The Body

Sorry I’ve not been around a lot in the past few days, apart from the internet connection troubles I am settling in at University again and have been spending more time watching rubbish TV with my housemates (being a proper student 😀 ). Anyway, I did find the time to write a little something.

Nowadays the body is viewed quite differently due to increased mobilisation with the mass use of cars and a change in the job market from labour intensive to office work/computerised systems.

Berber Women

Mostly we experience and theorise about our bodies in medical terms. Critical thinkers have rejected this biological reductionism and state we need to see the body in cultural, social, economic and political contexts. Feminists agree that the body should be recongnised as a part of the surrounding environment. For instance, male bodies are stronger because they are encouraged to take part in sports which develop muscles. However, Berber women are the ones who carry heavy loads over long distances and thus are viewed as stronger than men.

Phenomenology, briefly, is the idea that the ‘self’ (mind) and body are inextricably linked. When normal body functions become impaired or restricted it’s almost impossible to not reflect on the ‘self’. Medical illnesses can not only disrupt how the biological body works but can cause psychological issues resulting in a loss of self-confidence, hence, affecting social life, economic participation etc. Something I’m intimately aware of.

Phenomenology provides a bridge between the naturalist perspective which advocates the body as a biological entity and social constructionism which focuses on the body in a cultural context, being influenced by the society within which it resides.

To me, the body cannot be separated from the ‘self’ as Cartesian dualists claim, as the intentions of the ‘self’ have a direct effect on the body. If you decide to climb a vertical cliff your body takes the strain, similarly if you prefer to restrict exercise to the more conventional morning jog/walk it’s the body which ultimately becomes stronger and consequently causes your self-esteem to build.

In the modern age where beauty is defined in comparison with air-brushed magazine photos and tall, slim models inevitably generations of insecure people have learnt to assess and criticise their bodies in conjunction with their self-worth. This attitude has created the ‘beauty myth’ of socially constructed, unattainable beauty.

In desperation many turn towards the medical profession and cosmetic surgery. This technology could be utilised to create uniqueness but instead it’s exploited to form ‘normality’. The freckles which brought individual character to your face are deemed unsightly and the laughter lines by your eyes which show a life of experience and fulfillment also have to be cast away. It’s as though society wishes to stifle personality by subtly encouraging us that our appearance is somehow ‘wrong’ because we don’t confirm to the ‘norm’. The consumer culture is not only exploiting our pockets, influencing our opinions and lifestyles but causing the body to be objectified in a manner which disregards personality or talent. Just look at celebrities, what does Katie Price actually do? Who cares, with knockers like that she can force herself into the media all she likes. Who cares if the latest singer mimes during live concerts because they can’t really sing, as long as they look the part they’re allowed to strut about on stages across the globe.

Cosmetic surgery primarily targets women, some feminists see this as an extension of patriarchy as men seek to control and objectify women through the ‘beauty myth’. Other feminists argue medical professionals don’t advocate patriarchy but seek to increase their own influence and acquire power.

Whatever your view on the ‘beauty myth’ and cosmetic surgery it’s evident society is being oppressed and educated into a docile, false consciousness which is responsible for the lack of confidence and inferiority experienced by those who attempt to resist the ‘norm’.

(Obviously I’m talking about cosmetic surgery for beauty, not for reconstruction after burning, skin cancer or other accidents/illnesses).

Main References:

Katie Davis Reshaping the Female Body: the dilemma of cosmetic surgery

Susan Bordo Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body

B.S.Turner Medical power and Social Knowledge  and The Body and Society: explorations in social theory

N.Wolf The Beauty Myth: how images of beauty are used against women

Images from google


Just a little thought

Picture from Facebook perhaps? I can’t remember, I saved it a while ago. 😀

I’m as guilty as the next woman, I enjoy shopping for clothes and shoes and making an effort to look nice. But if there were less made-up girls in the world the rest of us would feel more comfortable in ourselves. When I dress up to go out I still do the bare minimum; a bit of makeup along with doing the best to make my curly, frizzy hair organise itself into ringlets (without the aid of curling tongues, and a lot of the time I let it dry naturally – I’m lazy). In front of my mirror I think I look quite pretty but sometimes you wonder if you should make more of an effort, just to keep up with the high maintenance women of the 21st century. Sure, dress up a bit and look nice but why should we feel the need to plaster on the foundation, wear fake eyelashes (something I’ve never done – I wouldn’t know where to start) and totter about in extremely high, lethal kitten heels? More girls should say “No thanks” and maybe more men would start to appreciate natural beauty rather than the fake version advertised my magazines, TV shows etc.

