Saturday, December 8, 2012

The evolution of old racism into new racism…

The evolution of old racism into new racism…

In the chapter The Past is Ever Present: Recognizing the New Racism Collins discusses the evolution of old racism into new racism.  Rooted in slavery old racism in America represents the objectification and exploitation of black men and women through racial and gender oppressions.  The gender and racial identities imposed onto enslaved black men and women during slavery were put into place by white elites through controlling images.  These roles such as the mammy, jezebel, and breeder and the violent brute were used as a way to justify and conceal the true intentions of white elites.  The development and belief of these images created a structure based on race, gender and class that controlled “the opportunities, resources, and power of some, even while other groups struggle” (Andersen and Collins 2007).  In turn, white elites created a “foundation for systems of power and inequality that  . . . continues to be a significant social [influence in] people’s lives” (Andersen and Collins 2007).

Mass Media controls our lives...

Prior to the Civil Rights Movement, African-American’s experienced systemic economic, educational, political, and social obstacles like the Jim Crow Laws.
  Enforced segregation was supported by the legal system, due to those in power.  In the 1950’s to 1970’s organizations like National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee fought for the civil liberties of African-Americans in America.  The social movements and activism that occurred during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s were fought in order stop “intersecting oppressions” (Collins year) like racial, gender and class and for there to no longer be an issue for” the new generation” (Collins year).  Their strides and successes meant, “blackness would no longer serve as a badge of inferiority” (Collins year).  Unfortunately, the reality of the post-social movement era brought positive and negative social conditions for the black youth of the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s.  Due to several political successes black men and women attained upward social mobility through education.  A college degree prompted their economic and social improvement into the black middle class.  Being in the black middle class meant “better housing, schools and facilities for African Americans” (Collins year).   Although there was significant progression there remained institutionalized oppression that experienced “poor housing conditions, precarious health status, and dwindling job prospects” (Collins year).  For example, in the 1980’s most of the landlords in South Bronx, NY were burning the buildings to collect insurance money.  Most of these people who lost their homes were poor African Americans and Latinos.
The characteristics of new racism are based on symptoms of old racism and its adaptation to contemporary ideals.  New Racism is rooted on images institutions produce in order to maintain old racist notions, even though the biological ideals of old racism are invalid.  Collins defines three major points of new racism: corporate involvement, continued legal racial inequalities, and lastly manipulation of the mass media. “The involvement of corporate organizations in the global economy has led to the application of wealth and investments to be centralized within a few corporations . . .[enabling] these corporations to shape the social, political, and economic aspects of the global economy” (Collins year).  For instance, the people who work in these global corporations usually live in immense poverty and receive meager wages.  Depending on the country, for instance countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, those that live in poverty conditions tend to be “people of African descent” (Collins year). 
The second notion of new racism is “local, regional, and national governmental bodies no longer yield the degree of power that they once did in shaping racial policies” (Collins year).  Personally, I believe the government does have the power to continue shaping racial policies, like they once did, but we’ve entered an era where corporations and lobbyists buy out politicians.  As a result, bought politicians curb social, political and economic progression for people of color and poor white people.  For instance, Arizona’s recent Immigration laws “require officers to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect is in the country illegally. Wearing the wrong clothes, speaking with the wrong accent or having the wrong skin color could land you in hot water in Arizona” (article).  The law enforcement officers have generated an “environment of racial profiling that has encouraged private citizens to discriminate and abuse people they regard as foreign” (article).  This law is targeting not just those who are illegal immigrants in this country but also those who are citizens and legal residents of the United States.  The government can change this law that clearly is racist, but because their goal is deport as many “illegal immigrants” as possible this law will continue to be enforce.
The third notion of new racism is a policy that has existed since the inception of slavery: the heavy manipulation of mass media.  According to Collins, “hegemonic ideologies claim racism is over . . .globalization, transnationalism and the growth of hegemonic ideologies within mass media provide the context for a new racism that has catalyzed changes with African, black Americans, and African diasporic societies” (Collins year).  As discussed before white elites distributed false ideals about black women and men to hide and support their actions.  These stereotypes are further propagated in the media and give people misconceptions, not solely about black people but other groups who experience oppression.  For instance in the movie Why Did I Get Married 2 the lead character played by Janet Jackson and Malik Yoba are arguing in Yoba’s workplace.  Janet’s character is questioning Yoba’s manhood based on marital issues, she decides to bring a life size cake and have a flamboyant black man pop out of the cake wearing a pink wig, and a (might add myself a fabulous) sparkly dress.  At that moment she tells him, “If you wanna be a bitch, then he’s your man.”  This is condescending to gay men, in particular to black gay men because of their ignored social location within the black community.  This particular scene are informing viewers that all gay black men aren’t the “idea” of black masculinity and it’s okay to call them bitches. 

