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and society, and the importance of family and

religion in securing the social tie. The second was

organized around a “law of stages” according to

which collective mental development, like that of

an individual, passed from an infantile “theistic”

stage, marked by imaginary causes and anthropomorphic

projection, to a hybrid and abstractly

idealizing – “metaphysical” – stage of adolescence,

to a maturely “positive” stage where knowledge,

understood to be limited, became soundly based

on the evidence of the senses.

The rebellious son of a Catholic-royalist family,

Comte studied mathematics at the E´cole Polytechnique

in Paris and later transferred to theE´cole du

Me´decine at Montpellier to study biology. After

moving back to Paris he became Claude Henri de

Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon’s private secretary

from 1817 until their acrimonious parting in

1824, and then supported himself through

writing, private teaching, and a part-time post as

a secondary school mathematics examiner.

Comte’s overall project was to provide the

science-based (positiviste) intellectual and religious

synthesis he saw as needed to complete the work

of the French Revolution by establishing a new

industrial form of society. He founded the Positivist

Society as his main organizational vehicle

which, following his conversion in 1854 (associated

with the death of his beloved Clothilde de

Vaux), assumed the explicit character of a church,

with l’Humanite´ as its god and Comte as its grandpre

ˆtre.


At the center of Comte’s attention was the post-

1789 crisis of industrial society, with its unresolved

class and ideological warfare between, as

he saw it, one-sided partisans of order and progress.

Comte diagnosed the ongoing turmoil of

complexity theory Comte, Auguste (1798–1857)

85

French society as a crisis of transition, which he



tried to understand and resolve by seeking to

synthesize the secular-progressivist viewpoint of

tienne Condillac (1715–80) with the integralist



social theorizing of Catholic counter-revolutionaries

like Joseph de Maistre (1753–1821). In all this,

Comte followed Saint-Simon, but before advocating

a specific program of social reform he insisted

on the need for preparatory intellectual work,

beginning with the establishment of sociology.

Sociology would not only provide politics with a

scientific basis, but was itself an essential element

of the new synthesis of scientific knowledge without

which the moral order appropriate to industrial

society could not be constructed. Comte’s

six-volume Syste`me de philosophie positive (1830–42)

carried out both aims. His later work – including

Syste`me de politique positive (1851–4) as well as his

unfinished Synthe`se subjective – was taken up with

further developing his system, now centrally organized

around positivism as a religious and not

just theoretical project, and expanded to include

feelings (with altruistic love as the highest), as

well as knowledge and action, as organizing categories.

Sociology, in this revision, was the theology

of Humanism, doctrinally anchoring an

elaborate and grandiose plan for the unification

of l’Humanite´ through planetary federalism and

the establishment of a new post-theistic world

religion.

Comte is a relatively unexamined founding

figure of modern sociology. Ignored because of

his eccentricities, passion for systems, and sectarianism,

his thought, nevertheless, has strongly

influenced classical and post-classical French sociology,

as well as many philosophers and social

theorists from John Stuart Mill and Friedrich

Nietzsche to Karl Mannheim, Gaston Bachelard,

and Louis Althusser. ANDREW WERNICK

concentric zone theory

– see urban ecology.

conjugal roles

This term belongs to those sociological traditions

that assumed heterosexual marriage to be the

normal status of adult human beings. Despite

the fact that this pattern never accorded with all

known individuals in any society, it was nevertheless

assumed that women and men would internalize

sets of social norms about the behavior

appropriate to marriage. Each party was expected

to acquire an understanding of both the rights

and the responsibilities of their role (for example,

the husband to “provide” for his wife and the wife

to agree to sexual relations with her husband) and

this understanding could be expected of all

married individuals. The theory did not allow for

differences in power in marriage (for example, the

control of husbands over money) nor conflicts

that might arise from distinct and conflicting

interpretations of a particular conjugal role.

The very concept of a conjugal role, with its

implicit fusion of husband and wife (and its

equally implicit expectation of the greater power

within marriage of the husband – a power reflected

in much western law until the 1970s),

disappeared when feminism challenged the

masculinist assumptions of certain aspects of

sociology and – with gay and queer theory –

problematized previously held understandings

about sexuality and marriage. Empirical studies

of the household suggest that many traditional

expectations about male and female behavior in

marriage/cohabitation persist but that these no

longer have the social or legal legitimacy which

the idea of conjugal roles once enjoyed.

