Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) was a French social thinker who built on ideas popularized by postmoderns such as Michel Foucault and the semiologist Roland Barthes. Like Foucault, Bourdieu was critical of Marxism, Existentialism and Structuralism and he tried to understand the practice of Sociology within its own cultural context.
Michael Payne says Bourdieu also argued that theories, beliefs and dispositions influence cultural practice, often “unconsciously and uncritically.”¹
So any good theory, including scientific theory, should be “reflexive”—that is, it should seek to identify and overcome its own biases. This sounds sensible but, at the same time, scientists are just people, with all the flaws, limitations, pride and ambition that we all share. These personal biases usually interfere, in varying degrees, with the reflexive aspect of science. In other words, the ego gets in the way. This is, perhaps, most obvious in so-called “soft science” disciplines like psychology and psychiatry, but it’s present in all aspects of science. Whenever a worldview becomes an entrenched form of belief, its reflexive aspects usually diminish. For a while, anyhow.
As a sociologist, Bourdieu developed seminal concepts such as “habitus,” “fields,” “cultural capital” and social “reproduction” to better illustrate his ideas about societal discrimination, inequity and domination. With regard to domination, he introduced the term “symbolic violence” to describe ways of seeing that are subtly imposed on groups and individuals. Along these lines, Bourdieu made important contributions toward the deconstruction of language, scholarship and science. Without the deconstruction of ideas and practices, those with social power seek to impose their particular view of the “natural” or “just” on those who lack the power to shape the understanding of these concepts within society. Whether or not this dynamic occurs willfully or unreflectively is a matter of debate.
Again, it would be wrong to say that Bourdieu was the first to come up with the idea of symbolic violence. Sociologists have been thinking out of the box ever since Max Weber argued that the Protestant work ethic played a central role in the development of Capitalism. As such, the related concepts of work and laziness have taken a definite shape and form in so-called developed societies. And Emile Durkheim looked at the phenomenon of suicide from a statistical perspective, trying to link social conditions to this tragic activity. So for Durkheim, suicide isn’t just a personal choice. It’s linked to the norms and expectations of a given culture.
¹ Michael Payne, ed. A Dictionary of Cultural and Critical Theory, Oxford: Blackwell, 1997, p. 73.
- A philosopher’s guide to Pierre Bourdieu (syntheticzero.net)
- Darwin, Bourdieu and today’s scientific culture (lutzid.wordpress.com)
- Picturing Algeria (jadaliyya.com)
- Social Theory and Education Research Understanding Foucault, Habermas,Bourdieu and Derrida (2013) (foucaultnews.com)
- To “Commit Sociology” (everydaysociologyblog.com)
- Habitus (thoughtsinmyheart.wordpress.com)
- Soziologie und Radsport- ein gastkommentar (crispinus.wordpress.com)
- Book Review: Social Work and Social Theory- Making Connections by Paul Michael Garrett (irishleftreview.org)
- Golf as a phenomena of tasteless class? Part One (jamesblogventures.wordpress.com)
Not until fairly recently has corruption been recognized as a valid topic within the social sciences, perhaps partly because it’s not easily verified. Also, shrewd researchers wishing to avoid repercussions in an imperfect world may know when it’s best to keep quiet.
Corruption most often involves bribery and abuses of legitimate authority.¹ In business and government corruption may take place between as few as two people or among a relatively small number or insiders. Some examples in government would be employing a less qualified person than others or closing a business deal as a result of clandestine social and/or economic connections. In business, examples would be market collusion and all types of fraud involving more than one person.
Extreme conspiracy theorists contend that a so-called ‘culture of fear’ is purposefully orchestrated by inherently deceptive governments in order to legitimize wars and bolster certain markets. Along these lines, some believe that corruption has permeated Western culture to a degree formerly associated with so-called third and second world countries. But again, proof is usually hard to find and, most likely, always will be.
Within psychology and especially theology, the term corruption refers to specific individuals or groups whenever an action is deemed morally degrading by another group claiming moral authority. In some circles of Eastern and Western mystical theology corrupt acts are said to “pollute” the individual soul (or in Buddhism, to attract negative skandhas).
These two ideas of corruption – the social vs. the psychological and theological – may at first seem separate. But on closer inspection, they’re arguably connected. As Jesus puts it in Matthew 7:18, “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit.” True, Christ is talking about true and false religious prophets in this passage, but it seems fair to generalize this idea to all aspects of life.
