Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Rethinking Tradition: From Ontological Reality to Assigned Temporal Meaning

  • Hizky Shoham (a1)

The article seeks to revitalize the concept of tradition and re-claim its usefulness for contemporary sociological thought and research. Instead of ontological entity, tradition is defined here as an assigned temporal meaning, i.e., a symbolic activity in which various social groups attribute traditional qualities to certain sectors of life that are understood as binding together different times. The article analyzes two incompatible approaches with which tradition was hitherto conceptualized in sociology: (1) tradition as the anti-modern, and (2) tradition as synonymous with “culture.” The analysis introduces a few middle-ground options that support the theory of tradition as assigned meaning.


L’article entend redonner vie au concept de tradition en sociologie et montrer son utilité pour la recherche aujourd’hui. Il met en évidence les insuffisances des deux interprétations usuelles : tradition comme refus de la modernité et tradition rendue synonyme de culture. Il propose de voir dans l’appel à tradition une activité symbolique par laquelle des groupes sociaux divers attribuent des caractères « traditionnels » à certains aspects de la vie sociale regardés comme assurant un lien inter-temporel.


Dieser Aufsatz setzt sich zum Ziel der Tradition in der Soziologie einen neuen Aufschwung zu geben und ihre Bedeutung für die heutige Forschung zu verdeutlichen. Er hebt die Unzulänglichkeiten zweier gängiger Interpretationsschemen hervor: Tradition als Verweigerung der Moderne und Tradition als Synonym für Kultur. Er schlägt vor, den Aufruf an die Tradition als symbolischen Akt zu begreifen, dem verschiedene soziale Gruppen traditionelle Werte im sozialen Miteinander beimessen, die als intertemporales Bindeglied fungieren

Hide All
Acton Harry B., 1952-1953. “Tradition and Some Other Forms of Order”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, 53, pp. 1-28.
Arendt Hannah, [1954] 1977. Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (New York, Penguin Books).
Arjomand Said A. 2010. “Three Generations of Comparative Sociologies”, European Journal of Sociology, 51(3), pp. 363-399.
Beck Ulrich, 1994. “The Reinvention of Politics: Towards a Theory of Reflexive Modernization”, in Beck Ulrich, Giddens Anthony and Lash Scott, Reflexive Modernization: Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order (Cambridge, Polity Press, pp. 1-55).
Becker Jane S., 1998. Selling Tradition: Appalachia and the Construction of an American Folk, 1930-1940, (Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press).
Ben-Amos Dan, 1984. “The Seven Strands of Tradition: Varieties in its Meaning in American Folklore Studies”, Journal of Folklore Research 21 (2-3), pp. 97-131.
Bendix Regina, 1997. In Search of Authenticity: The Formation of Folklore Studies (Madison, University of Wisconsin Press).
Bendix Reinhard, 1967. “Tradition and Modernity Reconsidered”, Comparative Studies in Society and History 9 (3), pp. 292-346.
Benjamin Walter, 1969. Illuminations, trans. Zohn Harry (London, Jonathan Cape).
Boyer Pascal, 1990. Tradition as Truth and Communication: A Cognitive Description of Traditional Discourse (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
Brubaker Rogers, 1996. Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the National Question in the New Europe (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
Burke Edmund, 2003. Reflections on the Revolution in France, in Turner Frank M., ed. (New Haven, Yale University Press).
Burke Peter, 1987. Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (London, Temple Smith).
Calhoun Craig, ed., 1994. Social Theory and the Politics of Identity (Cambridge, Blackwell).
Cannadine David, 2001. Ornamentalism: How the British saw their Empire (New York, Oxford University Press).
Cantile Audrey, 1979. “The Concept of Tradition”, in Moore Robin J., ed., Tradition and Politics in South Asia, (New Delhi, Vikas, pp. 1-16).
Devji Faisal, 2007. “Apologetic Modernity”, Modern Intellectual History, 4 (1), pp. 61-76.
Dorson Richard M., 1976. Folklore and Fakelore: Essays Toward A Discipline of Folk Studies (Cambridge, Harvard University Press).
