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In the presence of absence: (Not) only the lonely

Loneliness has been in and out of the news in the past year, accompanied by headlines such as ‘a silent plague that is hurting young people’ and ‘loneliness is killing us’. This last item includes the doctor’s warning that ‘lonely people are nearly twice as likely to die prematurely as those who do not suffer […]

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Looking for the magic: Sartre on affect

Sartre was rightly fascinated by the power of emotions in human life – as portrayed in his play No Exit. He even wrote a short book on the topic Sketch for a theory of the emotions (originally published in French in 1939), which provides a reasonably clear account of his existential take on affect and […]

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How do we come to know our place?

This is the question Douglas Robertson asks in his recently published article Knowing Your Place: The Formation and Sustenance of Class-Based Place Identity. Robertson utilises Bourdieu’s theory of practice in an attempt to understand the role of place in the formation of class identities, using empirical data generated from studies in the Scottish city of Stirling. Here’s […]

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Where do you go beyond structure and agency?

In his book The structure of social theory, Anthony King argues that understandings  of society need to go beyond the restrictive dualism of structure and agency – a dualism that according to him takes us too far away from human relations and leaves sociology marooned in the mythical state of the lone individual. Contemporary social […]

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What did Hegel mean by Geist?

In his excellent book The structure of social theory, Anthony King does the social sciences a big favour by taking on the might of the restrictive paradigm that is structure and agency. I’ll come back to some of King’s core ideas in later posts, but for this post I want to focus on the chapter […]

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“A Butterfly Fixed to a Cork”

Martin Jay, in an excellent paper ‘Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and the search for a new ontology of sight’ (itself part of a superb set of essays Modernity and the hegemony of vision, edited by David Levin), takes Sartre to task for being unable to escape the shadow of Cartesianism. For all his talk of situating consciousness in […]

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The Desire to be Desired

Love is a relational emotion as central to the human condition as the need for physical sustenance.  It is an emotion inescapable in both public and private life, with much of popular entertainment devoted to romance and relationships. But its ubiquity is no guarantee of understanding – love is still viewed as a mysterious force […]

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The Beat of a Different Drum

The basic premise of Dirty Looks is that other people matter, that our relations with other people have serious consequences for our health, wealth, happiness, education, attitudes and politics. The theoretical premise is that the relational world has its own rationale, it own rules of engagement, compared to other forms of regulation (legal, temporal, cultural, […]

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An Awareness of What is Missing, Part 1

Recent discussion over reason and religion has been so overshadowed by the work of Richard Dawkins and his ilk, that it might surprise some to suggest a debate could ever take place between the two. It might be the case that such debates have a tendency towards polarity, but the dead hand of fundamentalism on […]

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The Power of Words

As evidenced on this site numerous times, understanding the relational world has proven a challenge to the social sciences – for disciplinary as well as ideological reasons. It doesn’t help that it lacks its own discipline, relying instead on the half-empty promise of inter-disciplinarity to come to the rescue. Neither does it help that the […]