Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Religion’s Impact on the Arab Spring: a Functionalist’s Perspective

On 18 December 2010 Mohammed Bouazizi, a humiliated street vendor in Tunisia,  protested his mistreatment at the hands of the Tunisian Government by committing suicide through self-immolation, and thus began the Arab Spring across the Maghreb, Levant, and throughout Arabia.  In this post we look at religion from a functionalist’s perspective, expand that perspective to include Islam and its impact to tribal Arab culture, and potential impacts to stability in the Middle East as the manifest and latent functions and dysfunctions shape the emerging governments in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Structural functionalism is the sociological theoretical perspective that states society is a composition of many parts that work together.  The Sociologist Robert Merton used the term functions to refer to the beneficial aspects of these parts and dysfunctions to refer to the adverse aspects of these parts (Henslin 16).  The intended consequences or impacts of an action are referred to as manifest functions while the unintended consequences of an action are referred to as either latent functions or latent dysfunctions. 
The text describes some the functions of religion as: it provides answers to the questions of ultimate meaning; it provides emotional comfort in times of crisis by placing it in the context of the ultimate meaning of the individual and life; teachings and rituals can define a community of believers and create social solidarity; laws of health and rules of conduct provide guidelines for everyday life; The guidelines for everyday life can also set limits on people’s behavior and provide for social control—both for believer and non-believer; although religion generally preserves the social order, once it catches the vision, it can become and engine of social change (Henslin, 358).  The text also identifies war and persecution as latent dysfunctions of religion (Henslin 359).
Seventh Century Arab tribal culture was characterized by predatory tribal expansion and raiding in an effort to increase livestock, water resources and pasturage.  Regardless of its origins, the constitution of rules provided by the prophet Muhammed (PBUH) in the form of Quranic Suras and Hadiths united the feuding Bedouins in Medina and later all Arabs by submitting to God and following his path—Sharia.  Islam provided the social solidarity of uniting Arabs to the greater Umma or body of  believers and pitting the  dar al-Islam (the land of Islam) against the dar al-harb (the land of infidels and conflict)(Salzman, 25).  Although from our perspective, this may be seen as a dysfunction, in the context of the culture for which it was introduced, it was a manifest function.  It answered the questions of ultimate meaning, emotional comfort, social solidarity social control and guidelines for everyday life.
Islam’s acknowledgement that Judaism and Christianity were previous versions that had become perverted granted practitioners of those faiths the special status of Children of the Book which allowed them to live but required of them a humiliation and subjugation (Bat, 40-41).  In the function of the greater meaning, Islam supersedes all other laws and theologies.  One of its functions is that especially in Arabic cultures, it permeates all aspects of existence to guide and direct daily life and governance. 
In Western pluralistic thought a jurist can make a ruling according to the law that may be at odds with his personal religious views (e.g. a religious judge ruling against school prayer citing the Constitution’s First Ammendment).  This schizophrenia does not exist in the minds of the adherents of Islam.  This incongruity of thought led to the assassination of President Anwar Sadat for committing the heresy of making peace with the Jewish state that dared to establish itself in the dar al-Islam.  The weapons and funding provided to his successor by the Christian country, USA, which was then used to further subjugate the Egyptians was even reflected in the poetry of the Egyptian poet who visited Westminster earlier in the semester.
The functions, both manifest and latent, of Islam in Arabic culture will eventually stabilize the societies of the Maghreb  and elsewhere in the wake of the Arab Spring.  Social solidarity and social order will be established.  However, what is functional in Arabic societies may be dysfunctional to Western societies and vice versa.  Western society seeks a stable region with the existence of the Jewish state.  Arabic society due to a function of its religion seeks the restoration of Arab lands to the dar al-Islam.  In the wake of the Arab Spring, I suggest that the Arabs will return to the core values and functions provided by Islam.  While functional for Arabs, this will likely increase tensions in the region and create a greater challenge for Western diplomats who will interpret some functional aspects of Islam as being dysfunctional to foreign policy goals.

Works Cited
Bat Ye'or, Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002.
Henslin, James M. Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-earth Approach­—9th Edition Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2011.
Salzman, Philip Carl. "The Middle East's Tribal DNA." Middle East Quarterly 15.1 (2008): 23-33. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.