Douglas Mary, 1982. In the Active Voice (London, Routledge & Paul Kegan).
Dundes Alan and Pagter Carl R., 1975. Urban Folklore from the Paperwork Empire (Austin, University of Texas Press).
Durkheim Émile, 1933. The Division of Labor in Society, translated by Simpson George (New York, Free Press).
Durkheim Émile, 1980. “Preface to L’Année Sociologique, 1898”, Emile Durkheim: Contributions to L’Année Sociologique, Yash Nandan, ed. (New York, Free).
Durkheim Émile, [1912] 2001. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, translated by Cosman Carol (New York, Oxford University Press).
Eisenstadt Shmuel N. 1972. “Post-Traditional Societies and the Continuity and Reconstruction of Tradition”, Daedalus 102 (1), pp. 1-27.
Eisenstadt Shmuel N, 1983. Tradition, Change and Modernity (New York, John Wiley).
Eisenstadt Shmuel N, 1986. The Origins and Diversity of Axial Age Civilizations (Albany, Suny).
Eisenstadt Shmuel N, 2000. “Multiple Modernities”, Daedalus, 129 (1), pp. 1-29.
Eisenstadt Shmuel N, 2001. “The Civilizational Dimension of Modernity: Modernity as a Distinct Civilization”, International Sociology, 16 (3), pp. 320-340.
Fabian Johannes, 1983. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object. (New York, Columbia University Press).
Feldman Steven P., 2006. “Moral Memory: Why and How Moral Companies Manage Tradition”, Journal of Business Ethics, 72, pp. 395-409.
Forest Thomas E., 1993. “Disaster Anniversary: A Social Reconstruction of Time”, Sociological Inquiry, 63 (4), pp. 444-456.
Freud Sigmund, 1939. Moses and Monotheism, translated by Jones Katherine (New York, Vintage).
Gadamer Hans-George, [1959] 2002. Truth and Method (second edition), translated by Weinsheimer J. and Marshal D. G. (New York, Continuum).
Geertz Clifford, 1973. Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York, Basic Books).
Giddens Anthony, 1991. The Consequences of Modernity (Stanford, Stanford University Press).
Giddens Anthony, 1994. “Living in a Post-Traditional Society”, in Beck Ulrich, Giddens Anthony and Lash Scott, Reflexive Modernization: Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order (Cambridge, Polity Press, pp. 56-109).
Graham William H., 1993. “Traditionalism in Islam: An Essay on Interpretation”, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 23 (3), pp. 495-522.
Halbwachs Maurice, 1992. On Collective Memory, translated by Coser Lewis A. (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press).
Hall Stuart, 1990. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora”, in Rutherford Jonathan, ed., Identity: Community, Culture, Difference (London, Lawrence & Wishart, pp. 222-237).
Handler Richard, 1988. Nationalism and the Politics of Culture in Quebec (Madison, The University of Wisconsin Press).
Handler Richard and Linnekin Jocelyn, 1984. “Tradition, Genuine or Spurious”, Journal of American Folklore, 97, pp. 273-290.
Hann Chris, 2007. “The Anthropology of Christianity per se”, European Journal of Sociology 48 (3), pp. 383-410.
Heelas Paul, Lash Scott and Morris Paul, eds., 1996. Detraditionalization (Cambridge, Blackwell).
Heidegger Martin, 1996. Being and Time, translated by Stambaugh John, (New York, State University Press).
Herzfeld Michael, 1982. Ours Once More: Folklore, Ideology, and the Making of Modern Greek (Austin, University of Texas Press).
Hobsbawm Eric J. and Ranger Terence, eds., 1983. The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
Hofer Tamas, 1984. “The Perception of Tradition in European Ethnology”, Journal of Folklore Research, 21 (2-3), pp. 133-147.
Honko Lauri and Laaksonen Pekka, eds., 1983. “Trends in Nordic Tradition research”, Studia Fennica 27.
Huntington Samuel P. 1996. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York, Simon & Schuster).
