Society and Culture

The general in the particular Mills maintains that sociology studies patterns of behavior in order to draw conclusions about a social issue that transcends the effect of the problem or issue on any particular individual. See Mills and Wright et al in course reader to guide this project. A behavior or event is “patterned” when it is recurrent. Find patterns in your everyday life for example, in mass media use, dietary choices, musical preferences, and clothing styles.  Connect your particular, or personal, pattern to a more general pattern for a “group” or “category” of people who occupy a place in the social structure: (e.g., the core audience for heavy metal music is young while males). Is this a named pattern (e.g., Metalheads, Vegans)?  What are the rules or “norms” that govern a general pattern like social media use, musical taste, or dietary choice?  To what extent do you derive an individual identity from this pattern? How does this connect you to others and a group or collective identity (e.g., as a sports fan)? Use Risman to interpret this general pattern as a social “institution” (e.g., youth culture, Hip Hop). In particular, what can explain these patterns sociologically (e.g., heavy metal reflects and channels the symbolic rebellion of certain young males against adult authority). references: &  The General in the Particular: Studying Patterns Mills’ work provides the theoretical backdrop for the first research project. Sociologists are interested in the experiences of individuals and how those experiences are shaped by interactions with social groups and society as a whole. To a sociologist, the personal decisions an individual makes do not exist in a vacuum. Social life is not random but patterned. Patterns are events that are recurrent, or repeated on a frequent basis. For example, marrying for love (and like) is the dominant pattern of mate selection in modern societies.  For a perspective on discerning “patterns” of behavior, see the video, “Quantified Self: Apps to Help Track Habits and Identify Patterns”, Kit Eaton (NYT Video, 1.20.16) Cultural patterns that are established over time put pressure on people to select one choice over another, especially when supported by strong norms, or laws. Sociologists try to identify these general patterns by examining the behavior of large groups of people living in the same society and experiencing the same societal pressures. While there are “individual differences”, the existence of a shared culture makes it possible to generalize. Generalizations, for example that marriage in modern societies is based on romantic love, are valid because social life is patterned and not random.  Cultural patterns that are established over time are known as social institutions. They are “established” because they meet important human social needs like the material and emotional care of the young (i.e, the family). They are shared throughout a population and come to define them as a society. The major societal institutions are government, the economy, the legal system, religion, the healthcare system, and the family. The latter is the most fundamental social institution that is simultaneously a biological institution. The sense that the “pandemic” has disrupted our personal and collective lives can be explained by the impact on social institutions – patterns established over time. How disorienting it is to have teachers and students engaging on the internet rather than in the classroom, or to have spectator sports in venues minus spectators. The first question in Project 1 asks you to find a “particular” pattern which can be followed to something more “general”; the task, here, is to find culture. C. Wright Mills concept of sociological imagination refers to an awareness of the relationship between a person’s behavior and experience (i.e., the “particular”) and the wider culture that shaped the person’s choices and perceptions (i.e., the ”general”). Following Mills, this is a way of seeing our own and other people’s behavior in relationship to history and social structure. Marriage, for example, is a “particular” pattern that is highly personal, culturally interpreted as a once-in-a lifetime event. At the same time, “getting married” is a wider cultural pattern or norm(al), although delayed marriage  has become institutionalized; the median age of first marriage in the U.S. has risen from 23 for males and 21 for females in the early 1950s to 30 and 28 respectively. Romantic love is considered necessary and even sufficient for “getting married”. The cultural ideology of romantic marriage paradoxically explains the high divorce rate in modern society in contrast to arranged marriage which does not require “falling in love” (reflect on what is meant by the metaphor of “falling”?). Internet spaces like Instagram and Tik Tok have found new ways to connect youth and their peer cultures to consumerism – a mainstream American ideology that bases identity on commodities like cell phones, clothing and cars. See the video “Generation Like” for an investigation of the new online patterns of online communication that have been enthusiastically adopted by the younger generations. The video suggests that online social media shapes a peer group culture that is relatively insulated from adults, and that pressures individuals to conform to behaviors that are largely orchestrated by large corporations actively marketing commodities to this demographic including social media companies like Facebook. Social media is a site where youth pursue “likes” from peers that validate a “cool” self.  It is important to keep in mind that culture is a product of the people in a society; human beings create culture and, at the same time, created by it. See the article by Mark Lilla (below) on what our culture will look like “post-Covid”. According to Lilla, “the post-Covid culture doesn’t exist. It will only exist after we have made it…”. Human beings can take action; we have choices which means change is possible. Think about the mass movement in response to police killings as an attempt to change the culture of policing and, more broadly, racial inequality. Change is directed at racism that is built-into specific institutions like law enforcement – racism that is institutionalized or systemic.

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