Symbolic Interactionism and Gender Roles in the Marriage

We've talked quite a bit about the way traditional gender roles have changed since the dawn of the industrial age. The changes have become even more marked since the 1960s and 70s. Most of the statistics we've seen continue to show that although women have moved from their traditional role in the household to the workplace, the reverse of this is not taking place. Men are not doing more of the household work to take up the slack. Figure 12.1 in Henslin shows there distinct differences is the amount of house work Husbands and Wives do. A Chart from the Department of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2010/ted_20100629.htm) Further breaks household labor down and shows that although men do work around the house most of it is work that does not involve daily labor. Clearly there is a problem taking place in the family that is resulting in an inequality of labor.
Symbolic Interactionism is particularly useful when examining this issue. As we know, Symbolic Interactionism looks that the way things are perceived to be in a society. I.E. The symbol of mother rather then father, or the symbol of worker rather then owner. The way people understand these 'symbols' is critical to understanding how society functions. The symbols within a marriage particularly related to the type of work husbands and wives traditionally did is an important starting point. Men traditionally either worked in the fields (pre-industrial age) or labored somewhere else returning home with money to support the family, while women stayed at home, raised the children, cooked the food, and cleaned the house. These represent the traditional symbols of husband and wife. However, the actual tasks that men and women do in the modern age are different. Now it is common for both husband and wife to work. Yet as we see from the aforementioned statistics the symbols of women's work have not changed to meet the new age. Men continue to avoid doing task such as cooking and cleaning. This inequality, is having an impact on the family and it is mostly negative. With higher divorce rates, there is a direct correlation between the way we view the roles in a marriage/family and the overall health of said family. Clearly the way we currently view the gender roles and responsibilities within a marriage needs to change. The stigmas held about men doing things that were traditionally women's need to be removed.

Blog Post

With an estimated 2.3-3.5 million people affected each year homelessness is a growing issue within our society. Homelessness is described as an individual who does not have a fixed, constant, and sufficient night-time residence. Homelessness has been an issue since the 1700s and has just gotten worse. The biggest debate about homelessness is whether it results from structural or individual factors. Interactionists and conflict-theorists cover why they believe it is structural or individual factors that cause the issue of homelessness.
Symbolic interactionists believe that the homeless population is ostracized from higher levels of society--which is any other level of society when compared to homelessness. This can come from the homeless feeling as though they are looked down upon, have different values, not wanting to be a charity case and many other things. However, ostracism comes from the upper-classes, for the majority of American's see the homeless as deviant or dysfunctional--which can be true--but is not true for a large number of homeless. Because the homeless population is often seen in a very negative light other issues are addressed from a symbolic interactionists view. One of the largest things that they focus on is that the homeless often have a very hard time getting out of homelessness, because they are unable to get jobs. This is because those hiring see the clothes the individual is wearing, their cleanliness, etc. and turns them down, even though the best way to change that situation is for a homeless individual to have a source of revenue. They also believe that just the belief in homeless communities that they will be unable to get a job, discourages many from even looking.
This makes it seem as though Symbolic Interactionists believe more in the individual view of homelessness in a way, which places more blame on the individual. For they are based in symbols and a homeless individual will find it much more difficult to be viewed in an equal light of any other class.
Conflict theorists definitely follow the structural view of homelessness. A conflict theorist would place the blame of homelessness on social classes of capitalistic nature, for they are oppressive to the homeless population who are unable to find a steady job or a constant address. Because employers often do not hire homeless individuals a conflict theorist would state that instead of rising up to try to fight the injustice--with almost no likelihood of winning when going against power--they instead continue to live their nomadic lives. One of the biggest issues that conflict theorists point out is that we live in a capitalistic society--homelessness is not the problem. And this type of society often leads to a much lower class such as the homeless population, because not everyone can have money.

