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Meaning, as for example within a chess

game, relies on differences between arbitrary signifiers

(for example, a queen shape and a rook

shape) which are in turn converted into differences

between signifieds (for example, what they

allow the player to do on the basis of underlying

generative or paradigmatic rules).

The sense of an underlying system with its

own generative rules is central to the investigations

of the anthropologist Le´vi-Strauss into

kinship structures, art, totemism, ritual, and

myth. Just as Saussure divided language up into

its component parts on both the systemic and

speech-event levels, Le´vi-Strauss divided myths

up into their surface constituent elements or

“mythemes,” each with their own deeper function

within the myth. His conclusion is that there are

a limited number of patterns and types of transformations

within myths. In his Tristes Tropiques

(1955 [trans. 1968]) he suggested that, from an

inventory of all cultural customs either observed

or imagined, one could distill a limited number

of elements and form a periodic table akin to the

one used for chemical elements. Diversity could

be reduced to a limited number of possible combinations

of enduring elements. His analysis

of Caduveo body-painting in this account is also

typically structuralist in being built upon core

sets of differences or binary oppositions – men/

women, carving/painting, representationalism/

abstraction, angles/curves, symmetry/asymmetry –

which underlie the surface variety.

Barthes’s treatment of the popular Mythologies

(1957) of contemporary French life likewise invokes

the signifier and signified distinction to

reveal how the surface meanings of phenomena

as diverse as washing powder, wrestling, wine,

strikes structuralism


and the face of Greta Garbo all share a similar

underlying structure. Signification works in each

case to suggest the kind of inexorability associated

with nature rather than the transient constructions

of culture. Barthes famously discusses a

cover of Paris Match from the 1950s in which the

relational signifiers are those of a black soldier in

French uniform saluting the flag. Placed together

like this, the associations conjured up by the elements

signify that all Frenchmen, regardless of race,

are loyal subjects ready to serve and die for their

country. Alongside these mythical connotations,

binary oppositions are also created between loyalty

and disloyalty, friend and enemy, insider and

outsider. ROB STONES


This is the process whereby enduring structural

properties and relational patterns of social groups

and cultures are either reproduced or altered

during the enactment of social practices. Though

the term was coined for other purposes by

Georges Gurvitch, it is now ubiquitously defined

with reference to Anthony Giddens’s structuration

theory. Giddens most extensively develops structuration

theory in The Constitution of Society (1984).

Giddens’s theory is explored in Ira Cohen’s Structuration

Theory (1989), and it is criticized by J. Clark

et al., Anthony Giddens (1990).

The concept of structuration rejects the notion

that social structure and social action are two

ontologically distinct aspects of social reality. If

it is true that all social realities are generated in

social practices and through the consequences of

these practices, as leading contemporary theorists

of social action and everyday life maintain, then

it must be true that social structures and patterns

are somehow generated in and through social

practices as well. But one must also recognize

the lesson taught by structuralists that the enduring

structural properties of groups and cultures

shape the generation of action on any given occasion.

Finding means to take these two points into

account is known as the problem of agency and


Giddens’s notion of structuration solves this

problem by regarding the competencies to perform

actions, as well as the competencies to

recognize actions performed by others, as repositories

of the structural aspects of social reality.

However, it is not until actors draw upon those

competencies to perform instances of conduct

that structure becomes real. For example, as I

write these words, I reproduce the structured

elements of academic prose as well as more

generic elements of the grammatical and syntactical

structure of the English language. Of course,

the English language would survive very nicely

if I never wrote at all. But matters would be

otherwise if all Anglophone actors left their

competencies unused and began speaking other

languages. English would be a dead language

when it was seldom reproduced at all. One can

make analogous points about the reproduction

of bureaucratic procedure, capitalist trade, artistic

genre, or legal codes. In order for any of these

social realities to endure, they must be reproduced.

The same holds true for networks, systems,

and other patterns of social relations. All relational

patterns are structured by the practices

through which – in the language of network analysis

– nodes are linked together. Structuration

adds an original and much-needed twist to the

reproduction of relational patterns by insisting

that the links between nodes be conceived as

bridging time and space.

Structuration can refer to social change as well

as reproduction. Indeed, some degree of variation

is found in every instance of structuration. However,

when processes of structuration change

across large groups of practices over extended

periods of time, then all associated structural

properties and relational patterns will change as


Structuration theory also includes a sophisticated

theory of power that synthesizes modes of

domination and a dialectic of control between the

dominant and the dominated. I RA COHEN


This concept was first employed by anthropologists.

In this traditional conception, subcultures

refer to subgroups of local cultures; in a more

critical perspective, they refer to symbolic representations

of social contradictions and offer a

symbolic eschewing of the established order. In

the area of delinquency, subcultures refers to

distinctive sets of values and behavior.

Two early American sociological studies by

Albert Cohen (Delinquent Boys, 1955) and Richard

Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin (Delinquency and Opportunity:

A Theory of Delinquent Gangs, 1961) were influential

in directing attention to the idea of a

deviant subculture of juveniles as an adaptation

to the problems of alienation and marginalization

thrown up by social, structural, and economic

arrangements in society.

Cohen saw the gang as a subculture with a

value system different from that of mainstream

American culture. He viewed it as a working-class

structuration subculture


attempt to come to terms with a dominant

middle-class society. Membership of the gang involved

a special vocabulary, shared internal

beliefs, and distinctive ways of acting and dressing.

