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?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It's your choice. (But not really.)

Habitus is the mental or cognitive structure in which people deal with the social world. It's like a filter in which we perceive and experience life. A habitus is acquired as a result of a long term position in the social world and is influenced by your social class, your economic classification, your religion/faith, your ethnicity, the clubs and organizations that you belong to, and a million other things. If habitus is created by society and is largely influenced and maintained by society, do we really have freedom? Bourdieu would say yes. But when asked if society structures our choices Bourdieu would also say yes. So do you agree with him? Can you explain what this means? The answer was in our texts, but what does it mean to YOU?

How Pure Are Your Relationships?

At first this may sound like a misnomer. Giddens says that intimate relationships “in modernity are … characterized by ‘pure relationships.’ Individuals participate in these relationships in order to obtain self satisfaction. These relationships “occur purely for the sake of the relationship. Relationships today are pursued and maintained on the basis personal needs, and individual's propensity or desire to fulfill these modern needs. Prior to the onset of modernity, the frivolous friendships we enjoy in society today were unheard of. People were so busy just barely surviving that there was no time to have friends for the fun of it. The only non-family friends people had were those who’s relationships could assist in providing help in times of need. Giddens defines relational purity as the practical obtainment or satisfaction of the selfish personal needs of individuals.
Do you feel that your some of your current relationships in society are “pure”?

Nuclear Risks

The world capitalist economy differentiates between the people who are more or less at risk depending on each person’s economic resources. However, Giddens’ explains globalized risks, such as nuclear war or pollution, have equal consequences for humanity since people will suffer the same massive impact,"The possibility of nuclear war, ecological calamity, uncontainable population explosion, the collapse of global economy exchange, and other potential global catastrophes provide an unnerving horizon of dangers for everyone…globalised risks…do not respect divisions between regions of the world" (Giddens, 1990 as cited in Appelrouth & Edles, 2008, p.779). Giddens’ idea is questionable since economic and technological resources could differentiate who is better prepared to confront a nuclear war or an environmental crisis. The world is divided between the powerful or 'West' countries -which hold more economic and technological resources- and the less powerful or 'East' countries. Thus, the risks that a nuclear war entails are bigger for 'East' than for 'West' countries.
Does Humanity share equal nuclear risks?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Juarez Short-term Social Problem?

As we all know in Ciudad Juarez the murder of many young women has been occurring for years now. It is a very sensitive issue that makes headlines but yet at times people may be hesitant to discuss it. It is my firm belief that in order to shed light on these terrible acts it must be open to discussion so we may find a solution. And with that in mind…
It has been suggested that one of the positives stemming from the maquiladora industry coming to the US-Mexico border has been the freedom that female maquiladora workers have been able to acquire from having the ability to earn their own living and not having to entirely depend on men for their sustenance. According to Chafetz, when women living in a certain social environment (ie patriarchal in nature) get greater levels of resources short-term social problems may arise (Allan, 2006:295).
When the acts of “femicide” came to the world’s attention an explanation that was thrown around was that of the degradation of traditional values that was being produced by the liberating effects maquiladora work was having on its female workforce (Wright, 2006). The once traditionally-minded woman was now a fun-seeking person who put herself at risk by not staying at home.
Looking to Chafetz’ ideas, do you believe that the “emancipating” effects that supposedly the factory work (and income) has had on the maquiladora female worker be part of what is causing the murders? (I do not in anyway imply that the women have taken on a libertine life because of the “freedom” work has provided and that that is why they are now becoming targets for violence.) As Chafetz (Allan, 2006) suggests, do you believe that a “short-term imbalance” caused by the presence of women in the border workforce be a factor contributing to the murders?

Allan,K. 2007. The Social Lens: An Invitation to Social and Sociological Theory.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

Wright, Melissa W.(2006).Disposable Women and Other Myths of Global
Capitalism.New York: Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Successful/unsuccessful total institutions

In Asylums, Erving Goffman discusses the nature of total institutions. They strip away individuality and "unfavorable" qualities and replace those qualities with uniformity and other "favorable" qualities. According to Goffman, this stripping of individuality may have negative affects than those desired, rejection rather than conformity.

