Bauman’s ‘The Individualised Society’ – A Summary of the Preface

It may sound odd doing a summary of a preface, but there is a lot of heavy stuff in here….

According to Bauman ‘Sociology can help us link our individual decisions and actions to the deeper cause of our troubles and fears – to the way we live, to the conditions under which we act, to the socially drawn limits of our ambition and imagination.’

This book just does this by exploring how Individualisation has become our fate, and by reminding us that if our anxieties are to be addressed, they must be addressed collectively, true to their social, not individual nature.

Lives Told and Stories Lived – An Overture

Bauman begins with Ernest Becker’s denial of death in which Becker suggests that society is ‘a living myth of the significance of human life, a defiant creation of meaning’ and that ‘Everything man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny his grotesque fate’ (his eventual death).

He now goes back to Durkheim and argues that connecting oneself to society does not liberate the individual from nature, rather it liberates one from having to think about one’s nature and that genuine freedom comes from exorcising the spectre of mortality (which is ever present when close to nature) by linking oneself to (a more complex) society. It is through society that one tastes immortality – you become part of something which was there before you were born, and which will continue after you die.

(At the individual level) knowledge of mortality triggers the desire for transcendence – and this takes two forms – either the desire to leave something behind, a lasting trace of yourself, or the desire to live gloriously now. There is an energy (?) in this desire which society feeds off – it capitalises on this desire by providing credible objects of satisfaction which individuals then spend time pursuing.

The problem with the economy of death transcendence, as with all economies, is that the strategies on offer are scarce – and so there must be limits to how resources can be used. The main purpose of a life strategy (which involve the search for meaning) is to avoid the realisation of the truth of one’s own mortality, and given that all the various life- strategies fall short of this ultimate need-satisfaction it is impossible to call one strategy correct or incorrect.

Two consequences happen as a result.. Firstly, there is the continuous invention of new life-strategies – industries are forever coming up with new strategies for death-denial. Secondly some people are able to captalise on the energy of the quest of death-denial and this is where we get cultural capital and hierarchy from.

So to date Bauman seems to be suggesting that there is a psychological need to escape facing up to our own mortality, and this is where society comes from. However because any life-strategy we adopt in the attempt to escape death is doomed to failure because all such strategies merely mask the truth of our own mortality which lurks in the background. Because of this, in truth, all such strategies are equally as valid (or equally as invalid) as each other. At the social level this then results in two things – a continues stream of new and improved life-strategies on offer to us from industry and secondly the emergence of cultural capital as those who are able to do so define their own life-strategies as superior which is where hierarchy comes from (and I guess this claiming of mythical superiority is also part and parcel of certain life-strategies of death-denial).

Pause for breath…. Bauman now goes on to say that…

However, just because all life-strategies are far from the truth of death-denial, this does not mean that all miss the targets by the same margin.

Some life-strategies on offer are the result of what Bauman calls ‘surplus manipulation’ of the desire to deny death.  These are at their most vicious when they are biographical solutions to systemic contradictions (following Beck) and rest on the fake-premise that self-inadequacy is the root cause of one’s anxiety and that the individual needs to look to themselves to solve this.

The result of this is the denial of a collective solution to one’s problems and the lonely struggle with a task which many lack the resources to perform alone which in turn leads to The result is self-censure, self-disparagement, and violence and torture against one’s own body.

I think the logic at work here is (a) Society is an invention which helps us deny death, however (b) in the post-modern age society falls apart – we find it harder and/ or it is less-rational to forge the kind of lasting bonds which will help us collectively deny-death (or strive for immortality to put in a positive phraseology) this results in (c) anxious individuals who are then (d) told by certain people in society (the elite – see below) that they need to find biographical solutions towards immortality (this is the surplus manipulation bit) but in reality this is impossible and so (e) this results in them killing or harming their social selves or actual physical bodies.

Bauman seems to be saying that, in the post-modern age some people, free of society, are thrown back on themselves, their true nature, and can’t handle it, they cannot deny-death alone, and so they kill themselves.

Bauman then goes on to say….

If we look at the whole life-story’ most of are simply not able to practice agency (articulation) – we are not free to simply construct of one set of relations out of another or redefine the context in which life is created. We may be able to do this in the realm of fashion or culture more generally, but not so with all aspects of of our lives.

To rephrases Marx – ‘People make their lives but not under conditions of their choice.’ It may be that we are all story tellers today, we all exercise reflexivity, but life is a game in which the rules of the game, the content of the pack and the way they are shuffled is not examined, rarely talked about.