Subcultures of delinquency were characterized

by masculinity, group loyalty, and pleasureseeking

behavior. Thus, here, E´mile Durkheim’s

concept of anomie was synthesized with Sigmund

Freud’s idea of “reaction formation” in an attempt

to explain the manifestly expressive and nonrational

nature of much delinquency. The prospect

of failure was depicted as bringing about a major

psychological rejection of what had formerly

been sought, so that the once aspiring workingclass

adolescent pointedly turned his back on

the middle-class society that spurned him and

adopted a style of behavior that was its systematic

inversion. Put simply, Cohen developed the notion

of status-frustration to explain how working-class

boys find a solution to the lack of status in middleclass

American society.

Cloward and Ohlin (1961) described the consequences

of boys being pushed into crime by

the difficulties of acquiring money and position

in conventional ways. Their version of the theory,

however, involves three types of delinquent subculture,

relating to the differential opportunity

to engage in legitimate and illegitimate means

to gain material and status success: criminal

subculture (developed in lower-class neighborhoods

as a response to a lack of conventional

role models and the availability of successful criminal

models), conflict subculture (which arises

where the lack of legitimate and illegitimate

opportunities for material success is solved by

achieving status through violence and crime),

and retreatist subculture (which arises where the

gang resorts to hustling and drug usage in the

absence of either of the preceding options).

Subcultural theory helped shift the analytical

focus from individual problematic behavior to

collective solutions to societies’ social and economic

inequalities. But there have been strong

criticisms because of an overdelineation of values

between the dominant culture and subcultures.

Empirical studies in the 1960s in the United States

and the United Kingdom showed that the sharp

separation in values that characterized dominant

culture and subculture was overstated. Also,

working-class youths are more likely to dissociate

themselves from the labor market and deflect

their energies and aspirations into leisure pursuits

rather than a straightforwardly “delinquent


The Birmingham Centre for Contemporary

Cultural Studies in the United Kingdom published

a series of studies of subcultures in the 1970s.

Various ethnographic and semiological analyses

of the meaning of subcultural style, and political

analyses of deviance that explain why it is that

the structural and class position of various subcultures

can lead to moral panics, were produced.



A profoundly disturbing phenomenon that raises

important ethical and practical issues. How

many people take their own lives? Why do they

do it? What can sociology teach us about this

phenomenon and how can we reduce it?

The World Heath Organization (WHO) has estimated

that in the year 2000 approximately 1

million people died from suicide. Between 1970

and 2005, suicide rates have increased by 60 percent

worldwide. Although suicide rates have traditionally

been highest among elderly males, rates

among young people have been increasing to

such an extent that they are now the group at

highest risk in a third of all countries. Males are

four times more likely to die from suicide than

are females. However, females are more likely to

attempt suicide than are males. Suicide is the

third leading cause of death for young people

aged fifteen to twenty-four. Mental disorders (particularly

depression and substance abuse) are associated

with more than 90 percent of all cases

of suicide.

Each of these categories provides insight into

the failure of contemporary societies to integrate

their inhabitants in a meaningful way. It is true

that a person stricken by some fatal disease may

seek to take their own life, and there may well be

a case (under strict constraints) for assisted suicide.

But even here the physiological source of the

problem does not exist on its own. It is inextricably

linked to social pressures and conventions.

When we look at the WHO statistics, they tell

us a good deal about the divisions within contemporary

society. Why should it be elderly males

who traditionally commit suicide rather than elderly

females? Men in contemporary societies are

generally more fearful of pain and discomfort

than women. They see their bodies as objects to

be instructed, rather than organisms to be respected,

so that when the body becomes problematic

they seek obliteration. Men are also more

likely in contemporary society to see themselves

as self-contained individuals, so that when

subculture suicide


ill-health prevents them from playing “natural”

leadership roles life seems to have lost its purpose.

The vulnerability of young men to suicide is

particularly revealing. They have been socialized

by patriarchal norms to play a dominant role

and they see this domination threatened by the

movement towards female equality. If young

women can lead and innovate, defend their country,

and undertake skilled employment, then dominant

males feel redundant. The point is that

general problems express themselves in genderskewed

ways. Young women feel a lack of selfesteem

when confronted by cultural norms (often

highly superficial) which prevent them from

conforming. The attempted suicide is a cry for

help, a desperate attempt to secure assistance in

a world that seems indifferent to those in pain.

Young people understandably feel a sense of despair

about the future of a world in which grave

ecological damage has already been inflicted.

There is concern about job prospects in a world

in which market projects impose short-term solutions

to structural problems. The increased access

to consumer goods may simply generate boredom

in a world in which plenitude of resources may

coexist with poverty of activity. It is clear that

there are social causes for the tragic phenomenon

of suicide, and each category of victims demonstrates

the particular character of the problems


Of course, suicide is not a purely modern phenomenon.

In premodern societies suicide may

have occurred as the result of certain social norms

which dictated, for example, that a Hindu widow

must destroy herself on the funeral pyre of her

husband, or that military commanders were

expected to take their own lives when they

“failed” their troops. But it is not difficult to see

that the atomism of contemporary liberal societies

makes difficulties more life-threatening

and adjustments more painful. Social ties are increasingly

tenuous and individual self-assertion

operates not to strengthen social bonds but to

weaken them.

In 1897 E´ mile Durkheim wrote an important

work on suicide in which he argued that suicide

arises because humans have unlimited desires

that their needs cannot fulfill. Suicide can be

regulated only if these desires are socially controlled.

But, although his argument sounds as

though this is an eternal and insoluble problem,

in fact Durkheim was highly sensitive to the character

of society as a source of anomie – that sense

of isolation and frustration that leads to suicide.

Suicide is ascribed to social problems, and

Durkheim regarded the possessive individualism

of a market society as a factor that aggravated

rather than diminished the problem.

Contemporary neoliberalism sometimes

expresses itself in a libertarianism in which individuals

can treat themselves as they please. Choice

is abstracted from constraint and development.

