Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. Jänner 2004

2.5. Societies and Cultures as Polylogues
HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Arne Haselbach (Wiener Denk-Werkstatt / Vienna Thinktank, Vienna)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

On thinking social phenomena in terms of polylogues - Why? - How?

Arne Haselbach (Wiener Denk-Werkstatt / Vienna Thinktank, Vienna)



This paper introduces the topic of the working group "Societies and Cultures as Polylogues". It suggests that a paradigm shift towards thinking 'the social' and 'the cultural' in terms of 'polylogues' is needed.

First, I argue the "Why?" of such a paradigm shift and deal with some of the main dissonances that arose in reading selected classic sociological texts. Then I turn to the "How?" and present three of the pillars of the new notional architecture - thinking in terms of populations, thinking in terms of ensembles, and thinking in terms of processes. Third, I turn to my notion 'polylogues' which was developed as a confluence of these three ways of thinking and develop the essential characteristics of 'polylogues'. I conclude with what the notion 'polylogues' can contribute to thinking 'the social' and 'the cultural'. (1)


1. Why? - Dissonances in reading some classic social theorists

In developing the main core of the argument for a paradigm shift I limit myself to some well-known texts by Émile Durkheim, Ernest Nagel, and Maurice Halbwachs.

Let me start with main dissonances in reading Emile Durkheim's famous book The Rules of the Sociological Method. (2)

Types of behaviour and thinking that are external to individuals?

In his effort to establish sociology as a discipline Émile Durkheim created the notion of 'social facts' which he defines as follows:

"A social fact is every way of acting, fixed or not, capable of exercising on the individual an external constraint; or again, every way of acting which is general throughout a given society, while at the same time existing in its own right independent of its individual manifestations." (3)

In the development of the argument leading to that definition he writes

"... there are ways of acting, thinking and feeling which possess the remarkable property of existing outside the consciousness of the individual." (4)

and - in the sentence which follows that statement - Durkheim says

"... these types of behaviour and thinking [are] external to the individual" (5)

Thus the question arises: Can there be "types of behaviour and thinking" that are "external to individuals"? As far as I am concerned, this idea creates unsurmountalbe dissonances in my thinking. I deem it to be unacceptable.

But not only I have hesitations on that issue. Maurice Halbwachs - a close collaborator of Émile Durkheim - says

"The collective spirit exists and is realized only in the consciousness of individuals." (6)

But he seems to contradict himself. A few sentences later one reads

"In order to reach and to study it one has to look for it in the manifestations of the whole group taken as a whole." (7)

There are two ways of dealing with the issues raised here:

In the first, one approaches from a focus on the individuals. Then the following questions have to be answered: How does one add up their manifestations? To whom are they attributed? Can they be attributed to the group as a whole?

Or, alternatively, one approaches from a focus on society. This begs the questions: What is a manifestation of the whole group taken as a whole? Can there be such manifestations?

To concretise: Can one attribute a painting of Leonardo da Vinci or his technical texts to all Italian painters? to all Italians of his time? or to the collective spirit of all Italians?

To put it bluntly: I am afraid the notions 'collective representations' and 'collective spirit' conceived of as separately existing entities simply do not make sense.

Society as acting, thinking and feeling ?

Where are we to find those "ways of acting, thinking and feeling" which are supposed to be "external to the individual"? Durkheim says:

"it is clear that, not having the individual as their substratum, they can have none other than society" (8)

Again strong dissonance. Is society an actor? Can society think or feel? Attributing acting, thinking, and feeling to society is untenable.

Is society the same kind of a whole as a chemical compound?

In the Preface to the second edition of the Rules Durkheim introduces an argument based on the natural sciences:

"The liquidity of water, its sustaining and other properties, are not in the two gases of which it is composed, but in the complex substance which they form by coming together." (9)

and applies this notion to societies:

"Yet what is so readily deemed unacceptable for social facts is freely admitted for other domains of nature. Whenever elements of any kind combine, by virtue of this combination they give rise to new phenomena. One is therefore forced to conceive of these phenomena as residing, not in the elements, but in the entity formed by the union of these elements." (10)

Let us check whether that analogy is really applicable to societies.