Saying this, men are targeted by the media more and more. In fact, I’m sure most guys in my classes make more of an effort and spend longer on their hair than I do. Commercialism and the consumer society has made us all victims of desire and appearance, how long will this go on before realisation hits the western world?

Socialisation: Part Two

Theories of socialisation

There are three approaches to socialisation; they all contribute different understandings of socialisation:

Psychoanalytic theory (S. Freud)

Freud focused on the unconscious mind and how emotions drive people towards particular actions and behaviours, primarily the desire for pleasurable experiences and sexual gratification. He asserted the conscious mind, otherwise known as the ego, is dominated by attempts to control such unconscious drives.

As for socialisation, psychoanalytic theory states the first few years are crucial for the formation of ‘self’. A sense of morality is gradually internalised and becomes part of the conscious mind, called the ‘superego’.

Psychoanalysis looks at the relationship between the surface structure of consciousness and the deeper, inner structure of the unconscious, much of the early psychoanalytical theory emphasised the biological bases of emotions and the ways in which people learn to try to control their natural tendencies. Later psychoanalysts broadened this perspective and recognised the cultural origin of these unconscious drives

Sigmund Freud argued that the core elements of the personality are formed during childhood, the first few years of life develops a sense of self, morality and conscious orientation to the world. Parental prohibitions and punishments are gradually internalised by the child as knowledge of right and wrong in their conscience. There are several studies looking at how parents and teachers can instil expected codes of behaviour in children, Thorndike and Pavlov are the first two who come to mind but their thoughts are for another time and post.

Role-learning theory (structural-functionalist approach)

A structural-functionalist approach which stresses the importance of learning the norms that make up role expectations. It rejects biological reductionism and states social roles are blueprints for action learned through interaction; systems of rewards and punishments induce conformity to role expectations. This process of internalisation guarantees the maintenance of conformity over time.

Social roles are treated as social facts as determined by Durkheim: they are seen as institutionalised social relationships; matters of constraint rather than choice e.g. people aren’t free to renegotiate what it is to be a doctor, teacher, mother, or father.

Conformity to role expectations is a result of external pressure through the rewards and punishments that people apply to each others behaviour. Role-learning theory emphasises a process of role-taking: it sees people as taking on culturally given roles and acting them out in a mechanical way. People’s actions are seen as almost completely determined by the cultural definitions and expectations that they have learned through socialisation.

  Symbolic interactionism (C.H. Cooley, G. H. Mead, E. Goffman)

Focuses on the formation of self through social interaction; role-playing as a creative process (not just enacting things learned during socialisation). It originated in the social psychology of William James and was developed in its classic form by George Herbert Mead at the University of Chicago. Herbert Blumer then coined the name symbolic interactionism to distinguish it from mainstream structural-functionalist sociology.

Symbolic interactionism  places strong emphasis on the roles of symbols (gestures and objects) and language as core elements of all human interaction. It sees society as a set of fluid and flexible networks of interactions and their consequences within which we act.  Socialisation involves a more active role of individuals.

Charles Horton Cooley

Developed the hypothesis that we learn who we are by interacting with others; our view of ourselves comes from our impressions of how others perceive us. Cooley used the phrase “looking-glass self” to emphasise that the self is the product of our social interactions with other people; just like the reflections from a mirror, the self depends on the perceived responses of others.

The process of developing a self-identity of self-concept has three phases:

  1. First we imagine how we present ourselves to others
  2. Then we imagine how others evaluate us (attractive, intelligent, shy or strange)
  3. Finally, we develop some sort of feeling about ourselves, such as, respect or shame

 George Herbert Mead

Is best known for his theory of the self, according to Mead the self begins at a privileged, central position in a person’s world. Young children picture themselves as the focus of everything around them and find it difficult to consider the perspectives of others. This childhood tendency to place ourselves at the centre of events never entirely disappears. As people mature the self changes and begins to reflect greater concern about the reactions of others.

