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Bauman’s Consuming Life A Summary – Chapter 2 – The Society of Consumers

Summary of chapter One 

A fairly lengthy, paraphrased summary with a few comments in italics

consuming life bauman.jpgIn consumer culture people behave ‘unreflexivly’ – without thinking about what they consider to be their life purpose and what they believe to be the right means of reaching it, without thinking about about what prompts them into action or escape, or about what they desire, what they fear and at what point fears and desires balance each other out

Nb – In defining consumers as unreflexive – that is, anyone who limits their conscious reflection to questions of what to consume- rather than focusing on the ‘deeper’ questions of life – Bauman seems to deny that such people have any sense of agency – they are not fully human. 

The society of consumers stands for a set of existential conditions under which the probability is high that most people will embrace the consumerist rather than any other culture, and obey its rules.

The ‘society of consumers’ is a kind of society which ‘interpellates’ its members primarily in their capacity as consumers. While doing that, ‘society’ expects to be heard, listened to and obeyed; it evaluates – rewards and penalizes – its members depending on the promptness and propriety of their response to the interpellation.

As a result, one’s ability to engage in consumerist performance has become the paramount stratifying factor and the principal criterion of inclusion in or exclusion from society, as well as guiding the distribution of social esteem and stigma, and shares in public attention.

(Following Frank Trentmann) This is historically unusual – for most of the modern period consumption was little discussed and when it was it was typically associated with eccentricity and wastefulness.

For the better part of modern history (that is, throughout the era of massive industrial plants and massive conscript armies), society ‘interpellated’ most of the male half of its members as primarily producers and soldiers, and almost all of the other (female) half as first and foremost their by-appointment purveyors of services.

It was the body of the would-be worker or soldier that counted most; their spirit, on the other hand, was to be silenced, numbed and thereby ‘deactivated’.

The society of consumers, on the other hand, focuses its training and coercing pressures on the management of the spirit – leaving the manage- meant of bodies to individually undertaken DIY labour, individually supervised and coordinated by spiritually trained and coerced individuals.

This coercive pressure is exerted on members of the society of consumers from their early childhood.. Following Daniel Thomas Cooke…

‘the battles waged over and around children’s consumer culture are no less than battles over the nature of the person and the scope of personhood in the context of the ever-expanding reach of commerce.’

The society of consumers does not recognize differences of age or gender (however counter-factually) and will not make allowances for either; nor does it (blatantly counter-factually) recognize class distinctions. From the geographic centres of the worldwide network of information highways to its furthest, however impoverished peripheries…

‘the poor are forced into a situation in which they either have to spend what little money or resources they have on senseless consumer objects rather than basic necessities in order to deflect total social humiliation or face the prospect of being teased and laughed at.’ (In Ekstrom et al, Elusive Consumption, 2004.)

However it is down to the individual to negotiate the staggering amount of info in order to make the right consumer decisions to avoid derision.
Since ‘social fitness’ is the responsibility of the individual, if people fail to make the right choices they are blamed (and thus constructed as ‘flawed consumers’) – we are taught to believe that there is nothing wrong with society, because there is plenty of choice, and so if people fail to succeed they are not deserving of care.

At least the above is the case if we are unreflexive viz our consumption habits.

Consumption is an investment in everything that matters for individual ‘social value’ and self-esteem, thus the crucial, perhaps the decisive purpose of consumption in the society of consumers is not the satisfaction of needs, desires and wants, but the commoditization or recommoditization of the consumer: raising the status of consumers themselves to that of sellable commodities.

If you wish to take part in society, you have to consume in this way – turning yourself into a commodity – this is a precondition which is non negotiable thus market relations are fundamental to the society of consumers, as is the calculating mindset which goes along with it.

I’m left wondering what Bauman would make of attempts to set up alternative, low impact cultures assisted by alternative financial avenues such as Kick Starter?

Becoming and remaining a sellable commodity is the most potent motive of consumer concerns, even if it is usually latent and seldom conscious, let alone explicitly declared.
The society of consumers, with its compulsive and willing individualization places a magnified emphasis on the on the subject as the one who has the duty to make oneself something, and on the individual as being the one who is responsible if one fails.
NB – I guess to simplify one of Bauman’s basic points you could just say that we believe that we are responsible for own successes and failures in life only because that is what society tells us, and this isn’t necessarily true.
In the society of producers, society took on the role of a ‘collective Prometheus’ – it took responsibility for the product in exchange for the individual conforming to social norms. If you just ‘became’ what society asked of you’ that was enough – your Promethean challenge, and sense of of Promethean pride could thus be earned if you fulfilled your social role.
However, in the age of individualisation, now that society ‘doesn’t exist’ (TINA) just becoming what society wants is no longer an option – ( in the consumer society the point, the task, is to continually become something else).
Being born, having become something are now sources of ‘Promethean shame’ and the task of the individual is to perfect themselves – to become more than they are, and there is never an end to this process… life is a never ending struggle of becoming.
Because of this, being a member of the society of consumers is a daunting task, a never-ending and uphill struggle. The fear of failing to conform has been elbowed out by a fear of inadequacy, and consumer markets are eager to capitalize on that fear, and companies turning out consumer goods vie for the status of the most reliable guide and helper in their clients’ unending effort to rise to the challenge. They supply ‘the tools’, the instruments required by the individually performed job of ‘self-fabrication’.
However, following Gunder Anders, it is absurd to think of those tools as enabling an individual choice of purpose. These instruments are the crystallization of irresistible ‘necessity’ – which individuals must learn to obey, in order to be free. Cites teen fashion as an example.
I’d be interested in looking at the social construction of retirement in this… to what extent is retirement constructed as a time when we are expected to ‘consume hard’? Does all of this end then?


There are two versions of human history – That of life as a progression towards greater rationality and freedom, of which consumer choice is the latest ‘highest’ expression, the other is of the increasing colonisation of human life by commodity markets – the society of consumers is its zenith because humans are now obliged to interact with each other at the same level as the products they consume (as explained above) – they purchase products in order to maximise their own market-value and they have no choice but to do so.
NB – I get the impression that Bauman sides with the later version.
Markets today are sovereign, you only get political rights if you are able to consume – people such as the underclass and illegal immigrants (flawed consumers) are seen as having no rights in the popular imagination, and there is no authority they can appeal to because the state’s ability to draw the line between the included and the excluded has been eroded by the market – it now makes these decisions, and it has no tangible body that can be appealed to if people feel unfairly excluded.
In recent decades the state has shifted many of its functions sideways to the market such that the state has now become the arbiter of market demands, evidence in the centrality of economic measurements as the state’s primary indicators of its ‘success’.

The secret of every durable (successfully self-reproducing) social system is the recasting of its ‘functional prerequisites’ into behavioural motives of actors – the secret is making individuals wish to do what is needed for the system to reproduce itself.
In the modern period, this required an emphasis on deferred gratification – people committing to the idea of putting off pleasure now in order to reap the rewards in the future.
We also see in the general theories of the time – such as Freud’s reality principle and in Bentham’s panopticon – that the good society could only be constructed with the individual’s subordination to the society.
(However, such theories were themselves a product of the crisis of community – the very fact that people were thinking about community demonstrates that community is no longer ‘taken for granted’ as it was in traditional times, and because of this, it was already losing its power as a coercive force).
Much of the modern period thus involved nation states vying to restrict freedom of choice through panopticon style discipline and punish rule, but this was always cumbersome.

In the post-modern era (mistakenly conceived as a decivilising process) the civilising process takes the form of the ‘obligation to choose’ but this breeds little resistance because it is represented and conceived as freedom of choice.
People now are obliged to seek happiness and pleasure and this is lived through as an exercise of ‘freedom’ and self-assertion. Today it is as if the (individualised) pleasure principle has taken over the reality principle as the primary regulating force in society. (Reminds me of happiness is mandatory.)

When society confronts us (which it rarely does as a totality, these days) it does so in ways which make it easy for us to act as solitary consumers… (rather than in large collectivities). Bauman now gives several examples of this:

  • As mentioned earlier on in the chapter, this starts with childhood
  • At university, the new future-elite of consumers are socialised into the norm of living on credit (phase one)
  • At home we have TV dinners and fast food, which protect solitary consumers.
  • The primary acts of consumption are done in swarms – groups who come together for limited times with loose connections.
  • Elsewhere Bauman has also written about the nature of shopping malls, privatised public spaces of individualised consumption.
  • Even our post-modern ‘collective’ carnivalesque acts reinforce individualism – we come together in fringe moments to get our ‘collective’ fix and then go back to being individuals again .. ..

The chapter finishes with something about tax cuts to the rich and shifting taxation away from income to expenditure which doesn’t make much sense in the context of the chapter.

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Max Weber’s Social Action Theory

Max Weber (1864-1920) was one of the founding fathers of Sociology. Weber saw both structural and action approaches as necessary to developing a full understanding of society and social change. In one of his most important works ‘Economy and Society’, first published in the 1920s, he said ‘Sociology is a science concerning itself with interpretive understanding of social action and thereby with a causal explanation of its course and consequences.’

max_weber
Max Weber – NOT a happy bunny

 

For the purposes of A level Sociology we can reduce Weber’s extensive contribution to Sociology to three things – firstly he argued that ‘Verstehen’ or empathatic understanding is crucial to understanding human action and social change, a point which he emphasised in his classic study ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’; secondly, he believed we could make generalisations about the basic types of motivation for human action (there are four basic types) and thirdly, he still argued that structure shaped human action, because certain societies or groups encourage certain general types of motivation (but within these general types, there is a lot of variation possible).

Social Action and Verstehen

Weber argued that before the cause of an action could be ascertained you had to understand the meaning attached to it by the individual. He distinguished between two types of understanding.

First he referred to Aktuelles Verstehen – or direct observational understanding, where you just observe what people are doing. For example, it is possible to observe what people are doing – for example, you can observe someone chopping wood, or you can even ascertain (with reasonable certainty) someone’s emotional state from their body language or facial expression. However, observational understanding alone is not sufficient to explain social action.

The second type of understanding is Eklarendes Verstehen – or Empathetic Understanding – in which sociologists must try to understand the meaning of an act in terms of the motives that have given rise to it. This type of understanding would require you to find out why someone is chopping wood – Are they doing it because they need the firewood, are they just clearing a forest as part of their job, are they working off anger, just doing it because they enjoy it? To achieve this Weber argued that you had to get into the shoes of people doing the activity.

 The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

protestant-ethicIn this famous work, Weber argued that a set of religious ideas were responsible for the emergence of Capitalism in Northern Europe in the 16-17th century. Weber argued that we need to understand these ideas and how they made people think about themselves in order to understand the emergence of Capitalism. (NB The emergence of Capitalism is one the most significant social changes in human history)

The video below, from the School of Life, offers a useful summary of Max Weber’s ideas about the emergence of Capitalism

Weber’s Four Types of Action (and types of society)

Max Weber didn’t just believe that individuals shape society – societies encourage certain types of motive for action – for example, the religion of Calvinism encouraged people to save money, which eventually led to capitalism

Weber believes that there are four ideal types of social actions. Ideal types are used as a tool to look at real cases and compare them to the ideal types to see where they fall. No social action is purely just one of the four types.

  1. Traditional Social Action: actions controlled by traditions, “the way it has always been done”
  2. Affective Social Action: actions determined by one’s specific affections and emotional state, you do not think about the consequences
  3. Value Rational Social Action: actions that are determined by a conscious belief in the inherent value of a type of behavior (ex: religion)
  4. Instrumental-Rational Social Action: actions that are carried out to achieve a certain goal, you do something because it leads to a result

To illustrate these different types of action consider someone “going to school” in terms of these four ideal types: Traditionally, one may attend college because her grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles have as well. They wish to continue the family tradition and continue with college as well. When relating to affective, one may go to school just because they enjoy learning. They love going to college whether or not it will make them broke. With value rational, one may attend college because it’s a part of his/her religion that everyone must receive the proper education. Therefore, this person attends college for that reason only. Finally, one may go to college because he/she may want an amazing job in the future and in order to get that job, he/she needs a college degree.

Max Weber was particularly interested in the later of these – he believed that modern societies encouraged ‘Instrumental-Action’ – that is we are encouraged to do things in the most efficient way (e.g. driving to work) rather than thinking about whether driving to work is the right thing to do (which would be value-rational action.

Weber believed that modern societies were obsessed with efficiency – modernizing and getting things done, such that questions of ethics, affection and tradition were brushed to one side – this has the consequence of making people miserable and leading to enormous social problems. Weber was actually very depressed about this and had a mental breakdown towards the end of his life.

Evaluations of Max Weber’s Social Action Theory

  • Positive – He recognised that we need to understand individual meanings to understand how societies change (unlike Marxism)
  • Negative – Still too much focus on society shaping the individual – symbolic interactionism argues that individuals have more freedom to shape their identities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How will Big Data Change Social Research?

