Thursday, February 18, 2010

What is Society?: Alan Macfarlane Lectures at Cambridge

Alan Macfarlane is a famous anthropologist/historian at Cambridge University in the UK. I discovered his lectures on the great social thinkers two years ago and have returned to them several times. As we now know, big-picture-types Marx and Darwin shook up not only their respective fields (economics, biology) but had an impact on the way ordinary people looked at the world around them.

In our own day the terms "Marxism" and "Darwinism" encompass vast constellations of meanings, are applied to an enormous number of phenomena and fall off the lips of people who know little about these men's original theories. As often as not, this specific ignorance is accompanied by general ignorance of the historic contexts in which these "isms" came into being. Having had little education on the subject of formal social thought, I can certainly say I was someone ignorant of the far-reaching ideas proposed by these men.
Macfarlane's lectures helped! They are quite brief and very rich. In nine one hour episodes you'll get a juicy introduction to the major social theorists from the French Revolution to the 20th C.
But this is a history class! Who cares about sociology and social theory? YOU SHOULD- for the simple fact is that how we currently imagine history comes out of how we imagine society. And these men gave us the language that we use to do that. Knowing more about them and their key ideas is an excellent way to enter into a deeper understanding of the ideologies of modern Europe (and America).

Cambridge University, Department of Anthropology

No comments:

Post a Comment