The problem is that the individualisation narrative seems to assume that everything we do in our whole life is a matter of the choices we have made. This is, in fact, a narrative that only works for the elite who do have lots of choice – they have resources and are mobile and can use opportunities in today’s mobile age to their advantage.

This narrative, in fact, works for the elite, it is ideological – if everyone thinks everything is open to choice and their fate is their fault, this becomes a nice control mechanism – you don’t need panopticons when people are always trying trying trying and choosing choosing choosing.

Furthermore, what is often precluded in the individualised age are strategies which involve acting together to change the broader social conditions, which just further perpetuates the problem.

In other words if we wish to reduce human suffering and allow individuals the opportunity to get back to collectively denying their own death (or constructing their immortality) then people need to feel as if they can constitute society, at the moment the ideology of the biographical narrative serves to prevent people from realising this.

This book seems to aim to be a contribution towards bringing about greater genuine articulation (so it’s a shame you need to be educated well beyond graduate level to appreciate it)…..

As Bauman says towards the end of the chapter… ‘Genuine articulation is a human right but perform the task and the exercise the right in full we need all the assistance we can get – and sociologists can help in this by recording and mapping the crucial parts of the web of interconnections and dependencies which are kept hidden or stay invisible from the point of individual experience. Sociology is itself a story – but the message of Sociology is that there are more ways of living a life than is suggested by the stories which each one of us tells.’

Overall Comment

Very interesting to see Bauman starting with Becker – although he doesn’t seem to go back to him at the end of the section, so I really think he’s pushing the boat out a bit too far in terms of how much he tries to include in this introductory paragraph. It doesn’t hold together that well, and you have to read things into it to an extent to complete it, maybe that’s the point?

I’m not comfortable with the idea that society denying-death is OK because it is rational, and that our goal should be to get back to a situation where individuals are free to construct society and thereby get back to affirming themselves and thus denying their own death. This just strikes me as the equivalent of papering over the cracks of a deeper human suffering which The Buddha realised 3000 years ago.

There’s probably an interesting Buddhist response to this – but I’ll post that up when it emerges, which isn’t now, unless someone else gets there first. 

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What is society, and should sociologists study it?

Working Definition:

‘Society is a concept used to describe the structured relations and institutions among a large community of people which cannot be reduced to a simple collection or aggregation of individuals.’ (1)

Society definition

Origins of the Concept:

The concept of society can be traced to the fourteenth century, when the primary meaning was companionship or association, a meaning which still exists today. However, the specific sociological meaning of society was not developed until the nineteenth century.

A strong argument can be made for the view that it was Emile Durkheim who first developed the sociological meaning of ‘society’ which he used when he established sociology as a new discipline which dealt with the collective reality of human life as opposed to studying individuals.

Durkheim argued that society has an independent reality from individuals, and exists in its own right, exerting an influence over individuals within a ‘bounded territory’, which for Durkheim essentially meant the ‘nation state’.

However, the relevance of bounded-societies has been questioned since the 1970s due to globalisation, and the increasing amount of people, money, and communications moving across national borders.

Because of this, some sociologists argue that sociology should shift its analysis from ‘societies’ to (global) mobilities.

Sociology as the ‘study of society’

The concept of sociology has been fundamental to sociology’s ‘self-identity’, with most text books using the concept to define the discipline, with the ‘study of societies’ often being part of the definition of sociology in most text books and society in turn being defined as large communities, existing within nation states.

Talcott Parsons added another important defining characteristic of society – that it should be self-perpetuating, or able to reproduce itself without external assistance.

For most of sociology’s history, sociologists have studied and compared societies, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the historic division between ‘first’, ‘second’ and ‘third’ world societies, and in theories of development such as modernisation theory, which outline why certain societies (or ‘nation states’) are less developed in comparison to other ‘more developed’ societies (or ‘nation states’).

There have been many attempts to understand social change by focusing one specific driving force, for example sociological theorising has developed the following conceptualisations of society:

  • Industrial society
  • Capitalist society
  • Post-industrial society
  • Postmodern society
  • The knowledge society
  • Risk society
  • The network society.

However, the problem with a ‘bounded sociology’ which limits itself to cross national comparisons is that it tells us little about inequalities within societies.

Criticisms of the ‘bounded society’ concept

A dualistic conception of society as a thing apart from the individual may be more of a reflection of the dualistic legacy of western philosophy rather than being based on actual empirical reality.

To this end, many sociologists have proposed focusing more on interactions rather than ‘society’ and the ‘individual’. Norbert Elias was one of the first to develop a sociology which focused more on social processes, concentrating more on shifting relationships at a variety of levels, from individual interactions to inter-state conflicts.

