Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mind, Self, and Facebook: A Postmodern Sociology Part. 2

Postmodern theory “resists global, total narratives” and values social analysis that is “captured in fragments, requiring local, individual level, even intuitive methodologies.” (Agger 1988, 91) Contemporary sociologists also privilege the local fragments over the global narratives. Charles Tilly (1984) claims that grand narratives are meant to be timeless and placeless should be replaced with concrete, historical analysis of real people, places, and things. Similarly, Randall Collins (2005) posits a radical micro-sociology that privileges the study of situations and chains of interaction. Through chains of interaction, symbols are assigned meanings that make up the “structure of our consciousness” and the “lenses through which we see.” (Collins 2005, 374) Micro-sociology reveals the self as socially constructed and historically situated. Collins’ fragmented, individual, and local method of study contends, “there is no guarantee that the larger historical pattern always flows in one direction.”  Instead Collins states that selves, considered normal today, will likely be different then the kinds of selves considered normal 200 years from now[1]. Tilly and Collins do not seem to be at odds with the postmodern rejection of grand narratives but resistance is encountered when Anthony Elliot (2001) addresses the postmodern construction of the self in Concepts of the Self. Elliot traces the development of symbolic interaction theory from Mead and Goffman, through Freud and psychoanalysis, onto Foucault, and eventually into the postmodern theories. It is in the discussion of the postmodern self that pessimistic view of the self and society emerges. Elliot chronicles sociological descriptions of the postmodern “dislocation and decomposition of identity.[2]” (Elliot 2001, 132) I interpret Elliot’s assertion that the “grand objectives of the enlightenment (including Truth, Justice, Reason, and Equality) dissolve or become irrelevant,” (Elliot 131) is either a nostalgic longing for the comfort of modern simplicity or a confusion regarding the shifting dynamics of culture. I contend that this discomfort stems from attempting to apply theories of modernity to postmodern dilemmas. Further, Elliot’s fear of the dissolution of truth, justice, reason, and equality is understandable in a postmodern age where reality seems “unordered and ultimately unknowable.” (Best and Kellner 1991, 9) Huston Smith contends that unordered, postmodern skepticism is “only a transition to yet another intellectual perspective, one that will be characterized by a more holistic and spiritual outlook.” (Best and Kellner 1991, 9) Postmodernity is a time of transition in world history and sociologists should utilize the fragments of the culture to develop a new micro-sociology. By moving away from the modern interpretations of the self, sociologists can free themselves to embrace the changing culture and utilize cultural fragments, like Facebook, to analyze how postmodern selves and cultures are developing from within a postmodern medium of communication.

[1] (Collins 2001, 372) “…and there is no guarantee that the larger historical pattern always flows in one direction….. There is no Hegelian evolution revealing that the pure essence of the human being is individuality and inwardness.”
[2] Elliot is discussing Richard Sennet’s views on the postmodern self

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