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The Explanation of Social Action$
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John Levi Martin

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199773312

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199773312.001.0001

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The Grid of Perception

The Grid of Perception

(p.112) Chapter 4 The Grid of Perception
The Explanation of Social Action

John Levi Martin

Oxford University Press

Chapter 4 traces the development of this conception of the fundamentally arbitrary nature of cognition by examining Durkheim’s attempt to give a social ontology of the Aristotelian categories. Durkheim assimilated Kant’s formulation of the categories of the understanding to the general status of abstract and general representations (concepts) that were used to order particular and concrete representations (images), thereby opening the door for the collapsing of all categories of the understanding to the particular category of “class.” This supports the conclusion that there is something fundamentally arbitrary in actors’ framework for processing sense information. This Durkheimian sociology of knowledge became the exemplar of a loose “social constructionism,” according to which there was no fish nor fowl but that culture makes it so. Ignoring rigorous work on comparative ethnozoology and ethnobotany, sociologists resuscitated vague stories about other cultures inability to “see” what our culture sees and so on. Closer attention to empirical material forces us to reject the idea that our senses bring us unordered perceptions—a blooming buzzing confusion—that must be organized by a social grid.

Keywords:   Durkheim, categories, class, ethnozoology, framework

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