Big data will change the nature of social research –  more data will do away with the need for sampling (and eradicated the biases that emerge with sampling); big data analysis will be messier, but this will lead to more insights and allow for greater depth of analysis; and finally it will move us away from a limiting hypothesis-led search for causality, to non-causal analysis based on correlation.

At least according to Mayer-Schonberger and Cuker (2017) Big Data: The Essential Guide to Work, Life and Learning in the Age of Insight.

Big Data Research
A third of social science researchers are already working with Big Data

 

Below I outline their summary of how Cukier thinks big data will change social research:

You might like to read my summary of the introduction to ‘Big Data’ first

More Data

The ability to collect and analyse large amounts of data in real time has many advantages:

It does away with the need for sampling, and all the problems that can emerge with biased sampling.

More data enables us to make accurate predictions down to smaller levels – as with the case of Google’s flu predictions being able to predict the spread of flu on a city by city basis across the USA.

It enables us to use outliers to spot interesting trends – for example credit card companies can use it to detect fraud if too many transactions for a particular type of card originate in one particular area.

When we use all the data, we are more likely to find things which we never expected to find…

Cukier uses Steven Levitt’s analysis of all the data from 11 years worth of Sumo bouts as a good example of the interesting insights to be gained through big data analysis.

A suitable analogy for big data may be the Lytro camera, which captures not just a single plane of light, as with conventional cameras, but rays from the entire light field… the photographer decides later on which element of light to focus on in the digital file…. And he can reuse the same information in different ways.

One of the areas that is most dramatically being shaken up by big data is the social sciences, which have traditionally made use of sampling techniques. This monopoly is likely to be broken by big data firms and the old biases associated with sampling should disappear.

Albert-Laszlo Barabasi examined social  networks using logs of mobile phones from about one fifth of an unidentified European country’s population – which was the first analysis done on networks at the societal level using a dataset in the spirit of n = all. They found something unusual – if one removes people with lots of close links in the local area the societal network remains intact, but if one removes people with links outside their community, the social network degrades.

Messier

All other things being equal, big data is ‘messier’ than small data – because the more data you collect, the higher the chance that some of it will be inaccurate. However, the aggregate of all the data should provide more breadth and frequency of data than smaller data sets.

Cukier uses the analogy of measuring temperature in a vineyard to illustrate this – if we have just one temperature gauge, we have to make sure it is working perfectly, but it we have a thousand, we will have more errors, but a much wider breadth of data, and if we take measurements with greater frequency, we will have a more sensitive measurement of changes over time.

When using big data, analysts are generally happy sacrificing some accuracy for knowing the general trend – in the big data world, it is OK if 2+2 = 3.9.

More data is sometimes all we need for 100% accuracy, for example chess games with fewer than 6 pieces on the board have all been mapped out in their entirety, thus a human will never be able to beat a computer again once this point has been reached.

The fact that messiness doesn’t matter that much is evidenced in Google’s success with its translation software – Google employed a relatively simply algorithm but fed it trillions of words from across the internet – all of the messy data it could find – this proves that simple models and lot of data trump smart models and less data.

We see messiness in action all over the internet – it lies in ‘tagging’ and likes being rounded up – none of this is precise, but it works, it provides us with usable information.

Ultimately big data means we are going to have to become happier with uncertainty.

Correlation 

It might be hard to fathom today, but when Amazon started up it actually employed book critics and editors to write reviews of books and make recommendations to customers.

Then the CEO Jeff Bezos had the idea of making specific recommendations to customers based on their individual shopping preferences and employed someone called Greg Linden to develop a recommendation system – in 19898 he and his colleagues applied for a patent on ‘item to item’ collaborative filtering – which allowed Amazon to look for relationships between products.

As a result, Amazon’s sales shot up, they sacked the human advisors, and today about 1/3rd of all its sales are based on their recommendations systems. Amazon was an early adopter of big data analytics to drive up sales, and today many other companies such as Netflix also use it as one of the primary methods to keep profits rolling in.

These companies don’t need to know why consumers like the products that they do, knowing that there’s a relationship between the products people like is enough to drive up sales.

Predictions and Predilections

In the big data world, correlations really shine – we can use them to gain more insights extremely rapidly.

At its core, a correlation quantifies the statistical relationship between two data values. A strong correlation means that when one of the data values changes, the other is highly likely to change as well.

Correlations let us analyse a phenomenon not by shedding light on its inner workings, but by identifying a useful proxy for it.

In the small data age, researchers needed to use hypotheses to select one or a handful of proxies to analyse, and hence hard statistical evidence on the relationship between variables was collected quite slowly; with the increase in computational power we don’t need hypothesis-driven analysis, we can simply analyse billions of data points and ‘stumble upon’ correlations.

In the big-data age we can use a data-driven approach to collecting data, and our results should be less biased and more accurate, and we should also be able to get them faster.

One such example of where this data-driven approach has been applied and strong big data correlations was the case of Google’s flu predictions. We didn’t need to know what flu search terms were the best proxy for ‘people with flu symptoms’, in this case, the data simply showed us which search terms were the best proxies.

With correlations there is no certainty, only probability, but this can still provide us with actionable data, as with the case of Amazon above, and there are many other examples of where data driven big data analytics are changing our lives. (p56)

We can use correlations to predict the future – for example, Wal-Mart noticed a correlation between Hurricanes and Flash Light sales, but also pop tarts, so when a Hurricane is predicted, it moves the pop tarts to the front of store and further boosts its sales.

Probably the most notorious use of big data correlations to make predictions is the American discount retailer, Target, who use their data on the products women buy as a proxy for pregnancy – women tend to buy non scented body lotions around the third month of pregnancy and then various vitamin supplements around the 6 month mark – big data even allows predictions about the approximate birth date to be made!

Finding proxies in social contexts is only one way that big-data techniques are being employed – another use is through ‘predictive analytics’, which aims to forsee events before they happen.

One example of predictive analytics is the shipping company UPS using them to monitor its fleet of 10s of 1000s of vehicles – to replace parts just before they wear out, saving them millions of dollars.

Another use is in health care – one piece of research by Dr Carolyn McGregor, with IBM,, used 16 different data streams to track the stats of premature babies – and found that there was a correlation between certain stats and an infection occurring 24 hours later. Interestingly this research found that an infant’s stability was a predictor of a forthcoming infection, which flew in the face of convention – again we don’t know why this is, but the correlation was there.

Illusions and Illuminations

Big data also makes it easier to find more complex, non-linear relationships than when working within a hypothesis-limiting small data paradigm.

One example of a non-linear relationship uncovered by big data analysis is that of the relationship between income and happiness – that happiness increases with income (up until about $30K per year, but then it levels out – once we have ‘enough’ adding on more money doesn’t make us any happier…

Big data also opens up more possibilities for exploring networks – by analyzing how ideas spread through the nodes of networks such as Facebook, for example.

In network analysis, it is very difficult to attribute causality, because everything is connected to everything else, and big data analysis is typically non-causal, just looking for correlations not ‘causation’.

Does big data mean the end of theory?

In 2008 Wired magazine’s chief editor argued that in the ‘Petabyte age’ we would be able to do away with theory – that correlation would be enough for us to understand reality – citing as examples Google’s search engine and gene sequencing – where simply huge amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear.

However, this view is problematic because big data is itself founded on theory – it employs mathematical and statistical theories for example, and humans still select data, or at least the tools which select data, which in turn are often driven by convenience and economic concerns.

Having said that, Big Data does potentially move us away from theory and closer to empiricism than in the small data age.

 

 

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Modernization Theory

The classic text of Modernization Theory

By the end of the Second World War many of the countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America had failed to develop and remained poor, despite exposure to capitalism. There was concern amongst the leaders of the western developed countries, especially the United States, that communism might spread into many of these countries, potentially harming American business interests abroad and diminishing U.S. Power.

In this context, in the late 1940s, modernisation theory was developed, which aimed to provide a specifically non-communist solution to poverty in the developing world – Its aim was to spread a specifically industrialised, capitalist model of development through the promotion of Western, democratic values.

Modernisation theory thought the ‘third world’ should develop like the ‘first world’

 

There are two main aspects of modernisation theory – (1) its explanation of why poor countries are underdeveloped, and (2) its proposed solution to underdevelopment.

Modernisation theory explained the underdevelopment of countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America primarily in terms of cultural ‘barriers’ to development’, basically arguing that developing countries were underdeveloped because their traditional values held them back; other modernisation theorists focused more on economic barriers to development.

In order to develop, less developed countries basically needed to adopt a similar path to development to the West. They needed to adopt Western cultural values and industrialise in order to promote economic growth. In order to do this they would need help from Western governments and companies, in the form of aid and investment.

Modernisation theory favoured a capitalist- industrial model of development – they believed that capitalism (the free market) encouraged efficient production through industrialisation, the process of moving towards factory based production.

Industrial –refers to production taking place in factories rather than in the home or small workshops. This is large scale production. (Think car plants and conveyer belts).

Capitalism – a system where private money is invested in industry in order to make a profit and goods are produced are for sale in the market place rather than for private consumption.

Modernisation theory thought industrialisation could drive development in poorer countries

 

There are alternative systems of production to Capitalism – subsistence systems are where local communities produce what they need and goods produced for sale are kept to a minimum; and Communism, where a central authority decides what should be produced rather than consumer demand and desire for profit. (Need drives production in Communism, individual wants or desires (‘demand’)  in Capitalism)

Modernisation Theory: What Prevents Development?

According to Modernisation Theorists, obstacles to development are internal to poorer countries. In other words, undeveloped countries are undeveloped because they have the wrong cultural and social systems and the wrong values and practices that prevent development from taking place.

The Caste System in India is a good example of an ascribed status system based on traditional values

Talcott Parsons (1964) was especially critical of the traditional values of underdeveloped countries – he believed that they were too attached to traditional customs, rituals, practices and institutions, which Parsons argued were the ‘enemy of progress’. He was especially critical of the extended kinship and tribal systems found in many traditional societies, which he believed hindered the geographical and social mobility that were essential if a country were to develop (as outlined in his Functional Fit theory).

Parsons argued that traditional values in Africa, Asia and Latin America acted as barriers to development which included –

  • Particularism – Where people are allocated into roles based on their affective or familial relationship to those already in positions power. For example, where a politician or head of a company gives their brother or someone from their village or ethnic group a job simply because they are close to them, rather than employing someone based on their individual talent.
  • Collectivism – This is where the individual is expected to put the group (the family or the village) before self-interest – this might mean that children are expected to leave school at a younger age in order to care for elderly parents or grandparents rather than staying in school and furthering their education.
  • Patriarchy – Patriarchal structures are much more entrenched in less developed countries, and so women are much less likely to gain positions of political or economic power, and remain in traditional, housewife roles. This means that half of the population is blocked from contributing to the political and economic development of the country.
  • Ascribed Status and Fatalism – Ascribed status is where your position in society is ascribed (or determined) at birth based on your caste, ethnic group or gender. Examples include the cast system in India, many slave systems, and this is also an aspect of extreme patriarchal societies. This can result in Fatalism – the feeling that there is nothing you can do to change your situation.

In contrast, Parsons believed that Western cultural values which promoted competition and economic growth: such values included the following:

  • Individualism – The opposite of collectivism This is where individuals put themselves first rather than the family or the village/ clan. This frees individuals up to leave families/ villages and use their talents to better themselves ( get an education/ set up businesses)
Individualism should promote competition and drive economic growth

 

  • Universalism – This involves applying the same standards to everyone, and judging everyone according to the same standards This is the opposite of particularism, where people are judged differently based on their relationship to the person doing the judging.
  • Achieved Status and Meritocracy – Achieved status is where you achieve your success based on your own individual efforts. This is profoundly related to the ideal of meritocracy. If we live in a truly meritocratic society, then this means then the most talented and hardworking should rise to the top-jobs, and these should be the best people to ‘run the country’ and drive economic and social development.
Modern education systems embody universalism and meritocracy

Parsons believed that people in undeveloped countries needed to develop an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ if economic growth was to be achieved, and this could only happen if less developed countries became more receptive to Western values, which promoted economic growth.

Rostow’s five stage model of development

Modernisation Theorists believed traditional societies needed Western assistance to develop. There were numerous debates about the most effective ways to help countries develop, but there was general consensus on the view that aid was a good thing and if Developing countries were injected with money and western expertise it would help to erode ‘backward’ cultural barriers and kick starts their economies.

The most well-known version of modernization theory is Walt Rostow’s 5 stages of economic growth. Rostow (1971) suggested that following initial investment, countries would then set off on an evolutionary process in which they would progress up 5 stages of a development ladder. This process should take 60 years. The idea is that with help from West, developing countries could develop a lot faster than we did.