Globalisation has also put into question the usefulness of focussing on individual nation states: large TNCs are now more powerful than most nation states, and criminal organisation and social movements cut across national boarders, making them seem less useful as a focus for social analysis.

John Urry’s (2007) social mobilities project, which focuses on the study of processes of movements across national borders is one way in which sociology has moved its analysis away from the nation state in response to globalisation.

Two competing paradigms in sociology?

John Urry has suggested that sociology might usefully move its analytical focus ‘beyond societies’ – as global networks and flows become more effective and powerful, they tend to cross national boundaries, which are now seen as more permeable than ever. The concept of society thus seems less relevant than ever, and the job of sociology is to devise ways of understanding the varied range of mobilities and what kind of social life they are producing.

One sociologists who argues that the concept of society is still relevant is Richard Outhwaite, who argues that ‘society’ is a collective representation which still resonates with people’s perception of social reality as it actually exists.

For example, ‘national identity’ (however confused) still has meaning to many people and politicians can still draw on the concept of the nation to pull people together, as the case of Brexit in 2016 suggests.

Also, nation states are the only collective entities capable of generating the kind of income necessary (through taxation) to maintain nuclear arsenals and standing armies, along with mobilising popular support to use these in support of their aims.

Sources

(1) Giddens and Sutton (2017) Essential Concepts in Sociology

Sociological Perspectives – Key Supporting Evidence

Below are a few quantitative and qualitative sources (case studies and statistics) that can be used to illustrate aspects of the main perspectives within A-level sociology – Functionalism, Marxism, Feminism, Social Action Theory and Post and Late Modernism

Functionalism

  • Bruce Parry: participant observation with ‘The Tribe’
  • Educating Yorkshire
  • Official statistics show declining family Size
  • Cross national statistics – positive correlation between economic development and social development
  • Official statistics – the positive correlation between truancy and crime
  • The Cambridge study in delinquency and development

Marxism

  • The correlation between increasing neoliberal policies and increasing global inequality
  • Official statistics show a positive correlation between material deprivation and underachievement in education
  • Official Statistics show an increase in childhood obesity, suggesting a link between advertising, pester power and poor child health
  • Case studies of the huge economic and social costs of corporate crime: Enron, Bhopal
  • Case studies of exploitation in the developing world. E.g. Ship breaking in Bangladesh
  • Case studies of elite criminals not being punished for their crimes – e.g. Mark Ashley of Sports Direct

Feminism

  • Official Statistics on gender equality and empowerment – no country on earth has gender equality
  • Statistics on the Domestic Division of Labour show that women spend twice as long on domestic chores as men
  • Official statistics on domestic violence show that ¼ women are victims in their lifetimes, more than men
  • A range of qualitative evidence from the Everyday Sexism Project
  • Statistics on gender and subject choice – 97% of hairdressing apprenticeships = female….
  • The prevalence of pornography and prostitution and their links with sex trafficking

Social Action Theory

  • Life-histories and Facebook profiles reveal complex and diverse family structures
  • Rosenthal and Jacobsen’s field experiment showing the self- fulfilling prophecy
  • Jock Young’s research on the drug takers
  • Self-report studies demonstrating that official crime stats are socially constructed
  • The fact that Gok Wan is famous
  • Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Postmodernism

  • Judith Stacey: The Divorce Extended Family: show complex family structures
  • My Monkey-Baby
  • Research studies on the importance of identity in education – e.g. Carolyn Jackson and the Ladettes
  • Stan Cohen’s research on the Mods and Rockers
  • The happy pierced prostitute who has a client who shoves golf-balls up his ass
  • Vanilla vloggers such as Zoella

Late Modernism

  • Official Statistics on growing global problems such as climate change, global crime and migration
  • The increase in New Social Movements such as the Green Movement
  • Jock Young – The Vertigo of Late Modernity
  • The fact that many nation states have nuclear weapons
  • The high global expenditure on the military
  • The positive correlation between educational achievement and income – nationally and globally

Sociology and Science – Some Key Terms

 

