Sociologists focus on our world today. Recently we have seen tragic news of shootings at a mall in Nairobi, a park in Chicago, and a Navy Yard in Washington D.C., all within the week. This devastating loss of innocent lives has impacted families, friends, and community members, and left many questions in our minds. As sociologists, we use three theoretical perspectives (think of them as three pairs of glasses with different lenses) to analyze society. One method that can be used for analyzing mass shootings such as the heartbreaking Navy Yard shooting in Washington D.C., is symbolic interaction. In this post, Bridget Welch describes symbolic interaction and how this sociological perspective can be used.
Last week Mediha Din analyzed mass shootings from a structural functionalist position. Today we will look at the same phenomenon, but from a different set of lenses — symbolic interaction (SI).
What is the meaning of light? Of fly? Breaking up? It all depends on the meaning that we have learned through interacting with others that helps us think through the possible menu of interpretations and choose our reactions. Because of our ability to interpret, we are capable of understanding the social world in a wide variety of creative and unique ways, and still capable of understanding each other. From this basic formula, we get three core principles of SI that I will explain using the example of mass shootings and the media.
Core Principle 1. People act towards things in terms of the meanings that they hold about those things.
When you think about a mass shooting, what do you think of? Sandy Hook Elementary school? The Aurora shooting at the movie theater showing Batman? Perhaps the mass shooting instance at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin?
Sociologists focus on our world today. Today we have seen tragic news of shootings at a mall in Nairobi, a park in Chicago, and a Navy Yard in Washington D.C., all within the week. This devastating loss of innocent lives has impacted families, friends, and community members, and left many questions in our minds. As sociologists, we use three theoretical perspectives (think of them as three pairs of glasses with different lenses) to analyze society. One method that can be used for analyzing mass shootings such as the heartbreaking Navy Yard shooting in Washington D.C., is structural functionalism. In this post, Mediha Din describes structural functionalism and how this sociological perspective can be used.
How can we analyze society from the point of view of structural functionalism? Think of the morning cup of joe.
Do you drink coffee? Does it help you wake up? Focus? Give you an energy boost? These are some functions (purposes) of caffeine. Or do you avoid it because of the energy crash, acidity, or jitteriness it causes you? These are some dysfunctions of caffeine.
Looking at society from a functionalist point of view includes examining how something is functional (useful) and dysfunctional (not useful).
The structural functionalist point of view sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote stability. The human body is often used as an analogy for structural functionalism. Many different parts (heart, liver, brain, lungs) work together in order for the body to work.
Functionalism is also focused on maintaining harmony in society, just as your body works to maintain harmony (if you are cold, your body shivers to warm you up, if you are hot, your body produces sweat to cool you down).
When we look at terrible occurrences such as the mass shooting in D.C., we will immediately see many dysfunctions caused by this horrendous crime. Families have lost a loved one, provider, and support mechanism. Our Navy has lost valuable members of their workforce, and many surviving members may suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. The members of society as a whole feel disheartened, fearful, and confused by these horrific acts of violence. Looking at the negative consequences of a behavior is part of structural functionalism.
Functionalism also analyzes how criminal acts can provide some functions in society. (This does not mean justifying atrocious acts of violence against innocent people in any way). Crime can have a role in society, and some positive outcomes can be seen coming out of extremely negative circumstances.
How can crime be functional for society? A few ways: Continue reading
Have You ever see a kid stick her fingers in her ears and yell “LA LA LA” at the top of her lungs to keep herself from hearing her parents tell her to do something she doesn’t want to do? In this post Bridget Welch explore how what the United States is doing about the recent uprising in Egypt is kinda like that.
Nathan Palmer recently wrote about the turmoil in Egypt. After explaining what happened when the first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi was arrested by the Egypt military, Nathan points out that there are many ways to sociologically analyze the events in
Egypt and that he would be doing so by discussing the large social structural concerns relating to social control and cohesion.
A point that I try to make in my sociology courses is that social life is a complex chaos of craziness. Given any social event (especially something as large as national-level protests and military action), there are a lot of factors in play. In order to come to an understanding of any social process then, we need to whittle down that craziness into something we can manage. Frequently, the way we do so is through applying a particular framework (or theory) through which we view the events. This framework cues us into what elements to pay attention to and which to ignore. So while Nathan was looking at the revolt in terms of social control, I am going to use another framework — the power of naming — to explore another part of the Egyptian events — the U.S. response.
