Beyond a socio-centric concept of culture: Johann Arnason’s Macro-Phenomenology and Critique of Sociological Solipsism

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This essay unpacks Johann Arnason’s theory of culture. It argues that the culture problematic remains the needle’s eye through which Arnason’s intellectual project must be understood, his recent shift to foreground the interplay of culture and power (as the religio-political nexus) notwithstanding. Arnason’s approach to culture is foundational to his articulation of the human condition, which is articulated here as the interaction of a historical cultural hermeneutics and a macro-phenomenology of the world as a shared horizon. The essay discusses Arnason’s elucidation of his theory of culture as a contribution to debates on the ‘meaning of meaning’. It traces its beginnings from his critique of Habermas’s theory of modernity to its development via a trialogue with Max Weber, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Cornelius Castoriadis. It argues that Arnason's theory of culture moves beyond socio-centric perspectives, and, in so doing, offers a critique of what we might call sociological solipsism. In decentring society/anthropos, a more nuanced understanding of the human condition as a unity in diversity is achieved. The essay concludes with a discussion of some tensions in Arnason’s understanding of culture, and argues for the importance for incorporating a qualitative notion of ‘movement’ in order to make sense of historical novelty and social change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)96-116
Number of pages21
JournalThesis Eleven
Issue number1
Early online date14 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019


  • Johann Arnason
  • Cornelius Castoriadis
  • cultural sociology
  • hermeneutics
  • MauriceMerleau-Ponty
  • phenomenology
  • socio-centrism
  • theory of culture
  • Max Weber
  • world horizon
  • Maurice Merleau-Ponty


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