Sympathists

Posts Tagged ‘Necktie’

Statement of Intent and Concern on the Occasion of my Thirty-Fifth Birthday: Part I

In Life as Lived, Organizations, Sociology on June 13, 2009 at 10:02 pm

fff-blackMatthew Thomas, Kyoto

Intent and Concern #I: Berger and Luckmann on Typification and Reification

Everything has a face, forms, sounds and colours: these are just appearances.  They are just forms and colours, and nothing more.  However, everything arises from what is formless and descends into that which is changeless.  If you grasp and follow this, using it to the full, nothing can stand in your way.

Chuang Tzu

This is the first in a projected series of posts which will represent an attempt on my part to synthesize a variety of theoretical and practical concerns that confront me as I approach thirty-five.  This post will begin with Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality, a book we have looked at before here on Sympathies.  I have re-posted the original post so that readers can familiarize themselves with the work.

A good deal of the writing on this blog has taken as its theme the relationship between the individual and the institution, and we have seen various attempts to come to terms with the ideal stance of one who, as we all do, exists within the grasp of institutionalization.  In The Social Construction of Reality, Berger and Luckmann spend 45 pages on the topic of institutionalization, and what they have to say provides me with my jumping off point.  They make the point that while man (and yes, The Social Construction of Reality, published in 1966, uses the outdated gender-specific catch-all term for humanity), makes his world, he is given to losing sight of this and projecting (“reifying”) aspects of the social world so that they are perceived as entirely external and beyond his control.  “Man’s self-production is always, and of necessity, a social enterprise.  Men together produce a human environment, with the totality of its socio-cultural and psychological formations” (51), but, being prone to reification, they will sometimes “{apprehend} the products of human activity as if there were something else than human products–such as facts of nature, results of cosmic law, or manifestations of divine will.  Reification implies that man is capable of forgetting his own authorship of the human world {and experiencing it} as a strange facticity, {…} over which he has no control” (89).

When mis-apprehending (social) reality as something other than the product of his own action and consciousness, he forgets that “the social world was made by men–and, therefore, can be remade by them,” but, ironically, “reification is a modality of consciousness {…} Even when apprehending the world in reified terms, man continues to produce it” (89).

Even when apprehending the world in reified terms, man continues to produce it. I would like to extrapolate this to mean that the perception of sedimented, externally controlled or created, facticity continually creates the very facticity in question.  Put slightly differently, the denial of agency diminishes, uncreates, free-will, while the exercise of free-will depends in large part, perhaps entirely, on the strength of one’s belief in it.

Now, this is not to argue that reification is simply false-consciousness, or that groups within society do not go to considerable trouble to perpetuate and legitimate reification of their activities.  Berger and Luckmann make this quite clear in their analysis of what they call “socially segregated subuniverses of meaning” such as “Hindu castes, the Chinese literary bureaucracy, or the priestly coteries of ancient Egypt” (85), not to mention lawyers, doctors, television pundits, university English departments.  They write that subuniverses  “become esoteric enclaves {…} to all but those who have been properly initiated into their mysteries {…} The outsiders have to be kept out {but} If the subuniverse requires various special privileges and recognitions from the larger society, there is the problem of keeping out the outsiders and at the same time having them acknowledge the legitimacy of this procedure.  This is done through various techniques of intimidation {…} mystification and, generally, the manipulation of prestige symbols” (87).

And generally the manipulation of prestige symbols. Indeed.  Those who engage, consciously or unconsciously, in the manipulation of prestige symbols are, in Berger and Luckmann’s language, involved in creating a “typification.”  The acceptance of typifications, in turn, sediments social facticity and brings into being a taken-for-grantedness in the performance of social actors. Continue Reading

Minor Intellectuals Further Theorize About Selling Out Here

In Organizations, Sociology on February 17, 2009 at 11:59 pm

Editor’s Note: It is nice to see the affinity for the fascinating subject of sartorial conformism on the part of sympathists.  This post is organized as a dialogue, made up of comments to previous posts as well as material written expressly for the colloquy.

Tim Chanecka, Kyoto

Interesting observations, Mr. Inch, and good recollection as well. I would point out further that as one who shared that office with you and MT, it always seemed to me that for most of the rest of us (although if you’ll recall, I also seasonally wore a tie) the choice not to wear a tie was also an act of rebellion against the cultural norm that we were thrust into. In other words, an act of rebellion against a culture that insisted that anything less than a necktie was less than professional. Some of us, I believe you would be included in that group, wanted to be taken seriously as professionals for what we DID, not the packaging in which we did it. I guess that would skew quite seriously the idea that we could become something which we were not by pretending to be it.

