Sociology Journal Essay


Sociology Journal Essay

Sociology attempts to help explain how we work as a whole. I find it interesting that it emerged during the 19th century as a result of the development of a changing world and the new institutions and phenomenon's that surrounded it. It is also interesting that theories constructed almost 200 years ago still have some relevance today and some of the movements such as trade unions still exist today, even if they are not as influential as before. Although the paradigmatic thinkers of modernity were writing in different social and historical contexts, since the 19th century the pace of change has accelerated in all facets of life so our worldviews and the institutions that govern us will probably change will probably change even during our lifetime.

This is in stark contrast to the stagnant premodern life described by sociologists and other disciplines. What I have also noticed is that the whole notion of modernity and sociology as a discipline is supposed to tell us about how we work as a whole society, however it appears quite Euro centric as all the thinkers are European and the revolutions and processes brought on by the 19th such as industrialisation, commercialisation, rapid urbanization and the decreasing importance of religion are very much specific to the European life experience at the time. Although this is changing now as the world is becoming increasingly global, non western worldviews and alternatives to the European sociological perspective would be interesting to examine to see if their diagnosis of modernity is different to the European one.

Karl Marx

Marx's attempt to explain modern society was very relevant to the time when he wrote. Even if some of his views are quite radical, romantic and utopian, he was very forward thinking. Rather than merely point out the problems of capitalism and the antagonistic relations between the capitalists and proletariat he also specified how the workers could change this class relationship. This lecture is more about Marx's general critique of modernity and capitalism rather than ways of solving the problem.

Marx's theory of the alienation showing the human cost of capitalism has contemporary relevance. By drawing a contemporary parallel that I can relate to, this makes it easier to imagine the life of the industrial worker during the 19th century. Although the strands of alienation described essentially relate to industrial workers during Marx's time, I think that alienation of workers in some professions still does exist even though capitalism has progressed and the nature of work is always changing. Alienation of the individual from the object of their labour is evident in sweatshops such as Nike where the workers get paid minimally and cannot even afford a pair of the shoes that they produce. The alienation of the worker from their productive activity is also evident in factories today such as the automobile industry where workers are still designated specific monotonous tasks and bodily functions. Today, particularly in the Western world there has been a growth in service and professional sectors where some forms of alienation still exist, however alienation in mass production seems more relevant in developing nations with less regulations, such as China where there is a large manufacturing industry.

Karl Marx Part II

Although Marx's critique of Modernity was insightful, his account of how to overcome the problems of capitalism had some limitations. The utopian dimension of his thought and the fact that he overlooks the progressive qualities of capitalism are particularly evident. The idea that we can actively choose our future and influence history is appealing. However, abolishing private property and the division of labour would improve the inequality between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie but implementing such a thing is virtually impossible.

As we have seen in Communist regimes during the 20th century, in practice such control of life impinges on the freedom of individuals and people are no better off than under the capitalist system. The idea that the revolutionary transformation into a communist society will eventually benefit everyone so it therefore is non-sectarian is false. Marx was clearly an advocate for the interests of the workers and despised the bourgeoisie and all institutions that supposed them. So I don't understand how he believed that his work in the Communist Manifesto was an objective scientific, standpoint when it was clearly ideological.

The capitalist system and division of labour ensures that institutions are competitive and society to progresses. Today healthy competition under the capitalist system encourages us to work harder and constantly develop more efficient ways of producing and operating. The needs and wants of consumers are catered for and we have more choice. So although alienation has detrimental effects on the individual, the capitalist system has also benefited us. His prediction that capitalism would collapse is still yet to happen but it is possible that as we progress a different system could replace it, even if not in our lifetime.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche's critique on Enlightenment is quite difficult for me to grasp. I understand that he criticised democracy because of its egalitarian ideals that weakened the aristocracy but critiquing beliefs and ideologies without blindly accepting a particularly world view does not seem to be negative or unhealthy.

The idea of a ruling morality or nobles who are naturally superior is elitist and Nietzsche is so specific in how they should be that I wonder if such extreme “healthy” free spirits exist. A class of moral individuals with new values and new ways of orienting ourselves in the world away, from the suspicion of the masses sounds like an interesting idea but with very few individuals, if any fitting the mould of the idea individual in Nietzsche's eyes, I don't understand how such a society could exist except on paper on in his head!

Marx was also forward thinking and radical but his suggestions of overcoming the crisis he saw in modernity are easier to imagine than Nietzsche's ideal society.

Nietzsche Part II

The idea of the sickness of society is a theme that is particularly interesting in this lecture. Suspicion, doubt and skepticism, which are supposed to be the hidden results of Enlightenment according to Neitzsche, can also be positive. Previously in pre modern societies, people blindly accepted religion as the universal truth without questioning the possibility of alternatives, which seemed more harmful than anything. The Enlightenment period helped bring about the plurality of truths and interests and encouraged people to be critical and question things for themselves rather than passively accept the world for what it is.

The idea of developing an elite group who rules to overcome the crisis of modernity is very different to Marx's egalitarian perspective but they are both radical in their views. If Nietzsche's answer is to turn against normality, reject the possibility of universal truths and be a cultural creative, then the fact that there is no single universal truth is a truth in itself. What does his idea of creativity mean? He does not seem to mean it in the conventional sense, when I think of someone creative, I think of someone artistic and often an individual who does not conform but a morally creative person seems somewhat harder to imagine, particularly if Nietzsche himself does not consider himself as one of these elite beings

Max Weber

The vocation and choosing only one value sphere to orient your whole life around was Weber's answer to the loss of meaning and disenchantment in modernity.

