Durkheim versus memetics

From: Scott Chase (ecphoric@hotmail.com)
Date: Thu 12 Feb 2004 - 01:15:18 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "RE: (Sociology's problems)"

    >From: Steven Thiele <sthiele@metz.une.edu.au>
    >Reply-To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
    >To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
    >Subject: RE: Date: Wed, 11 Feb 2004 11:57:00 +1100
    >At 01:53 PM 29/01/2004 +0000, you wrote:
    >> <It is true that the great bulk of sociology is intellectually
    >>empty. It is a combination of such things as ideology, wishful thinking,
    >>careerism and professionalism.>
    >>That's an outrageous and almost entirely unfounded comment- yes their are
    >>parts of the social sciences that are cringeworthy to other parts of the
    >>academy, and to some us within the social sciences too (the cultural
    >>relativists and postmodernists spring most easily to my mind), but your
    >>comment displays a tremendous degree of ignorance which is unfortunate.
    >>If you actually look closely at parts of the social sciences, you will see
    >>much that overlaps with approaches from the natural science to questions
    >>such as the evolution and development of cultural. Diffusion of
    >>work, for example, has mostly been conducted in the social sciences.
    >>If you're too quick to dismiss entire disciplines' worth, you won't find
    >>anyone outside your own to listen to your views.
    >My comment may produce outrage, but it is not unfounded. Modern sociology
    >has been going for about 150 to 200 years. For most of that time the
    >dominant positions in sociology have been Marxism and functionalism. The
    >former is based on the claim that social life is a dialectical progression,
    >the latter that social life is a solidarity. Both of these claims are
    >entirely unfounded. Other early sociologies, variously influential in their
    >time, like that offered by Spencer and Comte, have long been disregarded,
    >even by sociologists.
    >In more recent times, sociology has been characterised by a range of
    >different and incompatible positions, most of which must be wrong simply
    >because they can't all be right at once. Sociologists avoid this obvious
    >conclusion by the strategy of presenting the different positions as
    >Sociology is a mess and it is time sociologists admitted this.
    >This doesn't mean that there is nothing of intellectual value going on in
    >sociology, but it does mean that it is a minor current. If anyone disagrees
    >with this, then spell out what sociologists have achieved of lasting value
    >and then compare this with all the nonsense that sociologists have come up
    >with over the last 200 years.
    >If sociology had made a substantial contribution to the understanding of
    >social life there would be no room for deficient explanations like
    >memetics. Memetics only survives because sociology has largely failed in
    >its self appointed task.
    >Steven Thiele
    >Steven Thiele
    >Sociology Discipline
    >School of Social Science
    >Ph. 02 67732992
    Well, given your background in sociology, maybe you could help me understand something about relations between sociological thought and memetics. One of the bigwigs of sociology, Emile Durkheim has a concept called "collective representations" that to me sounds really similar to "memes". Part of his argument for autonomy of sociology rests on what he refers to as "social facts". On page 10 of _The Rules of Sociological Method_ (1938. Free Press. New York. trans. by Solovay and Mueller) he talks of a social fact in terms of "power of external coercion which it exercises or is capable of exercising over individuals" and also "its diffusion within the group".

    This coercive property sounds like one of those ideas have people instead of vice versa things, and diffusion would imply a spread through a population.

    Durkheim does seem to take some issue with Tarde's reliance on imitation in a footnote that occurs on pages 10-11. Imitation is an important topic in memetics but that aside, how does Durkheim's antiquated concept of the social fact and his megaconcept of the "collective representations" relate to memetics?

    I'm hoping for some familiarity with Durkheim on the part of somebody here, because it would take me quite a while in an otherwise busy schedule to render a reasonable exegesis. As I plod along I'll try to add more...

    I'm re-reading Durkheim's book, so might take some time in the future to make comments here and there.

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