Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Safety through capitalism

Capitalism is a way of controling the masses either through the use of money or the use of social restrictions posed by those in power. According to Foucault a panopticon is a towering structure built to oversee all activities that inmates and all those in total institutions may attempt to do. I however see this idea of panopticon as being able to transend to all social settings in a more subtle way. Do you think that we as humans feel the need to not do criminal activities because we have an internal panopticon or feel that there is always someone watching? If no one is watching over our behaviour do you think we as humans would turn into criminal behavior?

I always feel like somebody is watching me....

Foucalt (Allan, 2007; Appelrouth & Edels, 2008: 655) presents the concept of panopticism in which the power to control has been shifted from the controller to the controlee in other words the inability to know when and if one is being watched (under surveillance by the power) now serves as an auto or internal control mechanism so as to keep the individual and society as a whole in line. “The efficiency of power, its constraining force have, in a sense, passed over to the other-side to the side of its surface of application. He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection. By this fact, the external power may throw off its physical weight; it tends to the non-corporal; and the more it approaches this limit, the more constant, profound and permanent are its effects: it is a perpetual victory that avoids any physical confrontation and which is always decided in advance,” Michel Foucalt (1975, as cited in Appelrouth & Edels, 2008: 655). What changes, if any, have you noticed in your life since homeland security measures have been heightened? Do you feel like now you yourself have been given a greater responsibility to conduct yourself in a more “proper” manner?

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

Text Readings.Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press

Come on, I dare you!

Advertisements seem to come in layers these days. Right here in El Paso you can find billboards of certain outlets or boutiques where there are brand name clothing being worn then at the bottom of the billboard you will see the name of the company who owns the billboard. That's like three advertisements in one, all in a matter of only 6 seconds as we pass by on I-10. Talk about getting bombarded with commodified culture!

And what about movies in which we see the people drinking or eating certain products, or saving up to buy a specific name brand thing, or the movies that show the status of people according to the type of car that they drive. My favorite quote is one from the movie "Bride Wars" when one of the characters is purchasing her wedding dress and the sales lady is sure to remind her about the name brand dress she is buying and says: "We don't alter Vera Wang, you alter your body to fit Vera."

And what about the ads for a certain pair of jeans where you see two sexy people kissing/making out and you are only able to see the very top of the jeans (if any part at all). Or how about the ad that shows a lady in the shower and you see her silhouette while the jeans are thrown on the floor. Is this really an ad for the jeans? Or is it merely the ad for the image that the jeans will give you?

Advertising is all around us and if we are not careful, we too will be sucked up into the seduction of advertising and end up buying things that we only think that we need when in reality we have done fine without them this far.

So here are my two challenges for you:

#1) Go out and try to find more of these kinds of advertisements and write about them here in the comment section. (This task will be all too easy to complete.)

#2) I dare you to go out there and find an advertisement that is actually an advertisement of itself. Not those advertisements where the sign-value overshadows the use-value of the product. (Like my jean ad example.)

Have fun on your search but be careful. This is an assignment, not a reason to go shopping. ;)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A little confused, a little excited, and a little uncomfortable

After reading Foucalt and Baudrillard, the title of my blog represents how I feel. Foucalt's writing is intense, and in many ways, I would say right on. I particularly like the notion of "spaces" and yet I am also frustrated by them. Given the more common tendency of theorists to theorize a "better" way, Foucalt leaves us with spaces to be creative and to think of new possibilities. While I understand -absolutely- why Foucalt refuses to provides such an outlook (i.e. Marx' utopia or Wallerstein's world-wide social democracy, or even Habermas' ideal speech communities), I wonder what we are to do with these spaces.

I am also a little on the fence regarding Allen's interpretation Foucalt's conceptualization of power. I usually read Foucalt and see that power is at the heart of his theory - that it exists in relationships, that it exists, yes, in the very mundane ways that we carry on in our life (i.e. self-discipline), yet I like Chafetz' and Kanter's use of power (thus, I am not sure if I disagree with Allen's interpretation or if I just like Chafetz' and Kanter's notion better). In Chafetz', Kanter, and Zucker (1977), power is absolutley recognizeable in a person or at least with an associated office that a person may occupy. For instance, I may not have any power as regular student, but as the President of a club, the office gives me certain powers (this is also very Weberian!). Perhaps, someone can clarify Allen's interpretation of Foucaldian power.....

As for Baudrillard, I am not sure what to make of his theory. The most helpful concept from him is the "sign," and yet I do not see this "sign" as being a particuarly new contribution. I see a lot of Veblen in his work. Maybe someone else saw something I didn't: in that case, what is Baudrillard's greatest insight

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Friendships around the world

Wallerstein's world-systems theory has a Marxist approach emphasizing on division of labor, exploitation, and the process of accumulation and overproduction. Globality interconnects variety of individuals with variety of backgrounds. Living in the country where there is variety of individuals think about the friendships you have, do you know anyone from another country? If so, how does thier culture and experience affect your relationship? How does this world-system theory influence the friendship?

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Wallerstein World System Theory (WST, hereafter) always makes me rethink so much of my own perspective (and perhaps, some of my hopes). When I read WST, I have images that there is black hole, that I will call Capitalist World Economy (CWE),which swallows up everything: states, people, businesses, schools, hopes, peace, health, environment...society! It is a difficult switch to read Wallerstein after reading Bourdieu and Giddens because with WST, although, I agree with the underlying critique, it is an analysis that seems so hopeless whereas both Giddens and Bourdieu provide some hope that people and groups are not powerless ...

However, what I think is one of the most valuable perspective is within WST is the discussion about the powerful and stabalizing role of the semiperiphery. The semiperiphery acts very much like the middle class for the U.S. The semiperiphery are buffers.

I also appreciate the nuanced perspective that Wallerstein offers to explain why the semiperiphery does not flat-out revolt or rebel. Legitimacy as it is intertwined with fear for one's future and perhaps a sliver of hope that one is on her/his way to the core is enough, according to Wallerstein, to keep the semiperipheral nations in line. What do you make of the role that Wallerstein assigns to the semiperiphery? What is going to happen if more and more semiperiphery states decline in this steep world wide recession? What ramifications might (does) Wallerstein predict?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Individuality in appearance

Giddens wrote about the nature of individuality in modernity, and that due to the lack of a default method of physically presenting the self, an individual is forced to make choices about self-presentation. Bourdieu discussed the nature of Habitus, how cultural capital becomes embodied within an individual over the course of their life. These two concepts clearly intertwine in the nature in which cultural capital is written on an individual's body in the expression of the self.