  • Bias – where someone’s personal, subjective feelings or thoughts affect one’s judgement.
  • Falsification – where scientists attempt to design experiments to disprove a hypothesis rather to prove a hypothesis correct.
  • Generalisability – the extent to which research findings can be applied to other (similar) cases
  • Hawthorne effect – where respondents alter their behaviour because they know they are being observed. This is one of the biggest disadvantages of overt laboratory and field experiments.
  • Hypothesis – a theory or explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation. A hypothesis will typically take the form of a testable statement about the effect which one or more independent variables will have on the dependent variable.
  • Hypothetico-Deductive Model – a method of gaining knowledge by proposing a hypothesis and then doing experiments to obtain observable data which can then be used to either affirm or reject and reformulate the hypothesis.
  • Objective knowledge – knowledge which is free of the biases, opinions and values of the researcher, it reflects what is really ‘out there’ in the social world
  • Realism – The view that sociology can be scientific in the way in which ‘open systems’ sciences such as meteorology are scientific, but not scientific in the way in which ‘closed systems’ sciences such as physics or chemistry can be scientific:
  • Social Facts – according to Emile Durkheim, these are forces which exist externally to the individual and constrain that individual, such as language.
  • Socially constructed – Interpretivists argue that official statistics are socially constructed – that is they are the result of the subjective decisions made by the people who collect them rather than reflecting the objective underlying reality of social life. For example Crime Statistics do not reflect the actual crime rate, only those activities which are defined as crimes by the people who notice them and who then go on to report those activities to the police.
  • Subjective knowledge – knowledge based purely on the opinions of the individual, reflecting their values and biases, their point of view. See also ‘objective knowledge’.
  • The Scientific Method – see the Hypothetico deductive model
  • Value Freedom – where a researcher’s personal opinions, beliefs and feelings are kept out the research process so that data collected is not influenced by the personal biases of the researcher.
  • Verstehen – a German word meaning to ‘understand in a deep way’ – in order to achieve ‘Verstehen’ a researcher aims to understand another person’s experience by putting themselves in the other person’s shoes.

Outline and explain two reasons why Positivists generally prefer to use quantitative methods (10)

The theory and methods 10 mark question appears as a special treat at the end of paper 1 (Education, Methods in Context and Theory and Methods), you’ll also get a big 30 mark essay question at the end of paper 3 (Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods) too, but more about the 30 markers in other blog post.

The reason for splitting the theory and methods questions across two papers is probably to make sure that more students fail the exam, and possibly because the man has a burning hatred of teenagers.  Apparently every A-Level exam has one aspect split across two papers, so at least the hate is evenly distributed, otherwise this might be an example of a ‘hate crime’ against sociology students.

For 10 mark questions it’s good practice to select two very different reasons, which are as far apart from each other as possible. In this question, it’s also good practice to contrast Positivism to Interpretivism (to get analysis marks) and to use as many theory and methods concepts and examples as possible.

The first reason is that Positivists are interested in looking at society as a whole, in order to find out the general laws which shape human action, and numerical data is really the only way we can easily study and compare large groups within society, or do cross national comparisons – qualitative data by contrast is too in-depth and too difficult to compare.

Numerical data allow us to make comparisons easily as once we have social data reduced down to numbers, it is easy to put into graphs and charts and to make comparisons and find correlations, enabling us to see how one thing affects another.

For example, Durkheim famously claimed that the higher the divorce rate, the higher the suicide rate, thus allowing him to theorise that lower levels of social integration lead to higher rates of suicide (because of increased anomie).

The second reason for preferring quantitative methods is that Positivists think it is important to remain detached from the research process, in order to remain objective, or value free.

Quantitative methods allow for a greater level of detachment as the researcher does not have to be directly involved with respondents, meaning that their own personal values are less likely to distort the research process, as might be the case with more qualitative research.

This should be especially true for official statistics, which merely need to be interpreted by researchers, but less true of structured questionnaires, which have to be written by researchers, and may suffer from the imposition problem.

You may need to add in a further layer of development to each of these points!

Related Posts 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like to purchase more of the same…

Theory and Methods A Level Sociology Revision Bundle 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Theory and Methods Revision Bundle – specifically designed to get students through the theory and methods sections of  A level sociology papers 1 and 3.

Contents include:

  • 74 pages of revision notes
  • 15 mind maps on various topics within theory and methods
  • Five theory and methods essays
  • ‘How to write methods in context essays’.

Bourdieu’s Structuration Theory

Bourdieu didn’t like the label ‘social theorist’ because he insisted that there was a fundamentally important relationship between empirical data, research methods and ‘theory’.

He was not interested in making grand theoretical claims, but rather was engaged in examining particular substantive areas (fields) of social life that existed at particular times and places, such as fields of education.

Drawing inspiration from Marx and Weber, Bourdieu argued that all aspects of social life must be examined in terms of the power relations they embody – the main aim of sociology is to expose the power of elite groups, which would normally not be visible without sociological analysis.

