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A brief overview of interpretive theory.

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  1. 1. Interpretive Theories
  2. 2. The Interpretive Strand of Social Theory <ul><li>Dating back to Weber, one line of sociological thought insists on the role of meaning in shaping human behavior and human social life. </li></ul><ul><li>Although this field of sociology identifies Max Weber as its founder, similar lines of thinking can be found in ancient philosophy, in theology, in literary theory, and many other fields. </li></ul><ul><li>This is often identified as the most humanistic (as opposed to scientific) aspect of sociology. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Interpretive Sociology <ul><li>Today, interpretive sociology is most manifest in the area known as the sociology of culture. </li></ul><ul><li>This line of thought is identified as interpretive because it argues that the sources, structure, and functions of social life are not entirely objective. They do not fully exist in the external observable world. Instead, their meaning and consequences are subject to interpretation . </li></ul>
  4. 4. Interpretive Sociology <ul><li>The largest factor guarding our interpretations of the social world is culture . </li></ul><ul><li>The word culture always invokes the issue of meaning and values. </li></ul><ul><li>The interpretive approach insists that meaning matters. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Values <ul><li>It may be surprising then to learn that it was Max Weber who first articulated the idea of value-neutrality within sociology. </li></ul><ul><li>However, because Weber recognized that meaning matters and that it is powerful, he felt the sociologist should a) attempt to set aside her/his own meaning system and not let it drive scientific observations, and b) take seriously the values and the cultural systems of those being studied. </li></ul>
  6. 6. A Framework for Comparing Theoretical Approaches Relation-ship between the individual and society; how do social exp. Create identity How do different hierarchies work hand in hand to oppress some and privilege others Who is treated as ‘other’? How do the marginalized find power Relative positions of men and women, meanings of gender What does race mean? How is it organized What are the beliefs and values of a society Who rules? How is strat-ification reproduced What need is served by institutions What are the norms, goals, and means? Key Questions Agency Matrix of Domination Dispersed Patriarchy White supremacy; racial dictatorship Hegemony Ruling class, bourgeoisie and capitalists Power important for social cohesion Neutral Implication for Power Social Psychology Comb-ination of race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. Sexuality; social boundaries; mainstream Gender Racial hierarchy Systems of Meaning Economics Purpose of every social institution How society is organized; resources and schema Focus of Explan-ation Social Self Inter-sectional Queer Feminist Theory Racial Conflict Inter-pretive Class Conflict Function-alism Structur-alism
  7. 7. Tools for Cultural Analysis <ul><li>Mechanisms of Cultural Transmission: These are the institutions, practices, and objects that preserve culture, that keep it going from generation to generation. </li></ul>
  8. 8. Tools for Cultural Analysis <ul><li>Content Analysis: A method of examining texts to identify the meanings and values that are encoded into them. Texts can include books, newspapers, photographs, songs, films, stone tablets, maps, buildings, and much more. </li></ul>
  9. 9. Tools for Cultural Analysis <ul><li>3. Interpretation: You cannot simply evaluate the surface meanings. To truly understand the culture, you have to look beneath the surface. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>This calls for a level of subjectivity. Subjectivity need not be a violation of social science. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Although subjectivity can be problematic (just like the objective act of producing and examining statistics), we can become trained observers who are able to make reasonable deductions from the subjective realm. </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. Tools for Cultural Analysis <ul><li>4. Culture as an Independent Variable: The acknowledgement that meaning can make things happen. For instance, that people will cast votes based on their beliefs, even when it violates their own economic interests. </li></ul><ul><li>C Y </li></ul><ul><li>C=Culture </li></ul><ul><li>Y=Social Outcome </li></ul>
  11. 11. Tools for Cultural Analysis <ul><li>5. Culture as an Alternative to Rationality: The acknowledgement that humans do not always act based on simple rational calculations of the best outcomes at the least cost. Why? Because their values demand otherwise. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Tools for Cultural Analysis <ul><li>6. Cultural Boundaries. Whose culture is this? What group or groups claim this meaning system? </li></ul>
  13. 13. Culture Basics <ul><li>Culture is a system of meanings. They tell us what matters, why it matters, and how to respond to the things that matter. </li></ul>