In Mead’s terminology there are two aspects of the self: the ‘I’ and the ‘Me’. The ‘I’ is the source of action, but other people observe and react towards the ‘Me’. The ‘Me’ is the social self, constructed through interactions with others and reflecting the attitudes that they adopt. The social self develops at the age of 4 or 5. At 8 or 9 children begin to take on the attitude of what Mead calls the generalised other, they begin to infer the common or widely held values of their society by generalising from particular adults to society in general. They begin to consider how other people in general within their society might react to particular kinds of actions. The attitudes of the generalised others become the voice of their moral conscious.

This theory took several readings but eventually it made sense – sort of.

 Erving Goffman

How do we manage our self? How do we display to others who we are?

Goffman suggested that many (if not all) of our daily activities involve attempts to convey impressions of who we are. His observations help to understand how we learn to present ourselves socially.

  • Impression management (1959) à Early in life individuals learn to manage their presentation of the self to create distinct appearances and satisfy particular audiences.
  • Dramaturgical model à Goffman makes so many parallels to the theatre that his view has been termed the dramaturgical approach. According to the perspective, people resemble performers in action e.g. a clerk may try to appear busier if a supervisor happens to be watching
  • Face work à how often do we initiate face-saving behaviour because of embarrassment or rejection? We need to maintain a proper image of the self if we are to continue social interaction

Goffman’s work of the self represents a logical progression of the sociological studies begun by Cooley and Mead on how a sense of self-identity is acquired through socialisation and how we manage the presentation of self to others. Cooley stressed the process by which we come to create a self; Mead focused on how the self develops as we learn to interact with others, Goffman emphasised the ways in which we consciously create images of ourselves to others.

Do any of these theories or approaches ring true for you? Personally, I see a few elements which are relatable such as Cooley’s realisation that our perceptions of ourselves can depend on the opinions of others and the role-learning theory stating that the definition of ‘doctor’ or ‘mother’ are more or less stable in Western culture.

Socialisation: Part One

I split this post on socialisation into two parts to make it easier to read as the second half is rather long.

Socialisation: A lifelong process through which people learn appropriate attitudes, values and behaviours in a particular society or culture. Socialisation helps people learn skills and abilities used to interact with others as well aiding them in understanding what kind of person they are. Individuals acquire their culture and become aware of their individuality i.e. as conscious, reflective entities. They develop a self-identity.

Forms of socialisation

  • Primary socialisation – the foundation for all later learning, beginning in infancy and childhood (typically within a family or household of carers).
  • Secondary socialisation – takes place in later childhood and continues in later life when the individual acquires a broader range of social skills and a more detailed knowledge of roles outside the family.
  • Re-socialisation – a specific form of secondary socialisation. It involves discarding former behaviour patterns and accepting new ones as a part of a life transition. Typically involves considerable stress for the individual, much more so than socialisation in general. E.g. prisons, religious conversion, therapy groups, dramatic changes in people’s lives.

Agents of socialisation
Each agent can be analysed deeply, these are just a quick overviews.

  • Family – the lifelong learning process begins shortly after birth, since newborns can hear, see, smell, taste and feel heat, cold, pleasure and pain; they are constantly orientating themselves to the surrounding world. Human beings, especially family members, constitute an important part of their social environment.
  • School – like family, schools have a responsibility to socialise people in the UK to the norms and values of British culture.
  • Peer group – as children grow older, the family becomes less important in social development and peer groups increasingly assume a more significant role – that of ‘significant others’ (individuals who are most important in the development of self). Within peer groups, young people associate with others who are roughly their own age and who often enjoy a similar social status. Peer groups ease the transition to adult responsibilities, although they can be the source of harassment as well as support.
  • Media and technology – in the last 80 years media innovations – radio, cinema, music, TV and internet – have become important agents of socialisation. TV in particular is critical in western societies. Also, the internet leads to globalised socialisation with the same resources available world-wide.
  • Workplace – learning to behave appropriately within an occupation is a fundamental aspect of human socialisation. Socialisation in the workplace changes when it involves a more permanent shift from an after-school job to full employment. Occupational socialisation is most intense during the transition from school to job, but it continues throughout a persons’ work history. Technological advancements may alter the requirements of the position and instigate a degree of re-socialisation. Today people change occupations, employers and places of work many times during their life so occupational socialisation continues throughout a person’s years in the labour market.
  • The state, institutions, politics – the state has a noteworthy impact on the life course by reinstituting rites of passage that had disappeared from agricultural societies and during periods of early industrialisation. E.g. government regulations stipulate the age at which a person can drive a care, drink alcohol, have sex, vote in elections, marry without parental consent, work overtime and retire. These regulations shape the socialisation process by affecting the life course to some degree and by influencing our views of appropriate behaviours at particular ages.

