The Body and Being Human   /   Summer 2001   /    Articles

Solidarity, the Sacred, and Human Rights

A Sociological Response

Murray Milner, Jr.

People climbing a cargo net (2014). Via Wikimedia Commons.

In his early work, Professor Turner was strongly influenced by Weber. While his discussions of Weber are broad ranging, I am especially struck by the apparent importance to him of Weber’s themes of rationalization, bureaucracy, and disenchantment—and the resulting highly ambivalent attitude toward modernization—an ambivalence that I hear in Professor Turner’s own work. But the second key element that seems to have been of significant influence is Weber’s emphasis on attempting to understand and interpret behavior from the actor’s point of view. This, along with the apparent influence of Heidegger, has made Professor Turner sympathetic to postmodernism—at least as a description of the emerging pluralism of the contemporary world.

While I am not aware that he ever says this, I sense a disenchantment and even a rejection of extreme versions of the linguistic turn and the emphasis on interpretation—where all texts are simply about other texts and where human actors largely disappear from the stage. I suspect that this is one reason that Foucault has been such an important influence on him. He likes Foucault’s earthiness and, of course, his emphasis on the body—an emphasis that has become the center of Professor Turner’s own work. As he notes, he also draws on the notions of “sensuousness” and “praxis” so central to the young Marx and has great ambitions for the sociology and phenomenology of the body. Perhaps it would not be an exaggeration to say that he would like to introduce into sociology and more generally into intellectual discourse, what might be called a “corporal or bodily turn” to supplement and balance the linguistic turn.

The voice of Durkheim seems much more marginal to Professor Turner’s views than the other two members of the sociological trinity, Marx and Weber. I will return to this matter later. But in addition to intellectual influences, the dramatic innovations that are occurring in biology and medical technology, and their potentially revolutionary social implications, further contribute to Professor Turner’s concern to make the human body the foci of intellectual interest.

To read the full article online, please login to your account or subscribe to our digital edition ($25 yearly). Prefer print? Order back issues or subscribe to our print edition ($30 yearly).