This ‘exposure’ element is different to Giddens’ structuration theory, who generally assumes the knowledgeability of subjects, while for Bourdieu actors are not necessarily conscious of the operation of power.  Bourdieu also focused more on the group, rather than the individual agent.

Bourdieu has been criticise as just being  a Marxist, for seemingly analysing power relations in terms of how structure and ideology reproduce individuals. However, Bourdieu saw his position as successfully mediating between objectivism and subjectivism. He claimed these are transcended by his key concept of habitus – a term meant to describe how social conditions act upon and shape individuals’ actions and how also people are –within certain limits – capable of creative responses to the situations they find themselves in (Reay 2004).

A habitus is the characteristic ways of thinking, feeling, acting and experiencing shared by all members of a certain group.  It describes how social structures act on individuals in a group and how individuals actively respond to the social situations created by those structures – a person’s practices can either maintain or transform the social situations people operate within.

For Bourdieu the primary groups in society are social class groups. He understands power as the domination of one class over another, via attempts at legitimising their world view.

For Bourdieu, the habitus encompasses both  objective and subjective, passive and active, material and ideal elements.

The more objective elements concern wealth and power, and the socialisation processes – socialisation happens at a mental as well as a bodily level — the tiniest details of how we walk, or blow are knows signify aspects of our socialisation, mostly our class background, and for Bourdieu we are not fully aware that everything we do is expressive of the habitus into which we’ve been socialised. Instead the habits disguises itself by making people see the world in common sense ways, and these do not allow critical attention to be paid to it. People just experience what they experience as ‘common sense’.

We do not even realise we have a habitus until we step outside it, into a different context – e.g. a working class person going to a society wedding, realising their ordinary ways of being just don’t fit.

The habitus ‘adjusts expectations to reality’ – so that our subjective outlook meshes with our objective conditions – thus a working class person would just not expect to eat caviar for breakfast, we just accept this.

Bourdieu maintains that habitus does not simply constrain individuals – it also allows action to take place, but it always provides a limited set of possibilities, most of this happens within the realm of practical consciousness.

Bourdieu has been criticised for understating the extent to which people are reflexive today – i.e. it appears that people do increasingly reflect on themselves and their habitus and consciously seek to change what they are.

More to follow>>>

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Cultural Capital and Educational Achievement

Structuration Theory – A Summary

From a structurationist perspective, a social theory must explain both social reproduction (social order being reproduced over time by people continuing to act in ways inherited from the past) and social transformation (how social order is changed by people, intentionally or unintentionally, through their interactions.

Structuration theory seeks to overcome what it sees as the failings of earlier social theory, avoiding both its ‘objectivist’ and ‘subjectivist’ extremes by forging new terminology to describe how people both create and are created by social reproduction and transformation.

The very word structuration attempts to show that social structure and individual action are elements of one single process, the ‘constitution of society’ as Giddens (1984) puts it.

The two most important contemporary structuration theorists are Giddens and Bourdieu. What they both have in common is that they focus on social ‘practices’ rather than ‘actions’. Practices are everyday activities that are routinized, and social structure is just simply routinized practices, and the memories in people’s heads that allow them to keep doing those practices in those ways over time. (Reckwitz 2002).

Thus ‘social structure’ and ‘society’ are not ‘things’ outside of individuals and their practices, they are those practices.

The focus on practices draws from phenomenology the idea of ‘practical consciousness’, the idea that what most people do most of the time is semi-conscious. Practical consciousness, or practices are informed by a stock of taken-for-granted knowledge that makes-up and makes possible our everyday life-worlds. It is these practices which we generally do not reflect upon.

Bourdieu’s and Giddens’ structuration theories differ because they have been developed for different purposes.

Bourdieu, drawing mainly on Marx (especially), Weber and Durkheim, regarded his sociology as one aimed at revealing the nature and operation of forms of domination (which Bourdieu calls forms of ‘symbolic violence’), especially by the higher classes over the lower classes, and in his later life, Bourdieu was an outspoken intellectual, critical of neo-liberal policies.

In contrast, Giddens, drawing mainly on ethnomethodology, put his structuration theory at the service of the ‘third way’ politics associated with Bill Clinton and Tony Blaire which endeavoured to recast ‘soft left’ social democratic policies into an age of global capitalism. Structuration theory was also used by Giddens to diagnose contemporary social and cultural change, including transformations in self-identity and intimacy. (Giddens 1991).

Bourdieu tended to focus on the harms which symbolic violence did to the marginalised, while Giddens tended to focus on new opportunities for liberation which existed for all social classes.

Criticisms of these two are that Bourdieu ends up being too objectivist, Giddens, too subjectivist.

