Week 2 – Starting Points Ch. 3

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Starting Points

Social Structures

Previously we discussed non-human factors. Now we’ll discuss social scripts and social forms.

Social scripts – culturally constructed, socially enforced we’re all expected to follow when we interact. Learned through years of observation and practice. e.g. Women act differently from men. Adults act differently from children. If violated may lost respect. Conscious.

Social forms – social arrangements that arise below people’s consciousness. e.g. fashion, tweeting, Facebook posting styles. Can’t be idiosyncratic: unique to one individual. Not socially enforced but appear everywhere and influence our behaviour. Theorized by Georg Simmel. Unconscious.

Almost exclusively on symbolic interactionist point of view.

Even when we’re not getting high, when we see a police officer we cringe. Why? We do this because we follow social scripts – guidelines that people follow to carry out interactions and fulfill role expectations as seamlessly as possible.

Roles and identities shape our behaviour, but so does the groups we belong to. e.g. development of only child vs. child with siblings.
Bureaucracies may alienate people. e.g. U of T ?!?!??!

Classic Studies: Outsiders

Howard Becker from Chicago School of sociology studied classic work Outsiders (1963). Groundwork for labelling theory. Deviance is the result of a group expelling a subgroup (through labelling). e.g. jazz musicians and marijuana users.

People learn deviant behaviour just like they would anything else. But once labelled deviant people set themselves apart and develop distinct patterns of behaviour. e.g. jazz musicians.

Becker’s model for deviance is sequential, because there is learning and group formation. Deviance is a process. Different factors in people’s lives become relevant at different stages. Overtime the deviant gains community identity within a deviant subgroup.

Main argument: who accuses who? Instead of punishing deviant, why do we consider the deviant bad?
Criticism: ignores personal motivation, focuses on effects but not causes. It’s difficult to understand deviance without reference to personal motives, and so many question this approach. But still influential.

Identity, Roles, and Role-Sets

Social scripts associated with dramaturgical approach of symbolism and interactionism.
Erving Goffman in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959) showed we can understand and think about social life in terms of a theatrical production – with costumes, scripts, audiences, and roles. e.g. The term social role is borrowed from theatre.
(Shakespeare – “All the world’s a stage.”)

But life is not scripted! We have freedom (in a sense). No social script covers any social situation, so we’d always need to improvise. So Goffman’s theatre is a metaphor. Helps explain social structure though. And also makeup and different dress codes.

“Costume malfunction” – if sometimes script isn’t followed or someone’s bad at improvising we feel embarrassed. And we try to get everything back on track.

Social scripts are imperfect as we only have general outlines. We need social skills and insight. Fulfillment of roles promotes effective interaction. Breach of expectations, on the other hand, can get ugly.

Roles we play are related to identity. Dramaturgically, social roles are the source, not the expression, of identities. It goes from outside-in. Symbolic interactionist argue that roles shape identities.

“Category” and “Community” embed roles and identities.

“Community”: group of people who interact and communicate often and share common interests, values, and goals. They identify themselves as members of a community and one another as members. Membership is important. Shame by gossip. Despite individual differences (demographic categories like age, sex, etc.) there’s conformity in a community.

“Category”: people in the same category do not necessarily communicate with one another. People are less likely to identify with the category than a community. So sociologists are less interested in categories until they mobilize and become a community.
So category mobilization is what social movement is about. e.g. Women’s movement, gay rights movement, etc.

Central concern of sociology: what is the connection between roles and identities? Related to: where does social conformity originate? From within? or from without?

The answer is “both”. Sometimes we want to leave/voice disapproval, but we still obey. We come to tolerate, even embrace, social rules.

Labelling theory: we gain knowledge or understanding of who we are by seeing how other people view or treat us. Founded by Charles Horton Cooley (1902), with concept looking-glass self. The way others see you influences how you see yourself. Good theory but limited. We don’t absorb all the outside opinions.

