« What is Diversity…Really? | Main | Reality is Fake, Sociology is Real: Or, How to Make a Sociologist »

A Sociological Look at Molalla

This is an excellent Paper 1 example by Maggie Kercher.

I come from their very ranks. I have a deep understanding of what it means to “conform” to the social norms of the group. A “deep understanding” is most thoroughly valuable when one has personally experienced the subject in question—which is just what I have done.

We live in the country. Molalla, Hubbard, Mulino, Colton—towns you have never heard of, ones that can barely hold space on an Oregon map in competition with the non-descript farmland surrounding it. We are home-schooled. We do not dress in style. We are Christians. We grow our own vegetables. We each have approximately three freezers—two are full of frozen fruit picked from the neighbor’s farm during the summer, the other houses a neighbor’s cow, cut and wrapped by the community butcher. We do not go out much; ‘going out with friends’ means deciding on one of their houses in which to congregate, and doing so.

Renting a movie, playing a game, or making a video. We entertain ourselves. Most of the women wear skirts exclusively. Most of the men do not go to college—they merge into the labor workforce before they are even fully graduated from high school. They marry young, as soon as a young man can buy a house. We don’t date—we practice courtship. We all go to the same chiropractor for our aches and pains—he is an elder in our church.

My inclusive verbiage is habitual; I say “we” because I grew up feeling a part of it. I was! Am I still? I have changed. I go to college. I dress fashionably. I wear pants. I love nothing better than heading into Portland to ‘go out with friends.’ My personal meditations on the effectiveness and value of this community has caused me to think about it sociologically—with interesting conclusions!

A Functionalist might say that this system of life works perfectly. Like-minded parents raise like-minded children that will have no problem finding like-minded spouses within the community. The community works together like a set of gears: My mom was a seamstress so she teaches sewing classes. Mrs. English has a doctorate in history, so she teaches us history and literature. Mrs. Langsather knows Latin so she teaches it to our highschoolers. Mr. Shrock is a business owner so he schools our young people in economics. As said before, Mr. Stutzman the Butcher slaughters our front-yard beef so that we have healthy, hormone-free meat to eat all winter. We have everything we need. We all believe the same, therefore social order is present. The inequality that is present is acceptable, unchallenged and vital.

A Conflict Theorist might argue that with such a strict, abnormal set of norms, one from this group will have difficulty merging into larger society. This is a valid claim. Often we unconsciously shy away from public situations that may be uncomfortable. It is a major adjustment to marry outside of the community—often potential suitors are intimidated by the strict rules and values of courtship. College is an adjustment for us; not academically, as our mothers have gifted us with a more-than-adequate education—the adjustment is in the collision of a different perspective, and the softening that must happen in order to allow us to merge with, appreciate, and tolerate differences in larger society. We are cultivated in the country, and it is an adjustment to merge into society, like coming into a bright light from a dark room. This ‘fear’ forces the members of this community to stay within its ranks, reinforcing it, and creating a deeper appreciate for its comfort. The norms are perpetuated through a kind of power; it is a positive power, one that says an individual in this social structure is promised a successful, comfortable, friend-filled life if he will conform to the norms and hold to the values. There is also a negative power, one that says the individual—once marred by the adoption of outside social norms—will be sanctioned, alienated by his own insubordination.

In looking at this social structure through Symbolic Interaction, we find that the people and their social norms are interdependent because of the values that dictate them. For example, the standard for marriage is based on the Christian tenet that the man is the head of the household—the breadwinner and the leader. The woman is his helper—she bears his children, cares for his house, spends his money wisely and supports him in his leadership. These values create the social norm of the man being the pursuer in courtship. He waits until he can provide a good home for a family, then seeks a young woman who will fulfill the requirements of a good wife. He goes to the father of the young woman to ask permission to court her, which is a symbol of the father’s headship over the daughter. Were the young man to violate this norm, he would be sanctioned—seen as shady, underhanded or of questionable intentions. This may be viewed as an inequality of individual rights, but according to the social norms, it is perfectly functional and vital to the sustaining of the social cycle.

On a macro sociologic level, this community successfully regenerates itself. It has been thriving for many years and with every additional generation, the values and norms become embedded even deeper into the structure. It shifts only slightly over time, and because of its fixed foundation on conservative, biblical tenets and values (which are unchanging), will predictably remain anchored in the same spot throughout history.
An individual in this community reveals that on a micro sociologic level the degree of the social norms’ grip and the tenacity of the values that one holds to dictates how robotically he or she will conform to this society. While a person may hold to a very conservative lifestyle view and mostly agree with the majority of his community, he may differ slightly in his interpretation of values and his expression of the norms. This serves to widen the breadth of the social space this community holds.

However, when one of these individuals strays significantly from the unyielding values of the community, there is a kind of mild sanctioning that occurs. I have become somewhat disjointed from my subculture because of this noncompliance to various norms. For example, I do not feel that women must wear skirts to be feminine; therefore I wear pants. In doing this I violate the norms in such a way as to semi-alienate myself from their ranks. My values are not contrary, per se, but they do vary to some extent, and my own personal observation of society causes me to have a more balanced set of norms for myself. This has happened in part to my conscious decision to slightly blur the dark, straight line of separation between my subculture and society at large.

It is interesting to note the vast difference between a personal and a sociological view of a given community. Being inter-related and stemming from the same source of observation, the two views provide an effective study of the social structure, both at a macro and micro level. Through sociology, my ‘deep understanding’ of the community is lent a language by which to express the intricate system it operates under.
The community of Molalla thanks you, Sociology.