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published a series of critical works on industrial

society, notably The Instinct of Workmanship and the

Irksomeness of Labor (1898), The Higher Learning in

America (1918), The Vested Interests and the Common

Man (1919), and The Engineers and the Price System

(1921). Veblen taught at the University of Chicago

(1892–1906), Stanford University (1906–7), the University

of Missouri (1911–18), and the New School

dependent/independent variables Veblen, Thorstein (1857–1929)


for Social Research, New York (1918–26). His work

criticized capitalism and portrayed society as a

conflict between an acquisitive and a technocratic

instinct. He is chiefly remembered today for The

Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Veblen argued that

American society was dominated by a parasitic,

predatory social class composed of elements

from high business and industry. Their dedication

to conspicuous consumption was presented as

weakening the fabric of American society by

encouraging emulation among the lower orders.

Later, in The Theory of the Business Enterprise (1904),

Veblen pointedly contrasted the decadent,

spendthrift values of the leisure class with the

prudent, industrious values held by artisans and

engineers. This generated the widespread misconception

that Veblen favored technocratic revolution.

In fact, the poorly appreciated cultural

semiotics and theory of power in industrial civilization

that he developed in his writings suggest

that display and waste are intrinsic to business

prestige and casualize the work ethic. His work

is highly critical of the form of industrial civilization,

and skeptical about redemptive alternatives.

Veblen’s approach submitted that the correct

methodological route for the analysis of economic

and social questions is through an investigation of

the causal role played by socioeconomic institutions

and organizations. The social and economic

policies attached to this methodology involved

restraining the excesses of the leisure class and

moderating predatory culture. The emphasis

placed on social factors precipitated resistance

from orthodox economists, and the argument in

favor of more state control was criticized for being

tantamount to socialism under another name.

However, with the revival of interest in questions

of consumer culture and leisure which followed

the cultural turn, the prescience and richness of

Veblen’s work are increasingly being recognized.



– see falsification.


A term of art in hermeneutics made prominent

in the nineteenth century by Wilhelm Dilthey

and other German scholars associated with the

Geisteswissenschaften (human sciences). Max Weber

incorporated this aspect of hermeneutics into

his sociological method, and the term then entered

the sociological lexicon. In the methodology

of the Geisteswissenschaften, Verstehen, literally meaning

understanding, refers to the effort to grasp

the relevant meaningful, cognitive, emotional,

spiritual, and motivational qualities of the minds

of individuals at historically significant moments.

The term implies a line of demarcation between

natural and social studies. In Dilthey’s famous

phrase: “we explain nature; man we must understand”

(Gessamelte Schriften V: 144).

Weber, though an exponent of Verstehen,

staunchly denied that it constituted a technique.

We become interested in some constellation of

historical events by virtue of their relevance to

our cultural values. This interest directs us to

enquire about certain states of minds of actors at

a given time. Verstehen is thus not an attempt to

grasp psychological processes at large. Instead it is

a means all cultural historians use, regardless of

whether or not the historians are methodologically


Verstehen is more oriented to historical inquiry in

a second sense as well. In order to grasp the relevant

states of mind of actors, a historical investigator

must be knowledgeable in the ways of life

and cultural conventions for framing situations

typically found in indigenous cultural settings.

Verstehen is the art of using these frames to interpret

significant historical events. I RA COHEN


This term is thought to have been coined by the

American psychiatrist, Frederick Wertham, in

1949, when he called for the systematic and scientific

study of victims and their relationships with

offenders. But it is Hans von Hentig’s The Criminal

and His Victim (1948) that is widely regarded as

the critical text in developing victim studies. Von

Hentig challenged existing thinking about the

victim as a passive actor and proposed a thirteencategory

typology of victims that identified certain

individuals as victim-prone by virtue of distinctive

social and psychological characteristics

(age, sex, or mental illness, for example). This

thinking was later refined by a theorist who produced

a six-stage typology of victim culpability

ranging from the “completely innocent” to the

“most guilty victim.”

