Weberian elective affinity

Weber elective affinity
Canadian sociologist and anthropologist Hans Bakker’s 2010 Concise Encyclopedia of Sociology entry on German sociologist Max Weber's elective affinity theory. [7]
In science, Weberian elective affinities refers to German sociologist Max Weber’s 1878 to 1920 re-interpretation of German polymath Johann Goethe’s 1809 elective affinities or human elective affinities in sociology and economics. The 2005 Max Weber Dictionary gives the following entry: [4]

Elective affinities (Wahlverwandtschaften) – the exact meaning of this term, which Weber often uses, is contested. The most common interpretation, however, is that ‘elective affinity’ is used by Weber to express the fact that two sets of social facts or mentalities are related to each other or gravitate to each other—even though no direct and simple causality between the two can be established.”

See Die Wahlverwandtschaftentitle decoding” for more on the complex interpretation and rendering of the term “elective affinities”.

In 1878, age 14 German student Max Weber, in class, began reading German polymath Johann Goethe’s 1809 physical chemistry based novella Elective Affinities (German: Die Wahlverwandtschaften), while "hiding it behind his textbook". [6] Weber, greatly influenced by this work, went on to utilize the meaning-complex term “Wahlverwandtschaften” through his later sociological writings, in complex theoretical ways. In his posthumously published 1922 Economy and Society: an Outline of Interpretive Sociology, to exemplify usage, Weber states: [5]

“[There exists] an elective affinity between the sect and political democracy.”

English translators of Weber’s work, to note, more often than not, have tended to render the German term “Wahlverwandtschaft”, meaning elective affinity, as either "correlation, relationship, or bond", thus unintentionally acting to distance or cut off Weber’s original chemical meaning from his work. [1]

In 1978, American sociologist Richard Herbert Howe, in his “Max Weber’s Elective Affinities: Sociology within the Bounds of Pure Reason”, opens to the following abstract: [6]

“Several scholars have called attention to the importance of Weber’s use of the term ‘elective affinity’, yet nowhere has the term received a treatment both systematic and historically founded. The present paper attempts to fill that gap. Each instance of Weber’s usage is cited and discussed. Next, the place of elective affinity in his order of discourse is determined. Then, the lineage of the term in the histories of literature, chemistry, and philosophy is examined with special reference to Weber’s knowledge of those histories. Two related terms, ‘affinity’ and ‘inner affinity’, are examined and brought into relationship with Weber’s use of elective affinity. These materials suggest that elective affinity, conceived as an ‘idea’ in the Kantian sense, would have served to answer the question: ‘how is social science possible?’ which was implicit in the neo-Kantian framework of Weber’s order of discourse.”

In 2010, Scottish sociologist Andrew McKinnon erroneously claimed—e.g. Richard Howe (1978) previous to him—to have done the first systematic analysis of Weber's usage of "elective affinity" in his work and theories. [2]

French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002), knowledgeable about Weber, has some kind of borrowed Goethe-Weber usage and or connection to “elective affinity”. [8] Bourdieu’s 1984 Distinction and his 1998 “Elective Affinities, Institutionalised Connections, and the Circulation of Information”, for instance, use the term “elective affinity” in some way. [9]

In 2013, March 21-24, The University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, is hosting a 5-day “Architectural Elective Affinities Conference”, themed on the subject of “architectural elective affinities”, which they defined as a “complex borrowing of the Weberian concept of elective affinities, namely the: attractions, interactions and similarities between individuals or disciplines and fields of research—used as a tool for grasping the development of architectural forms in the perspective of specific spatio-temporal structures.” The synopsis of the conference seems to be the following: [3]

“The elective affinities operative between architectural history and other disciplines- such as literature, history, sociology, anthropology, arts, including the photography and the cinema - have been lengthily debated in the past years. The conference intends particularly to identify these affinities, looking from inside the discipline of architecture.”

Note: the conference seems to be digging around in the area of architectural thermodynamics; to some extent.

1. Dusek, Val. (1999). The Holistic Inspirations of Physics: the Underground History of Electromagnetic Theory (Elective Affinities, pgs. 221-23). Rutgers University Press.
2. (a) McKinnon, Andrew. (2010). “The Sociology of Religion: the Foundations”, Weber and “elective affinity”, in: The New Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Religion (pgs. 41-51). Wiley.
(b) McKinnon, Andrew. (2010). “Elective Affinities of the Protestant Ethic: Weber and the Chemistry of Capitalism” (abs), Sociological Theory, 28(1):108-26.
3. Falbel, Anat. (2012). “Architectural Elective Affinities: Call for Papers”, Google Groups, Apr. 2.
4. Swedberg, Richard and Agevall, Ola. (2005). The Max Weber Dictionary: Key Words and Central Concepts (§: elective affinities (Wahlverwandtschaft), pgs. 83-84). Sanford University Press.
5. (a) Swedberg, Richard and Agevall, Ola. (2005). The Max Weber Dictionary: Key Words and Central Concepts (§: elective affinities (Wahlverwandtschaft), pgs. 83-84). Sanford University Press.
(b) Economy and Society – Wikipedia.
6. Howe, Richard, H. (1978). “Max Weber’s Elective Affinities: Sociology within the Bounds of Pure Reason”, (abstract), American Journal of Sociology, 84, 366-85; In: Max Weber: Critical Assessments 2 (pgs. 193-210), by Peter Hamilton, Taylor & Francis, 1991.
7. (a) Howe, R. (1979). “Max Weber’s Elective Affinities: Sociology within the Bounds of Pure Reason”, American Journal of Sociology, 84:366-85.
(b) Weber, Max. (1905). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: the Version of 1905, together with Weber’s Rebuttals of Fischer and Rachfahl and Other Essays on Protestantism and Society. Penguin, 2002.
(c) Bakker, J.I. (Hans). (2010). “Elective Affinity”, in; The Concise Encyclopedia of Sociology (editors: George Ritzer and J. Michael Ryan) (pg. 179). Wiley.
(d) J.I. (Hans) Bakker (Johannes Iemke Bakker) (faculty) – University of Guelph, Ontario.
8. (a) Boekhoven, Jeroen W. (2011). Genealogies of Shamanism: Struggles for Power, Charisma and Authority (pg. 18). Barkhuis.
(b) Pierre Bourdieu – Wikipedia.
9. (a) Bourdieu, Pierre. (1998). Distinction: A Social Critique of The Judgment of Taste (§: Elective Affinities, pgs. 241-44). Harvard University Press.
(b) Bourdieu, Pierre. (1998). “Elective Affinities, Institutionalised Connections, and the Circulation of Information”, in: The State Nobility, Elite Schools in the Field of Power (pgs. 360-69). Stanford University Press.

Further reading
● Mainprize, Steve. (1996). “Elective Affinities in the Engineering of Social Control: the Evolution of Electronic Monitoring” (Ѻ), Electronic Journal of Sociology, 2(2).

External links
Elective Affinity – Encyclopedia of Religion and Society.

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