Stage 1 – Traditional societies whose economies are dominated by subsistence farming. Such societies have little wealth to invest and have limited access to modern industry and technology. Rostow argued that at this stage there are cultural barriers to development (see sheet 6)

Stage 2 – The preconditions for take off – the stage in which western aid packages brings western values, practises and expertise into the society. This can take the form of:

  • Science and technology – to improve agriculture

  • Infrastructure – improving roads and cities communications

  • Industry – western companies establishing factories

These provide the conditions for investment, attracting more companies into the country.

Stage 3 – Take off stage –The society experiences economic growth as new modern practices become the norm. Profits are reinvested in infrastructure etc. and a new entrepreneurial class emerges and urbanised that is willing to invest further and take risks. The country now moves beyond subsistence economy and starts exporting goods to other countries

This generates more wealth which then trickles down to the population as a whole who are then able to become consumers of new products produced by new industries there and from abroad.

Stage 4 – The drive to maturity.

More economic growth and investment in education, media and birth control. The population start to realise new opportunities opening up and strive to make the most of their lives.

Stage 5 – The age of high mass consumption. This is where economic growth and production are at Western levels.

Variations on Rostow’s 5 stage model

Different theorists stress the importance of different types of assistance or interventions that could jolt countries out their traditional ways and bring about change.

  • Hoselitz – education is most important as it should speed up the introduction of Western values such as universalism, individualism, competition and achievement measured by examinations. This was seen as a way of breaking the link between family and children.

  • Inkeles – media – Important to diffuse ideas non traditional such as family planning and democracy

  • Hoselitz – urbanisation. The theory here is that if populations are packed more closely together new ideas are more likely to spread than amongst diffuse rural population

Strengths of Modernisation Theory/ Examples of it (sort of) Working

ONE – Indonesia – partly followed Modernisation theory in the 1960’s by encouraging western companies to invest and by accepting loans from the World Bank. But, their President Suharto (Dictator) also maintained a brutal regime which a CIA report refers to as “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century,” comparable to those of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. However, the World Bank praised Suharto’s economic transformation as “a dynamic economic success” and called Indonesia “the model pupil of the global economy,” while Bill Clinton referred to Suharto as “our kind of guy.”

Two further examples of where western expertise has helped solved specific problems in a number of developing countries are the green revolution and the eradication of smallpox, but neither of these lead to ‘the high age of mass consumption’ as Rostow predicted

TWO – The Green Revolution: In the 1960s, Western Biotechnology helped treble food yields in Mexico and India.

THREE – The Eradication of Smallpox… In the early 1950s 50 million cases of smallpox occurred in the world each year, by the early 1970s smallpox had been eradicated because of vaccine donations by the USA and RUSSIA

Criticisms of Modernisation Theory 

Firstly, there are no examples of countries that have followed a Modernisation Theory approach to development. No countries have followed Rostow’s “5 stages of growth” in their entirety. Remember, “Modernisation Theory” is a very old theory which was partly created with the intention of justifying the position of western capitalist countries, many of whom were colonial powers at the time, and discrediting Communism. This is why it is such a weak theory.

Secondly, Modernization Theory assumes that western civilisation is technically and morally superior to traditional societies. Implies that traditional values in the developing world have little value compared to those of the West. Many developed countries have huge inequalities and the greater the level of inequality the greater the degree of other problems: High crime rates, suicide rates, poor health problems such as cancer and drug abuse.

Is the collectivist culture of Anuta really inferior to the individualised culture in the West?

Thirdly, Dependency Theorists argue that development is not really about helping the developing world at all. It is really about changing societies just enough so they are easier to exploit, making western companies and countries richer, opening them up to exploit cheap natural resources and cheap labour.

Fourth, Neo-Liberalism is critical of the extent to which Modernisation theory stresses the importance of foreign aid, but corruption (Kleptocracy) often prevents aid from getting to where it is supposed to be going. Much aid is siphoned off by corrupt elites and government officials rather than getting to the projects it was earmarked for. This means that aid creates more inequality and enables elites to maintain powe

Fifth, Post-Development thinkers argue that the model is flawed for assuming that countries need the help of outside forces. The central role is on experts and money coming in from the outside, parachuted in, and this downgrades the role of local knowledge and initiatives. This approach can be seen as demeaning and dehumanising for local populations. Galeano (1992) argues that minds become colonised with the idea that they are dependent on outside forces. They train you to be paralysed and then sell you crutches. There are alternative models of development that have raised living standards: Such as Communist Cuba and The Theocracies of the Middle East

Sixthly, industrialisation may do more harm than good for many people – It may cause Social damage – Some development projects such as dams have led to local populations being removed forcibly from their home lands with little or no compensation being paid.

In the clip below, Vandana Shiva presents a useful alternative perspective on the Green Revolution, pointing out that many traditional villages were flooded and destroyed in the process:

Finally, there are ecological limits to growth. Many industrial modernisation projects such as mining and forestry have led to the destruction of environment.

Post-Script: Neo-Modernisation Theory?

Despite its failings Modernisation theory has been one of most influential theories in terms of impact on global affairs. The spirit of Modernisation theory resulted in the establishment of the United Nations, The World Bank and the IMF, global financial institutions through which developed countries continue to channel aid money to less developed countries to this day, although there is of course debate over whether aid is an effective means to development.

Would we have the Millennium Development Goals without Modernisation Theory?

Furthermore, the ‘spirit of Modernisation theory may actually still be alive today, in the form of Jeffry Sachs. Sachs (2005) is one of the most influential development economists in the world, and he has been termed a ‘neo-modernisation theorist’.

Sachs, like Rostow, sees development as a ladder with its rungs representing progress towards economic and social well-being. Sachs argues that there are a billion people in the world who are too malnourished, diseased or young to lift a foot onto the ladder because they often lack certain types of capital which the west takes for granted – such as good health, education, knowledge and skills, or any kind of savings.

Sachs argues that these billion people are effectively trapped in a cycle of deprivation and require targeted aid injections from the west in order to develop. In the year 2000 Sachs even went as far as calculating how much money would be required to end poverty – it worked out at 0.7% of GNP of the 30 or so most developed countries over the next few decades.

Related Posts/ Sources:

Steve Basset has produced an excellent series of vodcasts introducing Modernization Theory and other theories of development:

I’d also recommend this this useful article on Walt Rostow from The Guardian as some further reading.

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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. 

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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.

social-theory-revision-notes

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

sociological-theories mind maps

 

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.

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Educational Technology – Increasing Inequality and Other Potential Problems

Does the increasing use of educational technology enhance the ‘learning experience’ for learners, or does it just reinforce existing social problems such as inequality of educational outcomes? Personally I’m sceptical about the benefits of educational technology. 

In its recent report, OFCOM describe young people as prolific users of digital media, with the vast majority of young people perceiving digital technologies in highly positive ways, and approximately 25% reporting that they see ICT as the key to their future career. (OFCOM 2013, see also Logicalis 2013).

This widespread enthusiastic adoption of digital technologies is met by equally enthusiastic encouragement by business leaders, many of whom voice optimism that such technologies can help maintain UK economic competitiveness in the global knowledge economy. Gantz and Reinsel (2012) for example note that CIOs, data scientists and digital entrepreneurs already know that there is huge, untapped potential in the rapidly expanding collection of digital bits, although this will require the tagging and analysing of big data if this is to be realised, while Lent (2102) suggests the long established blurring between consumption and production is accelerated by the web which opens up new capacities for self-generated value, pointing to a new entrepreneurial spirit amongst today’s younger generation, which should be embraced.

This optimism seems to be mirrored by the DFES1 which has an overwhelmingly positive view of the future role of ICT in schools and colleges, noting that it has transformed other sectors, and that pupils need ICT to equip them with future-work skills. In DFES literature, ICT seems to be presented as a neutral set of technologies through which individual students can be empowered, with emphasis on the benefits such technology can bring to schools, such as more personalised learning, better feedback, a richer resource base and the possibility of extending the learning day.

Following Ball (2013) this optimistic tone surrounding ICT fits with the neoliberal reorientation to economic global competitiveness as part of a global flow of policy based around a shift towards a knowledge based high skills economy, and in terms of broader (‘classic’) sociological theory these optimistic voices correspond to the largely optimistic theories of disembedded individualisation (following Dawson 2012) originally advanced by Giddens and Beck in early 1990s, in that digital technology is constructed as something which can enhance the capacity for young people to employ agency and craft innovative transitional choice-biographies (Giddens, 1991, p5, Beck 1992, p135-6). If there is any truth in this, we should, over the next few years, see several hundreds of thousands of young digital entrepreneurs engaging in cyber-reflexivity and creating innovative online solutions to the systemic problem of decreasing youth employment opportunities, irrespective of their class-location (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 2002, p39).

There are, however, several factors which suggest that this vision of the (dismebedded) individualised cyber-reflexive entrepreneurial future is either naive or ideological. Firstly, the extent to which today’s so called ‘digital natives’2 are genuinely innovative digital entrepreneurs rather than simply being ambivalent-consumers of digital products remains unclear3; secondly, cyberspace is far from a neutral arena, in reality I think it is more accurate to view it as a field of action in which the type of agency employed (e.g. whether productive/ entrepreneurial or banal/ consumptive) will be influenced by factors such as cultural capital and social networks; thirdly, this vision overplays the actual opportunities available for using digital media as a route to career success or self-employment – for example little mention is given to the problematic fact that millions of young people in Asia will be entering the ‘flat’ digital-labour market in the coming decade, able to survive off much lower returns than their UK competitors; fourthly, there seems to little interest in operationalising what kind of opportunities will be opening up for digital entrepreneurs in the future – there may well be hundreds of thousands more 20-somethings with their own digital-companies by 2020, but it is uncertain what side of the high skills low skills informational economy (referred to by Apple 2012) the majority of tomorrow’s digital workforce will find themselves; and finally there is the possibility that this is the latest discourse innovation in the denigration of teachers and state education through constructing technologically reticent staff as a barrier to progress, as well as paving the way for further privatisation with the forthcoming renewal of the ICT curriculum being fully endorsed and part-authored by Google, Microsoft, and IBM4.

It is also the case that I see little evidence of digital innovation in my mundane workaday reality – instead what I mainly see is digital-addiction, banal banter, and browsing for shoes, with today’s digital youth seeming largely content to construct themselves through digital-consumption and self-expression. Many of today’s students attach huge significance to such aspects of their lives (browsing for clothes and shoes is a favoured activity in tutorial, as are discussions about the post-exam trip to Malia, photos from the previous year’s trips being standard as social networking profile pictures). It is also apparent that the mobile devices through which many young people access online culture are themselves fetish-objects, central to young people’s experience of being themselves (as researched by Jotham 2012), that young people generally remain uninterested or unable to engage with the more technical aspects of these technologies5 which might actually equip them with the skills to be digitally-entrepreneurial, and that mobile devices link young people to heavily commodified space (Bolin 2012) which connects users directly to corporate (read neoliberal) protocols (Snickars and Vonderau, 2012).

It follows that youth engagement with digital media seems much more likely to centre around what Kenway and Bullen (2008) call the corporate curriculum (2008) which normalises the libidinal economy, a hyperreal realm of carnivalesque jouissance fuelled by desires based on values associated with lifestyle commodity aesthetics rather than the work ethic or responsibility, with any sense of ‘digital entrepreneurship’ being limited to the self-conscious commodification of the self through personal branding via social networking sites (Marwick 2011).

I also think that many students struggle as a result of what Bauman (2013a, 2013b) refers to as the pointillist experience of time online… ‘marked as much by the profusion of ruptures and discontinuities…. more prominent for its inconsistency and lack of cohesion than for its elements of continuity and consistency…. broken up, or even pulverized, into a multitude of ‘eternal instants’. This concept has been developed by Niehaus (2012), exploring what he calls ‘iTime’, describing this experience as being structured by an addictive hunt for frissons, short instants of excitement and pleasure; with each moment ever-more packed with contents, references, and tasks which taken together are likely to take precedence over the linear, single-minded time of one activity.’ This process is likely to be accelerated through multitasking, through which 16-24 year olds manage to squeeze in the equivalent of 9 hours and 30 minutes of data consumption per day (as noted by Davis 2013).

According to Bauman (2013b), those young people who are distracted by pointillism and the jouissance of the corporate curriculum, engaged in what he would call ‘banal’ cyber-reflexivity, are afflicted with a ‘fatal coincidence of the compulsion/ addiction of choosing with the inability to choose’, and if Bauman is correct, those who are more engaged with such aspects of digital media are probably less-likely to have thought about their long-term futures, and be less able to construct the kind of entrepreneurial ‘choice’-biographies that DFES champion (Bauman, 2012).

