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Stephen Turner

The idea of a break with tradition and its wholesale replacement with something else – most often some Enlightenment-inspired notion of the rational – is so pervasive in Western thought that it arguably constitutes a tradition in its own right. Yet recent uses of the term ‘post-traditional’ promise something novel: they radicalize the term’s meaning. Thus, ‘post-traditional’ increasingly implies not simply a break with a particular tradition, but rather a break with tradition as such. These new, more totalizing uses of ‘post-traditional’ tend to concentrate on the subjective aspects of experience and the self, rather than the demise of objective formal structures or of doctrines. Thus, in earlier iterations, tradition and traditional societies suppressed the self in a prison of duties, ascriptive demands, and restrictions, typically with religious justifications, something never fully effaced by modernization. But in its subsequent incarnations, the term ‘post-traditionalism’ denotes the end of traditional social roles and the possibility – or burden – of self-invention, a change whose full force has only recently been felt. This chapter discusses representative figures in this new account of tradition, including Robert Bellah, Alasdair MacIntyre and Anthony Giddens, and considers the relation of this new version of the break with tradition in relation to the problematic of multiculturalism, which, contrary to the Enlightenment view, acknowledges the continuing power of tradition.

in Post-everything
Open Access (free)
Publics, hybrids, transparency, monsters and the changing landscape around science
Stephen Turner

Science is changing, rapidly, with respect to its relation to the public, to political and collective goals, and in terms of the organizational structures through which science works. The new forms are not completely unprecedented, because there were earlier periods and situations in which scientists reached out to stakeholders, and tried to engage with and understand publics and politicians in the course of trying to persuade them. But the variety and extent of these activities, and the innovative structures that have been produced, is unprecedented. This volume is a compilation of case studies and theoretical reflections on this new situation, for which there is no good language: the new creations are “monsters.” Openness and transparency is the supposed cure for this sense of the monstrous: it makes science less alien. We can tame these monsters by turning them into ordinary objects of expert knowledge, for example by making “risk” into the sort of thing that can be subjected to a bureaucratic regime, with a hybrid discipline of risk assessment with a special provision for public input. But in the end these devices create new monsters, which are as alien as the old ones.

in Science and the politics of openness
Abstract only
Discovering and rediscovering Shils
Stephen P. Turner

Edward Shils was a complex thinker and complex individual, who was both a central figure of his time and a theorist with an unusual perspective. This chapter describes his career and discusses the various paradoxical aspects of his personality and his thought, and explains its lack of closure. The chapter then discusses the common dismissal of Shils as a Cold War scholar, and explains the nature of his response to Communism and his activities against it. The rest of the chapter introduces the chapters in this volume, and through this provides an overview of his thought.

in The calling of social thought
Rediscovering the work of Edward Shils

Edward Shils was an important figure in twentieth century social theory, and a true transatlantic thinker who divided his time between the University of Chicago and the U.K. He was friends with many important thinkers in other fields, such as Michael Polanyi and Saul Bellow. He became known to sociologists through his brief collaboration with Talcott Parsons, but his own thinking diverged both from Parsons and conventional sociology. He developed but never finalized a comprehensive image of human society made up of personal, civic, and sacred bonds. But much of his thought was focused on conflicts: between intellectuals and their societies, between tradition and modernity, ideological conflict, and conflicts within the traditions of the modern liberal democratic state. This book explores the thought of Shils, his relations to key figures, his key themes and ideas, and his abiding interests in such topics as the academic tradition and universities. Together, the chapters provide the most comprehensive picture of Shils as a thinker, and explain his continuing relevance.