14
Oct
09

Neither Famous, Nor Ignored

Just out of curiosity, I checked the stats on Flash and Substance today. I was amazed to discover that my post about Dramaturgical Theory had been viewed over 1,000 times. I was surprised again when I discovered that my post is the second result in a search of “Dramaturgical Theory” on Google, out of about 660,000 results.

I’m beginning to think I need to put in more effort. I would encourage anyone who has a look at that post, or any of the others, to comment – is the information helpful? Is there anything else I can do to make the theory more comprehensible? Any specific questions?

I am more than willing to engage anyone who wants to discuss – just let me know!

13
Oct
09

Politics, Society and Technology: the Perils of Entitlement

Originally posted to Blevkog on Oct. 11, 2009.

As I was cruising the intertubes this morning, waiting patiently for the NFL to kick off, I came across a blog entry on Huffington Post by Jeffrey Feldman, entitled “The Outrage Pandemic“. It describes the rising tide of outrage from both the Right and the Left in regard to President Barack Obama, particularly now that he has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This got me to thinking about a few seemingly random things, which may not be so random.

We live now in an age where everything is instant – gratification of the need for attention, for knowledge and for fame is mere moments away for most people. Blogs for example are, or rather were, unique venues for the everyday individual who once was one of the faceless masses to be fed information to provide tasty opinionated snacks to the world (I am as guilty as anyone of checking the blog stats to see if anyone is reading what I have written, and how the ‘Kog is doing in general – I respect and admire my co-authors, and I’m glad I was invited to participate in this grand experiment). Add YouTube videos and Wikipedia to the mix, and we have unprecedented access to instant gratification, in the form of information, entertainment, or infotainment, from almost everywhere in the world.

What is problematic in the access to ‘sending’ and ‘receiving’ we all enjoy is the atomization of social life – when everyone can write their own newspaper, or make their own movies, or, more tellingly, limit themselves to reading the ‘news’ from the viewpoint they prefer, shared experience becomes less… shared. The common experience of having access to a limited number of media that still existed until about 15 years ago has been lost, replaced by the ability to create a world that reflects you, and to search for others who share your views, no matter how extreme.

Add to the atomization phenomenon the usual action and interaction associated with anonymous communication, and the landscape becomes considerably more volatile. It has been said, quite rightly, that you can be literally anyone online – it’s why I don’t bother with chatrooms. The sneaking suspicion that the 18-year-old nymphet at the other end of an intertube is actually a hairy, naked trucker in a cheap hotel ruins the whole experience for me. Sometimes it is possible to know, or suspect, too much. But, that’s not the important aspect I am talking about (whew). The translation of thought into text without much usable context (the emoticon is useful, if annoying, but not foolproof) leads to misunderstanding, and the usual human interaction to perceived disagreement or outright verbal or textual attack is an emotional one, completely out of proportion with any reaction to a similar real-world situation. To borrow from theories of collective behavior, a group of individuals becomes a mob because of the combination of:

  1. A reasonably large group of people (critical mass, if you will)
  2. A precipitating or ‘trigger’ event
  3. An individual who recognizes the protection of numbers, and escalates his behavior to violence
  4. A cascade effect in which others in the collective follow the extreme behavior, losing shared or ‘normal’ morality in the crowd, as it were.

Now, imagine the same idea, translated to a single individual, who wears his cloak of anonymity granted not by a crowd, but a keyboard. There are no immediate repercussions to negative actions, at least no physical threat of incarceration or personal injury, so actions and reactions can become routinely larger than life – the internet age has created a uniquely bipolar citizen. In essence, we become our own individualized mob. How’s that for a contradiction?

To cast back a bit for the next thread in the narrative, let’s take a look at the 1970′s – not too closely, or we’ll be blinded by hairspray and huge collars. The ’70s have been referred to as the ‘me decade’ – the sexual revolution resulted in a revolutionary sense of permissiveness, and an indulgence of hedonism that has been unequaled since – thanks primarily to the negative impacts of recreational drugs and sexually transmitted disease. The ’80s were the ‘greed is good’ decade, which led to more self-indulgence, not to mention teased hair and fluorescent colours. Gratification of the need for entertainment, in particular, became more the order of the day as cable television networks grew. The most important, and potentially most negative aspect of this development is the launch of CNN in 1980. News became entertainment, the personal continued to be political, and every small development in the evolution of social life was placed under a microscope. Access to this unending stream of information, rather than being a boon to society, meant that people were getting used to having all the information they needed, all the time – there arguably never was a better time to be politically active, as information was becoming more readily available, but was still limited, to a degree. The ‘me decade’ morphed into ‘me too decade’.

