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Archive for Symbolic Interactionism

Book Review – Stargazing

January 10, 2011 by and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

I did not have any real expectations when I started reading Stargazing: Celebrity, Fame, and Social Interaction by Kerry O. Ferris and Scott R. Harris, beyond “here is a topic that might interest my students.” I have to say that I was disappointed. The book is an attempt to put Goffman’s concepts relating to the interaction order to work regarding fan / celebrity interactions along with some analysis of the red carpet ceremonies as interaction rituals where a great deal of presentation of self takes place. And that is about it.

The book is really short with a lot of excerpts from interview transcripts from empirical work along with transcripts from tv red carpet coverage (the Joan rivers type). So, the content remains very superficial and I kept asking myself, what is the point of this? Where is this going? Again, beyond putting Goffman to work, there is really not much there. It is microsociology without much connection to more macro phenomena. This is an acknowledged approach but it left me thinking that this all read like undergraduate work. The result is very shallow with not a shred of critical analysis (again, an avowed approach).

Quite frankly, there is more depth in a single blog post by The Real Doctor Phil (my British fellow socblogger and all around a$$-kicker with whom I share a disturbing love for the Eurovision song contest) on celebrity culture than in this entire book. A snippet:

“As far as I can tell, describing Kenneth as economically wealthy but socially useless fits him like a glove. Born into money he boasts about bedding models, holidaying here, there, and everywhere, and making cash on the currency markets. He is every inch the personification of Engels’s ‘coupon clippers’. But the one thing his wealth cannot buy him is recognition. Even in the world of the famous-for-being-famous, celebrity has to be rooted in something. Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian launched themselves as TV and paparazzi fodder off the back of sex tapes. Kerry Katona was a (minor) pop star-turned reality telly regular. Katie Price/Jordan was a glamour model. Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse sing. Anyone can do Big Brother, but only Jade Goody, Craig Phillips, Kate Lawler, Anna Nolan, and Brian Dowling went on to bigger things. Those without an identifiable talent or reason for being in the celebrity firmament find their star falls very quickly indeed. And Kenneth is of this category. Apart from a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him stay in Big Brother and a couple of minor TV credits there is no rhyme nor reason why he should attain lasting celebrity. And this must be an affront to a man with an overblown ego. Why should he be eclipsed by others, especially “overweight” women from working class backgrounds?”

So, une fois n’est pas coutume, I do not recommend the book.

Posted in Book Reviews, Culture, Dramaturgy, Microsociology, Social Interaction, Social Norms, Social Research, Social Theory, Sociology, Symbolic Interactionism | No Comments »

Book Review – The City and The City

October 25, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The City and The City is the first book by China Mieville I have read. I got myself a Kindle copy when it got the Hugo Award. It is an awesome novel, and as usual, it is a great source for sociological analysis. At its most basic, The City and The City is a murder mystery coupled with a touch of conspiracy theory. But, as usual for sociologist me, the most interesting part of the book is the social context underpinning the story.

The story takes place in an unusual urban context of two city-states, Besźel and Ul-Qoma, that occupy the same physical space somewhere in Eastern Europe. The cities are divided between areas that are total (totally in one), alter (totally in the other) or crosshatched (in either). In areas that the cities share, citizens of either city have been socialized to unsense the other: to unsee, unhear, unsmell everything from the other city. And at the center is Copula Hall, the official border between the city and the city.

What this means is that when one is walking – or driving through – the streets of Besźel, for instance, one must NOT see, hear or smell anything from Ul-Qoma (and vice-versa). People from either city practice this constant act of dramaturgy of not sensing the other city that exists in the same physical space. Goffman would have had a field day with all the studied non-0bservance that takes place as people, more or less automatically and immediately unsee things happening in the other city. In fact, the entire social structure of both cities is based on that unsensing so much so that when things happen that make that almost impossible, social order is on the verge of collapse and extreme measures are taken.

So, this common space has two social structures, one for Besźel and one for Ul-Qoma, two different cultures, languages, food, clothing, etc. And it looks like Ul-Qoma (a vaguely communist country, boycotted by the US) is the more economically dynamic of the two.

