Chapter 8: a society of Difference Harriet Martineau, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and W. E. B. Du Bois Chapter Objectives



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Chapter 8: A Society of Difference

Harriet Martineau, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and W.E.B. Du Bois
Chapter Objectives:

After reading and understanding this chapter, a student should be able to



  • Compare positivism and neo-positivism and draw out the implications for social and sociological theories

  • Discuss Martineau’s concern with happiness with reference to the Enlightenment and natural law

  • Explain and apply Martineau’s method of observation

  • Explain Martineau’s argument about the place that gender, religion, and education play in forming a modern nation

  • Explain the differences between self- and race-preservation and discuss their implications for gender

  • Explain the sexuo-economic theory of evolution and its effects on the economy and gender

  • Discuss the reasons why the perspectives of oppressed groups grant critical insights necessary for social change

  • Describe how history and representation can be used as tools in oppression and in silencing the voices of disenfranchised groups

  • Explain how race is used in capitalism


Martineau Outline:

I. Martineau’s Perspective: Natural Law and the Hope of Happiness

Key concepts: positivism, neo-positivism; social and sociological theory; natural law

A. Comte and Martineau

1. Revision of Comte’s work

2. Comte and positivistic methods (four)

a. Observation

b. Experimentation

c. Comparison

d. Historical analysis

3. Neo-positivism (Lundberg)—three defining features

a. Quantitivism

b. Behaviorism

c. Positivistic epistemology

4. The Enlightenment: Reason, observation, and doubt were to be used to discover how human life, both social and individual, can be controlled in the same way as the natural world in order to bring about progress in human existence.

 In neo-positivism Comte’s historical model has been replaced with statistical methods and the thesis of social progress has been replaced by the goal of cumulative growth of scientific theory within sociology itself

B. Natural law and happiness

1. Natural law: the idea that apart from human institutions there are laws and rights that adhere to every human being

2. Inherent part of the Enlightenment

3. For Martineau: the natural right of all humans is happiness


II. Observing Morals and Manners: Methods of Social Research

Key concepts: morals and manners; things

A. Comparing moral codes and real life

1. Martineau’s general methodology: comparing morals (beliefs held by a society to be true about itself) and manners (actual practices)

B. Things

C. Preparing to observe

1. Philosophical

a. Know what you want to observe

b. Clear categories of distinction

c. Social constructivism

2. Moral

a. Know what will create bias in own observations

b. Unreserved sympathy

D. Safeguards in observation

a. Guard against preemptory decisions

b. Be slow to make generalizations

c. Keep hope alive


III. Institutions

Key concepts: sociology of knowledge; licentious religion; ascetic religion; moderate religion

A. Gender and family

1. Importance of gender and family to observing morals and manners

a. Home is part of domestic state

b. Primarily place of socialization for children

c. State of women strong indicator of general happiness (the test of happiness isn’t the elite but always the oppressed)

d. Gendered culture

i. Men: courage

ii. Women: chastity

e. Cultural logic of gendered culture

i. Separation between public and private spheres

ii. Men hold public office, women responsible for home and sexual morality

iii. Women subject to men (public verses private authenticity and moral responsibility)

f. Women’s workforce participation

i. Relationship between personal efficacy and material resources

ii. Marriage debased

g. Treatment of women indicator of “modernization” of state

B. Religion and society

1. Three phases of religious evolution

a. Licentious religions: so called because in their beginning phases they lack moral constraints, gods and humans alike participate in lewd behavior; in the latter phases, this kind of religion still focuses on immoral behavior: more and more actions are defined as sin and are easily atoned for through ritual; in a society, licentious religions produce a condition with little concern for humanistic morals and strong emphasis on ritualized behaviors

b. Ascetic religions: ascetic religions are those that use abstinence for proof of holiness; a society wherein this type of religion dominates will be characterized by an ever expanding inventory of sin and an emphasis on outward restraint rather than inward ethics

c. Moderate religions: moderate religions emphasize the overall well-being of humanity through self-actualization and education; a society that has a high level of this type of religion will have a culture that stresses freedom and true equality and broadmindedness

 The greater the proportion of moderate religions within a society, the greater will be the general happiness of the citizenry

C. Education and freedom

1. Two great powers in human history: force and education

2. The use of force in society is accompanied by traditional knowledge that is locked in the past

3. The use of education as a power in society

a. Result of increases in commerce, professionalization, communication, and urbanization

b. Two important indicators of place of religion in society

i. Financial based: extent of free education



ii. Function/position of university: to inspire critical thinking; motivation for study: education v. job attainment
Martineau Summary:

  • Martineau’s perspective is based on positivism and the Enlightenment. She believes that all humans have an inalienable right to happiness. This notion is the touchstone for all empirical and theoretical work. Because happiness is a natural right for humans, governments must be measured in terms of their facilitation or denial of this right. In particular, Martineau uses the way society treats gender and race as key indictors of happiness. Empirically, societies are measured by comparing their stated Morals and practiced Manners.