At any rate, for me anyway, the wearing o’ the tie has become de rigueur, perhaps for the same reasons MT did and still does it, perhaps because I am in a culture which I cannot change, so I have changed my practices to be more in step with it. It still comes off before I even get out the door in the evening, however.

Dean Williams, Kyoto

What about MY sartorial choices? Something wrong with suspenders and bow ties? It was me, not the slim one, who read and took to heart the self-help smash, “Dress for Success–If You Want to be a Circus Clown.”

Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

Mr. Inch’s wonderfully ambivalent post deserves a full response, and, at the risk of typecasting Sympathies as a blog focusing on the minutia of social practice, will receive one. For the moment, I would only add that Puritano’s ability to pull off the circus clown look is wholly dependent on the projection of an identity that supports the fashion in question. For those many of us yet to acquire to ability to turn on and turn off more or less at will what for lack of a better word can only be called “charisma”–a conventional, even conservative professional appearance may indeed act as a kind of catalyst through which a measure of social effectiveness may be harnessed. I think that the ambivalence, perhaps even the hint of insecurity, that animates Andrew’s post is precisely born of his uncertainty about how far charisma, charm, and personality can take before he too will need to rethink his rebel pose, his “alternative (…) perhaps less respect-able but nonetheless conformist, relationship to the rules and rituals that regulated life in that particular setting,” and find it in himself to don the noose.

Andrew Inch, United Kingdom

Fascinating stuff, Mr Thomas.  Goffman does indeed provide interesting means for thinking about the self and identity.  I think, however, that in part you have misinterpreted the roots of my ambivalence, and in so doing attribute something rather different to my post than I intended Continue Reading

The Imaginary Camera, Part II

In Sociology on February 14, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

Editor’s Note: Part I of “The Imaginary Camera” left off with Jennifer Senior considering why it is that politicians like Reagan and Clinton were so effective as personalities; she suggests that this is because they basically have no “backstage” character–that the space between the private self and the public face is in fact de minimus.

On Bill Clinton:

Senior’s point here is that the best politicians are basically the same on stage and off stage. In Reagan’s case, as a professional actor, Ronald Reagan the man had, over time, simply become “Ronald Reagan” the politician and public figure. In the case of Clinton, one suspects, the same end result, being truly comfortable in the role, was attained by sightly different means–Clinton as an adult seems simply to have never had a self apart from his political image. Senior quotes Clinton advisor Paul Begala (well-read enough to be familiar with Goffman) to this effect: “Erving Goffman used to make the distinction between front-stage and backstage personas. Bill Clinton has the least distance between his front stage and his backstage personas out of anyone I know” (129). Begala’s comment here is especially interesting if seen through the lens of John Harris’ account of the first meeting between candidate Clinton and the two hot operatives of 1991, Begala and James Carville. According the Harris, Clinton first interviewed Carville and Begala at a bar, and he was wooing these two rather than the other way around. “Clinton had a reputation as the consummate politician, so the operatives sat down waiting for a discussion laden with inside dope {…} Instead, Clinton launched into an impassioned discourse–nothing short of a sermon, really–about how troubled he was about his country.” Begala “swooned” but “in his crush {…} kept enough detachment to contemplate that the session had been a put-on, and what seemed like a wonderfully guileless performance actually had been a more sophisticated brand of artifice. Is this guy for real? he asked Carville” (xi).

Through our reading of Senior and Goffman we realize that the answer to Begala’s questions is of course “yes”–he was for real, in this sense, the performance was both entirely guileless (that is sincere) and entirely artifice (that is cynical and calculated), the two modes blending in Clinton to such an extent that there was virtually no difference between the two. Clinton, after all, had by this point been running for a very long time; he lost a congressional race in Arkansas in 1974 at the age of 28, won a race for Arkansas Attorney General in 1976 and one for governor in 1978 at the tender age of 32. When it came time to run for president, Clinton the candidate had essentially erased any vestige of Bill Clinton the man, with a backstage self distinct from the man in the floodlights. Senior traveled with Clinton to Africa in 2005, and came away with this observation: “Even when the cameras aren’t rolling, he’s always performing. The fantasy about Clinton is that he’s exactly like you or me. But he’s nothing like you or me {in} Africa {…} even in the most solitary circumstances, he lit up like a Christmas tree. He enjoyed performing in these quiet circumstances, often repeating the same jokes and anecdotes {…} It was like an imaginary camera was always running” (135). Continue Reading

The Imaginary Camera, Part I

In Sociology on February 14, 2009 at 9:35 pm

M. Standfast, Kyoto

bobdole250Introduction to Erving Goffman:

Here, I am interested to dig deeper into some of the themes of earlier posts on Sympathies, one by Matthew on being and becoming, the other by Andrew Inch on “practices of the self.”  This is a long post, so I have split it into two parts.  There may be a part three to follow.