Military institutions seem to be relatively successful as total institutions. On the other hand, the prison system in America is generally considered to be overcrowded and full of repeat offenders, which would suggest that the systems are largely unsuccessful as total institutions. What qualities separate these institutions that might explain their relative success and failure?

The Commodification of Emotions in the World

Although Arlie Rosell Hochschild mentions that in the commodification of emotions are interwoven factors such as class, race, and gender, she falls short in including social factors that might affect the world-wide population. On the other hand, Mills (2003) mentions a more ample range of factors related with gender in the global labor force, “Gender inequalities represent one dynamic within a global labor force that is also segmented by class, ethnicity and race, nationality and region, among other factors” (42). Therefore, if the analysis of the commodification of emotions includes factors such as ethnicity, nationality, and race, that helps one understand how the commodification of emotions works outside and within the U.S. borders. For instance, capitalist strategies try to reach cheaper wage labor by going beyond borders, so there are U.S. call centers which both operate in India and use cheap Indian labor to give service to U.S. consumers.

But, how does the commodification of emotions work in these types of international scenarios? and Which types of emotions do Indians have to learn or to unlearn in order to give service to citizens from other countries?

Mills, Mary Beth. “Gender and Inequality in the Global Labor Force.” Annual Review of Anthropology. Vol. 32 (2003), pp. 41-62

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Jihad and Critical Theory

When I first began the readings on Critical Theory, I did not see a connection with terrorism or terror groups, my area of focus. As I continued to read, however, I remembered a book by Benjamin R. Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld (1995). While Barber uses McWorld to describe globalization more than the general aspects found in Critical Theory, it applies because it speaks to the global spread of consumerism and, as Critical Theory might describe, the dehumanization of the individual on a global scale. Barber describes McWorld thusly, “I have identified McWorld with crucial developments made possible by innovations in technology and communications… In a way, however, McWorld is merely the natural culmination of a modernization process – some would call it Westernization – that has gone on since the Renaissance birth of modern science and the accompanying paradigm of knowledge constructed as power,” (Barber, 1995). He goes on to argue that Jihad is an “attempt to recapture a world that existed prior to cosmopolitan capitalism,” (Barber, 1995). In this way, I feel I can apply Critical Theory to argue that the Islamic Jihad against the Western world is one way in which human beings rebel against the social systems which seeks to repress individuality. However, there is a complication in this assumption. The social systems which exist within the world of Islamic fundamentalists are also repressive of the individual.
In what other ways has the global spread of capitalism catered to Critical Theory?
Barber, Benjamin R. (1995). Jihad vs. McWorld: Terrorism’s Challenge to Democracy. Random
House Inc. New York, NY.

Money and the life-world

According to Habermas, as the economy colonizes the life-world, it changes the nature of any activities within the life-world that the economy colonizes. By using money to colonize the life-world, money becomes interwoven with many activities and thereby changes them. The example used in Allan is of sex: when money is used as a medium of exchange for sex, it changes the nature of the act. In the modern world, money is being used to colonize many aspects of the life-world, such as fitness, entertainment, spirituality, and other aspects.

What are some ways in which money has affected your own life-world?

Change: all in our minds

The culture industry creates a promise of change of anti-establishment, counter-hegemonic movements while at the same time creating a numbing effect on all those consuming these messages (Appelrouth & Edels, 2008). Apart from carrying a message that everything is just fine the way it is there is also a sort of “rebellion” fix that is fed to society. Even though there may be a perception that change is needed relatively few people take up a protest against the current system. Society appears to be carrying on a “rebel” life vicariously through fictional characters created by the very system that creates the oppression. Who has not suddenly felt “gangsta” or taken on a “cowboy-Jesse James” aura after seeing one of those Hollywood fantasies or from hearing a favorite rock or rap CD? Instead of working towards change (praxis) people let the culture industry fictively provide that new world. In your mind do you believe that social change can be achieved with such a powerful culture industry keeping all satisfied (numb)?

