A Society of Signs? by David Harris

By David Harris

An advent to present debates round the subject matters of tradition, identification and way of life. Such debates usually start with the statement that we are living in a "society of signs". positive aspects comprise: precis and significant dialogue of a few uncomplicated methods 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 identification and the embedding technique present in social existence; and suggestion on additional analyzing.

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What is interesting about Giddens’s approach is that there is no attempt to produce a simple unitary synthesis of the many different pieces in the scheme. To anticipate a term developed in Crook’s (1991) critique of postmodernism discussed in Chapter 5, Giddens operates not with a ‘monism’, a simple single world-producing process (language, or a mode of production), nor even a set of dualisms (the classic oscillations between ‘structure’ and ‘action’ beloved of textbook sociology) but with a duality, a structured bifurcation, producing a two-level model of the social.

Many examples are to follow in later chapters, but one small one will suffice here. In the middle of a lengthy discussion about the fabrication of the frameworks people use to organise their understandings and interactions, Goffman (1975:180) cites a case of ‘serial containment’, where ‘the plotter…[is]…taken in by parties other than those who he plotted against:…two pickpockets kneeling in a church robbed Andres Quinonez…while he was praying, and were arrested by a policeman kneeling behind them’.

Although we did not explore it in Chapter 1, there is some famous work on seeing youth subcultures as inversions of mainstream values: rebellious youth simply reverses the official values of homes or schools and stresses untidiness, lack of punctuality, impoliteness, minor lawbreaking, long hair (if parents wear it short), cannabis (if parents use alcohol), and so on. Other youthful possibilities include parodying official conventions, as in the provocatively excessive neatness of British 34 THE POLITICS OF CULTURAL AUTONOMY mods (see Hebdige 1979).

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