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