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

Text Readings.Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Parsons on Glamour Girls

Parsons clearly demonstrates misogynistic tendencies when he refers to the “compulsive search for power and exclusive attention” that drives “glamor girls” to employ “feminine devices” (Applerouth, & Edles, 2008). Parsons seems to be deriding glamorous girls and presupposing their reasons for enhancing their femininity. Gilman’s theory also describes the phenomena as occurring, but for very different reasons. Gilman explains that enhancing a woman’s femininity further differentiates her from the male thereby causing her to become even more attractive to men (Women & Economics, 1898). This drive that women have developed to make themselves more feminine in order to become more attractive to males is the way in which society has evolved to make her only access to the economy (and survival) dependent on the man she ultimately attracts and marries. It is not the “compulsive search for power and exclusive attention” that Parsons so arrogantly proposes that it is.
Do you agree with Parsons’ alleged motivations of glamour girls? Is Gilman's theory more or less plausible than Parsons?

Merton and the KKK

Robert Merton expounded upon Parsons concept of society as a system of interconnected parts, by offering that the components of the system may not always work in unison and that the outcome of a system of action is not always predictable (Appelrouth & Edles, 2008). Merton explained that a system of action serves two functions. First, an action can have a manifest function, which is the observable, intended purpose of the action. Second, an action can have a latent function, which is the underlying, unintended purpose of the action (Appelrouth & Edles, 2008). He argues that the latent function of an action can sometimes be the more significant purpose, offering group, social, or cultural cohesion as in Merton’s example of the Hopi Indian rain dance. The ceremony may not bring rain, but it serves the purpose as a function of cultural empowerment (Appelrouth & Edles, 2008).
I saw an immediate parallel between Merton’s example of the Hopi rain dance and some of the ritual actions of terror groups. The Ku Klux Klan, for instance, will set crosses ablaze in front of the homes of people they wish to intimidate. Often, the action evokes anger, not fear, from the target party, thus the intended manifest function of the action has failed. However, this acts as a social ritual for members of the Klan; it can be viewed as a bonding action. The same is true for the rallies where they attempt to draw attention and recruit. They may fail at recruiting or drawing attention from society, but the latent function of creating camaraderie has been fulfilled.

What other actions within modern groups (terror groups, social cliques, etc.) might serve a more latent than manifest function?

How to gain by making function latent

In his analysis of manifest and latent functions, Robert Merton explains how often individuals are largely unaware of the latent functions of a behavior. This lack of awareness offers opportunities both to individuals and to cultures as a whole. An example of the former would be if a male and female friend go shopping for hats with the manifest function of obtaining headwear, but the latent function is so that the male can get closer to the female with the intention of turning female friend into girlfriend. The man may not even be aware that is what he really intends, but even if he was, it might work counter to his interest if the woman were aware, especially if the woman were not particularly open to his approach. Therefore, in this case, the male benefits from the function being latent rather than manifest.

What are some other examples of functions being made latent rather than manifest in order to benefit certain individuals, groups, or society as a whole?

Sex Roles in the 21st Century

Twenty-first century families do not have the rigid structure that Parsons describes. Parsons wrote from a 1940s, 1950s white male middle class perspective, and could not picture the perspective of other social classes. However, families today are socially and racially diverse, especially in the US, and even the white middle class family does not fit Parsons proscribed role definitions. In the 21st century, there is substantial role confusion in families. Gay and lesbian couples adopt children and raise them with same sex parents. More fathers stay at home to take care of their children while the mother is the primary breadwinner. Increased educational opportunities for women have produced a professional class of women who sometimes earn substantially more than their husbands. Families in the 21st century are also deciding to have fewer children, and are marrying at a later age (and sometimes not at all). In short, the 21st century has produced more: women in the workforce, single parent households, stay-at-home dads, same sex parents, and racially blended families.

Sex role changes in the 21st century are logical when one looks at the situation using Parson’s AGIL scheme. The 21st century has produced rapid changes, and as a result, family roles have had to change in order to adapt to the new environment. Social changes and changes in the job market have forced people to conform. Therefore, families have had to adapt to the new economic system (A), and therefore have new goals (G), which create changes in the social system with norms and interactions (I), and thus cultural systemic change occurs to adapt to the new order (L) (Appelrouth and Edles, 2008). Hence, the new social order is more functional for the 21st century. Therefore, it can be concluded that Parsons fixed and inflexible role structure is only one depiction of a functional family, as portrayed by 21st century families.

