Agape in Action: Overabound in Social Life.
In every-day life there many social phenomena based on un-conditionality, disinterestedness, overabound. Such phenomena remain outside the field of explanation of approaches such as rational choice theory or neo-utilitarianism, being described as paradoxes of social action. But also solidarity or gift theories do not provide sufficient explanation for phenomena in which group identity or social ties are not the main motivations of action.
Drawing from critical theories, we propose to (re)introduce the sociological concept of agape-love as a theoretical frame for those social mechanisms that elude reification, quantifiability, instrumental thinking.
Agape-love, as formerly introduced by Luc Boltanski (1990), is focused on the present, avoiding any consequence calculation, refuses comparison and equivalence, doesn’t involve reciprocity. According to Boltanski, agape must remain unaware for social agents, as any intentionality would lead action away from pure disinterestedness. We propose to reconceptualise agape, integrating it with theoretical insights by different social scientists (such as Honneth and Sorokin), with new reflexive and institutional accounts, and provide it with empirical foundation (Iorio, 2014).
We present the case of “suspended goods” and read it with the look of agape.
It is a relatively recent practice widespread in various fields (examples are suspended groceries, suspended books, suspended holidays) that consists in purchasing goods or services, which will be actually consumed by others who cannot afford them.
We argue that agape is a powerful concept, capable of linking micro and macro levels, useful both to enlighten agents’ motivations in apparent non-rational (choice) situations, but also to describe the aggregate effects of collective behaviours that produce alternative economic regimes or welfare systems.