MARY EVANS

conservatism

This is a political movement – an ideology with a

set of principles that relate to human nature,

rationality, and the role of the state and nation.

It arises historically as a reaction to liberalism and

a fear that the logic of liberalism points to notions

of universal emancipation that conservatives

consider unrealistic and utopian.

Conservatism is not, then, a disposition or attitude

to life. This makes the notion far too broad. It

is often said that being a conservative involves

a pragmatic view that if things are “not broken,

don’t fix them.” While a conservative disposition

may involve an unwillingness to accept

change, conservatism as a social and political

movement is much more precise than this (see

social movements).

It is argued – particularly by conservatives who

follow the ideas of Edmund Burke (1729–97) – that

conservatism is too flexible to be an ideology or an

“-ism.” But if we use the term ideology to denote

merely a system of thought (and not an argument

that is inherently dogmatic and authoritarian),

then conservatism is an ideology since it has a

set of principles, and these principles become

clear when the doctrine is challenged.

Conservatism sees people as naturally unequal,

and therefore holds that people do not have rights

that are universal. Why are they unequal? People

have differing innate abilities; they are brought

up in differing circumstances; some are more

concentric zone theory conservatism

86

rational than others; they are influenced by the



particular nation in which they live; and so forth.

It is revealing that, although Margaret Thatcher is

often seen as a “neoliberal” and a Whig, rather

than a true Tory, she argues that people are inherently

unequal. In this, she is impeccably conservative.

It is true that “libertarian” conservatives of

the New Right pushed further away from traditional

conservatism by extolling the virtues of

the “pure” market. They are better described

as anarchists – anarcho-capitalists – rather than

conservatives as such.

The notion of difference for conservatives

expresses itself in the form of natural hierarchies.

Conservatives have interpreted the notion of

“nature” to indicate a differentiation in roles –

between men and women, “civilized” and “uncivilized”

– and conservatives, for this reason, have at

times opposed democracy, sexual (that is, relations

between gays and straights) and gender

equality, the rights of all nations to determine

their own destiny, and so on. Nature is an eternal

force that promotes hierarchy and differentiation

rather than equality and sameness.

Conservatism is not just a philosophy of “realism.”

Conservatives may advocate radical change

in egalitarian societies that they deem “unnatural.”

The status quo deserves to be conserved

only if it is conservative!

Although ancient conservatism (as among the

Greeks) opposed democracy and the rule of the

“free” poor, in its modern form conservatism

takes its identity from opposition to the French

Revolution. Conservatives were particularly scandalized

by the French Revolution because of its

beliefs in natural rights and universalistic notions

of freedom and equality. These were seen as abstract

– that is, propositions that ignored circumstance

and context. Notions of emancipation and

“perfectibility” are anathema since these concepts

ride roughshod over hierarchy and hierarchical

differentiation.

Conservatives favor the concepts of family,

state, religion, and nation. It is revealing that in

the statement so often cited by Margaret Thatcher

– “there is no such thing as society” – she does

speak of individuals and their families. The family

as a patriarchal and hierarchical construct is

favored by conservatism since it deemphasizes individual

choice and stresses differentiation and

inequality. This accounts for the fact that there is

invariably a tension between conservatism and

the market, since market forces are seen as

eroding hierarchical communities and traditional

relationships. Indeed, Marxism draws upon

conservative critiques of the industrial revolution,

while demurring at the aristocratic “solutions” to

the problem. Charity is preferred to welfare rights

since the former relies upon the benevolence

of the few rather than the entitlements of the

many. Support for private property must fit into

a hierarchical view of society.

The state is favored as an institution (although

of course conservatives may disagree on the

extent of state intervention) on the grounds that

people cannot govern their own lives, but need

leaders and authorities to tell them what to do

and think. The need to use force as a weapon of

last resort accords well with the conservative argument

that order cannot rest simply upon rationality

or persuasion. Some conservatives do

not reject reason so much as a view of reason

that is deemed abstract and liberal. Humans are

imperfect, and will harm others or themselves

unless social pressures including force are

brought to bear upon them. Rulers are like

parents who have, from time to time, to chastise

wayward children.

