Exploring the Social Imagination

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Agreement Reality Dictates



Most people know the difference between experiential reality, which is the reality that we experience directly in everyday life, such as pain, hunger, thirst, fear, poverty, and others, and agreement reality which is a reality that we recognize as real because everyone else says that it is real (Szymanski 1975:1). These are competing paradigms.  In 1975, Albert Szymanski wrote about them in a sociological thesis in which he stated that sociology is not a theoretically unified discipline. Why? Because for Szymanski, sociology including other sciences produces differing paradigms of reality due to different sets of rules and perceptions even of the same phenomenon. How?  Scientists are subject to different rules and perceptions by those who perceive them, by those subjected to different rules. In reality, Szymanski says that there will always be disagreement and only agreement if individuals (including scientists) are of the same paradigm and or social reality (Szymanski 1975).
What does that mean? It means that agreement reality happens when there is agreement among people who share in the same world view- a term used by Max Weber years before Szymanski.  Most people as it is with scientists will agree on reality (normal social objects/behavior) when they share in a common denominator whether it is cultural or socio-intellectual. Quite often, in the world of science, there is a social hierarchy that must also be obeyed. Within structures of higher education and its instructions, this is necessary to ensure continuity of institutionally supported ideas and institutional stability which equals a well functioning social system.
Talcott Parsons argued that well functioning social systems require a fit between the needs and motivations of the individual and the role requirements of the institution or social unit (S. Seidman 1994/1998: 107) Parsons deemed that there must be a minimal level of shared understandings and values for social integration to take place because individuals occupy sharply different worlds of meaning and value; thus social interaction and institutional functioning would be embroiled in continuous conflicts… in that case, how does cultural integration translate into social integration? Parsons a level of understanding could be achieved through what he called the experience of internalization by which he meant a socialization process where cultural meanings become part of the self; the individual as it were, who takes into him/herself the beliefs norms and values of another society… to the extent that there is a shared culture and to the extent that socialization is roughly successful… individuals grow up with similar understandings and motives. Such a process is na├»ve (Seidman: ibid), Parsons was well aware that individuals are embedded in their worlds of meaning. The meaning of those actions is thick. If internalization were a possible solution there would have to be an intensive programming from the very beginning … either from birth or from the earliest education.  A well functioning system requires the transmission of meaning. In 1957, Radcliffe-Brown gave us the definition of social structure as the network of connecting human beings, hence a society. We might think today that it is enough to be linked in or on facebook as our modern society. However, meaning is not so lucid. Meaning is something that can be attained only over time because it is embedded by the daily processing that happens in the social imagination in a place over time. In this mode of daily processing, we could imagine that people are a simple program and could end up in a strange loop of recursion.
Recursion in another name was hinted at by Cornelius Castoriadis in his work, The Imaginary Institution of Society (1987) Castoriadis viewed societies, together with their laws and legalizations, as being founded upon a basic conception of the world and man's place in it (1987). In light of Radcliffe-Brown’s social structure (1957), for him a network of connecting social relations (between human beings) made real as being directly observable, is a theoretical construction posited by the scientist on the basis of his or her observation of social relations. Interestingly, that does not contradict Castoriadis ‘imaginary’ or Szymanski’s view on sociology’s competing paradigms.
Manuel Castells (1997) observed how legitimization of society in context of social thought performed as science as well as social identity came down through dominant institutions.  This activity causes differing and competing paradigms which in turn cause differing and competing social realities with objectified outcomes in structure and system function (1997).  
Speaking as a Christian sociologist, the way forward in this fallen world is in God's word. We have free will and we can choose what to say, what to think/do creating our social reality. We fail to acknowledge that God has the best reality for us if we choose His way, His word.

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