  14. 14. Culture Basics <ul><li>2. Culture is both internal and external. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>It is internal in that we carry it in our heads, and allow it to shape our consciousness. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>It is external in that our values are carved into the external world—in books, in works of art and music, in our money, in architecture, and in many, many other places. </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. Culture Basics <ul><li>Culture is social </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Although we hold our beliefs in our heads, we are never purely alone in the beliefs that we have. We share them with others, we learn them from others (parents, teachers, pastors, political parties, etc), we practice them with others (concerts, revivals, holidays) and we shape our actions towards others based on them. </li></ul></ul>
  16. 16. Culture Basics <ul><li>Culture is multiple </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Although culture is shared, it is not shared with everyone. Societies are composed of multiple cultures. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>We are always engaging multiple systems of beliefs and meaning. These systems compete to shape our social practices. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Even most individuals have competing cultures in their heads, as their political beliefs, artistic preferences, religious faith, and educational ideologies conflict. </li></ul></ul>
  17. 17. Culture Basics <ul><li>Culture constrains. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Culture limits our behavior to specific forms and patterns. It produces a set of rules and it tells us that violating these rules is a major offense—against God, against human nature, against those we love. So we rarely challenge the constraints of culture. </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. Culture Basics <ul><li>6. Culture enables. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Because of our shared beliefs, we are able to communicate with one another, have a sense of shared identity and solidarity with others, and set social agendas (which are always based on shared priorities and a shared sense of what matters). </li></ul></ul>
  19. 19. Culture Basics <ul><li>Culture Assigns Value. This produces three basic categories of social things: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The sacred —the stuff we value the most. But we only experience the sacred on special occasions—church on Sunday, visits to museums, celebrity sightings, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The mundane —this is the stuff that is given neutral value, the stuff of our everyday lives. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The profane —these are the things we devalue, the taboo—pornography, heresy, gratuitous violence. Like the sacred, we only engage these things on rare occasions. When that which was taboo occurs often, it eventually shifts into the category of mundane (for example, sex scenes in movies. </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. Culture Basics <ul><li>Culture makes us : we find our sense of personal identity (our place in the world) through our cultural practices. </li></ul>
  21. 21. Culture Basics <ul><li>9. We make culture : meaning systems are never fixed in place. They are always in flux and the direction of their changes is driven by our actions and our decisions. </li></ul>
  22. 22. Culture Basics <ul><li>Cultures intersect: the many meaning systems in the world never exist in pure isolation. They are always intersecting with other systems of meaning and these moments of intersection allow different cultures to shape one another. </li></ul>
  23. 23. Culture Basics <ul><li>11. Cultural depth varies: some of our beliefs are so taken for granted that we never even acknowledge them. They are seated deep within our consciousness and are only unveiled in unsettled times. Other beliefs exist at the surface and they are constantly open to discussion and negotiation (for example, beliefs about contemporary politics). </li></ul>
  24. 24. Culture Basics <ul><li>Culture can be a dominant ideology or a toolkit. If all of the ideas from our various cultural systems agree on a given point, then that agreement produces a dominant ideology—a belief that is widespread and from which there are no alternatives. However, in most cases, culture creates a toolkit—a set of varying ideas that we can choose from based on the circumstances we face and the needs we have. </li></ul>
  25. 25. Culture Basics <ul><li>No single domain of social life has a monopoly on culture. Nor is any domain devoid of culture. We tend to associate the word culture with religion or the arts, and to dissociate culture from economics, public policy, or resource management, but even these latter practices are driven by issues of meaning and belief. </li></ul>
  26. 26. The Study of Culture <ul><li>Although the interpretive tradition has been distinct within sociology for many decades, this area of study also draws from other disciplines. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cultural anthropology, especially the work of Clifford Geertz, which treats culture as powerful and uses the word culture as a synonym of structure </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Literary studies, and its offshoot cultural studies. Cultural studies was born when literature scholars began to take their methods of literary interpretation and apply them to other areas of social—treating popular culture and social practices as texts that could be read and interpreted. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>History, which traditionally was largely concerned with texts but in recent decades has derived historical information from non-textual sources, including the sort of material culture (crafts, coins, clothes, etc) that had been the domain of anthropologists. </li></ul></ul>