The “Normative Turn” in Sociological Theory: Sociology’s Garden of the Forking Paths. (Junto a Sebastián Raza), Civic Sociology.

In his “The Garden of the Forking Paths,” Argentinean storyteller Jorge Luis Borges devises an ever-growing maze of diverging and converging paths. While the underlying structure of these paths is the explicit object of his quest, the protagonist becomes increasingly aware that, in fact, his quest mirrors such big questions as the nature of space and time. We use this provocative image to kick off our much more modest quest on the current state of sociological theories of normativity that have become salient in the past three decades. What once seemed to be the specific object of critical theory, as it has constantly shown a special sensibility towards normative issues, is now a pressing theme in various theoretical traditions, and perhaps the very universe in which divergent sociological worlds concatenate with each other. We focus on three traditions that have made clear progress in explicitly analysing what is the normative: Neo-Durkheimianism, Neo-pragmatism, and Critical Realism. We identify their more salient aspects and reflect on their similarities and differences. We conclude that, to all three, normative ideals are congealed in social “facts” that cannot be explained, naturalistically or mechanistically, in causal terms. Equally, they all make apparent the autonomy of normative ideals in the structure of human agency by focusing on different aspects of it. Finally, we reflect on the different temporal dimension on which they focus: spaces of ritualism to past normative commitments (Neo-Durkheimians); spaces of reasons to present problematic events (Neo-pragmatism); and spaces of aspirations to imagined future states (Critical Realism).


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