According to Maffesoli (1988, 1991, 1996), we are currently witnessing a resurgence of basic forms of community, a move away from rational, contractual social relationships towards an empathetic form of sociality, where what is important is not some abstract, idealized goal, but rather the feeling of togetherness engendered by one’s direct involvement with the small-scale social group. Where modernity was characterized by the proliferation of associational forms of social relationship – which were ‘drained . . . of any real content’ – ‘postmodernity has tended to favour . . . [a] withdrawal into the group as well as a deepening of relationships within these groups.
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This move towards neo-tribal patterns of solidarity represents a shift from society, which is ‘governed by an instrumental, rationalising logic of “performativity”’, to a ‘form of sociality, governed by an empathetic logic of emotional renewal’ (Evans 1997: 225, emphasis added). It can be seen, in Durkheimian terms, as representing a shift from ‘an essentially mechanical social order towards a complex, predominantly organic structure.
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The new tribes are informal, dynamic, and frequently temporary alliances, centred around ‘their members’ shared lifestyles and tastes’ (Shields 1996: x): around feelings rather than a commitment to particular ideologies or beliefs. Built around tactility and proxemics, these are non-instrumental, apolitical allegiances – forms of ‘extra-logical communality’ (Maffesoli 1991: 17) – ‘whose sole raison d’être is a preoccupation with the collective present’ (Maffesoli 1996: 75). Tribal collectivities may have an ostensible goal, but ‘this is not essential; what is important is the energy expended on constituting the group as such
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