We consider both, society and water, as wholes. In the case of water (H2O) the union of oxygen and hydrogen forms a chemically distinct substance. Water is a chemical compound in which the component elements to not retain the identities they have when separate or when part of a different compound. To study water, one does not study hydrogen and oxygen. What one studies is water.

Societies, however, are composed of separate individuals which remain separate, retain their identities, move freely independent of other members of that society, etc. To study collective representations one has to study individuals and their representations.

To corroborate the argument, let me quote Durkheim as king's evidence against his own analogy:

"In the common sense view, fever designates a single pathological entity; in science, however, there is a multitude of distinctly different fevers ..." (11)

Societies and water (H2O) are distinctly different kinds of wholes and should be treated according to their specificities.

An irrefutable dualism of society and individual?

Durkheim says

"What constitutes social facts are the beliefs, tendencies and practices of the group taken collectively. But the forms that these collective states may assume when they are 'refracted' through individuals are things of a different kind. What irrefutably demonstrates this duality of kind is that these two categories of facts frequently are manifested dissociated from each other." (12)

Durkheim's "irrefutable" proof does not support his all pervading dualism of society and individual. All it does is to demonstrate that we need an adequate explanation for what he takes as proof.

There are many reasons why the assumption of a dualism of society and individual is difficult to uphold, the main ones being a) that there can be no society without individuals, b) that there is no way a society can act except via individuals as actors, and c) that, as a corollary of b), societal change would have to come out of heaven.

Does what is 'in common' have separate existence?

A main issue is whether what Durkheim and Halbwachs call "collective" and/or "in common" has separate existence.

Clearly, this is Durkheim's position. Referring to what "is common to all the members of society" he says:

"It is in each part because it is in the whole, but far from being in the whole because it is in the parts." (13)

Halbwachs tries to do justice to the fact that it is the individuals who think:

"Thus, one can say that the individuals think, feel, and act in common by adopting a mental attitude that belongs to the group." (14)

But Halbwachs' solution amounts only to a half-hearted restatement of the issue: now it is individuals who think, feel, and act, but the 'mental attitude' referred to remains that of a group.

It remains a fact that a group 'as a group' cannot have 'mental attitudes'.

The whole and its parts

In considering the issue whether what is 'collective', what is 'in common', can have independent existence we enter the debate about 'the whole and its parts'.

One of the most widely disseminated views on this issue is Ernest Nagel's famous article "On the statement 'The whole is more than the sum of its parts'".

How does Ernest Nagel develop his argument? After qualitatively differentiating a number of kinds of 'wholes', Nagel continues by treating the notion of 'a sum'. He, thus, changes the terrain from qualitative issues to the terrain of mathematical issues. In this process the qualitative distinctions introduced disappear due to the nature of mathematical thinking. Thus, in a reader of the article the impression is created that the qualitative differences have been dealt with but, de facto, they have not been given due consideration.

Nagel's argument is better than many other contributions to this debate since he does differentiate different kinds of 'wholes', but his conclusions are found wanting.

More generally it must be remarked that much of this debate is flawed, since most contributions neither take into account that there are different kinds of what is called 'wholes' nor that there are different kinds of what is labelled 'parts'.

The other important issue in this context is that most discussions concerning wholes and parts approach it from a focus on the whole. Studying the issues involved from a focus on the parts is equally important. Needed are serious considerations a) on different kinds of 'parts', b) on the varieties of how wholes and parts relate to and interact with each other, and c) on relations of parts and their interactions with what is not part of the whole in question.

The one important contribution that draws lessons from the specific character of parts comes from the field of evolutionary biology and was labelled 'population thinking'. It has become one of the pillars of my approach, to which I will turn now.


2. Main pillars of my architecture of notions

If we want to develop a way to think about social phenomena that more adequately relates to the specificities of 'the social' and 'the cultural' we are in need of different kinds of assumptions and constructs than the ones I have just criticized.

