Archive for November 12th, 2010

Identity (Post 3 – Statuses and Roles, and an Anthropological view on the Self)   no comments

Posted at 8:38 pm in Uncategorized

This week I have continued reading Small Places, Large Issues by Thomas Hylland Eriksen. After covering the introductory sections as last week, I wondered whether to skip forward to the chapters later in the book that the index points to for ‘Identity’, or to continue linearly from the beginning. After quickly skimming through the upcoming chapter, it seemed there was a lot of relevant material, so I continued on as before.

Titled “The Social Person” I had a feeling that this chapter could contain a lot of material that could be linked to Identity. Indeed one of the first issues covered is that of the different dimensions of human existence. These are divided into four categories in the following way:

Culture:            Cultural Universals            Cultural Variation

Nature:            Genetic Universals            Genetic Differences

The bottom two sections cover biological features in humans, which do not feature much in anthropologic research. However, the top sections are important and fundamental to anthropology, as there is much variation between humans that cannot be accounted for through genetic variation.

The next big point made is regarding language, and how although it is sometimes assumed that language is uniform across a whole group, it can be found that there is as much linguistic variation within the group.

The book then goes on to describe statuses and roles that account for the rights and duties that an individual may hold in relation to others, and which can vary depending on the situation. The example used to explain this is that of a bus driver, the driver’s status is ‘Bus Driver’, whereas his role is defined by what one does as a bus driver. The work of Goffman (1978 [1959]) is referenced in order to explain how one may switch between roles using “impression management” to appear a specific way in a certain situation. It is then stated that Goffman’s main idea is that social conventions define everything an individual does as a “social creature”. Everything one does follows culturally or socially defined rules.

One area that I read about last week, and didn’t include in my post is the distinction between a view from the inside of a culture, and the view from the outside. Two terms are used for this: emic and etic. Emic describes life as a member of a particular society experiences it, whereas the etic level is the analytical description of a researcher after observing a society. Taking this into account, Goffman’s role theory is an etic explanation as it as an abstraction of the processes of social life.

I was interested to read the next section, which moved on to talking about the Self. A distinction is made between the public and private self, with the “I” being the private self as seen from the inside, which isn’t easily assessed by anthropologists. This is something which I am certain will be covered when I begin to tackle Psychology, and will be an important area to compare and contrast the two disciplines. I am glad I decided to continue reading linearly, as with no reference to this section under Identity in the index I may well have missed it, although the concepts of the Self seem central to the issue of Identity. Maybe I am mistaken, and this will be cleared up once I read the main Identity section.

The biggest idea I took away from this section on the Self is the work of Brian Morris (1994) who distinguished three areas of personhood. Firstly, a person may be identified as a conscious and social human being, and is something which seems to be universal. Secondly, a person may be categorised as a cultural category, which the author explains may be more or less inclusive than the first point – some societies will exclude strangers for example from full personhood, but in others it may be that “non-human” entities may be included. Finally, there is the “I as opposed to others” component, which, depending on the culture, is interpreted differently.

Having advanced further into the realms of anthropology, I then decided to take another anthropology book, this time Cultural Anthropology: A Contemporary Perspective by Roger M. Keesing and Andrew J. Strathern, and skim through the opening few chapters. My reason for this was to ensure that I had covered the same basic points relating to anthropology. Familiar topics such as the difficulty in defining culture, ethnocentrism, ethnography and social roles all appeared, giving me a fairly good boost of confidence that makes me think I’m heading in the right direction with anthropology.

Written by Chris P on November 12th, 2010

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The British empire isn’t dead, It’s just gone digital   no comments

Posted at 7:26 pm in Economics,Sociology

This week, I went historic.

As part of my sociology reading, it was apparent that societies do not just exist in isolation, but rather are the product of thousands of years of traditions and culture. A central theme suggested by Gidden’s is that society is the product of uncertainty, when individuals work together they increase their chances of success. In response to this, society can be seen as having evolved in distinct epochs, hunter-gatherers, pastoral and agrarian societies, traditional non-industrial, post industrial or modern societies, and post modern information age societies. Not all societies evolve at the same pace, if at all, with external factors influencing their development. According to Kautsky (1999) traditional societies were based on the desire to create an empire, for control of limited resources. Post industrial revolution, there was a mass exodus of labour from the countryside and a migration in to cities which became large population centres, with this migration came a shift in social life, as people became one of many, the majority of relations became impersonal.

