5 episodes

Margaret Thatcher famously declared that there is no such thing as society. Her successor David Cameron has asserted that the concept of ‘The Big Society’ is a central plank of his administration’s agenda.

Universities have found it easy to take a distanced view of the rhetoric of government, but the current Conservative government has also insisted that this concept of ‘The Big Society’ must determine a significant proportion of research funding. ‘Society’ is one of the most contested terms in modern thinking – though completely undefined in government policy! What then should we make of the command to think of ‘The Big Society’?

Society can mean the widest delineaments of public community life or it can imply the most delimited arena of upper-class posing. Can we talk of society without talking of culture? Religion? Gender? Power? Class? Nationhood? Is society only a term of modern thinking? To answer these interrelated and vexing questions, we have invited a leading group of anthropologists, cultural historians, social scientists and philosophers to explore ‘understanding society’.

The second series of CRASSH lectures is led by Lord Giddens, not only one of the world’s most distinguished sociologists but also a key intellectual figure in the development of the Labour government’s social policy the ‘Third Way’. Our second speaker is Juliet Mitchell whose work on psychoanalysis and feminism defines the field. If the personal is political, what place is there for social psychology in understanding society? Richard Sennett – recently described as the sage of the tempers of our times – is our third speaker. His combination of broad political and social insight is crucial for a question as general as understanding society. Bruno Latour – world famous contributor to network theory – has provided one of the most polemical voices in the challenge to those who wish to see society or its institutions as natural or inevitable in form. Marilyn Strathern, one of the most celebrated anthropological thinkers of her generation may agree with Margaret Thatcher that there is no such thing as society – but not for the same reasons. How can society be understood without the insights of anthropology?

The lecture series will be followed by two further events: first, at Kings Place in London, Lord Giddens, Juliet Mitchell and Richard Sennett will take part in a further panel discussion chaired by Simon Franklin looking back at the series and drawing together some conclusions. Finally, in Lent 2013 Judith Butler will give a final lecture in Cambridge on the theme from her unique perspective of feminism, philosophy and language.

Understanding Society Cambridge University

    • Social Sciences

Margaret Thatcher famously declared that there is no such thing as society. Her successor David Cameron has asserted that the concept of ‘The Big Society’ is a central plank of his administration’s agenda.

Universities have found it easy to take a distanced view of the rhetoric of government, but the current Conservative government has also insisted that this concept of ‘The Big Society’ must determine a significant proportion of research funding. ‘Society’ is one of the most contested terms in modern thinking – though completely undefined in government policy! What then should we make of the command to think of ‘The Big Society’?

Society can mean the widest delineaments of public community life or it can imply the most delimited arena of upper-class posing. Can we talk of society without talking of culture? Religion? Gender? Power? Class? Nationhood? Is society only a term of modern thinking? To answer these interrelated and vexing questions, we have invited a leading group of anthropologists, cultural historians, social scientists and philosophers to explore ‘understanding society’.

The second series of CRASSH lectures is led by Lord Giddens, not only one of the world’s most distinguished sociologists but also a key intellectual figure in the development of the Labour government’s social policy the ‘Third Way’. Our second speaker is Juliet Mitchell whose work on psychoanalysis and feminism defines the field. If the personal is political, what place is there for social psychology in understanding society? Richard Sennett – recently described as the sage of the tempers of our times – is our third speaker. His combination of broad political and social insight is crucial for a question as general as understanding society. Bruno Latour – world famous contributor to network theory – has provided one of the most polemical voices in the challenge to those who wish to see society or its institutions as natural or inevitable in form. Marilyn Strathern, one of the most celebrated anthropological thinkers of her generation may agree with Margaret Thatcher that there is no such thing as society – but not for the same reasons. How can society be understood without the insights of anthropology?

The lecture series will be followed by two further events: first, at Kings Place in London, Lord Giddens, Juliet Mitchell and Richard Sennett will take part in a further panel discussion chaired by Simon Franklin looking back at the series and drawing together some conclusions. Finally, in Lent 2013 Judith Butler will give a final lecture in Cambridge on the theme from her unique perspective of feminism, philosophy and language.

    • video
    Professor Richard Sennett: The Open City

    Professor Richard Sennett: The Open City

    Richard Sennett will focus on the relation of social life to physical design. In this lecture he'll explore what shape cities should have to admit the complexities and conflicts of the people who live together, in a particular way. He'll talk about edge conditions within the city, distinguishing between borders and boundaries, exploring the design of porosity and mixture of people who differ from one another.

    • 54 min
    • video
    Professor Marilyn Strathern: Taking care of a concept: anthropological reflections on the assisted society

    Professor Marilyn Strathern: Taking care of a concept: anthropological reflections on the assisted society

    Professor Marilyn Strathern

    Professor Marilyn Strathern will give the final lecture in a series of five lectures on Understanding Society. The series will culminate in a panel discussion at Kings Place on Tuesday 27 November 2012.

    Abstract

    This final lecture in the series takes on the issue of what seems one of the least appealing aspects of ‘society’, as the term is used in common parlance, namely its vacuousness, and suggests what an anthropologist might find interesting in that. Does the Big Society render the concept even more (as in bigger) vacuous? And if it does, what might be some of the consequences? The lecture questions both what might be taken for granted in an appeal to society and what it then means to promote it. If indeed there is no such thing, do these questions become more interesting, or less so? It is a conundrum that is best approached from a wider stage than ministerial pronouncements.

    • 52 min
    • video
    Professor Bruno Latour: The Modes of Existence project: an exercise in collective inquiry and digital humanities

    Professor Bruno Latour: The Modes of Existence project: an exercise in collective inquiry and digital humanities

    This lecture takes place between the French publication of Bruno Latour's An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns and the full version of the digital platform in English that allows the inquiry to unfold. This lecture will present the project both in its content - an anthropology of the moderns - and in its procedure - an exploration of the possibility of digital tools to develop academic books as well as collective research.

    • 44 min
    • video
    Professor Juliet Mitchell: 'in my heart there was a kind of fighting' (Hamlet): some thoughts on warring and war

    Professor Juliet Mitchell: 'in my heart there was a kind of fighting' (Hamlet): some thoughts on warring and war

    Professor Juliet Mitchell

    Professor Juliet Mitchell will give the second in a series of five lectures on Understanding Society. The series will culminate in a panel discussion at Kings Place on Tuesday 27 November 2012.

    Abstract

    Public warfare and private depression, unfortunately, distinguish all human societies. Using, but standing against, the evolutionist understanding of violence and warfare, I suggest that to the contrary, warfare depends on a prohibition of violence. Following this prohibition warfare contributes to the construction of human society. Gender analysis and psychoanalytic insights into unconscious processes frame the argument which also briefly mentions Hamlet to illustrate its thesis.

    • 39 min
    • video
    Lord Giddens: Understanding Society - A Sociologist's Perspective

    Lord Giddens: Understanding Society - A Sociologist's Perspective

    Lord Giddens

    Lord Giddens will give the first in a series of five lectures on Understanding Society. The series will culminate in a panel discussion at Kings Place on Tuesday 27 November 2012.
    Abstract

    Human social interaction and communication didn't just follow on from the emergence of homo sapiens but almost certainly contributed to that emergence and dominance over other species. In this lecture Lord Giddens shall stress the importance of media of communication in social evolution, leading from the hunting and gathering societies to city-based civilisations and later to the global society of today.

    • 44 min

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