How do you think Parsons would view 21st century changes in sex roles as affecting the family?

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.

Fuctionalists vs. Conflict Theorists

From what I understood, one of the primary differences between Functionalists and Conflict Theorists is the role of authority (power) in the lives of the members of society. Where Durkheim and Parsons believe that the collective is that one that makes the norms, values, and beliefs, Dahrendorf says that it is actually the ones in power that set the norms, values, and beliefs, and then they are also the ones that enforce them. Which side you do agree with?

Try looking at some current issues/events.
Women, on average, make less than men. Who allowed this to happen? The collective or the powers that be?
Gays are not legally allowed to marry. Why? Is it the collective that is against it, or is it the people that help to pass laws?
Some states have laws that govern sexual acts that happen in the privacy of your own home. Regardless of whether you are married or not. Do you believe that these laws were set up by the general population? Or was it the people that hold power in our nation?
Some states have made it illegal for you to spank your child as a form of punishment. Was this something that was set up by the parents who have these kids? Or was it set up and is enforced by the authorities that oversee our government?

So after thinking about these issues (and I'm sure you can think of a million more) which side of the spectrum do you think that you agree with more? The side of the Functionalists or the side of the Conflict Theorists?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Excessive Sex-indulgence Damage

Charlotte Gilman talks about the “excessive sex-indulgence” disorder that is prevalent in society today and this can be seen in popular culture. The excessive sexual appetite that males have for females is a more exaggerated feature in humans than in other animals. This characteristic is increased directly in proportion to the extent in which females differentiate themselves from males. Women today exaggerate their bodies’ femininity more than ever before and this has caused great harm to the human race. Colored & big hair, massive amounts of make-up, leg and underarm shaving, and unnatural feminine clothing like stiletto pumps & push-up bras have all exaggerated societies’ idea of the “ideal” woman’s body to the point where a large percentage of men are disfuntionally addicted to sex and/or the act of sex itself.
20% of all Internet profits go to the porn industry. Prostitution flourishes wherever it is legal or not. Women are also very driven to glamorize their appearance in order to attract a life mate and they are trained at a very young age that pretty & sexy looks attract more spousal candidates, causing them to disfigure their bodies with anorexia and bulimia as well as breast implants liposuction, and face lifts.
How many of you choose your fashions in order to attract a mate? Do you see examples of this condition (excessive sex-indulgence) in the people you interact with daily?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

White Consciousness

Du Bois argued that oppressive culture lead to double consciousness for oppressed populations, but a number of other thinkers including James Baldwin and Thandeka who speak of white guilt. This white guilt is the result of knowledge of benefit from a racist system or in other cases the inability to stop or intervene in blatantly racist acts (typically perpetrated by family members). Is this feeling of guilt a second form of consciousness for majority populations? Why or why not?

Connection with Emotions

Audre Lorde was a black lesbian writer who considers it necessary to think in depth about men and women’s roles in society. Although Lorde was a feminist as we can consider Gilman, she shares more characteristics with Du Bois’ ideas and academic writing style. For example, she justifies the connection with our emotions as a way to criticize current social gender agreements,"But as we come more in touch with our ancient, non-European consciousness of living as a situation to be experienced and interacted with, we learn more and more to cherish our feelings, and to respect those hidden sources of our power from where true knowledge and, therefore, lasting action comes" (Lorde 1984). Also, Lorde considers that the White academic style denies the use of artistic expressions in academic writing because white-men logic is not attuned enough with such language. Therefore women need to restore links with our inner emotional spaces to recover from and fight back men’s oppression over women. Du bois also prefers an academic style which lets him connect with his black folks emotions, “The style is tropical-African. This needs no apology. The blood of my fathers spoke through me and cast off the English restraint of my training and surroundings” (Du Bois 1904 as cited in Appelrouth & Edles, 2008, p. 276). Although emotions have been forbidden from the academic language, Lorde and Du Bois write their academic papers in that way because that helps them to express the oppression they were feeling and how they feel it. According to Du Bois and Lorde, “White” logic avoids people connection with their emotions because they can realize that the way things are told and explained in White society do not include dissident points of view.

Do you consider that to write from the standpoint of our emotions could it be a way to start breaking oppression?