Collins, P. H. (2004). Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, gender, and the new racism. New York, NY: Routledge.
Andersen, M. L., & Collins, P. H. (2007). Why race, class, and gender still matter.
M. L. Andersen & P. H. Collins (Eds.), Race, Class, and Gender An Anthology (6 ed., pp. 1-16). Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.
The Editorial Board. 2012. “Arizona’s Bad Immigration Laws Takes Effect.” The Washington Post, September 21 (

Friday, December 7, 2012

Mead: "Socal Role" and "I vs. Me"

      Pre-kindergarten is the first step when children learn to adjust in the society. As they go through this step, they realize of the meaning of “a social role.” In learning a social role, children find their own position how they should play it out in the stage where the society directs. I have a little sister, Joanna, who is about to become 7 years old. For 6 years I have watched her how she grows up.

     “Why does this man wear a hat in here?” My sister pointed her finger at the man, “you told me that I should not wear a hat inside the room.” When Joanna started pre-kindergarten, I took her to the pizzeria for lunch. By her chaotic action, my adolescent mind (it was when I was in high school.) drove me into huge embarrassment. With my red chicks welled up by embarrassment, “Stop pointing your finger at him, Joanna. It’s rude..!” I told her. And when she obediently listened to my instruction, she innocently pointed at him by her fist, as only her finger quietly closed in her palm. “Rude, what is rude? And why does he do it?” with her curious face. A loss in words, I burst with laughter. After I ordered our lunch and took a seat with her, I solved her mysteries. “Pointing at someone is not a polite thing to do. So when you want to refer someone, you should just describe him by words like a gentleman with a hat standing next to us,” and I continued “for wearing a hat, you can wear it in the pizzeria and any casual place outside the house.”

     Mead claims “children engage in play rather than in games” (Alexander 1987:207). Children do not acquire the knowledge of the meaning and necessity of the social position why and how they need to play in the society. In the incident of the pizzeria, Joanna did not know wearing a hat had its own access and limitation in ‘a rule’. An access and limitation, in another words, indicate ‘a significance’ as in how and what she can and cannot do in the society. The rule can serve as a symbol of the self-direction and control which makes others to follow an instruction of certain action. “Any control that we have over ourselves (and the symbolic interactionists claim it is considerable) comes through symbolic interaction with ourselves, through telling ourselves what is going on, what alternatives there are, and what line of action to take” (Charon 1989:61). And so, through my explanation of the rule that wearing a hat is permissible in the pizzeria, then my sister takes a first step learning the significance and developing her internalization. Mead refers “a generalized other” (Alexander 1987:208) is how the children take a process of understanding the significance from learning how others act. “At this early point in their development, then, children can only put themselves in place of the other. With further development, however, children can actually incorporate into themselves an abstract understanding of the roles which significant others assume” (Alexander 1987:207). A sense of the social role becomes more generalized through the process of growth. As a result of the generalized other, my sister no longer points at people when she wants to indicate someone. When I talked to her about the incident of the pizzeria, she laughed off about her past action and said “Really? Did I ever do that? I don’t point people by my finger anymore because it isn’t nice thing to do.”  

