Gillian Rose and Social Theory

This article examine Rose’s claim in Hegel Contra Sociology that Hegel’s philosophy, properly understood, is able to provide a better way to do sociology. It understands this claim as one of method and metatheory: by better appreciating the logic of sociology and the social nature of logic, and the relationship between theory and metatheory, social theory may be less prone to make certain errors. Rose found in Hegel’s logic and phenomenology the way to such understanding. By pushing Rose’s work in a direction she did not explicitly take it, this article shows how it nevertheless addresses some central debates in sociological theory. It finds that her version of Hegelian conceptual knowing can speak to and cope with issues of logic and the sociology of knowledge, the repeated recurrence of contradictions and antinomies in sociology, and issues of emergence and the social totality. It finds a possible source of the repeated recurrence of positivism in sociology suggested by Rose’s critique of neo-Kantianism: faulty methodological self-understanding. Rose’s work on social theory can then be seen as in part offering a better account of what good sociology already does. While in no way imagining that this approach does justice to the whole of Rose’s thought, it shows her fiercely theoretical work is effective not only in philosophy but also in sociology, which is consistent with her dismay at their disciplinary separation.

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Toward a Sociological Aesthetics of the Contemporary Art System

“The function of art can be traced to problems of meaningful communication,” writes sociologist Niklas Luhmann in Art as a Social System.[1] The entanglement of art, functionality, and society that Luhmann calls into question forms the fundamental thesis of art historian Matthew Rampley’s “Art as a Social System: The Sociological Aesthetics of Niklas Luhmann,” from Telos 148 (Fall 2009). Rampley suggests that Luhmann’s corpus of social theory, which models modern society as a structure of systems, merits a critical revisiting. Noting the current marginal status and limited applications of Luhmann’s sociological systems theory, Rampley maintains that a return to Luhmann offers an innovative alternative to orthodox methodologies of social theory and history, particularly relevant to the realm of art. By positing art as a social system, Luhmann formulates the hermeneutic potential for a sociologically rooted aesthetics, for which Rampley argues a direct relevance to the interpretation of contemporary art and culture.

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