The Astructural Bias Charge: Myth or Reality?: Volume 46

Cover of The Astructural Bias Charge: Myth or Reality?
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Table of contents

(18 chapters)
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Abstract

A history of the intellectual origins of the debate over the astructural bias is presented. The chapter summarizes both the emergent bias thesis and the charge of an astructural bias. The major works within this debate are reviewed. It has been found that the astructural bias still exists within the work of contemporary interactionists. The conclusion is that if interactionists want their work to be taken seriously, then they must seriously confront the distinguishing concept in sociology: social structure.

Abstract

The purpose of this conceptual chapter is to analyze the current state of the astructural bias in symbolic interactionism as it relates to three inter-related processes over time: (1) the formalization of critiques of symbolic interactionism as ahistorical, astructural, and acritical perspectives; (2) an ahistorical understanding of early expressions of the disjuncture between symbolic interactionism and more widely accepted forms of sociological theorizing; and (3) persistent and widespread inattentiveness to past and present evidence-based arguments that address the argument regarding symbolic interactionism as an astructural, ahistorical, and acritical sociological perspective. The argument frames the historical development of the astructural bias concept in an historically and socially conditioned way, from its emergence through its rejection and ultimately including conclusions about contemporary state of the astructural bias as evidenced in the symbolic interactionist literatures of the last couple of decades. The analysis and argument concludes that the contemporary result of these intertwined historical and social conditioning processes is that the astructural bias myth has been made real in practice, and that the reification of the myth of an astructural bias has had the ruinous effect of virtually eradicating a vital tradition in the interactionist perspective which extends back to the earliest formulations of the perspective. As a result, a handful of suggestions that serve to aid in reclaiming the unorthodox structuralism of symbolic interactionism and the related interactionist study of social organization are provided in the conclusion.

Abstract

This chapter challenges and augments the received view of the history of symbolic interaction at the University of Chicago. The history of the discipline’s development at the University of Chicago between 1889 and 1935 is well-known, especially the work of George Herbert Mead and John Dewey, sometimes called “the Chicago school of sociology” or symbolic interaction. But the Hull-House school of sociology, led by Jane Addams, is largely unknown. In this chapter I explore her founding role in feminist symbolic interaction. Her perspective analyzes micro, meso, and macro levels of theory and practice. Feminist symbolic interaction is structural, political, rational, and emotional, and employs abstract and specific models for action. Addams led a wide network of people, including sociologists, her neighbors, and other citizens, who implemented and institutionalized their shared visions. Addams led many controversial social movements, including the international peace movement, recognized in 1931 by the Nobel Peace Prize. “Feminist symbolic interaction” expands the scope of symbolic interaction by being more action-oriented, more political, and more focused on a successful social change model than the traditional approach to this theory. In addition, many new sociologists are added to the lists of important historical figures.

Abstract

This chapter shows that Mead has a field theory and that the explanatory method of symbolic interaction is that of a field. A field, in this sense, is a systematic network of meanings. When someone or something enters that field such as a protest rally or a cocktail party they are given the meaning that is characteristic of the field. This explanation is not one of causation but one of context. I show that a major field theory of Mead’s concerns the agent and how decisions or actions are made. He also has a developmental field theory based on the play-game-generalized other relation. With Mead’s agency model I then show how it can be applied, in macro fashion, to the recent rise in American minorities, especially that of women, African Americans, and gays. This example shows the macro or social structural power of Mead’s idea.

Abstract

If what sociologists call “social structures” are understood to be recurrent patterns of joint action, then the charge that interactionism suffers from an astructural bias falls apart, because such patterns of joint action are what interactionists routinely study. The problem, then, is not that interactionism fails to grasp structure, but that much of the mainstream of sociology fails to grasp process. It is this aprocessual bias that impedes a full understanding of how inequality is created and reproduced. The case of capitalism is used to show how an interactionist focus on process can illuminate the workings of a large-scale economic system. I treat capitalism as a macro interaction order, à la Goffman, and then employ the tools of dramaturgical sociology to analyze the recurrent patterns of joint action of which capitalism consists. This form of dramaturgical analysis is applied to two fictional stories as a way to show how capitalism depends on normative and procedural rules, cognitive presuppositions, and ritual forms – all of which are typically rendered invisible by aprocessual bias. The concepts of side bets, identity stakes, and nets of accountability are developed to complete the analysis.