     If I refer the result of my sister’s generalization, it is a form of “me.” The “me” is a shape of herself how she behaves according to the society. And then, there is another form besides “me,” which is “I.” The “I” is herself, her pure quality of character excluding from the social element. Strangely, “I” and “me” are a different package of oneself. Mead defines “The “I” is the novel element, the “me” the social element corresponding to the generalized other” (Alexander 1987:209). If oneself is a body of the system, “I” and “me” serve as each part of the system. Mead explains, “for social psychology, the whole (society) is prior to the part (the individual), not the part to the whole; and the part is explained in terms of the whole, not the whole in terms of the part or parts” (Mead 1977:121). As Mead argues, “I” and “me” may be different from one another, but they are not a separate set of components. Together, “I” and “me” bring out a whole character of oneself. In the case of the pizzeria, Joanna was not acquainted how she should have behaved in such situation because her “me” was yet to be generalized to respond. And her “I” is her enthusiastic character of curiosity. Despite being inexperienced in the social experiments, she pursues to learn what she is not familiar of rather than she submissively follows a way which she may disagree with. In her “I,” she has a strong inquiring mind and brave spirit.
     The reason I picked the picture of a table with chairs and a set of marbles is to describe the social role, and “I” and “me.” In the picture of the white table and white chairs, it shows the function of its each role. If one looks at this scene of the table with chairs, one will automatically think that the purpose is to sit on one of the chairs and put the belongings on the table. The table and chairs give a specific aim how they function. And such specific function is just like a social role what each individual is assigned in the society. To add, I wanted to point out that children are not acquainted with their given role because they are not yet generalized enough to realize their own social roles. Through the process of growth, they then would know and adjust into their assigned roles just like a table for a table and chairs for chairs. As for the other picture of marbles, I wanted to emphasize how “I” and “me” function together as the components for a same body. The center marbles represent “I,” the inner-self prior to the social component. And the marbles around the center marbles display “me,” the outer-self which influenced by the social component: the “social I.” The position of the two rows of marbles may be separate, yet they are not too far from each other because they are a same package of how the individual portray. Together, they are one.   


Alexander, Jeffrey C. 1987. Twenty Lectures: Sociological Theory Since World WarII. NY: Columbia University Press.   

Charon, Joel M. 1989. Symbolic Interaction: an introduction, an Interpretation, an Integration. NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc.

Mead, George Herbert. 1977. On Social Psychology. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.


the panopticon prison

big brother is watching

One of the more interesting concepts in Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punishment is the panopticon.  Panopticism is an idea taken from Jeremy Bentham, who conceptualized a prison where all the inmates could be viewed by a guard at the same time, without the ability to know when or if they were being watched.  For Bentham this would exemplify the ability for people to overpower and keep control over others in a modern society (Crimmins 1994).  The idea of the power inherent in the ability to watch others, and the psychological effect of knowing that at any time you could be being observed, which changes how people act; “anxious awareness of being observed”.  (Foucault 2008:7)  Foucault expanded on Bentham’s original theory, particularly considering the boom in observational technologies like surveillance cameras and phone taps.  Foucault sees how the idea of the panopticon can be extended beyond controlling inmates, to governments controlling the public.  In 1984 Orwell also used this idea, with the Big Brother government maintaining control over their citizens through the fear of being observed doing something against the government and being punished as a result.  Foucault saw the panopticon as symbolic of modern government as a whole (Foucault 2008).   In his discussion, Foucault talks about the development of panopticism in the west, focusing on the historical example of the plague in Europe.  During the plague governments were able to legitimately wield a great deal of control over the regulation of its peoples, all in the name of the greater good (incidentally Bentham was a famous father of utilitarianism and of the saying, the greatest good for the greatest number).  Foucault analyzed if the plague really needed to be real, or if just the threat of a plague would be enough to justify creating a panoptic society (Foucault 2008:4).  Power, as always for Foucault, is crucial to this understanding of the function of government, and the panopticon really brings together all of the ideas Foucault was working towards in his works.  The whole point of discourse is the ability to regulate and discipline without chains, “panoptic institutions could be so light: there were no more bars, no more chains, no more heavy locks”(Foucault 2008:8)  The ability to see without being seen, as power or domination, and the knowledge that one could be at any time observed as subjection.  Foucault makes a connection between the panopticon and the social sciences, where the panopticon is a laboratory where,
“it possible to draw up differences: among patients, to observe the symptoms of each individual, without the proximity of beds, the circulation of miasmas, the effects of contagion confusing the clinical tables; among  schoolchildren, it makes it possible to observe performances (without there being any imitation or copying), to map aptitudes, to assess characters, to draw up rigorous classifications, and, in relation to normal development, to distinguish 'laziness and stubbornness' from 'incurable imbecility'; among workers, it makes it possible to note the aptitudes of each worker, com pare the time he takes to perform a task, and if they are paid by the day, to calculate their wages.” (Foucault 2008:8-9) 
For Foucault the panopticon is the ultimate tool of the social scientist, the ability to observe people without being observed oneself.  The panopticon functions as a “laboratory of power… a way of defining power relations in terms of the everyday life of men.”  (Foucault 2008:9 -10)