Religion is important for conservatives, since

they are skeptical that people can act in an orderly

way without an element of prejudice and mysticism.

God is conceived as a patriarchal creator, a

lord and master whom we should obey instinctively

(as we do our parents). National and

local sentiments that differentiate insiders from

outsiders, are seen as natural and inevitable.

Historically, conservatism supported empire and,

in the case of Benjamin Disraeli (1804–81), conservatives

regarded it as the key to “safely”

expanding the vote, and the creation of workingclass

conservatives. Conservatives are nationalists

since they believe that certain nations are “naturally”

more preeminent than others and regard any

attempt to replace the nation-state with international

institutions as dangerous and misguided.

Altruism, whether collective or individual, is

something that extends only to family, neighbors,

and friends. Of course, the conservatives of one

nation will differ from those of another nation,

even though, ironically, the mutual antagonism

arises from broadly shared principles.

It is important to differentiate conservatism

from doctrines of the radical right, like fascism,

even though conservatives often supported fascist

regimes on the grounds that they were the only

force capable of crushing socialism and trade

unions. Fascism is counterrevolutionary – creating

a society that is quite new – whereas conservatism

seeks to restore traditional regimes and values.

JOHN HOF FMAN

conservatism conservatism

87

consumer society



This is an ill-defined, but nonetheless popular,

concept gesturing towards the enhanced societal

importance of the purchase of commodities and

their cultural meanings and significance, it implies

a comparatively greater role for consumption –

in contrast with work and employment, religion,

family, investment, or politics – in determining

economic organization, cultural institutions, and

personal motivations and experience. In general it

is a term with negative connotations, appearing

mostly in the course of critiques of the misuse of

affluence in postwar western countries. It is less

frequently used than the term consumerism,

which is often considered one of its associated

properties. It has received much less systematic

scholarly attention than the concept of consumer

culture, a term with more ambivalent and polysemic

moral connotations and which has produced

its own distinctive tradition of research.

John Benson, in The Rise of Consumer Society in

Britain (1994), summarizes the historians’ depictions

of consumer societies as those “in which

choice and credit are readily available, in which social

value is defined in terms of purchasing power

and material possessions, and in which there is a

desire, above all, for that which is new, modern,

exciting and fashionable.” But there is no consensus

on the defining empirical features of a consumer

society. There is also much disagreement

about when such a society might have first come

into existence, its origins having been dated variously

from the seventeenth century to the 1980s.

In social theory, the term was promulgated

partly in reaction to economistic explanations

of social structure and social change prominent

during the period of the revival of neo-Marxism

in Europe in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1970, Jean

Baudrillard published the French version of The

Consumer Society: Myths and Structures (1970 [trans.

1998]), a reflection on the contemporary role of

consumption. Arguing that the productivist

concepts of Marxism – use-value and exchangevalue

– were inadequate to capture consumerist

tendencies, he directed attention to sign-values.

Commodities are given meaning through a logic

of signs. The system of consumption was like a

symbolic code or language, a basis for communication

rather than for the satisfaction of needs.

Baudrillard’s writing soon after took a postmodernist

turn: indeed, consumer society is now

considered by some as coterminous with postmodern

society. His personal legacy is found

more in cultural studies of consumption.

Zygmunt Bauman, also a principal theorist of

postmodernity, is the most eminent recent theorist

of consumer society. He maintains that

consumption has superseded production as the

dominant organizing principle of society. Whereas

industrial society engaged with its members in

their capacity as workers, the consumer society

“engages its members – primarily – in their capacity

as consumers. The way present day society

shapes up its members is dictated first and foremost

by the need to play the role of the consumer”

(Work Consumerism and the New Poor, 1998). The

consumer attitude becomes pervasive; that is to

say, people expect that their problems will find a

solution, and their needs satisfaction, through

their capacity to purchase goods and services. Consumption

then becomes the principal means of

achieving social integration as a majority of the

population are seduced by the promises of consumer

freedom. ALAN WARDE

consumption

A somewhat nebulous concept which has only

recently been used extensively by sociologists, it

remains primarily a topic of interdisciplinary attention,

with the related concept “consumer”

more widely deployed, especially in economics,

psychology, and marketing. Its growing importance

arose from observation that, in a context of

material abundance, in consumer societies, focal

interests in much of everyday life had been reoriented

towards the possession and use of an increasingly

wide range of goods and services,

most purchased through the market, but also

many provided by the state.

