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?