Thursday, November 16, 2017

Early German Sociology

German sociology is rooted in the philosopher G.F.W. Hegel's (1770-1831) idea of the dialectic. Like Comte in France, Hegel offered an evolutionary theory of society. The dialectic is a view that the world is made up not of static structures but of processes, relationships, conflicts, and contradictions. He emphasized the importance of changes in consciousness for producing dialectical change. Dialectical thinking is a dynamic way of thinking about the world.
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Karl Marx (1818-1883) followed Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) in criticizing Hegel for favoring abstract ideas over real people. Marx adopted a materialist orientation that focused on real material entities like wealth and the state. He argued that the problems of modern society could be traced to real material sources like the structures of capitalism. Yet he maintained Hegel's emphasis on the dialectic, forging a position called dialectical materialism that held that material processes, relationships, conflicts, and contradictions are responsible for social problems and social change. (See also: The sociology of Karl Marx)

Marx's materialism led him to posit a labor theory of value, in which he argued that the capitalist's profits were based on the exploitation of the laborer. Under the influence of British political economists, Marx grew to deplore the exploitation of workers and the horrors of the capitalist system. Unlike the political economists, his view was that such problems were the products of an endemic conflict that could be addressed only through radical change. While Marx did not consider himself to be a sociologist, his influence has been strong in Europe. Until recently, American sociologists dismissed Marx as an ideologist.
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The theories of Max Weber (1864-1920) can be seen as the fruit of a long debate with the ghost of Marx. While Weber was not familiar with Marx's writings, he viewed the Marxists of his day as economic determinists who offered single-cause theories of social life. Rather than seeing ideas as simple reflections of economic factors, Weber saw them as autonomous forces capable of profoundly affecting the economic world. Weber can also be understood as trying to round out Marx's theoretical perspective; rather than denying the effect of material structures, he was simply pointing out the importance of ideas as well.
Whereas Marx offered a theory of capitalism, Weber's work was fundamentally a theory of the process of rationalization. Rationalization is the process whereby universally applied rules, regulations, and laws come to dominate more and more sectors of society on the model of a bureaucracy. Weber argued that in the Western world rational-legal systems of authority squeezed out traditional authority systems, rooted in beliefs, and charismatic authority, systems based on the extraordinary qualities of a leader. His historical studies of religion are dedicated to showing why rational-legal forms took hold in the West but not elsewhere. Weber's reformist views and academic style were better received than Marx's radicalism in sociology. Sociologists also appreciated Weber's well-rounded approach to the social world.
More on Weber

Georg Simmel (1858-1918) was Weber's contemporary and co-founder of the German Sociological Society. While Marx and Weber were pre-occupied with large-scale issues, Simmel was best known for his work on smaller-scale issues, especially individual action and interaction. He became famous for his thinking on forms of interaction (i.e., conflict) and types of interacts (i.e., the stranger). Simmel saw that understanding interaction among people was one of the major tasks of sociology. His short essays on interesting topics made his work accessible to American sociologists. His most famous long work, The Philosophy of Money, was concerned with the emergence of a money economy in the modern world. This work observed that large-scale social structures like the money economy can become separate from individuals and come to dominate them.
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Early French Sociologists

Claude Henri Saint-Simon (1760-1825) was a positivist who believed that the study of social phenomena should employ the same scientific techniques as the natural sciences. But he also saw the need for socialist reforms, especially centralized planning of the economic system.

Auguste Comte (1798-1857) coined the term "sociology." Like Saint-Simon, he believed the study of social phenomena should employ scientific techniques. But Comte was disturbed by the chaos of French society and was critical of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Comte developed an evolutionary theory of social cahange in his law of the three stages. He argued that social disorder was caused by ideas left over from the idea systems of earlier stages. Only when a scientific footing for the governing of society was established would the social upheavals of his time cease. Comte also stressed the systematic character of society and accorded great importance to the role of consensus. These beliefs made Comte a forerunner of positivism and reformism in classical sociological theory.

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) legitimized sociology in France and became a dominant force in the development of the discipline worldwide. Although he was politically liberal, he took a more conservative position intellectually, arguing that the social disorders produced by striking social changes could be reduced through social reform. Durkheim argued that sociology was the study of structures that are external to, and coercive over, the individual; for example, legal codes and shared moral beliefs, which he called social facts. In Suicide he made his case for the importance of sociology by demonstrating that socialfacts could cause individual behavior. He argued that societies were held together by a strongly held collective morality called the collective conscience. Because of the complexity of modern societies, the collective conscience had become weaker, resulting in a variety of social pathologies. In his later work, Dukheim turned to the religion of primitive societies to demonstrate the importance of the collective consciousness. 

