Structuralist & Interactionist Views on the Individual vs Society
The 3 main interactionist perspectives: phenomenology, ethnomethodology, and symbolic interactionism.
Phenomenology - Schutz: the meaning of a phenomenon (anything existing) in the social world is negotiated and interpreted through interaction. For example, our reaction to people fighting outside and people fighting in a boxing ring would be different.
Ethnomethodology - H. Garfinkel: Theory examining how individuals use everyday social interactions to construct a common-sense view of the world. If the meaning given to a social situation is known, then the behaviour would also be known.
Harold Garfinkel conducted breaching experiments which aimed to seek and examine people’s reactions to violations of commonly accepted social rules. In one experiment, he sent researchers into restaurants and told them to deliberately mistake customers for waiters. Garfinkel secretly observed the reactions of the waiters.
From this it was understood that society is only a label we give to rules and responsibilities as a product of social interaction. As labels are only developed through social interactions, this means that meanings can change.
Symbolic Interactionism - G. H. Mead: understands society in terms of the subjective meanings people impose on behaviour.
D. Wrong criticised the Over Socialised Conception of Man – Wrong criticised the claim that people are the product of their socialisation. He said that we need to consider the nature aspect of human development as we can be genetically predisposed to certain behaviours.
Social Action Theory – M. Weber’s: people act/interact in socially meaningful ways with their own free will to create a sense of society.
Criticism: the theory is too individualistic.
Marx & Durkheim – Structuralist perspective – An individual’s actions should be explained in terms of the overall structure of society. When we play a role, we experience the effect of social structures (rules) shaping our behavioural choices.
Difference between the 2 theories: Structuration theory would focus on how an individual’s behaviour is controlled by constraints that control or determine their behaviour. Whereas the social action theory would focus on the individual’s ability to make choices on how to act.
Giddens’ Structuration theory: Structure and action are equally important when understanding the relationship between the individual and society.
- People develop relationships when behaviours are formalised into practices so that a sense of structure is developed.
- Some rules are discarded, and others aren’t because some rules are negotiated (friendship) and others are non-negotiable (punishment for murder).
Process of socialisation - how do individuals become competent social actors?
Socialisation: the process of transferring norms, values, culture, tradition, language, and customs, from one generation to another.
Feral Child ➔ Genie, a 13-year-old girl, who was discovered in California was found to have been isolated & malnourished in a small room since infancy. She could not stand, or speak, but only whimper. When children are raised without human contact, they fail to develop socially and physically.
- Arguments from sociologists: If human behaviour is instinctive, why couldn’t feral children have grown up like normal children even without human contact? But this is not the case. If human behaviour had been instinctive, then there would be almost no cultural differences between societies.
- Podder and Bergvall: Culture isn’t something we are born with; it is taught to us.
G. H. Mead – The ‘I’ and the ‘Me’ – The Self has 2 aspects, for Mead.
- ‘I’ – unsocialised self - is our opinion of ourselves.
- ‘Me’ - social self - is our awareness of how we are expected to behave in a given situation.
- For example, swearing loudly at home would be okay (I) but in the public, it would not be (Me).
- Criticisms: Ignores the role of social institutions in shaping societies (power inequality). Doesn’t explain where norms come from.
G. H. Mead – Taking the role of the other – The Self has 2 aspects, for Mead.
- As children, we imitate those important to us through play.
- Later, we see ourselves from the viewpoint of the wider community – the generalised other.
Presentation of the Self
E. Goffman – Dramaturgy: People’s behaviours are scripted with people being the role takers. Personal identity is in play when we say our own lines. External influences are in play when we follow scripted roles.
Impression management: adopting an identity to perform, to maintain the impression others have of us.
C. H. Cooley – Looking Glass Self: People imagine how they appear to others and mould their personalities. They observe their own behaviour and correct it or make it part of their personality.
Biological Programming & Social Darwinism – E. Darwin: we are predisposed to behave in particular ways.
- For example, men and women are biologically programmed differently: women are caring and thus suitable for childrearing & upbringing; men are aggressive and thus suit a providing role.