Goffman (1963) notes that roles and identities overlap.

  • Role embracement: willing acceptation of identities associated with role. e.g. pretty much all successful (and happy) people in life.
  • Role distance: accepts role but not identity. e.g. Roy Mustang and Edward Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist – becoming “Millitary’s Dog” in pursuit of their own goals.
  • Role exit: leaving a role. Rejection and loss of activities, rights, responsibilities, and identity. e.g. break up.

Symbolic interactionist perspective: identities are socially determined, based on social roles, unlike “personality”. When you take on a new role it’s common to feel uneasy because you’ve never done it before.

Your roles structure your life. When you become a dad you also take on related roles, such as soccer coach, moral guide, etc. This collection is called role-set. Some roles are clearly defined especially when paired. e.g. parent-child or husband-wife. They are well defined because we know how people are supposed to act.

How do roles change over time? Social roles are not predetermined. Individuals can furthermore choose their own roles.

George Herbert Mead argues that people adopt roles through role-taking. People learn from people around them and from society at large. To enter one role you must enter some other roles beforehand. So people adopt these roles at their own volition. Central to this process is the learning and use of symbols. Especially language.

Ralph Turner (1962) introduced concept of role-making. People invent new roles with cooperation from others. This concept identifies a major flaw in interactionist approach and a major different between interactionism and functionalism.

(Detour into functionalism)

Let me explain: if you and another person makes a role it doesn’t automatically make it valid. People have to accept it. New roles may not have accompanying status (resource for role-play). Status are components in a complex social system. We can’t introduce roles without establishing how they fit in society.

As explained by Ralph Linton, people play roles but occupy statuses. Statuses are characterized by qualities, duties, privileges, responsibilities and rights. Hierarchical in nature.

In a functionalist image of society, order is all-important. Without an orderly hierarchy there is no stability.
Talcott Parsons (1949) views statuses as central to social order. When socialization is incomplete, people neglect their duties and disorder follows. Society resists breakdown by using embarrassment and shame to restore social equilibrium.
We learn how to live in society through socialization.

Role Conflicts and Role Strains

When roles conflict (appropriately termed role conflict) with each other people undergo role strain, reveals itself as stress. (Contrary to the engineering definition σ = Εε). Despite these strains society continues to function well. People find ways of managing stress associated with role strain, through appropriate social mechanisms.

  1. Prioritizing. e.g. dump your girlfriend for school.
  2. Have a master status. The most distinct characteristic. e.g. I’m better than anyone else at coding so an elite hacker is my most important role.
  3. Compartmentalization. Division of activities. Keeping your groups separate. By keeping groups separate it’s easier to keep the roles separate too.
  4. Secrecy, as discussed below.

Classic Studies: The Sociology of Secrecy and of Secret Societies

Everyone feels the need to deviate at times. But how do we do this with impunity? Georg Simmel (1906) is the first to study secrecy. Our “second” (secret) world is constructed from our “first” (real) world.
“First world”: world of socially acceptably behaviours.
“Second world”: world of hidden deviance.

Social life is like a game of hide-and-seek. One person tries to hide something and another tries to find out what’s hidden. Secrecy is functionally necessary, and cities are especially useful.

According to Simmel, lies are dangerous because people base decisions based on assumptions they can’t easily confirm. Sometimes relationships benefit from concealment. But every relationship has its own tolerable limit of deviation and secrecy.

Secret societies then hold a particular importance in religion and politics. A secret society is “an interactional unit characterized in its totality by the fact that reciprocal relations among its members are governed by the protective functions of secrecy”. So, in English, their member’s actions and relationships are protected by secrecy.

Two components to this definition. 1. members of a group want to protect ideas, activities, etc. 2. They defend these ideas by controlling information.

Through social scripts we gain understanding of what society requires. But social forms are more remarkable and less obvious.