Sources

This post is a summary of chapter 10 from Inglis, D (2012) – A Invitation to Social Theory, Polity.

Giddens’ Structuration Theory – A Summary

 

Social Structure is also only ever the outcomes of practices which have previously happened, and it makes practices possible (the duality of structure), and it is not separate from action.

Giddens rejects Positivism because of its mistaken search for the general laws of social life. Giddens believes that human beings are thoughtful and creative and thus cannot be wholly predicted in advance.

Marx downgraded the centrality of capitalism to being just one of four pillars of late-modernity along with surveillance, military power and industrialism.

Giddens draws selectively on a wide range of action theories, including Goffman, to argue that individuals always have some form of agency to transform a situation; even slaves have the capacity to act in different ways.

Practices always have the possibility of changing, and we can never guarantee that they will be reproduced, and one of the key features of late modern (compared to traditional) societies, is that there are more transformations in a shorter period of time.

He sees actors as using knowledge to engage in practical action, thus society is consciously reproduced (or transformed) in every social encounter.

However – ‘the realm of human agency is bounded’ for the ‘constitution of society is a skilled accomplishment of its members, but one that does not take place under conditions that are wholly intended or wholly comprehended by them’. (1976). For Giddens – people make society but with resources and ‘practices’ inherited from the past.

Structure for Giddens is not something which exists outside of the individual, but just patterns of practices. As practices change so does structure, and vice-versa.

Most of our practices take place at the level of practical consciousness, where we just act without thinking about it, however sometimes we operate at the level of ‘discursive consciousness’ – where we reflect on how we did things, but sometimes we find it difficult to talk about – here the example is given of footballers finding it difficult to describe how to play a game of football, they just know how to do it, when they doing it.

Practical consciousness is informed by ‘Mutual knowledge’ – taken for granted knowledge about how to act, which is based around ‘rules’ about the right and wrong way to do things. Rules persist among large groups of people and are lodged in agents’ heads in ‘memory traces’ (similar to Bourdieu’s ideas on socialisation and the habitus).

When agents are engaged in practices they draw on resources – there are two kinds – authoritative ones (status) and allocative ones (basically money and stuff) – an agent’s capacity to carry out their practices is influenced by their access to resources (similar to Bourdieu’s ideas about ‘skilled’ players of the game).

Giddens understands social institutions (such as family, and economic arrangements) as practices which have become routinized, carried out by a majority of agents across time and space. A social institution only exists because several individuals constantly make it over and over again.

Social Structure is also only ever the outcomes of practices which have previously happened, and it makes practices possible (the duality of structure), and it is not separate from action.

For Giddens social structures do not reproduce themselves… it is always agents and their practices that reproduce structures, depending on circumstances. After all, ‘structure’ is simply made up of rules (in agents’ heads) and resources, which make action possible (Bourdieu claims it is the habitus which makes this possible). Simultaneously, practices create and recreate rules and resources. Therefor structure only exists in practices and in the memory traces in agents’ practical consciousness, and has no existence external to these.

Sources 

This post is summarized from Inglis, D (2012) – A Invitation to Social Theory, Polity.

Modernism and Postmodernism – What’s the Difference?

Modernism and Postmodernism – What’s the difference?

The table below is taken from David Harvey’s Condition of Postmodernity (in turn taken from Hassan 1985). Harvey suggests that its a useful tool which helps us to see how postmodernity is, in some ways, a reaction to modernity. I cut out a few of the more hectic comparisons and left in the easier to understand ones (having said that, it’s still pretty hectic!) 

Modernism

romanticism/ symbolism

form (conjunctive, closed)

purpose

design

hierarchy

mastery/ logos

 

art object/ finished work

distance

creation/ totalisation/ synthesis

 

presence

centring

genre/ boundary

semantics

paradigm

metaphor

selection

 

root/ depth

interpretation/ reading

signified

narrative/ grand history

master code

type

genital/ phallic

paranoia

 

origin/ cause

God the Father

metaphysics

determinacy

transcendence

Postmodernism

paraphysics/ Dadaism

antiform (disjunctive, open)

play

chance

anarchy

exhaustion/ silence

 

process/ performance/ happening

participation

decreation/ deconstruction/ antithesis

 

absence

dispersal

text/ intertext

rhetoric

syntagm

metonymy

combination

 

rhizome/ surface

against interpretation/ misreading

signifier

anti-narrative/ small history

idiolect

mutant

polymorphous/ androgynous

schizophrenia

 

difference-difference/ trace

The Holy Ghost

irony

indeterminacy

immanence

Theory and Methods for A Level Sociology: The Basics

An overview of theory and methods for second year A level sociology – a very brief overview covering the bare-bones of (1) Positivism and Interpretivism, (2) Is sociology a sicence?, (3) Sociology and value freedom, (4) Functionalism, (5) Marxism, (6) Feminism, (7) Social action theory, (8) Post and late modernism, (9) Sociology and social policy. 

