30 November 2007


Filed under: Culture, Ktismata — ktismatics @ 12:24 pm

In The Social Construction of Reality, which I’ve been citing liberally the past few days, Berger and Luckmann describe legitimation as “second-order objectivation of meaning,” the object of which is “to integrate the meanings already attached to disparate institutional processes,” making them “objectively available and subjectively plausible.” Here are the architectural sketches for constructing the Matrix:

“It is possible to distinguish analytically between different levels of legitimation… Incipient legitimation is present as soon as a system of linguistic objectifications is transmitted. For example, the transmission of a kinship vocabulary ipso facto legitimates the kinship structure. The fundamental legitimating ‘explanations’ are, so to speak, built into the vocabulary…

“The second level of legitimation contains theoretical propositions in a rudimentary form. Here may be found various explanatory schemes relating sets of objective meanings. These schemes are highly pragmatic, directly related to concrete actions. Proverbs, moral maxims and wise sayings are common on this level. Here, too, belong legends and folk tales, frequently transmitted in poetic forms…

“The third level of legitimation contains explicit theories by which an institutional sector is legitimated in terms of a differentiated body of knowledge. Such legitimations provide fairly comprehensive frames of reference for the respective sectors of institutionalized conduct. Because of their complexity and differentiation, they are frequently entrusted to specialized personnel who transmit them through formalized initiation procedures… With the development of specialized legitimatating theories and their administration by full-time legitimators, legitimation begins to go beyond pragmatic application and to become ‘pure theory’…

“Symbolic universes constitute the fourth level of legitimation. These are bodies of theoretical tradition that integrate different provinces of meaning and encompass the institutional order of a symbolic totality… The symbolic universe is conceived as the matrix of all socially objectivated and subjectively real meanings; the entire historic society and the entire biography of the individual are seen as events taking place within this universe.

“What is particularly important, the marginal situations of the life of the individual (marginal, that is, in not being included in the reality of everyday existence in society) are also encompassed by the symbolic universe… The provinces of meaning that would otherwise remain unintelligible enclaves within the reality of everyday life are thus ordered in terms of a hierarchy of realities, ipso facto becoming intelligible and less terrifying. This integration of the realities of marginal situations within the paramount reality of everyday life is of great importance, because these situations consitute the most acute threat to taken-for-granted, routinized existence in society.

“If one conceives of the latter as the ‘daylight side’ of human life, then the marginal situations constitute a ‘night side’ that keeps lurking ominously on the periphery of everyday consciousness. Just because the ‘night side’ has its own reality, often enough of a sinister kind, it is a constant threat to the taken-for-granted, matter-of-fact ‘sane’ reality of life in society. The thought keeps suggesting itself (the ‘insane’ thought par excellence) that, perhaps, the bright reality of everyday life is an illusion, to be swallowed up at any moment by the howling nightmares of the other, the night-side reality. Such thoughts of madness and terror are contained by ordering all conceivable realities within the same symbolic universe that encompasses the reality of everyday life — to wit, ordering them in such a way that the latter reality retains its paramount, definitive (if one wishes, its ‘most real’) quality.”


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