A Society of Signs? by David Harris

By David Harris

An advent to present debates round the issues of tradition, identification and way of life. Such debates usually commence with the statement that we are living in a "society of signs". beneficial properties contain: precis and demanding 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; stories 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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However, there may well be hidden constraints too, and we need more than a simple voluntarism or idealism to tease them out, as most of the analysts I review in this book would argue. The debate arises when we discuss the best way to do this. In this chapter, I shall be reviewing some ‘materialist’ or sociological work again, with a particular interest in the politics of cultural autonomy, before turning to later writers in subsequent chapters. CREATIVITY AND SOCIAL CONTEXTS This debate has already arisen when we were discussing the social or economic or political dimensions of culture in the last chapter, or when we raised the issue of subcultural resistance.

Sayer (1991) has an excellent and more extensive discussion. The social institutions of capitalism ensure that this unique quality is deployed to the benefit of the owners of capital and not the owners of labour. The idea of ‘private property’, for example, means that capitalists can do with labour what they will once they have hired it for the day, and that they own the goods that are produced in the labour process. ‘Custom’, the law and, if necessary, religious sanction support the idea of a rather long working day (in the early stages of capitalism); long enough, if all goes well, for labour to produce enough goods to pay for its hire before the end of the day and then go on to produce surpluses.

On a different level, there are recurrent technical or ‘philosophical’ issues too. I have focused, in this chapter and throughout, on one I call ‘the production of the concrete’, and I discuss it initially in the Introduction. It also appears in Collins’s account of the philosophical strands in interactionism. From one end, the issue concerns the ability to generate a concrete sociology out of more general philosophies of mind, whether these be derived 25 SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES AND MODERN LIFE from American pragmatism or European phenomenology.

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