Archive for November 2nd, 2010
My reading this week has focused on gaining a basic understanding of some of the underlying concepts on anthropology, before I turn to look at Identity from this point of view. I have started by reading “Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology” by Thomas Hylland Eriksen, from which some of the elementary points I have gained are described below.
One of the primary issues described immediately is that of ethnocentrism which occurs when a researcher examines a subject from only the point of view of their own background, and will therefore only describe it from their own culture’s perspective. This can lead to the researcher believing that their own cultural group may be superior to the group which they are researching, as they are only looking at it in comparison to what they are familiar with (pages 6-7). In contrast to this, cultural realism would state that “Cultures are qualitatively different and have their own unique inner logic”, and that ranking can not be used to distinguish different societies. Ultimately, cultural realism would believe that as long as something makes sense in a particular context, then it is as good as everything else, and it is not likely that this is followed by anyone completely outside of their line of work (page 7).
The book then began to cover a brief overview of the history of anthropology, and one concept immediately struck me as having relevance towards Identity, but according to the book it has never been part of the mainstream anthropological thinking outside of Germany. Diffusionism, “the doctrine of the historical diffusion of cultural traits”, seems to have been left behind after the First World War when studies on societies where taken without looking into the historical development of those societies (page 13). In terms of Identity, I believe there must be something in this area about the historical basis of a culture’s identity, so it is something I will investigate – the globalisation theory is reminiscent of diffusionism and “attempts to understand the ways in which modern mass communications, migration, capitalism and other ‘global’ phenomena interact with local conditions” and will also be worth looking at.
The final concept I will cover in this post is ethnography, which aims to develop a thorough understanding of the culture or society being investigated (page 24). It is the fundamental research gathering technique used by anthropology, and is generally where differences can be drawn with other social sciences as the study will generally cover a long period of time. The author uses a good analogy to differentiate anthropological views and historical views: “Anthropology may be described as the process whereby one wades into a river and explores it as it flows by, whereas historians are forced to study the dry riverbed.” However it is stressed that the two should not be seen as mutually exclusive, throwing weight behind my theory that looking at diffusionism may be of value in this study (page 33).
Now that I have at least some understanding of the basic concepts behind anthropology, I will this week begin to look a bit more at how Identity is seen from this discipline, and what other areas of the subject I will need to look at.
This past week I have continued to read further into my two disciplines of Psychology and Politics and how they relate to the issue of Privacy. For Psychology I have largely focused on the ‘Handbook of Self and Identity’ in order to gain more of an understanding of the psychological phenomena that constitutes ‘the self’. I was rather surprised to discover that this notion has only really been in prominence since the 1970′s and yet it is an issue that was given recognition Millenia ago by infamous thinkers such as Plato and Buddha! However it is noted that when attempting to determine the meaning of ‘self’ there is no single, universally accepted definition and that amongst the numerous definitions that have been offered, different definitions relate to different phenomena.
In accordance with the area of ‘self’ there is the notion of ‘the reflected self’ whereby an individual adjusts how their behaviour appears to others. The chapter: ‘The Reflected Self: Creating yourself as (you think) others see you by Dianne M. Tice and Harry M. Wallace is especially insightful and informative in this area. They explore the idea provided by C.H Cooley (1902), that the ‘self’ develops in reference to others within the social environment; ties in with the concept that it is created by reflecting the views that others are perceived to have of that person. The theory of ‘the looking glass’ is also imperative in this study.
Already referred to in my previous Blog. I have decided to start my initial investigation into Politics and potential political theories and policies which may be privacy related; by looking at security matters. For this I have been reading ‘Contemporary Security Studies’. Firstly I have tried to establish what is security. A simplistic definition is ‘something to do with threats to survival’, however this encompasses a wealth of issues ranging from war and the threat of war to pandemics and terrorism. Particular theories that are appearing relevant at this juncture are Realism and Liberalism: traditional approaches which were the main focus for security studies during the 19th Century, Human Security: which focuses on the need for humans to feel secure and Securitization which was developed by the Copenhagen School’: which places primary importance on determining how an issue becomes that of a security issue by how it is articulated for e.g. something may become a security issue due to the fact political leaders and or Governments have convinced their audiences that it represents a threat to our existence and thus requires emergency powers.
I am also reading books about privacy in light of technological advances and I am currently halfway through ‘Blown to Bits’ and once I have finished with that I have ‘The Digital Person’ by Daniel J. Solove. Thanks to Olivier I also have Journal articles relating to privacy to peruse too, so I have plenty of information to digest over the next week…….
Giddens, A (2006): Sociology: 5th Edition.Cambridge: Polity.
Aitchison, J (1972): Lingusitics, An Introduction. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Trudgill, P (1983): Sociolinguistics: An Introduction to Language and Society. London: Penguin.