The three pillars of the architecture we need are three ways of thinking:

· thinking in terms of populations

· thinking in terms of ensembles

· thinking in terms of processes

and - at the confluence of those main pillars of the architecture (and some additional notions) - the way of thinking - which I have labelled

· thinking in terms of polylogues.

2.1. Thinking in terms of populations

The notion 'populations'

Some biologists working on evolution reconceptualized the notion of a 'population'. What happened was the following: Evolutionary theorists had - in their detailed studies of various species - experienced that no two individuals in a population are alike. It also became clear that it was not true that all individuals in a species, subspecies or another populational category shared the same properties - not even the definitional ones (15). They considered those insights to be so important that they had to be taken seriously. As a consequence they decided to treat a population as consisting of unique individuals. (16)

This was a major change in their ways of thinking. In this view a population of individuals is - in epistemological terms - no longer considered as a "class" of individuals with identical characteristics, but as a (historically) interbreeding collection of individuals where each has its unique combination of characteristics. As Ernst Mayr puts it: "The evolutionist always stresses the genetic uniqueness of every individual of a sexually reproducing population." (17)

Unique individuals - a specific conception of parts of a whole

The insight that populations consist of unique individuals, brings us back to the issue of 'wholes and their parts'. It introduces a different conception of what kind of 'parts' the wholes called populations consist of. Since the character of the kind of parts is now differently specified the combination of 'whole and part' also changes its character - and different ways of treating them follow therefrom.

Applying 'population thinking' to other fields

In my architecture of notions I have adopted this version of population thinking and widen its application to thinking about social and cultural phenomena. I feel that is warranted for at least two reasons: a) human beings are unique and b) social and cultural phenomena are human phenomena.

2.2. Thinking in terms of ensembles

The term 'ensembles' is used in a variety of ways, usually without any further specification. Let me deviate from that practice and specify my own usages.

My first step is to discard one widely spread usage: the usage in the "theory of sets" (18). In set theory "A set is a [finite or infinite] collection of objects in which order has no significance, and multiplicity is generally also ignored ..." (19)

If one were to accept an interpretation of the real world in those terms and would adopt such usage one would fall prey to the hybris of mathematical thinking and to the lack of self-confidence of social scientists. What matters more is that this usage has to be excluded since in the real world which we are trying to understand order has enormous significance. So does multiplicity.

The notion, which the word 'ensemble' refers to, implies a) plurality - a plurality of objects, notions, and/or processes - and b) togetherness - togetherness in one way or another, at one time or another, or in a plurality of ways and/or times. Such togetherness - as closeness of various kinds - may include, inter alia, contiguity, interaction, belonging.

With this double meaning in mind I use the term 'ensembles' in three main ways: a) as related and interacting parts of populations, b) as collections not of the same but of various kinds, and c) as (living) part worlds.

In all three cases the term refers to 'ontics' - to processes in the real world and the objects involved in them - insisting on the fact of their being unique.

a) Ensembles as related and interacting individuals of one kind'

An ensemble - in my first usage - is a grouping specified as a collection of individuals selected from a population because they are actually (whether intentionally or accidentally) - and not only potentially - contiguous, in contact and/or interact.
Examples could be a family, the people in a subway, the inhabitants of a village, the people attending a meeting, and the like.
What matters is that there is some reason to include them in a selection - whatever the reason may be. That is the (dominant) way in which we think and use language.

b) Ensembles as 'collections not of the same but of various kinds'

My second usage refers to 'collections which form a setting', the components of which are not of the same but of various and different kinds.
Examples for my second usage are architectural ensembles and landscapes. Both of these notions refer to a selection of what exists in a limited area. What is selected in the case of architectural ensembles is buildings of all kinds in that setting; in the case of a landscape it is the vegetation and the buildings plus the physical setting.
Two aspects must be stressed here: Both of these notions are conceived of as static. And both of these notions do not, inter alia, refer to the people living within their bounds.

c) Ensembles as 'living part worlds'

In my third usage an 'ensemble' is a 'living part world' - with all there is to it. It does, therefore, not refer only to individuals (in the logic sense of the word) of a specific kind, but to all individuals and to processes of all sorts in a given setting.
Ensembles of this kind are real life settings - with people, nature and artifacts.
Again two aspects must be stressed: First, the notion of a 'living part world' includes all interactions going on as well as the changes that result therefrom. In a living part world all sorts of changes are continuously taking place. There is no moment in time in which one would be authorized by the facts to conceive of a part world as being static. A part world is a (logical) entity that lives. Secondly, a living part world is never strictly delimited, it is always open. It includes what enters or leaves the setting - whether it is objects, people, ideas, or flows of various kinds.
It is in ensembles of this third kind, in which social and cultural processes take place, in which societies and cultures happen.