While there is a lack of critical research available on the use of digital media in an educational context (as Selwyn 2014 notes), there is some evidence that higher levels of ‘social’ use of digital technologies could be correlated with lower levels of engagement  with educational opportunities. Fisher’s (2009) personal experience of teaching in an FE college was that FE students who were heavy users of communications technologies were more likely to get bored of standard, offline lessons, Junco (2011) has theorised that the negative correlation between the frequency of posting updates on Facebook and final GPA could have been due to due to cognitive overload, given that the former variable was not negatively correlated with time spent engaged in college work, while Hall and Baym’s (2012) analysis of mobile maintenance expectations uncovered that once established mobile technologies can encourage high levels of ‘mundane maintenance’ to meet communicative obligations within a friendship group.

Possible avenues for research….

There’s definitely scope for further research to examine the extent to which student use of digital technology6 encourages the production neoliberal subjectivties, and the scope for and meaning of resistance to such subjectivities. One possible avenue might be to look at the extent of ‘digital entrepreneurship’ (for example, ability to code and create software or use software to generate innovative products) compared to other more common uses of digital media (such as information-seeking, maintaining social networks and game-playing).

My own feeling is that it would be useful to employ Bauman’s theoretical framework7 to explore the extent to which different forms of (socially embedded) digital-reflexivities stratify young people into (different types of) digital-producers and digital-consumers, although there is potential for this to be a ‘sociology of education’ type study, which might usefully draw on the theoretical work of Bordieu, exploring how digital reflexivities are embedded in social networks and influenced by cultural capital, and how these reflexivities influence students’ ability to meet the performative demands of further education.

Works cited

Apple,M (2010) Global crises, social justice and education, Routledge: New York.

Ball, S (2013) The education debate, Kindle Edition.

Bauman, Z (2013a) Dividing time, or Love’s Labour’s Lost, Thesis Eleven 2013 118: 3

Bauman, Z (2013b)  The art of life, Kindle Edition (originally published 2008).

Bauman, Z (2012) On education: Conversations with Riccardo Mazzeo, Polity Press: Cambridge.

Beck, U (1992) Risk society: towards a new modernity, Sage: London.

Beck, U and Beck-Gernsheim, E (2002) Individualisation, Sage: London.

Bolin, G (2012) Personal media in the digital economy, in Snickars, P and Vonderau, P (2012) Moving data: The iphone and the future of media, Columbia University Press: New York.

Davis, M (2013) Hurried lives: Dialectics of time and technology in liquid modernity. Thesis Eleven 118:7.

Dawson, M (2012) Reviewing the critique of individualization: The disembedded and embedded theses. Acta Sociologica 55: 305.

Fischer, M (2009) Capitalist realism: Is there no alternative? Kindle Edition.

Gantz, J and Reinsel, D (2012) The digital universe in 2020: Big data, bigger digital shadows, and biggest growth in the far east, IDC. (Accessed online January 25/ 2014 – http://www.emc.com/leadership/digital-universe/iview/index.htm).

Giddens, A (1991) Modernity and self identity: Self and society in the late modern age, Polity: Cambridge.

Hall, J and Baym, N (2012) Calling and texting (too much): Mobile maintenance expectations, (over)dependence, entrapment, and friendship satisfaction. New Media and Society 2012 14: 316.

Jotham, V (2012) iSpace? Identitiy and space – A visual ethnography with young people and mobile phone technologies. PhD Thesis, University of Manchester, Faculty of Humanities.

Junco, R (2011) Too much face and not enough books: The relationship between multiple indicies of Facebook use and academic performance. Computers in Human Behaviour, 28: 1 (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563211001932, accessed 24/01/ 2014).

Kenway, J & Bullen, E (2008) ‘The global corporate curriculum and the young cyberflaneur as global citizen’ in Dolby, N & Rizvi, F (eds.) Youth moves – Identities and education in global perspectives, Routledge, New York.

Lent, A (2012) Generation enterprise: The hope for a brighter economic future, the RSA. (http://www.thersa.org/action-research-centre/enterprise-and-design/enterprise/enterprise/generation-enterprise, accessed 25/ 01/2014.)

Livingstone, S (2008) Taking risky opportunities in youthful content creation: teenagers’ use of social networking sites for intimacy, privacy and self-expression, New Media and Society, 10: 293.

Logicalis (2013) Realtime generation (http://www.uk.logicalis.com/knowledge-share/reports/real-time-generation-2013/, accessed 22/01/ 2014).

Marwick, A (2011) I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience, New Media and Society, 13: 114.

Niehaus, N (2012) Whenever you are, be sometime else’. A philosophical analysis of smartphone time (https://www.academia.edu/3664754/Whenever_you_are_be_sometime_else._A_philosophical_analysis_of_smartphone_time, accessed 22/ 01/ 2014).

Selwyn (2014) Making sense of young people, Education and digitial technology: The role of sociological theory. Oxford Review of Education 38:1.

1http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/a00201823/digital-technology-in-schools accessed 16/01/2104, updated 18 October 2013

2Despite the fact that recent research by the Open University suggests the concept bears no relation to empirical reality, the DFES and business analysts still seem all too willing to use it.

3 In my own college, reporting of 60+ hours a week use of digital-media is not uncommon, but the majority seem to simply use digital media for communication with significant-peers, entertainment or consumer-related information-seeking purposes, and thus it seems likely that most 16-19 year olds are currently more accurately characterised as digital-consumers rather than genuinely innovative digital-producers/ or a range of diverse prosumer hybrids.

4https://www.gov.uk/government/news/harmful-ict-curriculum-set-to-be-dropped-to-make-way-for-rigorous-computer-science DFES 11/01/2012, accessed 16/01/2013

5for example, Livingstone (2008) reported that teenage users of a variety of social networking sites were unsure of what aspects of their profiles were private, which requires a ‘deeper’ level of technical awareness than that required to maintain a profile, but in itself is hardly a ‘deep’ level of technical knowledge.

6I use the term broadly at this stage, although I realise I may need to limit the study to certain types of digital-engagement.

7If that’s even possible given his love of ambivalence?

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Social Action Theory – A Summary

Unlike structural theorists, social action theorists argue that people’s behaviour and life-chances are not determined by their social background. Instead, social action theorists emphasises the role of the active individual and interactions between people in shaping personal identity and in turn the wider society. In order to understand human action we need to uncover the individual’s own motives for acting.

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.

  • Understanding individual motives is crucial for understanding changes to the social structure (as illustrated in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism).

  • Weber still attempted to make generalisations about types of motive for action – there are four main types of motive for action – Instrumentally rational, value rational, traditional action and affectual action

  • Different societies and different groups emphasise the importance of different types of ‘general motive’ for action’ – so society still affects individual motives, but in a general way.

Symbolic Interactionism

  • People’s self-concepts are based on their understanding of how others perceive them (the looking glass self).

  • We act towards others on the basis of how we interpret their symbolic action, the same action can be interpreted differently by different people – we need to understand these specific meanings to understanding people’s actions.

  • We ‘are constantly ‘taking on the role of the other’ – thinking about how people see us and reacting accordingly, this is very much an active, conscious process.

  • Each of us has an idea in the back of our minds of ‘the generalised other’ – which is basically society – what society expects of us, which consists of different norms and values associated with different roles in society.

  • These 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

  • When we act in the social world, we put on a ‘front’ in order to project a certain image of ourselves (call this part of our ‘social identity’

  • To create this front we manipulate the setting in which we perform (e.g. our living room), our appearance (e.g. our clothes) and our manner (our emotional demeanour).

  • Impression management involves projecting an ‘idealised image’ of ourselves,

  • We must be constantly on our guard to practice ‘expressive control’ when on the social stage.

  • Acting out social roles is quite demanding and so in addition to the front-stage aspect of our lives, we also have back-stage areas where we can drop our front and be more relaxed, closer to our ‘true-selves’

  • Most acting is neither fully ‘sincere’ nor fully ‘contrived’ and most people oscillate between sincerity and cynicism throughout the day and throughout the role they are playing.

Labelling Theory

  • Focuses on how the definitions (meanings) people impose on situations or on other people can have real consequences (even if those definitions are not based in reality)

  • People in power generally have more ability to impose their definitions on situations than the powerless and make these labels have consequences compared to working class youths. Labelling theory

  • We still need to understand where people are located in the power-structure of society to fully understand the process of labelling and identity construction.

Evaluations of Social Action Theory

Positive

Negative

  • Recognises that people are complex and active and have their own diverse meanings and motives for acting

  • Overcomes the determinism found in structural theories such as Marxism which tend to see individuals as passive

  • Goffman’s dramaturgical theory seems especially useful today in the age of Social Media

  • Labelling Theory recognizes the importance of micro-level interactions in shaping people’s identities, and the fact that people in power are often more able to ‘define the situation’.

  • In-depth research methods associated with social action theory often have high validity

  • It doesn’t pay sufficient attention to how social structures constrain action – for example, material deprivation can have a real, objective impact on your ability to well at school, thus failure is not just all about labelling.

  • It tends to ignore power-distribution in society – it can’t explain patterns in class, gender, ethnicity.

  • If people are so active, then why do so many people choose to be so normal?

  • Labelling theory can also be criticised for being deterministic

  • The small-scale methods associated with this theory can equally be criticised for lacking reliability and representativeness

If you like this sort of thing then you might also like my Theory and Methods Mind Maps – only £0.99!

Related Posts 

Max Weber”s Social Action Theory

A Summary of Erving Goffmans’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

 

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The Labelling Theory of Crime

The labelling Theory of Crime is associated with Interactionism – the Key ideas are that crime is socially constructed, agents of social control label the powerless as deviant and criminal based on stereotypical assumptions and this creates effects such as the self-fulfilling prophecy, the criminal career and deviancy amplification.

Interactionists argue that people do not become criminals because of their social background, but rather argue that crime emerges because of labelling by authorities. They see crime as the product of micro-level interactions between certain individuals and the police, rather than the result of external social forces such as socialisation or blocked opportunity structures.

Four Key concepts associated with Interactionist theories of deviance

  1. Crime is Sociology Constructed – An act which harms an individual or society else only becomes criminal if those in power label that act as criminal.

  1. Not everyone who is deviant gets labelled as such – negative labels are generally (deviant/ criminal) are generally given to the powerless by the powerful.

  1. Labelling has real consequences – it can lead to deviancy amplification, the self-fulfilling prophecy and deviant careers.

  1. Labelling theory has a clear ‘value position’ – it should aim to promote policies that prevent labelling minor acts as deviant.

1- Crime is Socially Constructed

Rather than taking the definition of crime for granted, labelling theorists are interested in how certain acts come to be defined or labelled as criminal in the first place.

Interactionists argue that there is no such thing as an inherently deviant act – in other words there is nothing which is deviant in itself in all situations and at all times, certain acts only become deviant in certain situations when others label them as deviant. Deviance is not a result of an act or an individual being ‘uniquely different’, deviance is a product of society’s reaction to actions.

Howard Becker - labelling theorist

As Howard Becker* (1963) puts it – “Deviancy is not a quality of the act a person commits, but rather a consequences of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an ‘offender’. Deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label.” (*The main theorist within labelling theory)

Howard Becker illustrates how crime is the product of social interactions by using the example of a fight between young people. In a low-income neighbourhood, a fight is more likely to be defined by the police as evidence of delinquency, but in a wealthy area as evidence of high spirits. The acts are the same, but the meanings given to them by the audience (in this case the public and the police) differ. Those who have the power to make the label stick thus create deviants or criminals.

Becker provides a more extreme example in his book The Outsiders (1963) – in this he draws on a simple illustration of an anthropological study by anthropologist Malinowski who describes how a youth killed himself because he hand been publicly accused of incest. When Malinowski had first inquired about the case, the islanders expressed their horror and disgust. But, on further investigation, it turned out that incest was not uncommon on the island, nor was it really frowned upon provided those involved were discrete. However, if an incestuous affair became too obvious and public, the islanders reacted with abuse and the offenders were ostracised and often driven to suicide.

To be clear – in the above example, everyone knows that incest goes on, but if people are too public about it (and possibly if they are just disliked for whatever reason) they get publicly shamed for being in an incestuous relationship.

You could apply the same thinking to criminal behaviour more generally in Britain – According to a recent 2015 survey of 2000 people, the average person in Britain breaks the law 17 ties per year, with 63% admitting speeding, 33% steeling and 25% taking illegal drugs – clearly the general public is tolerant of ‘ordinary’ deviance – but every now and then someone will get spotted doing ‘ordinary’ criminal activities and publicly shamed.

labelling theory and drugs

All of this has led labelling theorists to look at how and why rules and laws get made – especially the role of what Becker calls ‘moral entrepreneurs’, people who lead a moral crusade to change the law in the belief that it will benefit those to whom it is applied. However, according to Interactionists, when new laws are created, they simply create new groups of outsiders and lead to the expansion of social control agencies such as the police, and such campaigns may do little to change the underlying amount of ‘deviant activity’ taking place.

