Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Postsocial Developments and Mechanisms of Integration

Prof. Dr. Karin Knorr Cetina, Stefan Laube


Social Scientists argue that we are currently experiencing a new wave of individualization indicated by a loss of social capital or relationships, a deterioration of public civility, the partial dismantling of the welfare state, etc. I consider this assessment to be valid, but I also connect it to other trends for which there are arguments in the literature and in the data I have collected. One of the tendencies I pursue is the increasing relevance of object relationships and of object-mediated social forms. Individualization focuses on human relationships. It implies that single human beings win modern freedoms at the price of the loss of benefits they used to get from being embedded in communities and networks with other human beings. However, this understanding ignores the degree to which major classes of individuals have tied themselves to object worlds. I maintain that the modern disembedding of identities has been accompanied by an expansion of object-centered environments which situate and stabilize selves, define individual identity just as much as communities or families used to do, and that promote forms of sociality (of binding self and other) that supplement human social forms. Objects may also be the risk winners of relationship risks which many authors find inherent in human relations. A strong turn towards objects would imply that objects increasingly mediate human relationships, making the latter dependent on the former, or that they even displace human beings as relationship partners and embedding environments.

If we take object relations serious, where do we find them? The project looks, for example, at areas of work, especially expert activities and creative work, from the point of view of the emotional and interpretative engagement with the objects involved, and from the point of view of the relationship requirements these objects pose. It also looks at areas of consumption and at finance as a space for highly mediated forms of integration involving abstract entities (e.g. markets) across continents and time zones. The project assumes that the notion of an object needs to be conceptualized such as to allow for objects to have agency (produce effects), intelligence and openness to change. Likewise, I assume that the dominant Meadean (and Freudian) notion of the self will need to be reconceptualized, to allow for a more ego-centric and socially conflicted notion of the self.  One of the research tasks will be to develop theoretically warranted concepts that can capture object relationships and the idea of a “post-social” self. This will also involve analyzing empirical materials on object relationships and their implications for contemporary society.