To what degree is the manner in which you choose to express yourself upon your body determined by the cultural capital you have grown up with and written into your instinct? What aspects of your physical self, such as clothing or build, reflect the cultural upbringing you have received?

The nouveau rich

In today’s globalized society where information of all types is more readily accessed as before there are instances when even bits of “elite”-level education (albeit a watered-down version) and “culture” (modes of living) can trickle down to the lower classes. For example, in talking with an expert in the field an observation was made that the nouveau rich that is being created by the illicit drug trade appear to be picking up on certain cultural practices followed by the elites. These actions being copied by the recently working-class individuals stand out of place mainly because such actions are exaggerated. It has been suggested by many that it is as if these new rich do not know how to be rich.
For instance, there was the sudden construction of “narco mansiones” (drug trade mansions) that sprung up down the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez valley where money was no obstacle. The owners went over the top in trying to give the impression to others that they were now a part of an elite class and in their attempt the appearance of the homes took on an eccentric air. The difference in the way these individuals were raised (in some cases with limited life-chances, limited education in quantity and quality, and thus with cultural capital unlike the old rich) became manifest in the way they lived their lives. In a world of imitation not their own. What is your take on this? Are these nouveau rich on their way to restructuring and reconceptualizing what it means to be and to live rich?

Monday, April 20, 2009

What kind of relationships do you have?

A. Giddens discusses the concept of “pure relationships”. He defines these types of relationships as any relationship an individual has “purely for the sake of the relationship” (Allan, 2008, p.406). This could be the relationship you have with your best friend. On the other hand he also discusses “traditional relationships” in which the intentions of the relationship are based on a social purpose. Giddens provides arranged marriages as a type of traditional relationship. Think about all the types of relationships individuals have in society. What are some examples of pure and traditional relationships you have or have had in your life experiences? It may help to think of relationships you have based on trust, would these be social (traditional) or personal (pure) relationships?

Gidden's on expert knowledge

Gidden's theory outlines how modernity sets us up for a perpetual march towards progress. One of the reasons that it is "perpetual" or unending is because modernity has allowed us to stretch time and distance in new, almost limitless ways. This time and space distanciation has resulted in the break up of tight-knit primary groups, a changing nature of friendship/relationships, and the division of spaces into nation-states or organizational territories among other effects...

Disembedding mechanisms are central to this process of time-space distanciation. I am particularly interested in the notion of expert systems and believe that it is relevant to the transformation of America's land grant colleges. In 1862, Morill Land Grant Act was signed. The intention of the policy was to encourage (through incentives) the collaboration of U.S. faculty with local farmers to improve sound economic practices and viability for small farming communities, and thus, to have these small communities contribute to the larger national economy. Wendell Berry writes about how the land grant colleges have evolved to the point that local knowledge and local savvy is no longer appreciated or even sought. Many Land grant colleges do not work in an egalitarian partnership with their local communities, and they often introduce methods/machinery/practices that are foreign to or even intimidating to small farmers and ranchers. If we use Gidden's framework, we can begin to see how the "modern" university links together the 4 institutions of globalization. Do you find this situation problematic or is this simply progress - with both its manifest and latent functions revealed?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Popular Culture in Today's Society Destroys Market Morality

White dominated society tends to look down upon Blacks as a social class because they are inaccurately perceived (stereotypically) as inferior, lazy, un-educated, unintelligent, etc. In reality, people are products of their “total life’s experience, and Blacks are experiencing “Market Saturation Syndrome.” a heinous condition that features the pursuit of “fleeting hedonistic pleasure and ‘quick & sleazy’ monetary gain… ” as the primary goals of the young Black America. This market ‘saturation’ is comprised of the all the “societal texts” that all young developing and impressionable earthlings mentally ingest through whatever media they are exposed to in today‘s popular culture. This is persistently eroding market morality causing Black nihilism, whereby Blacks experience the pervasive feelings of hopelessness & meaninglessness that living as a black person in America feels like. The problem is exaggerated for Blacks because of the nature of their socially oppressive heritage. Society has profited hugely from the historical exploitation of Blacks, and this has caused the disintegration of formerly strong Black civic, religious, and family institutions. Thus society has an obligation to use the portion of the “historical” wealth stolen from Blacks through slavery, Jim Crow, and other oppressive mechanisms in order to provide social programs and/or somehow repay the remnant ancestors of slavery, Jim Crow, & all other racial prejudice.
Do you think that Blacks should be paid for the dollar value of the labor and interest that accrues from their ancestor’s participation in the American tobacco, sugar, and cotton industries?

Forms of domination

Collins wrote about the nature of the matrix of domination, in that many forms of domination and oppression exist, and that individuals often fit into the matrix in places that both cause their oppression and at the same time allow them to oppress others. In fact, most individuals in the world will find themselves oppressed in some way, while also having the ability to oppress others. In this, some of the most oppressed individuals in the world can also oppress others, as in when a poor migrant worker beats their child.

Where do you sit in the matrix of domination? Can you list some ways in which you oppress others, and ways in which you are oppressed?

Alternative to Feminist Theory?

Dorothy Smith proposes that in order to understand a woman's society one must part away from the traditional male driven society. In order to understand how a woman doesn't really ever leave her role as a woman one must take the standpoint of a woman. This I find a little difficult to do because of my biology. I am unable to understand a woman's point and suffering because I am a man. However, as a minority in this country I am able to understand a little of the harships encountered by minorities. Instead of taking the standpoint theory to understand feminism, is there an alternative to this so that society can be undrestood and studied completely without having to take on someone else's role? If not, do you think that my standpoint as a minority can help me understand a woman's harship?

Monday, April 13, 2009

The things people do

Think of the last time you read a magazine article or a self-help book. Dorothy Smith discussed the idea of texts as the way society controls individuals, for example "magazine articles and books" (Allen, 2008, p. 486). Where you influenced by what you read? How did you react to it? Do you think you will question what you read from now on?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Smith and Collins

I enjoyed all of the readings for this coming week. I found Smith and Collin's work to be particularly useful. Let me tell you how:

As someone who is vested in the investigation of social issues for groups that are often categorized as "minorities," particularly women and Latina/os, I have struggled to describe and discuss what I mean when I use the label "women" or "Latinas." I NEVER want to appear as an essentialist.

