Society as mediation: Theodor W. Adorno
in Beginning classical social theory
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This final chapter looks at a short, but densely argued article by Theodor W. Adorno that was first published in 1965 as a handbook entry titled ‘Society’. Adorno agrees with Durkheim that society is a bit like a thing – ‘thing-like’ – but emphasises that it is also very different from actual things as it cannot be experienced immediately: society is essentially ‘mediation’, namely a specific form of relationships between people, between people and things, and between people treating each other as things. Not only ‘society’, though, but also individuals are mediated – structured, ruled, determined – by institutions and cannot exist otherwise. Institutions, in turn, cannot exist without that which they mediate – us. We made this world, and therefore we can re-make it, too. The problem is that we made it in such a way that it has become quasi-independent, namely thing-like, and this in particular makes it so difficult for us to change it. A tricky situation…

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