Decolonize ALL The Things

The UNsettling reflections of a Decolonial Scientist in a Constant State of Rage

Structure & Agency In Contemporary Social Theory

January 31, 2017
Shay-Akil

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).

INTRODUCTION

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

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

Labour & The Self

January 31, 2017
Shay-Akil

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.

 

INTRODUCTION

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

Summary of Classical Sociological Theory

January 31, 2017
Shay-Akil

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?

 

INTRODUCTION

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.

Continue Reading

Critical Thinking Series: Education & Colonial Assimilation

October 20, 2016
Shay-Akil

tumblr_mqgnm1poow1rgam01o1_500Introduction

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.

Continue Reading

Announcing The “Creating Healthy Masculinities” Project

September 11, 2016
Shay-Akil

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.

Continue Reading

Creating Healthy Masculinities

June 30, 2016
Shay-Akil

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:

Continue Reading

A Short List of Articles on the Impact of Intersectional Hegemony on the lives of Black People In The US

February 1, 2016
Shay-Akil

Continue Reading

An Overview of Dialectics & Historical Materialism

January 31, 2016
Shay-Akil

 

MESSAGE TO READER FROM THE AUTHOR: Below is a summary of Karl Marx’s theorizations of dialectics and historical materialism that I put together.  What I review is the main contributions of Karl Marx’s work that contributes to how many critical scholars theorize the place of capitalism and hegemony in what we see as the history of “modernity”.  This encyclopedic entry is NOT a replacement for reading Marx’s work.  Your thoughts and analysis on a text matter and you should read things for yourself to confirm and evaluate their value and context to your political ideological development.

Shay Akil

Karl Marx Encyclopedia Entry

Karl Marx’s philosophy of history is an inversion of Hegel’s ‘idealist conception of history’ that argues that society is determined at any given time by its material conditions.  Marx’s theory of historical materialism, “led him to the view that instead of the state being the basis of “civil society,” as Hegel held, civil or bourgeois society is the basis of the state” (Tucker, 1978:16).  Marx’s historical materialism reveals that no means of social reproduction can exist without the necessary material conditions.  This articulation also reveals that the very circumstances that create social phenomena also harbor the means for their demise: their contradiction. Continue Reading

D.A.T.T. Freedom School Week 4 Summary – Cishetpatriarchy, Gender, & Sexuality

August 4, 2015
Shay-Akil

Liberation Circle & Reading Summaries from D.A.T.T. Freedom School

Summer 2015 – Week 4

Cishetpatriarchy, Gender, & Sexuality

The Storify for this topic’s Liberation Circle tweet chat can be found HERE.

What is GENDER?

Gender is the range of mental and behavioral characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between and across, masculinity and femininity.  In Western societies, the accepted cultural perspective on gender views women and men as naturally and unequivocally defined categories of being with distinctive psychological & behavioral propensities that can be predicted from their reproductive function.  (The idea that women do feminine things, men do masculine things & it is just ‘natural’) (Doing Gender, West & Zimmerman, 1987:126)

What is SEX/BIOLOGICAL SEX?

Sex is a determination made through the application of socially agreed upon biological criteria for classifying persons as females or males.  The criteria for classification can be genitalia at birth or chromosomal typing before birth, and they do not necessarily agree with one another (Doing Gender, West & Zimmerman, 1987:127).  & its important to recognize that binary ‘sex’ is not supported by biology, if genes & genitalia are the criteria for binary biological sex, then even Eurowestern colonial binary biological sex is false and not supported by biological evidence.

What is SEX CATEGORY?

Placement in a sex category is achieved through application of the sex criteria, but in everyday life, categorization is established and sustained by the socially required identificatory displays that proclaim one’s membership in one or the other category.  Sex & sex category can vary independently; that is, it is possible to claim membership in a sex category even when the sex criteria are lacking (Doing Gender, West & Zimmerman, 1987).

What is SEXUALITY?

Sexuality is a person’s sexual orientation.  Many sexual orientations exist including but not limited to asexual, pansexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian, and heterosexual.  (Its important to remember that sexuality is not the same as gender or romantic orientation)  Some describe sexuality as what you do or don’t do with your genitalia.

– From Patriarchy & Gender by Shay Ture (@They_berian)

Continue Reading

D.A.T.T. Freedom School Week 3 Summary – Race & white supremacist racism

July 25, 2015
Shay-Akil

Liberation Circle & Reading Summaries from D.A.T.T. Freedom School

Summer 2015 – Week 3

Race & white supremacist racism

The Storify for this topic’s Liberation Circle tweet chat can be found HERE.

 

Summary of “Fatal Invention” by Dorothy Roberts – Chapter 1: The Invention of Race & “Racial Formation in the United States” by Michael Omi & Howard Winant – Chapter 4: The Theory of Racial Formation & Chapter 5: Racial Politics & the Racial State

In this chapter, Dorothy Roberts quickly reviews the history of the invention of “race”.  The title of the chapter alone challenges the popular notion that race has always existed along with the complete separation of racial groups till colonial contact.  Robert’s historical analysis poignantly reveals that is not the case.  Roberts points out the importance of race in settler colonial US,

“Americans are so used to filtering our impressions of people through a racial lens that we engage in this exercise automatically – as if we are merely putting a label on people to match their innate racial identities … So we force the melange of physical features and social clues into a code that tells us how to categorize each person – so as to know where each person fits in our society (Roberts, 2011:1)”.

This process of “racialization” is about making approximations about people’s cultures, behaviors, and etc..  But overall its a series of political processes.  Omi & Winant call race a “way of making up people” and also a “process of othering” (2015:105).

According to Michael Omi & Howard Winant in “Racial Formation in the United States” race is “a concept that signifies & symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies” (2015:110).  But we know from Roberts (2011) that race is not just a social construct; race is a political relationship.  Thus, race is a political conflict carried out by reference to specific types of human bodies. Racism is not something particular to the United States & race is not the same everywhere in the world. Racial categories serve particular contextual purposes depending on the society they are used in, but generally follow the base logic of the supremacy of one type of human body over all others (ordering these human bodies in a hierarchical fashion).

Race is a typology based in zoological typologies and heavily influenced by the line of thought in “the great chain of being”, a concept derived by Plato and Aristotle. Continue Reading

Blog at WordPress.com.