The Poverty of Theory
It is patently obvious that all education consists of a continual effort to impose upon the child ways of seeing, thinking and acting which he himself would not have arrived at spontaneously.
Durkheim. The rules of sociological method. (via sociolab)

Capitalism - renewal or decline? Laurie Taylor explores the future of our market driven economy. He’s joined by David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and Colin Crouch, Professor Emeritus in Sociology at the University of Warwick. Professor Harvey examines the contradictions at the heart of capitalism arguing that it’s far from being the permanent or only way of organising human life. Professor Crouch, conversely, suggests that only Capitalism can provide us with an efficient and innovative economy but it should be re-shaped to better fit a social democratic society.

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Max Weber’s book the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Published in 1905, Weber’s essay proposed that Protestantism had been a significant factor in the emergence of capitalism, making an explicit connection between religious ideas and economic systems. Weber suggested that Calvinism, with its emphasis on personal asceticism and the merits of hard work, had created an ethic which had enabled the success of capitalism in Protestant countries. Weber’s essay has come in for some criticism since he published the work, but is still seen as one of the seminal texts of twentieth-century sociology.

Poverty and ‘Shame’ - shame was once described as the ‘irreducible core’ of poverty by Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen. Laurie Taylor looks at new cross cultural research which examines the psycho-social consequences of being poor in countries as diverse as Britain, Pakistan and South Korea. Elaine Chase, Research Officer at the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at the University of Oxford, considers the way that shame and stigma have been experienced by British people receiving welfare aid throughout history. She found that feelings of unworthiness, guilt and shame were common. In the current day, her study found that poor people accepted that ‘other peoples’ poverty was the result of personal failures rather than structural factors. The only alibi for their present circumstances was to deflect blame on to the ‘undeserving’ poor. She’s joined by Sohail Choudhry, Research Assistant, also at the University of Oxford, whose Pakistan based interviews offered a contrasting perspective. Pakistanis on the ‘breadline’ also felt shame, but were also more inclined to blame the government and the ‘big guns’ for their reduced state.

Also, Professor of History, David Arnold, describes the impact of small scale technology on modern India. How the sewing machine, bicycle and typewriter reinvented every day life and work leading to new ways of thinking about the politics of colonial rule and Indian nationhood.

Within academic sociology the idea of beginning with a theory and then applying it to a body of data has become so firmly accepted that the researcher, when beginning research, now routinely asks “which approach should I adopt?”, or “which theory fits my data?” The choice of theory may then be made between Marxian theory, Critical theory, structural functional theory, or any number of middle range adaptations of these theories. The selection of a preconceived theory then determines which data are to be included and excluded from the total available data; choice of theoretical perspective highlights salience of data. This practice is now so pervasive that the standard introductory textbook treats it as an organizing principle and as a canon, treating a given problem from, for example, functionalist, conflict, and/or interactionist perspectives, as if our perception of the world is only a matter of personal choice from a preselected menu.

When formal theorists extend their approach to include the systematic analysis of what are now the iconicised classical theorists, they hope to locate fundamental categories (e.g., Weber’s categories of political legitimacy or the formal categorization of his forms of rationality) within which different elements of the modern world may be placed; systematization of categories becomes a form of research. A research problem is often regarded as solved when some elements of social reality are found to be consistent with the preconceived theory. Theory is thus treated as a framework from which the real world can be deduced without actually having to study it directly. Theoretical issues and categories come to be accepted as substitutes for empirical problems and research.

Arthur J. Vidich, Social theory and the substantive problems of sociology (via socio-logic)

Dance exists in every culture. It’s thought that humans were dancing before we learned to speak. 

But why do we have this desire to move, and what are we trying to communicate? Mike Williams explores the idea of ‘muscular bonding’ – that moving together creates communities. He hears how Indian Kathak dance connects body and soul, how a Northern Australian society uses dance to blur gender divides, and how watching others dance makes us move too.

Posting this mainly for the brief summary given of William McNeill’s Keeping Time Together which is an excellent opener to thinking about the importance of the body, time, and interaction rituals and regularly features on reading lists for modules on the sociology of the body. If you can find a copy of it it is well worth the read:

Could something as simple and seemingly natural as falling into step have marked us for evolutionary success? In “Keeping Together in Time” one of the most widely read and respected historians in America pursues the possibility that coordinated rhythmic movement—and the shared feelings it evokes—has been a powerful force in holding human groups together. As he has done for historical phenomena as diverse as warfare, plague, and the pursuit of power, William H. McNeill brings a dazzling breadth and depth of knowledge to his study of dance and drill in human history. From the records of distant and ancient peoples to the latest findings of the life sciences, he discovers evidence that rhythmic movement has played a profound role in creating and sustaining human communities. The behavior of chimpanzees, festival village dances, the close-order drill of early modern Europe, the ecstatic dance-trances of shamans and dervishes, the goose-stepping Nazi formations, the morning exercises of factory workers in Japan—all these and many more figure in the bold picture McNeill draws. A sense of community is the key, and shared movement, whether dance or military drill, is its mainspring. McNeill focuses on the visceral and emotional sensations such movement arouses, particularly the euphoric fellow-feeling he calls “muscular bonding.” These sensations, he suggests, endow groups with a capacity for cooperation, which in turn improves their chance of survival.

A tour de force of imagination and scholarship, “Keeping Together in Time” reveals the muscular, rhythmic dimension of human solidarity. Its lessons will serve us well as we contemplate the future of the human community and of ourvarious local communities.