Dyads, Triads, and Small Groups

Social forms does not direct our behaviour but are descriptions. They emerge without people’s intention or awareness. In 1908 essay by Georg Simmel he divided sociology into form (mode of interaction) and content (motive, purpose of an action).

e.g. Two people discussing about movie vs. three people discussing about movie. Content is same but form is different. Dyads act differently than triads.

Binary groups either agree easily or fall into hard-to-resolve conflict. Odd-numbered groups takes a longer time but usually able to eventually resolve conflict. May have peacemaker, etc. unavailable to a dyad.
(O_O Parity matters? Statistically as n approaches infinity the behaviour of odd-numbered and even-numbered groups should become indistinguishable! I guess he’s only talking about small groups)

The idea of social forms opposes voluntarist position. Voluntarism, socio-psychological, argues that our social behaviour is a clear reflection of our goals, etc. But sociologists believe that we often do what we do to gain social acceptance. We try to fit into the social form confronting us and tailor our actions.

Robert Bales (functionalist) did a study at Harvard. By creepily watching people doing teamwork in a one-way mirror, he observed three social forms: the task leader, the emotional leader (often the peacemaker), and the joker.

In order for groups to survive some of their members need to perform special roles. In every group people step forward to fill these roles, or break up. — a small scale functionalist model as put forth by Parsons and Robert Bales.

There are many overlaps between functionalism and interactionism. But at their extremes they lead to different directions.
Symbolic Interactionism: we are always creating and invigorating “the social structure” which would not survive without our intentional cooperative efforts.
(So like, you need to continuously supply electricity to keep a machine going.)
Functionalism: “social systems” persist outside the efforts and intentions of individuals. They force us to conform whether we are willing or not.
(More like osmosis.)
So functionalists far more easily explain social forms.

Teams, Bands, and Gangs (TBGs)

TBGs operate similarly despite very different goals and activities. People join them because they want to be members, not as means for another end. People are not born into it.

TBGs have distinct membership, goals, and activities. They have hierarchies with leaders to set goals, mobilize and motivate. There are clear differences between individual T/B/G though.
All TBGs must address issues of leadership, recruitment, communication, and control. Must master “teamwork”.

Cliques, Networks, and Small Worlds

The social network is different. e.g. 20 people connected to each other. If n = 20 there can be 190 paired different direct connections according to [n(n-1)/2]. Grows quadratically.

Indirect connections are interesting too. Mark Granovetter (1974) argues that weakly tied networks are more useful than strongly tied networks.

Reason is mathematically shown by Anatol Rapoport (1953). Information that only passes through strong links will cycle repeatedly. But information that passes through weak links spread much more quickly.

But then a network is only as strong as its connections, or dyadic relationships (i.e. the edges that connect nodes). Stable dyadic relationships are based on social exchange. So people enter and leave a network.

Nodes can be people but also gouts, institutions, cities, countries, etc. In cyberspace people are setting up virtual networks as well as real ones (in the real world).

Social networking: “small world” property. Aka “six degrees of separation”. But some are sociometric stars. (I think I read this in a Malcolm Gladwell book). These stars can serve as leaders to bring people together. So leadership is integrating people from top down, which is far easier than bottom up.

Integrative role of leaders is important because many of us belong to cliques, groups characterized by friendship, similarity, interaction, exclusion, and the flow of resources. No practical goals but raises status of clique members. Also hierarchical with a leader.

Cohesion of cliques is based as much on exclusion as on inclusion.

Time for generalization!

Michael Foucault
Focused on “the critical history of the present” and then adopted a “genealogical” approach. Claims that knowledge and power control people by creating and enforcing social norms for human behaviour. Foucault maintains that these norms are not derived from evidence or rational argument but are produced by historical circumstance.
Publishes Discipline and Punish: The Origin of the Prison. Examines how power-knowledge relationship uses coercion and surveillance to exert direct, physical control in enforcing standards of behaviour. Similar to schools!!! D:
Also has works on sexuality regarding “bio-power” that influences through policies of reproduction, health, and mortality.