The commercialization of the internet in the mid-1990s enhanced the public’s access to information – which had its’ downside in the fact that not all sources are reliable – in fact, I would venture to say that 90% of the information available on the ‘net is opinion rather than objective fact. It became too easy to find others seeking information, or willing to share information in such a way as to make it more palatable to certain tastes. The ability of bloggers to vilify politicians or other public figures because of the emotional volitility of anonymity, and the ability of readers to limit their interactions to like-minded individuals has led to the evolution of the know-nothing know-it-all, and the growth of the political rabble-rousing we see constantly around us, particularly in relation to American politics.

So, we have passed the ‘me decade’ and the ‘me too’ decade, and entered, around the turn of the century, the ‘me too, right now decade’. The failure of anyone to live up to our comfortable vision of society, cultured online, of nodding heads and reinforcement of emotionally comfortable and fiercely defended beliefs leads to the inevitable volatility of reaction. What we have is a generation of people who have grown up online, in which very few vote but almost all pontificate on the slightest outrage committeed by those who do not respect the boundaries of our own little undiscovered countries.

This is not limited to the political Right – we see now the political Left dogging the footsteps of a President with intelligence and wisdom, but who is unable, as is any human or organization, to fulfil the immediate wants and needs of everyone, all at once. Therefore, the rhetoric becomes more vehement, the outrage more emotional – those who do not agree or who do not cater to our beliefs are instantly the ‘enemy’, the ‘other’, the traitor who consorts with terrorists because they diagree with your vision of America – which in reality is limited to the boundaries of your home office or your parents’ basement. There is no longer an ‘America’ for people to be proud of, but several million Americas on every street, and sometimes more than one in every home.

Sometimes the citizens of these atomized Americas come together and share their outrage, but the emotional reaction, unmuted by people who may disagree, continues to build until the individual begets the crowd, which begets the mob. We are not, and are unable to, translate the interactive processes that are built by personal contact and childhood interaction to the internet – rather, the interactive rituals and emotional responses of the internet are being translated to real life, with dire consequences. Disagreement becomes hatred, disappointment becomes betrayal, caution becomes intolerable delay. The lure of the emotional and the instant is too strong.

President Obama has had the misfortune of becoming the leader of the free world at a time when personal interaction has degraded to black and white – the ‘for us or against us’ mentality was not limited to the inside of President Bush’s head. If Obama fulfils his promise of hope and progess, he will earn the hatred of those who benefit from the status quo, either emotionally or financially. If he fails, he will be vilified by those who feel that change is the only way to make the world better – in every way, both politically and personally. If he even achieves half of his lofty goals, he will still make enemies of people on both sides.

As has become obvious from some of my prior posts, I have high hopes for Barack Obama – I think he represents a change long overdue in American politics, as well as in global relations. My fear is that the Lyndon Johnson-esque Great Society that he envisions will be sabotaged by the millions of ‘better’ societies that live in the emotional cores of those on both sides, and that people will guard their personal borders against unwanted information or action to such a degree that co-operation in moving forward will be impossible. Those that are most highly motivated to speak are inevitably the loudest and most dogmatic on both sides, and the voices of entitlement, the shouts of the ‘me too, right now’ generation may drown out the reasoned, intelligent dialogue he offers.

The telegraph linked us on a very basic level. The telephone enabled contact with one another. Television and radio showed us, through pictures and words, the world outside our windows. Now, the internet, the great boon to mankind, has enabled us to examine, to know, and to experience, the inside of our own heads.  Will it rule us, and decide our future for us, or will we reclaim ourselves, our knowledge, and our bonds to each other? Who knows.

Make no mistake, however, the future may depend on our mastery of our tools, and of ourselves.

22
Sep
08

Right. Well, Never Mind.