There are many issues with socialisation, if a child is raised by neglectful or abusive parents this affects their socialisation. However, you cannot stereotype and say a child will grow up repeating their parents’ actions; they could take the complete opposite path. Similarly, just because a child grew up in a well-off background with loving parents does not mean they are unable to go spiralling down a dangerous road due to negative influences beyond the home. So which is more important, primary or secondary socialisation? Can secondary socialisation ever correct problems (or endanger positive events) which occurred in primary socialisation?

What have been your experiences with socialisation? Is it a positive or negative phenomenon? Or is it merely a necessary evil since you cannot help but be affected by your surroundings?

To end part one: a word of warning – influences such as the media, politics and institutions should be looked at from a distance since they all have their own agendas and so their truths should not be considered the only answer.

Education and the Wider World

Brofenbrenner (1979) researched human development and emphasised the importance of studying the ecology of development. He believed the environment surrounding an individual is very complex, it goes beyond the immediate, concrete setting. Brofenbrenner developed the ‘nested-eggs model’, demonstrating the layers of interaction experienced by children which directly, or indirectly, affects learning.

Firstly, at the core lies the micro-system which consists of a particular setting such as their household, social activities and school environment. As a young child home and school are more prominent but as the child ages peer groups and social clubs affect behaviour.

The meso-sphere links these environments, for instance, the quality of the household affects success in the school environment. Siblings have a strong effect on the learner, for instance, they can be great sources of knowledge and support, providing a positive role model. However, equally research shows young children with aggressive older siblings are more likely to develop conduct disorders, which generally leads to low academic performance. Also, Brody (2004) argues older siblings with excessive caring responsibilities have less time for home and school work; conversely Brody also suggests caring duties can have a positive impact through improving reading and language scores. For an adult the meso-system links environments such as family and work.

The third layer identified consists of the parents’ employment and other aspects which affect the child but the child is not an active participant. Parents who work a lot have less time for their children and so they loose out socially as well as academically, this is especially the case in shift work, usually experienced by lower-class families. Furthermore, those with higher incomes and educational backgrounds are more likely to purposefully move into better catchment areas (Hofferth et al, 1998). As a result, despite the aims of equality expressed through the comprehensive state system, some schools become very middle-class and respected, whereas others receive those lower down the social structure and become viewed as ‘unsuitable’ by middle-class parents. These stereotypes lead to different group dynamics within the schools as pupils react to labelling by society, therefore, social factors and group dynamics work in a symbiotic relationship inadvertently creating unequal opportunities.

The last layer portrayed by Brofenbrenner’s nested-egg model is the macro-sphere, which represents wider society, such as Governmental policy, which affects the child’s learning and progress. Societal views about single or working mothers, the availability of child care, accepted working hours, rates of unemployment and the economy all affect children’s’ and adult’s micro and meso-systems.

Brofenbrenner’s development model recognises the importance of each system as well as the links between them, not just the Microsystems which are commonly studied. However, Thomas (1992) stated Brofenbrenner’s theory is lax in explaining the relationships between Microsystems e.g. how does the involvement in school relate to family life? Overall, Brofenbrenner’s nested eggs model is a significant framework for developmental psychology since it tries to address the real world directly.

Does the underclass really exist?

Can you truly define the underclass? Some argue this is pointless as it diverges from the real issue. However, it is also contested that there is no underclass due to equal opportunities and social mobility available in the UK. Despite this apparent meritocracy you cannot argue against the existence of outsider groups in society throughout history; ‘othering’ (the process of marginalisation of a group) is not a new phenomenon.

