A Society of Signs? by David Harris

By David Harris

An creation to present debates round the subject matters of tradition, id and way of life. Such debates usually commence with the statement that we are living in a "society of signs". positive factors contain: precis and significant dialogue of a few easy ways in social idea and cultural research; key readings of a few of the paintings of writers together with Barthes and Giddens; studies of labor in additional conventional components, for instance, the sociology of id and the embedding strategy present in social lifestyles; and suggestion on extra interpreting.

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The two moments are represented by the terms ‘settlement’ and ‘crisis’, depending on whether things are going well or badly for the ruling class (or its fractions). The model is then ‘applied’ to actual history in the form of an account of concrete developments in leisure provision in Britain. This actual history is suitably complex and concrete—but it is less clear that it has been generated by Gramscian analysis itself in anything but the broadest outline. The actual source of the concrete historical account often seems to arise from classic bourgeois history, for example.

On a more individualistic level, there are terms like bricolage, used to explain cultural change in Lévi-Strauss’s work. Briefly, the bricoleur is a kind of cultural odd-job man who manages to stitch together cultural fragments in a novel way. New myths are created in this way, from pieces of older mythical material, old themes and stories, and various cultural legacies. The talent of the bricoleur consists in working contemporary references into this material, and occasionally perceiving that material that lies to hand can be pressed into service—that honey can be made to stand for important bodily fluids, for example, or that cooking can become a symbolic activity, in Lévi-Strauss’s examples.

Again, there are also dangers that political enthusiasm will overwhelm analysis. The best brief example, perhaps, concerns the attempt in some writers’ work to represent any kind of unusual or unpredictable reactions to mass cultural phenomena as ‘resistance’. In this spirit ‘resistance’ can mean anything from thoroughgoing critical analysis of a cultural object using Marxist categories, to the rather less spectacular ability to view Jurassic Park and remain unmoved by the special effects. Although there is no time to review it in depth here, the ambiguities are well displayed in material that attempts to describe the school cultures of black youths or of young women as exhibiting ‘resistance within accommodation’, to incorporate both the apparently rebellious and the apparently conformist observed behaviour of those groups within the one all-embracing account of ‘hegemonic domination’ (see, for example, Mac an Ghaill, in Woods and Hammersley 1993).

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