Статья опубликована в рамках: Научного журнала «Студенческий» № 1(45)
Рубрика журнала: Социология
UNDERSTANDING OF CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY
Stepanian Anna Armenovna
master’s student, Lobachevsky State University,
Abstract. The aim of the article is to create an understanding of contemporary society summarizing the ideas of key social theories and concepts. To understand what contemporary society is guided by and what influences social development, it is necessary to resort to critical analysis of existing approaches. The article focuses on the understanding of contemporary society based on key social theories and concepts, including symbolic interactionism and functionalism.
Keywords: contemporary society, culture, symbolic interactionism, functionalism, conflict theory, Marxism, globalisation, consumerism.
Regardless of the fact that society can be defined differently, it is still possible to find common ground while analysing various views on society and sociology. One definition is that society describes “a group of people who share a common culture, occupy a particular territorial area, and feel themselves to constitute a unified and distinct entity” [9, no p.]. Any society among other things is built on interaction and relations between individuals, groups of people and organisations [1, pp. 15-38].
According to symbolic interaction theory, symbols as well as people’s interpretation of symbols form the basis of interaction. It can be compared to an encryption code that is used to create or exchange information. Herbert Blumer, who is known for his invaluable contribution to the theory of symbolic interactionism, considers that there is no such thing as an individual from sociological perspective because people are always interacting with others. However, Blumer along with other proponents of symbolic interactionism, admit that people have freedom of choice: they decide how to interpret the symbols they get .
Talcott Parsons defined functionalist perspective on society as “a vast network of connected parts, each of which contributes to the maintenance of the system as a whole” [8, p. 10]. From functionalist perspective society is more than a sum of its elements, as it also consists of countless ties, which create the structure of a society . Relationships between people create the structure of society by linking its elements just like nerves connect different parts of our body.
Even today in most cases the development of modern technologies and mobile applications is focused on connecting people regardless of how far they are from each other. Therefore, nowadays distance and geographical location do not play central role in the establishment of ties, however personal relationships and communication are still significant.
Another characteristic of contemporary society, which usually raises concerns among the general public is consumerism. It is sometimes described as a part of modern culture and lifestyle. Today, probably more than ever before, people tend to define their lives in terms of what they own, buy and consume [11, p. 199]. In the consumer society of the twenty-first century, individuals consume not only material goods, but also services, information, and popular culture [4, p. 18]. The idea is that consumption and material possessions are at the centre of happiness. Post-modernists suggest that advertisers are now increasingly focussed on producing symbols, which individuals consume in order to construct identities [5, pp. 45-50]. Thus, this phenomenon has emotional causes that are connected with how people interpret the notions of well-being and success. Possession of money, property and a variety of goods for many people became symbol of high quality of life, success and stability.
Although there are some patterns of behaviour that are followed by many, there are always exceptions. A kind of behaviour that does not conform to norms of society is deviant behaviour. It is noteworthy that Howard Becker, who represents labeling theory, believes that deviance is not a characteristic of an individual, but a consequence of application of rules whose infraction constitutes deviance . So, according to Becker this is a phenomenon that was invented or artificially created by generally accepted social standards and norms. In general, functionalists view deviance as an essential component of a successful society [7, p. 138].
Contemporary society is diverse and it is based on a variety of multi-level relations between individuals and institutions that perform certain functions, whereas “in the traditional form of society, relations had been built primarily upon small-scale, homogeneous and closely regulated communities” [10, p. 6]. While analysing the concept of solidarity, a French sociologist Émile Durkheim came to conclusion that there is mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity. In the traditional form of society described above, people act in accordance with mechanical solidarity. In such kind of societies, people behave and act similarly, have similar jobs and responsibilities . Consequently, there is no or little individuality. However, thanks to the integration of world markets, division of labour and technological advances, greater exchange between cultures became possible. It has led to the general increase in international business relations, contributing to the facilitation of the flow of goods, information and people [7, p. 65]. We are witnessing the growth of individuality and freedom in our society [10, pp. 6-7]. This type of society is characterized by organic solidarity [1, p. 26].
With the freedom of information, movement, and most importantly, freedom of choice, people often base their life priorities, behaviour and values on what they get from outside, but they can do it consciously or unconsciously. Thanks to the process of diffusion, transfer of culture elements takes place. Structural functionalism, for example, seems to be helpless when it comes to the explanation of social changes and their causes. It gives a static picture, by focusing on what maintains a system, rather than on what changes it [1, p. 26]. Ralf Dahrendorf and other proponents of conflict theory, in contrast, argue that any society constantly experiences changes . Herbert Blumer also notes that “Nothing is ever static: social life is always emergent” [10, Blumer, cited in Stones, p. 88]. This idea seems to be especially relevant nowadays, when innovations and technological development have had an influence on people’s pace of life and made it more unpredictable. Protests and revolutions can be organised within several hours, and fast information exchange allows to know the reaction to actions immediately. Under such circumstances it is difficult to ignore the significance of social changes or to rely solely on static approach.
To conclude, it is important to note that as far as sociology is a science about human behaviour that can hardly be generalized or calculated mathematically, it is complicated to make any unambiguous conclusions about the influence of society on individual’s mindset or behaviour. For full understanding of a variety of processes in contemporary society one needs to make use of different approaches since each of them offers unique insight into issues which mankind is preoccupied with. Based on the above, it can be argued that each concept discussed in the essay have enriched sociology as a science, but, at the same time, each concept focuses on particular understanding of the society’s principles of functioning. It may narrow the scope of a research.
In general, understanding of subjective meaning that people attach to their actions, words or other symbols can be helpful for explaining human being’s behaviour. However, in sociology by ‘human beings’ we do not mean individuals, but rather elements of society, who mainly act in accordance with certain norms and cultural standards. From this point of view functionalists have made an important contribution by proposing to focus on society as a whole, instead of analysing individual’s behaviour and motives. In the modern world, influenced by globalisation, this can help to conduct effective analysis of cultural impact on migration and assimilation.
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