While Foucault himself did not discuss modern panopticism at length, in our post 9/11 society it has become an incredibly complex and significant issue.  Proponents of the increase in security and use of observational technology and methods by the US government cite the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the omnipresent danger of attack as the rational for why we need the observation to prevent future attacks.  The argument has continued to include more mundane crimes, like theft or mugging, to help the police force’s ability to protect the public.  Cities like New York and London has cameras all over the place, in order to provide the police with the ability to be everywhere at once without having expensive massive forces.  Critics of this development however stress that it vastly increases the power of the government and invades the privacy of innocent people.  They point to things like red light cameras (which anyone on long island would agree have become widespread lately) and to the wiretapping scandal of the Bush administration, as examples of government overstepping their power and infringing on the rights of the American people.  They fear that these developments will lead to a more authoritarian and restrictive government, where people live in fear of disobeying their political leaders.  Shows like LOST have functioned as allegories for Bentham and Foucault’s panopticon, as has the incredible rise of “reality television” like Survivor or even HBO’s taxicab confessions.  Nothing has proven to be more exemplary of the panopticon than the internet and popularity of cellular phones, where at any time anything we do can be recorded and displayed for all to see.  In that way, perhaps the internet is a popular panopticon, where anyone can be watching anyone else, but that is a topic for another day.            

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Garfinkel - Indexicality

Garfinkel - Indexicality 

Turner (1974) defines indexicality as “the intelligibility of what is said rests upon the hearer’s ability to make out what is meant from what is said according to methods which are tacitly relied upon by both speaker and hearer. These methods involve the continual invocation of common – sense knowledge and of context as resources with which to make definite use of indefinite descriptive terms”. In other words, it is the way an individual uses a particular word for a specific meaning.

Indexicality is a concept in which Garfinkel argues that even if there is shared meaning, either attached to an object, within conversation, gestures etc, the individual meanings may still help and shape the emergent meanings. In a conversation, an individual would understand a description with a meaning for the speaker – who which then assumes that the meaning is the same for the listener. Garfinkel argues that these meanings people use may not be the same between the two or more individuals involved within social interaction.

Bloch (n.d.) within his blog about Garfinkel and indexicality gives us the idea of how images have different meanings. The American flag for example shows different meanings that can come from each individual. Using this example we can go further to show how indexicality is read differently from each individual. Bloch (n.d) “perhaps the American flag has a similar meaning for two people, but if one had a son or daughter who died in battle, the meaning might be somewhat different for this individual”. The differences in meanings attached to the flag may reveal itself within conversation.

Also if we were to read the text or if someone was going to talk about America within conversation, this again is an example of indexicality, rather than an individual seeing an object and picking the meanings attached to it, they are aware of the meanings within conversation, these meanings need to be picked up by both the speaker and the listener, for the conversation to pursue and for each other to make sense of what is going on. As Garfinkel has argued that the resources people use within conversation is the knowledge and the context at which it is used.

Garfinkel moves on to the “etcetera principle” noted by Bloch (n.d), which is a kind of shortcut within conversation. For example if an individual meets their friend every Thursday night to go to the movies, at the start the conversation between the two individuals may have been quite long, such as “are you available tomorrow night? If so, do you want to go to the movies”? Garfinkel argues that the “etcetera principle” cuts this out, and after it because a regular thing, one might just say “hey, Thursday night?”  Garfinkel notes that ethnomethodologists need to understand this “etcetera principle”, in order to achieve this, many would have to listen to conversations many times to understand and to notice that this action is taking place. This is shows how individuals understand each other through shared meanings and the presence of “shared identity”, noted by Bloch (n.d).

Pickering (1992: 282) refers to Bloor (1967) who takes Garfinkel’s discussions of indexical expressions differently and argues that “we can never reach the ideal of pure objectivity in which meanings are made totally explicit and formulated in a wholly context- free way”. In other terms Bloor states that the use of words, utterances, expressions and rules are not just part the way in which individuals make sense of communicative actions, which is what Garfinkel argued. Bloor argues that these actions, these indexical expressions are what “enable us to speak plainly as well as elusively, to explain what we mean as well as to obscure it, and to speak “objectively” no less than to express a personal point of view”, noted by Pickering (1992: 282)

Garfinkel refers to the ‘indexicality of everyday life’, which noted by Kirby et al (2000: 535) is “the meanings of particular words can be understood only in the particular context in which they appear”. Garfinkel argues that through the process of “glossing” – we have to become more aware and engage fully in every word used by individuals, from there we can then construct a relevant meaning to it.  The process of “glossing” ,  Kirby et al (2000: 535) notes is “the way human society is constructed through the active construction of meanings through interactions, and that people are ‘reflexive’, to use Garfinkel’s term”.

