person. There are varying degrees of 'systemness'
or 'structuredness' in society. The predominance of the nation state leads us to
think that societies are clearly bordered and defined when they may not be.
6. The study of power is not a secondary
consideration for social science. Power is means to ends, and hence is directly
involved in the actions of every person.
7. Actors (people) are knowledgeable. Their everyday
sociological knowledge feeds into their behaviour. They have reasons for
doing what they do. Because of that, sociology should not be used as an excuse
to explain behaviour as due to 'society'. People are responsible for their
(http://www.hewett.norfolk.sch.uk.curric/soc/GIDDENS/tgiddens.htm - 13.12.2001)
Elias sees in the habitus the socially learned "second
nature" that individuals acquire in a process of social learning. It could
be said it is the “subjectivised society”.
Bourdieu’s view would be, on the contrary, best summarised as habitus as
a “socialized subjectivity”
Central to that middle ground is his concept of
human habitus. The Latin, habitus, means condition (of the body);
character, quality: style of dress, attire, disposition, state of feeling;
habit. Bourdieu’s concept of human habitus matches somewhat this original
Latin meaning, except perhaps for “character.” For Bourdieu, habitus refers
to socially acquired, embodied systems of dispositions and/or predispositions.
Hence it refers not to character, morality, or socialization per se, but to
“deep structural” classificatory and assessment propensities, socially
acquired, and manifested in outlooks, opinions, and embodied phenomena such as
deportment, posture, ways of walking, sitting, spitting, blowing the nose, and
so forth. Habitus underlies such second nature human characteristics and their
infinite possible variations in different historical and cultural settings.
While habitus derives from cultural conditioning, Bourdieu does not equate
habitus with its manifestations; nor does he think of habitus as a fixed essence
operating like a computer program determining mental or behavioral outcomes.
Bourdieu rejects crude determinist notions of human action as passive reflexive
responses to conditioning stimuli. He also rejects structuralist notions of
behavior as execution of imperceptible yet determinate rules of action.
Governance is the capacity of human societies to equip themselves with systems of representation, institutions, processes and intermediary bodies in order to manage themselves by intentional action. This capacity of conscience (the intentional action), of organisation (the institutions and intermediary bodies), of conceptualisation (the systems of representation), of adaptation to new situations (EU-forward studies unit) is a characteristic of human societies.
Subsidiarity asserts that ‘a community of a higher
order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order,
depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of
need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of
(Pope John Paul II)
The Community shall act within the limits of the
powers conferred upon it by this Treaty and of the objectives assigned to it
In areas which do not fall within its exclusive
competence, the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of
subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action
cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by
reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the
Any action by the Community shall not go beyond what
is necessary to achieve the objectives of this Treaty.
(EU-Treaty, Article 3b)
Sorry, not all sources are mentioned – some are from
Internet sites that I cannot trace back anymore. Reworking this bit at a later
stage will be take more caution.
What exactly this means is, of course, debatable. The important
factor here is that a formal agreement is as meaningless as meaninglessness
can be said for bearing a fact as there is now alternative (which would be
near to or even identical with tyranny.