Social Sensitivity

A Study of Habit and Experience

By James M. Ostrow

Subjects: Philosophy Of The Social Sciences
Series: SUNY series in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences
Paperback : 9780791402160, 137 pages, July 1990
Hardcover : 9780791402153, 137 pages, September 1990

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Table of contents


Chapter One
Introduction: The Sense and Significance of Social Life

Sense and Signification

Prereflective Habit

Intersubjectivity as a Problem of Habit

Self-Awareness Prior to Self-Objectification

The Subject as a Meeting of Two Pasts

Social Sensitivity

Chapter Two
From Taken-For-Grantedness to Sensitivity: Toward a Social Theory of Immediate Experience

Habit and Taken-for-Granted Knowledge

Embodied Sensitivity

Sociality as a Foundation of Consciousness

Chapter Three
The Intersubjective Contact: The Preobjective Level of Social Life

Intersubjectivity and Taken-for-Granted Knowledge

Intersubjective Sensitivity

Expression as a Medium of Consciousness

Chapter Four
The Experience of Self: Sensitivity and Reflexive Awareness

Self-Awareness and Spontaneous Involvement

Reflexive Sensitivity

The Preobjective Experience of Self

Chapter Five
The Disposition of Social Position: Habitus and Sensitivity

The Theory of Habitus

Institutional Inhabitation: The Case of the Classroom

The Embodiment of Social Position

Habit and Possibility

Chapter Six
Conclusion: Sociology and Human Experience





The author develops a phenomenological theory of the social structure of immediate experience. At the heart of this study is a theory of habitual sensitivity that originates in the writings of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and John Dewey. The author develops this theory as an alternative to Schutz's theory of taken-for-granted knowledge, which has had a pervasive influence on how phenomenology has been understood and applied within sociology. Each chapter expands on Ostrow's claim that the world is inherently social, by virtue of the sensitivity that immerses us within it before it ever becomes an object of reflection.

James M. Ostrow is Assistant Professor of Behavioral Sciences, Bentley College.


"The originality of this work springs from Ostrow's solid grasp and critical extension of the ideas of key figures in the phenomenological and sociological traditions. As a result, the proposed theory of habitual sensitivity is creative, novel, and well-grounded. This work makes an important contribution to the growing interest in interpretive approaches to social science inquiry"— David Rehorick, Department of Sociology, University of New Brunswick

"Ostrow provides a strong, appealing theoretical foundation for researching the qualitative immediacy of social life. Attacking both cognitivism and subjectivism, the author helps to make phenomenology attractive to social science researchers. "— David M. Levin, Department of Philosophy, Northwestern University

"This is a very sensitive work, well attuned to the nuances of scholarship and capable of handling texts with understanding and balanced interpretation. I find myself very much in sympathy with the conclusions of this study. " — Garth Gillan, Department of Philosophy, Southern Illinois University