February 21, 2008


This week Goat Rope is exploring sociological themes, although you will also find links and comments about current events. In particular, El Cabrero has been thinking about the sociology of interaction. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

As mentioned Monday, in introductory sociology classes, students are often taught that there are three main approaches to the discipline: functionalist, conflict, and symbolic interactionist. In reality, it's a good bit messier.

But one interesting strand of research looks at the overlap between conflict theory, which focuses on inequality of power, and symbolic interactionism, which is kind of what it sounds like.

The best example of this I know is the work of James C. Scott of Yale University, who has written several books. My favorite is Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts.

Let's start with the basics: a huge swath of the history of "civilization" involves one group dominating another, whether the dominated are slaves or serfs and the dominators were masters or feudal lords. During most of that history, the oppressed seldom resort to open revolt, which is often suicidal--and which could even make things worse.

It is almost a cliche that history is written by the winners, so much of the official version of recorded history reflects the perspective of dominant groups. For that matter, whenever the dominated are in the presence of the dominators, the latter generally get to define the situation.

Scott refers to the ruler's definition of events as the "official transcript." But there is usually a lot going behind the scenes and in the places the rulers never go and can scarcely imagine. In places like that--imagine hush arbors for slaves or peasant huts where people speak their minds away from the powerful--the "hidden transcript" prevails. And along with it go low key acts of everyday resistance that help deliver at least some goods for the lower classes while avoiding the risks of overt rebellion.

TAKING ON THE FED. Here's progressive economist Dean Baker on the housing bubble, the recession it helped to create, and the lack of accountability from the Federal Reserve.

A WIDENING GAP. From the NY Times, a new study by the Brookings Institution warns that "widening gaps in higher education between rich and poor, whites and minorities, could soon lead to a downturn in opportunities for the poorest families."

FOOD WARS. First, an unsolicited product endorsement. If you haven't read it, do yourself a favor and read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. Here's an interview with the author about his newest book, In Defense of Food.

GIANT ARMORED TOAD UPDATE. Beelzebufo, the recently discovered giant toad mentioned in yesterday's post, may have eaten baby dinosaurs. And speaking of weird creatures, they got em in the Antarctic too.


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