Although Garfinkel’s view has been questioned, it is still a useful concept to show how ethnomethodologists make sense of individual’s meanings attached to words, objects, gestures etc. As well as this, how each individual have their own meanings to words for example and talking to a stranger will be different to an individual talking to their friend, because of shared identity, and shared meanings. As well as these ethnomethodologists as mentioned before have to take into consideration, the etcetera principle to achieve a full insight into the way each individual uses words, of shorted sentences, which for one would not be understandable, but for another would make sense.
The photo represents different meanings depending on the individual. Within Garfinkel’s concept of indexicality he argues that individuals see the meanings behind something differently. Using the example of the American flag – one can perceive it as having an entirely different meaning compared to another. If one was to see the American flag, one could argue that it reminds them of a relative dying in battle and therefore sees it as a negative image, icon. Another may see it as meaning something different, such as to do with money, wall street, capital, the white house, the president for example.

Bloch, Jon P. (n.d.) “Harold Garfinkel”. Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology. Retrieved 28 November 2012. ( )
Kirby, M, Kidd, W et al (2000), Sociology in perspective (Oxford, Heinemann Educational Publishers: UK) Retrieved 6 December 2012. (
Pickering, A. (1992)  Science as Practice and Culture. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Turner, Roy 1974 (ed.), Ethnomethodology (Middlesex:  Penquin,). Retrieved 28 November 2012. (

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Value Proposition: George Homans (Blog #5)

Walking my dog could benefit his health and mine.  If I don't, I'll be the embarrassed owner of an overweight dog and I'll personally have my own insecurities about my health too.

According to Homans, when it comes to talking about values that is the definite reason why people display their actions.  There has to be a value to what they are doing. Individuals will not do something if they are not affected by it positively. In other words, “the more highly valued a particular result, the more likely a person is to perform that action” (Allan 2011: Pp. 299). It is a voluntary behavior for all people to perform actions, in order to reap some sort of benefit.  We always want to feel good doing something.  That good feeling can be personal or just because it is in our nature to make someone else feel good, by performing a good deed. Homans goes into the type of values humans may display.  The good values are called rewards and the bad values are called punishments. The increase of a reward would make a person perform an action.  However, the increase of a punishment will decrease the performance of that action.  For example, if a child plays well with other children in front of his or her parents, he will not get penalized and he or she will have plenty of friends.  That child will be receiving the reward of popularity among others and satisfaction from his or her parents.  Now, if hat child was being mean to other children and was caught physically harming another child, that child will be scolded by his or her parents.  The child may also not have many friends.  Being excluded is a very bad punishment, especially for a child. “The results of one’s action have positive value when they result in pleasure or reward and the results are negative when they end in punishment” (Moyers 1996: Pp. 149).  Therefore, once that child has been scolded and noticed how no one wants to interact with him or her, he or she will not behavior negatively anymore.  Homans also explicated the two classes of rewards and punishment.  The two classes for rewards are the intrinsic reward and the avoidance of punishment. The two classes of punishment are called the intrinsic punishment and the withholding of reward.  The punishment is very essential when it comes to a person’s behavior.  The punishment value motivates the individual to perform actions that will give those rewards. If they don’t behave poorly, how will they ever know how great receiving a reward is?  After being punished for behaving poorly with his or her playmates, the child will now change his or her behavior positively in order to experience the result of receiving rewards.  Rewards can vary.  The child will not only make friends, after apologizing to his or her playmates, he or she will also be treated differently by his or her parents; in a nice and accepting way of course. Homans introduces the concepts of rewards, costs, and profit. Homans suggests that “a person weighs the rewards against the costs of any potential action, and he or she then endeavors to gain a profit” (Moyers 1996: Pp. 149). Homans defined the cost as the interaction individuals have with one another or just the action itself. For example, the cost of myself, interacting with, let’s say, my dog, one of us will receive a reward of the action.  It costs my energy and time to play with my dog.  My dog reaps the benefits and the reward by enjoying of my company.  The profit I will gain can be anything I believe I will get out of playing with my dog.  It could improve my health change my mood by playing outside and being active.   The reward for my action makes my parents happy that I’m not playing video games and being a couch potato.  Instead, I’m outside playing with my dog, who is extremely happy that he has someone to play with. This example can relate to the frustration-aggression proposition by Homans.  Basically, “if a person doesn’t receive the response he or she expects or receives punishment when expecting a reward, the person will become angry and tend to act out aggressively” (Allan 2011: Pp. 300).  If I did not play with my dog, my dog could have acted aggressively by biting me or just barking in an angry stance. Incorporating everything together, the reward is the dog going out to play with his owner, the cost is the owner’s own laziness of rather watching television than going outside, and the profit is that the owner is being more active and it will definitely change his overall health.  Relating all of this back to the value proposition, the benefit of playing with his dog will not only make his dog happy, but the act of playing can make him happy too.  That is a positive reward of plying with one’s dog.  On the other hand, if the owner did not play with his dog, a different way of looking at it could show that the man would have a very expensive electricity bill by staying indoors.  Also, his dog will be just as lazy and unhealthy as the he is. 