As it is obvious that my change in direction is not exactly catching fire (to say the least), I shall forthwith return to more ‘scholarly’ matters – I have some ideas of how to flesh out some of my theoretical works by linking them to real-world examples, which should (I hope) offer some help to those interested in Dramaturgical Theory and Metaphor, the two most popular searches that bring people here. Plus, my brain needs the exercise.

I briefly considered leaving the other items intact, but I think I will delete them, in the interests of consistency. That, and the fact that I invariably ended up discussing much the same thing that I or others discussed on Blevkog anyway, are my main reasons behind this decision. Plus, my house, my rules.:)

Never lose by by trying something new! Stop back soon for unrestrained braininess.

Be Seeing You.

03
Sep
07

Anomie and ‘Postmodern’ Anarchy

As some of you may know from my past writings on Blevkog, I am not what you might call an advocate of so-called Postmodernity. Postmodern theory posits (as an oversimplification) that there is a basic flaw in Modernist societal assumptions regarding the dominant position of particular types of knowledge – Positivist Scientific knowledge being chief among the dominant worldviews criticized. Postmodernist theory would have us believe that all forms of knowledge are valid, and no form of knowledge deserves a privileged place in society. I for one would rather be sure that a person who buys into the whole positivism thing built the bridge my bus drives over – accept no substitutes, folks.

What may have become an unintended consequence of this absurdity is that it follows logically that if all types of knowledge and knowing are valid, then none of them are particularly useful vis-a-vis every other type of knowledge. Logically, since it discusses ‘ways of knowing’, it addresses itself to whatever subjective morality chosen by the individual. I say ‘the individual’ because dominant ideology should be nonexistent under a postmodernist thought regime, and everyone should have a choice of what moral code they should follow.

There is a problem inherent in this, which follows from the ‘invalid’ nature of knowledge structures – if there is no predominating system of morality, from where does the individual choose exemplars of behaviour? Where does the individual go to learn civic responsibility?

University? Absolutely – but consider the number of individuals who have been exposed to a wide variety of questionable moral structures through the medium of the Internet (to use one tired example) and are not yet old enough to enter university? Most of the reports of youth crime I have encountered recently speak to an absence of shared morality and a lack of connection to others that dominant ideology of morality provides. I do not advocate religious belief outside of these parameters, however – as a source of concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ upon which we can generally agree, it is fine, but resorting to the supernatural to explain phenomena leads us back to the postmodernist trap.

Freedom to choose a custom-made set of moral strictures leads us back to the most venal aspects of mankind, and of the nasty, brutish and short life we lead. Rationalizations can be made for any behaviour based on flexible codes of morality – the most accessible source of that morality being the cacaphonous roar of popular culture which demands more, which demands immediacy, which demands instant gratification for any impulse. In the absence of any disciplining influence (given that schools now have to encourage rather than criticize), the impulse to be entertained and for personal gain runs rampant.

There are no shared norms, there is, in effect, normlessness. Normlessness is the most basic definition of Anomie that Durkheim could provide. In our rush to vilify the so-called ‘patriarchal’ or ‘colonizing’ forms of knowledge, we have failed to understand the benefits that such ideas provided in imposing an internal self-discipline incorporating the secular philosophical constructs that exist within the umbrella of religion.

Is it too late to discard the illusion of freedom and reality of anarchy that Postmodernism provides? I have always held that there is no Postmodernism as such, just creative ways of expressing the same ideas we always have, in our limited fashion. What we need is a non-religious and pervasive framework within which we can create and maintain standards of behaviour and civility that will help our society survive. If we cannot somehow recognize the importance of shared human values over those of individual cultural beliefs, the people in control of our nations, and our globe, in the next 20 years will be the generation that is not connected to one another except on an abstract level – and who will think nothing of taking those that obstruct their gratification out of their way. Maybe we shouldn’t worry – by then noone will vote, for the same reason.

If we end up with a dictatorship, benevolent or otherwise, we must admit our complicity in creating it, whether it is happening now or twenty years down the road.

Please Note: This and other ideas discussed on this website are my intellectual property and remain so as long as they are posted to this blog. I am not loath to grant permission, but I appreciate if people ask for it.

19
Mar
07

The Metaphor – Relation and Explanation

Another Piece from my M.Ed. project. Enjoy.

