Profane, sacred, social constructions
‘Profane’ is something or some reference to a person who is not respectful of Orthodox traditions, mainly in a religious context. On the other hand, ‘sacred’ refers to something that is religious and is connected to God, usually referring to or being attached to a religious group. ‘Social constructions’ is a phrase highlighting the way social groups create and have privileges over other groups in the same society. The identity and definitions established by society are social constructions.
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For example, a person is classified as an elite, while another one is classified as a poor person in the same society, and these classes are social constructs. The three terms defined above have connections. When something is profane, it is only because there are existing social constructs that define its profanity. Similarly, sacred matters or things are merely social constructs. In this case, the same traditional sacred practice in one society can be profane in another.
Value emphasis, norms, and sanctions
In sociology, value emphasis relates to focusing on group conception of the relative desirability of outcomes. Therefore, action, behavior, or outcome is not just the face value used in conventional terms, but a corresponding contextual view of current and future perceptions of a group of the agent, process, or thing being considered. Norms, on the other hand, are cultural products that match a person’s understanding of what people do and think that they need to do.
Norms can include value and sanctions. Sanctions have a particular meaning in sociology. They refer to mechanisms of social control that works independently of internal control, and they come about due to formal or informal control. Examples include the rules and codes of conduct that emphasize punishment or rewards. Therefore, one can correctly say that among the most known norms in society is the use of sanctions to guide social behavior with a value emphasis on order.
Dynamics, Statics, and Social Change
The characteristics that groups develop as a result of the members’ interactions are called dynamics. They also cover the study of associations between individual exchanges in addition to the group-level behaviors. Statics is a study of the social system at a particular time, which emphasizes their existence, at the time only. Besides the two terms, another linked one is social change, and it relates to the alteration of the social order in a given society.
Social change is comprehensive, including nature, social institutions, social behaviors, and relations captured in different ways in the observed society. For example, a health care intervention program, that seeks to alter the behavior of youths to stop harmful practices in a neighborhood, aims to create social change. To come up with a comprehensive view of society and understand social change, researchers employ social statics and social dynamics studies with a focus on individuals and collective phenomena.
It’s often thought the inevitability of stratification, as offered by Gaetano Mosca, influenced Vilfredo Pareto when he developed his ideas about the circulation of elites.
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Stratification explains the hierarchical arrangement of power brought about by economic production. Therefore, one cannot avoid stratification in society. One way to look at it is by following Gaetano Mosca’s thoughts on the inevitability of stratification because naturally, people have different abilities. Some will be well rewarded in an economic system, while others will not. There is a consensus in society about the function of different groups, and individuals may move from one group to another by working within the social sanctions available.
Following the definition of norms in part one, stratification, as a norm, provides stability in society. Its social value, also following the definition of value in part 1, is that it functions to reduce conflict among different groups in society and, therefore, provides structure. Nevertheless, social changes that affect the nature of stratification end up creating structural mobility, such as what happens with the advancement in technology that distributes power to members of the bourgeoisie class for them to earn independently on their economic activity, separate from the works of the elite property owners. The bourgeoisie here is the middle class identified in society by their materialist attitude and preferences for conventional methods and interests.
According to Vilfredo Pareto, individuals come to the world with different abilities. They also get separate experiences that assist them to get unique skills and aptitudes. As with the description of stratification above, and its inevitability, it is clear that Pareto is referring to the same concept introduced by Gaetano Mosca. Here, Pareto also highlights the fact that all societies have classes. In this regard, societies are heterogeneous.
The heterogeneity occurs in mental, moral, physical, and cultural motivations. Moreover, it helps in bringing social balance and organization. This is a highlight by Pareto that in any society, people will be different in terms of their physical, intellectual, and moral intentions and actions. With this background relation of Pareto and Mosca’s thinking, the discussion now shifts to the concept of elites introduced by Pareto. The most gifted people in a group will end up begin the elites. Therefore, being elite will be relative to the norms of a group and its social constructions, following the definition of the two terms offered in part 1.
Elite is a term referring to a class of people who have the highest indices and this would be in their branch of activity, which Pareto specifies is a small number of people with a higher echelon in a professional hierarchy. As an example, a successful businessperson is elite in the economic world, and a professor is elite in education matters. In terms of governance, both can be elites. Often, elites fall into governing and non-governing types.
To observe social change, following the definition introduced in part 1, is to review the changes in the governing elite and non-governing elite. Historical changes occur because individuals move from being non-elites who are ruled to being elites who rule. It can happen gradually through infiltration that leads to the replacement of all ruling elites with a new group such as peasants marrying princes. It can also happen in a violent revolution such as civilian coups akin to the Arab Spring where the ruled take over and become rulers, which enables them to govern elite positions.
The connection of elites’ circulation and the inevitability of stratification occur in the functioning of society. Elites provide an important function that above all else provides organization. The non-elites have opportunities to grow their abilities to become governing elites and, when this happens, the value of the elites to them would not be equivalent to their needs hence, the upsetting of norms to create a new elite occurs. In the end, stratification persists, and the circulation of elites takes place.
Collective conscience, as offered by David Emile Durkheim
People in society exist as a part of a collective conscience, which about consciousness is a social norm going by the definition of norms offered in part 1. On the other hand, collectively refers to something common to many individuals: they all have the same or similar understanding of the concept. The collective conscience is a term used by David Emile Durkheim as a social theory. According to the theory, individuals living in a primitive society will have a common conscience that all members of the society share.