Allan, Kenneth. 2011. The Social Lens: An Invitation to Social and Sociological Theory.
Thousand Oaks, California: Pine Forge Press
Moyers, Tony L. 1996. Wanderings: Exploring Moral Landscapes Past and Present
            Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, Inc.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Garfinkel - Reflexivity

Blog 4 – Reflexivity
Bloch (n.d.) notes that “accounts are reflexive, in the sense that the observations we make can alter the social meaning of what we are talking about as a conversation unfolds”. Anything an individual may talk about is always open and to redefinition.  The concept of “reflexivity” denotes an object’s relation to itself. For example people who wait in line for a bus, or to pay for goods, we can see a person is doing this; by the way they position their bodies. As well as this the individuals who are waiting in line will be able to answer and understand a question like “are you in this queue?” or “are you standing in line”? Garfinkel notes that the ability to express and understand any activity is an essential part of an action involved within a conversation.  Turner (1974) “in ordinary usage, reflexivity refers to the capacity of something to turn back upon itself”. Turner (1974) also noted that ethnomethodologists hold “that rules (again constructed widely) reflexively constitute the activities and unfolding circumstances to which they are applied”.

Heritage (1984: 242) notes “Reflexivity means that members shape their actions in relation to context, while context is being redefined through actions”. As an example, using coffee as a taste descriptor, the descriptors operate in a way to shape their actions, to find in the coffee what they mean.
One individual has meanings different to others, and the way they observe is usually very different, Bloch (n.d.) notes that Garfinkel argues that “anything is subject to redefinition”. For example, a sales person advertises a discounted food, of which the individual can reply “that sounds great, what a great deal”, or “why is this so cheap, is there something wrong with your food”?  In either case, the meaning of getting a good deal on food has changed – it is reflexive in nature, as it is dependent upon how people define it.
Tools such as video or tape recorders are used by ethnomethodologists because they are indispensable, the ethnomethodologist will be able to listen and observe the recorded content and explore the interactions that take place and the social meanings within the conversations.

The way people take pauses within conversations when interacting with one another can have very different meanings depending on the environment, and what’s being said between the individuals. When individuals say “um” a lot or “uhs” when making a speech about an important person to other people that has passed away, to the individual these pauses could be due to nervousness, or even to one extreme the individual didn't like the person. If we take it as being nervousness, the audience that is listening could interpret that meaning entirely different.

This reflexivity concept goes back to what was discussed in the first blog, of Garfinkel’s breaching experiment. In his most famous breaching experiment, it “involved instructing his students to behave more politely than would be expected toward their parents”, noted by Bloch (n.d.)Garfinkel found in his experiment that when individuals have been confronted with behavior unexpectedly, they would in most cases see what’s actually wrong with another individual. For example, if you were to say “hello” to a friend or family member, and they quickly respond with “good bye”, we would know that something was wrong with the other individual. Garfinkel argues that if an individual says something irrelevant or unexpected, the individual would try to get the conversation back on track. Bloch (n.d.) notes that “these efforts to realign conversation to the meanings that heretofore had seemed the emergent ones are called repair sequences”.

Reflexivity refers to the process where by individuals create social reality through actions and thoughts.  Garfinkel (2005) argues that “human interaction is reflexive in that humans interpret cues, gestures, words, and other information from one another in order to sustain reality”. Anything and everything is interpreted differently by every individual. As explained before the ways in which we say something can determine how a conversation will go on, be interrupted due to unexpected response, or finished. Ethnomethodologists look for ways in how conversations have meaning through interaction, as well as how people define the meanings and actions that take place. Referring to the breaching experiment, which looked in how breaking social norms can have an effect in society, it’s the same here, when we change the social norm, such as say “good bye” to someone after they have said “hello” because it is an unexpected response, it can be interpreted differently from the other individual. One may think there is something wrong, they don’t want to talk, or they are being rude.