So what does this mean for the average person in our imperfect world? Even the upright schoolteacher or respected academic has probably photocopied material that is under copyright. And many decent folks made cassette tapes of their favorite albums back in the day.
The answer to this question has spawned a lot of debate in philosophy and theology about ethics, and clever thinkers have come up with a range of ideas from “situational ethics” to “necessary evil” to try to grapple with the realities of imperfect beings living in an imperfect world.
Moreover, in sociology and economics were hear arguments about the alleged positive aspects of crime–for instance, crime is said to be good for anti-crime businesses and services (e.g. anti-virus software), as well as for neutral market areas (e.g. the old cassette tape). And even the classical sociologist Emile Durkheim believed that a limited amount of crime was good for society because it helped to define boundaries for acceptable vs. unacceptable behavior, this awareness strengthening society as a whole.² But ultimately, it seems only God can know what’s right and wrong, this also being one of Jesus’ teachings (Matthew 7:1).
¹ For a good list of these potential abuses, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corruption.
² For a good discussion on Durkheim’s view, see
Corruption - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (plato.stanford.edu/entries/corruption)
Transparency International (transparency.org)
- ‘Good governance vital to fight graft in society’ (arabtimesonline.com)
- (Video) Study names Chicago most corrupt city in United States (nalert.blogspot.com)
- OpBerlusconi: Anonymous Launches Campaign Against Italian Government – Video (news.softpedia.com)
- Watch Video as Protesters storm Nigeria Ministry of Justice over Corruption (dailygistxtra.com)
- Corruption and Political Parties (anaksisahbom.wordpress.com)
- Pakistan tries new way of tackling corruption (miamiherald.com)
- Punjab tries new way of tackling corruption (dawn.com)
- Ghana’s defence sector corrupt – TI (ghanabusinessnews.com)
- TI reports defense sector corruption (fcpablog.com)
- Political Corruption (towardchange.wordpress.com)
Christianity is the religion based on the life, teachings, moral example, crucifixion and resurrection of the New Testament figure, Jesus Christ. Jesus was the son of a young Jewish woman, Mary, who conceived while engaged to her carpenter fiance, Joseph. The Jesus story tells us that Mary didn’t have sexual relations with Joseph but, instead, was visited by the angel Gabriel who told her that she’d become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit—a calling which Mary willingly accepted. So technically, Joseph was Jesus’ foster father.
Founded in Jerusalem, the Christian religion emerged from the Jewish scriptural tradition, which Christians today call the Old Testament. Jesus, in fact, is seen by his followers as the long awaited prophet promised in Jewish scriptures.
As with contemporary Christianity, Early Christianity was shaped by the Jesus story. But this isn’t all. There’s also the living grace which believers claim to experience. So rather than their religion being a dry routine based on some distant past event, believers say they can feel the Holy Spirit acting in their lives, here and now.¹
These two elements – the teachings and example of the earthly Christ along with the perceived guidance and indwelling love of the heavenly Christ – forged an unshakable belief in many of Christ’s early followers.
Some early Christians believed that Christ’s promised return – signalling the end of the world – was imminent. In one letter St. Paul chastises believers for not working due to their misguided belief about the end-times occurring within their lifetimes (2 Thessalonians 3:10, Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32).
The religion spread throughout the Mediterranean’s Gentile (non-Jewish) population for about 20 years after Christ’s death. It was declared an “illegal assembly” under Roman Law. And the tyrant Nero publicly blamed Christians for the great fire in Rome of 64 CE.
Cruel and barbaric persecutions at the hands of the pagan Romans followed but the religion continued to spread. While some Christians denied their belief in Christ when threatened with horrendous torture and death, a good number willingly – some even joyously – went to their deaths at the hands of the pagan Romans.
The graceful and heroic courage of Christians being fed alive to lions in the Colosseum at Rome impressed some of the more sensitive Romans, leading to their conversion to this new monotheistic religion. Conversions didn’t just take place among the poor, as commonly believed. By 96 CE the radical egalitarianism of Christianity became increasingly apparent as members of the Roman Imperial family also converted away from their pagan past. By the end of the 2nd-century, Christianity had spread into Britain.
Why was Christianity so successful?
Some sociologists suggest that the Christian message gave hope of eternal reward to the powerless and oppressed. In other words, it’s a religion for losers. But historians more correctly note that the religion cut across all class lines, fostered warm communal love and complete forgiveness for past wrongs, along with the promise of power over demons and everlasting life in heaven. Theologians add that the spiritual power of the living Christ has always been present among believers in the form of the Holy Spirit, giving life, love and direction to their religious worship.
