Reshaping Social Life: Interdependencies and Difference by Sarah Irwin

By Sarah Irwin

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Social configuration refers to an historically specific configuration of social relations, interconnections and hierarchy, and values, identifications and claims which are linked, in contingent ways. This definition operates with a particular metaphor of society. Diverse groups occupy and comprise spaces within a broader social space. Differently positioned they reveal patterns of difference and hierarchy, which result from historically specific processes. Subjective identifications link to the specific contexts in which they are forged.

It may be that a misrecognised facet of felt identity becomes politicised, and becomes a more salient aspect of a person’s overall identity. In contrast, people are often not particularly reflexive about aspects of their social location, and operate as practitioners in their social behaviours and interactions, rather than theorists. Precisely how diverse interpretations relate to people’s social position is a particularly interesting question. To sufficiently understand the links between general social relations and the identifications, perceptions and evaluations of individual social actors we need to be able to move between levels of analysis which relate directly to the processes under consideration.

Specific configurations are themselves shaped, and reproduced, through historical and social processes which include routinised social actions, implicit assumptions and overt claims. Specific patterns of diversity and inequality are perceived and constructed as meaningful in particular ways. These perceptions and constructions may mean that difference and hierarchy is naturalised; it may be seen as socially made but immutable; or it may be contested; these different perspectives may result in different kinds of action which shape and reshape social relations and institutions.

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