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The Site of the Social

A Philosophical Account of the Constitution of Social Life and Change

Theodore R. Schatzki

Publication Year: 2002

Inspired by Heidegger’s concept of the clearing of being, and by Wittgenstein’s ideas on human practice, Theodore Schatzki offers a novel approach to understanding the constitution and transformation of social life. Key to the account he develops here is the context in which social life unfolds—the "site of the social"—as a contingent and constantly metamorphosing mesh of practices and material orders. Schatzki’s analysis reveals the advantages of this site ontology over the traditional individualist, holistic, and structuralist accounts that have dominated social theory since the mid-nineteenth century. A special feature of the book is its development of the theoretical argument by sustained reference to two historical examples: the medicinal herb business of a Shaker village in the 1850s and contemporary day trading on the Nasdaq market. First focusing on the relative simplicity of Shaker life to illuminate basic ontological characteristics of the social site, Schatzki then uses the sharp contrast with the complex and dynamic practice of day trading to reveal what makes this approach useful as a general account of social existence. Along the way he provides new insights into many major issues in social theory, including the nature of social order, the significance of agency, the distinction between society and nature, the forms of social change, and how the social present affects its future.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Front Cover

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix

The initial opportunity to organize the ideas contained herein was afforded by an invitation to teach at a 1997 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Institute on Intelligibility and Background Practices at the University of California, Santa Cruz. ...

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pp. xi-xxii

This book is about the constitution of social life: the nature of social existence, what it consists in, and the character of its transformation. The work’s most general claim is that the best way to approach these topics is to tie social life to something called “the site of the social.” ...

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pp. 1-58

Order is a basic dimension of any domain of entities. Things tend not to form random aggregates of continuously metamorphosing matters, but instead to hang together as clusters of interrelated determinate stuff. Order is the basic disposition of a domain of entities, the way that things are laid out ...

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pp. 59-122

Now and again, I have suggested that social orders are not self-standing or self-propagating configurations, but that they instead exist and evolve only in some context encompassing them. The current chapter argues that this context is a nexus of social practices. ...

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pp. 123-188

Social life transpires through human activity and is caught up in orders of people, artifacts, organisms, and things. As such, it is not just immersed in a mesh of practices and orders, but also exists only as so entangled. The mesh of practices and orders is the site where social life takes place. ...

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pp. 189-264

Movement and change have filled the previous chapters, more or less explicitly whenever causality was at issue and relatively unmarked in all the substantive discussions of orders, practices, and the social site. Their omnipresence reflects the fact that agency is the central motor of a constant becoming that sweeps the social site. ...

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pp. 265-268

This book has analyzed the constitution of sociality through an account of the social site, the context as part of which human coexistence inherently transpires. This site is an overall mesh of practices and orders, itself organized as a nexus of practice-order bundles, nets, and other complexes. ...

List of References

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pp. 269-282


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pp. 283-295

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271052632
E-ISBN-10: 0271052635
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271022925
Print-ISBN-10: 0271022922

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2002