One of the main concerns of theorists of society in the 20th century has been the question of the relation between structure and agency. Describe three different schools of thought in social theory (make sure that you identify the main figures in relation to that question and compare each school’s views on the possibilities of social change).
The enterprise of sociology is about trying to figure out social structures. All of us think that we think independently and are autonomous individuals but there are structures in this world that contain, shape, and inform your actions. Many of them are hidden to us and sociologists highlight their presence, actions, etc.. There is structure and then there is agency and sociology then studies how they interact with one another. Below are three different schools of thought in social theory that question the relation between structure and agency: structuralism, symbolic interactionism, and post-structuralism.
Structuralism sees language as the site for the social world and where meaning is made through relational signification. Understanding language as the center of any world view then the outside world is unintelligible to us or isn’t understood about the physical and/or social without the mediation of language. We cannot have any idea about what the world is without the mediation of language. The relationship between the signifier and sign is arbitrary. The world of meaning then is constructed through a series of arbitrary relationships between the signifier and signified. The relationship between signifier and signified has nothing to do with the physical world and is just a contract between communities that generates that system of meaning.
The main theorists in the structuralist school of thought include Ferdinand de Saussure, Roland Barthes, Claude Levi-Strauss, Louis Althusser, and Pierre Bourdieu. Saussure, Barthes, and Levi-Strauss’ scholarship provides the ground work for linguistic structuralism, with the assumption that sound images corresponded to physical realities. According to Saussure, language is the product of social interaction; “for language is not complete in any speaker; it exists perfectly only within a collectivity” (Saussure 1986:14). Language is a social institution that is unlike other institutions, it is a semiological system that includes the sign and the sign-mechanisms of individuals. Sign-mechanisms represent the means of execution or rather speech while signs are social and in some way “always eludes the individual or social will” (Saussure 1986:17). Levi-Strauss saw language as more of a value than a sign. Levi-Strauss argued that when we speak of structure, we are in the realm of language and thus in the realm of the social world which represents human thought and informs human action/speech. Thus these scholars’ work theorized how language became action. Continue Reading
What is Karl Marx’s conceptualization of the self? How is it shaped by labor processes? According to Karl Marx, an individual’s self-identity influences their local context or is it always the converse? Refer to at least two contexts – for example: the workplace, neighborhood, family, etc.
Karl Marx’s conceptualization of the self can be best understood through his reflections on the impact of the labor process resulting in the alienation of the species’ being. Alienation occurs when the labour of man becomes materialized in an object as private property. This relation between man, labour, product, and property is hence also about the relationship between men. Objects are alienated because they are not produced for the worker. They are made by the worker for the capitalist and in essence a part of the worker is crystalized and sold to belong to another for the purpose of generating capital. As Robert C. Tucker elaborates, “History, particularly under modern capitalism, is seen as a story of man’s alienation in his life as producer, and communism is presented as the final transcendence of alienation via a revolution against private property” (1978:66). This reveals that everything that we see about capitalism is very much about exchanging people. Thus exploitation and alienation is about the commodification of life itself. Marx’s conception of the self then is best understood within the dialectic of alienation and unalienation (Ollman 1977). For Marx, unalienation, is a life that only exists under communism. Alienation is, “used by Marx to refer to any state of human existence which is ‘away from’ or ‘less than’ unalienation” (Ollman 1977). A person as well as their way of life can be alienated. Alienation differed though for each person based on their class position, thus their relation to the means of production: the property owners and the property-less (who have nothing to sell but their labor). Continue Reading
The basic premise of all classical sociological theory is that the contemporary world is the outcome of a transition from “traditional” to “modern” societies. Explain how Karl Marx, Max Weber, & Emile Durkheim describe this transition. How do they define the consequences of such a transition on western societies? What do they think about the future of modernity?
Sociological theory aims to understand what we know as the modern world. This is approached through understanding the transition from pre-modern or traditional societies to modern societies. The theorists commonly known as the founders or fathers of sociological theory are also three key figures in understanding this transition, its consequences, and ultimately what it will lead to in the future. Before this transition can be understood, the characteristics that define traditional and modern societies must be operationalized. Putting it into the colonial context then we can understand part of the defining characteristic of the transition to modernity as the development of the nation state (through what Cedric J. Robinson (2005) referred to as the monopoly of force that began in the 16th century). Modernity is defined by the rise of nation states and also a new conception of the individual whose thoughts and desires is independent of others. The characteristics that motivated that transition has been presented by three sociologists commonly referred to as ‘founding fathers’ of classic sociological thought.
The classical sociological canon is framed by the works of Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Emile Durkheim. Karl Marx relied on a particular understanding of historical materialism and ‘laws of history’ (Tucker 1978; Seidman 2004). Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism is a critique of Marx’s historical materialism to argue that the material conditions required to fuel capitalism are not enough and that capitalism also requires ideological formulations to help create the conditions needed to transition fully from feudalism to capitalism. Emile Durkheim on the other hand argued that transition from traditional/primitive to modern/advanced societies is an evolutionary process that requires intervention into primitive societies by advanced societies as well as natural changes.
