Tag: symbolic interactionist theory

Poetic for the day

Poetic for the Day Two little poetics I have recently encountered “All of Us”  by David Budbill Out of the undifferentiated Tao come the ten thousand things: the bug in the bird’s mouth, the bird in the tree, the tree outside the window, the window beyond the chair, the chair in the room, the man…

John H. Gagnon and William Simon.

Where does the drama get its materials? From the unending conversation that is going on at the point in history when we are born’. Kenneth Burke

John Gagnon and Bill Simon were amongst the towering intellectual influences of my early life. I read them throughout the 1960’s. They taught me that:

 “ (1) Sexual conduct is entirely historically and culturally determined; (2) the meaning of conduct does not reside in a reading of the bodily activity of individuals; (3) sexual science is historically and culturally determined in equal measure ;(4) sexuality is acquired, maintained, and unlearned in all of its aspects and is organized by social structure and culture, and (5) gender and sexuality are both learned from of conduct and are linked differently in different cultures.  (John Gagnon: The Interpretation of Desire p136 ID).

John Gagnon and William Simon

My first encounter with John was with the sociologists Michael Schofield who introduced me to him in 1970 in Wayland Young’s House – 100 Bayswater Road. He subsequently became the external examiner of my PhD, he visited Essex in 1984 (when I also met Cathy Greenblat), and I visited his hosting university Stony Brook in 1985. I first met Bill many years later at Santa Barbara in 1987 where we were both teaching summer school. I also met Lynn his wife. Together we had a wonderful summer together and Bill introduced me to the music of Andrea Marcovici.

John and Bill are both amazingly strong intellectuals in the best sense of that word.

They studied at Chicago in the mid 1950’s. Subsequently John went to the Kinsey Institute and Bill joined him a little later (with a Hugh Hefner grant).  They worked ‘crazily together’ till 1968; and then wrote the book Sexual Conduct by 1973. By this time they were also getting new career structures – John at Stony Brook, Bill at Houston (and- as it happens- with new partners and families).  But after Sexual Conduct, they remained friends: you could always see them together at conferences; but the critical moment was over. Their intellectual lives moved on differently. We must all be grateful that they spent those five years together at Kinseyland. Without the right time, the right place, the people mix would this have happened.

John writes in his biographical essay:

Two senses of the world that I know Bill and I shared. First, was a certain view of our lives as accidental and contingent, lives that could have turned out quite differently; and second, a recognition of our marginality to the larger sociological profession as advanced by the Graduate Program in Sociology at the University of Chicago and recorded by the official historians of the department and the discipline…..   …. P287 SC 2

 They were, of course, writing before Foucault’s influential work (though as John has remarked when he encountered Foucault: “What Foucault does is too texty; its too parochially French..  he is not very new except to folks who are  not well read in history and the other social sciences’……. P280  Together John Gagnon and Bill Simon were a powerhouse of ideas. Here is a potpourri of some of their ideas in axioms:

Therefore, the authors reject the unproven assumption that “powerful” psychosexual drives are fixed biological attributes. More importantly, we reject the even more dubious assumption that sexual capacities or experiences tend to translate immediately into a kind of universal “knowing” or innate wisdom – that sexuality has a magical ability, possessed by no other capacity, that allows biological drives to be expressed directly in psychosocial and social behaviors.  Pyschosexual Development 1969

 In any given society, at any given moment in its history, people become sexual in the same way as they become everything else. Without much reflection, they pick up direction from their social environment. They acquire and assemble meanings, skills and values from the people around them. Their critical choices are often made by going along and drifting. People learn when they are quite young a few of the things they are expected to be, and continue slowly to accumulate a belief in who they are and ought to be throughout  the rest of childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Sexual conduct is learned in the same ways and through the same processes; it is acquired and assembled in human interaction, judged and performed in specific cultural and historical worlds.  John Gagnon Human Sexualities 1977: p2)

 All conduct is scripted , and ..scripting theory is not merely to be applied to sexual conduct, but to all social conduct’ ID P136  Orig 1991

 No Play Without A Script : We see sexual behavior therefore as scripted behavior, not the masked expression of a primordial drive.  Pychosexual development 1969

 We have allowed the homosexual’s object choice to dominate and control our imagery of him……..(we will) only begin to understand [ through]… those complex matrices wherein  most human behaviour is fashioned’….. Formulation, 1967.

