By Eviatar Zerubavel

Eviatar Zerubavel argues that the majority of the differences we make in our day-by-day lives and in our tradition are social constructs. He questions the proposal transparent line could be attracted to separate one time or item or proposal from one other, and offers witty and provocative counterexamples in safeguard of ambiguity and anomaly.

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Extra info for The Fine Line: Making Distinctions in Everyday Life

Sample text

Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together. 1 I n order to maintain our experience o f the world as made up o f discrete islands o f meaning, we must preserve the insular character o f mental entities— that is, carefully insulate them from one another. The stretches o f void we visualize among them clearly enhance our perception o f their separateness. The existence o f such gaps must therefore be constantly reaffirmed. The ability to perceive gaps among mental entities is part o f a particular mind-set, whose distinctive characteristic is its rigidity.

To those who are not so privileged equally unam­ biguous acts of social exclusion. . 37 That is why one of the very first things boys often do when they form a club is put up a No Girls Allowed sign on their clubhouse. If membership in the French nation, the American Bar Association, the Presbyterian church, or the Vanderbilt family is to be meaningful, there must be at least some individuals who are explicitly excluded from such collectivities. Some “shell of exclusion”38 is therefore necessary for any group to experience itself as a separate entity.

50 To further appreciate the social reality of quantum leaps across mental divides, note that the difference between placing third and fourth in the Olympic trials is also the difference between competing and not competing in the actual games. By the same token, when a law school admits only 270 applicants every year, the difference between being ranked 270th and 271st is clearly far more critical than the difference between being ranked 270th and 1st. 474 mph winds is far more consequential for run­ ners than the difference between any of them and having no favoring wind at all.

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