Sociology, Civil Society, and the Unbound World

By Bamyeh, Mohammed A. | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

Sociology, Civil Society, and the Unbound World

Bamyeh, Mohammed A., Canadian Journal of Sociology

Abstract: The social origins of sociology are rooted in urban modernity, and specifically in civil society. Such a point of origins occasioned the growth of totalistic systems of social representation, which culminated in the modern state. The two contexts sealed sociology's role as a sort of bridge between civil society and the state or, more generally, between traditions of prosaic social communities and those of applied, action-oriented systematicity. The paper argues that modern processes of globalization have reshuffled the cards, as civil society has become more globalized and less beholden to state jurisdiction, and as the state has increasingly become less competent as an agent of strategic action in a world typified by globalization. This particular impasse has become detrimental to sociology, since it caused the relocation of its addressees away from the communicative bridges that have linked them since the inception of modernity.

Resume: La sociologie a ses origines dans la modernite urbaine -- dans la societe civile, plus precisement. Ces sources ont donne lieu a l'elaboration de systemes totalisants [totalistic] de representation sociale, qui culminent dans l'Etat moderne. Les deux contextes ont fait de la sociologie une sorte de pont entre la societe civile et l'Etat ou, en termes plus generaux, entre les traditions des collectivites sociales prosaiques et celles d'un appareil d'Etat [systematicity] pragmatique. On soutient ici que les processus modernes de mondialisation ont modifie la donne -- la societe civile mondialisee tendant a se soustraire a l'autorite d'un Etat qui devient lui-meme de moins en moins competent en tant qu'agent d'action strategique au sein de cet univers modifie. Cette impasse est prejudiciable a la sociologie, qui se trouve ainsi detournee de la fonction de fil communicateur qui la caracterisait depuis les debuts de la modernite.

In his Sociology of the Renaissance, Alfred von Martin (1944) chronicles the process by which such "practical" sciences as engineering and metallurgy gradually moved up from the artisan workshop into the university, where they joined historically far less "profane" traditions of inquiry, such as philosophy, medicine and astronomy. The point is pertinent here not simply because it charts out the increasing "rationality" or inclusiveness of the university, nor because it documents a progressive trend toward an ever widening professionalization of knowledge. More importantly, it shows that processes of professionalization of knowledge also involve a perpetual shift in boundaries and relative hierarchy -- for instance, the gradual dethronement of philosophy, and the prominence and enrichment of worldly, social, temporally-bounded or technological sciences through modernity.

But disciplinary hierarchies do not last forever. One of the founding principles of sociological thinking itself -- at least since Marx's famous inversion of Hegel -- was that knowledge emanated not from the inert reservoir of the abstract Idea, but from contingent and surrounding social conditions. This semi forgotten principle would mean that the ongoing debate regarding a crisis of fragmentation in sociological thought, and the wider question of relevance of sociology as a discipline, need to pay attention to the formative, yet currently elapsing, socio-historical contexts which have occasioned its birth as a distinct discipline. In this respect, one must look not only at what is happening within sociology itself, but rather at the society in which it operates, and of which it speaks.

In the same way that the "practical" sciences, commencing from their humble origins in the craft shop, the street and the marketplace, came to join the elevated traditions of inquiry, sociology began to coalesce as a field of inquiry outside of the university, in what ultimately came to be known as "civil society." The idea of civil society is intimately linked to the rise of the urban bourgeoisie, denoting not only a venue of educated social communication beyond customary Gemeinschaft tradition, but also a form of society existing alongside instruments of power, notably the state. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Sociology, Civil Society, and the Unbound World


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.