In this context, people are expected to thoroughly respect the division between the city and the city. If they violate the separations, they breach. They are then spirited away by Breach, the mysterious force in charge of enforcing the division. No one knows what happens to people who have been taken by Breach. In this society, breaching is the most serious offense that deserves the most serious punishment (although what that is remains a mystery, for most part of the book). It is a given that, at some point, someone will breach and we, readers, will get to figure out what Breach really is and what it really does. Breach is perceived as a kind of omniscient Big Brother with the power to detect any breach and swing into action when that happens. Not breaching is a major fear for all the citizens of the city and the city.

Needless to say, the city and the city are themselves marked by social conflicts: each city has its own nationalist movement, strict supporters of the Cleavage (the separation between the city and the city) as well as its Unifs, the unificators, the movements promoting the reunification of the city and the city.

Throughout the book, we follow the detective in charge of solving the murder as he navigates the complexities of this intricate structure in the course of his investigation. He is from Besźel, but at some point is assigned to Ul-Qoma so that we get to compare the two cultures.

Ultimately, his own breach is what gives us an insight into the way Breach works and to the conclusion of the book, which one could read as a perfect manifesto for the social construction of reality or ethnomethodology as his Breach avatar explains to him:

“Nowhere else works like the cities,” he said. “It’s not just us keeping them apart. It’s everyone in Besźel and everyone in Ul Qoma. Every minute, every day. We’re only the last ditch: it’s everyone in the cities who does most of the work. It works because you don’t blink. That’s why unseeing and unsensing are so vital. No one can admit it doesn’t work. So if you don’t admit it, it does. But if you breach, even if it’s not your fault, for more than the shortest time … you can’t come back from that.”” (5664)

“Doing” the city and the city is a matter of minutiae of social interaction (accomplished and denied at the same time) and constitutes an enormous amount of interactive collaboration (also as necessary as it is denied). It is this architecture of interaction that sustains the dual social structure and collective underpinning of the city and the city.

A fascinating read.

Posted in Book Reviews, Culture, Dramaturgy, Science-fiction, Social Interaction, Social Sanctions, Sociology, Surveillance Society, Symbolic Interactionism, Urban Ecology | No Comments »

Book Review – Inside Toyland

January 27, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Among the sociological topics I like reading about, I particularly enjoy sociology of labor, especially those based on deep ethnographic work combining micro-analysis of social relationships in the workplace with macro-analysis of structural inequalities.

So, this is why when my colleague Mike recommended Christine L. Williams‘s Inside Toyland: Working, Shopping, and Social Inequality, it was a no-brainer for me to jump on that book. It also has to do with the fact that I am always on the lookout for potential sociological readings for my freshmen / Sophomore classes.

For this audience, good qualitative sociological work is often much more palatable than peer-reviewed articles with incomprehensible statistics (for their level). Part of it is because I remember, as a first year student, how refreshing it was to read Howard S. Becker’s Outsiders or anything by Goffman compared to Lazarsfeld.

Inside Toyland is an ethnography of work in toy retail. Williams spent time working at two different toy stores, catering to different social classes and therefore with different normative expectations of what service is and of employee relations. It is a book that is a rather quick read, with very little jargon but a lot of sociological content as Williams closely relates her ethnographic experience with social theories and works relating to her work. One will find references to Bourdieu’s cultural capital and habitus as well as domination, alongside Hochschild’s classical study of emotional labor and time bind, among many others. But overall, the writing is fairly informal and the insertion of a lot of examples from her field notes breaks up the reading in pleasant ways.

Inside Toyland is a rather short book but it covers all the bases of sociology of work and labor relations. Williams addresses a multiplicity of topics from changes in the US workforce, to the stratification within each toy store along with the privileges associated with each status. The book deals with class, gender and racial issues in the workplace within and between stores as structural inequalities are a major topic. It does a great job of exposing the invisible flip side of racial discrimination: white privilege and the naturalization of white entitlement.

But the book is also a study in the sociology of consumption, that is, not simply where people buy toys (by social class, for instance) but also what and how people consume toys and the various meanings and social relations symbolized through toy consumption.

In other words, Inside Toyland covers all the aspects I emphasize to my students in terms of the sociological imagination: SHiP, structure, history and power. In that last respect, the book goes into some details into the ways in which management tries to control shop floor workers (associates) in contrast to the ways in which associates find ways to resist such attempts at control and how social interactions in the workplace contribute to the reproduction to social inequalities on the macro level.

