So, this semester I took a class called Social Theory, where we studied all of the philosophers and theorists that talk about social phenomenon. At the end of the semester, we were to do a final project that incorporated these ideas into what could be an art project, or a paper if we chose to write one. I decided to write a poem that explored George Herbert Mead‘s theories about the self. I’m really excited about this poem, I haven’t written a long poem like this in over four years. It will definitely be a good addition to my portfolio. I am even more excited about this project because I received a high grade. To quote my teacher, “Really, really beautiful work… You manage to keep Mead at the center of the work without it being clunky or distracting.”
I recently began a course called the Sociology of Sexualities, one of the books assigned for the course is Sexuality written by Jeffrey Weeks. In it, he discusses a new way of talking about sexualities.
Nothing is sexual, Plummer suggested, but the naming makes it so (Plummer 1975). If this is the case, it follows that we need to move gingerly in applying the dominant Western definitions to non-Western cultures. Both the significance attributed to sexuality and attitudes to the various manifestations of erotic life vary enormously…
As a I free-associated for a moment, after reading that, I arrived at the notion of the legality of homosexuality in certain regions of the globe. First, I set aside my emotional response to the existence of these laws, and examined them passively for a moment. I do not believe it is too controversial an argument to say that the existence of these laws is the result of homosexuals being perceived by the general culture, and those in power, as being a deviant minority, which threaten certain aspects of the cohesive society where all members reside. I began to think about the homosexual members of this society, and how they must feel when they first exhibit desires to perform actions that they’re society considers punishable by death.
One important aspect of this class is that we are considering sexuality to be socially constructed:
…the forces that shape and mould the erotic possibilities of the body vary from society to society. ‘Sexual socialization,’ Ellen Ross and Rayner Rapp wrote in the early stages of this historicizing of sexuality, ‘is no less specific to culture than is socialization to ritual, dress, or cuisine.’ …
I do not wish to deny the importance of biology. The physiology and morphology of the body provides the preconditions for human sexuality. Biology conditions and limits what is possible. But it does not cause the patterns of sexual life. We cannot reduce human behavior to the mysterious workings of the DNA… I prefer to see biology in a set of potentialities, which are transformed and given meaning, only in social relationships.
So in returning to this hypothetical homosexual man, living in a society that punishes homosexuality by death, I began to wonder what social forces led to his homosexuality. His existence seems, in this way, to provide evidence for a biological cause for his state of being homosexual. But then in all cultures, to my understanding, all people are subject to variability, not just biologically speaking.
But I am not so much concerned with this person’s homosexuality, as much as I am with the notion of his homosexuality being illegal. This, I believe is really the heart of the issue. People may be whatever they are, inherently or otherwise, but this only becomes significant when it bumps up against the construction of our society. So, I started to think, what if something were illegal that no-one was even physically capable of. There have been a few documented cases of levitation that some monks are able to accomplish through intensive meditation, but for the most part the laws of gravity are pretty definite for the rest of us. Nevertheless, what if a state were to pass a law that banned levitation? The question is more or less rhetorical because what I really mean to point to is the idea of deviance to begin with. I think I may have had this idea in my head that laws were made for breaking, which translates to the idea that social pressures against any sort of behavior lead to the existence of those behaviors through an unconscious, almost Freudian, kind of rebellion against society.
There is also a reason the idea of making human levitation illegal is inconceivable, and that is because we all understand the purpose of laws. On the surface, it seems that they exist to regulate and organize society, but in fact all of us do that on a daily basis without need for a law-book in our back-pocket. The laws exist to collectively organize the understanding of the values held by those in power. Of course, I don’t really mean to say that with such force, I am speaking specifically of what Emile Durkheim would call Repressive Law. In other words, we can get a glimpse at the nature of society by looking at the laws the society creates. Because there is no-one in the society who levitates, there would never be any laws concerning levitation.
I guess I’m not really sure what I am arguing then. Mostly I’m just trying to combine my reading on Emile Durkheim with my reading on Sexuality, but I’m not sure where this leaves me. Does all this mean that by creating laws that outlaw homosexuality, those governments are in a way affirming the existence of homosexuality and thus participating in its continuance? Or does it mean that homosexuality is innate, and no social construct can successfully repress it? Or perhaps, rather, it means that by creating this notion of deviance, the society is actually creating rigid, categories that create a psychological profile for this hypothetical ‘homosexual’ as the result of simple variation in his biological sexual preference. In reality, the truth of his biology is probably much more complex and amorphous, or maybe it isn’t.
I guess, really, what I am left thinking is how absurd the idea of determining “deviance” truly is. It does not take the ordinary web-searcher very long to find contradictions to today’s notion of deviance in the world’s history. Was Lincoln gay? Pederasty in ancient Greece? Anal-sex between heterosexual couples in ancient Chile? When it comes to social mores, to make the “popular” opinion the gold-standard only makes sense because that’s the unfortunate fact of how power works.
I guess deviance is kind of a paradox. Nothing is really “deviant,” but, like sexuality, the naming makes it so.
Remembering what it means to be an undergrad. Yes, I’m an amateur Sociologist, sue me.