Jacobs Struan, 2007. “Edward Shils’ Theory of Tradition”, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 37 (2), pp. 139-162).
Johnston William M., 1991. Celebrations: The Cult of Anniversaries in Europe and the United States Today (New Brunswick, Transaction Publishers).
Kaviraj S. 2005. “An Outline of a Revisionist Theory of Modernity”, European Journal of Sociology, 46 (3), pp. 497-526.
Koselleck Reinhart, 2002. The Practice of Conceptual History: Timing History, Spacing Concepts, translated by Presner Todd Samuel (Stanford, Stanford University Press).
Kuhn Thomas S., 1962. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago, University of Chicago Press).
Linnekin Jocelyn S., 1983. “Defining Tradition: Variations on the Hawaiian Identity”, American Ethnologist, 10 (2), pp. 241-252.
Linnekin Jocelyn S, 1991. “Cultural Invention and the Dilemma of Authenticity”, American Anthropologist, 93, pp. 446-449.
Lowenthal David, 1985. The Past is Foreign Country (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
Macintyre Alasdair, 1984. After Virtue: A Study in a Moral Theory (Notre Dame, Notre Dame University Press).
Mosse George L., 1975. The Nationalization of the Masses: Political Symbolism and the Mass Movements in Germany from the Napoleonic Wars Through the Third Reich (New York, Howard Fertig).
Muir Edward, 1981. Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice (Princeton, Princeton University Press).
Nora Pierre, ed., 1997. Realms of Memory, Volume II: Tradition, translated by Goldhammer Arthur (New York, Columbia University Press).
Nyiri Kristof J., 1992. Tradition and Individuality: Essays (Dordrecht, Kluwer).
Nyiri Kristof J, 1995. “Introduction: Towards a Theory of Traditions”, in Nyiri Kristof J., ed., Tradition: Proceedings of an International Research Workshop at IFK (Wien, Internationales Forschungszentrum Kulturwissenschaften, pp. 7-32).
Oakeshott Michael, 1962. Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays (New York, Basic Books).
Olick Jeffrey K., ed., 2003. States of Memory: Continuities, Conflicts, and Transformations in National Retrospection (Durham, Duke University Press).
Olick Jeffrey K., Vinitzky-Seroussi Vered and Levy Daniel, eds., 2011. The Collective Memory Reader (New York, Oxford University Press).
Ozouf Mona, 1988. Festivals and the French Revolution, translated by Sheridan Alan (Cambridge, Harvard University Press).
Paredes Americo and Stekert Ellen J., 1971. The Urban Experience and Folk Tradition (Austin, University of Texas Press).
Pecora Vincent P., ed., 2001. Nations and Identities: Classic Readings (Oxford, Blackwell).
Peel John D.Y., 1989. “The Cultural Work of Yoruba Ethnogenesis”, in Tonkin Elizabeth, McDonald Maryon and Chapman Malcolm, eds., History and Ethnicity. (London/New York, Routledge).
Pleck Elizabeth H., 2000. Celebrating the Family: Ethnicity, Consumer Culture, and Family Rituals (Cambridge, Harvard University Press).
Pocock John G.A., 1968. “Time, Institutions and Action: An Essay on Traditions and Their Understanding”, in King Preston, ed., Politics and Experience: Essays Presented to Professor Michael Oakeshott on the Occasion of His Retirement (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 209-237).
Polanyi Michael, 1958. Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul).
Popper Karl, 1963. Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul).
Povinelli Elizabeth A., 1999. “Settler Modernity and the Quest for an Indigenous Tradition”, Public Culture, 11 (1), pp. 19-24.
Redfield Robert, 1953. The Primitive World and its Transformations, (Ithaca, Cornell University Press).
Redfield Robert, 1960. Peasant Society and Culture (London, The University of Chicago).
Redfield Robert and Singer Milton, 1969. “The Cultural Role of Cities” in Sennett Richard ed., Classic Essay,s on the Culture of Cities (New York, Meredith, pp. 206-232).