The concept has two separate historic meanings.

The first, and earlier, one had a negative

connotation – to destroy, to waste, to use up. In

political economy in the eighteenth century, a

neutral sense emerged to describe market relationships,

hence distinctions between consumer

and producer, consumption and production. This

second meaning signaled concern with the

changing values of items exchanged in market

economies, rather than the purposes to which

goods and services might be put. These two meanings

persist in analytic and normative tension.

Negative attitudes to consumption long prevailed,

Puritan and Protestant cultures in particular

displaying suspicion of luxury and waste.

T. Veblen coined the term conspicuous consumption

in his Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) to describe

the competitive pursuit of social status

through display of possessions by a section of the

consumer society consumption

88

American middle class. The Frankfurt School were



critical of mass consumption for its uniformity,

cultural mediocrity, and tendency to induce passivity.

Modern modes of consumption were said,

variously, to engender narcissistic and hedonistic

personalities, to reduce public participation,

to be indifferent to the labor conditions under

which goods are produced, and to cause environmental

damage. Such critiques were often

associated with a more general critique of capitalism,

especially the fundamental process of

commodification.

Empirical research about consumption was rare

until recently, the main exception being the tradition

of research on poverty and inequality whose

roots lie in the nineteenth century. Access to

food, drinking water, and adequate health care,

still critical issues from the perspective of global

inequality, were tackled through state welfare

provision in Europe and North America throughout

the twentieth century. In recognition, studies

of the material circumstances of private households

were complemented in the 1970s by analyses

of collective consumption, examining the

extended role of the state in delivering income,

goods, and public services to citizens. If the modern

postwar welfare state resulted in some overall

de-commodification, as provision through the

market was replaced or supplemented, the policies

of the New Right from the 1980s gradually

reversed this. One consequence was described as

the creation of consumption cleavages. Some

people depend on public provision – for transport,

health care, housing, and pensions – while others

purchase these services through the market. To

the extent that state provision is of poorer quality,

which it may be because raising taxation to pay

for expensive services for everyone is politically

contentious, a new social division (arguably,

superseding class) emerges. Those entirely or

mostly dependent upon public provision are comparatively

disadvantaged, with some demonstrated

effect on their voting behavior and

political attitudes.

Differential consumption of goods and services

became of increasing interest in studies of social

stratification and cultural sociology in the later

twentieth century. Pierre Bourdieu’s classic study

Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste

(1979 [trans. 1984]) demonstrated a strong association

between class position and cultural taste in

France. He showed differences in taste between

the commercial and professional bourgeoisie, the

intellectual fraction of the middle classes, and the

working class. They differed in their preferences,

for example for food, interior decoration, and

music. Taste was shown to be a weapon in social

conflicts, as groups and classes towards the top of

the social hierarchy used their economic and cultural

capital (see social capital) to establish and

legitimate their privilege.

Another source of inequality is access to positional

goods. A positional good is one which delivers

value to its user for only so long as not too

many others also have it. Thus, the use-value of

an automobile decreases the more roads become

congested with other motorists. The distinguishing

symbolic value of a prestigious, novel, or

fashionable product declines as others acquire

them.

Symbolically significant items attracting the attention



of sociologists of consumption include

possessions, cultural knowledge, and cultural participation,

as well as preferences. As part of the

“cultural turn” in the 1970s, attention was increasingly

shifted from the instrumental aspects

of consumption, from use-values, to the symbolic

dimension of the process, to sign-values. Increasingly,

consumption came to be seen as a means

by which individuals and groups expressed their

identities. When combined with diagnoses of

postmodern culture, which stressed the fluidity

and malleability of identity, consumption came

to be understood as a key element in a process of

continually renewed self-constitution or selfassembly.

The slogan that “there is no choice but

to choose,” now frequently applied to consumer




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