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Distanciation and Disembedding

Christoph Henning

Subject Sociology » Sociological and Social Theory

People Giddens, Anthony

Key-Topics postmodernism

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Modern society is based on a functional differentiation of different social systems. Therefore, face-to-face interactions lose their significance in everyday life, as modern media such as money or more recently the Internet step in between. The consequence for individuals is the process of distanciation. It has both a spatial and an emotional side: people who feel a sense of belonging can live far away from each other, and people sharing the same neighborhood may not even talk to one another. Social interdependence is ever more mediated and behavioral patterns often adapt towards a mutual ignorance. The consequence for societal subsystems is that they are increasingly disembedded. They follow their own logic only, without reflecting upon social concerns or society as a whole. Though these two related processes are but two sides of the same coin of modernization, they have been described in rather different theoretical schools. The term distanciation comes from Nietzsche. It was taken up by authors like Georg Simmel, Helmuth Plessner, and Norbert Elias. The term disembedding was first used by Karl Polanyi, though the idea was already elaborated a hundred years earlier by Marx. It was taken up by anthropologists and later on by economic sociology (Granoveter & Swedberg 2001) and also by Giddens. Following Polanyi, it is the disembedding of the market in particular that is typical ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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