An IDF officer places new Israeli flags on the graves of IDF soldiers. © Israeli Defense Forces | Flickr

Death, Destruction, and the Israeli Turn to the Right

One of the most depressing aspects of the current war in Gaza is the repetition of images in discourse about the conflict. “Defensive Edge,” “Pillar of Defense,” and “Cast Lead” all bleed into each other. Images of death and destruction recur across patriotic monikers that stand as a monument to the limited inventiveness of the national copy writers. Nothing much seems to change. And yet, with every iteration of death and destruction, Israel’s political culture turns more and more to the right.

This is felt most acutely by Israeli Arabs, but is also being increasingly felt by left-wing Jews in Israel. There are, of course, striking differences between the two experiences. …

Paul Cézanne: Pierrot and Harlequin (1888, Oil on canvas) © Public Domain | Wikimedia Commons
EssaysTheory & Practice

Humor and the Social Condition

In a series of posts, Jeff Goldfarb and I have been sketching an outline for the study of the social condition — the predictable dilemmas that haunt social life. We argue that one of the core intellectual missions of sociology is to account for the ways in which social patterns set up these dilemmas that actors experience as crucial for their lives and how they define themselves.

Social life, as anyone who is in the business of living knows, is riddled with ambiguities and contradictions. But these contradictions and dilemmas are not only the stuff tragedies and epics are made of. As importantly, they include materials from which comedy is crafted. If we attend to the structure of humor, we can see that jokes work precisely because they shine light on dilemmas that are built into the social fabric. Thus, one of the core insights of the study of the comic is that it depends on telling two stories at the same time (what Arthur Koestler called “bi-sociation”). …

Jean-Paul Sartre in 1950 © Unknown | Archivo del diario Clarín
EssaysTheory & Practice

From Sartre to the Social Condition

The social dimension of the existential

In “Existentialism is humanism,” Sartre concisely attempted to make his existentialism clear. The authentic human condition is a marked by choices, and by the realization that these choices are man’s, his/hers alone. In one of the most memorable parts of the treatise, Sartre tells of a student he had, confronted with a dilemma that had no easy solution:

“He lived alone with his mother, his father having gone off as a collaborator and his brother killed in 1940. He had a choice – to go and fight with the Free French to avenge his brother and protect his nation, or to stay and be his mother’s only consolation. So he was confronted by two modes of action; one concrete and immediate but directed only towards one single individual; the other addressed to an infinitely greater end but very ambiguous. What would help him choose? Christian doctrine? Accepted morals? Kant?”…

Three interlocking rings © Nbvf |
EssaysTheory & Practice

The Social Condition: The Third Intellectual Project

Sociologists face three distinct intellectual projects in their work. They are well aware of two of them, but the third remains in the shadows. The two standard projects are the study of the social construction, and the study of social effects. The third, the study of the predictable existential dilemmas we face, is the one Jeff Goldfarb and I are working to develop in our work, what we call “the social condition.”

As every undergraduate student learns after her first introduction to sociology, our world is socially constructed. People constantly give meaning, together, to a world that may not have an intrinsic meaning to it. In its deepest form, the one that Berger and Luckmann saw so well over 45 years ago, social construction is an existential drama. It is not only that, as undergraduates quickly learn to recite, identities are constructed by a social world (gender and race being the favorite examples). This is, of course, true and important. It is, rather, that our entire existence, as so far as it is meaningful, must be socially constructed and re-constructed. Like a shoddy plane over the void of meaninglessness, we construct a meaningful world—a world in which human existence, institutions and identities make sense…