BEYOND THE CRISIS by Norman--Ed. Birnbaum


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A collection of six essays by European and American sociologists which assumes that modern society is in a crisis and searches out the possibilities for a new future society. But ""crisis""--ordinarily implying a life-or-death situation--is a very strong term when applied to social structures, and the intended meaning is never clarified. In the first essay, ""Crisis or Transformation?"", Alain Touraine (Post-Industrial Society) skirts the proposed apposition by reducing it to a question of perspective vis-a-vis social change; both terms refer to the same phenomenon, but from different vantage points. Thus, a crisis is merely a transformation seen from the perspective of entrenched power--a rather trivial and mechanical usage which does nothing to explain the book's title. The only attempts to specify the idea of a crisis are made by Hans Peter Dreitzel (of the Free University of Berlin) and Richard Sennett (The Fall of Public Man). Dreitzel argues that Western culture is unable to fulfill its function of legitimating bureaucratic power relationships, and therefore--following the work of Juren Habermas--the crisis is one of legitimation. But this begs the question of how the society reproduces itself in the face of such a crisis, and, given that it is able to do so, what meaning can ""crisis"" have? Sennett's article is more restricted in scope. He maintains that, in bourgeois society, intersubjective--one-to-one--relationships are incapable of solving problems related to intersubjectivity itself, resulting in a personality crisis which can only be resolved through the creation of a larger social community. But Sennett is himself skeptical about the chances for such a community to arise, which again raises the question of what, then, does ""crisis"" mean if a resolution is not necessary. All the essays advocate developing new forms of thinking and acting to deal with present and future problems, but because they avoid an examination of the elusive crisis itself, their prescriptions remain vague and unsupported. The unifying element in this collection is an uncomfortable silence.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press