Till Death Do We Part
Conflict theory is “the stress that society is composed of groups that are competing with one another for scant resources.” (Henslin, pg. 18) A conflict theorist will often see society as opposing groups with power being a goal for both groups. Karl Marx the founder of this theory believed that the key to history was the conflict between the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat, the rich versus the poor. Basically, Marx implied that in every society a small group controls production and business while another group functions beneath it. Yet as society has progressed so has conflict theory. Conflict is a part of every layer in society; within roles, groups, and sometimes even the entire society.
Within any relationship there can be stressors that add strain to the relationship whether they are the relationship between parent and child, boyfriend and girlfriend, and relationship between spouses. Marriage can be a beautiful disaster, with love, hurt, anger, and happiness all being key emotions in the relationship. But a key factor in marriage is the idea that conflicts arise. In society today the role of men and women are changing, with women gaining increasing amounts of power in the workforce. Today in marriages, men and women are both often working and sharing the responsibility of bills and providing for the house. Often women are pulling two jobs if there are children at home because someone has to take care of the kids. These extras stresses of pulling two jobs and other conflicts from friends or other family members can cause strain between the husband and wife. No longer is the man in control of everything, women try to share in and be a part of “bringing home of the bacon,” this is the power struggle
So what does all this have to do with conflict theory?? The little conflicts that come home from both spouses and the continual struggle over power add conflict to the marriage. The power struggle between the husband and wife is like the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat with the husband taking the role of the rich and the wife the poor who has to work her way up. This struggle affects the roles of each spouse change and how they interact with one another. “Wives now have more control over the family purse and make more decisions than their husbands.” (Henslin, pg.319) This idea shows already that woman’s roles as wives are changing and gaining more power in the relationship between husband and wife when compared to the early and mid-19th century.
These violent delights have violent ends and in their triumph, like fire and powder which as they kiss consume. (Shakespeare, Act II, Scene VI) Marriage is beautiful in the happy moments and can be a disaster in the scary moments. In those conflicting moments, remember take a deep breath and it will pass.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Ed. Tom Smith. Oxford: Globe Theater Press, 2005. Print.

Henslin, James. Essentials of Sociology. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2007. Print.

Dysfunction of Love Marriages

Arranged marriage seems more functional in the institution of marriage than romantic love marriages are. While there are more “romantic love” marriages today, 88% of 166 societies around the world have love marriages, they don’t seem to function within the parameters of what marriage is about.  An example of the dysfunction is the high divorce rate in the United States where mostly love marriages take place. Whereas, an example of a place where marriage is functional is in India, where the predominant type of marriage is arranged marriage.
Marriage is a “group’s approved mating arrangements, usually marked by a ritual of some sort to indicate the couples new public status”.  The institution of marriage should function to contribute to the socialization of children, economic production, care of the sick and aged, sexual control, and Reproduction. In the United States, marriage doesn’t strictly follow those rules; marriage is more of a way to make the individual happy or those in the nuclear family, a wife, husband, and children. In arranged marriage cultures, like India, these guidelines don’t just apply to the nuclear family, but to the entire extended family. It is said that when someone gets their marriage arranged they aren’t just marrying their husband or wife; they are marrying their entire extended family. All of the guidelines are pretty strictly followed and the divorce rate has stayed very low even as India’s population grows.
            In arranged marriages, decisions affect the extended family as well as those who are married, so every decision whether it is economic or otherwise has to benefit everyone in some way. In love marriages that is not expected, the decisions made by the married couple will usually only affect those closest to them, like their kids. Due to the idea the extended family is not included in the decision making process within love marriages, the elders of the family usually get left out and aren’t respected or cared for as much as they would be in an arranged marriage. In the US, marriage has become more relaxed, if people get married at all it may or may not last and kids play a very small role in the decision of whether their parents will stay together or not. It is very common, as well, for people to not get married at all. They may still have kids but they do not contribute much economic production to society and can inhibit the socialization of their children by emotionally damaging them.
A functionalist might argue that arranged marriages are more functional to society and the institution of marriage than love marriages. They might say that the functions of a marriage are followed pretty closely by those who are in an arranged marriage, as everyone is accounted for and marriage is built less on just attraction and built more on economic functionality and status. Divorce, a dysfunction of the marriage institution, is more common in love marriages because of who is considered getting married to whom and why. If dysfunction exists primarily in one type of marriage, it must not be functional to society. 