- Parsons agrees with this, as most societies have segregated conjugal roles based on evolutionary biological principles ➔ Male & female stereotypes.
- Although people can refuse to follow biological instincts, sociobiologists claim that attempts to limit the effects of Biogramming will cause social problems.
- Wortley: although genes may be responsible for certain behavioural predispositions, they do not themselves produce behaviour.
- Fallon’s neurological research revealed that the brain structure of psychopathic killers was not always significantly different from the brain of people who did not engage in deviant behaviours. The difference was the way in which people were raised. For example, people who were abused as children were more likely to develop murderous impulses in adulthood.
Agencies of Socialisation
Social control – Social mechanisms or sanctions that regulate a person’s actions.
There are 2 types:
Formal controls involve written rules such as laws, which apply to everyone.
Informal controls are rewards/punishments in everyday informal settings such as the family.
Primary socialisation: when the process of socialisation is done by the Family or immediate Peers; they are people we have an emotional connection to.
- Family: parents are significant others because they teach basic and moral values. Positive and negative sanctions are mainly informal.
Positive sanctions – facial expressions, verbal approval, and physical rewards.
Negative sanctions – disapproval through language, and physical punishment.
Mead refers to parents as significant others.
- Peers: people that we interact with that are the same age.
- Peer groups may include youth sub-cultures such as punks and hippies.
- An individual may be influenced by peer groups through peer pressure, as a form of social control.
- Sub-culture – a culture within a larger culture, which develops its own norms, and values. Social sanctions include disparaging comments or seeking company.
Secondary socialisation: when socialisation is done by others: Education, Mass Media, Religion; we don’t have an emotional connection to those in charge of socialising us, but we develop instrumental relationships.
- Education: Schools offer a formal curriculum (explicitly taught subjects) and a hidden curriculum (obedience).
- Parsons said that the education system is a secondary agent of socialisation because of 2 reasons: 1) it emancipates the child from primary attachment; 2) it allows children to internalise society’s norms & values that are a step higher than those learnt within families.
- Marxists say that schools prepare children for adult work by socialising them to function well, and under the capitalistic structure without complaint.
Bowles & Gintis - Correspondence principal: explains the way in which the education system mirrors the world of work. Ex. (sanctions): Showing obedience to authority figures, daily need for attendance.
- Mass Media
- Short-term effects are imitation, desensitisation, and learning new content.
- Long-term effects such as consumerism (increasing desire to purchase), and fear (exposure to violent content).
- Positive sanctions – praise, flattering pictures. Negative sanctions – unflattering pictures.
- Religion: religious values affect those who believe, as they take it as a design for living. Legal systems and moral values are often influenced by religious values as well. Religious values are displayed often through dressing styles.
- Positive sanctions are applied through promises of a better time (Hinduism – reincarnation, and Islam - heaven). Negative sanctions – hell, exclusion from the church.
Elements of the Social Construction of Reality
Societies are mentally constructed by geographic borders, a system of govt, a common language, customs, traditions, and a sense of belonging.
The social construction of reality involves a relationship between beliefs, ideologies, & power (structural elements), on one side and everyday ideas about roles, values, & norms on the other.
- Roles: Roles contribute to the creation of culture because they demand social interaction and an awareness of others. Roles have a label and a meaning with the label on how the person is expected to behave.
- Values: Values provide a sense of order and predictability. Values provide broad guidance for role behaviour. Values are general ideas supporting the norms.
- Norms: Specific rules dictating how people should act in a particular situation. They are behavioural rules used to perform roles acceptably. Norms are open to negotiation.
- Beliefs: Fundamental, deep-rooted ideas that shape our values.
- Ideologies: Ideologies are patterns of ideas which claim to explain & legitimise the social structure & culture of a particular group in society.
Ideologies are important in the social construction of reality because they help structure society, as ideologies are mental maps that guide the development of different aspects of society.
- Power: the ability to make others do what you want, even against their will.
Giddens: power relates to the social construction of reality because those with power can impose their definition of social reality on others, to bring about order and stability.