The metaphor has a particularly potent linguistic function. Proctor (1991) explains how metaphor involves the explanation of one object or concept by the expression of another, more familiar object or concept. The use of metaphor is pervasive in human language, and offers us a reflection and an insight into how people perceive the world. Proctor’s study of the metaphors expressed in adult education helps to illustrate how the adult mind makes sense of the experience of adult education through the use of metaphor. The metaphors are not the same for all participants, but they hold generally to themes that help the individuals make sense of their educational experience. These metaphors ranged from the perception the education was a “gift”, “blessing”, or “penance” (religious metaphors), to “juggling”, a “tightrope” and “balance” (athletic or game metaphors), to a variety of other metaphoric concepts such as a “gun to the head”, an “extended family”, or an example of “spoon feeding” (Proctor, 1991). A metaphor’s value is in the value added by the new light cast on two concepts by their combination, and the conjoining of entire domains of semantic concepts through the simple association of metaphor (Cornelissen, 2004).

During the socialization process, humans are constantly engaged in adding to a repertoire of shared concepts. It can be said that the process of learning language is the process of learning society – its expectations, its values and its ideas. Goffman (1974) describes the process of making an event or object in a particular meaningful, and how these otherwise meaningless objects or events are filtered through our ‘primary frameworks’. Primary frameworks are a set of related theories, postulates, ideas and concepts, constituting a ‘lore’ against which the not understood can be compared and thus rendered understandable. The individual cannot articulate the form or function of this conceptual reserve, but the use of it in communication and understanding is immediate (Goffman, 1974, p. 21). The world is made real and understandable through comparison to what we already know.

We build our own cultural database through interaction with and observation of members of the society who are more experienced, and who have access to a larger set of shared understandings. In order to discover the meaning behind any utterance, it is necessary to understand what significance a given utterance has in relation to current and past contexts. Those who are familiar with the work of Habermas, such as Chriss (1995) have pointed out the obvious similarities between Goffman’s work in Dramaturgy and Habermas’ theories of communicative action, which state that norms are implicit in all speech, illustrated most vividly by the efficacy of the metaphor (Chriss, 1995). If we ‘build’ or ‘knock down’ an argument, we are able to understand how the process of rational argument is viewed and understood as a systematic process of assembling the building blocks, or ‘evidence’ for our position. By referring, however indirectly, to another, unrelated activity through the use of metaphor, we are able to convey the meaning of a statement and the values attached to it (Cornelissen, 2004). Overington and Mangham (1987) examine metaphor as a tool for understanding social behaviour and action through the concept of metaphorical framing:

…[H]umans experience their world through frameworks of concepts which organize an understanding of people, events and objects on lines that compare the present with past experience. We have called this metaphorical framing. (Overington & Mangham, 1987, p. 13)

This is my motivation in examining behaviour through the dramaturgical lens, and my effort to understand the pervasive nature of metaphor in human understanding. Actors utilize props, wear costumes, and use scripts to guide the creation of characters, all of which have natural parallels in the social world.

References

Chriss, J. (1995). “Habermas, Goffman, and Communicative Action: Implications for Professional Practice”. American Sociological Review. V. 60 (4), p. 545-565.

Cornelissen, J. (2004). “What Are We Playing At? Theatre, Organization, and Use of Metaphor”. Organization Studies. V. 25 (5), p. 705-726.

Goffman, E., (1974). Frame Analysis. New York: Harper & Row.

Overington, M.A., Mangham, I.L., (1987). Organizations as Theatre: A Social Psychology of Dramatic Appearances. Chichester (U.K.): John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Proctor, R. (1991). “Metaphors of Adult Education: Beyond Penance Toward Family”. Adult Education Quarterly. V. 41 (2), p. 63-74.

Please Note: This and other ideas discussed on this website are my intellectual property and remain so as long as they are posted to this blog. I am not loath to grant permission, but I appreciate if people ask for it.

19
Mar
07

Dramaturgical Theory – Welcome to My World

This post and the next are sections from my Graduate Project, submitted for credit towards a Master’s of Education degree at Mount Saint Vincent University. I like to share.

