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Lecture 2

Week 2 Notes

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Sociology and Anthropology
SA 100W
John Bogardus

SA 100WWeek One Introduction to the CourseRead Chap 1 Naiman Week Two Reread Chap 1 Naiman Sociology and the Study of SoceityLearning Objectives Identify the purpose of the discipline of sociologyDefine discourse and explain its relationship to narrative and powerDefine what is meant by critical analysis and explain its relationship to the construction of critical annotationsIdentify and apply the elements involved in a critical annotationIdentify and explain the core assumptions of the order model and conflict modelIdentify your preferred model or approach to sociology and to your own life with reasons and examples supporting your choiceIdentify your preferred perspective or way of seeingSociety PowerDistal Relations of PowerDiscourseNarrativeSocail Order Perspective Change PerspectivePerspectives Positioned Partial PartisanWeek 2 Readings Discourse Narrative and Power Whenever we are exchanging online comments composing one of the required assignments on our computer or quietly reflecting on an article or a video we are involved in a discourse In its simplest and broadest sense a discourse can be understood to be the way we identify and represent or represent our ideas and feelings Discourse provides us with the means to communicate with othersand with ourselvesStuart Hall a Jamaicanborn sociologist helps to deepen our understanding of the elements purpose practiceand the limitationsof discourses He begins with a concise definition of discourse which also hints at its problematic natureA discourse is a group of statements which provides a language for talking aboutie a way of representinga particular kind of knowledge about a topic When statements about a topic are made within a particular discourse the discourse makes it possible to construct the topic in a certain way 1996b p 201Hall contends that a discourse constitutes a specific language or terminology as well as a style of reasoning including established conventions for assessing truth claims p 201 The use of a particular discourse Hall argues enables a person to construct a topic or subject in a distinctive manner For example if you choose the discourse of geography to examine perspectives on Canadian society you will have access to concepts and ideas that address issues such as space and place Adopting a historical viewpoint will enable you primarily to explore dimensions of time Psychology on the other hand will provide terminology suitable for explaining the behaviour of individuals who make up Canadian society You will be presented with choices ranging from conditioned responses through Freuds life and death instincts to separation anxiety and so on Each discourse offers a distinct vantage point from which to investigate the subject matter And as our example from Psychology implies every academic discipline houses a number of different schools or theoretical approaches each one claiming to provide a legitimate representation of the topicAs Hall is quick to point out each discourse limits the other ways in which the topic can be constructed 1996b p 201 In other words a specific discourse constrains what can be said about a given topic at the very instant that it identifies and illuminates it The styles of reasoning and terminology used by a particular discourse mean that certain aspects or features can be clearly identified possibly even thrown into bold relief Yet this same process results in other attributes or characteristics fading from view because the discourse lacks the language to draw attention to their existenceIn the Introduction I suggested there are no right answers only explanations or interpretations that are more or less rigorous and convincing Similarly the critical thinking guidelines proposed by Wade and Tavris argue that none of us can expect to arrive at the final definitive analysis Our discussion of discourse to this point offers an indication of why this is the case Whenever we attempt to interpret or explain ourselves or our world we rely on discourses Yet discourses are never neutral they discipline what we are able to say and see They simultaneously reveal and concealA closer look at how discourses are constructed will help to clarify this conundrum According to Stuart Hall the production of a discourse frequently involves selecting certain events from the past and placing them in a particular sequence to provide a meaningful explanation of the nature of subject at hand In this way the selected events construct anarrative In other words they tell a storyA storyline imposes a form on what may be otherwise a formless and chaotic series of events Narrative givesa certain impetus flow and coherence movingsmoothly from a beginning to the sense of an ending as all good stories do This imposes a certain order or meaning on events which they may have lacked at the timeIn addition to imposing one meaning on events narrative lends an account a certain unchallengeable authority or truth 1996a p 13The basis for the positioned partial and partisan nature of all discourses becomes more evident with these comments For example this week we will read A Good Book In Theory A Guide to Theoretical Thinking by Alan Sears and James Cairns in which they discuss various sociological concepts and themes and connects them to prominent theorists associated with each topic Their effort produces a valuable discourse about the sociological perspective It is not the only story that could be told about sociology but I consider it to be a persuasive and instructive one Yet whatever its value there is no doubt in my mind that the discussion by Sears and Cairns inevitably reflects certain attitudes and beliefs of the people who crafted the account Their argument may convey a certain unchallengeable authority or truth Hall 1996a p 13 but it contains personal biases of Alan Sears and James Cairns nonethelessAuthors are constantly aware that it is they who impose a shape on all events that all accounts however carefully tested and supported are in the end authored All social science explanations reflect to some degree the point of view of the author who is trying to make sense of things They do not carry the impersonal guarantee of inevitability and truth Consequently arguments and positions are advancedin a more tentative and provisional way It is more a choice between convincing accounts which deal persuasively with all the evidence even the part which does not fit the theory than a simple choice between right and wrong explanationsArguments advanced are open to debate not variants of the Authorized VersionOf course being sensitive to language meaning and the effect of narrative does not imply that social science simply produces a series of good stories none better than the other This would be an extreme form of relativism which would undermine the whole project of social science There are criteria of assessment which will help us to judge the relative weight and explanatory power of different accounts Most social analysts are still committed to providing systematic rigorous coherent comprehensive conceptually clear wellevidenced accounts which make their underlying theoretical structure and value assumptions clear to readers and thus accessible to argument and criticism But the greater degree of awareness of ones own practices of producing meaning or writing even while doing it means that we cannot deny the ultimately interpretive character of the social science enterprise Hall 1996 pp 1314Halls point is an important one that has profound implications for our course which claims to investigate perspectives on Canadian society Despite sociologists commitment to accuracy they are destined to leave evidence of their own values beliefs and biases on the final presentation Therefore we see not only that discourses are partial accounts but also that they reflect their authors values and attitudes to some degree Discourses are influenced by the individuals lived experience and ethical and political beliefs Indeed the very act of choosing one discourse rather than another is informed by personal characteristics that filter our perceptions of reality
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