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Socially Constructed? How Do We Reinforce StructuralReaction Paper

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¶ … socially constructed? How do we reinforce structural inequality? What are the theoretical foundations and types of oppression? What are the different levels of oppression?

Allan G. Johnson's "The Social Construction of Difference" discusses the creation and maintenance of difference in society through systemic privilege for the dominant "normal" class and systemic oppression for the subordinate "abnormal" class. In every one of the 7 categories of race or ethnicity; gender; religion; sexual orientation; socioeconomic status; age; and physical or mental ability (and more subcategories), the dominant class has systemic privilege while the subordinate class has systemic oppression. This "socially constructed reality" is accepted by the members of that society as somehow objectively true. Finally, except in the rarest of circumstances, each individual is dominant in some categories while subordinate in other categories: for example, a white woman living in the U.S. is dominant in the category of race but subordinate in the category of gender. The overlapping of an individual's dominance in some categories and subordination in other categories is known as the individual's "social location," which defines the way that individual experiences and interacts with his/her world.

Structural inequality is reinforced through internalization, externalization, systemic practices and formal legal/political forces. As Tatum points out in "The Complexity of Identity," internalization of the "normal" dominant class traits and the "abnormal" subordinate class traits in the 7 categories (and other categories) in members of a society strongly supports and perpetuates the inequality as objective truths. Externalization of those same traits is supported and perpetuated by interactions on the Meso level, according to Kirk's and Okarawa-Ray's "Who Am I? Who Are My People?" As others at school, the workplace and the community quickly label and treat the individual according to his/her dominance/subordination in one of the 7 categories. Structural inequality is also reinforced systemically. "Structure as the Subject of Justice" by Iris Marion Young discusses the way in which the numerous "normal and accepted" actions of millions of people in different positions can create, support and reinforce an unjust social structure: while individuals and organizations may be simply acting within the social parameters given to them, the results are oppressive to classes in subordinate groups. For example, the housing situation may be the result of individuals and organizations acting as allowed and perhaps situationally needed in society, yet the result is a housing situation systemically rigged against people in subordinate classes. Finally, Johnson's "The Social Construction of Difference" speaks of formal legal/political structures that stack the social deck for a dominant group and against a subordinate group. For example, the formal legal/political designation of Mexicans as "white" in the 19th Century but "nonwhite" in the 20th & 21st Centuries formally brought to bear the powers of law and politics to create, support and reinforce differences in how Mexicans would be treated within society.

Lee Anne Bell's "Theoretical Foundations" analyzes theoretical bases of oppression. Oppression is pervasive because it is entrenched in individuals and laced through social institutions. It is also restrictive in that it works within social structures and material resources to constrain the chances and possibilities of a person in a subordinate class. Oppression is also hierarchical in that it consists of a dominant, favored class through the subordination and disadvantage of the subordinate class. It is also complex, multiple and cross-cutting relationships in that it gives relative prejudices and disadvantages according to an individual's position within the 7 categories (and other categories) mentioned in Tatum's "The Complexity of Identity" and depending on the social context. It is internalized, accepted as objectively true by the dominant and subordinate classes in all categories. It is manifested in a series of "isms" such as racism and classism, which have their own histories, characteristics, patterns and reinforcements.

As Iris Marion Young explains in "Five Faces of Oppression," the types of oppression include violence, exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, and cultural imperialism. Violence, the most obvious type of oppression, is intended to damage, humiliate or destroy a subordinate person and subordinates justifiably fear random, unprovoked attacks on themselves or their property. Exploitation is the use of people's labor to produce profit without fairly compensating them. In Capitalism, which highly values free trade, exploitation tends to create classes of "haves" or advantaged and "have-nots" or disadvantaged. Marginalization is consigning a subordinate group to lower social standing and/or the edge of society in which they are excluded from activities, privileges and jobs, usually based on race. Powerlessness is when a dominant group so rules and indoctrinates a subordinate class that members of the subordinate class are not allowed to develop their capacities, not allowed to make decisions, are treated disrespectfully and often come to so accept such treatment that they do not realize they are oppressed and/or believe they do not matter. Finally, cultural imperialism is establishing the culture of the advantaged and making it the norm for all. In America, cultural imperialism made the culture of white, Judeo-Christian, English-speaking, heterosexual, able-bodied males the norm.