0-sociological-theories
Theory and Methods for A Level Sociology

1.  Positivism and Interpretivism

  • Positivist approaches to social research are quantitative, ‘scientific’, objective.
  • Durkhiem’s suicide is an example of a positivist study
  • Interpretivists criticise Positivist’s reliance on statistics (they are socially constructed)
  • Interpretivist approaches to social research = qualitative, empathetic, micro
  • Key example = Douglas’ study of the multiple meanings of suicide.
  • Positivists criticise Interpretivist research because it’s too subjective, not authoritative.

2. Is Sociology a science?

  • Key features of the scientific method = the experiment, objectivity, cause and effect relationships, making predictions.
  • Positivism = a scientific approach applied to society – Durkheim’s suicide as an example.
  • Interpretivist criticisms of the scientific method applied to society – humans are conscious actors, they cannot be understood using detached, quantitative methods
  • Criticisms of the ‘objectivity’ of science and the scientific method – Kuhn’s paradigm critique is especially important.
  • Realism – we can still usefully study society as an open system, rather than just focussing on individuals – for example we can still make general predictions about social behaviour based on statistical trends, even if we can’t predict exactly what that action will be or who, specifically will do what.
  • Postmodern views of science – the idea that ‘truth’ is no longer possible.

3. Can Sociology be value free?

  • Values = people’s own subjective beliefs and opinions. If social research is value free then it means that it is free of the personal biases of the researcher.
  • Positivism – Claimed that sociology could be value free using scientific methods which meant the researcher was as detached as possible.
  • Interpretivists criticise this – values creep into the quantitative research process – through the social construction of statistics for example.
  • Moreover – Interpretivists say we need to understand people’s values to understand how they act! However, it is harder to remain value free when doing qualitative research.
  • Weber argued that we could collect objective date on people’s values but we needed to be explicit about our own values all the way through the research process.
  • Some sociologists criticise ‘institutional sociology’ for being limited in scope, and argue we need a political, explicitly value laden sociology to counter-balance this.
  • For example Howard Becker argued sociologists should take the side of the underdog and give them a voice – this is an explicitly value-laden sociology
  • Marxist and Feminist sociology is also value laden in its choice of research topic – Sociology should be aimed at achieving political
  • Postmodernists believe objective knowledge is not possible, so all we can do is deconstruct knowledge, and criticise people who claim to have value-free, objective knowledge.
  • Late Modernists such as Giddens criticise at least one aspect of postmodernism – there are still objective social problems, such as global warming, migration, global inequality, which sociology needs to focus on.
  • However, constructing objective knowledge is a problem in contemporary sociology because knowledge is reflexive – it is part of the society it comes from – thus we need to careful to make our own value and opinions clear throughout the research process so that others can make an informed judgement about the usefulness of our research. That’s just the way it is!

4. Functionalism

  • Durkheim’s functionalism – social facts and anomie
  • Parson’s systems theory – the organic analogy and social evolution
  • Merton’s internal critique of functionalism – latent and manifest functions
  • Functionalism applied to the family – Murdock’s four universal functions, Parson’s functional fit theory and the two irreducible functions of the family – socialisation and the stabilisation of adult personalities
  • Functionalism applied to education – meritocracy, social solidarity, school as a bridge between home and society (particularistic and universalistic values)
  • Functionalism applied to Crime and Deviance – Durkheim’s three positive functions of crime, strain theory, consensus subcultural theories.
  • Functionalism and Modernisation Theory – Parson’s traditional and modern values and the evolutionary model of society
  • Functionalism and research methods – Durkheim’s Positivist approach to suicide

5. Marxism

  • Karl Marx – the basics: bourgeoisie and proletariat, exploitation, alienation, false consciousness, revolution.
  • Gramsci’s humanistic Marxism – hegemony, dual consciousness and organic intellectuals
  • Althusser’s structuralist Marxism – the repressive state apparatus.
  • Marxism applied to the Family – capitalism, private property and the family, The family as a safe haven, ideological functions, also see Marxist Feminism
  • Marxism applied to education – the ideological state apparatus, reproduction of class inequality, legitiimation of class inequality, correspondence principle
  • Marxism applied to Crime and Deviance – • Private Property and Crime, The costs of Corporate Crime, Selective Law Enforcement, Criminogenic Captialism („Dog Eat Dog“ Society)
  • Marxism applied to Global Development – Colonialism and Slavery, The Modern World System, Unfair trade rules, TNC exploitation
  • Marxism and Research Methods – Social Class, Comparative Analysis, Objectivity/ Critical Research.