In 1851 Mayhew described a devious, dangerous, work-shy class:

 “The nomad…is distinguished from the civilised man by his repugnance to regular and continuous labour – by his want of providence in laying up a store for the future – by his inability to perceive consequences ever so slightly removed from immediate apprehension – by his passion for stupefying herbs and roots…and for intoxicating fermented liquors…by an immediate love of gaming… by his love of libidinous dances…by his delight in warfare and all perilous sports – by his desire for vengeance – by all looseness of his notions as to property – by the absence of chastity among his women, and his disregard for female honour” (Mayhew, 1851 cited in Hayward, K. & Yar, M. (2006). The ‘chav’ phenomenon: consumption, media and the construction of a new underclass. Crime Media Culture, 2 (1), 9-28)

You can track the exclusion of groups in British history:

  • 1830s – ‘Street Arabs’ – a homeless child who begs and steals
  • 1860s – ‘Garrotters’ – a term used to describe early muggers in London
  • 1890s – ‘Scuttlers’ – early groups of youths who would fight in packs
  • 1930s – ‘Immoral Youth’ – the supposed lack of morality in post-war youth
  • 1950s – ‘Teddy Boys’ – the Americanised youth gangs of their day

Each decade since has seen its own ‘dangerous youth movement’ – the Mods, Skin Heads, Ravers, Chavs etc. Although, Jock Young has argued events such as the clashes between Mods and Rockers were amplified by the media and did not really constitute their label as a dangerous group.

The underclass, a class of people who rely on benefits, or on a minimum wage and engage in criminal activity are very often excluded from mainstream society as people view them as ‘different’ and ‘other’ them. This ‘othering’ creates two teams, if you will, the ‘them’ and the ‘us’ which festers hostility as society marginalises those who do not conform and the ‘others’ violently resist any attempt made to pressure them into conforming.

This is evident in the Conservative view of ‘othering’ as noted by Young (The Vertigo of Late Modernity, 2003) which contends outsider groups have alien values preventing integration. Although the Liberal view is kinder towards the ‘others’, stating they are essentially like the rest of society and if they are helped up the ladder they could become respected members of mainstream society. However, which ever theory you believe it leads to the same result, a group is excluded and labelled as ‘different’ and ‘dangerous’. There were a couple of Pete Doughty quotes my lecturer found which sum this up pretty well.

“I can’t tell between death and glory, New Labour or Tory.”

“It’s one and the same.”

Charles Murray, as stated in ‘Single Mothers and Problem Families’, claims the rise in single mothers, male labour market inactivity and criminal propensity identifies an underclass of welfare dependency. He also adds welfare benefits act as incentives to remain unemployed.

Theories on the left also look towards the economy to explain the existence of the underclass. Wilson claims a decline in the traditional labour market, with the loss of industrial and mining jobs, leads to ghettoisation, whereby those who can afford to move out of an area do, leaving the poorest in one area separating them from the rest of society. Giddens similarly claimed changes in the economy leads to marginalisation and thus, the structured rejection of mainstream values.

On the other hand, there are those who argue against the existence of an underclass. Jock Young (The Exclusive Society, 1999) proposed that society consumes all culturally, but regurgitates some structurally – hence Cannibalism and Bulimia.

P. 82 – “The social order of the advanced industrial world is one which engulfs its members. It consumes and culturally assimilates masses of people through education, the media and participation in the market place.”

Young contends the problem is structural exclusion alongside cultural inclusion as the underclass hold the same values as mainstream society but achieve them through different means (e.g. Merton, who shall be explored at a later date). Young supported this conclusion by including Bourgois’ study on New York crack dealers and Nightingales’ ethnography of poor children in Philadelphia. Both found evidence of extreme cultural inclusion in the most structurally excluded population in the US in that they hold society’s values more than mainstream society itself.

“Already at five and six, many kids in the neighbourhood can recite the whole cannon of adult luxury – from Gucci, Evan Piccone and Pierre Cardin to Mercedes and BMW…from the age of ten , kids become thoroughly engrossed in Nike’s and Reebok’s cult of the sneaker” (Nightingale, On the Edge: a history of poor Black children and their American dreams. 1993, P. 153-4)

Therefore, can we really argue they are excluded? Are they the epitome of the American Dream? Can they really constitute an underclass when they subscribe so strongly to mainstream values?

Do you believe in the underclass? Or is it a question of unfair stereotyping and media/deviance amplification?