Smokers: The Modern Lepers

The role of the tobacco smoker in America has changed dramatically over time. Once regarded as a symbol of wealth and giving the smoker an element of class, smoking is now widely regarded as a social problem that is to be ashamed of.
I lived in the Midwest for about 4 years and it was not an unfamiliar sight to see a billboard spouting something like "Imagine Your Wife a Widower - Quit Smoking Today!" Another common one was the picture of the coughing baby. This one was directed at mothers who smoke. This type of guilt based advertising is not acceptable for all health choices made in America. It is socially unacceptable for someone to harass a severely overweight individual on their health choices, though the two problems are comparable on their impact on human health. Some may say that they are not comparable, because overeating doesn't impact the health of others. Yet, this is not the case. There was even an episode of What Would You Do aired in late 2009 that dealt with the issue of overweight parents having overweight children. An actor addressed a mother of an overweight child, chiding her on her food choices for her daughter. In this instance, the popular opinion was that it was none of anyone else's business what the mother was feeding her child. Would the response have been the same if the woman had been smoking in front of her child, even if she went out of her way to explain to her daughter that it was not a good choice? Probably not.
For a symbolic interactionist's perspective, we have to look at what smoking means. What does it say when someone smokes a cigarette in public to everyone else? To many, smoking is still associated with the criminal and the otherwise defiant. One just has to look at the campaigns on the side of the Trax here in Utah. They are the "Are you a target of Big Tobacco?" ads. The girl has brightly dyed red hair, arm warmers, and heavy boots. The boy has spiked blonde hair and black baggy jeans. It is an assumption that this is a group that is likely to smoke. This reinforces the idea that smoking is viewed as a form of defiance, of going against the norm for no reason other than rebellion. We also have to look at how health is viewed in our society. I found this quote describing attractive, healthy individuals: "In society, attractive people tend to be more intelligent, better adjusted, and more popular. This is described as the halo effect - due to the perfection associated with angels. Research shows attractive people also have more occupational success and more dating experience than their unattractive counterparts." (Feng, 2002) We view healthy, attractive people as even more trustworthy than their sick counterparts. This may help explain why the smoker is so looked down upon.
Smokers are also often viewed as irresponsible, or directly responsible for the ill health effects felt by others. Many anti smoking campaigns are heavily guilt based, especially towards mothers who smoke. I found this description of an ad that appeared in England: "features a young mother, clearly in the terminal stages of lung cancer, who expresses her feelings of guilt and remorse that a cancer caused by her own smoking will soon take her away from her children. In turn, her daughter expresses her anger and grief at the fact that her mother is expected to die shortly as a result of a disease resulting from her smoking." (Fitzpatrick, 2006) There are many, many other health conditions caused by personal choice that cause premature death, such as diabetes or heart disease. We are trained to avoid all unhealthy behaviors, but those associated with deviance and criminality are stigmatized much more heavily than others.

Feng, Charles. "Looking Good: The Psychology and Biology of Beauty." The Journal of Young Investigators :: JYI.org. Journal of Young Investigators, Dec. 2002. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. .

Fitzpatrick, Micheal. "The Stigma of Smoking | Dr Michael Fitzpatrick | Spiked." Spiked: Humanity Is Underrated. Spiked, 21 Feb. 2006. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. .

Victims of Discrimination vs. Religious Ties

We have begun to overcome many types of discrimination in our world today, but are still struggling with others. The issue of same-sex marriage has been debated for years, and in many states we have resolved to accept it. There are still many people who are not convinced it is ethical or should be legal. Frank Bruni’s article in the New York Times “Race, Religion and Same-Sex Marriage” calls attention to the fact that statistics are showing certain races or religions to be particularly opposed.


The sociological viewpoint of conflict theory is a great tool to use to analyze the questions raised by Bruni’s article. First there is the obvious conflict between traditional heterosexual marriages and same-sex marriages place in society. I find the conflicts revolving around the statistics of Blacks opinion of gay marriage more interesting in the context of this article: victims of discrimination vs. religious affiliation. Bruni points out that one might think that people who have suffered discrimination such as Blacks have in the past should see common ground with the gays being discriminated against and support them in their equal rights.

On the other hand, a large percentage of the Black population voting against the legalization of gay marriage are extremely religious, and find that the rules of the bible outweigh the issues of discrimination. I think this might make the statistics quoted in Bruni’s article more an issue of religion rather than race, as most of the focus in the article is put on. Our actions and opinions are often formed by our morals. If these morals are rooted in religion they can change our views of issues such as discrimination.

There are also conflicts between types of discrimination. “African-Americans were enslaved. And during their brutal struggle for justice, they couldn’t make a secret of what set them apart from others, said Henderson, who supports same-sex marriage, during a phone interview Friday” (Bruni). Henderson’s point is that some Blacks feel that the discrimination against gays isn’t the same because they can hide or change the reasons that cause the discrimination against them, unlike issues of Black oppression.

Is sexual orientation really a choice? Should discrimination on a religious basis be tolerated? Conflicting processes of socilization in a person’s development create rifts in people’s opinions about such questions. To lessen these rifts, and come closer to equality for Blacks and gays alike, we need to examine statistics as Bruni’s article does and break down conflicts behind them to find some sort of a solution to inequalities in our world.