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May 17, 2012

Developing a Sense of Self

Sample Paper 2 - Spring 2012

I'm going to be discussing the realm of developing a sense of self and how this relates most pointedly to the societal norms of our mother culture. One would think that finding oneself would lead outside any "norms" as we generally think we are somehow unique and not as influenced by our culture as we pervasively are. Instead we are shown the way of our people immediately through agents of socialization and institutions such as the hospital we were born and medical offices thereafter for check-ups. In elementary school we are shown and taught the one right way to behave and we are punished when we misbehave. So begins the start of what might be a lifetime of staying neatly in the box that our culture has shaped for us. Deviance means disapproval from the mainstream masses and often severe punishment. So, when we are driven to go inside and find ourselves, what do we see? We first see a lot of images, I believe, of expectations and norms and paths to an ideal that our culture finds the most promising (usually through power, property and prestige). We must go passed these images to the root of who we are and for a lot of people, societal expectations imposed upon us from childhood go so deep that we must burn everything to see a clean slate of potential.

A lot of people choose to go outside of their own culture to 'find themselves' and depart to India for a few months or to travel through Europe. Being exposed to other cultures may in fact shed light on how steeped in our own culture, and ethnocentric, we truly are. Some might say that the way to develop a sense of self is to go to a culture most different from your own and see what is there, fundamentally at the heart of all human beings. This perhaps is a starting place. For those who aren't ready for such an adventure of self/world discovery, we must look to what feels true regardless of other's ideas, striving and limitations. Others might argue that the way to truly develop a sense of self is to more greatly accept and own your own societal traditions and reinforce them within yourself until you feel so steeped in your own way of life that you now feel you have found yourself within your culture and existing only because of your culture.

Our culture has a way of perpetuating itself by using societal norms which are on a spectrum from strictly enforced (death sentence, imprisonment) to socially enforced (frowns, lowered gazes of disapproval). We have interaction norms for every sort of interaction or pairing between people. When these norms are deviated the energy between the people and those surrounding becomes very uncomfortable and feels immediately somehow unsafe and unprotected. If a male hippie in his 60s went up to a wall street businessman in his 60s and gave him a hug that businessman might very well call the police for the hippie's unclear intentions when the hippie was clearly just giving away some free love. How strange that the slightest deviation from interaction norms can stir up such feelings of vulnerability and fear. We expect to live in a world that bleeds order and separation into groups of like minded people. When there is an intermingling out of the context of normal behavior our worlds quickly turn upside down as we are not sure how to behave if others aren't held accountable to behave as is expected and most comfortable.

In our society we perhaps feel that in order to survive we must be divided into groups. These first reference groups are primary, our family, etc., and secondary, as in the friends we often choose to be with. We form or point out subcultures and countercultures that have great connotation/feeling and stereotype attached to them. We consider and live by the way of us versus them most of the time instead of us with them or all of us. I believe this comes for our culture's basic belief in scarcity. If we truly felt we had enough of everything then perhaps we would not feel the need to segregate to protect ourselves and continue our domination or subsistence. We define ourselves by the groups we are in and we also define ourselves by how we believe others view us and the groups we are in.

As Ishmael taught, we are so steeped in our mother culture and the way of the takers that we do not see how influenced and contrived our every belief is. The way the world came to be as it is has a great deal of weight on the fact that we have believed that the world was made for humans. More specifically, the world was made for human consumption. However, as we conquer the world ever more, we kill ourselves. I believe we have been able to distance the devastation of the world so much from ourselves that it appears as something that won't touch us personally, or perhaps the changes will be so gradual that we will simply take them as they come and nothing too severe will rock us off our ship or spin us off our axis. Because the devastation of the world happens gradually, over time and with great benefit to our egos and status in the interim (as in driving big gas guzzling cars) we feel perhaps unmoved to change drastically as we don't see the environmental affects happening in our world now as being easily improved by just our switch to a hybrid or our volunteering to take mass transit.

