Discourse and the Construction of Society: Comparative Studies of Myth, Ritual, and Classification

Discourse and the Construction of Society: Comparative Studies of Myth, Ritual, and Classification

Discourse and the Construction of Society: Comparative Studies of Myth, Ritual, and Classification

Discourse and the Construction of Society: Comparative Studies of Myth, Ritual, and Classification

Synopsis

In this bold theoretical work, Bruce Lincoln explores the ways in which myth, ritual, and classification hold human societies together--and how, in times of crisis, they can be used to take a society apart and reconstruct it. Without overlooking the role of coercive force in the maintenance (or overthrow) of social structures, Lincoln argues his thesis with compelling illustrations drawn from such diverse areas as Platonic philosophy, the Upanishads of India, ancient Celtic banquets, professional wrestling, and the Spanish Civil War. This wide-ranging interdisciplinary study--which draws on works in history, semiotics, anthropology, sociology, classics, and indology--offers challenging new insights into the complex dynamics of social cohesion and change.

Excerpt

The studies that follow pursue the question of how certain specific modes of discourse—myth, ritual, and classification—can be, and have been, employed as effective instruments not only for the replication of established social forms (this much is well known), but more broadly for the construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction of society itself. Before we can turn to this topic, however, there is another that must be treated: No consideration of discourse is complete that does not also take account of force.Together, discourse and force are the chief means whereby social borders, hierarchies, institutional formations, and habituated patterns of behavior are both maintained and modified.

Force and Discourse

Force (i.e., the exercise or threat of physical violence) is an instrument open to a variety of uses by individuals and groups within any society.It is regularly employed by those who hold official power to compel obedience and suppress deviance. Thus they preserve generalized social stability and, what is more, a specific configuration in which they—and certain others with whom they have close and complex relations—occupy positions of privilege and enjoy disproportionately large shares of those classic scarce and desired resources Weber identified as wealth, power, and prestige as well as such other desiderata as education, information, health, leisure, and sumptuary goods of various sorts.Further, force may also be used by ruling elites to effect significant social change, for instance, when they direct the violence at their disposal beyond the borders of their own society in campaigns of expansive conquest through which ever-larger social aggregates with more varied and complex patterns of organization can be constructed.

Moreover, elites hold no monopoly on the exercise of force, and how-

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