2.3. Thinking in terms of processes

The third pillar of my notional architecture for thinking about societies and cultures is an approach in which anything within the fields we are concerned with is conceptualised in terms of processes.

Life is processes, "a human being is a process" (20) - everything is processes. And we all know that. - It is time to take that seriously.

Overcoming the dominance of the static

The difficulty we are faced with is that - in the tradition of the West - thinking is overwhelmingly based on and centered around thinking in terms of objects, in terms of static entities, in terms of being. In other words: In that approach, the normal was 'a state of being', not 'a process of becoming'.

When one was thinking about 'process', 'becoming', or 'development' it was usually thought of in terms of homeostasis - in terms of processes which do not lead to change but recreate the same states as before. And whenever change was so visible that it could not be swept under the blanket or treated in terms of homeostasis - it was thought of in terms of 'transitions from one state to another' as Norbert Elias has put it. (21)

The model of thinking implied in 'transitions from one state to another' is a kind of thinking which, de facto, assumes catastrophes or revolutions.

But as we all know, catastrophes or revolutions are the exceptions - not the rule. If we want to come to grips with on-going change in societies and cultures, we need a serious move towards thinking in terms of processes. This requires an almost all encompassing overhaul of Western thinking. It needs deconstructing - which according to Derrida - implies undoing, decomposing and desedimenting some of the fundamental concepts of Western ontology. (22) But we should not hesitate: It can be done without loosing most of what Western thinking contributed to world culture over the ages. What is needed are rearticulations of the decomposed, some additions and changing relative weights.

Development of the wider picture of thinking in terms of processes will have to await other occasions. Let me just sketch one of its main aspects.

Thinking in terms of interactions

Thinking in terms of processes reduces the dominance of thinking in terms of strictly delimited entities, since many processes involve more than one such entity.

This is why I have been repeatedly using the term 'interactions'. But this demands further clarification: What does the term 'interaction' imply in this approach?

"An individual's part of an on-going interaction"

If interactions happen between (unique) individuals (and if everything that goes on are unique processes) then what is available to an individual in an interaction cannot be the whole of the interaction - it is only her or his (unique) part of that on-going interaction.

This has consequences.

It follows that an individual's behaviour should not be thought of as only involving his or her person as a (closed) system. How would an individual breathe or eat something, how would he or she read or listen, if such behaviour would involve nothing but that which is contained in that individual?

'My behaviour', 'my ways of acting, thinking and feeling', are always only a part - my part - of an on-going interaction.

Likewise, large parts of 'my thinking' must be conceived of as 'my part of an on-going interaction', as my part of this on-going interaction. If someone speaks and if I understand what she says this understanding is part of this ongoing interaction. It could not have come out my own thinking all by itself. If I read, my understanding of the text is part of the interaction involving the text and myself. (23)

If one pursues the notion of 'my, her, or his part of on-going interactions' many other notions change as well - not least the ways in which we think society and culture.


The combined approach

If one combines these three approaches - thinking in populations, ensembles and processes - it appears that what we have to look at when we are trying to understand 'the social' and 'the cultural' are 1) the unique processes of interaction among whatever may be involved, and 2) their continuously changing results.


There are uncountable interactions taking place all the time. We, therefore, need a way of grouping them. But it must be a way of grouping by which we will not lose what is important for understanding social processes. For that purpose I have chosen the term 'polylogues'. (24)

I use the term 'polylogues' for

Polylogues are conceived as ensembles

Polylogues are conceived as ensembles of processes, as ensembles of such ensembles, and as ensembles of component processes, which are the specific interactions actually taking place in their respective settings among everything that is actually involved and in the specific forms and sequences in which they are enacted. (25)

Polylogues happen in real life settings

In introducing my notion of ensembles, I distinguished different kind of ensembles.