The old religious argument – that suicide is impermissible

because we are all creations of God

and no one is entitled to destroy his property – has

rightly been discredited. But what do we put in

its place? We need to grasp the social nature of

the individual in its fullest implications. Individuals

develop in the context of a network of relations,

and it is an illusion for individuals to think

that they have developed through resources

that owe nothing to anyone but themselves. Individuals

“belong” not merely to themselves but to

society at large – for society has in a sense created

and empowered them, and they are not entitled to

assume that they can do as they please with


The distinction between what pertains to oneself

and what pertains to others justifies social

intervention, but the distinction between the

self-regarding and the other-regarding advanced

by John Stuart Mill is a developmental ethic. It is

intended to assist individuals to acquire greater

autonomy and self-government, to exercise those

choices that facilitate this process. The distinction

implodes if it is taken to justify acts of selfdestruction

(suicide being the most dramatic

example), since individuals need space to develop,

not to take their own lives.

Suicide should therefore be seen as a social as

well as an individual failure. When individuals

take their own lives, it is because society has failed

to provide them with the resources and faith that

makes continued existence worthwhile.


Sumner, William (1840–1910)

Professor of Political and Social Science at Yale

University from 1872, Sumner is best known as

the most active and influential proponent of

social Darwinism in the United States. His bestknown

work is Folkways (1906).

Sumner extended the ideas of Herbert Spencer

by combining evolutionary thought with classical

laissez-faire economics and a belief in the key

role of the industrious, frugal, and temperate individual.

Social evolution and social progress

depend on individuals competing for survival,

the “fittest” hard-working persons being those

who succeed financially while advancing society

suicide Sumner, William (1840–1910)


as a whole. The family and inherited wealth were,

Sumner believed, of central importance. Inheritance

offers assurance to the industrious individual

that it is worthwhile working hard. And the

family is a central means by which the virtues of

hard work can be passed on to future generations.

Like Spencer, Sumner insisted that good government

should be minimal. All forms of socialism

should therefore be resisted since they merely

nourish the least fit and those unprepared to

work. Government should be limited to the provision

of peace, order, liberty, security, and equality

before the law. Such is the social context in which

industrial development and personal freedom

can best flourish and the best setting in which

the fittest individuals can provide for their own

and their children’s welfare. But while Spencer

envisaged progress and social struggle between

the “fit” and “unfit” eventually being conducted

in peaceful forms, Sumner was much less optimistic.

War, he believed, is unavoidable. It is undesirable

but it is an inevitable outcome of the

competition for life which drives societies


Sumner also had a distinctive view of the

sources of social variations generating progress.

These were above all generated by elites, with

the great middle mass of the population simply

producing nothing new and merely imitating

their superiors. Meanwhile, even the most advanced

and civilized society has to carry the

lowest social orders, those remaining ignorant,

poor, and subject to disease and criminality.


surplus value

– see Karl Marx.

surrogate motherhood

This is not a new phenomenon, in that women

who are not the biological mothers of children

have often taken over their care and mothering

when circumstances have required it. But surrogacy

has taken on a new meaning with the development

of clinically assisted reproduction,

because the possibility of removing eggs from

one woman, fertilizing them in vitro, and implanting

them in another woman who will gestate

and give birth to a child to whom she is genetically

unrelated, is now a routine (if not common)

procedure. These clinical developments have

created a new social situation in which it has

become necessary to differentiate between birth

mothers and genetic mothers. It is also possible

that the commissioning mother is neither the

birth mother, nor the genetic mother, in which

case three women may be involved in the process.

In the United States surrogacy has become a

legitimate, for-profit activity, but in the United

Kingdom egg donation and surrogacy is closely

controlled and the commercial practice of surrogacy

is illegal. This has arisen because there were a

number of legal cases in which birth mothers

refused to “give up” their babies to the commissioning

parents, and also because of the fear of

the exploitation of poor women. In the United

Kingdom the predominant concern is with the

welfare of a child born by this method, while in

the United States the courts have been more

concerned with enforcing contractual agreements

between commissioning parents and birth

mothers. The advent of surrogacy has disrupted

the taken-for-granted naturalness of motherhood

and also challenges everyday notions of lineage

and inheritance. CAROL SMART


Although the first, and most general sense of

the term survey – any systematic gathering of

information on a defined social group – is still

technically correct, contemporary sociological

surveys tend to be more precisely based on specific

samples from a defined population, and to employ

structured written questions, often administered

verbally, via either a telephone-based or a face-toface

interview, designed to yield a corpus of data

amenable to statistical analysis.

Surveys are conducted on a plethora of social

issues and topics. They are used to provide descriptive

statistics at local, regional, national, and

international levels; to examine social phenomena,

such as poverty, work and employment, social

stratification, or the experience of crime, discrimination,

or racism; and to investigate causal

processes and hypotheses about social processes.

The multivariate modelling methods used in econometric

survey methodologies have, in turn,

influenced the construction and analysis of sociological

surveys of social phenomena.

However, as the Australian Bureau of Statistics

warns, “it is not a simple process to reduce a

complex social issue to a single set of numbers”

(Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2004: np). There are a

number of components that comprise survey

methodology. These include sample design and

selection; scope and coverage; questionnaire

format and content; survey procedure; and

response rate.

Sample surveys are conducted on a specified

sample (usually randomly selected) from a

surplus value surveys


particular population. Samples may be stratified

to reflect the demographic composition of that

population (for example in terms of gender, race

and ethnicity, or socio-economic status). Further,

the results of sample surveys are often generalized

to describe that population. In order to achieve

this, survey researchers use a series of techniques

known as weighting. This is a process whereby the

results of a sample survey are adjusted so as to

infer the likely results for the total population.