The fact that the ethnographic locus of the book is toy stores also means that there is a lot in the book about parent-children relationship (with obligatory reference to Lareau) based on social class, within the context of US individualistic and consumerist culture. Overall, the book shows how much Lareau’s class-based parenting styles are incarnated in shopping practices.

As I mentioned above, this book is a rather quick read that covers a lot of sociological territory at a level acceptable for undergraduates. It certainly illustrates the rich aspects of participant observation and introduces a lot of sociological thinkers in an approachable manner.

Posted in Book Reviews, Commodification, Consumerism, Cultural Capital, Culture, Dramaturgy, Gender, Institutional Racism, Labor, Microsociology, Organizational Sociology, Patriarchy, Precarization, Racism, Sexism, Social Inequalities, Social Interaction, Social Research, Social Stratification, Social Theory, Sociology, Structural Violence, Symbolic Interactionism, Symbolic Violence, Teaching Sociology | 1 Comment »

Corporate Mergers and Cultural Gatekeepers – Revisiting Howard Becker

May 11, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , , ,

I don’t blog often on microsociology and symbolic interactionism. Fortunately, others do that very well. Case in point, this post over at the Sociology Lens, based on the merger of two of the largest talent agencies, William Morris and Endeavor (thereby creating the very large William Morris Endeavor):

This is a good opportunity to remember that these kinds of phenomena have diverse impact on the social structure. What is happening here is not just a matter of continuing economic concentration in different sectors of the corporate world. It is also a matter of cultural production. Following Bourdieu, one could argue that the merging of these companies and the constitution of corporate giants in the field of talent agencies concentrates power (and cultural and social capital) into fewer hands and reduces power for other social actors in the field of artistic production.

Posted in Cultural Capital, Culture, Microsociology, Social Capital, Social Theory, Sociology, Symbolic Interactionism | No Comments »

And The Award Goes To…

February 27, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

… Joel Best, for Prize Proliferation, Sociological Forum, Vol. 23, No. 1, March 2008, pp. 1- 27.

Prize proliferation, the topic of Best’s articles, is simply the multiplication of awards being created for a variety of achievements or performances in many social and cultural domains and across institutional domains (including within the ASA). For Best, the study of such proliferation belongs to the study of social problems: we should examine the social, cultural and institutional conditions that produce this pattern in so many different and unrelated domains.:

"The trend toward prize proliferation illustrates how social conditions can produce many, largely unrelated claims that, in turn, lead to patterned social activity. Further, this trend generates reactions – prize proliferation has its critics, who produce counterclaims that construct it as a social problem in its own right." (6)

Awards then (honors for activities such as accomplishments – the fulfillment of specific requirements – championship – straightforward victory – or excellence – judgment of practice, usually the most controversial) are socially organized around three types of actors who benefit from them:

Award Givers

According to Best, award-giving involves three processes (each of which can be a source of criticism):

  • Establishment: creation of the award and its parameters as well as costs and terms

  • Selection: choosing who will receive the award

  • Presentation: the actual delivery of the award to its recipient.

Depending of the award, these processes can be simple of complex.

Why do groups, organizations or institutions create awards? Because it benefits them in different ways:

  • It promotes solidarity within the group by affirming the group’s values and rewarding those who incarnate them best.

  • It encourages group members to do well and inspires them.

  • It enhances the giving organization’s visibility, status and prestige as well as power within a given field.

  • It fosters networking and social capital by bringing together giver and recipient (especially if the recipient has more visibility than the giving organization).

Award Recipients

What do recipients have to gain?

  • Obviously a recognition for their performance, the more prestigious the award, the greater the esteem one receives and the greater the impact on one’s life (such as a Nobel Prize or an Oscar).

  • An increase in various forms of economic capital (if the award carries a cash prize or if its prestige brings better economic opportunities to the recipient… an Oscar recipient might get better parts and command more money), cultural capital (especially if the award is highly prestigious: getting a Nobel Peace Prize allows the recipient to speak out on issues with greater access to the media), social capital (the recipient is put into contact with other people and organizations directly or through the prestige of the award).

  • An increase in self-esteem by being socially recognized.

