Socio 101, or, why choosing the MA is agonizing

I was browsing my undergrad papers in search of writing samples and found essays I wrote for my Socio 101 class with Dr. Diana Veloso. These are mostly objective-type essays for one of our tests, but reading them, I am reminded of why I once considered shifting from Literature to Sociology. Aw man, do I take Comparative Literature or Sociology for my MA? I just want to study so many things! For me, LEARNING is LOVE is LIFE.

 

What are the different factors that lead to divorce? How does Philippine society view the issue of divorce? Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of divorce and its availability or unavailability in certain countries.

The factors that lead to divorce include: the rise of individualism, the fading of romantic love, women’s growing independence, the high level of stress in marriages that involve couples that both work, the increasing social acceptance of divorce, and the relative easiness with which divorce can be obtained. However, not all of these apply to Philippine society, which is dominated by Catholic values. Divorce in thePhilippinesis unacceptable, but there are at least other ways of dissolving a marriage, like separation, annulment, emigration, and application for divorce in other countries. However, this unavailability of divorce causes unnecessary expense and trouble, and those who cannot afford the alternative measures are forced to stay trapped in a marriage in which they are no longer happy. Some justify this by stating that it fosters family values, obliges the couple to try to make their marriage work, and benefits the children more, and that in other countries where divorce is allowed, marriages are often taken lightly, and when unions dissolve, the children and the woman usually suffer. However, the fact that so many people go to great lengths to dissolve a marriage even in countries where marriage is prohibited proves that some marriages cause so much misery that it necessitates dissolving them, and having no practical legal means to do so may only cause more suffering for members of the family.

What is the difference between endogamy and exogamy? Give a concrete example of each practice in the Philippine context. Where does arranged marriage fit in? Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of arranged marriage in the context of other countries, based on the readings.

Endogamy is the marriage between people of the same social category, while exogamy is the marriage between people of different social categories. In the Philippines, marriage is encouraged between people of the same socio-economic class and peer group (endogamous) and of the opposite sex and different clans (exogamous). Arranged marriages may be endogamous or exogamous, or even both. For example, in a Third World country like the Philippines, marriage to a First World citizen is encouraged (exogamous); in aristocratic societies, the marriages of the nobility are arranged with other members of the nobility or the upper-class (endogamous); in India, the choice for a marriage partner is limited to a member of the same caste (endogamous), but of a different sub-caste or clan (exogamous).

Arranged marriages often serve social, economic, or political purposes. One of the reasons for child marriages in India, for instance, is to pay less dowry; in China, arranged marriages foster intergenerational relationship and involvement, which ultimately leads to social cohesion; among nobility in Europe, or even among the upper-upper-class today, arranged marriages were made to seal political or business alliances. Despite these advantages, however, many still oppose the practice of arranged marriages, primarily because it limits, or worse, does not allow, individual choice, traps into marriage people who may be miserable with each other, and supports social inequality.

 

Based on the readings and class discussions, to what extent does a family support or reinforce existing inequalities in society? Give at least two concrete examples. What are some of the alternatives to the traditional, nuclear family?

Although the family is a central institution of society, and even often termed its “basic building block”, the family also serves to perpetuate certain social inequalities that may be caused by the same functions of the family that are discussed by the structural-functional approach. In its function of socialization, for example, racial, religious, and other biases may be instilled in the children and eventually lead to discrimination.  This is aided by endogamous practices like marrying people of the same religion, race, or ethnicity. Because of this, the same racial and ethnic categories of people — and the hierarchies that come with them–persist through generations of endogamy. The family’s regulation of sexuality also contributes to patriarchy and heterosexism. The usual definitions of a married couple and a family, for example, exclude marriages or relationships between gay and lesbian couples, and their adopted (often not legally) children. Furthermore, the traditional family supports stereotypical gender roles: the man works, while the woman stays at home to do housekeeping and to care for the children. Although more and more married women are joining the workforce, more often than not, these gender roles are kept. Men are still expected to earn more, while women are expected to play a greater role in taking care of children and in accomplishing household tasks, which constitute her “second-shift”. A working woman who is not able to spend so much time with her children or who has to hire a nanny to care for her kids is often stigmatized. She is also the one blamed when the children turn out to be problematic. Often, companies also prefer to hire single women who have not so much familial responsibilities. These responsibilities also hinder a married woman from actively pursuing her career, which often take the backseat to her family. Finally, the family, in its role of social placement and maintenance of social organization also perpetuate socio-economic inequalities. Class position, social prestige, and even power are ascribed statuses and may be handed down from generation to generation, thus reproducing the class structure and concentrating wealth in certain families. Again, this is aided by the endogamous practice of marrying those with the same socio-economic background. Even in a society of meritocracy, the family still manages to support social hierarchy. Those who belong to the higher classes of society tend to spend more on the education and development of their children than those who are less privileged. The educational and cultural capital that these upper-class children get gives them advantage over children from the lower-classes.