The idea that choosing a value sphere whether it be science, religion or art and not mixing it with any others seems quite radical. I don't understand why people can't engage in many vocations. It is very rare that an individual will orient himself or herself around only one vocation.

Although individuals have the freedom and autonomy to choose their own vocation and orientation to life, the fact that Weber wants the self-disciplined individual to ignore all other value spheres seems to impinge on our freedom and restrict us rather than emancipate us from the iron cage of modernity. It seems contradictory that he calls modernity an iron cage of modernity because the loss of freedom and meaning yet his solution seems equally as restricting. The idea of the vocation seem requires a level of self-sacrifice that many would not be able to achieve. Even scientists today can involve themselves in many vocations; they could be a scientist as a profession, a sportsman, carpenter and musician in their leisure time and a parent in their private life.

Weber Part II

The postmodern self does not inhibit one view but rather we play with a plethora of ideas but we do not fully inhibit one. The Protestant work ethic seemed to be the reason that capitalism was successful. People worked hard, disciplined and saved their money, which in turn created more wealth but the thrifty work ethic has changed a lot since the early 20th century to one of mass consumption and little saving.

The issue that we live in a rationalised modernity is very much part of democracy so although Weber was committed to democracy there was no place for an active civil society so his idea of democracy seems different to the postmodern concept of democracy.

Emile Durkheim

The crisis of social solidarity in modernity that Durkheim discusses seems a fair argument. The conscience collective that held organic solidarity together mainly though religion was no longer there. I just wonder if why we can't have many conscience collectives and social solidarities. Maybe I am getting confused but social solidarity seem to be some function such as religion, which keeps individuals connected somehow. Instead of the anomie forming, is it possible that we can just choose many smaller collective groups to orient ourselves with rather than one homogenous group?

The idea that modern social solidarity was underdeveloped and lagging in modernity ignored the many new forces such as an increasingly diverse, cosmopolitan world where social solidarity was changing but possibly not underdeveloped.

The idea of a moral education to seems rather radical. If it wasn't going to be implemented by state educational institutions I don't know how civil society could implement such a moral education that could radically transform the nature of individuality. The concept sounds very useful but could it really change the condition of anomie?

The Frankfurt School

The critique of the totally administered society seems to have some strength but the comparison between Capitalist, fascist and socialist systems seems quite extreme. The Frankfurt Schools critique on consumer culture is useful because to a great extent the individuality advertised in consumer goods is nothing profound and often we are led like sheep to believe differently. However, what we consume in mass culture often makes us feel safer conforming and consuming similar things to people who we affiliate ourselves with, such as a subculture. We often form our identities around groups we belong and this is often through how we consume.

The culture industry has become somewhat conformist, bland, and safe and often promotes certain ideologies and values however, Adorno underestimates the intelligence and strength of the consumer of mass culture. Although we are part of this administered society most consumers are aware that mass culture often promotes certain values and stereotypes but we know not to take it too seriously. We are still able to enjoy popular culture without letting it brainwash us and destroy our individuality. On the other hand, the mass media does

often promote some harmful stereotypes such as ones of Muslims in the media and often homogenises whole groups. This leads me to belief that there is some aspect of an administered society through the bureaucratic control over the institutions in out society that promote the interests of the powerful. However, Adorno and Horkhiemers claims are extreme and they ignore the positive progressive aspect of modernity.

Michel Foucault

The idea of the Panopticon and its impact on the individual is quite distressing and disturbing. This is probably because Foucault's work is more recent than the previous thinkers and the idea of panoptic disciplinary power is so relevant and evident in today's society. The prevalence of video cameras in train stations, buildings, ATMs, shops and basically anywhere we go when we leave our homes is exemplifies that anyone could be watching us at anytime. This in turn does have a controlling effect on our behaviour because we know we could be watching at any time.

Even from inside our homes we can become virtual prisoners of this panoptic power with phone tapping, the Internet and other modern technologies anyone can find out anything about us at anytime if they had the need to. The prevalence of this control is particularly evident in the workplace particularly call centres and offices with computers because every bit of work is monitored and recorded which is used to control the worker and ensure the worker works properly. Now we are so used to being monitored and watched, we may often forget and behave normally as if no one was watching. This could be a form of resistance of control.

How can the autonomous individual be the outcome of productive power not a resistance of power. The idea that this power can only exist because of resistance seems fair in most cases but sometimes it seems we are being watched for the sake of being watched just so people have access to all aspects of our life even if we have no intention of resisting or engaging in deviant behaviour.

Agnes Heller

Heller's diagnosis of a dissatisfied society seems quite correct. Our needs and wants are expanding and we do not have the resources to satisfy them all. However, the way in which Heller believes we should overcome this dissatisfaction seems elitist and not possible for everyone. What does turning our contingency to destiny really mean for the individual. Our freedom to choose our own destiny and realise our potentials is seems similar to Weber's idea of the vocation but even if we choose I'm not sure how this manages dissatisfaction.

Capitalism, industrialism and democracy are all strong forces but their tendencies don't seem to be only conflicting. The mutual dependence of these institutions is prevalent because if it wasn't for industrialism, then capitalism would not have proliferated and the institutions of democracy with the self determining individual also makes room for the capitalists to succeed.