Audience

  • Awards ceremonies can be entertaining (who was not watching the Oscars last Sunday AND complaining about how boring the whole thing was?) and dramatic

  • Ceremonies can also promote social solidarity and group values as rituals (Best gives the example of the Nobel Prize of literature awarded to José Saramago but interpreted in Portugal as an award to the entire nation, its culture and language).

All the benefits constitute incentives to create awards and therefore contribute to prize proliferation.

Sociological Analysis

For Best, awards are created by their givers as solution to a claimed problem, but that, in itself, does not explain prize proliferation.

Best uses the interactionist concept of social worlds to explain the proliferation.

"A social world is ‘a set of common or joint activities or concerns bound together by a network of communication’ (Kling and Gerson, 1978:26)." (13)

When groups split off, segmentation occurs:

"Such segmentation is rationalized as providing an arena or forum within which people who share some interest can contact one another; it offers a more efficient means of finding like-minded others (Strauss, 1984). People who share an interest are particularly likely to form new social worlds when they perceive themselves as disadvantaged by existing social arrangements. That is, they construct the existing order as problematic, and they propose establishing a new world as a solution. The change creates a venue within where respect can be assured because the new social world is homogeneous, its members self-selected because they appreciate its purpose."(13-14)

Any such segmentation will require legitimation both for its members and to the outside world and the creation a prizes can fulfill such a function: reward the members for the upholding of the values of the group, inspire other members to achieve as much if not more than the current recipient.The award also shows the members what counts as outstanding achievement and what they should strive for.

But the award also establishes the group as "serious" to the outside world and gives visibility to the group, its goals and values. The lower the prestige of the segmented group, the greater the need for legitimation. An award can also establish the recipient as the public face of the group to the outside world and therefore attract public attention.

"Note that segmentation and legitimation form a cycle. The limitations of existing social arrangements foster segmentation, as people who find themselves frustrated or disadvantaged seek remedies through establishing a new social world. Such new worlds, in turn, work to legitimize their existence as separate entities. (…) But this, of course, creates a new established order, one that leaves some still feeling excluded, setting the stage for further segmentation and, often, prize proliferation.

When new social worlds are constructed as overt reactions to past disadvantage and exclusion, prize proliferation may be especially likely." (16)

[Emphasis mine]

So, what kinds of criticisms would prizes attract, mostly from outside the social world? According to Best, some awards may be marred by scandals or corruption or critiques may question the recipients. A more sociologically interesting criticism is that of symbolic inflation (the prize equivalent to grade inflation): the military awards more medals (the types of medals have also proliferated) than ever, universities award more honorary degrees. Organizations that become more selective and restrictive in awarding prizes are therefore placed at a disadvantaged:

"When rival organizations or social worlds cannot control each other’s behavior, the collective benefits of minimizing inflation may seem much less immediate than the selfish advantages from making more awards. Why shouldn’t our service personnel or our students garner the same media benefits as those in rival organizations?" (19)

So, calls for stricter standards may be heard or a few awards may be rescinded but the inflationary pressures remain.

Best argues that egalitarian norms also promote prize proliferation as championship awards (one clear winner, such as valedictorian) turn into achievement awards (plural winners, all students with a 4.0 GPA, for instance). But once a award becomes more accessible and awarded to more individuals, its value might decrease (increase the supply and the value – symbolic in this case – goes down).

At the same time, as Best notes, college admissions and military promotions alike require more and more types of accomplishments beyond grades or service: "More awards create more opportunities to shine" (21). This then also contributes to prize proliferation. But when many awards are available, the individual value of each gets diminished.

Furthermore, Best argues, borrowing Goldner’s (1982) concept of pronoia ("the delusion that others think well of one"), that recipients find too much validation in these awards:

"We can deduce that prize proliferation also ought to promote pronoia; even as prizes become relatively plentiful, recipients can tell themselves that the honors reflect the same high esteem they did when prizes were less common." (22)

More generally, one could argue that prize proliferation is the product of living in a society as diverse and segmented as the contemporary American society, with a multiplicity of social worlds. Individualism and competitiveness do not explain the proliferation of non-competitive prizes. As Best argues,

"Contemporary social conditions encourage segmentation; they make it easy for people to break off to form new social worlds. Rising standards of living have allowed many people to express their personal interests through consumption, thereby inviting a proliferation of lifestyles. Improved communication lets these individuals locate others with similar interests. (…) To the degree that a social world’s members view their participation as an important identity, as a source of status and even honor, that world is likely to seek to legitimize its activities. Prizes are one manifestation of this organizational development." (24)

Best also emphasizes again the importance of ideological shifts such as greater egalitarianism and the pop psychological focus on self-esteem in this trend. Overall, as Best concludes,

"Prize proliferation can be seen as just one indicator of these worlds’ role in allowing individuals to understand their lives as worthwhile." (25)

And in the context of a society in crisis, prizes are a source of valued identity that can be used as a buffer against disintegrating social conditions, and, yes, anomie.

