Who do we give the chance to speak into our lifes? What is the society we are surrounded by and that we ally with (lat. societas/socii – eng. allies)?
The literature in our DMin program led us this week to a introduction in social theory.
Anthony Elliott presents in his book “Contemporary Social Theory” not only an both highly accessible and sophisticated introduction to social theory in almost encyclopedic spread, he also links those major figures and theories with everyday experiences and questions from feminism to globalization. This contextualization of these highly complex topics makes the book a informative and inspiring read.
Starting with the Frankfurt School, Elliott introduces the reader to Adorno and Horkheimer, to Freund and Marcuse. It is interesting, how much the social theories of the Frankfurt School grew out of the specific situation back then. They are not only analyzing social topics, they are deeply sharpened in their scientific work by the society they are surrounded by.
But what was their personal society like, when all these men came up with their interdisciplinary neo-Marxist views that incorporated in the Frankfurt School? Erich Fromm for example, also a member of this group studied intensively on the family as the mediation point between self and society. To him, this was the important range to study. Others wrote on the more general political society and on ideological reflections on authority, mass media and the fascist movement.
The strong interconnection of the topic social theory and the formative sociological circumstances are striking. It shows that your own personal social theory is always highly affected by your individual societas, the situation we are surround with.
The German blogger and journalist Sascha Lobo talks about this differing perceptions of society with the phenomenon of micro- and macro public. In the social-media world the states that our whole perception is always classified in social filters. The information the surrounding environment releases is always subjective and lead to misinterpretations about the wider range, since we are very selective in our media behavior and the people we interact with. Our own self constructed societas might lead us to different views on our surrounding and heterogeneous personal social theories (or like Anthony Giddens puts it: it is a reflexive process).
When the next generation after the Frankfurt School developed and improved the thoughts of their former teachers (for example Habermas was the research assistant of Adorno) they supplemented the previous theory with systematic extensions to approach current questions and problems. Habermas for example developed in his professorial dissertation the structures of public sphere. He is not talking about social media, about Twitter and Facebook, like Sascha Lobo, but about the European traditions of coffee houses, literary salons and other intellectual circles as focal points for public life in the 17th century.
To Habermas this conversational exchanges where social structures in a public sphere. He states that from the middle of the 19. century this publicity is endangered by particular interests. He criticizes technical inventions and the mass media as either ideological consolidation of institutional powers or the backslide to individualistic and egocentric separations.
Is this, what Sascha Lobo sees, when he is mentioning micro- and macro public? Are we living in this world, that Habermas predicted? With a society at the same time individualized and pluralistic.
If yes, then:
- How can we gain abilities to master this society (our own societas) and to come up with our individual healthy social theory?
- How can we (especially as Christians) engage in public debates that have the same radiance like the once Habermas refers to in the 17th century?
- How can we (as social media nerds) develop a useful handling with private and publics spheres or the reflection of micro- and macro public?