Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Swine Flu

During the last two weeks, the Mexican government has developed strict measures over its population in order to avoid the proliferation of the swine flu. As a news reporter from the New York Times says, “the government-decreed restrictions on public activities apply all over Mexico…the restrictions are part of the government’s effort to discourage people from gathering in large groups and transmitting the newly discovered flu strain, H1N1” (Rohter 2009). Mexican authorities are using mass media to spread the message that people must stay in home and change hygiene and physical contact habits. Foucault’s microphysics of power factors can be found in the Mexican situation. The Mexican government has used experts’ knowledge, has objective the flu epidemic, and has used mass media to ‘educate’ about the swine flu. The Mexican population has paid attention and internalized this message and has restricted its activity. Social control in Mexico, as a consequence of the swine flu, is an example of the discipline that can be reached in a population by using scientific reasons through the mass media.

Do you consider that Foucault’s theory could be applied to the Mexican situation?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Modern Day Parable

A Japanese company and an American company decided to have a canoe race on the Missouri River.

Both teams practiced long and hard to reach their peak performance before the race.

On the big day, the Japanese won by a mile.

The Americans, very discouraged and depressed, decided to investigate the reason for the crushing defeat. A management team made up of senior management was formed to investigate and recommend appropriate action.

Their conclusion was the Japanese had 8 people rowing and 1 person steering, while the American team had 7 people steering and 2 people rowing.
Feeling a deeper study was in order; American management hired a consulting company and paid them a large amount of money for a second opinion. They advised, of course, that too many people were steering the boat, while not enough people were rowing.

Not sure of how to utilize that information, but wanting to prevent another loss to the Japanese, the rowing team's management structure was totally reorganized to 4 steering supervisors, 2 area steering superintendents and 1 assistant superintendent steering manager.

They also implemented a new performance system that would give the 2 people rowing the boat greater incentive to work harder. It was called the 'Rowing Team Quality First Program,' with meetings, dinners and free pens for the rowers. There was discussion of getting new paddles, canoes and other equipment, extra vacation days for practices and bonuses. The pension program was trimmed to ‘equal the competition’ and some of the resultant savings were channeled into morale boosting programs and teamwork posters.

The next year the Japanese won by two miles.

Humiliated, the American management laid off one rower, halted development of a new canoe, sold all the paddles, and canceled all capital investments for new equipment. The money saved was distributed to the Senior Executives as bonuses.

The next year, try as he might, the lone designated rower was unable to even finish the race (having no paddles,) so he was laid off for unacceptable performance, all canoe equipment was sold and the next year's racing team was out-sourced to India.

Now here's the question:

How does this modern day parable fit into World-Systems theory?

History Vs.Historicity

Wallerstein’s concept of historicity provides a more complete & realistic portrayal of history as it truly unfolds. If our study of history is to be authentic, then it should take into account the social realities of the environments in which historical events took place. Social structures and systems have enabled individuals to make history. Since history is in fact the story of society, societal factors should be considered as more important than individuals (in history.) Individuals have interacted and bonded together to create the societal systems that have allowed them to create reality and thus history. Historicity provides the holistic view of human history, and the true manner in which it has occurred.
Can you think of how societal systems interacted at the time of the American revolution, and what social systems were our founding fathers involved in that enabled them to succeed in founding the United States?

American culture around the world

The proliferation of “American” culture throughout the world has given rise to what many have labeled a MacDonaldization (Appelrouth & Edels, 2008:792) of the planet where many hybrid forms of culture have been born. It may be true that these new forms have been influenced and their very existence spawned by American society but it would be unfair to try and explain these as just extensions of the American culture. Although highly shaped by outsider influence the new hybrid cultural forms must be seen and explained within their own context historically and geographically speaking. An example of this incorporation of American society into the existing “native” culture is the use of rap music as a form of protest in the Gaza Strip. This American creation has been embraced by Palestinian youth as they attempt to tell the world about their daily strife against what they deem as a marginalized existence. Can you think of any of other forms of American culture that have also been integrated by cultures around the world? How is this new hybrid cultural form influencing this foreign society?

Applerouth, S. & Edles, L. D.2008.Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory:

Text Readings.Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press


Within the world economy, and Wallerstein’s world-systems theory, Mexico is an example of the semi-periphery that Wallerstein expounds. According to Allan (2007), semi-periphery states act much like core states. These states are in transition from being a land of exploitation to being a part of the core. Semi-periphery states also export exploitation and exploit those within their own nations (Allan, 2007). Within semi-periphery states exists a periphery population. In Mexico, the periphery could include the mestizo population. According to Allan (2007), the relationship between core (and semi-periphery) nations and the periphery is one of production processes and profit. However, the periphery, as well, can be further divided. Indigenous groups within Mexico could be considered the periphery of the periphery (Weaver, 1996). The periphery of the periphery is defined by simple economic systems. These societies are ones that subsist on hunting and gathering, pastoralism, horticulture, and fishing. Just as the core extracts resources from the semi-periphery, and the semi-periphery extracts resources from the periphery, the periphery also extracts capital and labor resources from the periphery of the periphery (Weaver, 1996).

Do core states have a semi-periphery, a periphery, and a periphery of the periphery? Discuss some examples of each group, and how resources are extracted from each.

Allan, K. (2007). The Social Lens: An Invitation to Social and Sociological Theory. California: Pine Forge Press.

Appelrouth, S., and Edles, L. (2008). Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory. California: Pine Forge Press.

Weaver, T. (1996). Mapping the Policy Terrain: Political Economy, Policy, Environment, and Forestry Production in Northern Mexico. Journal of Political Ecology. Volume 3.

Global Systems in the New World

These three theorists produce a global paradigm that that is tremendously productive in today’s globally entangled world. The neo-Marxist and neo-functionalist ideas build on a rich history of sociological theory, bringing them into the modern scholarly world. Said’s epistemic exercise is as critical as the positionality promoted by contemporary feminist theorists, but at a more macro level. A larger question arises from reading these theorists, though. Wallerstein argues that in modernity we are seeing the rise of non-government groups, which we can see with the increased engagement of terrorist groups and the ascension to power of corporations. This begs the question of, how much longer will these theories be useful? Will Wallerstein’s ideas of classed nations still work as the importance of the nation dwindles? Will Luhmann’s ideas of a system engaging in the environment still stand as the idea of what becomes a successful system changes? How can we begin to engage in epistemic analysis if the new systems are so vested in secrecy to protect their trade secrets or organization’s means and motives?

Wallerstein & Said

Immanuel Wallerstein thinks world empires existed before capitalism and were characterized by a common political entity: military dominance and taxation over other countries (Allan 441). However, in the current world economics time hegemonies still exist, but they have changed the way they force political agendas and taxation over other countries. Edward Said’s orientalism could be helpful to support the claim that this kind of system still exist. Colonizers’ countries can be viewed as hegemonies, which are interested in gaining economic, cultural, and political power over the colonized. Edward Said calls the attention to consider that “while decolonized nations may no longer be directly dominated, they nonetheless continue to be colonized politically, economically, and culturally” (Allan 564). But, New world empires try to give the impression that the world order has changed since all the nations are ‘capable’ to participate in the economic system.

Are hegemonies a thing of the past?