Social Figures

Between societal experience and sociological diagnosis

Social figures are an independent element of sociological research – that is the initial thesis of the authors. Sociological diagnoses of present-day life often place the focus of their analysis on emblematic figures because they embody essential characteristics of contemporary society. To give a more precise outline of the sociological meaning of social figures, the concept is placed in the context of related categories of sociology – ideal types, social role, social character, and social figuration. Based on a comparative analysis of these categories, the features of socialfigurative representations are identified. The authors demonstrate what social figures do in the context of sociological studies, how they generate evidence, how they can be used in an explorative manner in empirical research settings, and also what the limits of their analytical potential are.

The authors

Tobias Schlechtriemen is a Sociologist at the Institute of Sociology and researcher at the Collaborative Research Center 948 Heroes – Heroizations – Heroisms at the University of Freiburg (Germany). He has published Bilder des Sozialen (Paderborn: Fink 2014), co-edited the books Die Figur des Dritten (Berlin: Suhrkamp 2010) and Das Andere der Ordnung. Theorien des Exzeptionellen (Weilerswist: Velbrück 2015). Research Interests: Sociological diagnoses of the present, figurative sociology, history of science, sustainability research (https://www.soziologie.

Sebastian J. Moser is a Sociologist at the Department of Research in Ethics of the University of Paris-Sud / Paris-Saclay and member of the Laboratoire d’excellence DistALZ. Furthermore, he is an associated member of the Espace éthique IDF and the Max Weber Center (Lyon). He published Pfandsammler. Erkundungen einer urbanen Sozialfigur (Hamburger Edition, 2014) and co-edited Anticiper le futur de la Santé. Vers une éthique de l’anticipation (under review). Research Interests: sociology of everyday life, qualitative methods, sociology of helping.

The text

This text is the product of research stays within the Franco-German research program „Changing Societies”, a cooperation between the WZB Berlin Social Science Center and the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris. It is a slightly modified translation of the German article published in 2018, «Sozialfiguren - zwischen gesellschaftlicher Erfahrung und soziologischer Diagnose», Zeitschrift für Soziologie 47 (3), 164-180, DOI: zfsoz-2018-1011.

Citing this document: 

Sebastian J. Moser & Tobias Schlechtriemen, Social Figures - Between societal experience and sociological diagnosis, FMSH-WP-2018-140, décembre 2018.

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Mis à jour le
22 January 2019