Posted in Cultural Capital, Culture, Dramaturgy, Social Capital, Social Institutions, Social Research, Social Theory, Sociological Articles, Sociology, Symbolic Interactionism | No Comments »

Terrorist Attacks, Solidarity Rituals and Hysteria Zones

February 11, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , , , ,

Randall Collins, “Rituals of Solidarity and Security in the Wake of Terrorist Attack”, Sociological Theory, 22:1, March 2004, pp. 53 – 87.

Randall Collins is, of course, well-known for his work on social theory and symbolic interactionism. In this article, he focuses on the rituals of solidarity displayed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and their own dynamics as they unfold over time.

“Ritualistic mobilization about solidarity and security generates its own processes of conflict, as persons in particular social locations struggle over control of symbols and access to the center of collective attention; and these produce ancillary conflict and sometimes violence in their own right, in a period I call the hysteria zone.” (53)

Specifically, Collins identifies four periods of group solidarity based on conflict:

  1. Initial shock with individual idiosyncratic reactions (few days after the attack)

  2. Standardized displays of solidarity symbols (one or two weeks)

  3. High solidarity plateau (two to three months)

  4. Gradual decline towards normalcy (six to nine months)

The starting point of the article is the very Durkheimian (and Simmelian) claim that conflict produces solidarity. Solidarity is at its peak right after the attack, when the attacked party goes on the offensive (that would be the offensive on Afghanistan) and the moment of victory (the defeat of the Taliban – however transitory that might have been – along with the installation of the new government).

The same hold for war: high enthusiasm at the beginning that does not last long, followed by more normal levels of patriotic solidarity that might last longer. However, should the war cause high casualties with no victories, then, one can expect it to become unpopular. There are conditions though for the production of high levels of solidarity:

“The key to such a pattern is the dramatic incident, the attention-focusing event: a sudden attack and response to the attack, or a dramatic celebration at the end of the conflict. Solidarity is produced by social interaction within the group, not by the conflict itself as an external event. What creates the solidarity is the sharp rise in ritual intensity of social interaction, as very large numbers of persons focus their attention on the same event, are reminded constantly that other people are focusing their attention by the symbolic signals they give out, and hence are swept up into a collective mood. Individual reactions to violent conflict generally are fear or paralysis; solidarity is not the aggregation of individual emotions about conflict but is an entirely different emotional process.” (55)

I emphasize this because I think it is an important general sociological point: the emergent properties of social facts as more than, and different from, the sum of individual reactions.

The above timeline also corresponds to specific displays of solidarity symbols. In the first period, a few days after the attack, displays of solidarity behavior are mostly private and idiosyncratic as people’s attention is still largely intensely focused on news broadcast and wall-to-wall coverage. Displays are not present in public places. Then follows the second period where there is a progressive build-up of solidarity symbols displays. Then follows the plateau of high solidarity then followed by a return to normalcy (no more freedom fries).

I have to say that I found this part to be the weakest of the article for its lack of broad methodological scope. I am not sure someone other than Randall Collins would have gotten away with a few counts of cars and flags in his city with some extrapolation.

The analysis is much stronger when it comes to examining what Collins calls the social clusterings of solidarity displays:

“The display of symbols is not uniform. Conflict does not generate solidarity simply by creating a psychological current passing through everyone equally. Solidarity is orchestrated in part by rather official processes and in part by more informal and seemingly voluntary actions. Several different processes mesh over time. In the very first period, isolated individuals make idiosyncratic symbolic displays, but these are generally taken as too extreme and are met largely with embarrassment. Then official and quasi-official organizations get into the act. (…) These are front-stage displays in the Goffmanian sense, a statement of what the organizational leaders believe is appropriate to be done.” (61)

The point of this ramping up of more or less formal and rigid displays is to convey a sense of consensus through overwhelming presence of standardized symbols of solidarity. There is also an orchestration of emotions that take place through large-scale, spectacular ceremonials dedicated to the victims. These can take the form of concerts, sports events that build up what Collins calls peak experiences of solidarity. These ceremonies are especially present in the second period and less in the third. Ceremonials may make a comeback at specific anniversaries, but by then, some of the intense emotionality is gone.

