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Published in The Sociological Review, Michel Maffesoli is, of course, best known in the Anglophone world as one of the principal theorists of postmodernity albeit not as well-known as Jean Baudrillard, Francois Lyotard or Frederic Jameson , and for his particular focus on everyday life and the imaginary within postmodernity. The criticism he makes in the following article of those who ignore the contemporary importance of social media and the relevance of new social practices is, perhaps, a reflection of his interpretation of the work of his French peers.
To suggest an epochal shift from a singular and Eurocentric modernity to a singular and Eurocentric postmodernity is of course problematic. For Maffesoli, however, it is more specifically that we are on the threshold of a shift to an epoch in which the dominant features of modernity are no longer dominant.
In this article, Maffesoli summarises his thesis of tribal communities in the context of this shift from modern society to postmodern sociality. Arguing that there has been a fragmentation of both the individual and the society envisaged by modernity, he proposes that postmodern tribalism with its roots in pre-modernity has replaced modern categories.
As Maffesoli explains, modernity and the Enlightenment project — which was distinguished from Antiquity — privileged a binary distinction between the individual and society, and a view of the individual as rational, contractual and Cartesian.
Modern individualism was institutionalised through property and contracts, and identity was prescribed in terms of the functional or specialist roles ascribed to individuals through family, class, work and civil society. For Maffesoli, however, we are no longer in the modern period. Although its categories and institutions continue to play a part, they are no longer dominant or as significant for understanding the contemporary world. In postmodernity, the binary opposition between the individual and society no longer holds, and both concepts have become unstable and fragmented.
Beyond the now broken model of the social state, the argument goes, new forms of solidarity, expression and even suffering though Maffesoli rarely touches on the latter emerge. Nevertheless, the French-language sociological, political and journalistic discourse with which Maffesoli is in dialogue continues, he argues, to depend on a modern view of the individual and society, and on what are now outdated concepts and false assumptions.
Rather than modern society , Maffesoli talks of postmodern sociality , the basis of which is simply being-together in everyday life. Youth cultures, subcultures and interest groups are formed which are interstitial, transitive and temporary; and social media and other internet activities facilitate and expand such fragmentation. The individual becomes a provisional member of overlapping groups, and the roles that the individual plays and the masks they wear within these often temporary and transitive groups become the source of their identity.
This new individualism is not necessarily irrational, but it is rooted more in taste and everyday life as the individual tears itself away from traditionally modern adherences. Less of an individual and more of a person, the self becomes fragmented and unstable — Maffesoli discusses the breakdown in gender and sexuality binaries and the rise of trans- or meta- categories among the examples of this — and a person becomes the amalgam of the roles they play within their tribes, rather than a Cartesian individual.
In a way, what we are witnessing is the loss of the individualistic self. The self fragments into the Self, a collective subject, as the distinction between individual and society blurs. The rationalised society is replaced by an empathetic sociality ambiences, feelings, emotions. Affectual tribes and a new social bond based on emotional pacts replace contractual groups, and we move from an abstractive and rational period to a more empathetic time where experience is more direct. Maffesoli uses the term tribalism to describe this phenomenon because, although postmodern sociality is distinct from modern society, it is not exactly new.
Indeed, he emphasises how these new forms of community are rooted in pre-modern and archaic forms that had been marginalised and repressed in modernity. These neo-tribes — or pseudo-tribes — are determined as much by space and locality as the archaic versions, but more by transitivity and questions of taste, and embedded in the rituals and performances of everyday life.
This is what Maffesoli understands by community today. For him, the neo- tribal community is a postmodern concept that replaces the modern distinction between individual and society, while remaining distinct from a communitarian ethic, and which has its roots in pre-modernity.
Rather, Maffesoli insists, we should look at how things actually are, and to the ways in which emerging practices, identities and communities illustrate the blurring of the boundaries between individual and society, and between self and other; to the ways in which they illustrate something new; as well as to how they relate to something older.
Maffesoli provides some interesting concepts with which to make sense of these emerging forms; but while some seem to swallow whole and regurgitate his arguments and style, and others are intent on dismissing and even ridiculing his approach, critical engagement with his particular sociological approach and the concepts he proposes may be more fruitful.
Rob Atkins, Sociological Review. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account.
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Article: Introduction to Michel Maffesoli’s ‘From Society to Tribal Communities’
Michel Maffesoli. In this exciting book Michel Maffesoli argues that the conventional approaches to understanding solidarity and society are deeply flawed. He contends that mass culture has disintegrated and that today social existence is conducted through fragmented tribal groupings, organized around the catchwords, brand-names and sound-bites of consumer culture. The Underground Puissance.
Neotribalism also neo-tribalism or modern tribalism is a sociological concept which postulates that human beings have evolved to live in tribal society , as opposed to mass society , and thus will naturally form social networks constituting new tribes. French sociologist Michel Maffesoli was perhaps the first to use the term neotribalism in a scholarly context. Maffesoli predicted that as the culture and institutions of modernism declined, societies would embrace nostalgia and look to the organizational principles of the distant past for guidance, and that therefore the post-modern era would be the era of neotribalism. Work by researchers such as American political scientist Robert D. Putnam and a study by McPherson, Smith-Lovin and Brasiers published in the American Sociological Review seem to support at least the more moderate neotribalist arguments.