I believe that if Quinn asked Ishmael the way to find and develop ones sense of self Ishmael would first ask Quinn about the culture the person was coming from. I'm not sure if we could distance ourselves enough to look outside of our own cultural beliefs and societal intentions for a productive member of society, so most likely we would try to find a working model of a self that fits perfectly into the order of our society. If we could not, we are deemed as outcasts or primitive in nature. I have defined my sense of self in many ways throughout the years through reference groups and subcultures and checking in with my family and closest friends through mirroring and seeing how others observe me. I have considered myself an outcast at times and have went against the grain on many things at various times in my life. Luckily for me, I have remained safe while doing so, in that my deviation from ideal societal norms have been relatively neutrally responded to, though seen as lesser, not seen as punishable. For example, I left college after my first year because I did not want to participate just because I was being fed that I had to in order to be successful. It felt like a rate race and I wanted something that felt more authentic. I have been back in college for some time now and taking classes I find very enjoyable. I still struggle with playing the game simply to get a degree so I can have that profound positive social sanction. I have found the constant of love and compassion and an inherent desire for self-love and healing both myself and others to be the basis of my sense of self. I am not sure, to tell you the truth, if this has my mother culture stamped all over it, or if this is something that would be found within myself regardless of the culture or society I belonged in any time/space reality.

May 14, 2012

Diamonds are a Marketer's Best Friend

Sample Paper 2 by Colin Sanders - Spring 2012

Diamonds are ubiquitous in our culture as a symbol of high status. "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" and "Diamonds are Forever" are two phrases that are often though of in association with diamonds. How did this cubic allotrope (chemical arrangement) of the ever so common carbon atom gain such prestige? What does this high value that we place on diamonds reflect? And what are the consequences of our fixation on diamonds?

Until the year 2000 De Beers Company was the largest diamond producer in the world. Since then the empire has been split as stock changed hands and more diamond mines opened. This single company is responsible for most of the ideas that we have about the value of diamonds. Their marketing of diamonds as a source of status increased their own profits, and influenced many generations. In effect De Beers is the socialization agent for our ideas about this gem. Through media and advertisements, they put diamonds in the spotlight for status.

Media of any kind has an enormous influence on our collective consciousness. The way that De Beers marketed was not for their own brand; they marketed for diamonds in general. Because they had an overwhelming monopoly on the market, this was an effective strategy. Their success was only possible with widespread media. If they had tried to promote diamonds before the advent of far-reaching outlets, it is doubtful they would have been successful. The popularity of diamonds as the centerpiece of rings prior to the De Beers initiative was negligible. By showing the public images of lovely, desirable women with a diamond engagement ring, they made people want to emulate her status. This is a common tactic, pair one established desirable trait (wealth, popularity) with one that you are trying to popularize, like diamonds. This created an expectation of what a proper marriage or engagement ring should be. As these values are passed on, the need for advertisements is less. In the typical gender roles, a woman comes to expect a diamond ring, anything less can be considered an insult. There is a strong cultural value placed on diamonds.

Why diamonds? There is no really good answer for this. Diamonds are rare; they are formed under only very specific conditions that occur infrequently on earth. Diamonds have many superlative qualities, like harness and clarity. But diamonds are made of carbon, one of the most abundant elements in the universe (a quality that is reflected on Earth). There are many other gemstones that are more rare. But rarity alone only makes sense from an economic standpoint of supply and demand. Most of the diamonds that are mined are destined for industrial use, to which diamonds superlative qualities of hardness and optics are better suited anyway. Regardless, now there are a few substances that are more suited than diamonds for specific purposes. For purely aesthetic purposes lab-grown stimulants are just as pretty. Even lab grown diamonds require a second look from an expert jeweler (Pittsburg Post-Gazette). It is clear that diamond's popularity is purely a social construct.