A weight is a value that indicates how many

population units (or members) are represented

by each sample unit (or member). Thus, if the

probability of an individual being selected for a

survey was 1 in 1,000, they would be assigned a

weight of 1,000 (that is, they would represent

1,000 others).

A number of features of surveys may affect

survey responses. Mode effects refer to the influence

of the survey-delivery method. Survey

modes include self-administered questionnaires,

telephone interviews, and face-to-face interviews.

Mixed methods are also possible (for example a

self-administered postal questionnaire with a

follow-up face-to-face interview). There are advantages

and disadvantages of each mode. Briefly,

the key disadvantages of the self-administered

mode include: a lack of flexibility; little control

over the response process (or who else is present

during the completion of the survey form); people

with lower levels of literacy may be disadvantaged;

and higher rates of non-response than

other modes. The advantages of this mode include:

the lack of interviewer effects; suitability

for surveying sensitive topics; a reduction of

response- and question-order effects; and ample

time for respondents to generate a considered

response to the questions.

Disadvantages of the telephone interview mode

include: the unknown effects of the presence of

others; potential social desirability and interviewer

effects; and restricted length of survey

form for conversational delivery. Advantages of

this mode include: greater flexibility; and the

role of the interviewer in encouraging responses,

and in clarifying the survey questions. Likewise,

face-to-face interviews may suffer from the presence

of third parties during the interview; and

potential social desirability and interviewer effects.

Advantages of this mode also include greater

flexibility; the feasibility of longer and more

complex surveys than for either self-administered

or telephone-based surveys; the role of the interviewer

in encouraging responses, and in clarifying

the survey questions.

Increasingly, Computer Assisted Telephone

Interviewing (CATI) and Computer Assisted Personal

Interviewing (CAPI) are used by social researchers

when conducting surveys. These techniques

enable the interviewer to key in the survey respondent’s

answers at the time of interview,

using a laptop or personal computer. Care must

be taken at the design stage of the survey to

ensure that the economic benefits of CATI and

CAPI (in terms of time spent on data entry)

are not offset by filtering or other errors in the


Survey methods, although a vital tool for social

researchers, can only ever provide a partial description

of complex social issues. Harold Garfinkel

called this broad tendency towards aggregatebased

research the replacement of “indexical”

with “objective” expressions. They are but one

tool, of many, in the sociologist’s armamentarium.

Further, without significant modification,

surveys may be an inappropriate method for

people from some developing countries, where

literacy and personal record-keeping (such as

date of birth) should not be assumed on the part

of respondents; or where surveys may be invalidated

through acquiescence bias – for instance,

where open disagreement with an interviewer

would be clearly impolite.

There are many books on how to design, conduct,

and analyze surveys. Catherine Marsh’s The

Survey Method (1982) offers a classic defense of the

technique against critics who object that surveys

are invariably flawed and only superficially descriptive.

Hanneke Houtkoop’s Interaction and the

Standardised Interview: The Living Questionnaire (2000)

offers a guide to constructing and conducting

face-to-face and telephone-based surveys, with attention

to best practice in the phrasing of survey

questions, using CAPI and CATI.


Sutherland, E. H. (1883–1950)

Sutherland is particularly remembered for his

ideas relating to differential association which

emerged from his work reported in The Professional

Thief (1937), in which the thief, “Chic Conwell,”

described a profession which had its own techniques,

codes, social status, traditions, and organization

that imitated other noncriminal groups to

a degree.

During the 1930s, Sutherland spent time at the

University of Chicago working alongside others

who were developing sociological theories of

crime based around observations of social disorganization

in communities (Clifford Shaw and

surveys Sutherland, E. H. (1883–1950)


Henry McKay, for instance). Sutherland’s own contribution

to the Chicago School derived from his

observations that, despite a context of social disorganization,

the data collected by his colleagues

sometimes revealed a certain social cohesion at

the center of the criminal activity. While acknowledging

that crime itself was a social construct,

his attempts to explain the social cohesion at the

core of social disorganization led him to reconsider

the ways in which individuals learn a criminal

lifestyle. He argued that criminal behavior

is transmitted or learned through intimate relationships

or associations with other people more

or less disposed to crime and delinquency. The

concept of differential association is thus an attempt

to account for the development of criminal

behavior in terms of association with particular

social groups and environments.

Importantly, Sutherland attempted to shift the

unremitting criminological gaze away from the

lower or working classes and apply his theory of

differential association to white-collar crime and

crimes of the powerful. We can also credit Sutherland

with perhaps the first integrated social

psychological account of crime.


Swanson, Guy E. (1922–1995)

An American sociologist of religion and social

psychologist, Swanson undertook his undergraduate

education at the University of Pittsburgh, and

received his doctoral degree from the University of

Chicago in 1948. He served on the Faculty of the

University of Michigan for twenty-one years,

moving to the University of California, Berkeley,

in 1969, where he was on the Faculty first in

sociology and then in psychology. He continued

to serve the University after his retirement in

1993. He made significant contributions to the

sociology of religion. Following the theories of

mile Durkheim, in The Birth of the Gods: The Origin

of Primitive Beliefs (1960) he studied the social structure

of fifty primitive peoples to show how their

social organization determines their beliefs. Similarly,

in Religion and Regime: A Sociological Account of

the Reformation (1968), he attempted to relate theological

beliefs to the principal political organization

of society. In particular, he showed how the

experience of immanence (God’s attributes in the

world) was conditioned by the impact of specialinterest

groups on central government. He also

wrote on Social Change (1971) and family life (with

Daniel Miller) in The Changing American Parent



Associated with the notion of representation, symbols

are at the heart of cultural systems and relate

above all to the constitution and reproduction

of meaning. The classical sociological understanding

of the nature of a symbol is connected with

a static, conservative view of cultural reproduction,

such that our ways of representing reality

to ourselves and others are presumed to have

quite rigid boundaries. Contemporary discussions

of symbolic structures have, however, focused

more on the dynamic, shifting terrain of symbolism,

in which there is emphasis on the excess or

surplus of meaning within cultural systems more


In The Conflict of Interpretations (1969 [trans.

