From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Seinfeld Ethnography (2)—No Soup for You

Click here for an introduction to the Round and Square series Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific.
Click below for all "Seinfeld Ethnography" posts: 
Marine Biologist         The Doorman          Opposite George   Newman's Mail   The Bootleg         Marriage
Just Dessert               Sleep Desk             Late Coffee            High Stakes        Motor Oil              Downtown 
Code Cracking           Nonfat Yogurt          Bad Boy                 It's Not You         I Can't Be...          Exploding Wallet
Elaine Flies Coach    The Close Talker     The Alliance           Broccoli               Coated Culture    Dinner Party

Click here for the reference to the "Argonauts" title, below.
Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific—The Soup Nazi
[a] "Come year" RF
The theoretical possibilities here are legion—from fear and terror to social order (and psychological trauma). In some ways, it could be the basis for an entire seminar in its own right. As always, the discussions of action on the part of George, Elaine, Kramer, Jerry, and even Newman are as interesting as the action itself. Watch at least the highlights again (and if you have not seen the episode, you really should try to watch the whole thing). Television does not get any better than this. It is worth mentioning that (theory aside), one can look at this episode through a much darker lens of twentieth century history. The ways that people interact under pressure is funny on one level...and really quite chilling on another.

The careful observer will note, however, that these matters are far more complicated than the rantings of a tyrant (even tyranny is a social process). The first kind of theoretical issues that strike me here are the relationship between individual and society—between the particularities and even peculiarities of one individual and the larger social network. We can see this in the opening scenes of the clips below, as George and Jerry "rehearse" the "correct" behavior, and worry about the consequences of failure. In fact, Durkheim's social fact (see below) will get us a long way down the interpretive road.

Other themes worth examining include Kramer's ability (a storied one that appears in many episodes) to connect with people from all walks of life. He is a kind of social virtuoso on the margins of society. ("You are the only person who understands me"). His social virtuosity does not extend to armoire-stealing street toughs, however, as the full episode shows.

There are so many themes to consider, that we'll just start with a few classic theorists (Marx, Weber, and Durkheim). Like "Theory Corner," we will return to these topics several times over the coming months, and these entries will get a little more complicated (and a lot more entertaining). At least that is the hope.

[b] "You're pushing your luck, little man RF
Some of the selections are deliberately "off" in terms of specific application. There is a method to this madness that we will consider as we proceed. Sometimes "odd" insights relating to, say, the origins of the division of labor, can trigger keen new thoughts when juxtaposed with a very different kind of example. This is not a "natural" way to study theorists, but is one that I have pursued since, by chance, during my first fieldwork in Taiwan, I started picking up odd snatches of text from cultural theorists and philosophers and reading a few pages whether or not they seemed to "fit" my topic. Some of my best thinking has emerged from such juxtapositions, and this is a modified version of it (the quotations below appear to me to be worth puzzling over, even if they might seem, at first glance, to be a bit of a stretch). Give it a try. The "method" changed my life.

Now start thinking about classical theorists, social order, and coercion or... 

No Ethnography For You!

Max Weber
Economically Determined Power and the Social Order
[c] Weber
"Economically conditioned" power is not, of course, identical with "power" as such. On the contrary, the emergence of economic power may be the consequence of power existing on other grounds. Man does not strive for power only in order to enrich himself economically. Power, including economic power, may be valued "for its own sake." Very frequently the striving for power is also conditioned by the social "honor" it entails. Now all power, however, entails social honor: The typical American Boss, as well as the typical big speculator, deliberately relinquishes social honor. Quite generally, "mere economic" power, and especially "naked" money power, is by no means a recognized basis of social honor. Nor is power the only basis of social honor. Nor is power the only basis of social honor. Indeed, social honor, or prestige, may even be the basis of political or economic power, and very frequently has been. Power, as well as honor, may be guaranteed by the legal order, but, at least normally, it is not their primary source. The legal order is rather an additional factor that enhances the chance to hold power or honor; but it cannot always secure them.[1]

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Feuerbach: Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook
[d] Engels | Marx; beards
Further, the division of labor implies the contradiction between the interest of the separate individual or the individual family and the communal interest of all individuals who have intercourse with one another. And indeed, this communal interest does not exist merely in the imagination, as the "general interest," but first of all in reality, as the mutual interdependence of individuals among whom the labor is divided. And finally, the division of labor offers us the first example of how, as long as man remains in natural society, that is, as long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, as long, therefore, as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man's own deed becomes and alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him.[2]

Emile Durkheim
What is a Social Fact?
[e] Uncle Emile
When I perform my duties as a brother, a husband or a citizen and carry out the commitments I have entered into, I fulfill obligations which are defined in law and custom and which are external to myself and my actions. Even when they conform to my own sentiments and when I feel their reality within me, that reality does not cease to be objective, for it is not I who have prescribed these duties; I have received them through education. Moreover, how often does it happen that we are ignorant of the details of the obligations that we must assume, and that, to know them, we must consult the legal code and its authorized interpreters! Similarly the believer has discovered from birth, ready fashioned, the beliefs and practices of his religious life; if they existed before he did, it follows that they exist outside him. The system of signs that I employ to express my thoughts, the monetary system I use to pay my debts, the credit instruments I utilize in my commercial relationships, the practices I follow in my profession, etc., all function independently of the use I make of them. Considering in turn each member of society, the foregoing remarks can be repeated for each single one of them. 

[f] Petit-déjeuner
Thus there are ways of acting, thinking and feeling which possess the remarkable property of existing outside the consciousness of the individual. Not only are these types of behavior and thinking external to the individual, but they are endowed with a compelling and coercive power by virtue of which, whether he wishes it or not, they impose themselves upon him. Undoubtedly when I conform to them of my own free will, this coercion is not felt or felt hardly at all, since it is unnecessary. None the less it is intrinsically a characteristic of these facts; the proof of this is that it asserts itself as soon as I try to resist. If I attempt to violate the rules of law they react against me so as to forestall my action, if there is still time. Alternatively, they annul it or make my action conform to the norm if it is already accomplished but capable of being reversed; or they cause me to pay the penalty for it if it is irreparable.[3]

[1] R. Jon McGee and Richard L. Warms, Anthropological Theory: An Introductory History Fourth Edition (New York: McGraw Hill, 2008), 103.
[2]McGee, Anthropological Theory, 65.
[3]McGee, Anthropological Theory, 73. Italics mine.

No comments:

Post a Comment