My reading this week has focused on an introduction to the disciplines that I am studying, Linguistics and Sociology.
Sociology is a scientific study of human social life, our communities and the things we do as individuals within a community or as a whole society. In order to study sociology, one must possess what is described as a ‘sociological imagination’, in order to perceive the meanings behind actions. Individual actions, no matter how trivial, all have behind them a process of social development and decision making which has brought the actor to make the decision. For example; A soldier might find himself in a foreign land, fighting a war for his country, as a result of a number of social factors and influences which have been impressed upon him since childhood, perhaps even before his birth. Sociology aims to identify these processes and record them, in order to discover and document what causes and sustains the societies we find ourselves in, and in many cases propose ways in which we might change or manipulate these causes, for the betterment of our individual lives and of our societies.
While it is hard to establish a birthday for sociology, it is commonly agreed that this science emerged and developed alongside the French and Industrial Revolutions of the late 18th Century, and was initially an observational science, documenting the social changes that were occurring in these turbulent times of mass population migration and class stratification.
Sociology has several key theorists at its base. In brief, they are:
- Auguste Comte (1798-1857): Developed sociology as a positive (observational) science.
- Emile Durkheim (1858-1917): Developed empirical sociology. Durkheim was especially interested in community and solidarity, and was the first scientist to link the social environment to individual actions in a famous study detailing the causes of suicide.
- Karl Marx (1818-83): His ideas of capitalism and worker-capitalist relationships were a driving force in politicising sociology and identifying classes.
- Max Weber (1864-1920): Disagreed with Marx that sociology should focus on economics and social class. Sociology should focus on the ideas and beliefs that drive social change, whatever they may be. For example capitalism has its roots in advances in science, engineering and bureaucracy.
I will talk in more detail about these theorists and their contributions to sociology (as well as ways in which their theories relate to my topic of organisation) in later blog postings.
In more recent times, sociology has developed further theoretical approaches, such as functionalism (studying the underlying norms of society), symbolic interactionism (the role of language and symbols, such as smiling, in society), microsociology (individual actions) and macrosociology (large scale social systems). All of these approaches are identified by their own theorists and methodologies, but can be seen to adhere to an overarching rule of sociology, that societies possess external and internal norms which influence, if not dictate, their development. Sociology does not pretend to identify all these norms, but all fields of sociology are concerned with discovering these core rules.
Linguistics is, first and foremost, not the learning of languages. It is the observational study of language as a tool for human communication. Linguists are very much concerned with observing the evolution, usage and semantics of language, and are not to be thought of as enforcers of a ‘best’ language. Indeed, linguists make it clear that all forms of language are equal in their importance; there is no one language better than the other.
Language is the pre-requisite for information collection; humans are born with the ability to learn language but, unlike animals, must be taught its use. Language varies widely over geographical distances, with different language structures existing over large distances, and over shorter distances, various dialects(grammatical differences) and accents (pronunciation differences), subsets of a common language. Differences in language can be used to show different perceptions of the world around us in various cultures and societies, a famous example of this being the many different types of word for “snow” in the Inuit tribes of North America, who live in an environment that necessitates a precise description for different types of snow.
Linguistics has a wide scope of study, concerned with understanding:
- Phonetics: the study of human speech sounds.
- Phonology: the study of sound patterns.
- Syntax: the study of word formation
- Semantics: the study of meaning.
And has many schools of thought within, such as:
- Psycholinguistics: language and the mind.
- Sociolinguistics: language and society
- Applied linguistics: application of linguistics to society.
- Stylistics: language and literature
- Anthropological linguistics: language in cross-cultural settings.
- Philosophical linguistics: language and logical thought.
- Historical linguistics: Language change.
Linguistics is, therefore, very much concerned with uncovering what its foremost contemporary academic, Noam Chomsky, calls the ‘Universal Core’ of language. The set of universal rules and norms which exist in all societies and form the structure of all language, distinguishing humans from animals.
In this preparatory reading, I have discovered that both sociology and linguistics share a common ground in terms of their quest to observe and record the changes in the social activities of humans. Sociology appears to ask “Why are humans social?”, observes the actions and consequences of social organisation, and attempts to identify the processes behind them. Linguistics asks “Why can humans be social?” and observes language as the information sharing glue that binds our society together and ultimately leads to the social actions and consequences which sociology observes. In sociology, language may be seen as one of many processes influencing an action, but linguistics sees language as the core building block of all that is social, and it is important to acknowledge this in order to separate the disciplines.
It is clear that both these subjects have much to tell us about the concept of organisation, and in later blog posts I’ll be linking their relevance to the World Wide Web.
For my next blog post, I’ll be discussing linguistics in more detail, in particular the structure and purpose of language, and how important it is in defining social groups.