«“BUT MOM, CROP-TOPS ARE CUTE!” SOCIAL KNOWLEDGE, SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND IDEOLOGY CRITIQUE Sally Haslanger MIT, Department of Linguistics and ...»
There is much disagreement over the nature of ideology, yet in the most basic sense ideologies are representations of social life that serve in some way to undergird social practices.5 We are not simply cogs in structures and practices of subordination, we enact them. And something about how we represent the world is both a constitutive part of that enactment and keeps it going.6... ideology and discourse refer to pretty much the same aspect of social life – the idea that human individuals participate in forms of understanding, comprehension or consciousness of the relations and activities in which they are involved... This consciousness is borne through language and other systems of signs, it is transmitted between people and institutions and, perhaps most important of all, it makes a difference; that is, the way in which people comprehend and make sense of the social world has consequences for the direction and character of their action and inaction. Both ‘discourse’ and ‘ideology’ refer to these aspects of social life. (Purvis and Hunt 1993, 474; see also McCarthy 1990, 440) Ideology in this broad, sometimes referred to as the descriptive, sense, is pervasive and unavoidable.
The belief that “seventh grade girls who wear crop-tops are cute” is a good candidate for a piece of ideology. It is a constitutive part of the fashion norms of seventh grade girls in the school: the belief that girls are wearing such outfits functions to set up a pattern of understandings and expectations that reinforces the pattern of behavior. Moreover, it is plausibly ideology in the pejorative sense because the behavior it sustains subordinates girls. For example, empirical research shows that under conditions of stereotype threat, 76 Sally Haslanger e.g., in contexts where there is a background assumption that girls are worse at math than boys, anything that primes for gender identity—and highly gender coded clothing has been found to be one such thing—causes girls to do worse on math tests (Frederickson et al. 1998; Spencer et al. 1999; Cadinu et al. 2005). Yet we might hope that such beliefs are susceptible to cognitive critique, perhaps even parental challenges of the sort we’ve considered.
Given the discussion in the previous sections, however, we should be attentive to the possibility that an ideology is not just a set of beliefs, and ideology critique is not just a matter of showing that the beliefs in question are false or unwarranted. The framework reading of the disagreement over crop-tops suggested, for example, that the dichotomy of cute/dorky itself was ideological; and the responses that have been conditioned to experience exposed midriffs as cute may be something less than full belief.
Further considerations suggesting that ideology is not simply a matter
of belief include:
• In some cases, belief seems too cognitive, or too “intellectual.” Ideology is concerned with the realm of the lived, or the experienced, rather than of ‘thinking’.... It is precisely the ‘spontaneous’ quality of common sense, its transparency, its ‘naturalness’, its refusal to examine the premises on which it is grounded, its resistance to correction, its quality of being instantly recognizable which makes common sense, at one and the same time, ‘lived’, ‘spontaneous’, and unconscious. We live in common sense—we do not think it. (Purvis and Hunt 1993, 479)
• Ideology can take the form of practical knowledge, knowledge how to do certain things. Habitual gestures and body language that are ubiquitous in human interaction are ideological.
• Ideologies seem to work at the level of “slogans” that can be interpreted differently over time and by different constituencies, e.g., American is the land of the free and home of the brave. (Fields 1982, 155-9) Beliefs have a determinate content that is not compatible with this.
• Beliefs may be too individualistic. Social practices are ideological, but many people who live in a culture and follow its practices don’t have the beliefs that are ordinarily identified as the ideology undergirding the practices.
b. Social structure
Ideology plays a role in constituting and reinforcing social structures. But what is a social structure? There is considerable interdisciplinary work on this topic by social historians, social psychologists, and sociologists interested in subordination and critical resistance. As I am using the term here, ‘social “But Mom, Crop-Tops Are Cute!” 77 structure’ is a general category of social phenomena, including, e.g., social institutions, social practices and conventions, social roles, social hierarchies, social locations or geographies and the like. Some social structures will be formal and so the schematic element will be precise and explicit (the structure of faculty governance at any university); some will involve intricate but not fully explicit coordination (informal traffic norms); others will be informal and vague and not well coordinated (the structure of holiday gift-giving).8 William Sewell (a social historian), drawing on Anthony Giddens, argues for an account that takes structures to be “both the medium and the outcome of the practices which constitute social systems.” (Sewell 1992, 4, quoting Giddens 1981, 27; see also Giddens 1979). Sewell continues: “Structures shape people’s practices, but it is also people’s practices that constitute (and reproduce) structures. In this view of things, human agency and structure, far from being opposed, in fact presuppose each other.” (Sewell 1992, 4).
More specifically, Giddens’ is known for identifying structures as “rules and resources.” On Sewell’s account, however, the combination becomes “schemas and resources” in order to avoid the assumption that the cognitive element must always take the form of a rule (Sewell 1992, 8). Sewell takes
schemas to include:
... all the variety of cultural schemas that anthropologists have uncovered in their research: not only the array of binary oppositions that make up a given society’s fundamental tools of thought, but also the various conventions, recipes, scenarios, principles of action, and habits of speech and gesture built up with these fundamental tools.” (Sewell 1992, 7-8).
It is crucial to Sewell that these schemas are not private and personal patterns of thought, but are intersubjective and transposable in response to new circumstances.
