SOC102H1 Chapter Notes -Masculinity, Femicide, Exhibitionism

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29 Jan 2013

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Social Problems Research as a Moral Enterprise
Sociologists have an aim to better society through the application of research-based knowledge, but
paradoxically, human efforts to improve society sometimes backfire. Modernization sometimes fails to
ensure that we preserve a decent quality of life and can cause numerous social issues.
- 20th century has had the most technological progress but also the most organized killing and
environmental destruction, but sociologists continue to aim for:
1. Life over death
2. Health over sickness
3. Knowing over not knowing
4. Cooperation over conflict
5. Freedom of movement over physical constraint
6. Self-determination over direction by others
7. Freedom of expression over restraint of communication
- However society often falls short and people buy into myths, ideologies and stereotypes that
perpetuate harmful conditions. Victims are often blamed, but the reasons why are more important
- Sociologists also identify social-structural conditions and factors that make people vulnerable to these
“personal” troubles and that increase problem behaviours
Social Construction
- Whether something is true or not, if a person believes it to be true, the actions taken are real
nonetheless people’s subjective view of reality, not reality itself, shapes their behavior
Social constructionism: a sociological research approach that examines the ways people interact to create a
shared social reality
- Often involves the work of moral entrepreneurs: those that “discover” and attempt to publicize deviant
behaviours; they are crusading reformers that don’t rest until something is done about the problem
- It involves claims-making: the promotion of a particular moral vision of social life and, thus, is anything
people do to propagate a view of who or what is a problem and what should be done about it
- Goal is to examine the ways people interact to create a shared social reality
- Berger and Luckmann argue that all knowledge is created, preserved and spread by social interaction
- Social constructionism says that any idea, however natural or obvious, is an invention of a particular
- How, among the plethora of ideas, do some ideas because widely accepted as “true” and compelling?
Symbolic Interactionism: George Herbert MEAD: children learn to interact with others by learning
a system of symbols, which allows them negotiate shared meanings among those in the system.
Then the shared meanings make social interaction possible = allows cooperation and
MEAD: social life is the sharing of meaning the cooperative (social) construction of reality.
Symbolic Interactionism: GOFFMAN: play = social scripts = become people we pretend to be
Social life is scripted, directed performances inside our social roles is our true identity
NOTE: Symbolic Interactionists looks for the shared meanings of objects and events (not the actually
physical object/event themselves)
- Meaning often imposed on the event/object: rose = beautiful, daisy = plain
Product of the dominant cultural and symbolic practices in a group/society
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4 basic assumptions of the social constructionist position:
1. The world does not present itself objectively to the observer, but is known through human experience.
We use language and images to create emotional meanings and responses.
2. Historical and cultural specificity is recognized.
The language categories used to classify things emerge from the social interactions within a group
of people at a particular time and place.
3. Knowledge is sustained by social process. Conventions and communication in force at the time
determine how reality is understood.
Witchcraft: Pronouncements of the religious leaders + superstitious groups was enough to be
claim legitimacy as “knowledge”
4. Knowledge and social action go together
Within a social group or culture, reality is defined by complex and organized patterns of ongoing
actions. (understand politics, religions, gender etc.)
In short, people interact = construct common knowledge of the world = reinforced with more interaction =
knowledge now seems natural (unavoidable)
Is it a real problem or a social construction? Have to keep asking this because:
1. Need to have the clearest understanding of reality, even if we have to challenge our common sense, on
a given issue
2. Need to learn as much can about social process by which real social problems, and imagined problems,
come into being. Have to be able to make theories and therefore learn more about society
3. Need to know which problems require immediate concerted actions and which ones can wait
Social Ethnography: a mode of inquiry designed to help researchers explore the social organizations of
everyday knowledge
- Created by Feminist sociologist Dorothy Smith
- Aimed to make the familiar strange question assumptions that are taking for granted
- Shift research away from the interests of the most powerful to better serve people who are subject to
Must deconstruct confusing language (enhanced interrogation vs torture)
Shine light on taken-for-granted relations of power point out ways that ruling relations can be
modified to better serve ordinary people in real life
Warnings, Panics, and Claims
- Ruling class want control and use claims-making as a way to provoke intense feelings of pity, concern
and fear
- Claims-making often rely on common idioms and styles that reflect core cultural values (young children,
flag in the background, etc.)
- Media has a major influence in shaping public perception of a problem
How a problem is depicted = how people will respond
Ex. news reports, talk shows (where the host says something is normal, praiseworthy etc. and
then the claps by audience reinforce)
- Normal people make claims too
Whistle-blowers: unusual claims-makers who gain credibility for speaking out contrary to their
own immediate interests and those of their employer; often get punished for it (blacklisted, etc.)
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- The way something is framed is very important
Ex. FARM didn’t gain much support until they started focusing attention on health, longevity and
environmental endangerment
- Some issues grow slowly and hold for a long time, but others come and go quickly (Moral Panics short
lived intense periods of concern)
Moral panics sometimes leave a legacy of laws, stereotypes, cultural beliefs or changed attitudes
- Since social problems come from claims-making, which comes out of historical context, we must try to
understand the construction of these problems via historical context
How to tell if a Social Problem is “Real”
- Apply various standards to a stated problem to decide how serious the problem may be
- Ex. for Racism
1. Discuss differences and inequality between groups (employment, housing, education etc.)
Is there exclusion and what is the source of the unjust differences?
2. Lack of intergroup contact, due to exclusion and racism, produces problems of isolation and limited
information flow
Racism may be a problem because it promotes segregation, ignorance, fear and conflict
between groups
3. Might include second-order outcomes like self-hate (from segregation, exclusion, prejudice, and
May infer health consequences
Note: Not all people will suffer health consequences.
Merton’s theory of Anomie: people react differently to social disadvantage. Some will
retreat from life, while others will take action into their own hands
- It may be a problem if we can show these things with data, that they produce any or all of these
- Then must compare to other societies (are we in a good position?), and also if the problem is
manageable/getting better?
- Same types of questions need to be asked for other potential problems
Theoretical Perspectives on Social Problems
Looking at different approaches that other fields of study have taken in order to best understand social
problems complementary, multi-leveled co-operative activity
Biological Perspective
- Focus on individuals and on the genetic, hormonal, neurological and physiological factors that
contribute to their dysfunction in society
Ex. violence: increase in hormones? Genetic/evolutionary aspect?
- Since they assume they are universal human traits, their theories are not helpful for explaining
historical and cross-national variations
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