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The Double Center of Gravity in Durkheim's Symbol Theory: Bringing the Symbolism of the Body Back in

Jacques Janssen and Theo Verheggen
Sociological Theory
Vol. 15, No. 3 (Nov., 1997), pp. 294-306
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/223308
Page Count: 13
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The Double Center of Gravity in Durkheim's Symbol Theory: Bringing the Symbolism of the Body Back in
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Abstract

By studying Durkheim through a Schopenhauerian lens, the one-sidedly cognitivist and functionalist reception of his social theory can be balanced. Durkheim explicitly rejected such monistic interpretations. His dialectical approach was always aimed at an essentially dualistic perception of man and society, wherein the lower pole, the individual, is central. In Durkheim's symbol theory, this position leads to two kinds of symbols: those that are bound to the human body, here called "this and that" symbols, and those people can choose freely, here called "this for that" symbols. This twofold symbol theory can already be found in medieval philosophy (e.g. Dante Alighieri) as well as in the work of Paul Ricoeur. For Durkheim the human person is the symbol par excellence. By implication the rituals in which the person is (re)constructed, that is the rites of passage, should be central. The interpretation here opens up new perspectives for a more psychological interpretation of Durkheim's sociology.

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