Appelrouth Scott & Edles Laura. Clasical and Contemporary Sociological Theory. California: Pine Forge Press, 2008.
Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. California: Crossing Press, 1984.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Monetary systems and trust

According to Simmel, the presence of a strong, government-backed monetary system increases overall trust. This is due to both the fact that it inspires trust in a nebulous entity, and the fact that individuals with money receive the benefit of the trust that money inspires.

The recent collapse of the financial system in the United States has caused people to lose faith in those institutions, though trust in the almighty dollar still remains. However, many countries have monetary systems that do not inspire trust, as a result of enormous amounts of inflation, disinflation, deflation, or outright defaults on debt. This lack of trust in money results in less trust in business, which then serves to greatly hinder the economic development of that country.

Is it possible for a country or an economic system to develop a high level of trust, without a trustworthy monetary system?

Countering the ILLs of Urbanization

In Simmel’s view urbanization had both positive and negative effects (Allan, 2007). The overload of stimuli prompts a shutting off (a desensitized state) from the environment and more importantly a detachment from those persons around us in order for us to be able not just to cope with the bombardment to our senses but maybe even to be able to lead productive lives. This detachment, according to various theorists including Durkheim and Simmel, is bound to create an anomic state which can lead to conflict. In your view what forces, institutions, behaviors, innovations etc. are stepping up to counteract the ills that this urbanization (anomie) might bring?
Allan,K. 2007. The Social Lens: An Invitation to Social and Sociological Theory.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.


According to Mead (as cited in Allan, 2007), symbols are abstract and arbitrary there is nothing “natural” to them it is we and our actions or responses that give meaning to these. For instance, a gun at first glance may be perceived as dangerous and thus a meaning of “weapon” is assigned to this object (social) or the gun may be seen as fun and defined as a sportsman’s tool (or toy). Prior experience (interactions) with the object of course will have much to say on how it is perceived by the individual. So the gun or any object for that matter has no intrinsic meaning or function it is up to us through our use of it that gives it a meaning. This “meaning assignment” also occurs in the way we perceive certain actions or behaviors we engage in, that is certain behaviors are deemed illegal in contemporary society that may not have been seen as such before (or that one day may not be seen as illegal/inappropriate). “We are continually changing our social system in some respects, and we are able to do that intelligently because we think…” (George Herbert Mead,1934 as cited in Appelrouth & Edles, 2008) Can you think of certain behaviors that were not illegal in the past but now are? How about current illegal actions that in the future may become legitimate or not seen as wrong?
Allan,K. 2007. The Social Lens: An Invitation to Social and Sociological Theory.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

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

Text Readings.Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

A More General, General Other

The final stage of Mead’s model is the creation of self through the role taking of the general other. This is an understandable statement, but introduce Simmel’s ideas of urbanization and there are distinct new implications. The formations of rational social networks, anomie, blasé attitudes, and lack of strong ties to others, among other things would doubtlessly shift both how we are able to relate to others as well as the manner we would perceive their reactions. This would clearly affect our manner to manipulate our actions for desired outcomes.

How would you suspect that Simmel’s ideas of urbanization would affect Mead’s ideas of the general other?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Problems with Ideals?

Weber’s work is both interesting and continues to be useful today and by exploring the stratifications of class and leadership demonstrates that he was willing to engage the complexity of society, but the ideal types that are used as a measure throughout his work seem to limit his utility to a minor extent. It is understandable to use these ideal types, but the fact remains that people are limited and erroneous. For example, the ideas that bureaucracy stems from the human desire to be organized is a fine assertion, but the idea that this will lead to absolute domination from a system that gives no regard to emotion or general human chaos is not a claim that follows reason. Seeing how Weber was aware of this being an ideal, it is doubtable that he thought this would ever be obtained, but this begs the question of what utility does creating this ideal type provide rather than simply making observations on existing bureaucracies?

Weber's Rationalization

As I look around the world I can see the obvious rationalization all around. From the way that we import and export trade, to our communications, to transportation. Besides tribal places in third world countries, I seriously can not think of one single aspect of world life has not been rationalized in some way by bureaucracy. Can you think of any???