Because diamonds have been established to be profitable there is a huge incentive to mine diamonds. The majority of diamonds are mined in Africa, where the De Beers Company started their operation. Some of the diamond mines have since been taken over by factions contrary to their governments. Prior to actions to prevent these groups from profiting from illegal diamond trade, it was a major source of trouble in the diamond industry. These deviant acts are prompted by a desire to change governmental control. Even now, with the Kimberly Process in effect, so-called Conflict Diamonds are still being smuggled and being used for illegal trade (Anna Frangipani). The Kimberly Process is essentially a bureaucratic process to ensure that diamonds are conflict free. This is where what is ideal and what is real differ. Some conflict diamonds can still slip through the process if they are mixed in with legitimate diamonds.

Mining diamonds requires ripping apart the earth and extensive human labor. It is a self-centered and near-sighted endeavor that does not take into account our relationship with the earth. Mining is not in direct violation of the Peacekeeping law, but it shows one of humanities greatest flaws, frivolity. We are willing to cause so much destruction for a small shiny gem that can just as easily be created in a lab. Diamonds are arbitrary, anything that is rare and beautiful can be given value, and diamond has no qualities that distinguish it as the most rare or beautiful. Perhaps we are so obsessed with the perfection of diamonds because we see ourselves as imperfect, or perhaps De Beers really changed the values and norms of the civilized world.

To directly answer some of the questions outlined; diamonds are popular because the De Beers Company marketed them extremely well. While it could have been any company with any gem, De Beers did it with diamonds. The high value that we place on diamonds is a direct response to this marketing, and shows that it only takes a few pretty pictures with an association of glamour to convince us that diamonds are a girl's best friend. The consequences of this fixation is destructive mining practices that scar the earth, and illegal trade in diamonds that fund rebel groups and endanger lives. Objectively, diamonds are not very special, but subjectively they remain as the gem of all gems, and many women still expect to receive one in a ring. Perhaps this trend is changing, but diamonds are still being marketed, and our associations with them are being reinforced. Diamonds truly are a marketer's best friend.

Works Cited

Frangipani, Anna. "Conflict Diamonds." United NAtions Department of Public Information, 21 Mar. 2001. Web. 11 May 2012. .

O'Connell, Vanessa. "How a New Generation of LAb Grown Diamonds is Shaking Up The World." Pittsburgh Post Gazette 17 Mar. 2012: Web. 11 May 2012. gazette.com/stories/sectionfront/life/how-a-new-generation-of-lab-grown-diamonds-is-shaking-up-the-jewelry-world-467875/.

We Are Unique

Sample Paper 1 By Jennifer Headley-Osawa Spring 2012

As Americans we heavily value our individuality among our peers. I have for most of my life felt quite pleased at being one in a million, but a recent class discussion points out that maybe I am really one among a million. How can such a seemingly personal idea apply to an entire society? This is exactly what I hope to explore and clarify.

In efforts to figure this out, I came across an article from the Candian Journal of Sociology; "The Origins of American Individualism: Reconsidering the Historical Evidence" by Edward Grabb, Douglass Baer, and James Curtis. In this article the authors challenge the historical evidence that S.M. Lipset sites in order to demonstrate that modern American concepts of individualism came about during the American Revolutionary War era. Through the course of reading this article I felt that I gained an understanding of Individuality as a societal value instead of a personal trait, while also gaining the opportunity to see some of the social theories at work.

Henslin (2011) notes that in developing conflict theory, "He (Marx) concluded that the key to human history is class conflict."(p18). Conflict theory seems an obvious choice in application to the American Revolution, where conflict between British government and loyalists (the bourgeoisie) and the American colonists (the proletariat) led to uprising and war. It seems logical that this kind of social climate could develop in the people a "... belief that the individual should generally be free from collectivist or communitarian constraints..." this is essentially what Lipset thought. Grabb, Baer and Curtis (1999) point out that the error in Lipset's evidence is that he only takes into consideration the ideas of the revolutionary leaders which very well may not have reflected those of the general population.

