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Sacred civility? An alternative conceptual architecture informed by cultural sociology

Mervyn Horgan

Abstract

The roots of (im)politeness research in Durkheim’s sociology are neglected. Goffman is the go-to sociologist in (im)politeness research, and Goffman’s debt to Durkheim is substantial. This article argues that a renewed and broadened field of inquiry opens up around (im)politeness phenomena when we take seriously the centrality of Durkheim’s conception of the sacred to both the practice of everyday life and the analysis of everyday phenomena. To embed the sociology of the sacred into the analysis of (im)politeness phenomena, I develop an alternative conceptual architecture that both encompasses and expands the field. This involves two conceptual shifts that I draw out of contemporary Durkheimian cultural sociology. The first shift, from (im)politeness to (in)civility, brings a wider range of phenomena into our analytic purview, and the second, from face to ritual, displaces face as the central concept in (im)politeness research. The value of these conceptual shifts is illustrated using the example of an account of a racist encounter in public space. Consequences of these conceptual shifts for deeper and wider interdisciplinary exploration are explored.

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Received: 2020-06-16
Accepted: 2020-07-28
Published Online: 2020-10-20
Published in Print: 2021-02-26

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