To understand Foucault: our social forms and social scripts are historically specific, arbitrary, but compelling. All of these are part of our notions of “normality” and thus control us. No source of surveillance or of social rules is as powerful as the state. So social order is fundamentally a structure of power relations.

Notion of “governmentality”: regulation of people’s behaviour (self-regulated and state-regulated). Lemke said that in governmentality autonomous individuals as well as the sovereign determine each other’s emergence. So in a sense the growth of individualism is part of the same process that produces large inhuman institutions.

By what means is governmentality achieved? Why? How do individuals make space for themselves then? How do states preserve control when surveillance is imperfect?

Debrix and Barder (2009) say that decentralization of far and power in modern society encourage the use of danger, threat, insecurity, or hostility to control behaviour. Referred to as “mobilization of fear”, involves use of terrifying mechanisms.

Fear of aging: Castle (2009) notes that professional power in gerontology makes seniors dependent on the governing system through assessment and surveillance. McDaniel says that many of those who care for the elderly are themselves disadvantaged: women of a visible minority.

Svihula says that through Foucault’s analysis we can identify relations of power and state governmentality at local level within gerontology. But “power at the macro level” (i.e. the “market ethos”) needs to be examined.

Foucauldian notions applied on plastic surgery: “normality” is relevant. Heyes (2009) says that surgeons exercise discipline to attempt to draw a line between normal and abnormal needs. This distinction legitimizes plastic surgery. But ultimately Heyes argues that these surgeons merely ensure profitability of their practice by claiming that negative results must be caused by a patient’s disorder.

Evans and Colls (2009) applies Foucault analysis to obesity. Used Foucault’s notions of bio-power and governmentality that BMI measurement does not take into account the whole body and experiences of the people being measured. These measurements provides a way of drawing lines between “normal” and “abnormal”, for control.

Hay (2009) says that employee conversations with managers focused around employee development. Such conversations aim to adjust personal competences to corporate visions, missions, and goals. Foucaultian view: these conversations are hidden technologies of power.

Foucault’s “technologies of the self” includes:

  • self-examination
  • identification of inner impurities
  • disclosure of the self
  • renunciation of the self

In framework of freedom and choice (modern rationale of control), technologies of the self with formal relations of domination form a specific type of governmentally. e.g. employee is transformed in an endless striving for perfection as an employee. So people are implication in their own self-criticism and institutional subjection.
(Personal comment: there’s nothing wrong with striving for perfection. It’s an age-old human pursuit. And it’s noble.)

“Neo-liberalism”: political philosophy that, under guise of liberation, undermines collective efforts to redistribute wealth and power. Lazzarato (2009) draws on Foucault and argues that by emphasizing the important of the individual and market competition, Foucault’s ideology transformed society into an ever less equal “enterprise society”. The emphasis on individuals is to create social insecurity and to weaken the role of the state, to depoliticize social issues. Undermines planning and redistribution of welfare.
(Basically he’s saying that Foucault’s ideology implies that inequality is inherent and inevitable, and as a Marxist he isn’t happy about that.)

So then from this point of view, neo-liberalism means the restoration of capitalist power over redistribution of wealth. Complete antithesis of a Marxist stance.

Blain (2009) looks at American “war on terrorism” through Foucault’s viewpoint. Origins of the notion “terrorism” from English response to French Revolution. Thereafter government labelled some activism as illegitimate and some as legitimate. So it’s the government’s perception of the act is evil.
(Evil is in the eye of the beholder.)

So Foucault is really controversial and there’s still a lot of heated debate. But the general idea is that Foucault has helped us understand the nature of power in present-day societies, and that such power is often exercised without our awareness by obliging us to conform to “normality”. These notions are nested in social scripts we perform and the social forms we inhabit. So the powerful use modern methods and institutions to control the rest of us.

New Insights

Sociological Notions of Community.