Pursuing the line of victim precipitation in

sexual offenses, Menachim Amir’s Patterns of Forcible

Rape (1971) provoked strong reaction because

of the attribution of blame to victims. He thought

it reasonable to expect the victim to have somehow

avoided the incident. Certainly, well-known

judges have occasionally been known to refer to

culpable negligence on the part of the victims

of sexual assault because they were wearing

provocative clothing. But the concepts of victim

verification victimology


precipitation and culpability assume a level of

equality in the relationship between aggressor

and victim (similar physical strength, for


Later work in this area has concentrated on the

lifestyle of victims and these two concepts – victim

precipitation and lifestyle – have formed the core

of much victimological research and thinking

since the late 1980s. Ezzat Fattah’s Understanding

Criminal Victimisation (1991) outlines a number of

key propositions relating to victimization: available

opportunities, risk factors, the presence of

motivated offenders, exposure, high-risk activities,

defensive/avoidance behavior, structural/

cultural proneness, dangerous times/places, dangerous

behaviors. This lifestyle-exposure approach

has informed some of the major victimization

surveys; some of these are international surveys,

some are carried out on an annual basis. Such

surveys regularly include questions relating to

routine patterns of behavior such as drinking

habits or use of public transport. One criticism

here, however, is that this kind of victimization

survey encourages a focus on street crime rather

than crime within the home (child abuse and domestic

violence, for example) or corporate crime.

In essence, we can identify three main strands

within victimology. First, there is a positivistic

strand, which focuses on the identification of

factors that contribute to patterns of nonrandom

victimization and on the identification of victims

who may have contributed to their own victimization.

Second, there is a radical strand, which

places the analysis of sexual and violent crimes

in the context of wider political, economic, and

social victimization. These critical perspectives are

broad and accommodate victimization by the

police, the victims of the correctional or criminal

justice system, the victims of state violence, and

the victims of oppression more generally. Here

there is recognition of structural powerlessness.

Third, we may identify a critical victimology

which includes critical analysis of the victims’

movement and constitutes an attempt to examine

the wider social context in which some versions of

victimology have become more dominant than



The core meaning of violence is the deliberate

infliction of bodily violation or harm on one individual

human being by another. The forms of

violence include hitting, wounding, rape, torture,

and, of course, killing. Thus violence is distinguished

from non-physical forms of social power,

such as coercion or force, ideology, or social control.

Violence is the most extreme expression of

power, containing the ultimate potential of total

power, the physical destruction of one social actor

by another. Violence may be a spontaneous expression

of power relations, or a planned, instrumental

maximization of power.

Because of endemic inequalities of power, violence

is a general potentiality in social relations,

even if in many types of relationship this remains

latent for long periods. Thus, although issues of

violence may arise in all social arenas, in practice

sociology has been concerned with them in a

limited number of cases. The sociology of the

family has examined the prevalence of gendered

domestic violence, particularly but not only by

men against women. Otherwise violence has

been seen mainly as an expression of collective

social conflict. Studies of industrial relations

have considered violence as a result of class conflict;

those of race relations and ethnicity have

discussed racial violence; political sociology has

considered the role of violence in social and political

transformation, especially in revolution. The

sociology of social movements has examined the

role of violence in protest actions, although some

have seen movements as by definition non-violent

(non-violence as a principle has been extensively

discussed in peace studies). Many of the forms of

violence in these contexts are relatively spontaneous,

for example in strikes or ethnic riots.

Sociologists such as Norbert Elias have emphasized

that, through the civilizing process, many

potentials for violence are constrained by social

norms. Karl Marx argued that in capitalism the

“dull compulsion” of the wage relationship had

replaced the direct violence of earlier modes of

production. Yet he stressed the violent nature of

the “primitive accumulation” process that had

given rise to this new mode, and saw a continuing

potential for class relations to rupture capitalist

structures, through revolutionary movements

that would trigger violent resistance from ruling

classes. However, in developed capitalism, Ralph

Dahrendorf argued, there has been an institutionalization

of conflict, so that class conflict is not

generally expressed in violent forms and does not

lead to general social change.

