The Function and Uses of Society

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 8:30 AM
Room: Booth 68
Oral Presentation
Boris HOLZER , University of Bielefeld, Germany
Who needs society anyway? Since Weber, many sociologists have shunned the notion of society as a reified collective concept; and in the wake of the globalization debate, the critique of ‘container theories’ of society has further decreased the number of those who regard society as an essential sociological concept. But ‘sociology without society’ not only runs the danger of discarding an important element of social theory without a proper alternative but also fails to account for the persistent popularity of the term outside academic discourse. This paper addresses the sociological and everyday usages of the concept of society from a functional perspective. Although the function of society, as the most encompassing social system, must be conceived quite broadly, it nonetheless remains distinctive if compared with other social systems such as organizations and face-to-face interactions. Only loosely related to this functional reconstruction of the concept, ‘society’ also continues to play a role in everyday discourse. Yet what kind of ‘society’ is thereby discursively constructed? The usages of the term ‘society’ in mass media and other discourses are difficult to pin down; yet a common denominator lies in the fact that ‘society’ usually refers to an anonymously constituted and therefore not directly addressable social horizon.