631.4 The normative construction of society

Saturday, August 4, 2012: 9:36 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Andreas GOETTLICH , Sociology, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany
The presentation introduces the general sociological theory of Heinrich Popitz (1925-2002), a German sociologist whose work is little known outside the German-speaking context, where the recent publication of two of his lectures is supposed to launch a revival of his thinking.

Popitz uses Max Weber’s concept of social action as a starting point for his reflections, enhancing it by the crucial observation that we orientate our social actions not so much towards the past behavior of others, but rather towards their future actions. Hence, social action is essentially about anticipation and therefore is necessarily confronted with the problem of contingency. According to Popitz, the general answer to this problem is standardization, that is, the establishment of behavioral norms. He argues against the idea of a pre-existing »collective spirit« which would guarantee compliance and insists that social order is only possible by implementing binding regulations of action. From this perspective, the scientific interest not so much relates to the phenomenon of deviance, which in a certain sense is »always there«, it rather seeks explanation for why certain forms of deviance are perceived as criminal and get prosecuted.

For Popitz, the analysis of social deviance is not the task of some sociological sub-discipline, it rather leads directly to the core of sociological theory construction. The general orientation of his approach, which resolves the phenomenon of standardization into its formal components, makes it especially useful for intercultural comparisons and historical research. It allows locating exactly the differences between varying forms of societal standardization and control of behavior in different places and through time (»modern« jurisdiction for example is, among other things, the outcome of a historical process during which the right to sanction was limited to a very small group of professional experts – a process which cannot be found in every culture).