Indeed, many have argued that there is extensive

pacification in modern industrial societies. This

has been specially connected to the modern state,

which Max Weber defined by its “monopoly of

legitimate violence.” Although others have qualified

this idea, it remains seminal. Michel Foucault

argued that modernity leads to comprehensive

violence violence


“surveillance,” although he saw in this the potential

for war and genocide as states directed their

expanded capacity to organize society towards destruction.

In The Nation-State and Violence (1985),

Anthony Giddens argued that more extensive surveillance

leads to the reduction of levels of violence

in society. Through the control of the

nation-state, violence was “extruded” from national

societies and increasingly expressed only

in international relations between states, in the

form of war.

Thus social violence has become concentrated

in special forms of social conflict, which Weber

distinguished as “bloody conflict.” War, genocide,

armed insurrection, and counter-revolution are

organized violence, in which killing and other

physical harm are used instrumentally to destroy

an enemy’s power (in war and revolution, typically

that of another armed enemy; in genocide, of

a civilian social group). Recognizing the centrality

of such organized forms, Michael Mann, in The

Sources of Social Power (1986), argued that violence

belongs to a special type of social power, military

power, which is to be distinguished from the

political power of the state. Moreover, his Dark

Side of Democracy (2005) showed that organized

political violence such as “ethnic cleansing” and

genocide is often practiced by parties, militias,

and other armed groups, supported by wider

social constituencies, as well as by states. Thus,

despite the control of violence in modern societies,

the escalation of political conflict may,

under certain circumstances, produce large-scale,

organized violence.

Others have been skeptical of the reduction of

violence because they have defined violence in a

broader way. Johann Galtung, in “Violence, Peace

and Peace Research” (1969, Journal of Peace Research),

introduced the concept of “structural violence,”

to refer to any constraint on human

potential due to economic and political structures.

Unequal access to resources, to political

power, to education, to health care, or to legal

standing are forms of structural violence. It is

often pointed out that more people die as a result

of poverty, derived from global economic and

social inequalities, than die as a result of wars

and genocides. In a similar way, some scholars

talk of the “violence of representation,” in which

ideological social categories violate the selfascribed

identities of individuals and social


However, from a conceptual point of view, these

broader usages of violence raise difficulties. Are

exploitation and ideological control violent by

definition, or only when they produce physically

harmful results? Is mental harm no different from

physical harm? Is harm that results from the unintended

consequences of actions, for example in

the uncoordinated operations of markets, no different

from harm that is intentionally produced?

Sociologists concerned with the forms of deliberate

physical harm have tended to maintain the

strict meaning of “violence,” and to use other

concepts such as inequality to describe what is

called “structural violence.” MARTIN SHAW

virtual politics

As has been true of every successful new communication

medium, the internet is being used to

conduct affairs of concern, especially politics. Although

originally noncommercial in its purpose

and content, political discussion has from the

internet’s earliest days been a central concern

of many of those who have participated online.

E-mailings concerning political observations and

organizations quickly migrated to bulletin boards

and Usenet groups. In turn, these forms have

become complemented by websites, e-mail and

list serve programs, and web logs (blogs). These

forms of virtual politics have become popular

and successful, and are likely to continue their


It seems clear, as J. Katz and R. Rice, in Social

Consequences of Internet Use (2002), demonstrate,

that eventually politics will be heavily virtual in

its nature. The power of the internet to generate

many-to-many information exchanges and to organize

supporters is enormous. However, progress

may be slower and remain less influential

than many early observers predicted because of

the limits of electronic presence and the problem

of spurious attacks from opponents. Many traditional

forms of politics, such as nominating conventions

and/or listening to political speeches,

have not met with success. This lack of success is

not apparently due to limited bandwidth alone,

but rather stems from the way users like to interact.

On the other hand, the internet has become a

vital source of political news and for following

election returns for large portions of the public.

