October 01, 2007


Caption: Lily is ready to rumble.

The 1950s has the reputation of a decade of conformity and mediocrity which I think is undeserved. There was a lot of creativity in American life in that period, including some of the cleverest critiques of conformity and mediocrity.

Not to mention Elvis.

El Cabrero just finished revisiting a sociological gem of that period, Lewis Coser's The Functions of Social Conflict. It's a little gem that holds up pretty well.

Coser was one of the first to integrate two strands of social thinking, conflict theory and functionalism. Conflict theory is pretty much what it sounds like, with a particular emphasis on inequalities of wealth and power. Marx would be the classic example.

Functionalism is kind of what it sounds like too, an approach that examines how the various aspects and institutions of a society function or dysfunction as a whole and for particular groups.

When the book was written--1956--the dominant strand in sociology was what C. Wright Mills called "grand theory," an elaborate and largely unreadable brand of functionalism represented by Talcott Parsons which tended to view social conflict as a bad thing or symptom of dysfunction. Coser, inspired by the quirky German theorist Georg Simmel (1858-1918) looked at the positive as well as negative functions of social conflict.

(Here are some nuggets about Simmel.)

Coser distinguished between conflict and hostile feelings or attitudes:

Social conflict always denotes social interaction, whereas attitudes or sentiments are predispositions to engage in action. Such predispositions do not necessarily eventuate in conflict; the degree and kind of of legitimation of power and status systems are crucial intervening variables affecting the occurrence of conflict.

In other words, sometimes hostile attitudes are not openly expressed in conflict. When it does happen, though, conflict "helps to establish and maintain the identity and boundary lines of societies and groups."

Far from causing societies to fracture, it can sometimes be part of the glue that holds them together.

About which more tomorrow.

LOGAN ACTION PLANNED IN WAKE OF MEGAN WILLIAMS CASE. The American Friends Service Committee and the Logan County Improvement League are holding a candlelight vigil Oct. 2 at 6 p.m. at Big Creek, the area where Megan Williams was tortured and sexually abused. Dr. Johnny W. Meade, pastor of the Church of God in the Name of Christ Jesus, invited the organizations to conduct the service at his church, which is located on the right about one and one-fourth miles up Trace Fork Road off Corridor G behind the Thornhill Chevrolet dealership.

Organizers are hoping that this event will give residents of Logan County and other people of good will a chance to come together to make a positive statement. For more information, call 304-752-3422.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, here's an interesting article on the history of race relations in southern WV which appeared in Friday's Gazette.

ON THE DOWNSIDE? Here's an item on the apparently declining political clout of the religious right.

IT'S ALL ABOUT TABLES. The Rev. Jim Lewis has a great knack for picking a theme or image and spinning it out in all kinds of ways. The theme for the latest edition of Notes from under the Fig Tree is Table Talk.

VETO BATTLE EXPECTED THIS WEEK on the Children's Health Insurance Program is likely to happen this week.



Jim said...

Back in my days as coordinator at the runaway shelter, we talked about conflict being similar to milk.

You need to deal with it before its expiration date or it turns into a sour, nasty mess.


El Cabrero said...

That's a good one-thanks!