1974]), Paul Ricoeur (1913–2005) argued that symbols

draw upon a “surplus of meaning” inherent

in systems of signification. Symbolism on this

view connects the multiplicity of meaning to a

primordial ambivalence at the core of the human

condition. For Ricoeur, the potency of symbols lies

in the fact that signification always outstrips

itself: the meaning of everything we think is another

thought, of everything we say the implication

that things might be symbolized otherwise.

Symbolism, then, as a surplus of meaning, interweaves

both metaphor and metonymy within

cultural reproduction, such that symbolic associations

are intimately tied to the stimulation of

new meanings. This necessarily implies that the

analysis of symbols requires sociological study of

how symbolic orders are interwoven with forms of

legitimation and domination.

The modern emphasis on symbolic orders as

tied to processes of both social reproduction and

cultural change has received considerable analytical

fine-tuning, particularly in various versions

of psychoanalytic sociology, in which a particular

debt to the doctrines of Jacques Lacan is evident.

In linking the insights of Sigmund Freud and of

Ferdinand de Saussure, Lacanian-inspired sociological

thought has sought to unearth the functioning

of the linguistic field in the symbolic

determination of the subject. This has been developed

through examination of the intricate connections

between Oedipal identifications and

projections on the one hand, and the productivities

of the signifier on the other. In general,

such an approach has sought to underscore the

structured but unstable nature of processes of

symbolism and signification in the cognitive and

emotional lives of human subjects. This has been

especially evident in the influential writings of

Swanson, Guy E. (1922–1995) symbol


Louis Althusser and Fredric Jameson, where a

revised Lacanian conceptualization of symbolic

systems is tied to the production of ideology. For

Althusser, symbolism of the ideological field

serves to “hail” or “interpellate” the individual as

a subject of political and social structures. A

similar stress on the ideological role of symbolism

is underlined by Jameson, but unlike Althusser

he accords a greater centrality to the polyvalence

of symbolic processes. Indeed, in conditions of

postmodernity, the symbolic field of culture and

the social is at once under- and overdetermined,

which for Jameson produces a radical dispersal

of desire and fragmentation of subjecthood.


symbolic capital

– see social capital.

symbolic interactionism

As a distinctive sociological perspective, symbolic

interactionism emerged out of the American

philosophical tradition of pragmatism. This approach

was elaborated in the late nineteenth

and early twentieth centuries in the writings of

Charles S. Peirce, William James, and John Dewey

(1859–1952). These thinkers challenged the mechanistic

world-view and dualistic assumptions of

classical rationalism, the philosophy that had

dominated western thought since the seventeenth


Pragmatist philosophy entered into sociology

most directly through the writings and teachings

of George Herbert Mead, who sought to translate

the insights of pragmatist thinkers into a theory

and method for the social sciences. In doing so,

Mead drew his greatest inspiration from the philosophical

works of John Dewey, his friend and colleague

at the University of Chicago. Building upon

Dewey’s seminal ideas, Mead developed a profoundly

sociological account of human consciousness,

selfhood, and behavior – an account that

understood and explained these phenomena as

products of social processes, specifically the processes

of interaction and communication.

Mead shared his groundbreaking theories of

consciousness, selfhood, and behavior in a social

psychology course he taught at Chicago – a course

that included graduate students in sociology as

well as in philosophy. Mead’s theories inspired

the students in this course and his best-known

book, Mind, Self, and Society (1934), emerged out of

their transcriptions of lecture notes. One of these

students, Herbert Blumer, became a prominent

sociologist who championed the merits and applicability

of Mead’s theories for sociological analysis.

In the late 1960s Blumer compiled some of

his own writings (which drew upon and amplified

Mead’s ideas) into a book entitled Symbolic Interactionism

(1969). This book quickly became recognized

as the major statement of the symbolic

interactionist perspective.

Blumer originally coined the term symbolic

interactionism in 1937 when writing an essay on

social psychology for a social science textbook. In

this essay Blumer emphasized how Mead’s work

offered the basis for a new social psychological

approach that synthesized and transcended the

dominant approaches of the time, behaviorism

and evolutionary theory. Blumer referred to this,

new approach as “symbolic interactionism.” Because

of this, Mead usually gets credited as the

founder of the symbolic interactionist perspective

(also known as the Chicago School of sociology)

even though Blumer’s analysis drew heavily on

the ideas of other theorists, including Robert

Park, W. I. Thomas, and Ernest Burgess, and,

according to some critics, differed in important

respects from Mead’s writings.

While identifying Mead as the founder of interactionism,

Blumer himself served as a key proponent

of this perspective. Along with one of his

colleagues, Everett Hughes, he had a major influence

on a cohort of graduate students he taught at

the University of Chicago in the 1940s and early

1950s. This cohort, which included a number of

notable scholars, such as Howard Becker, Erving

Goffman, and Anselm L. Strauss, further developed

the symbolic interactionist perspective

and became known as the Second Chicago School.