Ricoeur Paul, 1970. Freud and Philosophy: an Essay on Interpretation, translated by Savage D. (New Haven, Yale University Press).
Rudolph Lloyd I. and Rudolph Susanne H., 1967. The Modernity of Tradition: Political Development in India (Chicago, Chicago University Press).
Sagi Avi, 2008. Tradition vs. Traditionalism: Contemporary Perspectives in Jewish Thought, translated by Stein Batya (Amsterdam/New York, Rodopi).
Scott James, 1998. Seeing Like a State (New Haven, Yale University Press).
Shils Edward, 1958. “Tradition and Liberty: Antinomy and Interdependence”, Ethics, 68 (3), pp. 153-165.
Shils Edward, 1981. Tradition (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press).
Shoham Hizky, 2009. “Well … We did Some Tradition’: Invented Tradition and the Problem of the Past in the New Hebrew Culture”, Reshit 1, pp. 305-324[Hebrew].
Shoham Hizky, forthcoming. “Tel-Aviv’s Foundation Myth: A Constructive Perspective”, Tel-Aviv, the First Century: Visions, Designs, Actualities, in Maoz Azaryahu and Troen S. Ilan (Indiana University Press)
Singer Milton. 1972. When a Great Tradition Modernizes: An Anthropological Approach to Indian Civilization (New York/Washington/London, Praeger Publishers).
Smith Anthony D., 1971. Theories of Nationalism (London, Duckworth).
Smith Anthony D, 1991. “The Nation: Invented, Imagined, Reconstructed”, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 20 (3), pp. 353-368.
Smith Anthony D, 1998. Nationalism and Modernism: A Critical Survey of Recent Theories of Nations and Nationalism (London/New-York, Routledge).
Smith Anthony D, 2000. The Nation in History: Historiographical Debates about Ethnicity and Nationalism (Hanover, University Press of New England).
Smith Jonathan M., 2007. “Time-Binding Communication: Transmission and Decadence of Tradition”, Ethics, Place and Environment, 10 (1), pp. 107-119.
Smith Wilfred C., 1962. The Meaning and End of Religion (New York, Fortress).
Spillman Lyn, 1997. Nation and Commemoration: Creating National Identities in the United States and Australia (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
Taylor Charles, 1999. “Two Theories of Modernity”, Public Culture, 11 (1), pp. 153-174.
Thrupp Sylvia, 1963. “Tradition and Development: A Choice of Views”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 6 (1), pp. 84-92.
Turner Stephen, 1991. “Social Constructionism and Social Theory”, Sociological Theory 9 (1), pp. 22-33.
Weber Max, 1948. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, translated and edited by Gerth H. H. and Mills C. Wright (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul).
Weber Max, 1963. The Sociology of Religion, Translated by Fischoff Ephraim (London, Methuen).
Weber Max, 1964. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, translated by Henderson A.M. and Parsons Talcott (London, Free Press).
Wertheimer Jack, ed., 1992. The Uses of Tradition: Jewish Continuity in the Modern Era (New York/Cambridge, Jewish Theological Seminary/Harvard University Press).
Wilson William A., 1976. Folklore and Nationalism in Modern Finland (Bloomington, University of Indiana Press).
Wittroc Bjorn, 2000. “Modernity: One, None, or Many? European Origins and Modernity as a Global Condition”, Daedalus 129 (1), pp. : 31-60.
Wolf Kurt H., ed, 1971. From Karl Mannheim (New York, Oxford University).
Young Michael, 1988. The Metronomic Society: Natural Rhythms and Human Timetables (Cambridge, Harvard University Press).
Zerubavel Eviatar, 2003. Time Maps: Collective Memory and the Social Shape of the Past (Chicago, University of Chicago).
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

European Journal of Sociology / Archives Européennes de Sociologie
  • ISSN: 0003-9756
  • EISSN: 1474-0583
  • URL: /core/journals/european-journal-of-sociology-archives-europeennes-de-sociologie
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 4
Total number of PDF views: 41 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 203 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 20th October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.