In summary – deviance is not a quality that lies in behaviour itself, but in the interaction between the person who commits an act and those who respond to it. From this point of view, deviance is produced by a process of interaction between the potential deviant and the wider public (both ordinary people and agencies of social control).

Application of the concept of ‘social constructionism’ to drug crime

Looking at how drug laws have changed over time, and how they vary from country to country to country is a very good way of looking at how the deviant act of drug-taking is socially constructed…

In the United Kingdom, a new law was recently passed which outlawed all legal highs, meaning that many ‘head-shops’ which sold them literally went from doing something legal to illegal over night (obviously they had plenty of notice!)

Meanwhile – in some states in America, such as Colorado, things seem to be moving in the other direction – it is now legal to grow, sell and smoke Weed – meaning that a whole new generation of weed entrepreneurs have suddenly gone from doing something illegal to something legal, and profitable too!

NB – There’s a lot more information about the social construction of drug use out there – think about the difference between coffee, nicotine, alcohol (all legal) and cannabis. 

Discussion Question

Do you agree with the idea that there is no such thing as an inherently deviance act? Work your way through the list of deviance acts below and try to think of contexts in which they would not be regarded as deviant.

– Violence

– Theft

– Fraud

– Drug taking

– Public nudity

– Paedophilia

– Vandalism

2 – Not Everyone Who is Deviant Gets Labelled

Those in Power are just as deviant/ criminal as actual ‘criminals’ but they are more able to negotiate themselves out of being labelled as criminals.

NB to my mind the classic song by NWA ‘Fuck Tha Police’ is basically highlighting the fact that it’s young black males in the US that typically get labelled as criminals (while young white kids generally don’t)

Back to Labelling theory proper – the key idea here is that not everyone who commits an offence is punished for it. Whether a person is arrested, charged and convicted depends on factors such as:

    1. Their interactions with agencies of social control such as the police and the courts
    1. Their appearance, background and personal biography
  1. The situation and circumstances of the offence.

This leads labelling theorists to look at how laws are applied and enforced. Their studies show that agencies of social control are more likely to label certain groups of people as deviant or criminal.

The main piece of sociological research relevant here is Aaron Cicourel’s ‘Power and The Negotiation of Justice’ (1968)

Aaron Cicourel – Power and the negotiation of justice

The process of defining a young person as a delinquent is complex, and it involves a series of interactions based on sets of meanings held by the participants. Cicourel argues that it is the meanings held by police officers and juvenile officers that explain why most delinquents come from working class backgrounds.

The first stage is the decision by the police to stop and interrogate an individual. This decision is based on meanings held by the police of what is ‘strange’, ‘unusual’ and ‘wrong’. Whether or not the police stop and interrogate an individual depends on where the behaviour is taking place and on how the police perceive the individual(s). Whether behaviour is deemed to be ‘suspicious’ will depend on where the behaviour is taking place, for example an inner city, a park, a suburb. If a young person has a demeanour like that of a ‘typical delinquent’ then the police are more likely to both interrogate and arrest that person.

The Second Stage is that the young person is handed over to a juvenile delinquent officer. This officer will have a picture of a ‘typical delinquent’ in his mind. Factors associated with a typical delinquent include being of dishevelled appearance, having poor posture, speaking in slang etc. It follows that Cicourel found that most delinquents come from working class backgrounds.

When middle class delinquents are arrested they are less likely to be charged with the offence as they do not fit the picture of a ‘typical delinquent’. Also, their parents are more able to present themselves as respectable and reasonable people from a nice neighbourhood and co-operate fully with the juvenile officers, assuring them that their child is truly remorseful.

As a result, the middle class delinquent is more likely to be defined as ill rather than criminal, as having accidentally strayed from the path of righteousness just the once and having a real chance of reforming.

Cicourel based his research on two Californian cities, each with a population of about 100, 000. both had similar social characteristics yet there was a significant difference in the amount of delinquents in each city. Cicourel argued that this difference can only be accounted for by the size, organisation, policies and practices of the juvenile and police bureaus. It is the societal reaction that affects the rate of delinquency. It is the agencies of social control that produce delinquents.

Discussion Questions

Q1 – Do you agree that the whole criminal justice system is basically biased against the working classes, and towards to middle classes?

Q2 – From a research methods point of view, what research methods could you use to test this theory?

3 – The Consequences of Labelling

Labelling theorists are interested in the effects of labelling on those labelled. They claim that, by labelling certain people as criminal or deviant, society actually encourages them to become more so.

In this section I cover:

    • Primary and Secondary Deviance (Edwin Lemert)
    • The Deviant Career, the Master Status and Subcultures (Howard Becker)
    • Labelling and the Self-Fulling Prophecy applied to education (Howard Becker and Rosenthal and Jacobson)
  • Labelling theory applied to the Media – Moral Panics, Folk Devils and Deviancy Amplification (Stan Cohen)

If the material below seems a little samely – that’s because it’s all subtle variations on the same theme!

Primary and Secondary Deviance

Edwin Lemert (1972) developed the concepts of primary and secondary deviance to emphasise the fact that everyone engages in deviant acts, but only some people are caught being deviant and labelled as deviant.

Primary deviance refers to acts which have not been publicly labelled, and are thus of little consequence, while secondary deviance refers to deviance which is the consequence of the response of others, which is significant.

To illustrate this, Lemert studied the the coastal Inuit of Canada, who had a long-rooted problem of chronic stuttering or stammering. Lemert suggested that the problem was ’caused’ by the great importance attached to ceremonial speech-making. Failure to speak well was a great humiliation. Children with the slightest speech difficulty were so conscious of their parents’ desire to have well-speaking children that they became over anxious about their own abilities. It was this anxiety which lead to chronic stuttering.

Lemert compared the coastal Inuit which emphasised the importance of public speaking to other similar cultures in the area which did not attach status to public-speaking, and found that in such culture, stuttering was largely non-existence, thus Lemert concluded that it was the social pressure to speak well (societal reaction) which led to some people developing problems with stuttering

In this example, chronic stuttering (secondary deviance) is a response to parents’ reaction to initial minor speech defects (primary deviance).

Labelling, The Deviant Career and the Master Status

This is Howard Becker’s classic statement of how labelling theory can be applied across the whole criminal justice system to demonstrated how criminals emerge, possibly over the course of many years. Basically the public, the police and the courts selectively label the already marginalised as deviant, which the then labelled deviant responds to by being more deviant.

Howard Becker argued that the deviant label can become a ‘master status’ in which the individual’s deviant identity overrules all other identities. Becker argues that there are 5 stages in this process:

  1. The Individual is publicly labelled as a deviant, which may lead to rejection from several social groups. For example, if someone is labelled a junkie they may be rejected by their family.

  1. This may encourage further deviance. For example, drug addicts may turn to crime to finance their habit.

  1. The official treatment of deviance may have similar effects. EG convicted criminals find it difficult to find jobs.

  1. A deviant career may emerge. The deviant career is completed when individuals join an organised deviant group. This is the stage when an individual confirms and accepts their deviant identity.

  1. This is the stage at which the label may become a master status, overriding all other forms of relationship outside the deviant group.

Labelling Theory Applied to Education

Labelling theory has been applied to the context of the school to explain differences in educational achievement (this should sound familiar from year 1!)

Within Schools, Howard Becker (1970) argued that middle class teachers have an idea of an ‘ideal pupil’ that is middle class. This pupil speaks in elaborated speech code, is polite, and smartly dressed, He argued that middle class teachers are likely view middle class pupils more positively than working class pupils irrespective of their intelligence. Thus teachers positively label the students most like them.

There is also evidence of a similar process happening with African Caribbean children. Sociologists such as David Gilborn argue that teachers hold negative stereotypes of young black boys, believing them to be more threatening and aggressive than White and Asian children. They are thus more likely to interpret minor rule breaking by black children in a more serious manner than when White and Asian children break minor rules.

Rosenthal and Jacobsen (1968) argued that positive teacher labelling can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the student believes the label given to them and the label becomes true in practise. They concluded this on the basis of a classic ‘Field Experiment’ to test the effects of teacher labels, which consisted of the following:

  • Stage one – tested the IQ (intelligence) of all pupils in the school

  • Stage two – gave teachers a list of the top 20% most intelligent pupils. However, this list was actually just a random selection of student names

  • Stage three –One year later those students who teachers believed to be the most intelligent had improved the most.

  • Stage four –Concluded that high teacher expectation had resulted in improvement (= the self-fulfilling prophecy)

Labelling Theory Applied to the Media

Key Terms: Moral Panics, Folk Devils and The Deviancy Amplification Spiral

Labelling theory has been applied to the representation of certain groups in the mainstream media – Interactionists argue that the media has a long history of exaggerating the deviance of youth subcultures in particular, making them seem more deviant than they actually are, which creates a ‘moral panic’ among the general public, which in turn leads to the authorities clamping down on the activities of those subcultures, and finally to the individuals within those subcultures responding with more deviance.

A moral panic is “an exaggerated outburst of public concern over the morality or behaviour of a group in society.” Deviant subcultures have often been the focus of moral panics. According to Interactionists, the Mass Media has a crucial role to play in creating moral panics through exaggerating the extent to which certain groups and turning them into ‘Folk Devils’ – people who are threatening to public order.

In order for a moral panic to break out, the public need to believe what they see in the media, and respond disproportionately, which could be expressed in heightened levels of concern in opinion polls or pressure groups springing up that campaign for action against the deviants. The fact that the public are concerned about ‘youth crime’ suggest they are more than willing to subscribe to the media view that young people are a threat to social order.

The final part of a moral panic is when the authorities respond to the public’s fear, which will normally involve tougher laws, initiatives and sentencing designed to prevent and punish the deviant group question.

The term ‘moral panic’ was first used in Britain by Stan Cohen in a classic study of two youth subcultures of the 1960s – ‘Mods’ and ‘Rockers’. Cohen showed how the media, for lack of other stories exaggerated the violence which sometimes took place between them. The effect of the media coverage was to make the young people categorise themselves as either mods or rockers which actually helped to create the violence that took place between them,which further helped to confirm them as violent in the eyes of the general public.

4 – Labelling and Criminal Justice Policy

Labelling theory believes that deviance is made worse by labelling and punishment by the authorities, and it follows that in order to reduce deviance we should make fewer rules for people to break, and have less-serious punishments for those that do break the rules.An example of an Interactionist inspired policy would be the decriminalisation of drugs.

According to Interactionist theory, decriminalisation should reduce the number of people with criminal convictions and hence the risk of secondary deviance, an argument which might make particular sense for many drugs offences because these are often linked to addiction, which may be more effectively treated medically rather than criminally. (The logic here is that drug-related crime isn’t intentionally nasty, drug-addicts do it because they are addicted, hence better to treat the addiction rather than further stigmatise the addict with a criminal label).

Similarly, labelling theory implies that we should avoid ‘naming and shaming’ offenders since this is likely to create a perception of them as evil outsiders and, by excluding them from mainstream society, push them into further deviance.

Reintegrative Shaming

Most interactionist theory focuses on the negative consequences of labelling, but John Braithwaite (1989) identifies a more positive role for the labelling process. He distinguishes between two types of shaming:

  • Disintegrative shaming where not only the crime, but also the criminal, is labelled as bad and the offender is excluded from society.

  • Reintegrative shaming by contrast labels the act, but not the actor – as if to say ‘he has done a bad thing’ – rather an ‘he is a bad person’.

A policy of reintegrative shaming avoids stigmatising the offender as evil while at the same time making them aware of the negative impact of their actions on others. Victims are encouraged to forgive the person, but not the act, and the offender is welcomed back into the community, thus avoiding the negative consequences associated with secondary deviance.

Braithwaite argues that crime rates are lower where policies of reintegrative shaming are employed.

Evaluation of Labelling Theory

Labelling theory emphasises the following

– That the law is not ‘set in stone’ – it is actively constructed and changes over time

– That law enforcement is often discriminatory

– That we cannot trust crime statistics

– That attempts to control crime can backfire and may make the situation worse

– That agents of social control may actually be one of the major causes of crime, so we should think twice about giving them more power.

Criticisms of Labelling Theory

– It tends to be determinstic, not everyone accepts their labels

– It assumes offenders are just passive – it doesn’t recognise the role of personal choice in committing crime

– It gives the offender a ‘victim status’ – Realists argue that this perspective actually ignores the actual victims of crime.

– It tends to emphasise the negative sides of labelling rather than the positive side

– It fails to explain why acts of primary deviance exist, focussing mainly on secondary deviance.

– Structural sociologists argue that there are deeper, structural explanations of crime, it isn’t all just a product of labelling and interactions.

Revision Bundle for Sale

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Crime and Deviance Revision Bundle

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  • 12 exam practice questions including short answer, 10 mark and essay question exemplars.
  • 32 pages of revision notes covering the entire A-level sociology crime and deviance specification
  • Seven colour mind maps covering sociological perspective on crime and deviance

Written specifically for the AQA sociology A-level specification.