To the first kind of ensembles, i.e. to ensembles consisting of related and interacting individuals of one and the same kind, say human beings and nothing but human beings, as well as to the second kind of ensembles, i.e. to collections not of the same but of various kinds, which do not include human beings, the notion of polylogues is not applicable, since these two kinds of ensembles do not include all that is actually involved and are (dominantly) thought of as static.

My third kind of ensembles are 'living part worlds' in the sense of real life settings where nothing present or on-going is excluded. This is where polylogues find their place - since it is in living part worlds (in the ontic sense of the term) where social and cultural processes take place, in which societies and cultures happen at the concrete level.

Participation in specific polylogues is discontinuous

Human beings move from setting to setting - often many times a day. From instance to instance, from event to event, from setting to setting the composition of the ensemble - both of individuals and of the environment - changes. Individuals commute between different situations and, by the same token, they commute between the respective polylogues. (26)

Polylogues overlap and intermesh

In the same setting one meets the same or different people. Sometimes one meets the same people in this, sometimes in another setting. It follows that polylogues overlap and intermesh since individuals participate in a variety of polylogues and act in each one of them on the basis of their experiences many of which have originated in other polylogues.

In polylogues you don't only have the actors

In the polylogues of real life situations you don't only have actors. 'Lookers-on' and listeners (or, rather, 'hearers' - since 'listener' has a far too active connotation) and 'people who are just there' - all people who are 'not visibly active' in a given situation - are part of the respective polylogues. Just like those who are active they are formed by situations they are in. But they also contribute to the forming of that situation - even if only by their mere presence.

Polylogues include interactions with nature and artifacts

If one takes real life situations as the basis of polylogues nature and artifacts come back to the fore and are given their due. This implies that also interactions of individuals with objects, the reading of books, and the like - which cannot plausibly be labelled 'social' - find their place in polylogues.

Polylogues are figurations

In "What is Sociology?" Norbert Elias specified his notion "figurations" which are situations in which processes involve a plurality of human actors. According to that notion the outcomes of "processes in figurations" are not predetermined despite the fact that most individuals acts are planned to produce specific outcomes. (27) In my approach, polylogues are figurations as conceived of by Norbert Elias.


4. Conclusion

Going back to the critique I started with:

A processual pluralism

If one applies this approach with its core notions - uniqueness, populations, ensembles, processes, the respective individual's part of on-going interactions, and figurations and, as their confluence, polylogues - what results is a version of pluralism.

It is a pluralism not of clearly demarcated units but a pluralism of processes which are always in the making, whose overlapping and intermeshing leads to the spreading of unique but similar or related micro social phenomena within ensembles of people which - together but separately - are what we call 'the social' and 'the cultural'.

A final remark

The substratum of societies and cultures are individuals and everything they interact with and that influences them: the other individuals, nature, and artifacts of all sorts. Thinking 'the social' and 'the cultural' has to take that into account. My approach of thinking 'the social' and 'the cultural' in terms of polylogues is trying to do exactly that.

This approach, of course, raises new questions. I would be happy if you were to contribute to raising and/or to answering them. (28)

© Arne Haselbach (Wiener Denk-Werkstatt / Vienna Thinktank, Vienna)


(1) More about this approach and 'polylogues' can be found in the WWW under:

(2) Citations from Émile Durkheim in English, French, and German are taken from the respective titles in the list of references, except where otherwise indicated.

