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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

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Harry B. Acton , 1952-1953. “Tradition and Some Other Forms of Order”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, 53, pp. 1-28.

Richard M Dorson ., 1976. Folklore and Fakelore: Essays Toward A Discipline of Folk Studies (Cambridge, Harvard University Press).

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Steven P Feldman ., 2006. “Moral Memory: Why and How Moral Companies Manage Tradition”, Journal of Business Ethics, 72, pp. 395-409.

Thomas E Forest ., 1993. “Disaster Anniversary: A Social Reconstruction of Time”, Sociological Inquiry, 63 (4), pp. 444-456.

William H Graham ., 1993. “Traditionalism in Islam: An Essay on Interpretation”, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 23 (3), pp. 495-522.

Richard Handler and Jocelyn Linnekin , 1984. “Tradition, Genuine or Spurious”, Journal of American Folklore, 97, pp. 273-290.

Struan Jacobs , 2007. “Edward Shils’ Theory of Tradition”, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 37 (2), pp. 139-162).

Jocelyn S Linnekin ., 1983. “Defining Tradition: Variations on the Hawaiian Identity”, American Ethnologist, 10 (2), pp. 241-252.

Jocelyn S Linnekin , 1991. “Cultural Invention and the Dilemma of Authenticity”, American Anthropologist, 93, pp. 446-449.

Kristof J Nyiri ., 1992. Tradition and Individuality: Essays (Dordrecht, Kluwer).

Jeffrey K. Olick , ed., 2003. States of Memory: Continuities, Conflicts, and Transformations in National Retrospection (Durham, Duke University Press).

Elizabeth A Povinelli ., 1999. “Settler Modernity and the Quest for an Indigenous Tradition”, Public Culture, 11 (1), pp. 19-24.

Edward Shils , 1958. “Tradition and Liberty: Antinomy and Interdependence”, Ethics, 68 (3), pp. 153-165.

Anthony D Smith , 1991. “The Nation: Invented, Imagined, Reconstructed”, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 20 (3), pp. 353-368.

Jonathan M Smith ., 2007. “Time-Binding Communication: Transmission and Decadence of Tradition”, Ethics, Place and Environment, 10 (1), pp. 107-119.

Charles Taylor , 1999. “Two Theories of Modernity”, Public Culture, 11 (1), pp. 153-174.

Stephen Turner , 1991. “Social Constructionism and Social Theory”, Sociological Theory 9 (1), pp. 22-33.

Eviatar Zerubavel , 2003. Time Maps: Collective Memory and the Social Shape of the Past (Chicago, University of Chicago).

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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
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