6. Feminism

  • Liberal Feminism – does not seek revolutionary changes: they want changes to take place within the existing structure; the creation of equal opportunities is the main aim of liberal feminists – e.g. the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act
  • Marxist Feminism – capitalism rather than patriarchy is the principal source of women’s oppression, and capitalists as the main beneficiaries, through the housewife role for example; overthrowing capitalism remains the main objective.
  • Radical Feminism – Society is patriarchal, dominated and ruled by men – men are the ruling class, and women the subject class. Rape, violence and pornography some of the key tools through which men control women; separatism can be part of the solution.
  • Difference Feminism – women are not a homogenous group, they experience disadvantage in different ways.
  • Postmodern Feminism – critiqued preceding Feminist theory as being part of the masculinist Enlightenment Project; concerned with language (discourses) and the relationship between power and knowledge rather than ‘politics and opportunities‘.

7. Social Action Theory

  • Max Weber: Verstehen, and Social Change – observation alone is not enough to understand human action, we need empathetic understanding. Gaining Verstehen is the main point of Sociology, e.g. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism).
  • Symbolic Interactionism – people’s self-concepts based on their understanding of how others perceive them (the looking glass self); need to understand meanings to understanding actions;  social roles are not specific or fixed; they can be interpreted in various different ways.
  • Goffman’s Dramaturgical Theory – People are actors on a ‘social stage’ who actively create an impression of themselves
  • Labeling Theory – the definitions (meanings) people impose on situations or on other people can have real consequences (even if those definitions are not based in reality)

8. Post Modernism and Late Modernism

Postmodernism

  • Economy and Politics = Industrial economies, jobs for life; Nation State, most people vote and are in trades unions; Organised/ Heavy Capitalism and the Welfare State
  • Society/ Culture reflects the underlying class and patriarchal structures; Nuclear family the norm, marriage for life; Identities shaped/ constrained by class position/ sex; Media – one way communication, reflects ‘reality’
  • Knowledge – The Enlightenment – Science/ Objective Knowledge/ Truth and Progress
  • Sociology – Positivism/ Functionalism – doing research to find how societies function and gradually building a better world; Marxism/ Feminism –emancipation.

Late Modernism

  • Economy/ Politics  = Post-Industrial, service sector, portfolio workers and consumption is central; Declining power of the Nation State; Disorganised Capitalism/ Liquid Capitalism (Bauman)
  • Society/ Culture – Culture is free from structure – it is more Diverse and Fragmented ; Relationships more diverse; More Individual Freedom to shape identities; Media – more global, two- way, hyperreality (Baudrillard)
  • Knowledge – Critique of the Enlightenment; Incredulity towards Metanarratives (Lyotard)
  • Sociology – Narrative histories; Deconstruction (Lyotard) and Destabilising Theory.

9. Sociology and social policy

  • Intro – Social policy = things the government does to steer society in some way. Examples include taxation which affects wealth distribution, various education policies and policies about how to tackle crime
  • There are several reasons why governments may ignore certain findings of research – e.g. lack of money; Marxists and Feminists believe governments generally have an ideological bias which mean they ignore certain research findings.
  • Positivists believe researchers should collect objective knowledge to assess the impact of social policies and to help introduce new policies
  • Social Democratic Perspectives generally agree with the above.
  • The New Right and Neoliberals – have had most influence on social policy recently – e.g. The education system/ crime policy and in International Development
  • Marxist approaches to social policy – prefer policies which favour the redistribution of wealth and promote equality of opportunity, such as the abolition of private schools.
  • Feminist approaches to social policy – prefer policies which emphasis gender equality, such as the Paternity Act.
  • Postmodernists focus on deconstruction rather than social policies
  • Late Modernists emphasise the importance and challenges of developing and evaluating social policies in an age of globalisation.

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my social theory revision notes – available for cheap on iTunes.

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You might also like my ‘Theory and Methods Mind Maps’ – 11 Beautiful mind maps covering the above material, available for cheap on Selfy.

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Related Posts 

Please see my ‘Social Theories Page‘ For more links to a whole range of posts – both summary and in depth on various social theories relevant to both A level sociology and beyond!

Sources Used 

The content in this post has been derived from the four major ‘A’ Level sociology text books and the AQA specification.