4.03 Mead & Durkheim

Habermas finds in the work of George Herbert Mead (1863 - 1931) and Emile Durkheim (1858 - 1917) concepts, which can be used to free Weber's theory of rationalisation from the aporias of the Philosophy of Consciousness. Mead's most productive concept is his theoretical base of communication and Durkheim's is his idea of social integration. Mead also stressed the social character of perception. Our first encounters are social.[1]

If the individual reaches his self only through communication with others, only through the elaboration of social processes by means of significant communication, then the self could not antidate the social organism. The latter would have to be there first." (Mead, 1962, p233)

What we see here is an emphasis on the primacy of the social nature of communication and an indication of how human communication arises from the exchange of gestures that are only gradually elaborated into a complex of symbolic codes.

Human communication arising from an exchange of gestures, seems to vividly describe the communicative situation in an Exploding Cinema show. Often it is exactly gestures that are represented in the films shown and exchanged in the auditorium. There is an ever-present kaleidoscope of this genesis of language - it may be that it is this refreshing spring, which is the excitement and value of Exploding Cinema rather than any particular message - the feeling of being immersed in a bubbling communicative flux.

Emile Durkheim's ethnographical studies revealed the symbolic structure of the sacred expressed in sacred objects and 'a non-positivistic interpretation of collective consciousness'.[2] By assigning important feelings to externalised symbols through ritual actions people achieve a unison of intention. Habermas argues that Durkheim misses the crucial importance of communicative action, which must precede the co-ordination of actions to achieve social solidarity.

The discussion of Emile Durkheim's ideas of the function of the sacred in creating social cohesion gives some insight into the Exploding Cinema vision of a democratic film culture. The anarchistic vision of social justice and an egalitarian basis for the production of meaning is analogous to the sacred that goes beyond the real. Habermas points out how communicative action mediates between what he calls the 'ritually preserved fund of social solidarity' and current relations.[3]

According to Durkheim one of the things that distinguishes humans from animals is that they can conceive of an ideal form of their society. The sacred may be seen in this way as something beyond the experiential. Durheim goes so far as to suggest that a group cannot have a stable social cohesion without projecting such an idealised image of itself.[4] 

The more that deliberation and reflection and a critical spirit play a considerable part in the course of public affairs, the more democratic the nation. It is the less democratic when lack of consciousness, uncharted customs, the obscure sentiments and prejudices that evade investigation, predominate. [5]



[1] TCA2 p29


[2] TCA2 p51


[3] TCA2 p72


[4] TCA2 p72


[5] TCA2 p81