Society and culture in sociological and anthropological tradition

History of the Human Sciences 14 (3):30-55 (2001)
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In this article I consider the uses of the concepts ‘society’ and ‘culture’ in various sociological and anthropological traditions, arguing that sociology needs to learn from the division between social anthropology and cultural anthropology. First I distinguish the social and the cultural sciences: the former use ‘society’ as leading concept and ‘culture’ as a subordinate concept; the latter do the contrary. I discuss the origins of the terms société and Kultur in the classical French and German traditions respectively, and their subsequent uptake in Anglo-American sociology and anthropology, ‘society’ becoming the leading concept for sociology and social anthropology, ‘culture’ the leading concept for cultural anthropology. I contrast the sociology of culture with the cultural anthropological consideration of society. I next examine the terms for ‘society’ in the classical German tradition, especially Weber, pointing to interpretivism as a cultural theory of society. I then consider Weber’s Kultursoziologie, arguing that it is culture (Kultur) not society (Gesellschaft) that is the ultimate object of Weber’s sociology. I conclude that sociology needs to identify classical German sociology and its derivatives as cultural science not social science, and to make comprehensive adjustments to its methodological debates accordingly. The implications of this for the problem of sociology’s encounter with the natural world are noted



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