Volume 2, Issue 2, Autumn 2016
Trajectories of Modernity
Elaborating the Philosophical Dimensions
The Development of Historical-Comparative Sociology in Johann Pall Arnason’s Civilizational Analysis
This article deals with the work of the Icelandic sociologist and philosopher Johann Pall Arnason (1940–) and with his concept of ‘civilizational analysis’. More precisely, I want to show that Arnason’s original interpretation of civilizational analysis goes beyond the mainstream understanding of historical sociology as a dialogue between history and sociology in favour of philosophical approaches. By outlining the three levels of Arnason’s civilizational analysis—(I.) the reconstruction of the concept of ‘civilization’, including its history, (II.) the link to philosophical sources and (III.) the theoretical development of Eisenstadt’s heritage—the article shows that, according to Arnason, the concept of ‘civilization’ is understood as amenable to the historical-sociological concepts of ‘culture’ (Max Weber, Shmuel N. Eisenstadt) on the one hand, and the philosophical concepts of the ‘world’ (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jan Patočka, Cornelius Castoriadis) on the other. Arnason thus, defining ‘culture’ as the so-called ‘interpretive articulation of the world’, emphasizes the motif of ‘cultural creativity’, which is present, yet theoretically underdeveloped, both in Weber’s and Eisenstadt’s work. In this light, the article finally focuses on Arnason’s most recent attempts to discuss Eisenstadt’s concept of the ‘civilizational dimension’ of modernity. It deals primarily with the terms ‘cultural ontology’ and ‘civilizational paradox’, in which the need to link historical sociology to philosophical perspectives is most evident. The civilizational approach is thus introduced as the crucial framework of Arnason’s elaboration of the philosophical dimensions in sociological analysis.