Bloch, Jon P. (n.d.) “Harold Garfinkel”. Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology. Retrieved 28 November 2012. (
Garfinkel, Harold. 2005-2006. “World of Sociology on Harold Garfinkel”. Bookrags.  Retrieved 27 November 2012. (
Heritage, John. 1984, Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology. Cambridge, U.K: Polity Press.
Turner, Roy 1974 (ed.), Ethnomethodology (Middlesex:  Penquin,). Retrieved 28 November 2012. (

Friday, November 30, 2012

post structuralism

ceci n'est pas une pipe


le duex msteres

Foucault’s theories are often referred to as being both a structuralist and as a post sturcturalist. While the two theories are obviously related (see the names of the two theories), post structuralism makes a distinct turn away from structuralism, through theorists like Jacques Derida and Michel Foucault.  Before analyzing the aspects of structuralism and post structuralism in the work of Michel Foucault, an explanation of the two theories is necessary.  Structuralism comes from the theories of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, who studied what he called the arbitrary “connection between the signifier and the signified” (Kronenfeld and Decker 1979:5).  Famously Saussure gave the example of a tree.  The word tree has nothing to do with the object tree, the connection made between the word (signifier) and tree (signified) is made through socialization with the community, language as cultural; “a human construction no single human can change” (Kronenfeld and Decker 1979:9).  A key feature of this theory is that signs only make sense in relation to other signs.  Other theorists, especially Claude Levi-Strauss, expanded off of Saussure’s base, by applying structuralism to fields other than linguistics like anthropology.  Strauss, in his work on myths, “abstracted out frozen and complete synchronic states from the inconsistencies and flux that occur in any actual system as a result of normal and constant diachronic change… [providing] a formal analysis”(Kronenfeld and Decker 1979:20).  Strauss’s application of structuralism was immensely influential on social theory.  Post structuralism on the other hand posits that we “are beings that are culturally constituted by interpretive frameworks or interpretive strategies that our culture makes available to us, and these strategies are the only way that we have of conceiving who we are, of thinking or of having a ‘self.’ The objects of our gaze are likewise constituted by these interpretive strategies”(Tompkins 1988:734).  The post sturcturalist thinker Derrida makes this argument in his essay Différance, where Derrida develops his concept of difference which he refers to as “what makes possible the presentation of being-present”, “the possibility of opposition”.  Différance is fundamentally undefinable, as it is the process that makes binary opposition, and language, possible.   (Tompkins 1988:741)  In this incredibly complex (and quite honestly often incoherent) work, Derrida essentially argues that the binary pairs, the oppositions from which language is based on, leaves out meaning.  He is building off of structuralism and the understanding of language as existing in a relation of meaning between words, but attacks (deconstructs) this relation, as words are always understood by relations to other words, and those words are then understood by relations to other words and so on ad infinitum.  There is never a final meaning, a word understood in and of itself.  Instead post structuralisism looks at these oppositions to find meaning instead in their difference.  This isn’t an easy concept to comprehend, as it attacks the very way we think and make sense of the world.
So where does Foucault fit into all of this? Poststructuralists look at discourse, to see how meaning is defined, something that Foucault certainly does in his works. (see history of sexuality, history of madness)  Like Saussure and Derrida, Foucault does look at meaning as existing in a system of other meaning, as being relational in nature.  In his work on madness, Focualt sees how the discourse of madness defines what it is to be mad, and how that meaning changes.  This is one of the most crucial implications of post structuralism, that meaning is not static, but dynamic.  For post structuralists there cannot be any single truth, as all meaning is relational and dynamic and since language is inherently incapable of conveying truth, due to post structuralism’s rejection of the binary opposition.  Furthermore, inherent to post structuralism is a concept of power and hierarchy.  The structures of meaning, according to post structuralists, create hierarchy, a more and a less; the binary opposition, of dominator and dominated, comes from the structure of meaning.  This makes the analysis and deconstruction of power structures central to post structuralism, and it certainly is central to Foucault’s work.  In his short work, This is not a pipe, Foucault discusses Rene Magritte’s famous work, itself translated as this is not a pipe, which depicts a pipe with the sentence this is not a pipe (see picture above).  For Foucalt, the seemingly contradictory nature of the painting comes from the conventions of language, the structural nature of language which relates the object (pipe) to the statement (this is not a pipe).  The actual logical contradiction comes, not from the object or statement, but from the method of relating the two.  This is post structuralism.    

