Taking Theory for Granted

ParliamentWithout arriving on the scene with the work of a social theorist like Emile Durkheim in our back pockets, I’m not sure what we would make of the French parliament joining together yesterday to sing their national anthem in the wake of Friday night’s bloody Paris attacks.

For, if you think about it, it’s an odd thing to do in response, isn’t it — we all just stand up and sing together after almost 130 of our fellow citizens were massacred?

But it’s not odd at all, to engage in rituals of collective action to thereby create a sense of solidarity — a reading of this event possible only because we’ve come to take such theory for granted (as if using it is mere description when, in fact, it’s part of an explanation of the event). For not just in unison but within eyesight of each other they sang (to one another):

Aux armes, citoyens
Formez vos bataillons
(To arms, citizens
Form your battalions…)

So, as I watched this clip yesterday — being just one among others (like the one below, from the night of the attacks, as people left the stadium outside of which suicide bombers had just blown themselves up) — it occurred to me how important it is not to lose sight of the hard work done by our intellectual predecessors to make such seemingly instinctive, even natural, actions intelligible to us.

As for the lyrics to the song, I leave commenting on that for another day, for I can only imagine what we’d make of those with whom we disagree if they caught singing defiantly about such things as the foe coming to slit the throats of their sons and their women. (If you don’t know it, then have you ever read the lyrics to the French national anthem…?)

For making sense of that — both why this is what we sing together and why we don’t seem to notice the violence of our collective songs — will require yet other theorists.

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