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Durkheim and Crime

not only that the way remains open to necessary change, but that in certain cases it directly proposes these changes... crime [can thus be] a useful prelude to reforms."

I think this quote refers to social change in a sense. I think what Durkheim is saying is not necessarily about crime per se, but more about deviating from the social norm. If enough people do the same thing over and over than eventually it will become part of the norm. The example that comes to mind would be the decriminalization of medical marijuana in New Mexico. Most people, some not all, see smoking marijuana as a crime. But, are the people who are going through chemothereapy or who are suffering from glaucoma committing a crime when they use medicinal marijuana to ease their ailments? They are not smoking for recreational use they are smoking because they have found it eases their pain. People kept on doing this and doctors kept prescribing it eventually it became legal. There was a change that was made. Soon after other states began to legalize medical marijuana. Another example that was given in class was the subject of gay marriage. Gay people are choosing to get married and some churches are allowing them to. Their marriage is recognized in the eyes of God, but their marraige is not recognized by the states. Eventually according to Durkheim this act of gay people getting married will bring about change and it will become legal. My question is, are there other acts of deviating from the norm that will eventually be a prelude to change and reform in today's society?

Durkheim and the Arab World

When applying Durkheim to modern sociological study, most obvious to my mind are the fundamental differences between the societies of the Middle East and the US and the conflict which may or may not be a direct result of those differences. It can be assumed, based on Durkheim's description of mechanical solidarity (Appelrouth & Edles, pgs 105-106, 2008; Allan, pg 87, 2007), that many Middle East societies could be classified as such. Many of these societies are unindustrialized, tribal communities with strong familial attachments. They are tied to one another through common moralistic beliefs. Their system of law and punishment is driven by moral agendas and upheld by the group.
On the other hand, the US has organic solidarity, as described by Durkheim (Appelrouth & Edles, pgs 106-108, 2008; Allan, pg 87, 2007). We are an industrialized nation in which people depend on one another not through familial connections, but utilitarian necessity. We are connected based on what other people can provide us. People in the US are quite individualistic, their actions are generally independent of the group and their connection with the collective consciousness is loose, generally through an intermediary.
It is my opinion that conflict between these two groups, is driven , in part, by the differences in their social structure. Durkheim describes, in The Division of Labor in Society (Appelrouth & Edles, pgs 104-110), the conflict that can arise from forced division of labor. I see the clash between the Middle East and the US being one possible product of this conflict. US capitalism and the division of labor which it promises to introduce, is viewed as a threat to the mechanical solidarity of the tribal life currently adhered to in much of the Middle East. With the expansion of capitalism, driven largely by the US, it is no wonder that some in the Middle East view it as a threat to their way of life. Capitalism threatens to dismantle the close familial and tribal connection present in that part of the world for generations. Durkheim, in my opinion, has very accurately predicted the ensuing conflict.

What other connections can you see between Durkheim's theories and Middle East/US conflict?

Durkheim, Suicide, and Wall Street

For the application Durkheim’s work with suicide seems most available. Durkheim argues that social institutions that regulate desires and social changes are the primary factors in suicide. Using this, examining the current economic situation which has been riddled with several high profile suicides should prove enlightening. It would be hard to argue that the American society put easily obtainable limits on the desires due to the capitalistic accumulation inherent to The American Dream. Also the current economic situation is clearly devastating which can be considered a social change. As a result Durkheim would project an increase in suicides. Data is not yet available, but current scholars are projecting that there will be similar results, though not yet immediately (Idov, 2008, http://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/53341/ ).

Does the article (link provided) support Durkheim's argument?

Durkheim and Crime

"Imagine a society of saints, a perfect cloister of exemplary individuals. Crimes, properly so called, will there be unknown, but faults which appear venial to the layman will create there the same scandal that the ordinary offense does in ordinary consciousness. If, then, this society has the power to judge and punish, it will define these acts as criminal and will treat them as such." (Durkheim, The Rules of Sociological Method)

Durkheim indicates that crimes is a function not of criminal intent, but of the variation of individual moral and ethic codes from a mainstream agreement as to proper actions. In modern society, the range of individual behavior and accordingly their moral and ethic codes continues to grow. The internet has helped foster further variation in behavior due to the ability to find other people of similar ideas, reducing the pressure to be like the "mainstream."

