The sociological gaze and its time structure
a sociologist's belated encounter with Merleau-Ponty
In the Preface to his most important work, The Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty presents, among other things, his view on science and, in particular, on history and sociology. There is a second paper called "The philosopher and sociology" in his Signs. Alfred Schutz mentioned the French original "Le philosophe et la sociologie" in a footnote that appears on page 142 of his Collected Papers I, The Problem of Social Reality. Merleau-Ponty has a third paper on sociology and anthropology with the title "From Mauss to Claude Levi-Strauss" in Signs. We can also find a fourth paper on sociology and history, "The crisis of understanding," in his The Primacy of Perception. These four papers amount to a declaration of his phenomenological position regarding sociology. The fourth one is an attempt to co-opt Max Weber into the phenomenological camp. Merleau-Ponty has good reasons to do so because Weber is the only one among the great masters in classical sociology who insists on the primacy of subjectivity until his last breath. In a letter to his friend Robert Liefmann just before he died, he stated: ". . . if I have become a sociologist (according to my letter of accreditation), it is mainly in order to exorcise the spectre of collective conceptions which still lingers among us. In other words, sociology itself can only proceed from the actions of one or more separate individuals and must therefore adopt strictly individualistic methods."1 Much earlier than Merleau-Ponty's attempt, there was Alfred Schutz's. He actually worked out a credible connection between Weber's sociology and Husserl's phenomenology. His The Phenomenology of the Social World came out only twelve years after Weber's death in the year 1920. After Merleau-Ponty, Paul Ricoeur also sees the affinity between Weber and Husserl, and has made a similar attempt to co-opt Weber in a paper with the title "Practical reason" in his From Text to Action. On this score I am in agreement with Schutz, Merleau-Ponty and Ricoeur. But the viewpoints that Merleau-Ponty expresses in his first three papers are disturbing to me, and this paper sets out to respond to them.
Lui, P. (2004)., The sociological gaze and its time structure: a sociologist's belated encounter with Merleau-Ponty, in D. Carr & C. Cheung (eds.), Space, time, and culture, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 73-87.
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