Alternatives to the traditional, nuclear family include cohabitation or the sharing of a household by an unmarried couple, the conjugal family composed of a married couple without children, one-parent families which may be headed by either the mother or the father, or may involve single men or women who decide to adopt a child, the blended family composed not only of a married couple and their own children, but also children from previous marriages or relationships, extended families which include two or more generations of relatives who share a household, gay and lesbian families which involve homosexual partners and their adopted children or children from previous heterosexual relationships, and singlehood or living alone. Although many of these alternative patterns are still stigmatized, certain societies, especially those of more liberal countries, are beginning to show a growing acceptance of these alternatives.

What are the similarities and differences between Marx’s and Weber’s views of social stratification? How do their perspectives differ from the Davis-Moore thesis on social stratification?

Marx’s and Weber’s views of social stratification are both social-conflict analytical, in that they focus on the inequality that stratification causes. For Marx, society is stratified according to the relationships between people and the means of production and is divided into those who own productive property and pursue profits (capitalists or the bourgeoisie), and those who do not and must sell their productive labor for wages (proletarians). Capitalists and proletarians, separated by great differences in economic wealth and power and having opposing interests, are inevitably caught in class conflict. Like Marx, Weber thought that social stratification causes class conflict, but for him, stratification involves not only two opposing classes differing mainly in economic power, but three distinct types of inequality: class position or economic inequality, status or social prestige, and power or the possession of control, authority, or influence over others. These differences in categorization points to the ultimate difference between Marx and Weber: for Marx, abolishing the private ownership of productive property would eliminate social stratification, but for Weber, it would only increase social inequality, for while it might lessen economic differences, it would lead to the expansion of government power, and the concentration of this power in the hands of a few political elites.

Unlike Marx and Weber, Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore were structural-functional theorists and focused on the importance and utility of stratification. According to the Davis-Moore thesis, social stratification has beneficial effects for the operation of society, like the promotion of productivity and efficiency.

 What is the relationship between a society’s technology and its type of social stratification system? Give at least two concrete examples in the Philippine context.

Gerhard Lenski explains that historically, greater technology is accompanied by greater inequality, although the Kuznets curve, representing this development, also illustrates that this trend reverses itself in industrial societies.

With simple technology, hunting and gathering societies produce just enough for daily subsistence, and though some people may produce more than others, the group’s survival depends on sharing resources; thus, no categories of people are better off than others.

As technology advances in horticultural and pastoral societies, surplus is generated and a small elite controlling the surplus emerges. In larger scale agrarian societies, this inequality intensifies, with the landed nobility ruling the masses—most of which are peasants—who depend on them for protection and subsistence.

Industrialization, with its need to develop people’s talents to promote efficient production, loosens rigid, caste-like systems and instead sets up a meritocracy and promotes higher living and educational standards, which weaken the power of traditional elites and the patriarchy. Over time, wealth also becomes somewhat less concentrated, with the emergence of a middle class.

This turning of the tides, however, is once again reversing, for the emergence of the postindustrial era is seeing the increase of social inequality.

How has the global economy impacted the class structure? Give at least two concrete examples using any country of your choice.