Erving Goffman (1922-1982) is perhaps the most well known Dramaturgical theorist of the twentieth century, and has been referred to as the “greatest Sociologist of the latter half of the Twentieth Century (Paolucci & Richardson, 2006).” His 1959 work, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, is an exhaustive examination of everyday life and the meanings associated with it using the metaphor of the theatre. Scheff (2005) asserts quite convincingly that Goffman could also be considered a Symbolic Interactionist, reflecting a theoretical perspective that works to derive meaning through interaction (Scott and Marshall, 2005). Both can be seen as attempts to describe social processes through intimate situations such as conversations, and both can be seen as having some similarity to semiotics, as both rely heavily on symbols, represented by both meanings and external cues, to create understanding. Although both are often referred to as subfields of Sociology, they are probably more accurately within the realm of Social Psychology.

Dramaturgy, as a theoretical perspective, concentrates on the importance of social roles, and is noteworthy for its use of stage and the theatre as descriptive metaphors (Scott and Marshall, 2005). The examination of human interaction through the Dramaturgical lens allows particularly clear perceptions of the nature of interaction within organizations. Cornelissen points out that the Dramaturgical model has been a boon to the organized study of organizational behaviour: “…prior to the theatre metaphor there had been fairly little in the way of conceptual and discursive machinery to express, articulate, map, and reference the ritual and drama involved [in organizations] (Cornelissen, 2004, p. 713).” Organizations develop their own sets of scripts and rituals that are best illuminated by demonstrating how they relate to the performative qualities inherent in the roles within it. Even the necessity of improvisation in some settings is done within a predetermined framework, not unlike improvisation as performed by actors (Vera & Crossan, 2004). The theatre, unlike other types of performance, have a ‘real-time’ quality to it, events unfold in sequence within a strict framework of prescribed behaviours, as they do within an organization (Cornelissen, 2004). Ultimately, the best case for the use of the theatrical metaphor is that it is “supremely efficient for… making real-world inferences about the nature and dynamics of organizational life (Cornelissen, 2004, p.716).”

The most important facilitator for social action is a common set of symbols used to convey ideas, which we call language. In fact, language, it is argued, is the venue within which self, shared belief and social institutions are created (Hollander & Gordon, 2006). Within this set of common symbols are signifiers that are particularly able to convey these ideas due to their utility at evoking shared concepts. These potent symbols are referred to as metaphors. Lakoff and Johnson (1980) regard metaphor as an indispensable tool of communication – the ability to conceptually link actions to familiar concepts greatly facilitates communication and shared understandings between society members.

References:

Cornelissen, J. (2004). “What Are We Playing At? Theatre, Organization, and Use of Metaphor”. Organization Studies. V. 25 (5), p. 705-726.

Goffman, E, (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday.

Hollander, J., Gordon, H. (2006) “The Processes of Social Construction in Talk”. Symbolic Interaction. V. 29 (2), p. 183-212.

Lakoff, G., Johnson, M (1980). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Scheff, T. (2005) “Looking-Glass Self: Goffman as Symbolic Interactionist”. Symbolic Interaction. V.28 (2), p. 147-166.

Scott, J., Marshall, G. (2005). The Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Vera, D., Crossan, M. (2004). “Theatrical Improvisation: Lessons for Organisations”. Organization Studies. V.25 (5), p. 727-749.

Please Note: This and other ideas discussed on this website are my intellectual property and remain so as long as they are posted to this blog. I am not loath to grant permission, but I appreciate if people ask for it.

19
Mar
07

All the World’s a Stage…

…So I figured the best thing to do is to make use of it.

Greetings, friends and neighbors, Flash here, creating a place for random thoughts and possible insights that may cross my mind. Of course, I’m going to continue writing for Blevkog, with my astute and learned colleagues, but I thought it would be nice to have a place to express stuff that may occur to me that is not quite within the ‘Kog mold, nor in keeping with the themes of the Inner Geek is Loose. I can sometimes veer off into philosophy or just plain idiocy, depending on what day it is, and that seems like the kind of thing my colleagues don’t need cluttering up their Blogs. I am proud and happy to be a part of those worlds, but sometimes I’d like to stretch. This is my stretching venue, as it were.

And so, welcome. I’ll be back soon with a word or two, but for now, I actually have to do some work.

Have fun, play safe, and ‘bye for now.




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