Just as Smith and Collins point out, it is the voice of women and/or Latina/os that I interview that I aim to represent, to put forward in an attempt to make space for a different kind of theory. As I read Smith and Collins carefully, I began to understand how discussing and describing the "Latina family" experience or the condition of "women in higher education," is a way of recognizing and validating both the similarities, but perhaps, more importantly the rich differences that characterize the women and Latina/os that I work with in my research. I am deeply appreciative of Collin's discussion on essentializing (presented in Appelrouth et al., 2008) where she writes:

"Black women's collective standpoint does exist...Because it both recognizes and aims to incorporate heterogeneity in crafting Black women's oppositional knowledge, this Black women's standpoint eschews essentialism in favor of democracy.." (pg. 616). Collins provides the language to help me elaborate my own work in which I explore the experience and perspectives of Latinas in higher education or Latino families, as they are involved in school-family partnerships, etc....

Can you think of other ways that Collin's and Smith's work helps us to reconnect the sociological discipline to matters of practical, democratic purpose? And what do you make of Butler's response to Collin and Smith?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Good ol' Goffman

According to Mr. Goffman, the self is the central organizing feature of all social encounters and we have both our core self and our various situational selves. The way that I see it, the situational selves are like the different "hats" that we wear in life. We may be parents, and students, and spouses, and employees, and commuters, all at different times. (Sometimes even at the same time!) Switching roles doesn't make us any less genuine, it simply means that we may behave or speak differently in front of one particular audience as opposed to another. For example: You wouldn't speak to your grandmother the same way that you would speak to your professor, and you wouldn't speak to your spouse the same way in which you would speak to your employer. Your core values and beliefs are all the same in every situation but the self that you are using in one situation may be completely different from another.

Can you think of a time when you were confronted with two different audiences at once and you were forced to choose one self over the other?
How did you handle that situation?

How many selves?

Goffman discusses the concept of dramaturgy, in which he explains there are several roles individuals act out in specific situations. Think about the last interaction you had with another individual(s), what kind of actor where you playing and why? Was it only one self that was being exposed, or several?

the multiple "self"

Goffman viewed social life as if it was a play and we were the actors following social roles as if they were a script (Allan, 2008). This dramaturgical perspective, as he called it, interprets our behavior as one which we use to create a certain impression or impressions about ourselves in the minds of others using both verbal and non-verbal cues (Allan, 2008). We aim to project these impressions to our audience to instill in them a certain belief about us so as to elicit a certain behavior from them. This “act” may change according to the persons we are surrounded by or holding an interaction with; it is not really consistent all the time. There could be a question that arises from this change in role: “When are we our real selves?” According to Goffman’s view do you think we can have many "real selves"? Or do we actually have a central or main “self” but we show different aspects of it to different people or groups of people? What do you think?

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

On second thought....

Okay, I posted the other day and was not too happy with SI. Re-reading Allen's chapter for the third time this morning, I am revising my position. I am liking Blumer a little more now....I especially like how

Allen explains Blumer's perspective: institutions and structures do not act, but people do! (pg. 304). - In what ways, though, do we often take for granted this idea of an acting structure when in fact behind the structure are human actions?...

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Managed Heart

After reading Blumer, Goffman and Garfinkel, I was disappointed. As Allen comments in the latter part of the chapter, it has been very difficult for theorists to provide us with theoretical tools and frameworks that allow us to move across the macro-meso-and micro levels - without being extremely reductionistic and/or deterministic...However, at the micro level, especially the work put forward by Blumer and Garfinkel, I find it particularly difficult to draw a critical analysis. The lens is so narrow and the "situations" are so, well, situational.

With that being said, I found Hochschild's work absolutely fantastic. While Goffman alludes to the idea that a situation's meaning is prescribed for people, Hochschild anchors the different experience/actions/situations of men and women in larger social and structural situations. I thought that her analysis of marriage and the "different futures" that a husband and wife have in store are real situations that reflect the social and structural locations and expectations of men and women, especially as they are shaped by a consumer-service market economy (which is driven by mostly powerful men). I drew many parallells between Hoscshild's argument and Chafetz'. Kudos to Hoschild for a strong theoretical analysis that allows us to understand individual action, indiviudal situatedness as a matter of social phenomena.

Why do you think that Hochschild's work is classified as symbolic interactionism, given her ability and willingness to bring structural level analysis into the theory?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Would you like fries with that?

Herbert Marcuse in One-Dimensional Man (1964) speaks about new forms of control. He theorizes that we as human beings are not slaved by viewable, tactable forces, instead we are slaves of companies whose advertisements tell us what we want and need. There is no more individuality as all we choose to be us is predisposed and predetermined by controlling companies. These companies can be anywhere from the media (news) to Abercrombie and Fitch ads. Marcuse states that we are unhappy as " most of the prevailing needs to relax, to have fun, to behave and consume (are) in accordance with the advertisements, to love and hate what others love and hate..."(Marcuse, 1964) these categories all exist to this predominant one, the idea of "false needs" (Marcuse, 1964). So, in reality I do not need or want to get a blackberry phone, I do not need it and will not make me happy if I get it, in fact it will make me unhappy as my individuality was lost and I gave in to this new form of slavery. Do you agree with Marcuse in stating that all we own and want or need is a product of slavery that is intended to dominate us in a very suddle way? What could you see as one thing that is needed (that you need) that is not an object to slave you and make you fall into this consumer trap? Or, do you think that even these choices we make that slave us do have a way to make us unique and happy?


According to Horkheimer and Adorno, the real heroes are those persons who stand outside dominant social patterns (Appelrouth and Edles 2008); however, the culture industry dictates who are society’s heroes and which social behaviors are the ones expected in a modern society. It is possible to analyze the characteristics of heroes (such as Superman, Spiderman, or Superwoman) that the mass media are promoting by using Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s ideas. Hollywood’s superheroes are beautiful, rational, friendly, people-related, mostly white and male, and concerned with the predominant values; meanwhile, their enemies (who are also the societal enemies) are ugly, deformed, irrational, full of rage, and colored. In certain ways the mass media’s message is that to be good is to be beautiful and conformed. Hollywood movie heroes are working hard to protect the social status quo; therefore, those who want to overthrow the prevalent system are those outcasts who can never conform to the society and because of that are mistaken. Such messages are socialized through the culture industry, which count on the state and the economic system supports. Therefore, their influence over people lives could be omnipotent and invisible at the same time. For that reason, the individuals who are not celebrities, who can avoid mass media’s power, or who can stand outside the influence of conformity could become Horkeiheimer’s and Adorno’s heroes.

Do you consider that a common person can achieve the characteristics of Horkeiheimer’s and Adorno’s heroes?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Communication action and ideal speech communities

Habermas discusses the idea of communicative action, communication where the individual not only listens but understands and has no premeditated intentions in mind, and ideal speech communities, situations where an equal individual has the freedom to express without fear and for the good of society. What kind of people do you think Haberman had in mind? Every individual that makes society? Scholars? Students? Do you think every individual would have the opportunity to engage in these speech communities or would the individual have to possess specific tools and skills?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Critical Theory

What kind of "free" are you? After reading Horkheimer and Marcuse, it is fitting that we question how free we are and what is the nature of that freedom….