Responding to Sewell, Judith Howard (a social psychologist) points out that Sewell’s (1992) use of the term schema differs from its use in social psychology. Whereas social psychologists tend to think of schemas as concerned with the organization of an individual’s thought, Sewell develops
the notion in a way that highlights its cultural deployment. She suggests:
A synthesis of these conceptions of schemas might prove remarkably useful:
the stricter social cognitive models provide a sound basis for predicting how and when intra-individual schemas change, whereas the more recent sociological conceptions say more about how group interactions shape the formation and evolution of cultural schemas. (Howard 1994, 218) If we take Howard’s idea seriously, we should explore the interdependence between individual schemas and their cultural counterparts. “Schemas, for example, are both mental and social; they both derive from and constitute cultural, semiotic, and symbolic systems.” (Howard 1994, 218).
78 Sally Haslanger What are we to make of this? Let’s take schemas to be intersubjective patterns of perception, thought and behavior. They are embodied in individuals as a shared cluster of open-ended dispositions to see things a certain way or to respond habitually in particular circumstances. Schemas encode knowledge and also provide scripts for interaction with each other and our environment. They also exist at different depths. Deep schemas are pervasive and relatively unconscious. Surface schemas are more narrow and are easier to identify and change; but their change may leave the deeper schema intact.
For example, rules concerning gender differences in clothing have changed, yet the more formal the event, the more strict the gender codes. Does this suggest that in contexts where power, authority, and prestige are managed, the deep schema of women as submissive or hobbled property of men still functions?9 On this view, schemas are one component of social structures, resources are the other. Social structures cannot be identified simply as schemas because social structures have material existence and a reality that “pushes back” when we come to it with the wrong or an incomplete schema. For example, the schema of two sex categories is manifested in the design and labeling of toilet facilities. If we’re analyzing social structures, then in addition to the mental content or disposition, there must be an actualization of it in the world, e.g., an enactment of it, that involves something material. Resources provide the materiality of social structures. On the Giddens/Sewell account, resources are anything that “can be used to enhance or maintain power.” (Sewell 1992, 9) This includes human resources such as “physical strength, dexterity, knowledge,” (Sewell 1992, 9) in addition to materials—animate and inanimate—in the usual sense.
How do schemas and resources together constitute social structures?
Sewell suggests a causal interdependence. (Sewell 1992, 13) He elaborates:
A factory is not an inert pile of bricks, wood, and metal. It incorporates or actualizes schemas.... The factory gate, the punching-in station, the design of the assembly line: all of these features of the factory teach and validate the rules of the capitalist labor contract... In short, if resources are instantiations or embodiments of schemas, they therefore inculcate and justify the schemas as well... Sets of schemas and resources may properly be said to constitute structures only when they mutually imply and sustain each other over time.
(Sewell 1992, 13) So on Sewell’s view a social structure exists when there is a causal, and mutually sustaining, interdependence between a shared or collective schema and an organization of resources. Sewell’s claim that the two elements of structure “imply and sustain each other” suggests a constitutive relationship as well: the pile of bricks, wood, and metal is a punching-in station because schemas that direct employers to pay employees by the hour and employees to “But Mom, Crop-Tops Are Cute!” 79 keep track of their hours are enacted with this tool. The schema for keeping track of hours is a punching-in schema because there is a punch-clock that the employer will use as a basis for calculating wages. Without the invention of the punch-clock, there could be no punching-in schema. There is a causal relationship, but not just a causal relationship. What else is it?
Consider a familiar example: a statue and the bronze of which it is composed. The bronze constitutes the statue, e.g., the figure of Joan of Arc on horseback in New York City’s Riverside Park. The bronze is the statue not only by virtue of its shape, but also by virtue of having a certain history, function, interpretation, etc. Think of the bronze as resource; think of the dispositions that give rise to the statue’s history, function, interpretation (roughly) as schema. The role of schema may be still more evident in the constitution of it as a memorial. The Joan of Arc statue commemorates “the 500th anniversary of Joan of Arc’s birth.”10 The statue consists of the shaped bronze, and the statue in turn constitutes the memorial, understood as a further schema-structured resource: [[[bronze, shape], statue], memorial].
Thus it appears that the schema/resource distinction can be applied in ways analogous to the matter/form distinction.
Consider an example of a social event rather than a social object: the performance of a Bach minuet on the piano. The performance is an event that involves both the piano, the sheet music, fingers and such (as resources), and also a set of dispositions to respond to the sheet music by playing the piano keys in a certain way, plus the various ritualized gestures that make it a performance rather than a rehearsal (as schema). Considered in this light, most actions involve not only an agent with an intention and a bodily movement, but a set of dispositions to interact with things to realize the intention; think of cycling, cooking, typing. These dispositions conform to publicly accessible and socially meaningful patterns and are molded by both the social and physical context. Because often such dispositions give rise to objects that trigger those very dispositions, they can be extremely resistant to change (think of the challenge of replacing the qwerty keyboard).
This sort of schematic materiality of our social worlds is ubiquitous:
towns, city halls, churches, universities, philosophy departments, gyms, playgrounds, homes, are schematically structured and practice-imbued material things (cf. a “ghost town” or “a house but not a home” whose schemas are lost or attenuated). The social world includes artifacts which are what they are because of what is to be done with them; it also includes schemas for action that are what they are because they direct our interaction with some part of the world. Thus at least some parts of the social/cognitive world and material world are co-constitutive.