A name has three components. First, the label (that’s the obvious part). Second, it has some kind of affective component (how you feel about the thing). Third, it indicates to self and other what should be done with the object that has the label. For example, if there are flames racing up the aisles of a theater you are likely to label that “FIRE!”. You probably don’t much LIKE fire (at least in this context). And, when you yell “FIRE” in that theater it suggests to you (and everyone that hears you) that you need to hall butt out of that theater. Continue reading
You are a strange person living in a strange world. It’s just that you are so much like all the people around you and each day is so much like the next that you slowly come to think of yourself and the world around you as normal. However, part of being a good sociologist is remembering just how strange our everyday world is. In this piece Nathan Palmer goes to the Pitchfork Music Festival to show us how different things look when we “see the familiar as strange”.
Do you know how you can spot a tourist from a local? Tourists look up, taking in the scenery, but locals stay heads down until they get to where they’re going. I am in Chicago this weekend for the Pitchfork Music Festival, so the tourist/local divide is as clear as ever for me. Every time I stop to marvel at some landscape, or look at a sculpture, or especially when I snap a picture, the locals who I share the sidewalk with either roll their eyes or give me a strange look. To the locals there is nothing remarkable- nothing worth looking at, because they’ve seen it a thousand times before. Locals may have more insider knowledge of the area than anyone, but so much of the world they live in has become so familiar that it is now unremarkable and just normal.
Seeing The Familiar As Strange
Sociology asks you to look at your life, your community, your world again for the first time. As a discipline we urge you to “see the familiar as strange”. Become a tourist in your own life, and notice all of the little details that have faded into the background. In many ways sociology is the study of human patterns of behavior. Put another way sociology is the study of the (often boring) routines of life.
The lessons that sociology has to teach you and the answers that sociological methods can provide you lie in the things you’ve always known were true, the assumptions you didn’t even know you were making, and the questions you never thought to ask. This isn’t a mantra or Chicken Soup For The Sociologist’s Soul it’s an approach and an opportunity for you to more deeply understand the world around you.
Seeing The Pitchfork Music Festival As Strange
I thought I’d take you along with me as I roamed the music festival this weekend and show you how I “see the familiar as strange”. Now mind you, a concert is not an everyday thing, but it is highly routinized. Walking around Pitchfork I saw many things that would be familiar to anyone who’s been to a concert before. There were far too many things to sociologically analyze, but I want to at least tell you about three of them.
Moshing & Crowd Surfing:
In any other place, running head long into someone else is called assault. At a concert it’s called fun. Continue reading
AMC’s “Mad Men” premiered in 2007, highlighting the lives of 1960s-era advertising men and women working on Madison Avenue. The series revolves around ad guru Don Draper, a heroic figure with ruggedly handsome looks who has a sixth sense about advertising (and women). In this post, Ami Stearns suggests that Don Draper exemplifies one of Max Weber’s ideal leadership types, the charismatic leader.
For research purposes only, I just finished playing the quiz “Which of Don’s Women Are You?” on the official Mad Men website (FYI: I’m Allison, Don’s one-time secretary and one-night stand). Love him or hate him, Don Draper is the larger than life face of AMC’s Mad Men.
You’ve heard of Mad Men, right? The period drama, which just wrapped up its sixth season, has set a record for basic cable television shows by winning an Emmy four years in a row. The highs and lows in the bedrooms and boardrooms of the NYC advertising execs have created legions of fans over the past six years, spawning a Wall Street Journal weekly blog, the requisite official merch, and even games.
McDonald’s restaurant once served as a model of rationality; customers would come in and be feed ina smooth, precise, and efficient standardized process. Today, its bloated menu (with oodles of choices and combinations) threatens its reputation as the standard for rationality. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how McDonald’s is putting the McDonald’s back into McDonaldization.
George Ritzer coined the term McDonaldization to describe how McDonald’s restaurant provided an archetype of rationality, which served as a model for other bureaucracies. Rationality refers to how bureaucracies come to operate under formal rules and procedures. A bureaucracy is characterized by a hierarchy of authority, a division of labor, reliance on written rules, and impersonality of positions. For example, your college is an example of a bureaucracy. Let’s get back to McDonald’s.
Ritzer chose McDonald’s because of its pervasiveness throughout not only the United States (where you are never more than 107 miles from one in the lower 48), but throughout the world (they serve 1% of the world every day). McDonald’s is seen as a powerful business success and a symbol of America.
Principles of McDonalidzation include:
How do these principles exist within McDonald’s?
Efficiency refers to “the optimum method for getting from one point to another” (Ritzer 2006:15). Think about the assembly line method of food production in a McDonald’s restaurant. Instead of one person making your complete meal, the task is split up into its basic components along a hamburger assembly line. This means your meal gets to you more quickly. Continue reading