Foucault: Power is exercised in subtle ways in modern society, through CCTV surveillance or through smartphones.
Social Class, Gender, and Ethnicity in Constructing Social Identities
Class Identities: Social class can be stratified in terms of occupation, to working, middle and upper class.
Lower class – blue-collar workers; mainly manual work, or in the manufacturing industry. The lower class develop this social identity when they are continually reinforced through socialisation.
Middle-class – white-collar workers; middle-class identities are constructed around a range of occupational identities including professionals (such as doctors), intellectuals (such as university lecturers), etc.
The middle class is identified as so because:
- they are not the working class – they are below the upper class and aspire to be like them.
- the middle class has social capital, which refers to their level of connections.
- according to Bourdieu, the middle class has cultural capital which refers to the background, educational qualifications, and status they have which gives them an advantage over others.
Upper-class – upper-class identities are based on 2 groups: the landed aristocracy, and the business elite. Davies et al. note that the world’s richest 1% own 40% of the total global wealth. Of this 1%, 60% are from the USA and Japan.
Biological sex refers to the physical characteristics that cause people to be labelled male or female.
Gender refers to the social characteristics given to each sex.
- The 2 dominant gender groups are hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity.
- Male identity – Contemporary societies are experiencing a crisis of masculine identity because of long-term unemployment, and lower educational achievement relative to girls. Hence, they are no longer able to provide for the family or control economic resources.
Marginalised masculinity: men that are no longer able to perform traditional masculine roles.
- Female identity
- Normalised identities involve women playing a secondary role to women.
- Sexualised identities involve women being seen & treated as sexual objects that exist for male gratification.
- Assertive identities reflect the changes in women’s rights in societies. ‘Girl Power’ movements. Modern feminists have tried to raise female power within the family. Ageing feminists help maintain the rights of elderly women on being fashionable, active, and sexual.
- Autonomous identities refer to women free from traditional constraints such as childcare & pregnancy. They are likely to be highly educated, successful, and career-focused.
- Ethnic identities can be developed based on a common country of birth, traditions and culture, shared history, or religious beliefs.
- There are 2 types of ethnic hybridisation: 1) Conventional hybridisation which mixes different ethnic styles to produce new identities. 2) Contemporary hybridisation which suggests old identities are changed and re-established.
Culture & Identity with reference to Modernism & Postmodernism
Culture & identity help systemise the way people do things.
According to Adams & Marshall: Identities provide individuals with a framework of rules on how to perform roles, identities create a sense of purpose for individuals by setting goals, identities help ensure self-control.
Culture & identity are used to identify one’s status in society in term of high culture & low culture. Those who prefer high culture is seen as socially superior. Those who prefer low (mass) culture is seen by the ruling class as worthless, inauthentic, and disposable.
The elite would usually identify an individual’s status via their birth, or background, but (crisis) since mass education has allowed the working class to achieve a higher social standing through educational attainment, individuals’ preferences are used to identify their social class.
Globalisation has exposed societies to new behaviours and ideas, leading individuals to become identity consumers. This has resulted in individuals forming fragmented identities.
The primary sources of identity are less important when defining ‘the Self’. Consumption and cyber identities are becoming increasingly significant when defining ‘the Self’. Monolithic identities (the correct way of being a certain individual), OR, the centred social identities are no longer sustained.
Social rules are relaxed; thus, people are free to invent and adapt identities to their personal style. Fragmentation results in identities becoming decentred; people are less certain on how to behave. As social standards no longer set rules on how to behave, individuals shape their own unique personal identities throughout their life.
J. Lyotard: Science has helped in destroying metanarratives. Knowledge is available to everyone; not just the powerful.
J. Baudrillard: We are constantly surrounded by the ecstasy of communication, and this is sickening. We also pursue images attached to the product hence, we are identity consumers. Simulacra is a make-believe value that has no real value in the real world. We believe in hyper-realities in which appearances are everything.
J. Derrida: Social structures are constantly changing. All meaning is now relative I'm socially constructed.