‘Our (Civil) Way of Life’: The Folkloric Civil Sphere

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Does the civil sphere consist merely of conscious and reflective subjects? Do folkloric habits, customs, and traditions contribute anything to its universalism? This article proposes the term ‘folkloric civil sphere’ to describe a non-intentional dimension of social life and of the civil sphere, composed of conventional rituals – such as those of holidays – that are followed without reflection or debate and that together form a collective ‘way of life,’ but which are nevertheless civil, in that they transcend primordial loyalties and encourage universalistic discourse. As opposed to the neo-Durkheimian focus on the meanings of delineated and emotionally moving performances, the article relies on ethnological history to develop a bottom-up model for grasping the civil meanings of conventional rituals. It suggests recreating the gradual chronological process in which conventions appear, are disseminated, turn into rituals and into group icons, and only then may acquire ambiguous meanings. Hence the meanings of folkloric customs often lie in the perceived universalism of social conventions – what ‘everyone’ does – rather than in their symbolic significance or semiotic thickness. The article proposes a shift in focus in the discussions of civil solidarity: instead of institutional, legal, and discursive processes, it centers on the slow and quiet integration of minority groups – religious and ethnic groups or undocumented immigrants – into the symbolic civil sphere, by means of cultural codes that become embedded in everyday conventions and create, bottom up, a sense of belonging to the universalist civil sphere and its distinct ‘way of life.’

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-156
Number of pages21
JournalCultural Sociology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • Civil Sphere Theory
  • convention
  • ethnological history
  • performance
  • social meaning
  • solidarity

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • General Social Sciences


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