By Jeffrey C. Alexander

Glossy women and men pass approximately their lives with no fairly figuring out why. Why will we paintings for this sort of very long time each day? Why are we so enthusiastic about know-how? Why can we continually build scandals? Why will we end one battle in basic terms to struggle one other? If we needed to clarify these items, we'd say "it simply is smart" or "it's worthwhile" or "it's what solid (or undesirable) humans do". but if we are saying that the conflict opposed to terrorism is important and rational we use a rhetoric of excellent and evil, of associates and enemies, of honor, judgment of right and wrong, loyalty, of civilization and primeval chaos. those rhetorics relaxation on principles and emotions, not only rational necessity, and they're of giant strength and import. those rhetorics are cultural buildings. they're deeply constraining but additionally permitting while. the matter is that we do not comprehend them. that's the job of this booklet. during this pathbreaking paintings, Jeffrey Alexander argues for a cultural sociology that may deliver those subconscious cultural buildings into the extensive gentle of day. Exposing our daily myths and narratives in a chain of empirical stories that diversity from Watergate to the Holocaust, he exhibits how those unseen but effective cultural constructions translate into concrete activities and associations. in simple terms while those deep styles of which means are published, Alexander argues, will we comprehend the obdurate endurance of violence and degradation, but in addition the regular patience of desire. by means of figuring out the darker buildings that limit our mind's eye, we will search to rework them. through spotting the tradition buildings that maintain wish, we will be able to let our idealistic imaginations to achieve extra traction on this planet. a piece that would remodel the best way that sociologists take into consideration tradition and the social international, this ebook confirms Jeffrey Alexander's popularity as one of many significant social theorists of our day.

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What these theoretical considerations suggest is that even after the physical force of the Allied triumph and the physical discovery of the Nazi concentration camps, the nature of what was seen and discovered had to be coded, weighted, and narrated. This complex cultural construction, moreover, had to be achieved immediately. History does not wait; it demands that representations be made, and they will be. 17 Even the vastly unfamiliar must somehow be made familiar. To the cultural process of coding, weighting, and narrating, in other words, what comes before is allimportant.

In theorizing evil, this refers to the problem not of coding but of weighting. For there are degrees of evil, and these degrees have great implications in terms of responsibility, punishment, remedial action, and future behavior. Normal evil and radical evil cannot be the same. Finally, alongside these problems of coding and weighting, the meaning of a trauma cannot be defined unless we determine exactly what the “it” is. This is a question of narrative: What were the evil and traumatizing actions in question?

From a sociological perspective, however, evil is epistemological, not ontological. For a traumatic event to have the status of evil is a matter of its becoming evil. 13 “At first glance it may appear a paradox,” Diner has noted—and certainly it does—but, considered only in and of itself, “Auschwitz On the Social Construction of Moral Universals 31 has no appropriate narrative, only a set of statistics” (Diner, 2000: 178). Becoming evil is a matter, first and foremost, of representation. Depending on the nature of representation, a traumatic event may be regarded as ontologically evil, or its badness, its “evilness,” may be conceived as contingent and relative, as something that can be ameliorated and overcome.

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