Critical theory presents us with the notion that we have all been seduced by attractive and powerful cultural and intellectual institutions, particularly as they are facilitated by political-economic forces. I especially like how critical theorists link positivism and the uses of social science/practice to our delusions of freedom. When I read these chapters, I thought of a 1982 piece by Josef Bleicher, where he outlined very carefully how the evolution of science is connected to the "bourgeoisie." He writes: "Science acquired its social significance in the context of the rise of that stratus of society that had most to gain from it in political and economic terms: the bourgeoisie." Clearly, Bleicher extended the line of thinking put forward by Horkheimer and Marcuse. Do you agree that science and the practice of social science have been/are a tool of the powerful elite?

Bleicher, J. (1982). The hermeneutic imagination: Outline of a positive critique of scientism and sociology. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

The Culture Industry Reconsidered

Theodor Adorno wrote The Culture Industry Reconsidered (1975) from a mid-20th century perspective. In Adorno’s time, popular culture was characterized by homogeneity and sameness. Homogeneity and sameness were cultural values portrayed by the media. The media created the false needs of being cool, rich, beautiful, and smart enough to succeed. Cultural values of the mid-20th century were portrayed again and again by the homogeneity and sameness in themes of television, film, radio, and music. Further, mid-20th century popular culture was controlled by an oligopoly. There were a few large movie studios, TV and radio stations, and record companies that controlled the messages portrayed in the mass media market. As a result, an individual’s exposure to music and culture was limited. Music knowledge was limited to what was played on the local radio station. Cinematic knowledge was limited to what aired in the local theater or television station. As well, knowledge of art was limited to what was studied in school, read in books, or seen at the local art museum.

How do you contrast mass media from a mid-20th century and 21st century perspective? Are Adorno’s theories on culture relative today?

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

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Daily norms

Dahrendorf discusses norms as a form of “power that can be negatively or positively enforced” (Allen, 2007). Can you name a couple of norms enforced negatively that exists in our society? Positively? And how are they enforced either way?

Conflict…. What can be good about it?

Conflict theory states that our society cannot exist if peace and harmony reign. In fact, it goes as far as stating that conflict is necessary in order for our society and us as humans have a chance to live. Although it challenges what seems to be common sense, conflict is good for our society and our advancement as a species. Today, we are able to see conflict all over the news and even within our neighboring city, Cd. Juarez. People for the past couple of years have seen an influx in the violent war that is happening in this city. More and more people are being killed, and social structures are being demolished. We see this with the police force being exposed as corrupt and even now the military being exposed as one that is violating human rights. These structures were once set up to protect us and serve the public but now instead of doing this they seem to be hurting the public. In this case do you think that good can come out of this conflict? Or do you think that this conflict will only result in change, that being simply change (bad or good)? Also can you think of any instances through which conflict created change?

Menudo's latent function

Merton’s example of the Hopi rain dance in Appelrouth and Edels (2008) of how manifest actions (rituals) have stronger underlying latent effects appear out of date neo Freudian but upon this theoretical observation may hold some merit. Merton (1949; as cited in Apperlrouth & Edels, 2008: 390) says (when countering the attacks of those calling the Hopi rain dance as ignorant, superstitious etc.) that, “Given the concept of latent function, however, we are reminded that this behavior may perform a function for the group, although this function may be quite remote from the avowed purpose of the behavior”. For example, there are certain meal consumption “rituals” followed by many ethnic Mexican families especially here on the El Paso/Juarez region which appear to be just normal invitations to go over to relatives’ houses to eat (ethnic foods) such as menudo. This dish which takes a considerable amount of work to prepare brings the family members together to fix the meal and later to eat it.
The meal itself which consists of pig feet, beef tripe, hominy, seasoned in red chile sauce in a stew-fashion is not all that tasty but the family eats it with together bringing even extended family over. The members may be separated all week and may be even for longer periods but at the meal (preparation and consumption “the manifest part”) the unity or familial solidarity in a way is rekindled. So like Merton’s rain dance the meal may not taste great or even do away with your hunger (the meal is usually limited to a bowl) but the latent aim (ie bringing or keeping the family together) is fulfilled. In your personal/family life can you think of “rituals” you take part in that may appear to be old-fashioned, unfulfilling which might in reality be serving other (hidden) positive purposes? What’s your menudo?
Applerouth, S. & Edles, L. D.2008.Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory:
Text Readings.Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Parsons vs. Dahrendorf

I believe that Parson's theory of structural functionalism is one that guides a lot of our thinking in contemporary society, especially in the U.S. While most of us can talk a lot about conflict "out there," we are slow to see how conflict shapes our daily condition in really important ways (although, I think our ability and willingness to do so is increasing).

Mostly, though, it is assumed that "things will work themselves out" and that the system is fair to everyone, and so "it works; whatever inequalities there are is a result of people falling into the places that thier efforts afforded them"... In general, structural functionalism provides this sort of safe, un-critical view of the world. On the other hand, if we read Dahrendorf and Collins, we are told that conflict is natural, pervasive, and has functional qualities - under the right condiions. I really like Dahrendof's conceptualization of power as a tool for understanding the nature of democracy. What are your thoughts on Dahrendorf's quote on page 222 in the Allen text? How is this perspective quite different from Parson's outlook?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Today's Morbid Excess

In Women and Economics(Appelrouth & Edles, 2008), Charlotte Perkins Gilman discusses the idea of “sexuo-economic relations,” which is created by human kinds newest manifestation of the evolutionary environment. Human beings have created an environment based on the social concepts of structure, culture and relations, which has replaced our natural setting as catalyst for our evolution (Allan, 2008). In her statement “We are more affected by our relation to each other than by our physical environment…The serious dangers and troubles of human life arise from difficulties of adjustment with our social environment” (Perkins, 1898 as cited in Appelrouth & Edles, 2008, p.215), Perkins lends support to the idea that human evolution is no longer based on the natural environment, but the social environment which we have created. Resulting from this notion, we have created the structure of the economy as a mechanism for survival (Allan, 2008). In “sexuo-economic relations,” according to Perkins, men become the economic environment of women, as women and children are dependent upon men for their livelihood. It thus becomes the woman’s economic trade to attract a man who is capable of providing for her and her children (Allan, 2008). The better a woman is at her trade the better she and her offspring will be provided for. Also in this theory is the creation of over accentuated, “morbid excess in sex distinction,” which encompasses the sole female commodity, in Perkins’ view, as well as the early social sexualization of female children (Allan, 2008). This is something we can clearly observe in everyday life. Mothers have their female babies ears pierced so as not to have them mistaken for male babies. Young female children are dressed up, their hair teased up and their faces coated in makeup before they are paraded in front of judges who declare one of them more beautiful than the rest. This behavior is not valuable to survival within the natural environment. Within the environment which we have created for ourselves, the social and economic environment, sex distinction to this degree is a mechanism for survival.
What other sorts of morbid excess in sex distinction do you think is prevalent today, for either sex?

human evolution

Gilman argues women focus on their"attraction skills" women "devotes herself to cosmetics, clothes, primping, and subtle body language" (Allen, 2008). Furthermore, she discusses the female body as evolving and becoming "smaller, softer, and more feeble and clumsy" (Allen, 2008). What do you think would be Gilman's view on homosexuality and fitting iinto this evolution of bodies and behaviors?