Discourse explained simply

'Discourse' is a term associated most closely with Michel Foucault; it refers to the way in which meaning is formed, expressed and controlled in a culture through its language use. Every culture has particular ways of speaking about and hence conceptualizing experience, and rules for what can and what can not be said and for how talk is controlled and organized. It is through discourse that we constitute our experience, and an analysis of discourse can reveal how we see the world — in the case of Foucault, particularly the changing and multiple ways in which power is distributed and exercised. As language is the base symbol system through which culture is created and maintained, it can be said that everything is discourse, that is, that we only register as being what we attach meaning to, we attach meaning through language, and meaning through language is controlled by the discursive structures of a culture. There is no outside-of-the-text; our experience is constructed by our way of talking about experience, and thus is itself a cultural, linguistic construct.

Discourse is not, however, a unitary phenomenon. One of the great contributions of the Russian theorist of language and literature, Mikhail Bakhtin, is the concept of multivocality. The concept of multivocality might be likened to meteorology: the sky looks like a unitary entity, but if one attempts to measure it or traverse it, it turns out to be full of cross-winds, whirls, temperature variations, updrafts, downdrafts, and so forth. Similarly the language of a culture is full of intersecting language uses — those of class, profession, activity, generation, gender, region and so forth, a rich profusion of interacting significances and inter-texts.

As discourse constructs a world-view and as it inscribes power relations, it is inevitably connected to ideology. As used by Marx, the term referred to the idea that our concepts about the structure of society and of reality, which appear to be matters of fact, are the product of economic relations. More recent thinkers, following Gramsci and Althusser, tend to see ideology more broadly as those social practices and conceptualizations which lead us to experience reality in a certain way. Ideology, writes Althusser, is our imagined relation to the real conditions of existence; our subjectivity is formed by it we are 'hailed' by it, oriented to the world in a certain way. Ideology is an implicit, necessary part of meaning, in how we configure the world. But ideology is always masking, or 'naturalizing', the injustices and omissions it inevitably creates, as power will be wielded by some person or class, and will pressure the understanding of the culture so that the exercise of power looks normal and right and violations appear as inevitabilities. It was clear in time past, for instance, why women were inferior. Women were physically weaker, more emotional, not as rational. The Bible said they were inferior and Nature said so too. Men did not think that [end page 96] they were oppressing women; women's inferiority was simply an obvious matter of fact, as was the inferiority of blacks, of children, the handicapped, the mad, the illiterate, the working classes. The theorist Pierre Macherey showed that it is possible by examining any structure of communication to see its ideological perspective through the breaks, the silences, the contradictions hidden in the text, as well as through all its implicit assumptions about the nature of the world.

Structuralism and Poststructuralism in literary theory

Structuralism was a broad movement which attempted to locate the operative principles which ground activities and behaviours; its importance to Literary Theory is substantial, although Literary Theory has rejected a number of its premises. Two central structural theories were Freud's psychoanalytic theory and Marx's economic/political theories. What marks these theories as structuralist is their locating of generative forces below or behind phenomenal reality, forces which act according to general laws through transformative processes. In structural theories, motive, or generative force, is found not in a pre-text but in a sub-text; the surface is a transformation, a re-coded articulation of motive forces and conditions, and so the surface must be translated rather then simply read. From the rise of the whole rich field of semiotics to the theorizing of the history of science to the revolutionizing of anthropology to the creation of family therapy, structuralism has been a central, pervasive force in the century. The idea of decoding the depth from the manifestations of the surface, that what appears is often masking or is a transformation of what is, is a key tenant of Literary Theory.

Poststructuralism carries on with the idea of the surface as a transformation of hidden forces, but rejects structuralism's sense that there are timeless rules which govern transformations and which point to some stable reality below and governing the flux — what poststructuralism refers to as an essentialist or totalizing view. Poststructuralism sees 'reality' as being much more fragmented, diverse, tenuous and culture-specific than does structuralism. Some consequences have been, first, poststructuralism's greater attention to specific histories, to the details and local contextualizations of concrete instances; second, a greater emphasis on the body, the actual insertion of the human into the texture of time and history; third, a greater attention to the specifies of cultural working, to the arenas of discourse and cultural practice; lastly, a greater attention to the role of language and textuality in our construction of reality and identity. Literary Theory is a poststructural practice.  

ICONS, INDEXES AND SYMBOLS - summary and explanation

At about the same time as Saussure was developing semiology, the American philosopher C. S. Peirce was developing semiotics (as it tended to be known in the US and is now generally known across the world).
Following Peirce, semiologists (or semioticians) often draw a distinction between icons, indexes and symbols.


Icons are signs whose signifier bears a close resemblance to the thing they refer to. Thus a road sign showing the silhouettes of a car and a motorbike is highly iconic because the silhouettes look like a motorbike and a car. A very few words (so-called onomatopoeic words) are iconic, too, such as whisper, cuckoo, splash, crash.