In 313 CE Constantine issued an edict of toleration in Milan, enabling Christians to worship without fear of persecution. In 381 CE Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire.
Some Christian sects in early Christianity emphasized either Christ’s humanity at the expense of his Divinity, or conversely, his Divinity at the expense of his humanity. The Church took great pains to officially resolve these as “heresies.”
Christianity continued to expand through the Roman empire. When the Western empire fell in 476 CE, the barbarian invaders were converted.
During the so-called Dark Ages, the Papal court fell into disrepute. Several Popes become blatantly corrupt. Murder, intrigue and absurd rationalizations for grave evils abounded. The flame of Christianity, however, was kept alive in the European monasteries. Monks by and large were disgusted with the scandalous and violent practices of the Papal court.
In the East, Christianity continued as ‘Byzantium’ until overrun my Muslim invaders in 1453 CE.
The Orthodox Church had become split by the 11th-century. Apart from subtle theological differences, the Western Church recognized the Pope while the Eastern Church did not.
Several additional heresies were squelched by the Western Church but the 16th-century rise of the Reformers and the Counter-Reformation created a decisive split between Protestants and Roman Catholics.
Protestant Churches, themselves, began to splinter, with many new denominations rising up, usually at the bidding of some charismatic reformer claiming to rekindle the “original truth” of Christianity.
Despite doctrinal differences among various branches of Christianity in the 21st-century, almost all Christians believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. This is the belief that God reveals himself in three ‘persons’ of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These three distinct persons are said to be equal, eternal and also a unity, sharing the same substance.
Today Christianity is a world-wide religion of over 2.2 billion followers, largely the result of colonization and missionary work among various Christian denominations.
¹ Problems arise when different believers claim opposing ‘truths’ based on the apparent experience of the Holy Spirit. Quite possibly some individuals mistake a kind of vital, perhaps even biochemical, energy for the true love and peace of the Holy Spirit.
- History of purgatory (divinelightblog.wordpress.com)
- Can’t we just work together? (tolivelifetothefull.wordpress.com)
- A Long Oral Tradition: Step four in the development of early Christian faith (mikerivageseul.wordpress.com)
- Changing the Face of Christianity Reports on the State of Christianity Today (prweb.com)
- rants: a pagan or atheist at heart? (christiannoob.wordpress.com)
- Our Righteousness in Christ (missiontopapua.wordpress.com)
- This is Good News – A Devotion (lthomason.wordpress.com)
- What Happened to the Old-Fashion Religion? (5ptsalt.com)
- Christianity Is Not a Religion!!!! (encounterss.wordpress.com)
- The Uniqueness of Christianity: 12 Objections Answered (insightscoop.typepad.com)
Noam Chomsky (1928 - ) is an American intellectual, political activist, and professor Emeritus at MIT who initially distinguished himself in linguistics.
During the Vietnam war Chomsky became increasingly visible, criticizing those who believe the United States sets the standard as a moral and ideological leader for the rest of the world. Since then he’s never looked back.
He and others like Michael Moore figure prominently in the 2003 film, The Corporation. The film offers some insights into the nature of human hypocrisy, especially when connected to the profit motive. However, as one reviewer at
put it, “the film is useful but incredibly biased.”
The same could be said of Chomsky’s work. Specifically, Chomsky seems to downplay the positive aspects of corporate production. Chomsky’s critics say that the capitalist impulse and profit motive are necessary for technological social progress. And they note that human rights records and charitable donations are often weaker in communist countries than they are in capitalist countries.
Those sympathetic to Chomsky’s views would argue that more egalitarian, socialist-style systems could also be creative, progressive and humane. In fact, he’s become something of an inspiration for some leftist activists who are appalled by the shortcomings but perhaps not mature enough to fully appreciate the good in capitalist democracies.
A particularly vehement attack against Chomsky’s views on terrorism and the post 9/11 Iraq war is found in The Anti-Chomsky Reader by Peter Collier and David Horowitz, eds.
According to Chomsky, parroting his Marxist mentors-what Uncle Sam really wants is to steal from the poor and give to the rich. America’s crusade against Communism was not a battle for human freedom, but actually a war “to protect our doctrine that the rich should plunder the poor.” This is why, according to Chomsky, we have busied ourselves in launching a new crusade against what he regards as a fictive terrorism after the end of the Cold War.”¹
Despite his criticisms of the US, Chomsky still chooses to live and make his living there, which definitely says something.
