The Elusive Code: Anomalous Cultures of Civil Society

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 5:30 PM
Room: 304
Oral Presentation
Marek SKOVAJSA , Faculty of Humanities, Charles University Prague, Prague, Czech Republic
This paper attempts to add new evidence and theoretical insight to the literature on the discourses of civil society inaugurated within cultural sociology by Jeffrey Alexander and Philip Smith.  It argues, first, that unlike the US case, the codes of civil society in ethnically heterogeneous places are the product of multiple external oppositions which can, in certain cases, result in alternative or contrary codings. For instance, some currents in the Czech, Polish and other Slavic nationalisms in the 19th century construed the Germans, their principal “other”, as rational and efficient, taking pride to the contrary in being emotional and unpractical. Second, the paper shows that civil societies are fragmented and the general code of civil society is appropriated differentially by different social groups whose interpretation of the basic binaries is dependent on their particular social experience as well as their relative position to other groups. For example, as  pointed out by Marada, Buchowski and other authors, the cultural codings characteristic of the heirs of the anti-Communist dissent in East Central Europe are in some aspects, including the role of formal procedures and professionalism, completely at odds with the codes represented by Western-style social movement organizations. With its roots in a conspirative underground community this dissident culture doesn’t code personal ties and secrecy as counter-democratic. On a general level, the paper argues for a more historically-oriented approach to the study of cultural structures of civil society that recognizes that the generalized codes are embedded in contingent interpretive traditions and, as such, are unstable, contested and often ambiguous.