Chronicles of the Lifeworld

lifeworld–the world of everyday life; the world as experienced.

Archive for July 2010

Socio-Links

Written by Cody

July 28, 2010 at 23:20

Posted in sociology

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The Opaque Society

Ever since I started taking this sociology thing seriously, I have had trouble coming to terms with the concept of “society.” The term is ubiquitous in the field of sociology but suffers from an opaqueness reminiscent of some terms found in philosophy. “Society” is an important concept. Every other word that comes out of a sociologists mouth is “society,” and people act in such a way so as to take this hard to define concept into account when they go about their daily routines.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, society is “a group of people who share a common culture, occupy a particular territorial area, and feel themselves to constitute a unified and distinct entity.” That is not altogether different from ethnicity, which the same dictionary defines as follows: “Individuals who consider themselves, or are considered by others, to share common characteristics that differentiate them from the other collectivities in a society, and from which they develop their distinctive cultural behaviour, form an ethnic group.” The definition for ethnicity takes into consideration differences between collectivities, whereas the definition for society does not. However, if one perceives oneself to be part of “a group of people who share a common culture,” then one would naturally regard one’s culture as being different from other cultures because no two cultures are the same (otherwise there would be no need to differentiate). So society and ethnicity remain in this slightly overlapping conceptual purgatory in which everyone is sure there are differences but cannot quite point them out. “Society” continues to taunt me with its fuzzy boundaries, ensuring that I will not come to terms with it.

It is hopeless to try and devise definitions for each term that will be etched permanently on the pages of all future sociology handbooks and textbooks. Sociologists must have wiggle room to define their terms because the social world does not conform neatly and precisely to well thought out definitions willed into existence by social researchers. As long as researchers define their terms accurately and uses them consistently throughout their work, the opaqueness of common sociological terms should not be a problem. Unless, of course, two researchers defined their terms in radically different ways, therefore making comparisons next to impossible. Then you have a problem. And we’re back at square one.

Written by Cody

July 28, 2010 at 08:11

Posted in sociology

Tagged with , ,

Economism

From David Henderson at EconLog:

Here’s what I’m wondering. If a local government in Pacific Grove or elsewhere got rid of such laws, how many extra productive jobs would be created? How many people would hire workers to cut down trees, build extra rooms, etc.? The city of Pacific Grove is also hostile to anyone who wants to have a medical marijuana clinic. It also doesn’t allow bars. If the city government started allowing these things, how many extra jobs would be created? I know that jobs are not the measure of wealth, but in all these cases, the jobs would create wealth.

This is an example of economic reductionism–the act of reducing social life into a narrow set of economic variables, namely wealth and productivity. Wealth and jobs are important. Communities live and die by them. But wealth is not always the most important factor by which communities thrive. Other factors are important too, such as community solidarity and happiness. Introducing policies designed to increase wealth and productivity could have destabilizing effects on solidarity and happiness, a sort of mini-“creative destruction,” if you will.

I’m not against communities introducing wealth producing policies, or un-policies (deregulations). Those decisions should ultimately lie with local governments, which tend to have a better understanding of the wants and desires of their constituents than state or federal representatives.

Written by Cody

July 24, 2010 at 18:40

Posted in economics, sociology

Tagged with , ,

Are women more ethically Kantian than men?

That question overstates things. However, taking into consideration the second formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative which states that one should treat a person as an end and not merely as a means to an end,  it appears women agree with that sentiment more than men.

Using variables from the General Social Survey, I generated the table below.  Male and female respondents were asked if it was okay for someone to develop friendships because they would be of use to him or her.

Regardless of sex, people tend to disagree with the statement than agree. But relative to each sex, more women disagree with it than men. I also controlled for subjective class classification, age, and race and this pattern remained constant.

Variables: SEX, USEFRDS

Written by Cody

July 23, 2010 at 21:46

Posted in sociology

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Adam Smith: Behaviorist

In book one, chapter two of The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith credits reason and speech for the propensity for individuals to truck, barter, and exchange. Through reason and speech, human beings coordinate their wants and needs with others. Smith argues that this propensity facilitates the division of labor. A person, for example, say, a tribesman, could fashion his own bow and arrow and trek out into wild and hunt for game. If he had a special talent for making bows and arrows but was an average hunter, he could concentrate on bow and arrow making and exchange his wares for game from hunters who are exceptional hunters. Smith does not give this phenomenon a name, but he is discussing the concept of comparative advantage. The example above also points to the topic of stratification.

Further, Smith claims that the difference in abilities between individuals is the result of the division of labor and can be attributed to habit, custom, and education. He remarks that the differences between children are little but widen as they enter into their respective occupations. This view would place Smith firmly in the nurture camp of the nature-nurture debate.

Written by Cody

July 23, 2010 at 10:45

Posted in economics

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Economists as Mystics

From the introduction to A Humane Economy by Wilhelm Röpke (with the introduction by Dermot Quinn):

Economists do not stand high in public esteem, and for good reason. For one thing, they seem to get it wrong as often as they get it right. Offering certainties with the confidence of hard scientists, their predictions dressed in the best mathematical finery, they seem to have a record of success somewhere between that of a fairground madame and a reader of tea-leaves. The public, embarrassed and bemused by this nakedness, rightly prefers the Famer’s Almanac to Keynes’s General Theory.

Written by Cody

July 22, 2010 at 22:02

Posted in economics

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