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?