Abstract

My project is to develop a phenomenological, constructionist, symbolic interactionist theory of the narrative productions of meaning in the public realm. Situated within our globalized, technologically mediated world characterized by extraordinary social, political, economic, and moral fragmentation, my basic question is quite practical: How can public communication be understandable and persuasive to audiences whose experiences, world views, and moral sensibilities are so different? Here I explore how the more-or-less widely shared systems of meaning in symbolic codes and emotion codes are incorporated into narratives that circulate in the public sphere. I conclude with arguing that more attention by symbolic interactionists to these productions of meaning would be good for the study of culture and good for symbolic interactionism.

Abstract

This chapter assesses the power focus in contemporary interactionist theory, and advances several premises about power based on recent research and theory. I first examine the main assumptions of the view of power that emerged in the wake of the astructural bias debate, which became an implicit standard for assessments of power in the tradition. Next, I explore the criticisms of the astructural bias thesis and related conceptualization. My argument is that while the debate correctly spotlighted the power deficit of interactionism, it had theoretical implications that distracted us from the task of fully conceptualizing power. In the second part of this chapter, I examine recent interactionist work in order to build general premises that can advance interactionist theory of power. Based on this analysis, I elaborate four premises that interactionists can use, regardless of theoretical orientation. Drawing on examples from my ethnographic research, I illustrate how researchers can benefit from the use of these premises.

Abstract

This chapter examines the issue of the “astructural bias” critique of symbolic interactionist theory and research practice by reconsidering the conception of structure in light of work within the French social theoretical tradition that reflects upon this concept. Proceeding through the work of Georges Bataille, Jean Baudrillard, and Marshall Sahlins, the chapter examines the evolving theorization of symbolic structures. Bataille’s theory of the “general economy” and the “labyrinth” provides an initial expansion of the concept of structures and formulating symbolic practices as fundamental to the structuring of the social order. Baudrillard expands this work on symbolic structures with his analysis of symbolic exchange and seduction, taking Bataille’s initial work into a more nuanced analytical perspective and applies it to a range of cultural practices, including fashion, an area of particular interest to symbolic interactionism. Marshall Sahlins, directly influenced by Baudrillard, refines much of this thinking through his theorization of cultural reason, and provides anthropological field research to illustrate some of this theory, taking this thought into more conventional social scientific territory and offering examples of its methodological possibilities. The chapter suggests that symbolic interactionists can move from a defensive position regarding the presumed astructural character of their work to a more positive case for its status as a particularly acute form of engagement with a range of social structures.

Final Assessments

Pages 185-186
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New Interpretive Works

Abstract

This chapter examines four episodes of The Simpsons, paying particular interest to one, The Days of Wine and D’oh’ses to connect the notion of pastiche with a symbolic interactionist view of media representation. We use The Simpsons and episodes pertinent to alcoholism and alcoholic imbibing to show that pastiche, which does not deny the resolute qualities of a serious social issue, nevertheless provides ironic and fantastic imagery to merge the serious and even tragic with the comedic. We use the four episodes to depict alcoholism as a disease but also as focal point for humor, making the contrast between The Days of Wine and D’oh’ses and its classic alcoholism-film counterpart, The Days of Wine and Roses, central to the tragic-comedic connection. We further draw upon Denzin’s notions of the comedic drunk and the alcoholism alibi to discuss how pastiche both inspires attention to alcoholism as a serious medical disease and disease of the self and to alcoholism as pivotal to comedic character development and the emergence of pragmatic and creative selves.

About the Authors

Pages 215-217
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Cover of The Astructural Bias Charge: Myth or Reality?
DOI
10.1108/S0163-2396201646
Publication date
2016-07-26
Book series
Studies in Symbolic Interaction
Editor
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78635-036-7
eISBN
978-1-78635-035-0
Book series ISSN
0163-2396