It's okay, it's just a mascot

Dubois’ talks about movement from general to specific concept of discrimination can be observed in everyday life as he says (Allan, 2007). There are certain blatantly racist behaviors symbolic or overt that we now just take for granted as “just normal” and acceptable, for example, the mascot for the NFL’s Washington team: the Redskins. The team’s name is accepted without a second thought; the degrading aspect it carries is not questioned. In the eyes of most everyone this is just the name of a beloved sports franchise no critical look is taken. In your opinion, why have we become so complacent and accepting of such a racially charged symbol? Do you think we did not just become and have always been this way?

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

We must know the sex!!! But why???

Know any pregnant people?
Even wonder we want to know the sex of our baby before they are born?
Sure, you may say that it's so they can pick a name. But why not just pick a name for both sexes and then when the baby is born pick from there? Or you may say it's better to know so that you know what kind of decor to put in their room. But why? Why do we socialize our kids like that? Why does the baby's sex matter so much even BEFORE it is born? Why do we buy pink things for someone at their baby shower if they are having a girl? What's wrong with pink for a boy or blue for a girl? And have you even looked a baby that belonged to a stranger and asked how old "he" was and had the parents snap at you, "She's a GIRL!" Well, I sure have. They all look the same to me at that age anyways. Why do people get so offended? Why have we done this in our culture? Do you see where this fits into any of Gilman's theories?

Monday, February 23, 2009

DuBois - How does it feel to be a problem?

DuBois presents us with an analysis that urges us to explore the subtleties (as well as the more explicit) ways that power disparities shape our lives through structural, cultural, and formal institutional arrangements. The "how does it feel to be a problem?" piece in Allen(2007) is an especially important and meaningful way to provoke the audience. What are some of the ways that you, as a member of society or of a collective, might make people feel like problems? Have you ever felt like a problem? Why and how did this realization come to you?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gilman's Analysis on Sexuoeconomic Relations

Gilman suggests that there are three environments that influence the human race: the natural, the material, and the social (See Appelrouth et al., 2008, pg. 209 or Allen, 2007, pg. 141-2). The social, particularly as it is related to the development of a sophisticated economic system, is enormous in its influence. With the economy as an organizing force, Gilman writes that women have been relegated to a position where they are unable to develop thier natural strenghts, their talents, or their own economic talents. All that she has, all that she is known for stems from the sexuorelationship that she is tied to. What are the accompanying or reinforcing influences that kept women in this position - beyond the economic structures that Gilman identifies? In other words, what other institutions/influences were (and continue to?) define what a woman's role is in society? Does Gilman's own positionality "narrow" her view of the world as well as this part of her analysis?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Interaction is Society according to Simmel

Simmel describes society as existing in social "forms" of interaction. These interactions are basically categorized by the characteristically similar types of forms that constitute the form or "type" of societal interaction. Think of all the ways you have interacted with society on a daily basis for the last year. They are really just repeat performances with different characters and details. For instance, going to classes with different professors, with differing teaching styles and techniques. They tend to following similar patterns of lecture, reading, and writing assignments. We know how we are to "act" in the interaction with every professor because we have previously experienced this form of interaction.
Individuals in society are like actors in the never ending play called life. We all play various roles in each interaction we are involved in, and we are all very familiar with the roles and the meanings or significance of the interactions.
How does Simmel use his concepts of the "I" and "me" to describe the way that individuals internalize or feel the influence of society?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


According too Simmel, fashion allows for us to express our own personal choices while still following society and its norms. I have seen how on a "level playing ground" fashion is still arranged so that there are differences in groups. For example: There are schools where dress codes are enforced and all the students have to wear the same outfits to school. When all the kids are dressed the same, how is it that they look so different? They still find ways to express themselves so that they don't look like everyone else. What do you think it would take for students to stop trying to dress so differently from one another? Do you think that if we lived in a true Communist society according to Marx that this would be attainable?

A Tale of Two Cities

Georg Simmel presents the idea of the blasé attitude which is adopted by individuals who become overwhelmed by the psychological overstimulation of the city setting. This attitude, perpetuated by the money economy within the metropolis, leads to the emotional withdrawal of the individual in favor of the “psychological intellectualistic attitude” (Simmel, 1903, as cited in Appelrouth & Edles, 2008, p. 266). The intellectualistic or blasé attitude acts as a shield for an individual against constant stimuli inherent in the metropolis. It prevents the emotional investment one might be more prone to acquiring in the social setting of a more rural community (Appelrouth & Edles, 2008).

To a very large degree I can see the validity of this theory. I have visited large cities and found them thick with the apathetic, blasé attitude which Simmel describes. However, it is my opinion that this theory excludes the explanation of the anomalistic metropolis such as the one I have experienced in El Paso. I grew up in a fairly rural community, in New Mexico with a population barely one-tenth that of El Paso, where the emotional and communal connection was barely noticeable, if at all present. There was no desire to have dealings with the affairs of others within the community. In fact, the only community camaraderie which was at all palpable was found at the sporting events of the local high school. I have found the opposite to be true of what I perceive to be the metropolitan setting in El Paso. There is, in my opinion, a greater emotional connection between the people within this community than within the significantly smaller community. I notice more people here offering money to homeless individuals on the street. I can easily strike up a conversation with someone at the bus stop or in the library on campus. I rarely, if ever, rely on the shield that I produced and maintained in the sixteen years that I lived in this small town in New Mexico.

How do you think Simmel would account for this type of anomaly?

Dealing with city lifestyles

Simmel discusses the blasé attitude as a type of protection individuals in a metropolis use to adapt to the “intensity of city life” (Applerouth, 2008). Do you think individuals with what are considered mental conditions such as depression, anxiety, or phobias failed to take on a blasé attitude to manage lifestyles in the city and this is why they developed these conditions? Or is it that they are taking on a blasé attitude which individuals in a society failed to recognize as a way to manage these extreme lifestyles in the city?

