Archive for the ‘sociologyidentity’ tag
This post will hopefully conclude the final underlying principles and theories of Anthropology, as described in Small Places, Large Issues. These latest concepts have centred on social systems and social structures, with the two being distinguished as:
- Social Systems: Sets of relationships between actors;
- Social Structures: The totality of standardised relationships in a society.
This definition of social systems relates to social networks – the relationships from a particular person, and the scale of these networks has to be considered in contemporary Anthropology as the Internet has meant that non-localised networks are of increasing importance compared to the traditionally studied small-scale societies. Rather than simply focusing on online research to study these networks, however, anthropology stresses an importance of collecting other forms of data: specifically on relationships between online activities, and other, offline, social activities. By doing this, it has been shown that the Internet/Web can surprisingly enhance people’s national and even religious identity, with the example of Trinidadians whose offline and online activities form a single entity – their identity does not seem to be being altered by the Web.
The above image displays a classification system for societies that focuses on social control. The “Group” axis classifies societies according to their social cohesion, and “Grid” on the shared knowledge in a society. A strong grid, strong group society is explained as a strictly conformist society where an individual’s identity is constructed through the public system of rights and duties. The measures on this grid can help to explain how the identity of individuals in certain societies is shaped through the social control exerted by the social system itself. A typical industrial society could fall in the weak group, weak grid sector (although they can be spread out over the graph), where members are “individualistic and anonymous, and thus others exert little social control over ego” (page 83). A counter argument is that the influence of the state on a society means that they should fall into “Strong group”, so the variation in opinions here is vast and the classifications all seem uncertain and unreliable. It appears to have more value when classifying one particular society, rather than a group such as “industrial society” which is far too vague.
There are differing schools of thought that cover the link between society and individual actors:
- Individualist thought, associated with Max Weber where anthropologists try to find out what makes people do what they do
- Collectivist thought, associated with Marx and Durkhein where anthropologists are more concerned with how society works.
Theories that focus on the actor emerged to critique structural-functionalist models in the 1950s. In these models, the individual was mainly looked over, with focus instead on social institutions. This was criticised, as it was not clear how a society could have needs and aims, and because society can only exist because of interaction – this implies that social norms must be seen as a result of interaction, and not the cause. The author summarises by stating that while structural functionalism seeks to explain cultural variation, it only succeeds in describing interrelationships.
Finally, it is described how Bourdieu examined the relationship between reflexivity or self-consciousness, action and society, resulting in a theory of “culturally conditioned agency”. “Habitus” is the term used by Bourdieu to describe “embodied culture” which enforces limitations on thought when choosing an action, and ensures that “the socially constructed world appears as natural” (page 91). This raises the question of how much of what we do and who we are is just down to habits, conventions and norms imposed on us by the society we are born in to?
As the subject matter of the book is now beginning to move away from the core anthropological theories and on to more specialised areas I will start to focus my reading on specific chapters relating to Identity to build up my knowledge of this area, before moving onto some introductory psychology texts.
So… I have chosen ‘gender’ as my topic for consideration. Why am I looking at gender? Over the past few years, whilst using social networking systems, and generally being ‘online’, I have become increasingly interested by the representation of identity online, in particular in virtual communities, and the ways in which social constructs in the real world, impact on, and in some cases dictate, social constructs in the online world. I am going to be looking at the topic of gender over the next few weeks, concentrating on the ways in which gender (and perhaps also sexuality) are represented on the web, and how traditional ideas about gender are being challenged by the way that the web ‘works’. By this I mean the ways in which the communities of the web work; how these communities communicate with one another, how they promote themselves, and how they understand one another through online profiles.
Some of the questions that I have been thinking about in the lead up to putting together my research question and looking to identify the best approaches to tackling these questions:
In some instances, is gender constructed online and then reified in the real world, rather than, as we would imagine, the other way round? Are the possibilities identified in online communities really a way to escape hegemonic gender representations? Does removal from the corporeal constraints of the real world allow for a reaffirmation of notions of gender, or do the social constructs that bind gender in the real world apply within those worlds that we have created on the web? What are the differences online between actual and perceived gender and how do these manifest themselves? How would we begin to look at these from different perspectives to try to analyse the effects of adopting different genders online, or the effects of having to abide by the gender rules online, to which you are traditionally bound offline?
Themes in online communities like dynamics, harassment, recommendations, are all impacted on by understandings and interpretations of gender. Sociology seemed like an obvious approach to tackling this issue, and I have chosen also to look at gender (and therefore identity) from the perspectives of biologists. I think that this will provide me with two seemingly diametrically opposed perspectives to the construction of gender in the real world (although I am sure that this will not be the case when I start digging into the methods and methodologies of these two disciplines), and this could lead to some useful tools for looking at the construction of gender in the online world. The use of gender to compartmentalise online users of virtual communities, for targeted advertising, gaming experiences, etc. could benefit from a better understanding of the ways in which gender can be constructed, and also deconstructed, online from both sociological and biological perspectives.
That’s all a bit repetitive! I am going to put together a more concise research question and a list of expected key readings and key discipline perspectives later, I just thought I’d get my first thoughts up while they were fresh in my mind.