The Whole of Society and Society as a Whole

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 8:45 AM
Room: Booth 68
Oral Presentation
Roar HAGEN , Department of Sociology, Political Science and Community Planning, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsoe, Norway
Sociological theories of modern society conceive of some form of horizontal differentiation among spheres, fields, systems, discourses or sectors. The concepts vary, but refer to about the same as the economy, politics, science, art, sports etc. The theories take, however different approaches to the question of how these entities are related to each other. There are three main perspectives.

The tradition emerging from Weber conceives of a modern society consisting only of parts. This view is epitomized in Niklas Luhmann’s theory of a modern society characterized by functional differentiation. In the tradition emerging from Durkheim, mutual interdependencies among the subsystems create a social bond of organic solidarity particular to modern society. Society is a community or even collective, because of legitimate institutions, shared social norms and a common culture. In the Marxian tradition the other subsystems are regulated by capital and power, with the market and the bourgeoisie state as the real centers of society. All three perspectives have their merits and can claim empirical confirmation either in a world society of global financial markets, art and science, or nation states as embodiments of solidarity and power.

However, all three perspectives share a common weakness: They are unable to explain how mutual interdependencies among subsystems lead to problems of performance or function that are also problems of collective action, and thus constitute society as a collective regarding its own cohesion or societal integration. The reason for this shortcoming is an ontology of the social based in spatial metaphors which reifies collective phenomena. When this epistemic obstacle is identified, we might create an alternative ontology that enables a new understanding of modern societies as communities or social wholes with varying capacity for collective action on local, regional and global levels.