The Stranger

The title itself sounds somewhat mysterious and exotic. I was originally going to blog about something else but I didn't think of blogging about this till we discussed it in class.
I think right now I would take on the role of the stranger because I just got a new job not too long ago. I belong in the sense that myself and everyone I work with are all working towards the same goal and for the same thing but I feel distanced from everyone there because I am the youngest. I'm there but not really there at the same time. In Appelrouth and Edles the example of Native Americans and Chicanos as being strangers in their own land is given. They are strangers because they are allowed to join the military and fight, they are allowed to work, yet they are still somewhat ostracized in society. I would say this is more true for Native Americans, they belong to society as Americans and that they work, yet they are not quite with us at the same time. My question is, what other types of strangers are out there? Are there any examples of strangers in your everyday life?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Metropolis and Metropolitan Life

Applying Simmel’s theory of “Metropolis and Metropolitan Life,” brings to mind a 2007 sociological study based upon context, perceptions, and priorities published in the Washington Post (Weingarten 2007). Joshua Bell, a world famous violinist, posed as a street musician in a Washington, D.C. metro station to see if early morning commuters would stop and recognize the quality music, or continue on their way without noticing. As a result, almost everyone that morning walked by. Only a handful of people stopped to appreciate the music. Therefore, the Washington Post (Weingarten 2007) posed the epistemological question, “If a great musician plays great music, but no one hears, was he really any good?” The Washington Post used Kant in their analysis of the experiment, “To properly appreciate beauty, the viewing conditions must be optimal (Kant, as quoted by Weingarten 2007).” People did not stop to listen to Joshua Bell that morning because they were worried about getting to work on time. Many employers do not tolerate their employees being even a few minutes late. Workers in highly specialized division of labor, “become a mere cog in an enormous organization of things and powers which tear from his hands all progress, spirituality, and value in order to transform them from their subjective form into the form of purely objective life (Allan 2007, p. 125).” Thus, they develop a blasé attitude toward urban life.

However, I ask myself, would I have stopped and listened? I would like to say that I would have; however, I probably would not have. People in the United States are too often in a hurry. We are always in a rush to be on time; we must not be late. We keep moving, never stopping, and do we even think about what we might be missing? We must also keep in mind Kant’s quote about context, “the viewing conditions must be optimal (Kant, as quoted by Weingarten 2007)”. If you took a Picasso painting out of its frame from a famous museum, and put it in another cheaper frame and hung it in a coffee shop, would that painting receive the same appreciation; would it sell for the same price? The answer would probably be no because context matters. The location and setting of a Picasso painting in a coffee shop would have been confusing. Neither is a Washington, D.C. metro a context where you expect to see a world famous violinist performing as a street musician. In Kant’s analysis, the viewing conditions would not have been optimal. Many people do not pay attention to their surroundings if they are not prepped for it.

How would people from other major cities around the world have reacted; would they have reacted differently? Are there cultural characteristics that some societies have that will allow them to stop and enjoy the music?

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

Weingarten, G. 2007. Pearls Before Breakfast. Washington Post. (April 8, 2007). Retrieved from: http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/
AR2007040401721.html. Accessed: February 14, 2009.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mead and Simmel

Mead and Simmel move us closer to understanding the role of the individual and self in social life. While Mead tells us that the individual makes meaning of "self' through social interaction, Simmel suggests that the meaning and experience of life is created and understood largely through social interaction, but also that certain social constructions and/or cultural symbols can take an objectified form which can become impositions.

Simmel's view is quite powerful because he allows us to see that, as humans, we have a direct role in creating social life, structures, and giving those meaning, and at the same time, he suggests that as urbanization/industrial exchange/and other characterisitics of modernity intensify that we, as co-constructors, can lose power, become distant from, and lose an authentic understanding of the symbols and structures that were once created purposefully by individuals or small cutlural groups. What is one example of how a cultural symbol/structure that once embodied deep meaning for you or a small group of your friends/family, has lost or become far removed from you/your group? Using Simmel's framework for explaining why symbols/ideas lose meaning, what are the reasons behind this lost meaning?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Weber & Capitalism Today

Weber's concept of the influence that The Protestant Ethic has played in the development of rational capitalism provides a fascinating incite into the cause (creation) and characteristics of capitalism in today's modern society. The motivations for working hard and accumulating wealth are easily seen in America's excessive consumer society. However, the stigma of "conspicuous consumption" as an embarrassment before society, has indeed been long forgotten. As Weber has noted, modern capitalism has lost its original nobility in its "call to please God."
Today's' society, and its voracious appetite for acquiring all types of consumer goods has lost its original virtue, that is the pursuit of work as a divine purpose or "reason to live." We would be wise to find and maintain true intrinsic value to our individual work product, in order to maximize our fulfillment in life!
What are some of your life views on why you are pursuing a career, and why do you think you are motivated to work hard? Are you pursuing riches, fame, or status?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Status and Credentials

"Status may be based on one or more of three things: a distinct lifestyle, formal education, or differences in hereditary or occupational prestige", (Allan, 2008). What I want to focus on is education as a social status. Having a higher education can help you move up in your status. You would earn more money and begin spending and maintaining the lifestyle of living and keeping a higher social status. Also having a higher education gives me credentials and I am able to get a job and move up based on what I know rather than who I know. But if I never received a higher education and right out of high school I was able to get a job somewhere and through my hard work and determination I was able to rise to the ranks of CEO, would I still be seen as having the same type of credentials as someone who received their PhD and has a job in a university teaching and doing research?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Weber & The Protestant Ethic

In the Protestant Ethic, Weber suggests that central ideas in Protestant/Calvinistic religion laid the foundation for what he deems the "spirit of capitalism." Every time I read Weber I am fascinated to see how he not only engaged Marxian theory, but also improved upon it.

