Category Archives: socy502fall2016

Habitus

“The habitus, then, is a structured structure that structures how one views and acts in the world.” (ADE 422)

Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus seems to have two essential aspects: the structure of society and its affect on individuals. He reflected the available life chances based on social status, which is determined by economic and cultural capital. Economic capital becomes the ability to make money. Cultural capital includes aesthetic preferences and tastes that mark a hierarchical social status as well as legitimize existing social inequalities (such as appreciation for highbrow versus lowbrow culture). It also perpetuates and reproduces structural inequality by shaping expectations and behaviors on a basis for unequal distribution of resources. Weber’s influence is visible from how class affects an individual’s lifestyle and subculture (food, dress, housing, etc.) causing social stratification.

Habitus becomes a deeply ingrained influence on individuals and society, where the results seem almost natural (which some have argued) rather than learned or developed. For example, an upper class individual steeped in classical music and fine art appreciates “highbrow” culture. A working class individual is unlikely to have a similar appreciation, but from a lack of experience rather than an inherent reason.

Durkheim’s influence also can be seen through the reaction of poststructuralism. The French poststructuralists believed that society’s structure is constructed in a two-way relationship between individuals and society (relativism rather than universality). Poststructuralists became very interested in linguistics, semiotics, and history to explain the current structure and culture of society.

Within this context, Gauchat explores anti-science attitudes through three hypotheses: science literacy, evangelical faith, and social embeddedness. These hypotheses reflect the societal structure and the survey responses (especially the control variables) reveal individual actions. For example, scientific knowledge becomes a negative indicator for anti-science attitudes. He concludes that the model that includes all three hypotheses best explain anti-science attitudes because individuals experience science differently and their social ties conditions those experiences. For example, socializing results in stronger social ties to an individual’s chosen groups and the group’s beliefs might be different from the rest of society, particularly applicable in religion (such as evolution and cosmology).

Conflict theory and the digital economy

Using the lens of conflict theory, digital technology has seemingly made it easier for workers to be exploited by corporations or app makers. The Digital Labor and Imperialism article viewed the digital age as spawning a new era of imperialism domestically as well as internationally, using the example of Apple iPhones. Fuchs described the plight of the Chinese worker required to work 60 hours a week (also a racist standard) and earning $5 per phone sold, while Apple makes a profit of $175 from the purchase price of $299. Apple and other corporations would argue that the “profit” pays for technology development, software development, extensive testing, and other processes necessary to even create a product for manufacture (thus needing the worker).

The gig economy article attempted to keep a positive spin on Uber’s interactions with its contractors by recommending more transparency and possible technology fixes for common complaints. Uber might be exploiting its contractors through inconsistent policies (wait time and cancellation fees), guaranteed wages (unclear who gets offered these opportunities), and technology glitches. This discussion leaves the reader with the distinct impression that the corporation has not prioritized fixing these issues, therefore does not value its workers as much as customer service and profits.

How would either situation be good for society? What progress (or the opposite) is made from the conflict? In the first scenario, societal globalization may be the eventual destination emerging from economic globalization. We’ve been seeing the results of a limited cultural exchange for centuries, such as the import of European fashions or the export of Hollywood movies. As corporations seek to find cheap labor, the worker’s plight extends to these areas and new bonds form between the working classes of both countries (eventually, after the initial objections about losing jobs overseas). From a Marxist perspective, a critical mass of worker consciousness around the globe might kick start the revolution? From an organizational view, companies have gained economic power by sourcing cheaper labor and possibly avoiding corporate taxes for moving their facilities elsewhere as well as political power to lobby for corporate incentives. In China, these jobs might be very desirable because the alternatives have even worse pay or hours (which makes our capitalist imperialism seem even more despicable).

For the second scenario, I’ve seen arguments that the transportation gigs have done well in areas with poor infrastructure (taxis or other public alternatives). The conflict between the company and its drivers exists because of a larger issue within a metropolitan area and its available services. From a Weberian perspective, the availability and affordability of these services reinforces the social strata of the riders. From a Marxist view, the drivers bear the brunt of the physical (possibility of accidents) and economic risk (taxes and maintenance costs as subcontractors) while the company reaps the profits from their work. Uber’s goal to employ a fleet of self-driving cars also threatens the economic incentive to workers. If the company pays people for being “backups” to the self-driving system rather than actually driving, then wages might be cut because the workers technically need to do “less” work. Technology is not helping resolve class conflict, but making it worse!

Durkheim

Emile Durkheim created the basis for the study of sociology as an academic field and structural functionalism theory. He sought to differentiate sociology as a science separate from psychology or biology, although his theory delves into the motivations of individuals and society. Durkheim’s work influenced theorists such as Talcott Parsons and rational choice theory became a direct challenge to the emphasis on the collective.

Society is sui generis relates to several different concepts, such as the system (society as a collective versus individuals) and how norms affects each level. The literal definition means “unique” and supports how cultures have fundamental differences in moral values and norms, such as suicide rates or religion. Social facts shape society through socialization and education, creating a collective conscience. Their impact on individuals, however, is often unconscious and helps control undesirable behavior (“anomie”).  He also examined the tension in societies from the division of labor, identified as mechanical (where needs of the many outweigh the few) versus organic (promoting individualism) solidarity (creation of social bonds). Frank Elwell described the difference between the question asked as “is this decision moral?” versus “how would this decision benefit me?”

Moral machines become an example of the uniqueness of cultures within society as well as the individual’s assimilation into a culture’s shared values. While rational choice theory clearly benefits the individual in a prisoner’s dilemma, Durkheim’s world is more and less predictable. If the cultural norms dictate one outcome, individuals presumably would choose the same choice because they have internalized the same collective values and morality. However, Durkheim allowed for a disconnect between individuals and society that causes individuals to be detached enough from the collective to make a different choice. MIT’s Moral Machine project attempts to collect perspectives on how people would choose to act based on two terrible scenarios. For example, the technology of self-driving cars requires programming that might present a scenario that involves protecting its occupant or a pedestrian. What if the pedestrian is a mother with a baby in a stroller? Should the software value two lives over one? Or babies/children over adults?

Several major assumptions made seems to be about the level of culture and possibility of interaction between cultures. Families may have unique traditions (especially around the holidays), which many other families might share, but what level of commonness becomes a collective level of culture rather than more “individual” (if we count each family as an individual unit. Social facts must be considered in an objective context, however, the emphasis on morality does not have ethical implications other than what the culture collective accepts. Eating dogs as meat might exist as a norm in one culture, but horrifying in another. Eating any meat might disturb vegans who choose to avoid animal products, but is generally accepted by the majority, so the practice of cultivating animals for food continues as a robust industry.

Also, what happens when multiple cultures intersect, especially along international borders or diverse areas (such as Washington DC)? If we always exist as members of multiple groups, what happens when they conflict? For example, Democrats tend to support pro-choice legislation and side against the death penalty. Republicans tend towards the opposite and Independents claim to choose based on candidate or particular issues. “American politics” presents a neat label on this messy situation and rational choice theory starts making more sense. Durkheimian theory may not have room for “universal truths” or anything that claims to span every culture. In addition, what happens when enough deviance and anomie dominate a society? Durkheim accepted some amount of crime as a test for society to reaffirm its values. The rise of individualism logically leads to a change within society, which may become popularized into becoming accepted collectively and perhaps restarting the cycle?