  • Martineau feels that every citizen should be part of the enlightened observation of society. Society is generally moving forward, but its true progress toward providing for the natural rights of human beings must be measured and societies must be held accountable to these measures. However, because the human mind is the principal tool of observation, quite a bit of preparation must take place: observers must not judge the behavior of others simply because it is different than their own; the researcher must also be able to empathize with others.

  • Martineau argues that there is a link between the culture and practice of marriage and gender. Courage as a particularly masculine trait will obligate men to society, rather than to family or relationships; and motivated by courage men will give honor to socially honored heroic people, rather than women and children. The feminine culture of chastity also has practical effects. Equating chastity with femininity makes women responsible for intimate relations. Together, these cultural equations help to create separate spheres of influence and concerns for men and women.

  • Marriage and gender are also harmed as women are denied workforce participation. Not only are women seen as helpless and men enabled to be vicious, but marriage is always to some degree motivated by economic concerns rather than more enlightened incentives. Children are socialized into this gendered culture and economy. Thus, when grown, people feel that their gender is essentially tied to expressions of courage and work, chastity and relationships.

  • In order for societies to progress toward providing happiness for their citizenry, education must be freely provided. The level of equal opportunity in a society is measured by the level of free education. Education must also be sought after for its own sake, and not simply economic gain. And the universities in a society must provide a critical, reflexive education. The kind of religion most prevalent in a society will also influence how far a society goes in providing for and safeguarding happiness. Overly ritualized religions, or religions that focus on holiness or redemption, will stand in the way of the self-actualization of the people. Moderate religions provide a mindset that is focused on inner peace, strength, and authenticity. Societies will tend to move toward greater levels of free and open education and moderate religious forms due to the influences of commerce, professionalization, communication, and urbanization. However, the true level is always determined through empirical research.


Gilman Outline:

I. Gilman’s Perspective: Evolution with a Twist

Key concepts: new evolutionary environment; workforce participation

A. Critical-functional evolution

1. Gilman’s functionalism: no requisite needs, but relationship between function and structure

2. Structures chosen for their ability to help society survive

3. Human survival based on social organization

4. Basic human survival structure: economy—new evolutionary environment


II. Dynamics of Social Evolution

Key concepts: self-preservation; race-preservation; natural selection; monogamy; sexuo-economic evolution; gynaecocentric theory; morbid excess in sex distinction

A. Self- and race-preservation (Figure 8.1)

1. Self-preservation: self-preservation motivates the natural selection for skills that protect the individual

2. Race-preservation: stimulates the natural selection for skills that promote the general welfare of the collective

3. Issue: self-preservation and race-preservation skills ought to balance one another; however, because women have been removed from the natural environment by male dominated society, the self-preservation skills of particularly women are over-emphasized and the evolutionary system is disequilibrated

B. Gynaecocentric theory: women are the general species type for humans

1. Naturally distinct male and female energies

a. Male: aggressive, objectifying, and independent

b. Female: maternal instincts for care of children

2. Natural relationship between mother and child

a. Socially extended through natural selection of monogamy

C. Sexuo-economic effects of monogamy and patriarchy (Figure 8.2)

1. Men responsible for family: created social bonds and a level of “maternal instinct” within men

2. Economic development and thus species survival enhanced because of male dominance of economic institution

3. Morbid excess in sex distinctions: women’s economic survival dependent upon acquiring a mate

a. Women’s bodies change and emphasize qualities to bring out mating and care-giving responses in men—secondary sex characteristics exaggerated

b. Importance of sex exceeds natural function

4. Feminization of market



5. Self- and race-preservation out of balance
Gilman Summary:

  • Gilman is a critical evolutionist. All species fight for survival and create organic structures to help them survive in their environment. In this case, the function produces the structure. For humans, the primary evolutionary structure is the economy. It is through the economy that we as a species survive.

  • When women were removed from the economy through male domination, several things happened. First, men, rather than the economy, became the environment of women; and, as every species will, women changed in response to changes in her environment. This change in environment made the distinctions between the sexes more pronounced. Rather than being equipped to economically produced, women became equipped to pursue a husband (her survival depended upon it). Their bodies became smaller and softer; and women augmented these changes through artificial means (such as make up, clothing, etc.). Human beings now have a morbid excess in sex distinction, and, in this, the natural order has been reversed. In most animals, it is the male that is marked for attraction; in humans, it is the female. In order to produce this artificial order, girls have to be socialized from birth to want to be attractive and to value having a husband over all else. Further, in societies where women’s workforce participation is limited, women become unnatural consumers. The natural relationship is production followed by consumption. Women are simply consumers without production. As such, their perceived needs are radically changed and they produce a market focused on beauty, decoration, and private relationships. This market makes men produce dysfunctional goods, they are thus alienated from the work of their hands; and women purchase goods that are not a natural part of their essential nature, thus alienating them from the commodity. Further, to support and legitimate this economy, the other institutions, laws, and customs in society have become gendered, and those things that are properly human (like government, religion, and education) are now seen as the domain of one sex.

