I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Webs of Meaning

Webs of Meaning

Mary P Corcoran
Meanings of Life in Contemporary Ireland: Webs of Significance, by Tom Inglis, Palgrave Macmillan, 272 pp, ISBN: 978-1349491711 It was the classical sociologist Max Weber who argued that we should think of humans primarily as interpretive beings. We manage our existence largely by conferring meaning on the world around us. Interpretive frameworks (or world views) play a significant role in motivating humans to engage in purposeful actions. Our beliefs, dispositions and imaginative potential have a shaping role in the constitution of society, broadly defined. Tom Inglis, in his latest contribution to the Irish sociological canon, sets out very deliberately to capture how Irish people –as interpretive beings ‑ understand and respond to the world around them. This is accomplished through eliciting narrative accounts from the eponymous Irish man and woman, accounts which are expertly woven through the text, providing rich, reflexive and often poignant evidence of the joys and vicissitudes of everyday life. In particular, he sets out to demonstrate how it is through the acts of talking and listening to others, recounting stories and eliciting responses that we produce a “daily interactive communicative process that reaffirms people’s sense of themselves and gives meaning to their lives”. Crucially, Inglis pays attention not just to the manifest and visible rational purposive action of his respondents; he is also deeply attuned to the more visceral, latent and frequently less articulated realm of affective action. Approaching his subject matter from a dialectical standpoint, Inglis sees culture as simultaneously providing a map for interpretation and navigation of the world, while also acting as a resource which can be used to create and sustain meaning with each other. Culture is the currency used to confront our existential angst, to create meaning, to shape and reshape our identities and to reproduce position, power and influence. By privileging culture as an explanatory variable (perhaps to the point of overdetermination), Meanings of Life provides a welcome counterpoint to the economistic analyses and commentaries which dominated in the wake of the crash. While the dramatis personae that emerges from the empirical data collection is compelling, the database itself has some structural weaknesses. The purposive (and therefore not representative) sample of 100 people is drawn from an inner-city Dublin neighbourhood, a suburbanising village in Greater Dublin, a small village in the West of Ireland, a large rural town and a third-level college campus. We are not told how many people were interviewed in each…

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