Like the advocates of other intellectual perspectives

with some measure of popularity and longevity,

symbolic interactionists regularly debate

about core beliefs, theoretical interpretations,

and the appropriateness of particular research

methods, topics, or styles. Despite their areas of

disagreement, interactionists share some common

outlooks and assumptions. Central to their

perspective are the following three premises

articulated by Blumer:

The first premise is that human beings act toward

things on the basis of the meanings those things

have for them . . . The second premise is that the

meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out

of, the social interaction that one has with one’s

fellows. The third premise is that these meanings are

handled in, and modified through, an interpretive

process used by the person in dealing with the things

he [or she] encounters. (1969: 2)

symbolic capital symbolic interactionism


While these premises serve as a common source

of inspiration, interactionists argue over how to

interpret them properly. For instance, some stress

that all meaning is negotiated in interaction

and that social structures serve primarily as a

backdrop for this interaction – that is, structures

are something people take into account as they

create, negotiate, and act upon meanings in their

ongoing interactions. Others adopt a more structuralist

view, emphasizing that social structures

become sedimented into interaction, imposing

constraints on the creation and negotiation of

meanings. Blumer’s passage can be read to support

either view. Beyond the implications of this

passage, heated disputes exist about what presuppositions

are integral to a symbolic interactionist

analysis of topics such as the self,

emotion, interaction, power, organization, and

collective action. Yet, even in the heat of this

debate, interactionists agree on a key point: Blumer’s

three premises provide the core of their

theoretical perspective.

Although these premises serve as the cornerstones

of the interactionist perspective, several

other implicit assumptions inform and guide

this perspective, providing it with its philosophical


People are unique creatures because of their

ability to use symbols. Drawing on the insights

of Mead, symbolic interactionists stress the significance

of people’s symbolic capacities. Because

people use and rely upon symbols, they do not

usually respond to stimuli in a direct or automatic

way; instead, they give meanings to the stimuli

they experience and then act in terms of these

meanings. Their behavior is thus distinctively different

from that of other organisms, who act in

a more instinctive or reflex-based manner. As

Blumer emphasized, things do not have intrinsic

meaning. Rather, the meanings of things derive

from and emerge through social interaction.

Humans learn what things mean as they interact

with one another. In doing so they rely heavily

on language and the communicative processes it

facilitates. Through these processes, people learn

how to define and act towards the objects, events,

and experiences that make up their environment.

In essence, they learn to see and respond to

symbolically mediated realities – realities that

are socially constructed.

People become distinctively human through

their interaction with others. Symbolic interactionists

assume that people acquire distinctively

human qualities, and become capable of distinctively

human behavior, only through associating

with others. According to interactionists, these

uniquely human qualities and behaviors include

the ability to use symbols, to think and make

plans, to take the role of others, to develop a sense

of self, and to participate in complex forms of

communication and social organization. Interactionists

do not believe that people are born

human. They argue instead that people develop

into distinctively human beings as they take part

in social interaction. While acknowledging that

people are born with certain kinds of biological

“hardware” (for example a highly developed nervous

system) that give them the potential to

become fully human, interactionists stress that

involvement in society is essential for realizing

this potential.

People are conscious and self-reflexive beings

who actively shape their own behavior. The most

important capacities that people develop through

their involvement in society, or social interaction,

are the “mind” and the “self.” As Mead observed,

by developing the capacity to see and respond to

themselves as objects, individuals learn to interact

with themselves, or think. In thinking, people

shape the meaning of objects, accepting them,

rejecting them, or changing them in accord with

these definitions and the acts that follow. Behavior,

then, is an interplay of social stimuli and

responses to those stimuli. In making this assertion,

interactionists embrace a voluntaristic

image of human behavior. They suggest that

people exercise an important element of autonomy

in their actions. At the same time, interactionists

understand that a variety of social factors,

such as language, culture, race and ethnicity,

social class, and gender, constrain people’s interpretations

and behaviors. Thus, interactionists

can be characterized as cautious naturalists or

soft determinists; they presume that people’s

actions are influenced but not determined by

prior events or biological and social forces.

People are purposive creatures who act in and

towards situations. According to interactionists,

human beings do not release their behavior, like

tension in a spring, in response to biological

drives, psychological needs, or social expectations.

Rather, people act towards situations. In other

words, people construct behavior based on the

meaning they attribute to the particular situation

in which they find themselves. This meaning,

or definition of the situation, emerges out of

ongoing interactions with others. That is, people

determine what meaning to give to a situation

and how to act towards it through taking account

of the unfolding intentions, actions, and

symbolic interactionism symbolic interactionism


expressions of others. Actors derive, negotiate,

and establish definitions of a situation through

processes of symbolic interaction.

Human society consists of people engaging in

symbolic interaction. Interactionists differ from

other sociologists in their view of society and the

relationship between society and the individual.

Following Blumer, interactionists conceive of

society as a fluid but structured process that

consists of individuals interacting with one another.

This process is grounded in individuals’

abilities to assume each other’s perspectives,

adjust and coordinate their unfolding acts, and

symbolically communicate and interpret these

acts. In emphasizing that society consists of

people acting and interacting symbolically, interactionists

disagree with psychologistic theories

that see society as existing primarily in our heads,

either in the form of reward histories or socially

shaped cognitions. Interactionists also depart

from structuralist perspectives that reify society,

suggesting that it exists independently of individuals

and dictates actions through the rules,

roles, statuses, or structures it imposes. While

acknowledging that individuals are born into a

society that frames actions through patterns of

meaning and reward, interactionists stress that

people actively shape identities and behaviors in

making plans, seeking goals, and interacting with

others in specific situations. They also emphasize

that society and structure are human products,

rooted in joint action. Hence, as Charles Horton

Cooley noted in Human Nature and Social Order,

“‘society’ and ‘individual’ do not denote separable

phenomena” (1902: 36–7). People acquire and realize

their individuality (or selfhood) through interaction

and, at the same time, maintain or

alter society.