The sharing of the same conscience creates mutual likeness and solidifies the attachment that the individuals have with each other, which permits the organization and survival of the society. Collective conscience also comes in handy in elaborating more on suicide. In this case, Durkheim argues that suicide is a problem of society, but not an individual. Calling for solidarity in society to prevent suicide is an example showing that without collective conscience society ends up with high suicide rates.1
With a collective conscience, norms and social constructions derived from the definition of the terms introduced in part one pass on. These norms and constructions include division of labor. Therefore, the concept appears to work independently of the perceptions and intentions of individuals in society, yet it also relates to what they do because it influences their actions. Therefore, the role of collective conscience as presented by Durkheim only manifests in individuals.
Given that individuals already have a conscience Durkheim’s theory implies that there are two consciences for every person. Therefore, Durkheim’s view highlights norms and social constructions as functions that provide solidarity in society.
Similarities and differences of class-consciousness and collective conscience
Class consciousness is a political worldview that a social class expresses. In most contexts, the term refers to the consciousness of an oppressed class or classes, which makes it a cause of historical change. As explained in part 2 of the circulation of elites, the stratification of society will inevitably change when the class-consciousness of social class changes. Therefore, the class-consciousness play relies on social class to bring out its importance in historical and social changes.
Social class arises due to the function of individuals in society, which places them in different positions about the process of production. Thus, class-consciousness brings about the idea of division of labor in society. With this understanding, workers form the proletariat in society and end up developing an awareness of their shared social experience with other workers who are exploiting them for their labor. They will then rise and destroy their oppressors when an opportunity arises. Becoming aware of one’s class is a social dynamic. According to the definition of dynamics in part one, the social dynamics of class awareness create a class that understands the collective exploitation by the bourgeoisie.
The similarities of class-consciousness and collective conscience are that they all look at collectiveness in the form of what is common in the beliefs and views of many people. At the same time, the two concepts also explain the role of social constructs in bringing out solidarity in society. One can say that the workers who revolt against their oppressors after developing class-consciousness merely have a collective consciousness that is manifesting itself in them to provide the necessary solidarity, which makes them go after their oppressors in the example provided above.
Differences appear in the way the two concepts address motivations for individual actions. In collective conscience, individuals act because they are responding to their conscience, however, they also unconsciously act because of the collective conscience that they may interpret as social norms and social constructs. Meanwhile, in the class-consciousness concept, individuals act because they recognize their collective consciousness.
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Thus, the first group is acting blindly, while in the second explanation the group acts with a tangible understanding of the motivating factor. Going with the explanation offered by the collective consciousness, individuals achieve a positive view of the division of labor and social stratification. They understand that the order has to prevail to support their existence and are more likely to embrace social constructs when working from one class to another.
On the other hand, class-consciousness presents conflicts because each class exhibits different consciousness from the other. Chances of mutual consciousness between classes are negligible, and one class that is better equipped to govern will work actively to suppress the governance interest of the other class leading to a constant struggle of classes in society. The two concepts would be interchangeable in reviewing social change.
Following the definition of social change used in part one, class-consciousness can explain historical violence in society while collective conscience can explain the transformation of societies from poor to wealthy with proper governance and participation of individuals in different class capacities. Therefore, at any time, society is following either class-consciousness or collective conscience.
Whether I think that collective conscience can help understand the subcultures
I agree with the opinion that the collective conscience is pertinent in comprehending subcultures, given that it is distinct from individuals. At the same time, it shows up in individuals. Therefore, the observed subculture involving fashion, music, or technology fads are just a manifestation of what the society has collectively assumed as the expected meaning and behavior of individuals, yet as individuals participate in the consciousness, they are unaware of their collective behavior.
Instead, they continue to attribute their choices to personal motivations coming from their consciousness. From the explanation of Durkheim’s concept of collective conscience in part two, it is apparent that sub-cultures only work to foster solidarity.
Another concept that can help link collective conscience with sub-culture is anomie. This is a concept also introduced by Durkheim, and it refers to a disruption of the social order. Bringing back the argument to a connection of collective conscience and subcultures, one can observe that the movement of consumerism or the growth of cultures around music genres, such as hip-hop, arises because of anomalies.
Here, a new concept emerged out of the actions of individuals who feel restricted by the current social order. As they come up with events, actions, or products that are out of the norm, they become unique and the ones who adhere to the present social order notice them. They can view it as a cost, implying that it is disruptive to their conscience in a negative way, or they can see it as an opportunity that increases their expression of individual conscience.
When the latter is true, the disruption ends up becoming a new social order, and once again society embraces collective consciousness. Innovators in fashion and technology of consumer goods, such as smartphones, utilize collective conscience to artificially stimulate the development of a subculture as one created around iconic products like Apple’s iPhone.
Bohm, Robert M., and Robert M. Bohm. A Primer on Crime and Delinquency Theory. 3rd ed. Australia: Wadsworth, 2011.
Macionis, John J., and Nijole V. Benokraitis. Seeing Ourselves. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1998.
- John, J Macionis, and Nijole V Benokraitis Seeing Ourselves (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1998), 355.