The Stimulus Proposition: George Homans (Blog #4)

This person began making videos under the name WhatYouOughtToKnow.  He probably started off with one video, concerning gay marriage.  After receiving a lot of views, he decided to repeat his action by making more videos.  He considered the reward would be popularity   He began to generalize his videos by making them on different topics, such as gay marriage, hiccups, and even facebook personas. He discriminated by making videos on other subjects that would be considered not as important as gay marriage or liberals vs. conservatives.  He branched out so he could gain more subscribers and more fame. 

In the book, Elementary Forms of Social Behavior, by George Homans, he wrote about a list of propositions.  One of them was called the stimulus proposition.  In this proposition, the significant aspect is pointing out the outcome of an action and the circumstances attending it.  The outcomes of the action are interpreted through voluntary or operant behavior.  The circumstances are referred to as the stimuli.  What’s unique about the stimulus proposition is that it is represented in a quasi-statistical form.  Homans used a great example concerning a fisherman fishing in a dark pool.  If a fisherman caught a fish in a dark pool, there is a probability that he will do so again.  “This proposition assumes that an individual has the cognitive capacity to discriminate among stimuli and generalize from one stimulus-context to another” (Rhoads 1991: Pp. 208).   The stimulus proposition proposes that when an individual receives a reward after performing a certain action, that individual will perform that same action again.  If there is a success in performing a certain action, the present stimuli will repeat the stimuli from the past.  In the stimulus proposition, Homans also discussed the “psychological questions of stimulus generalization and stimulus discrimination as these processes may occur in the actor” (Skidmore 1975: Pp. 21). Going back to the previous example by Homans, the fisherman’s action can be generalized.  After catching fish in the dark pool, he may want to try other forms or techniques of fishing to make him a better fisherman in all aspects of fishing.  However, since he was good at catching something as a sport, he may want to try other related sports.  The fisherman can practice hunting or anything else wildlife related. To be more specific, the fisherman can probably try diffident types of fishing rods or different types of bait to be more successful when catching fish. However, as the fisherman tries different ways of fishing, his stimuli then becomes discriminated.  “The argument runs to the effect that as the actor himself more finely discriminates situations, so the rewarding properties of them are more closely discriminated” (Skidmore 1975: Pp. 21). In other words, when the fisherman starts to generalize other forms of fishing, and maybe trying other related sports, the stimuli, that controls his behavior, begins to be much discriminated. Instead of focusing on his previous technique, catching fish in the dark pool, he tends to find other techniques in order to strengthen his performance.  By strengthening his performances he hopes to gain more rewards, in this case, catching more fish. “An individual’s expectation is determined by the rewards and punishments he did in fact receive or saw others receive in similar circumstances” (Rhoads 1991: Pp. 210).  The fisherman’s main goal is to receive rewards.  He wants to catch more fish.  There is a relationship between the stimulus and the action, concerning the reward.  According to Homans, if the stimulus takes too long, following the action, the individual will not make a connection.  In other words, if the fisherman doesn't realize that after catching a fish in the dark pool means that if he repeated doing so would give him the possibility of catching more fish, he would not receive long-term rewards.  He won’t go back to the dark pool; instead, he will go somewhere else where he might not catch any fish. When it comes to the rewards, the better it is, the individual will might become more sensitive to the stimuli.  It all depends on the value of the benefit.  Catching a small herring would be different form catching a swordfish, wither form the same dark pool or catching it from another area. I agree with Homans stimulus proposition.  It is true that when someone does something that gives them a reward they are more likely to do the exact same thing again.  However, they might also try other strategies to gain higher valued rewards.  Here’s a simpler example.  As a student, if I received a high average on a test after studying every day, it would provoke me to repeat the action by studying every day. However, the stimulus that makes me want to study constantly can also be discriminated. Instead of studying every day, I could use other methods of studying.  I could study twice a week or use different techniques when studying.  If all I did was read the textbook, this time, I could use flashcards and form study groups with friends. These different methods are generalized from the former method I once used to study from.  All I basically want, all in all, is to receive a reward. The reward is getting a high average on my test.  All I have to do is repeat the same steps I've originally done that got me a high score in the first place. 

Rhoades, John K. 1991.  Critical Issues in Social Theory. USA: The Pennsylvania State University
Skidmore, W. L. 1975. Sociology's Models of Man: The Relationships of Models of Man to    
         Sociological Explanation in Three Sociological Theories. New York, New York: Gordon &   
          Breach Science Publishers, Inc.