Additionally, rituals of solidarity provide a form of what could be called “think national, act local”. Most symbol displays take place within communities or local groups but the symbols displayed tend to be nationalistic in nature (flags). Actually, community embeddedness plays a big part in the density of solidarity displays. For instance, Collins notes that patriotic displays were more prominent on pick-up trucks and commercial vans. This is not explained by lower class workers being more obviously patriotic because displays were more prominent in upper-middle class neighborhood:

“An alternative explanation is that pick-up trucks are operated by owners of small business, as are many commercial vans. These are the kinds of businesses that are the most dependent upon a local network of personal acquaintances; thus, it is both to their commercial advantage to show their emblems of conventional solidarity (good for business) and also the display of symbols is facilitated by their group solidarity, just as it it among neighbors wll known to each other.” (62-3)

And just as prominent displays of solidarity symbols were prominent within social clusters (cities, upper-middle class communities, pick-up trucks, etc), lack of symbols were also socially clustered: places where there is opposition to national solidarity, or dispersed communities where displays would not be seen or where solidarity is low. However, again, displays are somewhat standardized and those who deviate from the local norms, for instance, those Collins calls the “Superpatriots” who go over the top do not get much support for their extreme displays.

The solidarity rituals show the contemporary relevance of Durkheim’s analysis of early religious forms in building up solidarity.

“The most intense expressions of solidarity are the most ephemeral. These occur at gatherings where crowds are assembled, sharing a contagion of emotion from body to body, with mutual awareness of focus of attention that makes the feeling of belonging to the group palpable and sometimes overpowering. (…) Thes rituals illustrate the Durkheimian theory in a very strong sense: the ingredients of group assembly, emotional contagion, and mutual focus generate respect for symbolic objects and solidarity within the larger group.” (67)

This is why it is socially necessary to reactivate such feelings at regular intervals over the years, through various commemorative ceremonies. These ceremonies generally involve large audience that provide emotional resonance and amplification. Early into the second and third phase, political actors proclaim their putting aside of partisan fights in favor of national solidarity. Usually opposing teams show their united solidarity by opening games with specific emotional rituals. Normal social reality is thereby partly suspended for a while.

Solidarity is also reinforced through the construction of symbolic figure: the fallen firefighter, in the case of 9/11. This symbolic figure of courage, selflessness and sacrifice serves as what Collins calls symbolic simplification and concentration. It becomes a symbol of the national consciousness.

According to Collins, another function of such ceremonials is to revive the sense of hysteria that was present in the early phases after the attack. As “fateful” anniversary dates approach, security threat levels are upped, security becomes tighter, false alarms are more likely as tensions are heightened.

The flip side of solidarity is the promotion of ethnocentrism and conflict. Therefore, solidarity rituals may involve conflicts as well. Contention can emerge from different sources and contexts:

  1. The ritual itself becomes an object of contention as to who are the legitimate “owners” of the symbols. Internal conflict may also emerge from social pressure to maintain symbolic displays in a standard form.
  2. Conflict may also emerge as to who has access to the ritual center. Who are the legitimate “sacred” figures? Who can make claims to access to Ground Zero?
  3. Conflict may also emerge on the definition of who is a victim. How close does one have to be to a dead victim of the attack to claim symbolic association (which might lead to very material financial compensation).

Such potential for conflict is also heightened by the operation of security procedures that are symbolic in nature: to make a show of security rather than effectively “do” security. For Collins, these security rituals are also part of front-stage reality for the performance of emotional reassurance, which is why they were not initially questioned.