We are concerned here once again with the way in which people, by inhabiting a role in society, create a social, public self–and with the relation of that created second self to what Erving Goffman calls our “backstage” self. This post draws primarily on Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and Jennifer Senior’s excellent article from 2007 “The Politics of Personality Destruction” (originally from New York magazine, collected in Best American Political Writing 2008).

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life would be on a very short list of my favorite books ever written, but it not too widely known, even among many casual readers of sociology. But while Marx, Weber, and Durkheim may enjoy a higher public profile, Goffman, in my opinion, holds his own as one of the most creative and influential sociologists to have written. Gary Alan Fine and Philip Manning argue that Goffman is indeed a major figure–that his ideas have been taken up by legions of sociologists, and have seeped into many other disciplines, but that very few have followed directly in his footsteps. Fine and Manning suggest that because he offered no “overarching theory of society,” thus not attracting followers or a ‘school’ as such, Goffman’s contributions have been somewhat overlooked, and it is true that Goffman provides great insight and inspiration, but not a systematic program or model of society. His exceptionality is in his individuality–his work is unreproducable and wholly idiosyncratic, but is it not true that in the long run individual obsessions played out at length are, in all their eccentricities and drawbacks, usually the most enlightening and lasting? Despite the unsystematic nature of his work, between The Presentation of Self and Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior Goffman did produce a fairly thorough analysis of what transpires in everyday social interactions.

I have no intention here of providing a general overview of Goffman’s theory; suffice it to say that Goffman, like Shakespeare, sees almost all social activity as taking place on stage, and delineates between events that happen on “stage” (those actions carried out in front of the public) and those that transpire “backstage” (those actions carried out in private, many of which if they were seen by the public would disrupt, falsify, or even destroy the potency of staged actions). In Interaction Ritual, Goffman is centrally concerned with face-saving behavior and accommodation, and sees everyday activity as made up of countless “interchanges”–an interchange referring to a series of moves between social actors with face consequences. Continue Reading

On Knotting the Necktie and Other ‘Practices of the Self’

In Sociology on January 29, 2009 at 9:25 am

Editor’s Note: Sympathies is pleased to present the first of what we hope to be many posts from our old friend, Mr. Andrew Inch. Here, Mr. Inch responds to an earlier post of mine on J.G. Ballard and “My Dinner With Andre.” As is his wont, Mr. Inch has zeroed in on the true topic of the post which may have been submerged by a certain amount of thematic rambling.  Despite the fact that he has chosen the very European lifecourse of professional student, Andrew too once worked in an office, as his post makes clear.

Andrew Inch, United Kingdom

necktyingSo after promising not to get drawn into writing anything other than my doctoral thesis I find myself responding to something here on Classical Sympathies at some length, maybe even provoked to do so. Or perhaps just with a memory of provocation. Or a desire to provoke. In any case, Matthew Thomas’ recent post on “Social Image and Social Reality: On Ballard’s “Conversations” and “My Dinner With Andre”” seemed to invite a response.

Matthew’s post was concerned with the way we come to perform particular identities, to take on, or affect certain social positions. He seems interested by the nature of this performance, placing it in relation to the worlds of theatre and literature through the work of J.G. Ballard and the film My Dinner with Andre. He is concerned to probe the possibility of some kind of authenticity, and to wonder at the self he himself presents to the world through the stabilizing practices of routine. Ultimately, he seems to want to assert the potential for creative agency through exercise of the will-to-power, the possibilities immanent in the performance of new identities through the carrying out of the appropriate rituals.

For me this drew to mind a one time colleague, for arguments sake let’s call him MT, who would as a matter of course dress for work in a neatly pressed business shirt and necktie. Or at least that is how I remember him -some years have passed since we worked together after all. This was, however, particularly noteworthy since, in the workplace in question, there was at that time no formal dress code, and many of the rest of us chose to dress in a less formal fashion. Continue Reading