Like technology, today’s global economy—characterized by capitalism—has affected class structures. For example, a characteristic of global capitalism, the movement of production to the Global South where labor is cheaper, contributes to the loss of jobs available to the middle class in the Global North, thereby contributing to the decline of their middle class—with massive lay-offs, those who once belonged to the middle class are forced into lower positions. On the other hand, the availability of jobs outsourced to the South contributes to the rise of the middle class in those regions. Another striking example of how the global economy changes social stratification is seen in China. China, once a communist society, is now all but nominally capitalist—a restructuring necessitated by the need to provide for its people and to keep up with the competitiveness of the global economy.

Karl Marx predicted that advanced capitalist societies would eventually experience revolutions. Do you believe that Marx’s predictions were inaccurate, or has the revolution simply been postponed? Is it possible or desirable to establish a classless society? Justify your answer/s, based using the readings.

For Marx, “communism” is a classless and stateless society, in which everyone is equal (at least, socio-economically). Considering this definition, I think that the “communist” states that have emerged historically cannot be considered communist; for communism entails the dissolution of the state. Furthermore, Marx predicted that communist revolutions would occur when capitalism has already reached itshigh point; thus, wealth, made available by capitalism, can be distributed among the people. However, many of the so-called communist revolutions, like the ones in China and Russia, occurred when the state had not yet reached the high point of capitalism, but instead still had an agrarian economy, with not much wealth; thus, the socialist economies they established collapsed. Marx also envisioned a revolution of the united working class, a revolution of the majority. However, the revolutions that history has seen were led by members of the more dominant classes of society. Given these points, one may say that the world has not yet seen a truly Marxist revolution. That the world can expect such a revolution to occur is another matter.

Given that late capitalism has only just begun, it is perhaps unreasonable to expect a revolution in the near future. Indeed, it is hard to envision such a revolution in the face of current global economy. For one, capitalism is so pervasive, and has infiltrated every aspect of life that it is difficult to see how it can be overthrown. It has also given concessions and benefits to proletarians, and more and more people now have a direct stake in capitalism. It has even co-opted many of those who oppose it; capitalism practically funds the studies of many Marxist critics, in sponsoring grants, for instance; capitalism is also what sells their books (and at high prices at that). For another, it is hard to be a communist or even a socialist, state in the age of globalization, where the international division of labor and global trade—of goods, of people, of cultural products, etc.—has become necessary, and where most countries are capitalist. Short of strict state control, which, as has been mentioned, is contrary to the concept of communism, I think the infiltration of capitalism even within socialist or “communist” societies is inevitable. From this, it seems to me that to achieve a successful revolution, the workers of the world, as Marx said, must indeed unite, and to do so, they need to have an awareness of their current plight, and awareness that they can, and must, do something to change it. However, the majority of proletarians, I presume, have not developed such an ideological awareness, and even if they have, they may not have the leisure to pursue it–for how can they, when they are too busy just trying to survive the day? International boundaries have to be dissolved. The revolution must be a global one. To accomplish this, I think that neo-colonization has to be abolished first, for how can workers of the world unite, when workers in some countries benefit from the subjugation of workers in others? Considering these, it seems improbable, even impossible, for a revolution to occur given the current (and foreseeable future) state of affairs.

Even if a revolution were possible, the desirability of it is doubtable. As Weber said, socialism (which must occur before capitalism) might lessen economic differences, but would increase inequality by concentrating power in the hands of an elite political group, which may abuse that power — and this has been seen in the states that became socialist. One may also say, like Davis and Moore, that capitalism encourages people to develop their skills, to work harder and be more efficient. Marxists may contend that such primacy placed on efficiency and productivity would no longer be required in a communist society where “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is the tenet. But these contentions, I think, would boil down to philosophical questions about the nature of man, whether he can ever be truly satisfied with what he just needs to live decently, or if he must always aspire to something better, something more. Then again, it can be argued that communism and the course towards its development would foster ideologies that would support it, and that these ideologies would eventually become dominant and enable the people to accept the new order.

Theoretically, communism, with its promise of equality, seems desirable. If human society were more ideal, then I suppose communism should be aspired for. However, I think (acknowledging the danger of essentialisms) that human nature is basically selfish, and I fear that this would inevitably wear down communism, even if it were achieved.

 

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Socio 101, or, why choosing the MA is agonizing

Leave a message?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s