E3833.  ISA 1970.  0113


Elias, Norbert (Leicester U, England).






¶ 2 types of theoretical models dominate contemporary discussions about the relationship between“consciousness” & "society:" the traditional “Marxian” model & the traditional "history of ideas” model. The point of departure for the latter is the concept of the single individual, especially of the extraordinary individual as primary generator of ideas which spread to, & perhaps influence, “society”. For the former, society, understood mainly as an economic nexus, is the primary causa causans which shapes the individual's ideas &, generally, patterns “consciousness,” although in some versions of the Marxian model consciousness in turn secondarily influences society. Both models are based on dualistic assumptions for which it is often difficult to find any empirical evidence. The relative backwardness of the development of empirical research in the SofK is evidently connected with this fact. The models treat something called “consciousness” or "ideas,” on the one hand, & something called “society,” on the other hand, as if they were 2 different entities which exist separately & independently of each other. As a result of this reeification both models operate with a comparatively simple causal concept. In both cases, the quest for explanations finds expression in unilinear cause & effect problems tacitly derived from the ubiquitous template of physical, billiard-ball causality. The essentially dualistic reification of both models bars the way to other approaches. An attempt is made to indicate the direction in which one might have to go forward to break out of this mold & to discuss, in broad outline, what other less unreallstic models might look like. If we take a long-term view & envisage the society of men as well as men's consciousness, ideas, knowledge, etc, as something which became & becomes whatever they are at a given time, the latter reveal themselves neither as “cause” nor as “effect” of the former, but as an integral part of human society. One of the central problems raised then is the question of why the "dynamics of consciousness” in some cases have hardly any autonomy in relation to other facets of the development of society, & in other cases, particularly in the case of natural sciences, a very much greater autonomy. Some aspects are presented of a more general theory of semi-autonomous social formations & processes. Scientfic & technical devices can be, up to a point, used & developed in a more or less identical manner by human beings who form part of societies at different stages of social development or, if more or less at the same stage, with different systems of rule & different types of beliefs. If we do not simply ask which existing social conditions make the semiautonomous special formations possible, if we ask in the course of which development the relative autonomy of these social formations & processes becomes greater & is able to maintain itself, we arrive at a type of theoretical model which lacks the reifying & static characteristics of the dominant models for the relationship between "consciousness" & "society" &, more generally, for a SofK. Some aspects of this model are analyzed. The model is an excellent guide to empirical studies. It raises the question of the conditions under which pre-scientific ideas about nature gave way to more autonomous or scientific ideas, & is to some extent concerned with the question of why the development of some sciences have acquired & can maintain a comparatively high degree of autonomy in relation to other facets of the development of societies, while the relative autonomy of other scientific disciplines especially of sociology itself, is still much smaller. By framing the problem in that manner it is also possible to determine with greater precision some aspects of the relationships between the phi1osophical theories of knowledge & the sociological ones."



Sociological Abstracts, vol. 18 no. 5, suppl. 9, p. 788 (ISA page 32)