  • This evolutionary path has also had functional consequences. The natural energy of men is aggressive, individualist, and dominating. The male is, then, ill-suited for social life. However, in making women and children dependent upon him, he also obligated himself to provide for them (to be socially involved and committed). Thus through gender oppression the natural energy of men has been modified: they now have maternal feelings and higher social abilities. Further, large societies require highly developed systems that can control the environment and extract resources. Men and women together could not have achieved the needed level of economic development. Thus, pulling women out of the workforce was functional so that the economy could develop fully.

  • Humans have, however, reached the point where the suppression of women is more dysfunctional than functional. The women’s movements are sure signs that evolution is pushing us toward higher levels of equality.


Du Bois Outline:

I. Du Bois’s Perspective: The Experience of Oppression and Critical Knowledge

Key concepts: centered subject; standpoint of the oppressed; grand narrative

A. The centered subject

1. Du Bois one of first to center the subject in his writing; he uses his life as the canvas upon which to paint the struggles of the Black race in America and in the world

2. Two important issues

a. For many early writers from oppressed groups the only avenue for expression was in “fiction” and poetry

b. There is a need to express the subjective experience of those oppressed in any society

B. Standpoint of the oppressed

1. Oppressed have a specific standpoint from which to view society that results in a critical perspective into the economic and political structures of any society


II. Cultural Oppression

Key concepts: history as ideology; representation; stereotypes; default assumptions; double consciousness

A. Two methods of cultural exclusion

1. Exclusion from history: history is told from the point of view of the ruling class in order to sustain and legitimate

2. Representation: production of cultural images by elite that help define an oppressed group

B. Two effects of cultural exclusion

1. Stereotypes and slippery slopes: connotative meanings that follow representations

2. Double consciousness: members of disenfranchised groups have two awarenesses: as disenfranchised and as a full member of society. These two awarenesses war at and negate one another other so that the disenfranchised is left with no true consciousness.

a. Cooley’s looking glass self


III. The Dark Nations and World Capitalism

Key concepts: exploitation; personal whiteness

A. Exporting exploitation

1. Capitalism is based on exploitation

2. Trickledown effect of education and political power of middle classes

3. Drives exportation of exploitation

B. The need for color

1. Capitalism and chattel slavery

2. Social construction of “whiteness”


Du Bois Summary:

  • Du Bois’s perspective is that of a Black man. In his work, he centers his subjective experience of race. He often uses himself as a representational character and he is vastly interested in drawing the reader into the experience of race. Du Bois also believes that being a member of a disenfranchised group, specifically African American, gives one a privileged point of view. People who benefit from the system cannot truly see the system. Much of what is the product of active social oppression is simply taken for granted by the majority. They cannot see it.

  • All structural oppression must be accompanied by cultural suppression. There are several mechanisms of cultural suppression: denial of history, controlling representation, and the use of stereotypes and default assumptions. As a result of cultural suppression, minorities have a double consciousness. They are aware of themselves from their group’s point of view, which is positive, and they are conscious of their identity from the oppressors’ position, which is negative. They are aware of themselves as Black, and they are aware of themselves as American, two potentially opposing view points.

  • Capitalism is based on exploitation: owners pay workers less than the value of their work. Therefore, capitalism must always have a group to exploit. In global capitalism, where the capitalist economy overreaches the boundaries of the state, it is the same: there must be a group to exploit. Global capitalism finds such a group in the dark nations. Capitalists thus export their exploitation, and both capitalists and workers in the core nations benefit.


Thinking About Modernity and Postmodernity

Key concepts: identity; difference

A. Modernity and identity

1. Human identity and self built on difference

2. Comparison between sociology and psychology on ideas of self and difference

a. Psychology: self innate and difference is discovered

i. Place of body

b. Sociology: self and difference both constructed

i. Place of culture

B. The postmodern twist

1. The need for strong identities and exclusion in modernity

a. Social movement for democracy and equality

b. Strong identities (needed for social movements) founded on exclusion

2. Identities of race and gender uniquely modernist

3. Postmodern twist: cultural fragmentation and de-centered selves and identities

a. Doubt concerning grand narratives (including gender and race)

b. Multifaceted culture implies choice in identity construction, but choice implies that the distinctions between gender and racial identities aren’t as clear or as real as they once were







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