Political groupings of all persuasions have been

quick to grasp the communication potential of

the virtual world. Ironically, many continue to

believe that better communication will improve

understanding and reduce political conflict. It

may be that the opposite is true: namely that

virtual politics will allow marginal groups to

thrive, and many positions, which are highly divisive

and fractionating, will continue to flow.

violence virtual politics


While numerous voting schemes have been advanced

– and indeed there are many elections

conducted via the internet – it appears that there

is no way, using currently foreseeable technology,

that a system of voting could be both secure and

anonymous. Hence, so long as a system of secret

ballot is set as a paramount requirement, online

voting cannot be used. JAMES E. KATZ

virtual reality

This describes the impression of inhabiting dimensions

created by electronic media rather

than material, geographically copresent spaces,

and devices designed to produce this effect.

Though the phrase is sometimes used interchangeably

with cyberspace, virtual reality or VR

is more specifically used to denote human-scale

rather than global environments. Such environments

can be roughly divided between immersive

and onscreen VR. In immersive VR, a user enters

a dedicated space or wears dedicated hardware,

in order to experience a three-dimensional computer-

generated environment. The technology is

used in specialist training programs, in artistic

productions, in entertainment venues, and in

physical therapy where it may permit multiple

users in a shared virtual environment. Unlike

cyberspace, however, these environments are not

usually networked, and require the physical presence

of the participant in the same space as the

technology. Onscreen VR uses three-dimensional

modeling software programs to generate social

and spatial environments portrayed on normal

computer monitors. Unlike immersive VR, onscreen

VR can be networked. Applications include

scientific, technological, and medical uses in the

analysis of three-dimensional models of physical

forms; artistic and entertainment applications

appear in motion pictures and in most commercially

successful computer games.

Although the technology involved has the

glamor of unfamiliarity, VR does not offer social

formations fundamentally different from those

available in older media. Books can offer an individual

user immersion in a fantastic or unfamiliar

universe. Film and television offer audiovisual

fictions, the former with a more immersive, the

latter with a more distributed appeal. All three

have been blamed at various times for negative

social consequences, especially among the young.

Some observers have suggested that online

gaming in virtual environments is particularly

pernicious because it is very often violent,

frequently sexist, and encourages unrealistic

conceptions of causality and responsibility.

Others note, however, the opportunities for user

agency in VR, a change from linear narratives to

interactive story structures that depend in part

on the choices made by players, and in part on a

typical geography of “levels,” transitions marked

by changes to the depicted environment and the

level of skill required to navigate them. Such

narratives, some observers note, are more spatial

than temporal, requiring navigation rather than


Both immersive and onscreen VRs are widely

used in aspects of social science research, notably

in geographic information systems, where the

ability to navigate complex datasets in visual

form is highly prized. Likewise, future studies

and risk analysis deploy virtual reality modeling

as a technique for visualizing trends and crises,

and for swift syntheses of changing variables. In

one instance at least, that of Sim City, software

developed for urban planning has made the crossover

into the commercial field to become a commercially

successful computer game. In a reverse

gesture, some sociologists use the same company’s

The Sims to teach family dynamics.

Despite early fears and early “boosterism,” VR

has so far failed to deliver cheap, widely accessible,

and convincing alternative realities. Neither

feared nor yearned-for assimilation into digital

environments has yet occurred. Significant technological

achievements have found applications

in other fields – including genome mapping,

neuroscience, and cinema special effects – as

well as some significant cultural achievements.

But those achievements are also metaphors for

an alternate future that critics and prophets alike

thought would already be present. The key legacy

of virtual reality is thus the concept of an alternative

present. SEAN CUB I TT

visual culture

This term refers to an eclectic range of topics,

linked to an interest in seeing and its connection

to what Martin Jay has called “scopic regimes.”

Interest in the visual grew during the 1990s within

sociology as part of an attempt to move beyond a

focus on the linguistic features of ordering. The

new concern with the visual exceeds a focus on

arts and artifacts. Though taking inspiration

from art theory and especially feminist art theory

(such as Griselda Pollock’s work), the concept of

visual culture in sociology encompasses the visual

in the gamut of social experience, from fashion,

to science, to face-to-face communication. This

virtual reality visual culture


perspective has been used to effect in historical

sociology, as in Chandra Mukerji’s work on Landscape

and Power (1997). Models have also been taken

from anthropology, where studies of visual data

and visual systems have been de-coupled from

earlier studies of colonialism, in particular the

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