This semester, as part of a class titled Transnational Activism, I wrote a 20-page paper that detailed the shifts in strategy, tactics, and goals of Invisible Children Inc. in order to determine my prognosis for future outcomes for the organization. I have to admit I started out being really skeptical and pessimistic about the organization, and I ended rather optimistically, which is not at all like me. Overall I don’t think Invisible Children Inc. will have a negative impact on society, but there’s a lot of things the organization could be doing better and this paper illustrates all of them. This was a massive project, I’ve never done anything like it before. What’s even more exciting, though, is that I got an A on my paper!
I’ve gone through and made a few edits to it, and I have made it available to download as a protected PDF file if you are interested in reading it.
If you do download it, let me know what you think in the comments section.
This is a plea by Naderev M. Sano of the Phillipines at the Doha Climate Summit. This all happened shortly after the Philippines was struck by deadly Typhoon “Pablo,” which left over 1000 dead and hundreds missing. According to scientists, disasters like this are going to become more frequent as ocean temperatures rise and the ice-caps melt, causing more water to enter the atmosphere. And third-world countries have the greatest risk of being effected more by these disasters. Making the decision to reduce emissions, or pursue alternative forms of energy is not simply about saving ourselves, but about helping one another. This is not one person, one nation, or one region’s problem. This is a global problem. Please watch and share.
Today a dense fog drifted over my mind and
behind my pupils, my breath
swam through it as I passed blindly over the
moist cracks in the sidewalk. And no
matter how hard I focused, my
lungs still felt heavy and my heart
still raced, and
my legs couldn’t keep
from stumbling on the thoughts
that flickered through my mind at top speed.
Today, I threw my hands at the
gates of never-never land
desperate to escape, even if I cannot see
the other side, even if these gates
are made of nothing but my own
I want to scream, ”I AM AN EMOTIONAL
MAN,” but there is
no one but the squirrel,
confusing the utility pole for a tree as I pass by.
Today, snippets of joy and confusion and
longing slip in front of my retinas
like water particles
suspended in air. I can feel
the emptiness burn like a fire within my core,
the void that I confused for hunger.
eyes see nothing but the tenderness
that lays softly upon my heart, the
inner-peace that laces my every breath, and the
yes, maybe, someday, love, that echoes in my
It’s been quite a while since I’ve written a poem, turns out it was rather apropos.
This is a blog-post that I’ve been wanting to write for a very long time because it has confused me for over a year. I have an anthropologist friend, and shortly after I announced to her my decision to become a Sociology major, I was met with a cold look. Apparently, anthropologists take umbrage at the pursuits of us Sociologists, and finally, at last, I think I may understand why. To describe this phenomenon, I will use as an example, the “problem” our planet seems to be having with population. Our population is increasing at an exponential rate, we are running out of clean water for all these thirsty people, we are running out of places to put all of these people’s waste, and we are running out of room to grow food for all of these hungry people. Many scientists are afraid we truly are approaching a Malthusian catastrophe.
Like many fields a young person like myself can study at a great big University, Sociology believes it has a solution. That solution comes out of studying society and the organization of people in society. When we do this we notice a couple of very interesting things. We notice that when literacy rates go up, birth rates go down. This is noted as one of the initiators of the Arab Spring, young people who had more access to education were forgoing raising children and turned instead to the streets and the local politic, to interact with global society, to make their voices heard. These were democratic revolutions . While whether they will sustain that way is yet to be seen, they nevertheless demonstrate a kind of pattern that could be reproducible in other parts of the world. As literacy rates increase, birth rates decrease, and citizen involvement in democratic international politics increases.
Literacy is certainly one effective method of dealing with birth-rates, and indeed it is a sociological one. Another method, however, could be seen as more controversial by some, though I am hesitant to say that. This is because I am talking about Women’s Rights and an increasingly modern perspective of a woman’s relationship with her body. Initially, it would seem that this notion of “Feminist” thought is a particularly Western one, whether that’s true I really don’t know for sure. But it is that fact, which I believe to be the point of contention between Sociologists and Anthropologists.
If women in the world were more empowered to see their body as theirs than they will be less likely to give in to the whims of male sex-drives. This is the theory, and we see this theory’s efficacy when we look more specifically at how women’s literacy rates effect birth-rates. On the one hand, I would initially wish to argue the point of “what’s wrong with empowering women?” Isn’t empowering women a good thing? At first this argument seems to be moot. Of course! Furthermore, if it’s a movement towards a sustainable population, then its even better. However, there is another philosophy, which I am still not sure I agree with or not.
This new mode of thinking would involve a change to already existing cultures, cultures which have long-rooted traditions, ceremonies, and beliefs. History is nothing if not an excellent source of stories of one group of people trying to change an already existing culture in the name of righteousness. This is central to the argument about Islamic women wearing the traditional hijab, it is not simply a matter of western religion clashing with Islam, but also of western notions of femininity clashing with another culture’s relationship to the female gender. If we go out into the world saying, women need to be empowered to be in control of their bodies (which is a much haughtier claim than simply that women should be educated the same as men) then we are bumping right up against another culture and that, my Anthropologist friend would probably say, is absolutely not okay. Who are we to say that the practices of one culture are better or more sustainable than another? We should leave other cultures alone.
But what about the sustainability of our entire planet? What are we going to do? Is it okay, is it ethical, to say that certain cultures should change in certain ways in order for all people on the planet to survive? How much do we really value culture?
That’s the question I leave with you, let me know what you think!