¹ The Anti-Chomsky Reader by Peter Collier and David Horowitz (eds.), Encounter Books, 2004, p. 185.
- “It is not a war. It is murder.” | Noam Chomsky (theageofblasphemy.wordpress.com)
- Poetry on Quotes of Interest: Noam Chomsky (civilsimian.wordpress.com)
- Noam Chomsky On The NDAA: The U.S. Constitution Is Being Scrapped (dandelionsalad.wordpress.com)
- Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong (arangarbe.wordpress.com)
- Noam Chomsky : Who Owns the World? (windowintopalestine.blogspot.com)
- An Uninformed Electorate Votes Against Its Best Interests by Noam Chomsky (zcommunications.org)
- Noam Chomsky Delivers Gaza Speech (thejc.com)
- On Gaza & the 2 Positives of Election 2012: The Worst Didn’t Happen & It’s Over by Noam Chomsky (zcommunications.org)
- Noam Chomsky: Ron Paul’s Ideas Are Savage (economicpolicyjournal.com)
Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) was an innovative French sociologist who taught at the university of Bordeaux and the Sorbonne. He’s usually upheld in introductory Humanities courses as as one of great three “classical” sociologists, and one of the founders of sociology as a discipline in its own right. This academic honor also includes Karl Marx and Max Weber.
Among his many achievements and insights, Durkheim is seen as a pioneer in the use of scientific method. Durkheim focused on society instead of the individual. He believed that “collective representations” emerged from many minds that interact in a social environment. Depending on their character, these collective representations had variable but statistically demonstrable effects on society.
In addition, he tended to view society as a doctor would look at a patient. This is often called Durkheim’s “organic metaphor.” His outlook predates what would come to be called structural functionalism. As such, he believed that some social forms were healthier than others.
Durkheim sought to create one of the first rigorous scientific approaches to social phenomena. Along with Herbert Spencer, he was one of the first people to explain the existence and quality of different parts of a society by reference to what function they served in maintaining the quotidian (i.e. by how they make society “work”). He also agreed with his organic analogy, comparing society to a living organism. Thus his work is sometimes seen as a precursor to functionalism. Durkheim also insisted that society was more than the sum of its parts.†
Unlike his contemporaries Ferdinand Tönnies and Max Weber, he focused not on what motivates the actions of individuals (an approach associated with methodological individualism), but rather on the study of social facts. As a result, Durkheim contrasted mechanistic social types (where individuals cooperate less, relying on tradition and punitive authority) to organic solidarity (where individuals cooperate more, working together to satisfy mutual needs). And for Durkheim, the former is inferior to that latter.
Durkheim also wrote on alleged “elementary” forms of religion, building his theories on the anthropological studies available at the time. And he did (secondary) statistical analyses of the sociological facts of crime and suicide, trying to link their frequency to particular social conditions and beliefs.
What makes Durkheim unique to most sociologists is his blending of theory, method and observation. In most cases Durkheim provides a detailed outline and defense of his scientific approach before engaging in a particular study. After completing his research, a theoretical analysis of his data follows. However, most of Durkheim’s observations are secondhand. He used the statistics and case studies available to him at the time, and rarely – if ever – went out in the field to do his own primary research.
While this kind of approach wouldn’t wash today in social psychology, many academic sociologists can still get away with armchair philosophy, making pretty obvious statements and distinctions that hard core philosophers have already covered in far greater detail. The only difference is that the sociologist applies conceptual distinctions to everyday life in ways that are more easily understandable and up-to date.‡
‡ Forwarding simplified versions of existing philosophical distinctions is evident in the works of Peter Berger and Erving Goffman. However, Berger talked about the importance of data collection while Goffman usually went a step further, actually going out into the field and getting his own data.
- “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, None but ourselves can free our minds” – Bob Marley. (zenandtheartofbreakingthings.wordpress.com)
- Deviance (earthpages.wordpress.com)
- Strat theorists, ngram waves (familyinequality.wordpress.com)
- Sociology Essay (thinkingbookworm.typepad.com)
- Infidelity, Tiger Woods, and Émile Durkheim (nortonbooks.typepad.com)
- What Is Collective Consciousness? (powersthatbeat.wordpress.com)