If Durkheim is right, and the current trend towards further individuality continues, then the range and amount of criminal activity should continue to increase for years to come. Do you agree or disagree with this statement, and why?

Are we really unique individuals?

Social facts in Durkheim’s own words “ every way of acting, fixed or not, capable of exercising on the individual an external constraint; or again, every way of acting which is general throughout a given society, while at the same time existing in its own right independent of its individual manifestations”(Appelrouth & Edles, 2008). In his view individuals within a society were subject to following social facts not only if they were aware of them but also when they were oblivious to their existence (Appelrouth & Edles, 2008). Many of the norms we follow have been instilled in us since birth and we have been enculturated into society. It is just “the way things are” and we follow unknowingly. This we do collectively as a group or society, the individual may believe that he/she came up with their own individual ideology but it has been the outside influence that has provided the “materials” so that such “individuality” can be created by the person (not from within but from without). What are some things in our present-day society that we follow without even questioning? Think hard, what maybe some things that we ascribe to without even knowing?
Applerouth, S. & Edles, L. D.2008.Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory:

Text Readings.Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Marx in Pop Culture

One entertaining irony about capitalism is when people profit from anti-capitalist ideas. Due to the highly negative image of communism in American culture, the ideas must be hidden in some fashion to be profitable: disguised as anarchy or countercultural ideas. This may be a result of the fact that communism and socialism actually inspire an image of dictatorship and oppression as existed in the USSR and still exists in China. The underlying ideas, however, have a great deal of artistic power. Fight Club is one example of a very popular movie within the past ten years that used communist and socialist ideas. By destroying a number of banks and credit centers, the 'proletariat' in that movie plans to erase the credit record, setting everybody back to zero and taking away the monetary power of the 'bourgeois'.

What are some examples of Marxist thought found in American pop culture that have affected you?

Money and "Natual Selection"

There is an excerpt in Marx’s “The Power of Money in Bourgeois Society” that is quite relevant to the world we live in today. At one point in human history nature provided the true incentives followed by individuals for example in mate selection. The survival of the fittest was an eternal conflict based on biological or natural drives in which the most viable individuals those with the best adaptations (physical build/beauty) were the ones that were most successful in acquiring the highest number of mates. Those most naturally fit would thus be the leaders or dominant individuals of the species.
Today this natural selection process has in way been tainted and corrupted by the illusions created by capitalism. Marx’s posits (in Applerouth and Edles, 2008) that “The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power” and “Thus, what I am and am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality. I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the ugliness –its deterrent power—is nullified by money” ; in my opinion this does occur more often in a world driven by fetish commodities. An individual’s chances of securing a mate are more and more dependent not on character, personality, or even physical beauty/prowess (or intelligence for that matter) but on the bulk of cash in her/his bank account and the purchasing power this cash can afford.
Where I come from this phenomenon is right there in the open. Persons that were not even given the time of day because of there lack of physical attractiveness all of a sudden are surrounded by a countless number of potential mates because of a dramatic change in their standard of living. When at one time the individual got around on an old vehicle and dressed in used, faded clothing and is now driving a late model Cadillac and wrapped in name brand clothes the only things that have remained constant are these person’s looks. Where the money comes from does not matter as long as it arrives. Marx had a point, does anyone agree?

Applerouth, S. & Edle, L. D.2008.Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory: Text
Readings.Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Communism is INEVITABLE!

Marx stated in his Communist Manifesto that society moves from one stage to another due to various rules that appear to be unstoppable. First, he mentioned that we belong to the time of capitalism because of our fetishism with material good (or materialism). He mentioned that due to our human nature the proletariat will become ever increasing (in numbers) until a revolution happens that overthrows the elite or the people in power. In the United States today, the elite form part of the richest one (1) percent of the population, and the proletariat or the working class is everyone else. Because Marx predicted this, and seems to be inevitable, how or what else is necessary for the United States to undergo a revolution? Would you agree that a revolution that will lead the United States into communism is about to happen? and if so will this revolution be a political one, or one that will require arms and violence?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Discussion Agenda

On this blog, we will explore connections between social theories and news stories, current events, books, movies, web pages, other blogs, etc.