 There was no magic in the world… The world is no longer enchanted, and it cannot be enchanted again. And the search for enchantment in sexuality must end in failure……. SSp284

 The critical posture to maintain is that the future will not be better or worse, only different’. P233 SC2. P233.

 It is abnormal to think scientifically. Most thought processes, as you go through the world, are impressions and fragments and pieces. You have to create an environment in which linear and highly coherent thought can go forward; you find a quite room, you close the doors, you turn on your computer, you look at the screen, you type. You pretend there is nothing else going on in your head. But that describes a specialized environment of a very specialized form of thinking…… SSp280

The most important permanent truth about sexuality is that there may be no important truths about sexuality that are permanent … all discourses about sexuality are ultimately discourses about something else; sexuality rather than serving as a constant thread that unifies the totality of human experience, is the ultimate dependent variable, requiring explanation more often that it provides explanation’ (Postmodern Sexualities 1996:142; xvii)

Quote of the Day:

On getting it all wrong!

“You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion. … The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that — well, lucky you.” Philip Roth (American Pastoral

A Puzzle?

Inspirations: William James

I first encountered the work of William James as an undergraduate in the 1960’s through his ideas of The Self.

Later, I read more and more of his work. His ideas of pragmatism, the plural universe and kindness have been been important to me.

Nowadays I read him often.

Below are a few of his sayings that have inspired me.

William James (1842-1910)

William James asks his uncle : What is a life for? And is told: Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind. (cited in Robert Coles: Handing one Another Along (2010) p241.)

Now the blindness in human beings … is the blindness with which we are all inflicted in regard to the feelings of creatures and people different from ourselves. We are practical beings, each of us with limited functions and duties to perform. Each is bound to feel intensely the importance of his (sic) own duties and the significance of the situations that these call forth. But this feeling is in each of us a vital secret, for sympathy with which we vainly look to others. The others are too much absorbed in their own vital secrets to take an interest in ours. Hence the stupidity and injustice of our opinions, so far as they deal with the significance of their lives. Hence the falsity of our judgments, so far as they presume to deal in an absolute way on the value of other person’s conditions or ideals…What is the result of all these considerations…?  It is negative in one sense, but positive in another. It absolutely forbids us to be forward in pronouncing on the meaninglessness of forms of existence other than our own; and it commands us to tolerate, respect, and indulge those whom we see harmlessly happy and interested in their own ways, however unintelligible they may be to us. Hands off: neither the whole truth nor the whole of good is revealed to any single observer, although each observer gains a partial superiority of insight from the peculiar position in which he (sic) stands… William James, On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings…. James (1899/1913).

These then are my last words to you. Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.  The Will to Believe. (1896)

What most horrifies me in life is our brutal ignorance of one another… William James, in Richardson 2006 p381

The whole function of philosophy ought to be to find out what definite difference it will make to you and me…William James

I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big success. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of pride. William James: Letters; and also cited in Biography” by Robert D Richardson   2006/7   p384

THE HAUNTING OF SOCIAL THINGS

A doubting sociologist

The poem below was originally meant to be in Sociology: The Basics. The publishers’ thought it too long; and I thougt it not good enough. So it was cut. But here it is for fun!  

If we had a keen vision of all that is ordinary in human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which is the other side of silence                  George Eliot.

 For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully and hidden lives, and rest in unvisited tombs.             Closing lines of George Elliot’s Middlemarch

 Men make their own history, but not under circumstances of their own choosing….Marx.

We live the social electric-
The air we breathe is social.
The tiny things and the major things.
The social haunting of life in vast time and space.

The social is natural and the natural is social.
We do things together, drenched with people,
attuned to others: there is always the other.
And the haunting of social things.

We make social life stuffed full of the possible
yet we dwell in our habits, the patterns and structures,
the predictable positions we trap ourselves in.
The prisons that engulf us, a daily haunting.
Pounding patterns of structure and wobbly worlds of meaning.
We are prisoners, puppets, and people. Always fragile.
World making actions, and resistance, rebellion-
in worlds not of our making that haunt till we die.