Adler and Adler (2008) look at people who injure themselves. Sociologically, is self-injury a social, communal activity? Many self-injurers who feel lonely and isolated from society were able to form online communities. This research is social constructionist and shed new light on the creation of virtual communities made possible by technology. Deviant group can avoid isolation, stigma, and exclusion.

Communities can take various forms. Purcell (2009) criticized Old Left theories of protest. Not every social movement needs to be based on classes, or be organized the same way. Present day political movements are different in form by similar in intent. Formation of “networks of equivalence”.

Misuse of Terminology
There are political ramifications by using the term community. Merrill Singer (2006) says that it’s difficult to assess drug addicts as a community. The use of word “community” in drug addition literature may influence policy makers. Community is hard to define to suit various contexts.
(Moral: choose your words carefully)

Consumerism as a religion
Antonowiez and Wrzesinski (2009) relate Thomas Lukmann’s notion of invisible religion to sports fans’ devotion to their teams as a form of community. This requires participation and faith, just like traditional religions, but is more complex because of commercialization. Does this represent a true community? Or a true religion (it’s a clothing brand name!)?

Transcendence in Markets
Thompson and Coskuner-Balli (2007) examine community supported agriculture (CSA). Consumers agree to buy “shares” in local farms and are supplied with local produces. People usually do this out of ideological stance or idealized romanticism. Thompson and Coskuner-Balli remind us that in a “disenchanted” modern age (when, as Nietzsche puts it, God is dead), people continue to look for transcendence. Even in a market-driven world.

A World of Dreamers
Rabot (2007) says that even shared fantasies have social value. What others see as alienation Rabot sees as “vector of socialities”. It is through broadcasting of images that human communion is created and heightened. So in the images around us we see the signs of a committed tribal membership in an otherwise fragmented, disenchanted, and rootless society. We need technology to “re-mythologize” our lives.

Postmodern Angst
Conroy (2007) says that anxiety has social value. Conroy shows how postmodern understandings of uncertainty are linked to social causes of anxiety. (Existential angst.) Globalization fuels anxieties and attachment disorders. e.g. chronic job insecurity from exporting good jobs overseas. So we can see anxiety as normal and basis for generational unity.

(I don’t understand. How does describing why anxiety occur make it normal and basis for unity?)

Resurgence of tribalism
Yeygel (2006) says postmodernism causes social class to lose its importance for people. Postmodern concepts are more tribal. e.g. Modern marketing is built on mass culture. Postmodern marketing is built on one-to-one communication with consumers.

The Marxists Strike Back
Rehmann (2007) claims: 1) postmodernism “de-materializes social relations”, focusing mainly on signs and symbols. 2) Postmodernism doesn’t try hard enough to examine contradictions and antagonisms in our social relations.
So Rehmann says that Marxists must continue to critique neo-liberalism and dominant (capitalist) ideology. Consumerism is exploitive. But Marxists should interpret postmodernism in a historical materialistic framework. It has to reinsert labouring bodies into the analysis of capitalism.

Still Not Good Enough
Salerno (2006) says “American ambivalence” towards community (social engagement vs. individual hedonism) reflects alienation. Utopia vs. social paranoia have led to gated communities and barred windows (I guess that’s why they call it window pain). Sense of community is unattainable in capitalistic communities where market forces alienate.

You Ain’t Got Nuthin’
Modern neighbourhoods are less communities than commodities. They are owned by financial institutions, but residents (à la subprime crisis). People have about as much real connection with their community as they do with their local Walmart; their community becomes something they use that belongs to someone else. The locus of control and planning lies elsewhere. Result of alienation: superficiality of place.
(Fun fact: in China you may buy a property, but you are not allowed to own land. All land is owned by the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”. Isn’t it kind of the same idea here? Is the author trying to establish a contrast between capitalism and idealized communism? Practically, “Chinese” communism and capitalism may not be all that different.)

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SOC103 Notes by digitalhardhat is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


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