February 18, 2008
Caption: Fuzzy roosters discuss the social construction of reality.
Every once in a while, El Cabrero teaches an off-campus evening sociology class for my alma mater. I have several reasons for doing this, not least of which is the privilege of getting a university library card so I can find obscure books with which to regale you, Gentle Reader.
As is usually discussed in most any such class, there are several different ways of approaching the study of society. It's common practice although somewhat problematic to break down theoretical approaches into three main orientations: functionalist, conflict, and symbolic interactionist.
Functionalist approaches can run from the ridiculous to the sublime but generally focus on how various activities or institutions affect the overall social structure. One of the best functionalist theorists was the late great Robert Merton, who was featured here a while back.
Conflict theory is pretty much what it sounds like. It tends to focus on inequalities of power, wealth and privilege between groups and how these are fought over or rationalized or some combination thereof.
The branch that I find to be increasingly interesting in my old age is the symbolic interactionist approach, which studies the way people create and interpret meanings through communication. Symbols can include anything from language to clothing to sacred images. For some reason, this approach developed primarily in the United States.
More on this tomorrow.
POVERTY and the political will to do something about it is the subject of this Paul Krugman column.
PLAY ON. the NY Times Magazine has a huge article about it which takes it pretty seriously.
CHRONICLES OF PHILANTHROPY. Here's an op-ed by yours truly on recent "charitable" efforts to plug Ayn Rand's ideology.
AFTER NAFTA. Thousands of Mexicans are organizing against the aftershocks of the North American Free Trade Agreement. As Jim Hightower pointed out recently, people who get angry over immigration to this country might want to consider that one reason for it is that many Mexicans have lost jobs or seen living standards fall since its passage in 1994. According to Hightower, 19 million more Mexicans live in poverty today than when NAFTA was passed.
FULL COURT PRESS. The WV Supreme Court story just keeps getting better and better. Justice Larry Starcher, who has been publicly critical of Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, announced Friday that he would recuse himself from a case involving Massey. If you recall, Justice Spike Maynard recused himself after pictures surfaced of Blankenship and him vacationing in Monaco after the court agreed to hear the case. Starcher has urged Justice Brent Benjamin to recuse himself as well. A political unknown, Benjamin was elected to the court in 2004 with the help of millions of Blankenship's money. No wonder WV's court debacle was the inspiration for John Grisham's latest novel.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED