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Language and Practice in Cultural History: Backing Away from the Edge of the Cliff

William H. Sewell Jr.
French Historical Studies
Vol. 21, No. 2 (Spring, 1998), pp. 241-254
Published by: Duke University Press
DOI: 10.2307/286628
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/286628
Page Count: 14
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Language and Practice in Cultural History: Backing Away from the Edge of the Cliff
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Abstract

One of Roger Chartier's major themes in On the Edge of the Cliff is the much disputed relationship between language and practice. In this article, I argue that Chartier's attempt to erect a fundamental opposition between language and practice, an attempt signaled metaphorically in the title of his book, is contradictory and ultimately impossible. I present an alternative theoretical figuration for cultural history, although it seems to me compatible with Chartier's own work and opinions. I argue that the task of the cultural historian should be seen as (1) the articulation of the diverse semiotic logics - including linguistic logics - manifested in social practices and (2) the articulation of all of these with extrasemiotic causal logics that arise from larger social processes.

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