For me, Weber draws attention to the power of ideas that undergird the economic, political, and social structures that shape our lives as humans. At the same time, Weber does not forget that material interests/conditions circulate around and through the production and reproduction of ideas. Weber helps us see how the world is shaped by ideas as well as material conditions; how does he do this? What are some specific examples that Weber offers in terms of linking the Protestant Ethic to the Capitalist Spirit? Can you apply Weber's argument in any way today?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Durkheim & Suicide

Durkheim identifies 4 basic types of suicide. Anomic [economic] suicide occurs when individuals are out of touch with society & become isolated.
Similarly, egoistic suicide occurs when people are unable to find a "basis," or a reason to continue to live their day to day lives, usually due to isolation. Society does not adequately "regulate," or intervene in individual lives by providing structure, purposeful employment, recreation, &/ or self-actualization in general.
Both types of suicide occur in modern industrial society [more often] during both economic boom & bust. During good economic times, people can become suicidal when they perceive others are doing so much better financially, that their own insatiable [greedy] nature is so unfulfilled, that life become no longer worth living.
Altruistic suicide occurs when [usually religious] individuals consider their existence to "be situated beyond life itself, i.e. the afterlife. Like suicide bombers, who believe they will obtain virgins in heaven for murdering innocent people upon their suicide.
Finally, suicides termed "crisis of widowhood" occur upon the death of a spouse, or a loved one. The suicide victim finds him or herself in a totally new [lonely] living "situation", and are no longer able to cope with the rigors of life without their significant others(s).

Monday, February 2, 2009

Work and its relation to suicide

Durkheim explains anomic suicide as being a sudden rupture of a social equilibrium. The anomie is what society suffers as a result of an absence of moral and legal rules. This is absence is due to an economic imbalance and/or weak institutions in the society. Durkheim also defines two other types of suicide: altruistic, occurring when the individual has over adapted to the social system, and egoistic, when the individual is away from the norm. If we look at work as an addiction and its relation to suicide: work helps me to survive yet there are individuals who live to work. Can this then be considered an addiction to work or work as a form of social suicide? Could it be that individuals would rather have work as an addiction than any other (drugs, food, and/or alcohol) as it provides you with money, awards, and recognitions?


Did everyone enjoy the Superbowl game last night? I know I did. It was even better than last years. It was a great game for it to be Warner's last. It would have been nice to see him go out as a winner, but even though Arizona lost, I feel that they went out in style.
In Durkheim's definition of religion he says that people gather in specific places with the same belifs and they practice the same rituals while using scared objects. (Remember, the definition has NOTHING to do with God.)
Regardless of who you were going for in this years Superbowl, think back about how you watched the game. Did you and all your friends gather at one mutual place? Were there any things that you all did together as a group when certain things happened in the game? (Like when Steeler James Harrison intercepted that pass from the Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner and ran those 100 yards!) Could you point out any possible sacred objects involved?
As you might have guessed, my opinion is that football is a religion by Durkheim's definition. Can you see where he is right?

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Is Durkheim Applicable Today?

Durkheim's depiction of anomie in his publication 'Suicide' is relevant today, in part. Durkheim says that anomie is a central cause of suicide and one of the ills of modern society. We can see this phenomenon of anomie occurring with our recent economic crisis. Social and moral norms are confusing, and are thus leading to deviant behavior. Financially powerful people all over the world are committing suicide. The recession is affecting all classes of people. According to popular media, people are starting to lose their jobs, the stock market is plummeting, wealth is disappearing, businesses are closing, and suicide is on the rise. However, middle class people are less likely to commit suicide than financial big-wigs because their family relationships are closer, their financial losses are never that disproportionate, and their religious beliefs are stronger. For the upper class, wealth and status are very intertwined with the self.

According to Durkheim, people commit suicide because society has failed to give them a sense of self, or because they have excessive or deficient social integration. As we can see from the 2008 economic recession, this is true. However, Durkheim fails to elaborate that there is a genetic basis for suicide risk. Studies show that low seratonin levels and other psychiatric illnesses are leading causes of suicide (CMAJ 2000). With the advancement of medical research, Durkheim would have had no way of knowing the genetic basis of suicide in the 19th century. Undoubtedly, there are environmental reasons for suicide, but it is inaccurate to say what we know today that there are not internal influences for suicide, as well.

How applicable is Durkheim's theory of Suicide today given what we know about medicine and psychology?

Basky, G. 2000. Suicide linked to seratonin gene. CMAJ. 162: (9).

Stern, L. 2009. Killer economy? Newsweek. (January 14, 2009). Retrieved from:
http://www.newsweek.com/id/179422. Accessed: January 31, 2009.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Is anyone else yelling at Durkheim?

Although, I know that Appelrouth and Edles, and even Bellah (1973) all attempt to quell Durkheim's critics, I have to admit that I am one of those people that finds Durkheim extremely conservative and unattentive to critical issues like how socio-economies become organized to begin with, how they change, how a collective conscious is developed, etc...Not to mention the fact that he objectifies "society" in the most extreme of ways, writing that it "exists independently of the actors that compose it".... and that he essentializes traditional societies in the same ways that the classic anthropologists did, especially Geertz (1973).

Given his functionalist view of society, Durkheim puts forth a theory that suggests societies work relatively fine, if we can remain bound together by our collective consciousness. Who defines this collective consciusness? Who makes laws? Who says a crime is a crime? And is it really a reflection of a common public opinion?

Durkheim suggests that "crimes" serve a purpose in society, that they bound us together to define and reaffirm who and what we are and what we believe in. However, he offers no theories of change. In other words, we do not know how, for instance, the "crimes" of Socrates were eventually interpreted as acts of moral and political justice/expression.

The link that is missing, for me, in Durkheim's analysis, is where, how and in what ways a collective consciousness can be "redefined." While he is definitely not a conflict theorist, he admits that economic/societal growth results in disasters that lead to a break in social and moral bonds, but who puts these bonds back together, how and in what way? And why in the world, should we be okay with it as he suggests, especially in the Introduction to Suicide?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Opportunities in education

All education until entering the university received was free, well at least for some. In Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 Marx states the following, “…the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production…the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it”. While education is available for all the opportunity to quality education is available only to those who can afford so. Those with money can afford to offer their children this opportunity along with more and better resources to continue their education. Do you believe there is an equal opportunity for all to receive education and thus become successful in terms of professionalism and financially? Or is it only limited to “the ruling intellectual force” of society? If so, do you believe only when everyone is given the equal opportunity to become successful will there be any chance of social change?

Empathy vs. Apathy in the Marxian View

A human being can be fundamentally empathetic or fundamentally apathetic. Marx's theories of alienation, self-estrangement, and estrangement from the species being, serve the purpose of explaining why human beings can be fundamentally apathetic. But where then does empathy come from? In Marx's view, every man, woman, and child in a capitalist society, such as our own, would be incapable, or unwilling to hold open a door for an elderly person, or help someone change a tire when they are stranded on the side of the road. I believe it would take quite a lot more than a monotonous job to separate a human being from their altruistic nature. Suppose a human being is so mindlessly occupied in their day-to-day labors that they do begin to see themselves as less man and more monkey. They may no longer be the "creative producer," but humans are also connected to their humanity through their empathetic relationship with other humans.