(3) Durkheim, Rules, Chapter 1 - French original: «Est fait social toute manière de faire, fixée ou non, susceptible d'exercer sur l'individu une contrainte extérieure; ou bien encore, qui est générale dans l'étendue d'une société donnée tout en ayant une existence propre, indépendante de ses manifestations individuelles.» (Durkheim 1895, 107; c'est l'auteur qui souligne) - German translation: "Ein soziologischer Tatbestand ist jede mehr oder weniger festgelegte Art des Handelns, die die Fähigkeit besitzt, auf den Einzelnen einen äußeren Zwang auszuüben; oder auch, die im Bereiche einer gegebenen Gesellschaft allgemein auftritt, wobei sie ein von ihren individuellen Äußerungen unabhängiges Eigenleben besitzt." (S. 114 - Hervorhebung im Original)

(4) Durkheim, Rules, Chapter 1 - French original: «Voilà donc des manières d'agir, de penser et de sentir qui présentent cette remarquable propriété qu'elles existent en dehors des consciences individuelles.» (Durkheim 1895, 96) - German translation: "Wir finden also besondere Arten des Handelns, Denkens, Fühlens, deren wesentliche Eigentümlichkeit darin besteht, daß sie außerhalb des individuellen Bewußtseins existieren." (S. 106)

(5) Durkheim, Rules, Chapter 1 - French original: «... ces types de conduite ou de pensée sont extérieurs à l'individu ...» (Durkheim 1895, 96) - German translation: "Diese Typen des Verhaltens und des Denkens stehen ... außerhalb des Individuums ..." (S. 106)

(6) Maurice Halbwachs, «Conscience individuelle et esprit collectif.». Version française de l'article "Individual Consciousness and the Collective Mind" paru dans l'American Journal of Sociology, 44, 1939, pp. 812 à 822. WWW: [accessed 13 April 2004] p. 7 (my translation). - French original: «L'esprit collectif n'existe et n'est réalisé que dans les consciences individuelles.» - German translation: "Der kollektive Geist existiert und verwirklicht sich ausschließlich im Bewußtsein von Individuen." (Meine Übersetzung)

(7) Ibid. p. 8. (My translation) - French original: «Il faut, pour l'atteindre et l'étudier, le chercher dans les manifestations de tout le groupe pris comme un tout.» - German translation: "Um sie zu fassen und zu untersuchen, muß man sie in den Manifestationen der gesamten Gruppe als ein Ganzes genommen suchen." (Meine Übersetzung)

(8) Durkheim, Rules, Chapter 1 - French original: «... car il est clair que, n'ayant pas l'individu pour substrat, ils ne peuvent en avoir d'autre que la société, ...» (Durkheim 1895, 97) - German translation: "Denn da ihr Substrat nicht im Individuum gelegen ist, so verbleibt für sie kein anderes als die Gesellschaft, ..." (S. 107)

(9) French original: «La fluidité de l'eau, ses propriétés alimentaires et autres ne sont pas dans les deux gaz dont elle est composée, mais dans la substance complexe qu'ils forment par leur association.» (fr. p.82) - German translation: "Die Flüssigkeit des Wassers, seine Nahrungsqualitäten und seine sonstigen Eigenschaften sind nicht die der zwei Gase, aus denen das Wasser zusammengesetzt ist, sondern die der komplexen Substanz, welche jene in ihrer Vereinigung bilden." (Meine Übersetzung)

(10) English version quoted after: Immanuel Wallerstein, "The Heritage of Sociology, The Promise of Social Science" (Presidential Address, XIVth World Congress of Sociology, Montreal, July 26, 1998) - WWW: - [accessed: 18 April 2004] - French original: «Pourtant, ce qu'on juge si facilement inadmissible quand il s'agit des faits sociaux, est couramment admis des autres règnes de la nature. Toutes les fois que des éléments quelconques, en se combinant, dégagent, par le fait de leur combinaison, des phénomènes nouveaux, il faut bien concevoir que ces phénomènes sont situés, non dans les éléments, mais dans le tout formé par leur union.» (fr. 81) - German translation: "Dennoch wird diese Behauptung, die man so leicht für unzulässig hält, sofern es sich um soziologische Tatbestände handelt, für den Bereich der Natur allgemein als richtig zugegeben. Jedesmal, wenn irgendwelche Elemente eine Verbindung eingehen und damit neue Erscheinungen hervorbringen, läßt sich wohl einsehen , daß diese Erscheinungen ihren Sitz nicht in den Elementen, sondern in dem durch ihre Vereinigung hervorgebrachten Ganzen haben." (dt. S. 93)

