The Meaning of Culture: Moving the Postmodern Critique Forward

By Kenneth Allan | Go to book overview

4
The Ideological Perspective and the Challenge to Meaning and Reality

The demons can be exorcised, but only by seeing them for what they are. Those who claim that the demons can be exorcised only by action in the world, not by theorizing about them, seem to be possessed by demons of their own, especially the demon of asceticism; one senses here the communal hostility of the ascetic to the individual luxury of intellectual contemplation. And here is the danger. Those who deny everything for the self deny it as well for others; our altruism, taken too exclusively, is an infinite regress, passing a bucket from hand to hand that never reaches the fire. When we act, we call out the demons to meet us. Be careful; they are ourselves.

-- Randall Collins ( 1974, p. 440)

My general argument is premised on the assumption that most human experience is constructed through culture and that cultural production tends to create pressures for equilibrating behaviors. Culture produces sense- and affect-meaning and reality for people. Because it is symbolic, the stability of culture is intrinsically precarious and contingent upon human agency for its existence, and this contingency pressures humans to stabilize meaning and reality through producing social-order and equilibrium. Recognizing this effect on the micro-level, Goffman ( 1967) states that in encounters "the ritual order seems to be organized basically on accommodative lines" (p. 42), so that people may be able

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