The social act should be the fundamental unit

of social psychological analysis. Interactionists

contend that the social act, or what Blumer referred

to as joint action, should be the central

concern of social psychology. A social act refers

to behavior that in some way takes account of

others and is guided by what they do; it is formulated

so that it fits together with the behavior of

another person, group, or social organization. It

also depends on and emerges through processes

of communication and interpretation. This covers

a diverse array of human action, ranging from

a handshake, a kiss, a wink, and a fistfight to a

lecture, a beer bash, a soccer game, and a religious

revival. Whenever people orient themselves to

others and their actions, regardless of whether

they are trying to hurt them, help them, convert

them, or destroy them, they are engaging in a

social act. Individuals attempt to align and fit

together their lines of behavior with others. In

doing so they may be acting as individuals or as

representatives of a group or organization, such as

a church, university, corporation, or government.

In focusing on social acts, interactionists are not

limited to examining the behavior of individuals

or even small groups, but also consider the social

conduct of crowds, industries, political parties,

schools, hospitals, religious cults, occupational

groups, social movements, and the mass media.

Inspired by Blumer, interactionists regard the

domain of sociology – and, more generally, social

science – as “constituted precisely by the study

of joint action and the collectivities that engage

in joint action” (1969: 17).

To understand people’s social acts, sociologists

need to use methods that enable the discernment

of meanings that people attribute to these acts.

As noted, interactionists emphasize the significance

of the fact that people, as creatures who

use symbols, act on the basis of the meanings

they give to things in their world. In turn, interactionists

believe it is essential to understand

those worlds of meaning and to see them as the

individuals or groups under investigation see

them. To develop this insider’s view, researchers

must empathize with – or “take the role of” – the

individuals or groups they are studying. They also

must observe and interact with these individuals

or groups in an unobtrusive way. Through

adopting such an approach, researchers can gain

a deeper appreciation of how these social actors

define, construct, and act towards the realities

that constitute their everyday worlds.


symmetrical family

– see family.


– see social change.


– see hybridity.

symbolic interactionism syncretization




– see sacred and profane dichotomy.

talented tenth

A belief, developed in the nineteenth century, that

society divides “naturally” into an elite who are

innovative and imaginative and have a potential

for leadership, and an inert mass who lacks these


The notion is elitist and pessimistic. People have

all kinds of talents that are unrecognized by a

society which privileges certain attributes and

denigrates others. We have inherited a dualism

between mind and body which needs to be challenged:

a narrow and intellectualist notion of

“talent” reinforces a disastrous underrecognition

of manual skills and dexterity.

The talents that people have are the product of

society, and are not simply attributes that we

privately own. Reading and writing skills are

hugely facilitated by a cultural background, a particular

kind of education, parental role models,

and so forth. The danger with the notion of a

“talented tenth” is that it unwittingly encourages

an abstract individualism and ignores the fact that

skills derive from living in society and benefiting

from relations with others.

The classical liberal view that everyone is free

and equal is a premise to be concretized, not

rejected. The “talented-tenth” argument assumes

that the rest of society cannot govern their own

lives. On the contrary, they require leadership and

dynamism from “on high” to motivate them. This

is not to pose an idealized order in which ultimately

everyone will be able to do everything – but

rather to suggest that recognizing different

talents is part of a process of democratization

that is ongoing and infinite in character.


Tarde, Gabriel (1843–1904)

An early advocate of social statistics and a founder

of criminology, sociology, and social psychology,

Tarde made many contributions that

paved the way for recognition of the role of

public opinion and mass media and communications

in empirical research. Although Tarde was

working between the schools of F. Le Play and

mile Durkheim, he enjoyed a wide public recognition

(at the prestigious Colle`ge de France and

in Chicago sociology) but his strong emphasis on

individualism distanced him from mainstream

French sociology.

Early in his career he established himself as a

criminologist and penologist, rejecting biological

determinism of what makes a person a criminal.

Among later intellectual pursuits, Tarde developed

a view of social change as a function of

the inventions of some individuals that become

widely imitated (The Laws of Imitation, 1890 [trans.

1903]); such inventions come into conflict with

established customs and institutions and/or with

other inventions. The conflict model of Tarde, including

conflict between individuals who operate

with a different logic (the active innovator and

the passive member), and conflict between the

modern logic of individualism and the social logic

of tradition and theology (La Logique sociale, 1898),

put him at odds with Durkheim. Terry Clark

in Gabriel Tarde on Communication and Social Influence

(1969) provides a broad overview of the contributions

of Tarde, including comparisons with


Tarde’s discussion of attitudes in the formation

of creative individuals overlaps with W. I. Thomas,

his analysis of cycles in innovations and of social

stratification offering mobility to gifted individuals

ties in with Vilfredo Pareto, while his discussion

of the role of print media in the formation of

a public anticipates Benedict Anderson’s seminal

work on the conditions for nationalism in his

Imagined Communities (1983) on national identity

formation. Awaiting proper recognition, Tarde,

as a creative but marginal figure in Paris, best

bears comparison with his contemporary Georg

Simmel in Berlin. EDWARD T I RYAKIAN


– see Pierre Bourdieu.


Tawney, R. H. (1880–1962)

A professor of economic history at the University

of London and influential in the British Labour

movement, Tawney contributed to the theory of

democracy in his The Acquisitive Society (1921) and

Equality (1931). He also made important contributions

to economic history in The Agrarian Problem in

the Sixteenth Century (1912), Land and Labour in China

(1932), and Studies in the Minimum Wage (1914).