(11) Durkheim, Rules, Chapter 6. (My translation) - French original: «Pour le sens commun, le mot de fièvre désigne une seule et même entité morbide; pour la science, il y a une multitude de fièvres spécifiquement différentes ...» (fr. p.200) - German translation: "Für den Alltagsverstand bezeichnet das Wort Fieber eine einzige Krankheitserscheinung; für die Wissenschaft gibt es dagegen eine Mannigfaltigkeit von spezifisch verschiedenen Arten von Fiebern ..." (dt. S. 207)

(12) Durkheim, Rules, Chapter 1 - French original: «Ce qui les /les faits sociaux/ constitue, ce sont les croyances, les tendances, les pratiques du groupe pris collectivement; quant aux formes que revêtent les états collectifs en se réfractant chez les individus, ce sont choses d'une autre espèce. Ce qui démontre catégoriquement cette dualité de nature, c'est que ces deux ordres de faits se présentent souvent à l'état dissocié.» (Durkheim 1895, 100-101) - German translation: "Ihr [der soziologischen Tatsachen] Inhalt sind die Glaubensvorstellungen, die Neigungen, die Gebräuche einer Gruppe als Ganzes genommen. Die Formen, die die kollektiven Zustände, soferne sie sich in den Individuen widerspiegeln, sind Dinge ganz anderer Art. Die Zweiheit [Dualität] ihrer Natur zeigt sich offensichtlich darin, daß beide Arten von Tatsachen häufig voneinander getrennt auftreten." (S. 109)

(13) Durkheim, Rules, Chapter 1 - French original: «Il est dans chaque partie parce qu'il est dans le tout, loin qu'il soit dans le tout parce qu'il est dans les parties.» - German translation: "Er ist in jedem Teil, weil er im Ganzen ist, und er ist nicht im Ganzen, weil er in den Teilen ist." (S. 111)

(14) Maurice Halbwachs, op. cit, p. 8 (My translation) - French original: «Ainsi on peut dire que les individus pensent, sentent, agissent en commun en adoptant une attitude mentale qui appartient au groupe.» - German translation: "Man kann daher sagen, daß die Individuen gemeinsam denken, fühlen und handeln, indem sie eine Geisteshaltung der Gruppe übernehmen." (Meine Übersetzung)

(15) This is akin to Ludwig Wittgensteins' insights in relation to the meaning of words which led to his notion 'family resemblances'. Cf. Ludwig Wittgenstein "Philosophische Untersuchungen" in: Suhrkamp, Werkausgabe Bd. 1, Frankfurt am Main 1984, § 67.

(16) Cf. Mayr, Ernst (1984) "Die Entwicklung der biologischen Gedankenwelt - Vielfalt, Evolution und Vererbung", (Übersetzt von K. de Sousa Ferreira), Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg New York Tokyo

(17) Ernst Mayr (1996) "What is a Species, and What is Not?" in: Philosophy of Science, Vol. 63 (June 1996) pp. 262-277. - WWW: [accessed 13 April 2004]

(18) Set theory is labelled 'théorie d'ensemble' in French and 'Mengenlehre' in German. Since a 'set' is 'un ensemble' in French /'eine Menge' in German/ it is important to exclude this meaning of the term from the interpretation of the argument that follows.

(19) Eric W. Weisstein. "Set." From MathWorld -- A Wolfram Web Resource. [accessed 13 April 2004]

(20) Norbert Elias sagt "Der Mensch ist ein Prozeß." in: "Was ist Soziologie" [1970], Juventa, Weinheim 1986, S. 127 (Hervorhebung im Original).

(21) Cf. Norbert Elias, "Postscript (1968)", in "The Civilising Process", Revised Edition, Blackwell, Oxford 2000, p. 456

(22) Cf. Jacques Derrida, "Letter to a Japanese Friend" (10 July 1983) in: Derrida and Differance, ed. Wood & Bernasconi, Warwick: Parousia Press 1985.