I write this essay with the poignant words of writer and Sociology Phd student Zoe Samudzi in mind: “Donald Trump is as quintessentially American as they come. In so many ways, Trump is the president that contemporary white America deserves: he is an amalgamation of some of the worst racism, ableism, misogyny, and anti-poor attitudes and rhetoric that collectively comprise ‘American values’. Outside of Republicans’ own involvement in sexual misconduct, the party is ultimately responsible for draconian anti-choice policies over sexual reproduction, horrific discourses around rape, and a perpetual onslaught on the rights of women and gender and sexual minorities.” These words highlight a settler nation’s refusal to see that Donald Trump is and always has been NORMAL. By normal I mean just that, status quo. There is nothing about him nor his track record that deviates from America’s accepted rules about behavior. It is not taboo to be a bigot in the United States, its an accepted and expected behavioral practice and demanded in many cases. These contemporary colonial relations dominate our minds and how we teach our children to treat other human beings. White supremacy is central to how we socialize our youth and regulate adults into model citizens, designed to defend the logics of settlement and profit even at their own expense. Continue Reading
Critical inquiry is understood as a means through which you built and articulate an argument. Morrow & Weston actually do a great job of taking on some of the stigma of ‘arguing’. In their workbook for arguments, Morrow & Weston discuss the ways in which we tend to see arguments as frames of confrontation when they really function as a means through which we put forth efforts to support specific views or ideas with reasons. Without arguments, we cannot engage in informative dialogue or come to improve our understandings of the world around us. I always see knowledge and its application to my life as something that is always open to an update, there is always room for growth. If I fail to be open to logical arguments backed by good quality research (from institutions, analysis from those outside of academe &/or other formal institutions, etc.) then I will have an inaccurate understanding of how something works or how it has changed, stifling my own learning process.
What is “Creating Healthy Masculinities”?
“Creating Healthy Masculinities” is an outreach program specifically interested in providing spaces for Black men to directly confront the ways in which Black men fail to show up for Black women and in many cases perpetuate harm that leads to acts of violence against Black women (E.G. Tiarah Poyau, Jessica Hampton, Joyce Quaweay, Mary Spears, Marissa Alexander, & many others).
As an outreach program for Black men, we are focused on creating ‘healthier masculinities’ to help reduce gendered violence against Black women. This means actively discussing and strategizing ways to be ‘masculine’ and a ‘man’ that do not involve enacting harm against Black women and girls in a collective setting. This provides ways for Black men to work to confront gender essentialist attitudes in their homes, families, and in communal spaces with other men.
Below are slides from a workshop that I & a fellow Black Transman presented at the 2016 BTAC conference. The goal was for attendees to learn what gender, masculinity, and patriarchy are in relation to power dynamics in modern history. We want attendees to be able to grapple with the meaning of gender performance and how the Trans masculine community can construct healthy masculinities that are not carbon copies of the patriarchal toxic masculinity of our current society. This conversation aims to be accessible across demographics, so the goal is to speak about these issues in plain language rather than assuming everyone utilizes the same activist and/or academic vocabulary. We want to try to also incorporate interactive discussions within the workshop (e.g. what are some words that you associate with the terms: man, masculine, etc.?).
Supporting documents being used to design workshop:
Last summer was the first time that I decided to run the freedom school. I designed a syllabus, held the twitter chats, & I and my comrade Arash worked hard to get the reading summaries out to people. They have operated as great tools that allow people to grasp not just the general argument in texts but also general arguments that help them understand how society and systems operate based on historical analysis. While I think that the first way that I constructed the DATT Freedom School was useful and helpful to many people (they regularly shared their appreciation and gave their thanks), there are many of us who seek to learn this new information but we have our own reservations given tattered relationships to institutions of education and the use of education as a systematic means through which many marginalized people are told they are to learn in top-down fashions and are not seen as creators of history and new ways of being. So this summer the DATT Freedom School is going to be a Critical Thinking series. Continue Reading
I AM A GENDERQUEER BLACK TRANS MAN. I am racialized as Black, a Trans man, genderqueer, bi, & a descendant of stolen Africans on Indigenous peoples’ stolen land ALL AT THE SAME TIME. I know this may be astonishing to you but none of these things are choices. They are the social, political, and historical contexts within which I live. They just are. They don’t have a switch. They don’t click on or off. And these contexts have shaped me but I am not limited to them.
I was socialized into the wrong gender, misgendered since my birth, and socialized into a transphobic society. Just because I was misgendered as a cis woman does not mean that I know what its like to be a cis woman. I am, always have been, and always will be a Black Transman. I knew that when I was a small child, I knew that when I was terrified into having to perform cisheteronormativity. What I do know is how cis Black women are treated. That’s all, but that does not make me a cis Black woman, I have never been one.