In response to the decline of traditional communities, a new community was formed, with the rise of the nation state, individuals felt part of a much larger society, as such rather than being a member of a village they became English, or French, or Spanish. (As an aside historically Italy and Germany became states long after most of Europe, and they remained city states far longer) The rise of the nation states gave far more influence to the relative governments, allowing for the start of national agendas.

The growth of nation states allowed for the expansion of western imperialism, founded primarily on fortune and firepower, nations were far stronger, both in terms of sheer productivity, and technology, such as gunpowder based military, than those who opposed them, the subsequent result was the rise of colonial superpowers, with the rise of the British and French colonial empires, based on trade. The Spanish empire, which had embarked on imperialism based primarily on looting rather than trade, had failed to innovate and was in decline by this time. Colonialism was driven primarily by economics, and central to capitalism was a growth of inequality and poverty, western powers became richer at the expense of indigenous populations, helping to create the third world. It has been found that societies that industrialised in the modern age have had some of the largest groths ever recorded, for example South Korea is now one of the worlds leading exporters of modern goods, despite being an agricultural society until post the Korean war, in the 1950s, of course western investment has acted to encourage this growth, with the US investing billions to turn the nation into a capitalist paradise, as a result of the Cold war.

So what causes theses societies to change? Unfortunately there is no one theory on this, but rather societal change is influenced by culture, physical environment and politics. Factors such as religion influences cultural, these can act to enhance or reduce the speed of change, such as the demands to translate the Latin bible into English in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, resulting in increased literacy rates for the average population. Culture is also influenced by communication technology, mass communication has encouraged the growth of societies, from the invention of the printing press to the development of the internet. One of the largest influences on culture is the individuals that govern, and influence them, leaders can be seen as an extension of societal desires, a true embodiment of the culture, leaders can be great war leaders, such as Napoleon, or Caesar, scientific and industrial innovators such as Newton or Brunel, or great social motivators, such as Ghandi, Washington or even Jesus. Physical environment motivates social trends due to limited resources, the ancient Egyptian empire relied on agriculture as there were insufficient  animals to hunt, whereas native Americans were never encouraged to develop farming based communities due to an excess of bison and buffalo, natural resources also encourage conflict as imperial powers attempt to gain advantage. The influence of politics is also a complex relationship, Marxist theory states that politics are a direct consequence of the economic nature of a society, however there are examples where fundamentally different political organisations have both used capitalists economies, such as Nazi Germany and the US. A far clearer link can be seen as the ultimate expression of political will and its affect on society, the military. Countries like the USSR and North Korea invested vast sums of capital into the development of military might, resulting in a twofold impact on society, due to limited finite resources, investment into the military reduced investment into the welfare and productivity of the nation, having a negative impact on growth, secondly strong aggressive military can lead to a reduction in individual freedoms, acting to reduce creative innovation.

 So how does all this relate to the modern world and economics? The western world has emerged due to a decline of traditionalism and a growth of rationalism, key to capitalism is the idea of self improvement, the same idea that drove individuals into the cities is still driving the desires of millions today, the growth of communication technology has freed the individual, people are free to develop their own distinct personality, and own identity. The growth of the same technology has increased the power of the state, allowing governments alter the lives of many in sweeping decisions, such as mass cuts to public spending. The society we live in today may be fundamentally different to societies of the past, but we are the product of our history.

The modern post industrial world is based on globalisation, driven mainly by the growth of ITC and the web. Globalisation has allowed individuals to transcend national borders and have a far greater sense of social responsibility across the globe, for example the web has allowed real time images of natural disasters on the opposite side of the globe, encouraging people to try and help, despite individuals ever likely to even visit the country in question. Wars are no longer fought with the aim of territorial gain, but to protect rights, usually based on western morality. Many have suggested that the web has brought the world closer, but all this has achieved is the flattening of culture, to be replaced by a global culture, based on an Anglo-American ideal, the British empire is far from dead, it just went digital. English is by far the global language of trade, the global language of the web, western imperialism could still be seen as alive and well. Globalisation is the complex marriage of society, economics, technology, and individualism, ideals which the west have long encourage and developed. Trade may have brought prosperity to many second world nations like China, but in an increasingly weightless economy (Quah,1999) the west still holds most of the trump cards.  

It is impossible to truly separate sociology and economics, they are intrinsically linked.

Written by ca306 on November 12th, 2010