(23) The most important contributions along that line come from Louise M. Rosenblatt. See, inter alia, Louise M. Rosenblatt "The Reader, the Text, the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work", Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1978.

(24) Arne Haselbach (1999) "Polylogue - a paradigm for cultures. Based on a different notion of 'polylogue'" - WWW:

(25) Arne Haselbach (2000) "Learning in Polylogues. On processes of social insertion into overlapping cultures" in: LLinE - Lifelong Learning in Europe, 4/2000, Helsinki 2000, p. 196-200. - WWW:

(26) Arne Haselbach (1997) "Commuting between Cultures", Introductory Statement, Sixth European Expert Meeting on 'Overlapping Cultures and Plural Identities' on "Commuting between Cultures" (Vienna, 20-23 Sept. 1997) (unpublished paper).

(27) Cf. Norbert Elias (1970), "Was ist Soziologie", Juventa, Weinheim 1986, p. 100 et passim.

(28) Please send your comments to Arne Haselbach - Email:


Jacques Derrida, "Letter to a Japanese Friend" (10 July 1983) in: Derrida and Differance, ed. Wood & Bernasconi, Warwick: Parousia Press 1985.

Émile Durkheim (1895), Les règles de la méthode sociologique, Flammarion, Paris 1988. (Available on the WWW as: Émile Durkheim (1894), Les règles de la méthode sociologique, WWW:

Émile Durkheim (1912), Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse - Le système totémique en Australie, Livre I: Questions préliminaires, Livre II: Les croyances élémentaires, Livre III: Les principales attitudes rituelles, WWW: [accessed 13 April 2004]

"What is a Social Fact?", Chapter I, From Emile Durkheim, The Rules of the Sociological Method, (Ed. by Steven Lukes; trans. by W.D. Halls). New York: Free Press, 1982, pp. 50-59. WWW: [accessed 13 April 2004]

Emile Durkheim, Die Regeln der soziologischen Methode, Hg. und eingeleitet von René König, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt a/M 1984.

Norbert Elias, "The Civilising Process", Revised Edition, Blackwell, Oxford 2000

Norbert Elias (1970), "Was ist Soziologie", Juventa, Weinheim 1986

Maurice Halbwachs «Conscience individuelle et esprit collectif.». Version française de l'article "Individual Consciousness and the Collective Mind" paru dans l'American Journal of Sociology, 44, 1939, pp. 812 à 822. WWW: [accessed 13 April 2004]

Arne Haselbach (1999), "Polylogue - a paradigm for cultures. Based on a different notion of 'polylogue'" - WWW:

Arne Haselbach (2000), "Learning in Polylogues. On processes of social insertion into overlapping cultures" in: LLinE - Lifelong Learning in Europe, 4/2000, Helsinki 2000, p. 196-200. - WWW:

Ernst Mayr (1984), "Die Entwicklung der biologischen Gedankenwelt - Vielfalt, Evolution und Vererbung" (Übersetzt von K. de Sousa Ferreira), Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg New York Tokyo

Ernst Mayr (1996), "What is a Species, and What is Not?" in: Philosophy of Science, Vol. 63 (June 1996) pp. 262-277. - WWW:

Ernest Nagel (1955), "Über die Aussage: 'Das Ganze ist mehr als die Summe seiner Teile'", in: E. Topitsch (ed), "Logik der Sozialwissenschaften", 1972, pp. 225-235 [Original: "On the statement 'The whole is more than the sum of its parts'", in: Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Morris Rosenberg (eds), "The language of social research", The Free Press, Glencoe 1955, pp. 519-527]

Louise M. Rosenblatt (1938), "Literature as Exploration", 5th ed., With a Foreword by Wayne Booth, Modern Language Association of America, New York 1995

Louise M. Rosenblatt (1978), "The Reader, the Text, the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work", Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1994.

2.5. Societies and Cultures as Polylogues

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

TRANS       Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  15 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
rne Haselbach (Wiener Denk-Werkstatt / Vienna Thinktank, Vienna): On thinking social phenomena in terms of polylogues - Why? - How? . In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW:

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