“The security procedures were a form of ritualistic participation in which all members of the crowd took part. Being physically touched by security guards checking bags and coats was a form of symbolic contagion, making people part of the authoritative social collective. It also made entry into a stadium a feeling of passing a barrier into a realm of exclusivity – heightened participation in a Durkheimian sacred space. It temporarily gave people the sense of moving into a zone of importance “where the action is.” The security rituals evoked a sense of danger as much as they calmed it; it was this reminder and evocation of collectively shared danger that made the combination of rituals effective on these occasions.” (75)

But after a while, these security rituals do get questioned from two sources: pragmatists who focus on the ritualistic and impractical nature of the procedures and who might demand their relaxation. This open the field for what Collins calls the security zealots who thrive on keep the hysteria alive by maintaining these procedures, if not upping them further. These are also called hysteria leaders.

Hysteria leaders work to maintain the hysteria zone, defined as the rush of mobilization that takes place during the three-month plateau.

“It is the apex of Durkheimian collective consciousness, the most widely shared feelings of emotion and most intensely focused attention. The solidarity plateau is the hysteria zone for two reasons. The emotions that most powerfully draw people into a society-wide peak of focused attention are the emotions of conflict – especially fear and its transformation into righteous anger. (…) A second reason is that any dissipation from focusing attention on the public emergency gives rise to hysterical reactions (i.e., individuals manifesting the full sense of fear that defines the emergency, combined with righteous aggression). They are in effect Durkheimian agents of social control, punishing those who let down the intensity of the ritual.” (77)

The hysteria zone is where one finds hoaxes, ancillary attacks (the anthrax scare) and dramatic actions by hysteria exploiters. However, the hysteria zone is too intense to last and as the plateau phase ends, so it does.

As Collins concludes,

“An extremely high level of collective solidarity is also collective hysteria: what people do during that period is not judged by themselves as falling into normal standards of behavior; they are both more heroic, more altruistic, and more fearful and vicious than at other times.” (86)

And again, most importantly, these dynamics of solidarity are sustained by social rituals and not produced by individual psychological processes multiplied by the numbers in a crowd. They are forms of collective behavior with their own timing and unfolding based on specific social clustering.

Posted in Collective Behavior, Dramaturgy, Nationalism, Social Interaction, Social Stratification, Sociological Articles, Sociology, Symbolic Interactionism, Terrorism | No Comments »

Social Privilege as Skillful Impression Management

January 29, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Let me put it differently. The difference then lies in certain criminals functioning from an upper-class, dominant habitus which entitles them to a better – read "non-criminal" – social perception. Their cultural and social capital allows them to be viewed as upstanding individuals.

This is really no different than arguing, as Bourdieu and Passeron argued in La Reproduction, that white-collar criminals – such as Madoff – possess a dominant habitus and forms of capital that make them more at ease within social settings from which they will commit their crimes, just like upper-class kids have a habitus that match more closely the cultural expectations of the educational system (manners, speech patterns, etc.) which makes them more at home within the system and creates a more peer-like relationship with the teachers.

In the case of white-collar criminals, their upper-class habitus is basically a guarantee of initial non-criminal perception. In this sense, social privilege turns into a form of interactive skill: the capacity to produce effective impression management.

It is partly this possession of a habitus that is more homologous to that of members of the criminal justice system (especially the judicial part of it) that explains the kid globe glove (thanks, Jay!) treatment white-collar and corporate criminals receive, compared to the punishment handed down to the riff-raff who commit less socially costly crimes, but have the misfortune of a subordinate habitus that endowed them with less social and cultural capital, more at odds with the norms of the criminal justice system.

And as Todd Krohn notes, not only do upper-class criminals get treated significantly more leniently than street criminals, they also get to not be entirely blamed for the crimes they have committed. Indeed, regarding street criminals, one will often invoke "don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time" motto, whereas for white-collar criminals like Madoff

It’s actually a two-fer: Madoff gets some exoneration and the system also escapes blame as responsibility for the current troubles gets redirected from political and structural considerations to moral ones attributed to people lower on the social ladder.

Posted in Cultural Capital, Dramaturgy, Microsociology, Social Capital, Social Deviance, Social Inequalities, Social Interaction, Social Privilege, Social Stratification, Social Theory, Sociology, Symbolic Interactionism | 2 Comments »

Symbolic Interactionism for Dorks

January 21, 2009 by and tagged , , , , ,

Via Backstage,

SI Dino

Posted in Human Rights, Microsociology, Social Interaction, Social Theory, Sociology, Symbolic Interactionism | 2 Comments »