There are 3 major levels of oppression: individual, cultural and institutional. Oppression exists on the individual level for both dominant and subordinate people in internalized beliefs and attitudes, his/her socialization, behaviors and interpersonal interactions. It is on the cultural level in terms of the values, norms, needs, language, standards of beauty, sex roles, logic, expectations and things as mundane as holidays. Finally, it is on the institutional level in vital areas such as housing, employment, education, healthcare, religion, law/politics and the media.

2. How is our identity constructed? What is the "Cycle of Socialization?" How do we learn and reinforce prejudice? What are the levels of identity? What destructive influences does prejudice have? Why do people resort to stereotyping and essentializing? What are the payoffs for people who began together to produce acts of prejudice and discrimination?

Difference is socially constructed on individual, family, community, state, national and global levels. "The Complexity of Identity" by Beverly Daniel Tatum addresses the multiple sources of an individual's identity, all combined in a person's self-reflection and observation to form his/her identity. Tatum states that there are at least 7 categories of "otherness" that contribute to a person's identity: race or ethnicity; gender; religion; sexual orientation; socioeconomic status; age; and physical or mental ability. Each of these 7 categories has a related form of oppression: racism; sexism; religious oppression; heterosexism; classism; ageism; and ableism. Tatum states that with so many "other" categories, most if not all of us are dominant in some categories while subordinate in others. "Who Am I? Who Are My People?" By Gwyn Kirk and Margo Okarawa-Ray discusses the two levels of identity. An individual feels greater comfort on the "micro level" from being himself/herself and associating individuals who share as many of his/her categories as possible. At the more expanded "Meso level" at school, in the workplace or on the street, an individual constantly encounters others asking questions about his/her place in those categories in order to quickly classify the individual and themselves for themselves.

As Bobbie Harro explains in "The Cycle of Socialization," our socialization is achieved through a pervasive, consistent, circular, self-perpetuating and often invisible cycle. The characteristics comprising the core of this cycle are fear, ignorance, confusion, insecurity, power or powerlessness. Each individual is born with characteristics and into established systems without having any say at all about them. Some characteristics and systems assign individuals to a "target group" of subordinates who are devalued and oppressed by the society. The first socialization occurs with the individual's family or the adults raising him/her. These people help shape our concepts and perceptions both intrapersonally (or how we think about ourselves) and extrapersonally (how we relate to others). They are role models and give us many messages about the 7 major categories (and other categories) that are unquestionably accepted about ourselves and others. Institutional and cultural socialization stems from our interactions with institutions outside the family, such as schools, churches, hospitals and the legal system. The more institutions we encounter, the more socialization sources we have. Those institutions also give us models and messages, some of which support the socialization from our family and some of which contradict it. At least some of those messages support and justify oppression of subordinate groups or "target groups" by stereotyping and essentializing. Stereotyping is a standardized, oversimplified image held by one group about another group, such as "All women are terrible drivers" or "All married men cheat on their wives." Essentializing is attributing "natural" and essential characteristics to people in a specific culturally defined group, such as "All blacks have rhythm." People use stereotyping and essentializing to quickly categorize other people and to have the comfort/privilege of an uncritical, conformist, socially supported sense of belonging and possibly superiority. These biased messages come from numerous institutional sources, such as media, speech patterns, religious beliefs and social assumptions. Enforcements are in place to reinforce the stereotypes by rewarding or at least leaving alone conformists while labeling nonconformists as trouble makers. When used against "target groups," the enforcements use… [END OF PREVIEW]

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