How would Marx argue that a communist society is better suited to the basic human tendency toward altruism?

Marx in the Everyday World

I can see how Marx's theory of Alienation of Product could fit into today's world. I agree with what he is saying about how people can give life to an object that is man made which leads them to believe that they need the product and that they must have it. I know I am guilty of this behavior, I cannot live without my laptop. It holds all my important documents, I have given this object complete and total control over me. We give so much attention to these objects because of the constant stream of advertising that bombards us every which way we turn. The advertisements make us think we need these products when really they are ours to begin with because they are man made. Our obsession with these commodities begins to take away our self worth and we begin to measure ourselves with money and objects. I don't see this type of behavior going away any time soon. Some people, not everyone, are really into what they own and they really treasure there material things.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Marx's Theories are valid today!

Many of Marx’s theories are valid, and proof exists today. The current world economic crisis is proof of the vicious cycles of “boom & bust” that his theory propounds. Laborer’s producing and filling the needs of society lead to the creation of new (perceived) needs, which when filled, only lead to the creation of still more new (perceived) needs.
Commodities such as oil & gas, cars, houses, and mortgages are so profitable that capitalists greedily produce them so excessively that they glut the marketplace. Capitalists must now stop production as excess inventory becomes a cost, no longer profits. Stopping production now forces capitalists to lay-off workers, diminishing their ability to obtain money to buy their “needs.” Demand goes down while supply goes up, outstripping demand, thus creating surplus.
This phenomenon Marx calls “commodity fetish” occurs as workers become “infatuated with their own products as if it (they) were an alien thing(s),” something consumers (workers) are compelled to purchase and possess.” Our self-worth is built to a large extent on people’s ability to obtain money, because of the power it gives us to obtain the objects of our needs. However, upon attainment, the objects leave us empty & unsatisfied; creating a new need for still additional products.

Botlled Water as a Commodity

The existence of capitalism entails not only an overexploitation of humans but of the world’s natural resources. With the help of industry, production has exceeded demand, which means that the bourgeoisie class needs to stress consumerism as a value. Such an eternal cycle between overexploitation, overproduction, and overconsumption has generated damaging consequences to the environment because it has been justifiable and sometimes has been shown as a patriotic duty. Last week, an interesting e-mail circulated at UTEP which advocated people to decrease consumption of the bottled water (see http://www.thinkoutsidethebottle.org/). Using Marx’s concepts, could it be said that the ruling class, in this case private companies, are stressing, as a value, the consumption of “pure” water. Advertising campaigns are emphasizing at least two of the following ideas. The first one is that to buy bottled water is better than fixing public water utilities, which could ensure pure water for everybody. The second one is that the important thing is to provide each individual with “pure” water without taking into account the ecological damage that the overaccumulation of plastic bottles generates in the environment. Following Marx’s ideas, bourgeoisie must ensure the consumption of its commodities (in this case bottled water) by spreading certain values to guarantee profit. At the same time, proletarians will follow bourgeoisie’s values, which transform pure water in a commodity rather than a human right. The question that remains is if proletarians could do something to avoid the commodification of basic needs.

America's Class System

Marx’s “The German Ideology” gives deep detail about the division of labor; how it began and why is continues to function. He claims that there are only two class systems that exist in society: the bourgeoisies and the proletariats. He states that “the class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.” He goes on to state “the ideas of those that lack the means of mental production are subject to them.” By this he is stating that the bourgeoisies are the ones with the capital therefore they are the ruling class and the rest simply obey.
I find this to be the exact case in today’s society. There are may be politicians that have come from poor backgrounds but they are indeed not poor today. I also see that though we claim there are several classes (lower, working, middle, etc.) the reality is that these are all just different levels within the proletariat class and the so-called middle class has been diminishing for the past decade. Keeping this in mind, do you agree with Marx’s two class system or do you believe that there are other groups in between? How to you see the future of the class system here in America?
President Obama just issued a pay freeze on all Washington D.C. politicians who make more than $100,000 a year. This means that while the working class will get raises throughout the year, these politicians will not. His justification is that “the rest of America in tightening their belts, so can we.” He also plans on giving a tax cut to those within the working class while increasing taxes on those that earn more than $250,000 a year. (Remember that he too is part of that tax increase.) Do you think that this will bring back what has been lost in our middle class? Putting your political beliefs aside, do you think that he is trying to punish those that have been in charge while rising up those that have been exploited?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

On Marxian analysis

I am always of two minds after reading Marx. His words are powerful and his analysis is mostly right, yet the theory has its shortcomings, as does any theoretical lens that one uses to study the social world. First of all, the analysis is completely structural; individuals are determined by their material existence. Agency theorists suggest, however, and I do believe that human actors engage structures at the micro-level; such analyses are missing from Marx’s theory on capitalism.Further, Marxian analysis depicts society as divided into two classes. These classes engage in conflict or a dialectical exchange. Because the system of capitalism contains its “own seeds of destruction,” the system eventually falls as the ranks of the proletariat become swollen with displaced bourgeoisie who can no longer compete. From Marx’s perspective this leads to the ripening of a revolution. However, Marx underestimated two factors in my opinion. First, Marx, in turning Hegel on his head, dismisses (although not totally, but rather dramatically) the importance of ideas in social life. Second, Marx fails to see the depth and diversity of power, particularly in terms of using a middle class to stabilize and secure the status quo economic and political system. For instance, Johnson (2006) writes about the ways that Americans hold deeply to the myth of American meritocracy and refuse to analyze how wealth can actually be transferred through families in various, tacit ways: cultural/political/social capital and through financial support that is taken for granted. When considered cumulatively, these transfers of wealth provide real advantages to children of middle-upper/middle class families, yet Johnson finds that families/parents refuse to come to terms with these advantages. Instead, families often credit themselves, the “system” that equal opportunity and the free market provides to any individual who is willing to work hard enough…Johnson (2006) and Lareau (2003), in a somewhat similarly oriented study, point to several venues that reinforce these families’ mythic ideologies, including schools, social circles, media, and other institutions like the political/government bureaucracy and banks. The middle class that holds fast to these ideas is a tool, a protector of the capitalist system because they believe that it is a system that has served them well as it could serve others – if they are willing to work at it.

Johnson, H.B. (2006). The American dream and the power of wealth: Choosing schools and inheriting inequality in the land of opportunity. NY: Routledge - Taylor and Francis Group.

Lareau, A. (2003). Uneqal Childhoods: Class, race, and family life. CA: University of California Press.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Topic of Discussion

On this blog, we will chronicle theoretical ideas and social theorists as they connect to our lives.