The Social, Wholes, and Structuralism

Leithart | 9/18/2018 | Staff
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In a chapter in The Social in Question, Bruno Latour summarizes the work of 19th-century sociology Gabriel Tarde. Latour is particularly interested in the anti-structuralist import of Tarde’s social metaphysics and anthropology.

Tarde writes, for instance, “In general, there is more logic in a sentence than in a talk, in a talk than in a sequence or group of talks; there is more logic in a special ritual than in a whole credo; in an article of law than in a whole code of laws, in a specific scientific theory than in the whole body of a science; there is more logic in each piece of work executed by an artisan than in the totality of his behaviour.”

Language - Structuralist - Duality - Parole - Langue

Applied to language, this undoes the fundamental structuralist duality of parole and langue. Tarde makes this point by observing that “People who speak, all with different accents, intonations, pitches, voices, gestures: here is the social element, the true chaos of discordant heterogeineities. But on the long run, from this confusing Babel, a few general habits will be outlined which can be formulated in grammatical laws.”

There is, Latour points out, no “structure beyond or beneath speech acts.” Rather, “Tarde imagines a kind of sociolinguistics, of pragmatics absolutely opposite, in which the structure is only one of the simplified, routinized, repetitive element of one of the locutors who has managed to include his or her local tradition into the general idiom.”

Tarde - Standardization - Effect - Standardization - Speakers

Tarde doesn’t demean standardization, but the effect of standardization is simply to enable speakers to generate new complexities. Tarde again: “In turn, those [grammatical laws] since they allow many more locutors to speak together, will help them to find a specific turn of phrase: yet another kind of discordances. And those laws will succeed all the more so in diversifying the minds that they will have...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Leithart
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