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Phenomenology And Society

John O'Neill, who has made a significant impact on social sciences and humanities since the 1970s, develops Vico's ideas into a new phenomenological view of society. O'Neill recognizes Vico's call to enter language and thereby "renew" society through every word: "Thus etymology is the music of Vico's wild sociology inviting us to hear our beginnings in the birth of language" (1974, p. 37). Vico's Chinese-inspired metaphor of the body politic replaces a mechanical scientistic one. In attempting to recreate the "public functions of rhetoric," O'Neill revises Vico's project by identifying three levels of body politic in modern society: bio-body, productive body, libidinal body. The first refers to the institution of the family through the discourse of well-being; the second refers to work through the discourse of expression; the third refers to personality through the discourse of happiness. In addition, O'Neill maintains that "on the one hand, we have the bodies we have because they have been inscribed by our mythologies, religions, philosophies, sciences, and ideologies. But, on the other hand, we can also say that we have our philosophies, mythologies, arts, and sciences because we have the body we have—namely, a communicative body" (1989, p. 3). Influenced by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, O'Neill's idea of society takes shape by way of a communicative body as a reciprocal crossing of experience somewhere between idea and flesh. It is the visceral grounding that is the heart of a society in constant flux. O'Neill is not afraid to cross spatial and temporal borders in his embrace of global thought, both East and West. His influence is wide, reaching into political theory and philosophy.

Building upon a similar understanding, Fred Dallmayr invites scholars to move "beyond orientalism" in discarding the Eurocentric views of society. Dallmayr is concerned with the recognition of non-Western cultures in the current shaping of a "global village." Phenomenology helps shape "cross-cultural 'co-being' in a shared world—where the issue is neither to distance the other into the indifference of externality nor to absorb or appropriate otherness in an imperialist gesture" (p. 52). A strategy for understanding a global society necessitates a comparative political theory. Hwa Yol Jung's Comparative Political Culture in the Age of Globalization (2002) follows Dallmayr and O'Neill in evoking phenomenology to explain a cultural hybridization of East-West views of society. Inspired by Merleau-Ponty and Martin Heidegger, Jung promotes an idea of "planetary thinking" whereby a "global citizen" (homo globatus) engages in a world beyond the nation-state. Jung writes, "For the transversalist, globalization means to decenter Western hegemony and disclaim Western superiority thereby empowering the non-West to participate fully in the new worldmaking as an act of hybridization or imbrication" (Jung, p. 14). The writings of O'Neill, Dallmayr, and Jung go a long way to providing a new global understanding of the concept of society.


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Jay Goulding

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Adam Smith Biography to Spectroscopic binarySociety - Ancient Views Of Society: East And West, Early Modern Views Of Society, Society: Consensus And Conflict