Related Posts

My main page of links to crime and deviance posts.

The labelling theory of crime was initially a reaction against consensus theories of crime, such as subcultural theory 

Labelling theory is one of the major in-school processes which explains differential educational achievement – see here for in-school processes in relation to class differences in education.

Labelling Theory is related to Interpretivism in that it focuses on the small-scale aspects of social life.

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A Summary of Chapter Three of Liquid Modernity by Zygmunt Bauman – Time/Space

In the first section Bauman provides an overview of some of the key features of contemporary urban areas.

Firstly, that modern urban areas are increasingly gated – To illustrate this he offers a description of Heritage Park, a new 500 acre gate community about to be built not far from Cape Town in South Africa, complete with high-voltage electric fencing, electronic surveillance of access roads and heavily armed guards. Within the fortifications, Heritage Park contains several amenities – from shops to salmon lakes, but the most significant feature for Bauman, is the assumption that lies behind the project – that in order to build a spirit of community, we can only do so if we exclude others.

Secondly, he illustrates that a fear of strangers is common by pointing out that increasing amounts of people think they are victims of stalkers and, although there is a long-historical trend of people looking for the source of their misery outside of themselves, this fear of stalkers is just the latest manifestation of a society-wide fear of the ‘mobile vulgus’, the inferior people who are always on the move (stalkers are not generally of the places which they stalk).

He rounds of this section by drawing on Sharon Zukin’s description of LA to provide an overview of the current evolution of urban life which can be described as the ‘institutionalization of urban fear’ the key features of which include…

  • ‘defence of the community’ translated as the hiring of armed gatekeepers to control the entry.
  • Stalker and prowler promoted to public enemy number one.
  • Paring public areas down to defensible enclaves with selective access (thus reducing freedom to move about).
  • Separation in lieu of the negotiation of life in common.
  • The criminalisation of residual difference.

This is actually a very tame section for Bauman on this particular topic. There is a much stronger commentary in ‘Liquid Times’ in which he comments on ‘Fortress cities’, talking about how, for the marginalised, cities are increasingly becoming full of places where they cannot go.

(94) When strangers meet strangers

Drawing on Richard Sennet (which he does often), Bauman points out that ‘a city is a human settlement in which strangers are likely to meet’ – the encounters are likely to be without a past or a future, and such encounters require a particular set of skills which Sennet calls civility.

Civility is not an easy skill to learn, it involves putting on a mask to shield others from having to deal with the private burdens of one’s own self, and we expect the same from others. In other words, civility is based on the mutual withdrawal of the ‘true self’ – we don’t expect to be cajoled into expressing our inner most feelings to others in public spaces, instead we put on a ‘public persona’ and expect others to do the same and this is what enables us to share space with masses of other people. This, in short is civility, which the city requires. Something else Bauman says later in the chapter (to my mind this is the important bit, obscured by his artistic efforts to define the concept) is that civility is hard-work – it involves making the effort to get on (and I assume work with) people that are not like you! In order to work effectively, the city requires civility.

Bauman doesn’t go into too much depth here about what ‘civility’ actually is btw, but crucially it clearly doesn’t involve just doing whatever you want, it involves restraint, and not just of your actions, but of your ‘true’ self-expression

BC – I’m not at all comfortable with the analytical divisions stopping with the distinction between ‘public-persona’ and ‘true (private?) self’ – I’d me much happier with a distinction between ‘public-persona’ and ‘that confluence of aggregates which people in their ignorance label their true-selves’

Bauman then argues that there are two general types public space which are removed from the above ideal-type model of civility –

The first of these categories of public-yet-not-civil spaces are public squares such as La Defense on the right bank of the Seine which are designed to be kept empty by their inhospitable architecture.

The second category is meant to serve the consumer – the most obvious example of which is the shopping mall in which the primary task to be performed is individualised consumption with a minimum of human interaction. In such spaces, encounters are kept shallow and strangers are kept out to minimise the disruption to consumptive acts

On this note, something interesting to explore further are how successfully counter-movements devoted to subvert the logic of such consumer-spaces. Reverend Billy and The Church of Stop Shopping is the most obvious example of this, and some aspects of the UK Uncut protests here in Britain might also be read in the same way.

(98) Emic places, phagic places, non-places, empty spaces

Our consumer spaces, such as shopping malls, are completely ‘other spaces’ – the temples of consumption may be in the city, but they are not of the city. The temple of consumption, like ‘Foucault’s boat’ maintains a distance from daily life, it is anchored out at sea. Temples of consumption are also purified spaces in that diversity and difference are cleansed of all threats to us, unlike the more threatening and potentially disruptive differences in daily life (such as the increasing likely threat of losing your job!), and so these unreal spaces offer us the near perfect balance between freedom and security.

I’m reminded of two things – the contrast to the relative lack of purity and increased uncertainty when shopping in markets in developing countries, and the attendant requirement to pay close attention to the dynamics (and it is more dynamic) of barter – this contrast is useful for criticising western notions of development; secondly, the fact that such purity really is lulling consumers into a very false sense of security because the ‘security’ gained through the act of shopping is so very short-lived.

In such places as shopping malls we also find a sense of belonging, in that we are all there for the same purpose, and so it is here that we find (a very limited idea of) community. The problem with this, as Sennet points out, is that any idea of community, of sameness is a fantasy… it is only achieved through ignoring differences. However, inside the temples of consumption, fantasy becomes reality and we find a sense of belonging for a few hours in a ‘community’ of shoppers. In these ‘egic’ spaces, for a short-time we can ignore differences because we are all united by the urge to shop, we all share a common purpose. The problem is that this is a shallow community that does not require empathy, understanding, bargaining or compromising.

From personal experience, he may as well be describing every sit-down cup of coffee I’ve ever had in a Cafe Nero or Costa Coffee… Such an EASY feeling of non-community. At some point I must try and work out the average cost per hour per table, I’d like to put a figure on the cost of non-community.

Bauman now turns to Claude Levi-Strauss, who suggested that just two strategies were deployed in human history whenever the need arose to cope with the otherness of others:

Anthropoemic strategies – which traditionally involves vomiting out strangers, which today takes the form of deportation and incarceration.

Anthropophagic strategies – ingesting strangers, which traditionally takes the form of cannibalism, but today takes the form of enforced assimilation.

The first strategy was aimed at the exile or annihilation of the others, the second aimed at the suspension or annihilation of their otherness.

Bauman now brings the above threads together to argue that the public square is the emic stratgey, the shopping mall the egic straegy, both are a response to our having to live with strangers combined with our lack of skills with civility. Rather than learn the skills, our urban spaces are designed to either exclude others or nullify otherness.

Quick Commentary – I think Bauman might be the world master in dualistic constructions (no wonder he likes Levi-Strauss.)

Bauman rounds off this section by (much more briefly) outlining two other types of space found in cities (I think the idea is that they also prevent the development of civility, although I’m not sure what his opinion is on the later)

Non-spaces, such as airports and hotel rooms, are those which discourage settling in, and share some features of the first kind of space. These are uncolonised, free of all identity markers.

This is an eerily accurate description of my one (and never to be repeated) experience in a Travel-lodge. As if the sterility of the room wasn’t enough, the final straw was having to pay for breakfast first and then showing the receipt to collect a plate, bowl and cutlery set, although they did give us unrestricted access to the plastic cups.

Finally, there are empty spaces – Those which are unmapped, to which no meaning is ascribed. These are basically the poorer and unknown bits of the city.

(104) Don’t Talk to Strangers

The main point about civility is the ability to interact with strangers without holding their strangeness against them and without pressing them to surrender it or to renounce some or all of the traits that made them strangers in the first place.

All of the above four places are designed to strip out any of the challenges of togetherness by rendering strangers as invisible as possible and minimising interaction with them.

However, even though we have arranged our public places so we minimise the risk of having any meaningful interaction with them, they are still full of strangers. (Bauman argues that our preferred is to try and organise our lives so we do not have to interact with them at all, but for most of us this is simply not possible.)

And so, following Sennet again, we have arranged our cities into ethnic enclaves where we mix with people ‘just like us’ and we end up with little islands of people bound together by a shared sense of ‘being like these people, but not like other people’ – We have avoided the difficulties of forging relationships with and negotiating how to live with people who are different to us, and this creates a self-fulfilling prophecy – because we avoid dealing with people ‘not like us’, those people are more distant, so they appear more dangerous, and the idea of constructing an ‘ideal-society’ of shared interest in the midst of cultural difference becomes ever more fanciful. Or, to summarise all of this succinctly in the words of Sharon Zukin (again) – ‘No one knows how to talk to anyone anyone else’.

Ethnicity is the first and foremost way we retreat from the difficult realm of the heterogeneous society out there, the society which requires negotiating and effort to get along in. In ethnic groupings, we don’t need to talk to people, we just feel the same, our sameness is heteronomous, it is given, our right. Identity is about who you are, not about what you do.

Note to self – or question to self – how does this square with the Buddhist notion of transcending the self through ‘non-doing’ and non-identification. What is the difference between ‘doingness’ in Buddhism (ethics) and doingness in Bauman? Also, is Bauman saying that part of being ethical (being responsible) is ‘doing’ in the sense of making the effort to forge meaningful bonds with people who are not like us (in which case this could be a very noble, ideal reading of Habermas’ communicative utopia)… More to come on this…

Bauman sees such a carving out of ethnic niches as a rational response to a legitimately perceived crisis of public life, where the public realm (this is from the last chapter, remember?!) has been narrowed down to private confessions. Politicians in fact give the message that identity matters above all else, it is who you are, not what you are doing that truly matters. Once you have ‘identity’ as the central logic of existence, purging others not like me needs no further rationale.

Bauman now casts our obsession with purity and purging of strangers perceived to be dangerous as a public pathology – a pathology of public space resulting in a pathology of politics: the wilting and waning of the art of dialogue and negotiation, the substitution of the techniques of escape and elision for engagement and mutual commitment.

He finishes by saying…. ‘Do not talk to strangers has now become the strategic precept of adult normality.’ and providing the basic problem with the premise of the gated community…. George Hazeldon Heritage Park (the gated community mentioned at the beginning) would be a place where, at long last, all passers-by could talk freely to each other. They would be free to talk since they would have very little to talk about – except exchanging the routine and familiar phrases entailing no controversy, but no commitment either. The dreamt-of purity of the Heritage Park community could be gained only at the price of disengagement and broken bonds.

By way of commentary on this section – look at the picture below… from my local paper commenting on travellers using a piece of local grassland to graze their horses on. Odd how this is on my regular running route, and I’ve regularly run across this field, people, horses and all, and never felt particularly threatened by any of them.

(110) Modernity as History of Time

Today, if asked how long it will take to get from a to b, we will be asked about what method of transport, because the amount of space we can cross in a given amount of time is very much dependent on the mode of transport we use to get there. It is normal for us today to try to calculate how long tasks will take us given the technology we are using. We are normatively very time-conscious.

However, it has not always been thus. In pre-modern times, people did not think very much about time and space because such thinking was not required given the nature of their lifeworlds. If people were pressed hard to explain what they meant by space and time, they may have said that space is what you can pass in a given time, while time is what you need pass it, but they didn’t think to much about either because their conception of both was limited because their transportation and work techniques (what Bauman calls ‘wetware’) – humans muscle, oxen or horses – which made the effort and set the limits of what amount of space could be travelled in what time.

He now seems to celebrate the efforts of  Enlightenment thinkers such as Newton and Kant (who he calls the ‘valiant knights of reason’) for their efforts in setting apart time and space in human thought and practise – or as he puts it, their efforts in ‘casting time and space as two transcendentally separate and mutually independent categories of human cognition’ –  the distinction between which provides us with the ‘epistemological ground for philosophical and scientific reflection’ and the ’empirical stuff that can be kneaded into timeless truths’.

Bauman seems to be arguing here that the development of the basic conceptions of time and space have been historically useful, illustrating his modernist roots.

He then argues that it was the construction of such things as vehicles (hardware) that enabled us to travel faster and technologies more generally that enable us to do more in less time that gave rise to this widespread perception of time and space being separate fields of thought.

In Modernity, time came to be seen as something which could be manipulated and controlled, it became a factor of destruction, the dynamic partner in the time-space wedlock, and thus controlling time became crucial to controlling space – Whoever could travel faster could claim more territory. In a nice evocative phrase Bauman says that ‘modernity was born under the stars of acceleration’.

As modernity progressed, time became its central logic: rationalisation was essentially a process designed to make us more productive, to cajole us to do more in less time.

Bauman finishes off this section by saying that the main focus of what the powerful do with time (use their time for?) in modernity is to conquer space. Bauman casts the powerful as those who invade and redraw boundaries, and the faster they can do this, the better, whereas the the weak are those who must defend their territory, for them and their world, time is experienced as something which is ‘running out’.   (The very last line is my interpretation, but I’m 99% sure it’s accurate.)