Most words, though, are symbolic signs. We have agreed that they shall mean what they mean and there is no natural relationship between them and their meanings, between the signifier and the signified.
Most words are symbolic signs. We have agreed that they shall mean what they mean and there is no natural relationship between them and their meanings, between the signifier and the signified.
In movies we would expect to find iconic signs - the signifiers looking like what they refer to. We find symbolic signs as well, though: for example when the picture goes wobbly before a flashback. Certainly the 'real world' doesn't go wobbly when we remember a scene from the past, so this device is an arbitrary device which means 'flashback' because we have agreed that that's what it means. The road sign with the motorbike and car has, as we have just seen, iconic elements, but it also has symbolic elements: a white background with a red circle around it. These signify 'something is forbidden' simply because we have agreed that that is what they mean.


In a sense, indexes lie between icons and symbols. An index is a sign whose signifier we have learnt to associate with a particular signified. For example, we may see smoke as an index of 'fire' or a thermometer as an index of 'temperature'.
In old movies, when they need to show the passing of time, they may typically show the sheets bearing the days of the month being torn off a calendar - that is iconic, because it looks like sheets being torn off a calendar; the numbers 1, 2, 3 etc., the names January, February etc. are symbols - they are purely arbitrary; the whole sequence is indexical of the passing of time - we associate the removal of the sheets with the passing of time. 


Saussure points out that the value of signs is culture-specific. The French mouton may have the same meaning as the English sheep, but it does not have the same value. Why? Because English has the terms mutton and sheep, a distinction which is not available in French. He emphasizes that a sign gains its value from its relation to other similar values. Without such a relationship signification would not exist


This is a very useful insight in the analysis of signs. Language is linear: you produce one sound after another; words follow one another. When we think of signs interlinked in this way (for example she+can+go), then we are thinking of them in terms of what Saussure calls a syntagm. There is a syntagmatic relationship between them.


However, at the same time as we produce these signs linked to one another in time, we also do something which is outside that temporal sequence: we choose a sign from a whole range of alternative signs. So, when a journalist writes:
IRA terrorists overran an army post in Londonderry in Northern Ireland
s/he chooses each sign from a range of alternatives. S/he could say:
'IRA active units', 'IRA paramilitaries', 'IRA freedom fighters', 'IRA lunatics'
S/he could refer to Londonderry as 'Derry', the name more commonly used by nationalists; s/he could refer to Northern Ireland as 'Ulster', the 'Six Counties', the 'occupied counties' etc.
When we look at this range of possibilities, we are examining a paradigm. We are examining the paradigmatic relationship between signs. Not uncommonly, syntagm and paradigm may be conceived of as two axes:

The signs signify because of their value, which derives from the relationship between them. How can you say that repeated occurrences of the same word are in fact the same word? Saussure gives the example of two 8.45pm expresses from Geneva to Paris, leaving at 24 hour intervals. For us, they are the same express, we are talking about the same entity when we refer to it, even though its carriages, locomotive and personnel are probably quite different on the two occasions. But it is not such material identities we refer to when we refer to the '8.45 Geneva-Paris express'; rather it is the relational identity given in the timetable - this is the 8.45 Geneva-Paris express because it is not the 7.45 Geneva-Heidelberg express, the 8.45 Geneva-Turin etc.
We can examine the syntagms and paradigms in any medium. In Advertising as Communication Gillian Dyer takes the example of a photographic sign, namely the use of a stallion in a Marlboro ad. The paradigm from which the stallion is drawn includes ponies, donkeys, mules, mares. The connotations of stallion rely, on the reader's cultural knowledge of a system which can relate a stallion to feelings of freedom, wide open prairies, virility, wildness, individuality, etc.. Why were these choices made? What is communicated by them?
One way to examine the ideological meaning suggested by the signs in the message is to see how the message would differ if another were chosen from the relevant paradigm. 

For more on the nature of the sign an de Saussure's thought: 

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The Arbitrariness of the Sign - explanation and dfinition

One of the key aspects of Ferdinand de Sassure's theory and of structuralism is the notion of the arbitrariness of the sign. In fact, Saussure stressed the arbitrariness of the sign as the first principle of semiology I (the study of signs which includes linguistics). By saying that signs are arbitrary, Saussure was saying that there is no good reason why we use the sequence of sounds 'sister' to mean a female sibling. We could just as well use 'soeur', 'Schwester', 'sorella'. For that matter, we could just as well use the sequence of sounds: 'brother'. Of course, as he pointed out, we don't have any choice in the matter. If we want to talk about female siblings in the English language, we can only talk about 'female siblings' or 'sisters'.
The point of the arbitrariness of the sign is that there is not compelling necessary conncetion between signifier and signified, and therefore language as a system determines meaning which does not originate outside of language. Saussure saw language as being an ordered system of signs whose meanings are arrived at arbitrarily by a cultural convention
Understanding De Saussure's nature of the linguistic sign can lead us to undersatnd why the source of meaning for him is difference. Arbitrariness and difference go together since there is no positive bond between a signifier and a signified, only the relative position of the that bond withing the system of language. 

For more on the nature of the sign an de Saussure's thought: 

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