The errors that Lipset made does not change that generation after generation of our society has been taught about the American Revolution and every year celebrates independence day. I imagine that these among other things support independence as a valued symbol in American society. While independence and individualism are different the idea of independence closely ties to individualism in modern society, as seen in the following definition "Individualism: the principle or habit of or belief in independent though or action." These things considered it seems reasonable that American society may have internalized the concept that conflict opens opportunity to individualistic ideals. Based on this it is easy to favor conflict theory when thinking about the behavior of American Society.

After secondary analysis of more recent historical research, Grabb, Baer and Curtis (1999) point out that the general population of the revolutionary era were primarily rural settlers living in small isolated agricultural communities where "...neither unconditional personal freedom, nor strong commitment to a wider national polity, was widely encouraged..." and the churches at the centers of these communities tended to be rather intolerant of individual freedom. The article also states that despite discouragement of individualistic ideals "... the analysis of written sources suggests there was a widely accepted belief that the community itself should be autonomous..." and people "...harbored a marked distrust of elites situated outside their communities..." Understandable considering the revolution still fresh in social memory.

In light of the more recent historical research noted, I can see how both conflict theory and functional analysis could help in trying to understand. The understanding that the general population was spread among small rural communities all wanting autonomy from each other seems to fit well with the concepts of conflict theory. While functional analysis helps us understand how communities began to come together as states began to specialize in their functions, thus further developing society. The structure of American society at this point consisted of a new government (functioning to govern the people) with states of rural land. As the states began to develop and specialize in their functions (cotton production, manufacturing, food production) they were each able to do their part and support each other's functions in harmony. A possible manifest function would be the use of slave labor. When tension rose over state's rights and social locations with strong views over slavery confronted, conflict pursued (latent dysfunction). The occurrence's that developed through slave labor and states' rights also fit nicely into conflict theory.

Grabb, Baer and Curtis (1999) feel that American individualistic ideals were longer in developing than Lipset thought. The article sites the US Census Historical tables as an indication of the "massive influx" of immigrants coming to America "...who were a major force in the western expansion, who greatly enhanced the religious and cultural diversity of the society, and whose search for a prosperous life in their adopted country underscored both the image and the reality of the United States as a land of individual freedom, opportunity, and achievement...". The other event the Grabb, Baer and Curtis (1999) article credits our societies modern view of individualism to is the Civil War and formal abolition of slavery, of which he notes "enabled the American people to embrace with somewhat greater conviction their cherished beliefs about individual liberty and freedom of choice for all."

Symbolic Interactionism describes the growth of American individualism through how the meaning of the symbols of independence, freedom and individual, have changed over time. For example, during the American Revolution, independence and social freedom from British rule was the forefront of thought. Freedom of the individual was likely not even considered. Grabb, Baer and Curtis (1999) note the churches at the center of each community discouraged self-autonomy as a sin, instead encouraging selfless service, although "...a shift to moderate individualism after the civil war..." is also recognized. Maybe in part from the large number of individuals displaced due to war and newly freed slaves mixed with a lack of social integration and trying to start over again.

In conclusion I feel I have a better understanding of how the three different theories we have been studying can overlap and work together to help describe how different ideas and events influence and guide society. In the case of individualism I now realize that sociology can study the possible reasons that a value can become so ingrained in a society, but the study is about the shaping and transformation of the society not the individual within the society.

Henslin (2011). Down to Earth Sociology Customized. The Intersections Collection: Pearson Custom Sociology, Portland Community College, Sociology 204 and 205, 1-34.

Grabb, E., Baer, D., & Curtis, J. (1999). The Origins of American Individualism: Reconsidering the Historical Evidence. Canadian Journal of Sociology 24, 4(1999):511-533. www.cjsonline.ca/articles/grabb.html

Dictionary.com. HYPERLINK http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/individualism?s=t