Tawney is best known for his critical examination

of the religious debate surrounding usury and the

rise of individualism in his Religion and the Rise of

Capitalism (1926), which was a critical response to



A term broadly applied to any management approach

that aims to eliminate worker initiative in

the production process, Taylorism, based by Frederick

W. Taylor (1856–1915) on scientific management,

conceives of the division of labor as rigid,

with skills strictly associated with particular jobs,

and tasks that are kept small. Management and

production are strictly separated. Taylorism in

its many empirical implementations developed

from scientific management theory. Historically,

Taylorism has been associated with the car industry

(particularly with Ford and Fordism) but is not

exclusive to or identical with it. Furthermore, it is

not exclusive to capitalist ideology: Vladimir Ilich

Lenin was initially critical of Taylorism, having

originally favored worker control over more collective

and spontaneous forms of worker agency

as an important means by which the relatively

backward Russian economy could be driven

forwards. Nevertheless, a socialist variant of

Taylorism was implemented in the Soviet Union

under A. Gastev, the head of the Central Institute

of Labor, by 1920.

Taylorist production systems have been called

into question by a broad range of anti-Taylorist

and neo-Taylorist movements and alternative

practices. Anti-Taylorist movements, among them

the program of industrial democracy, generally

oppose Taylorist production systems on grounds

of de-humanization, and work towards greater

worker autonomy (for example in semi-autonomous

work teams), skill enrichment, and participation

in decisionmaking.

There is, however, awareness that anti-Taylorist

management can be interpreted as a Janus-faced

solution to Taylorist production systems because

it entails work intensification. In anti-Taylorist

systems, emphasis is placed on teamwork. Multifunctionality

represents the core of the division of

labor. These two factors preempt idle time, ensuring

constant, more predictable output for employers

and fewer breaks for employees. Overlap of

work roles (which may or may not lead to skill

enrichment as well as a fusion of low-level managerial

functions with production-employee functions)

and work allocation within teams have been

considered as positive by management in the

larger context of cost reduction independent of

economies of scale, whereas labor has seen this

job enlargement and reduction in personnel as

threatening to its own interests. Job demarcation,

which has traditionally been protective of craft

or seniority status, is lifted by teamwork under

the banner of greater control and shared participation

by any worker in the team. Sociologists – for

example Pierre Bourdieu, Michael Burawoy, and

Richard Sennett – have criticized anti-Taylorism

for its feature of self-disciplining of workers,

arguing that self-exploitation, cheaper control at

the workers’ expense, and autonomy are cosmetic

cover-ups of actual hierarchy.

Neo-Taylorism has come to be associated mainly

with the production systems of Toyota and other

Japanese companies that have proved to be highly

competitive in the post-Fordist era (see post-

Fordism). As in anti-Taylorist systems, teamwork,

job enlargement, and multifunctionality, as well

as financial incentives (both individual and group

bonuses), play a key role. However, the principles

of lean production mean that decisionmaking is

strictly kept to management and the standardization

of tasks (as in Taylor’s theory) is central, with

short-cycled and machine-paced work seen as unproblematic

for human relations in production.


technological determinism

This postulates that technology is an important

determinant of the forms of social organization

that are to be found in human societies. Various

technologies have undoubtedly changed constraints

on human societies and their peoples,

opened up new options for them, or indeed

made new forms of constraint and control possible.

Karl Marx could be characterized as a technological

determinist in his observations on

the ways the steam engines of the industrial revolution

made the industrial capitalist possible,

whereas the windmill was inevitably the technology

of the feudal lord. Large-scale forms of

industrial production and thus rapid wealth

accumulation do depend on the ability to store,

use, and control energy, and do greatly reduce a

dependence on human labor, but the social

Tawney, R. H. (1880–1962) technological determinism


consequences of technologies which permit this

are many and variable.

Unlike financial, personal, or structural factors,

which are hypothesized as having causal roles in

societal development, technologies are palpable

and easy to document, even when a social group

has disappeared and has left no written records.

Views on the causal potency of individual technologies

are mixed. As L. Marx and M. R. Smith

argue in Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma

of Technological Determinism (1994), “hard determinists”

assign technology a degree of agency and a

developmental momentum through the ways in

which it leads us to understand ourselves and it.

“Soft determinists,” by contrast, see technology as

one of many factors in a complex array of social and

historical forces, and as one which has no inevitable

outcome associated with it. DAV ID GOOD

technologies of the self

– see Michel Foucault.


Because of the ubiquitous and multifaceted role

that it plays in the contemporary world, technology

has come to have a number of different

meanings for sociologists. Since the term was first

coined in the early nineteenth century, it has

served as both an abstract, general concept characterizing

the entire realm of material artifacts and

a word used to describe specific and delimited

examples of artifactual life.

At a macro-level of overarching sociological theorizing,

technology has long provided one of the

defining features of what some term modernity

and others refer to as modernization. For most

theoretically minded students of society, it is the

fundamental, or determining, influence of technology

over social life that is often considered

to be the main difference between modern and

premodern societies.

From Karl Marx onward, sociologists have more

or less taken for granted that modern, or contemporary,

societies are strongly conditioned by processes

of technological change, while premodern

societies or nonmodern social formations are not.

According to the preferred discursive framework,

technology in this sense provides a convenient,

shorthand label for an entire mode of production

(for theorists of a Marxian bent), form of social

differentiation (for theorists of a Durkheimian inclination),

or system of values (for the Weberians).

It provides, we might say, the characteristic disposition,

or structure, that underlies or forms a

material basis for contemporary social reality.

The nature of the role that technology plays in

society is, however, a topic around which there

remains little theoretical consensus. We might

say that theorists have disagreed as to which narrative

of technological change is to be considered

the most socially significant. For many, modern

technology is primarily viewed as a part of economic

production, according to a story-line of

capitalist exploitation and capital accumulation,

which places in the foreground the social activities

of business firms and so-called entrepreneurs.

This position was formulated most influentially in

the writings of Joseph Alois Schumpeter in

the first half of the twentieth century, especially

perhaps his work on Capitalism, Socialism and Society


For others, technological change is viewed as

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