I’m not sure how far Bauman takes his analysis of the differential experience of time in his later works, but one fairly obvious interpretation is that the wealthy, have time on their side, most obviously in the form of privileged access to high speed rail and air networks, the fastest broadband, and also their ability to employ people to do things for them. In contrast, middling people experience time as something that is scarce, and frequently have too much to do in the limited time available, especially where family and work need to be balanced. In addition, it is worth noting that those on the margins have ‘all the time in the world’ and are free to use this time as they see fit, according to their limited means, but if they are hooked on the synopticon, then much of that time will be spent watching the money-rich, time-rich worlds of the elite who take up such a disproportionate amount of media air-time.

I’m further reminded here of another two things – Firstly the 1960s futurologists such as Toffler who predicted a 4 hour working day once we were properly ‘teched up’ (whatever happened to that?!) and secondly I think there’s utility in developing a methodology for calculating how much of our time we give away in surplus value, most horrifyingly in the form of interest payments on our mortgages. The utility of this would lie in being able to calculate how much time we would gain if gave up these things.

NB – At some point in this section Bauman also makes the point that the conception of our place in physical space seems to have ontological significance in modernity – when he suggests that at the individual level we could replace Descartes’ well known ‘I think for I am’ with ‘I occupy space therefore I exist’ and the meaning would remain the same. This didn’t seem to flow with the rest of his argument but I quite liked the point so I thought I’d make a note of it!

(p113) From Heavy to Light Modernity

This section deals with one of Bauman’s most well-known dualisms

The term Heavy Modernity refers to the era of hardware, or bulk obsessed modernity, where size is power and volume is success. This is the era of ponderous rail engines and gigantic ocean liners. To conquer as much space as one could hold,and then guarding the boundaries was the goal.
In heavy modernity wealth and power were firmly rooted or deposited deep inside the land, empty space was seen as a threat, and heroes were made of those who penetrated the hearts of darkness.

In terms of production Modernity meant the factory, and the bigger, more routinised, more homogeneous the logic of control and the clearer the boundaries in many respects of the word,  the better.  Daniel Bell described the General Motors Willow Run plant in Michegan as one of the best examples.

Heavy modernity also involved the neutralising and co-ordination of time; in this eara, time, and what one could achieve in a given amount of time, became the measure of progress.

The relationship between labour and capital was like a marriage, until death do us part, because the factory tied both labour and capital to the ground. Neither could survive without the other which meant conflict, but a conflict born of the rootedness.

This is now changed, as evidenced by Daniel Cohen in the example of Microsoft: whoever begins a career there has not the slightest idea where they’ll end up. Today’s management is concerned with loser organisational forms, with adaptability, and as a result of thisthe idea of a ‘career’ seems out of place.

Behind this watershed change is the new irrelevance of space, masquerading as the annihilation of time. Space no more sets limits to action because of the instantaneity of communications. The instantaneity of time devalues space. Since all parts of space can be reached in an instant, no space has special value, and thus there is less reason to bear the cost of perpetual supervision of such spaces, given that they can be abandoned and revisited in an instant.

This might make sense when we are talking about software development, but in many other areas of work this just doesn’t apply. Surely we still have heavy modernity in places? The mining sector for example, and even supermarkets, which are at the centre of our nexus of consumption, are rooted physically to one place.

(p118) The Seductive Lightness of Being

In this section Bauman contrasts power in heavy modernity with power in liquid modernity.

He uses Muchel Crozier’s Bureaucratic Phenomenon to illustrate how power worked in the heavy period. Crozier pointed out that people who manage to keep their own actions unbound, norm-free and so unpredictable, while normatively regulating the actions of their protagonists rule: the freedom of the first is the main cause of the unfreedom of the second, while the undfreedom of the second is the ultimate meaning of the freedom of the first.

In Liquid modernity, while this basic relationship remains the same, it is those who come closest to the momentariness of time rule. Today Capital does not concern itself with managing labour; surveillance and drill are no longer necessary. Labour (because it either has little interest or choice in the matter, dealt with at more length in the next chapter) allows capital to travel light and engage only in short term contracts, in hopeful search of opportunity, of which there appear to be many. In Liquid Modernity, domination consists in one’s capacity to escape, to disengage, to be ‘elsewhere’ and the right to decide the speed with which all this is done, stripping the people on the dominated side of their ability to resist their moves or slow them down. The contemporary battled of domination is waged with the weapons of acceleration and procastination.

The bit below is actually at the beginning of this section in the book, but I thought it made much more sense at the end…where he deals with how we are possibly beginning to view time differently.

In the extreme case of the liquid modern, the software world, time appears as Insubstantial and instantaneous, and so Bauman argues this is also an inconsequential time, in which we demand on the spot fulfilment , but which is also characterised by immediate fading of interest. Today, given that space and time are closer together, we have only ‘moments’ – points without dimensions.

Bauman provides two qualifications to the above –

Firstly, he questions whether this way of conceiving time (time with the morphology of an aggregate of moments) is still time as we know it.

Secondly, he says that the above only describes the developmental horizon of late modernity – the ever to be pursued yet never to be reached in full ideal of its major operators. It is a tendency towards rather than a state reached.

(p123) Instant Living

Bauman starts with Sennet’s observation that Bill Gate’s is very  willing to destroy that which he had created in order to bring into being the next best thing, representing the trend for Liquid modernity to devalues the long term, (possibly because instanteity makes every moment infinite?)
Bauman next spends another couple of pages outlining how, in modern society, we valued the long-term more, and there was basically a balance between stability and change.

Today the balance has shifted towards an incredulity towards the value of stability/ immortality and there has been a culture shift towards constant revolutionising of many aspects of life.

Rational choice in this culture means to pursue instant gratification while seeking to avoid the consequences. This ushers both culture and ethics into unexplored territory. Today’s generation is living in a present that wants to forget the past and no longer seems to believe in the future…. but the memory of the past and trust in the future have been thus far the two pillars on which the cultural and moral bridges between transience and durability,  human mortality and the immortality of human accomplishments, as well as taking responsibility and living moment by moment, all rested.

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The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life – Extended Summary

An ‘extended summary’ of Erving Goffman’s ‘Presentation of Self in Daily Life’ including his concepts of front and backstage, performers and audiences,  impression management, idealisation, dramatic realisation, manipulation, discrepant roles and tact. 

CHAPTER ONE – PERFORMANCES

Belief in the part one is playing

Goffman distinguishes between two approaches to acting out social roles – sincerity and cynicism. Sincere individuals really believe their act is an expression of their own identity, and truly want others to believe this too (the ‘typical’ case), while cynical individuals do not invest ‘themselves’ in their roles, they are acting with a means to another end, which can either be for self-gain (like a conman) or for the benefit of the people around them (a teacher who acts strict but is not necessarily like this in real life).

To quote Goffman:

‘At one extreme, one finds that the performer can be fully taken in by his own act; and he can be sincerely convinced that the impression of reality which he stages is the real reality. When the audience is also convinced in this way about the show he put one – and this seems to be the typical case – then for the moment at least, only the sociologist or the socially disgruntled will have any doubts about the ‘realness’ of what is presented.

At the other extreme, we find that the performer may not be taken in at all by his own routine… the performer may be moved to guide the conviction of the audience only a means to other ends, having no ultimate concern in the conception they have of him or of the situation.’

Goffman goes on to say that people can oscillate between these two extremes as they move through different stages of their lives. He gives the example of a new recruit to the army who first of all acts out the disciplined training routine and hates it but must go along with it in order to avoid punishment, but after time comes to feel that a disciplined life has real meaning for him personally.

Front

Goffman uses the term ‘performance’ to refer to ‘all the activity of an individual which occurs during a period marked by his continuous presence before a particular set of observers and which has some influence on observers. ‘Front’ is ‘that part of the individuals performance which regularly functions in a general and fixed fashion to define the situation for those who observe the performance’.

There are three things an individual can use to establish a ‘social front‘ – Setting, Appearance and Manner (the final two Goffman calls ‘personal front’)

‘Setting’ refers to the fixed elements of front – the physical layout of a room and associated background props – someone’s work space or living room is a good example of a ‘setting’.

‘Appearance’ consists of those things we most closely associate with the person themselves – the things which ‘follow them around’ and consists of fixed attributes such as one’s racial background or age, as well as things like clothes and the items one chooses to carry around.

‘Manner’ is the attitude to one’s setting one displays – confidence, humility, authority etc.

We generally expect there to be consistency between setting, appearance and manner, but these don’t always match up.

Goffman also notes that we are constrained by society in terms of the front we can put on. If we adopt certain roles in society, we don’t actually have that much choice over the front which we can adopt – we are required by social norms to put on a certain front, and there is little room for manoeuvre.

He further suggests that the same sorts of front are required in many different roles – so if we successfully learn to project one front in one setting, we can apply that front to many others.

Dramatic Realisation

‘While in the presence of others, the individual typically infuses his activity with signs which dramatically highlight and portray confirmatory facts which might otherwise remain hidden.’

Many social roles and ‘status positions’ require a certain amount of energy to be invested in the performance of the activities associated with them, energy that is in excess to actually performing the tasks associated with the roles themselves.

One of the best illustrations of this is the Aristocracy – who spend an enormous amount of intentional energy on performing day to day tasks with excess decorum in order to distinguish themselves from others. There are rituals associated with dress codes, greetings, eating, body language, speech and so on….

To give a more mundane example, many jobs require people do certain things to convince the customer or client that they are competent.

A problem in social life is that ‘those who have the time and the talent to perform a task well may not, because of this, have the time or talent to make it apparent that they are performing well.’

There are many roles which we are required to fill in social life, and so one finds that people must choose which performances to invest their egos in – some social roles and some routines are deemed to be more important than others.

Idealisation

‘When the individual presents himself before others his performance will tend to incorporate and exemplify officially accredited values of the society, more so, in fact, than does his behaviour as a whole.

To the degree that the performance highlights the common official values, we may look upon it as an expressive reaffirmation of the moral values of the community’ (in a nod to Durkheim).

To go out in the world is to attend a wedding, a celebration, to stay in one’s room is to miss out on the party.

People play up or down their actual status according to how they think others perceive them (without actually buying into it)…. Social Mobility requires a good performance – often conceived of as making sacrifices in order to maintain ‘front’,

People also engage in negative idealisation, which involves concealment – people will, for example, ‘play down’ when they are interacting with people they believe to be of lower status, in order to fit in with them (although this may not be appreciated by that particular audience)

‘a performer tends to conceal or under-play those activities, facts and motives, which are incompatible with an idealized version of himself and his products.’ There are a number of discrepancies between appearance and overall reality:

  1. Hiding the profit which is made from a performance

  2. Hiding the mistakes made during a performance

  3. Hiding the effort that goes into preparing a performance (the back-stage work)

  4. Hiding any illegal activities

  5. Hiding double standards – this happens because we are often expected to maintain multiple values/ standards which are cannot all be maintained – for example a team at a restaurant may have to sacrifice quality for speed of service, but keep quite about the decline in quality and hope this isn’t picked up on by the audience.

  6. Hiding of origins – people tend to hide the fact they were something else before their performance, giving off the impression that they have always been this way.

In addition, a performer often engenders in his audience the belief that he is related to them in a more ideal way than is always the case.’

An important part of keeping aspects a performance hidden involves practising audience segregation – different performances associated with different roles are often meant for different audiences, who ideally won’t see the actor in any of his other performances. This is especially important because something actors do is to make any particular audience feel as if they are special, the most important audience, when in reality they are just one audience amongst many.

Maintenance of expressive control

Performers can reasonably expect minor cues to be read by their audience as signs of something significant. Unfortunately, the opposite is also the case – minor cues which were not intended to be read by the audience may also be taken to be of significance and these may undermine the image the performer is trying to present.

These accidents and unmet gestures are very common and there are three general types:

  1. Losing muscular control – tripping, yawning, belching

  2. Showing too little or too much concern with the interaction

  3. Lacking dramaturgical direction – the setting may be sloppy, or the timing of aspects of a performance wrong.

‘The expressive coherence that is required in performances points out a crucial discrepancy between out all-too-human selves and our socialised selves. As human beings we are presumably creatures of variable impulse with moods and energies that change from one moment to the next. As characters for an audience, however, we must not be subject to ups and downs. A certain bureaucratisation of the spirit expected so that we can be relied upon to give a perfectly homogeneous performance at any given time’.

Misrepresentation

The same tendency of the audience to accept the importance of signs (even if they are not meant to give off any meaning) which leads to the need for expressive control also opens up the opportunity for the performer to manipulate the audience through using signs to signify things which have no basis in reality.