Ubiquitous differences, divisions,dominations: the inhumanities of people.
A haunting ‘matrix of inequalities’: generations at war,
gendered classed races, sexy nations disabled.
And the troubled pathways of excluding and exploiting, dehumanizing and disempowering.

At the brink of a change- a world seething with gushing movements.
Pasts, presents and futures collide in the moment.
Where did it come from and where is it headed?
Cyber capitalisms in global ferment haunting the world.

Standing amazed at this chaos and complexity
of the humanly produced social world;
and its joys and its sufferings,
we critique it and we celebrate these hauntings.

Yet the dreadful dullness of professional knowledge.
its earnest desire for respectability and order
Abstractions to kill you. Standards to die for.
A dark cloak thrown over the mind.

We need ‘the tricks of the trade’ : practical questions with practical answers.
Rich descriptions and explanations of dense social life.
An intimate familiarity through all the senses.
Explore and respect the empirical world. And look for it hauntings.

We dwell in social tensions, conflicts and contradiction.
Observing tensions, thinking tensions,
struggling the tension on opposing paths,
The hard trick of dealing with them in our lives.

The vast multiplicities of social life: Contested. Contingent. Creative.
And thriving. Progressing. Regressing. Sometimes surviving.
Incorrigibly plural. Intransigently vast.
The complex tales how we order our past.

And the blindness of human beings?
The taken for granted need not be taken for granted
Doubting the familiar
Living with radical doubt.

All we know is incomplete, provisional and open,
partial, perspectival. Necessarily provisional.
Reality is inexhaustible, too complex and dense to be fully comprehended
No finality.  Or closure.

The dream of a better world haunts sociology.
Empowering lives and imagining utopias.
More justice in each generation?
A flourishing life for all?

Finding you: being personal, being  political.
Passionate knowledge? A garden to cultivate.
A quiet catharsis of comprehension.
Haunted by doubt, love and hope.

No One is Alone

I saw Side by Side with Sondheim in 1976 at the Wyndham’s Theatre in London in 1976, and became a Sondheim fan. Oddly I had already seen Company (at Her Majesty’s) and A Little Night Music (at the Adelphi), but this compilation revue finally hit me. Sondheim was a complex tunesmith and  a marvellous lyricist. Hot on the heels of this came Sweeney Todd and Merrily We Roll Along (which is coming back to London this Christmas).  Here is one of my all time favourite songs –  and one that has shaped my oddball sociology. It is from Into the  Woods.

You move just a finger,
Say the slightest word,
Something’s bound to linger,
Be heard.
No one acts alone.
Careful, no one is alone.

See Bernadette Peters sing it: You Tube

Sondheim: One of my musical heroes

Sondheim: One of my musical heroes

Generations

How long is a man’s life finally?

Cyril E Power: Whence and Whither

A thousand days or only one?

One week or a few centuries?

How long does a man’s death last?

And what do we mean when we say, “gone forever”?

-Brian Patten, So Many Different Lengths of Time (2007:154)

If you need cheering up, you can see Brian Patten speak this poem wandering around a graveyard!  Link to Brian Patten here


My most recent work has been concerned with worrying about time and generations. You can find some of this writing  in the Generational section of Selected Articles

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present,
All time is unredeemable.

T.S.Eliot Burnt Norton

CyrilPower (1872-1951) : Whence and Whither

Cosmopolitan Symbolic Interactionism

  On Symbolic Interactionism I have since the late 1960’s been interested in the theory of symbolic interactionism. It is a very partial and limited theory but for many purposes it is actually one of the best we have. The Poetic for Paul   a few posts back has already introduced some key ideas.  …

Intimate Citizenship

INTIMATE CITIZENSHIP  Today I have started a page which will hopefully  slowly piece together some of my writings and thoughts on this idea ( Go to: Selected Writings/ Intimate Citizenship).   I first recall thinking of the idea walking along a beach in Santa Barbara in the early 1990’s as I was completing Modern Homosexualities…

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