Not all misrepresentation is the same. For example we tend to think more harshly of someone acting up to a higher status than acting down to a lower status. Also, some statuses are ambiguous. We can prove easily that someone is not a legal professional, but it is not so easy to prove someone is not a ‘true friend’.

Most misrepresentation is not about blatant lying, it is about not putting on display everything one has to do fulfil one’s social roles, and there are hardly any roles in society where everyone can be completely open about everything the do without losing face in some way.

Mystification

One of the easiest ways to maintain an idealised image of oneself is to maintain a distance between oneself and one’s audience – The more distance a performer can keep between them and their audience, the more elbow room they have to maintain an idealised image of themselves (Kings should not mix with ordinary people).

Reality and Contrivance

We generally tend to think of performances as being of one or two types – the sincere and the contrived. The former are not acted, they come from the unconscious ‘pure self’ of the individual who really believes in what they are doing, the later is the cynic, acting out a role without really believing in it.

But most performances on the social stage fall somewhere between these two realities. What is required in social life is that the individual learn enough about role-playing to fulfil the basic social roles that are required of him during his life – most of us ‘buy into this’ and act out what is expected of us, so we invest an element of ourselves into our roles, but at the same time we don’t necessarily get into our roles in a gung-ho sort of way…. So most acting is neither fully ‘sincere’ or fully ‘contrived’.

CHAPTER TWO – TEAMS

People don’t just engage in the presentation of the self as single actors, performances (or attempts to define the situation) are often conducted in teams – Goffman uses the term ‘performance team’ to refer to a group of people who collaborate in staging a single performance.

Goffman notes two features of teams engaging in dramaturgical cooperation.

  • Firstly, anyone can one of the team members can mess up a performance, and everyone is dependent on the good conduct of everyone else.

  • Secondly, team members have a degree of ‘familiarity’ with one another – which means that they share a back-stage where they will drop their collective performance.

Teams have to conceal certain aspects of their activity to make their collective performance effective – for example the fact that they have engineered, or practised a ‘party line’ is hidden because a collective front seems more sincere if the audience thinks all the members agreed on the performance independently.

In large organisations the party line can become rather thin because it is difficult to keep everyone happy.

Also in order to be sincere, teams need to hold a united front, and so corrective sanctioning tends to be done backstage.

Teams have a division of labour – they have directors, they have those who are more dramatically dominant than others, and they have those that actually do the tasks (rather than the performance) which the team is expected to do.

CHAPTER THREE – REGIONS AND REGION BEHAVIOUR

‘In our Anglo-American society, a relatively indoor one, when a performance is given it is usually given in a highly bounded region, to which boundaries with respect to time are often added. The impression and understanding fostered by the performance will tend to saturate the region and time span, so that any individual located in this space-time manifold will be in a position to observe the performance and be guided by the definition of the situation which the performance fosters’.

During a performance in a front region, the performer tries to convince the audience that that his activities in the region maintain and embody certain standards. To do this he engages in ‘talk’ with the audience – actual verbal and non-verbal gestural interchanges, and also practices ‘decorum’ – maintaining moral standards and manners but where he just visible to the audience rather than interacting with them gesturally.

One form of decorum is called ‘make work’ – people acting like they are busy even when there is not work to be done when in the presence of a superior. Everyone knows what’s going on but to not act this out would be to show disrespect to one’s superiors.

A backstage region is where the impression fostered by a performance is contradicted as a matter of course. Here a performer can relax, and step out of character.

Backstage is a place where the performer expects the audience not to go, and they are necessary if the worker is to buffer himself from the deterministic demands that go along with a performance.

NB – The ability to control both front and backstage is a fundamental power distinction in society. Some have more power to control both than others.

Some regions are permanently front regions — such as churches or schoolrooms, so much so that people act in them with a certain deference even if they are not members of their congregations. Similarly some other regions are notably backstage. Such areas set the tone for the interaction.

In other regions, they can sometimes be backstage and front stage at different times – the household for example on Sunday morning or while entertaining.

Goffman now provides some examples of where some groups of people lack control over backstage or where the ‘walls’ between front and backstage are too thin to maintain effective boundaries.

He also notes that the boundary between back and front stage is a great place to observe transformation of character.

Where teams are concerned, familiarity backstage may not be total. Three things put paid to this – firstly team members still need to convince other team members that they are worthy players, secondly, they may need to maintain morale for the forthcoming performance, thirdly, where there are differences in age and gender, acts may be put on to differentiate these – it is very rare in cultures that men and women will fully relax backstage with each other for example.

‘In saying that performers act in a relatively informal, familiar, relaxed way while backstage and are on their guard while giving a performance, it should not be assumed that the pleasant interpersonal things of life – courtesy, warmth, generosity are reserved for those backstage and that suspiciousness, snobbishness, and a show of authority are reserved for front region activity.

Often it seems that whatever enthusiasm and lively interest we have at our disposal we reserve for those before whom we are putting on a show and the surest sign of backstage solidarity is to feel that it is safe to lapse into an associable mood of sullen, silent irritability.’

A third area for consideration is the outside, and outsiders – those who are not supposed to witness the performance. Embarrassment can occur when outsiders unexpectedly stumble across a performance meant for others only. Strategies can be employed to overcome this (such as loudly welcoming them or shunning them) but these rarely work to avoid embarrassment.

CHAPTER FOUR – DISCREPANT ROLES

One overall objective of any team is to sustain the definition of the situation that its performance fosters. Given the fragility and the required expressive coherence of the reality that is dramatized by a performance, there are usually facts which, if attention is drawn to them during the performance, would discredit, disrupt, or make useless the impression that the performance fosters. These facts may be said to provide ‘destructive information’. (in order for performances to work) the audience must not require destructive information about the situation that is being defined for them… A team must be able to keep its secrets, and have its secrets kept’.

There are three general types of secret:

  • Dark secrets – these are things which the team would want no one to know because their disclosure would fundamentally undermine the team’s credibility – The fact that Barclay’s Bankers regularly engage in Fraud for example

  • Strategic secrets – These are secrets which give a team a competitive advantage over another team – so their disclosure would harm the team but not discredit them

  • Insider secrets – basically ‘tricks of the trade’ – knowledge which allows teams to put on a good performance but the disclosure of which would not really harm the team in the eyes of the audience.

Goffman also distinguishes between entrusted and free secrets – which are to do with the kind of secrets an individual has in relation to his team. the former are those which if not kept by an individual would discredit both himself and his team if not kept, the later would discredit the team but not the individual if not kept.

Secrets are not the only sources of destructive information – there are also ‘latent secrets’ (harmful facts about which there is no hard evidence about) and unintended gestures – basically accidents and unmeant gestures.

There are three general roles involved in any social situation –

  • The performers who define the situation and have destructive information about the performance

  • The audience who largely accept the definition of the situation but do not have destructive information

  • Outsiders who no little of either of the above.

There, are however, a number of ‘discrepant roles’ which occur on top of the above three major roles:

  • The informer

  • The shill

  • The spotter

  • The shopper

  • The mediator

  • the non person – e.g. the servant, the very young and the very old.

There are also four additional discrepant roles – who are not present in a performance but have information about it (who may be present in our minds of performers while they are acting out roles).

  • The service specialist

  • Confidants

  • Colleagues

  • Renegades

CHAPTER FIVE – COMMUNICATION OUT OF CHARACTER

Discrepant sentiment is nearly always found when we study institutions. There are nearly always occasions when team members make it clear to each other that they are just playing a role, and they communicate with each other out of character – there are four types of communication in which the performer engages which are incompatible with the impression trying to be collectively portrayed to an audience – treatment of the absent, staging talk, team collusion and realigning action

Treatment of the absent – When backstage it is especially common for team members to speak in a derogatory way about the audience, and ritual profanations of the performance are part of this.

Staging talk – refers to discussion about the front stage apparatus and their suitability for impression management.

Team collusion – Performers often use secret signs to signal to each other during a performance. These may be secret messages pertaining to what they think of certain audience members, this may just be ‘catching the eye’ of another member of the team and a sly glance. One notable form of this is ‘derisive collusion’, an example of which is school children in class passing notes to each-other.

Realigning action – these are guarded exchanges between teams which send out feelers and set the tone for interaction where the boundaries are not clear

‘each of these four types of conduct directs attention to the same point: the performance given by a team is not a spontaneous, immediate response to the situation absorbing all of the team’s energy; the performance is something the team members can stand back from, back far enough to imagine or play out simultaneously other kinds of performances attesting to other realities.’

CHAPTER SIX – THE ARTS OF IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT

Unmeant gestures, inopportune interruptions and the like are sources of dissonance and embarrassment, but both performers and audience alike tend to have strategies for ‘saving the show’ and to prevent masks falling off in many performance situations.

Performers engage in defensive attributes and practices

Dramaturgical loyalty – attempts to achieve high levels of in-group solidarity to prevent some members of the team becoming too close to the audience and giving away dark or strategic secrets; regularly changing audience may also be another strategy.

Dramaturgical discipline – simply where each member of the team learns to better control aspects of their performance

Dramaturgical circumspection – basically trying to select the audience that is likely to be the kindest – teachers prefer middle class schools, salesmen prefer to sell to one rather than two people.

Audience members engage in protective practices

Goffman gives various examples – individuals voluntarily stay away from backstage areas, and audiences are careful to pay attention to the right aspects of a performance – when performances go wrong they practice tactful inattention for example.

Goffman finishing off by noting that performers and audiences need to be ‘tactful about tact’ – they need to be sensitive to when each is employing tact lest masks fall off and embarrassment is the result.

CHAPTER SIX – CONCLUSION

It’s worth quoting the first page at length, because it basically summarises the whole book:

‘…. any social establishment may be studied from the perspective of impression management. Within the walls of a social establishment we find a team of performers who cooperate to present to an audience a given definition of the situation. This will will include the conception of own team and of audience and assumptions concerning the ethos that is to be maintained by rules of politeness and decorum. We often find division into back region, where the routine is prepared and front region, where the performance is presented. Access to backstage is controlled to prevent the audience and outsiders from seeing preparations. Among members of the team, we tend to find solidarity, familiarity and secrets being kept.

A tacit agreement is maintained between performers and audience to act as if a given degree of opposition and of accord existed between them. Typically, but not always, agreement is stressed and opposition is underplayed. The resulting working consensus tends to be contradicted by the attitude towards the audience which the performers express backstage and through communication out of character while ‘on stage’. We find that discrepant roles develop which complicate the problems of putting on a show. Sometimes disruptions occur which threaten the definition of the situation which is being maintained. Performers and Audience all utilise techniques for saving the show – teams are careful to select loyal and circumspect members and prefer to play to audiences who are tactful.’

The analytical context

Goffman sees his ‘dramaturgical perspective’ as the fifth perspective among four already existing ones for viewing a social system (technical, political, structural, cultural)

‘The dramaturgical perspective can be employed, like any other, as a final way of ordering facts. This would lead us to describe the techniques of impression management employed in a given establishment, the principal problems of impression management, and the identity and inter-relationships of the several performance teams within the establishment.

Goffman also suggests that we can look at any of the above in relation to technical, cultural aspects of a social system as well.

He further suggests that we can look of all of the above in relation to their impact on the individual personality, the social interactions themselves and the wider society.

MORAL NOTE: THE ROLE OF EXPRESSION IS CONVEYING IMPRESSIONS OF SELF

To uncover fully the factual nature of the situation, it would be necessary for the individual to know all the relevant social data about others. Full information is rarely available; in its absence appearances must be relied upon instead.

The information off is treated as having a moral character – we tend to assume that people shouldn’t mislead us with the information they give off – even though we know full well that this is what we do, and that we also know that much information given off is not done so intentionally.

There is a basic dialectic – ‘In their capacity as performers, individuals will be concerned with maintaining the impression that they are living up to the many standards by which they and their products are judged. Because these standards are so numerous and pervasive, the individuals who are performers dwell more than we might think in a moral world. But, qua performers, individuals are concerned not with the moral issue of realising these standards but with the amoral issue of engineering a convincing impression that these standards are being realised.’… The dialectic is that the more effort we put into managing the impression of being a moral actor, the more distant we come to feel from the standards we are acting out, and the more and higher the standards, the more effort, so the more distant we feel!

‘the key factor in this structure is the maintenance of a single definition of the situation, this definition having to be expressed, and this expression sustained in the face of a multitude of potential disruption. (These are the interactional tasks which all of us share)

Staging and the self

Goffman splits the individual into two –

The character (or characters) – this is what the performer presents to the audience, the social self – which is constructed with the use of various props, a stage as setting and a team as collaborators. THE INDIVIDUAL CANNOT CONSTRUCT A SELF WITHOUT ALL OF THE SOCIAL STAGING THAT GOES ALONG WITH IT.

The performer – the harried actor who is putting on a performance – The performer’s own psychological well-being is fundamentally linked to his social-self.