Walt Disney Meets Fredrik Barth

 

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“Please remain seated and keep your arms and feet in at all times.” And now onto the blog post.

The end of the semester is upon us once again and so naturally, procrastination has begun to distract me from studying. Instead of changing my procrastination habits to stop watching Netflix and to work harder, I decided to work smarter. While streaming Netflix and trying to find something to watch, I decided on Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove. To my surprise and relief, I found that the characters fit well within the framework of what Fredrik Barth advocates for, called Transactionalism. Unlike British Structural Functionalists like Radcliffe-Brown, who see the people within a society as having a shared moral census, Transactionalism views social behaviors as transactions between individuals who are all pursuing their own self interest. Fredrik Barth believes that people are guided by their own wants and desires, not exactly following the rules of the society. New social rules are constructed by people for their own benefit. In that respect, Barth sees that what British Structural Functionalists see as deviant is actually normal. Additionally for Barth, the explanation of behavior in Transactionalism gives us a way to analyze things that a British Structural Functionalist could not. We can notice the variability of behavior, viewing how people can act manipulative and even break cultural rules instead of just obeying them. A key part to Transactionalism is that there is no equilibrium in society and there is a continuous change occurring, this change allows for strategic behavior from members of the society. Lastly, Barth assumes that each person in an exchange are receiving equal value from the interaction. This exchange and value from the interaction being called a prestation (any tangible or social reward from one person to another).

The first character that fits Transactionalism is Kuzco. Throughout the majority of the film, he is concerned with his own self interest and does not think about society as a whole whatsoever. He is only working toward his own benefit. For example, Kuzco has a man named Pancha, from the village, meet him at Kuzco’s palace to speak to him about the land Pancha lives on. This conversation between Kuzco and Pancha is directed towards Kuzco’s self interest of building a pool, Kuzcotopia, on that land and destroying village homes in the process. As for Pancha in this situation, he acts in his own interest trying to get Kuzco to not build Kuzcotopia where his home currently resides. Their interaction continues through the film. Once Kuzco is stranded with Pancha, Kuzco agrees to not build his pool where Pancha’s home is and Pancha agrees to help him back to the palace. Now, through a bit of manipulation on both their parts, they receive equal value from their interaction, Kuzco gets home and Pancha gets to keep his home from being turned into Kuzcotopia.

Throughout the film we also see Yzma acting towards her own self interest. The very first scene we see her in, she is acting as the Emperor, sitting in Kuzco’s throne and conversing with ‘mere peasants’, as she calls them. Kuzco fires her and to get revenge, she plans on killing him but her assistant, Kronk, screws up the poison and ends up turning Kuzco into a llama. The interactions between Yzma and Kronk are transactionalist because they are both taking part for their own self interests and receive equal value from the exchange. Yzma needs the help of Kronk because he is the strength behind her plans, and Kronk gains the respect from Yzma in the interaction. Another self interest that Kronk works towards is getting Yzma to like his spinach puff recipe.

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However, seeing that Yzma tells Kronk she has never liked his spinach puffs, it kind of goes against Barth’s statement that everyone receives the same value out of the interaction. Nevertheless, there are many instances in The Emperor’s New Groove where there are similarities to Transactionalism. In conclusion, the motives of Kuzco, Pancha, Yzma, and Kronk can be well explained using Barth and Transactionalism.

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-Maddie Baumeister

 

Just for fun…

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Why did Fredrik Barth cross the road? For his own personal self interest, and it didn’t hurt that there was a Train ‘Pre’station on the other side.

 

 

 

 

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Weber and his Possible Obsession with Shoes and Inspirational Quotes

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Though I am unsure of the origin of the sayings, I remember my mother always quoting things like “until you walk a mile in another person’s shoes”. And now aside from my mother, when I hear or read something similar, I think Weber. Maybe this is the reason I felt a likeness towards his ideas when I first read about Weber.

Let me explain. Weber focuses on naturalistic accounts of behavior, meaning he sticks to the naturalistic tradition, not the positivist. Naturalistic tradition is the belief that we cannot justify or explain another person’s actions or motives in ways that cannot be understood by human agent. He argues that a person’s explanation for their behavior cannot be thought of as incidental to the behavior. Unlike Durkheim, who believes society imposes behavior through a collective conscience (collective conscience being the shared values and beliefs of a society that influences the behavior of people), Weber stressed the importance of a person’s stated motives being included in part of the analysis. This belief leads to Weber not making generalizations about human behavior but instead, seeking Verstehen.

The idea of seeking Verstehen which Weber uses means obtaining a deeper, more empathetic, understanding of human behavior. Verstehen lead me to the idea of not judging someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes. Both ideas focus around empathetic tendencies as well as reaching an understanding for an individual’s behavior. I think they resonate well with each other because they imply that just because the same actions are executed by different people, does not necessarily mean both people had the same reasons behind their actions.          

Likewise to “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes”, in Weber’s explanation as to why Protestants have a high work ethic, I made a connection to quotes like “see the ball, be the ball”.  The doctrine of predestination for Calvinist’s says that a person’s eternal destiny is decided even prior to birth and only a small number of people (the “elect”) are expected to go to heaven. Anyone who accepts this understands that there is nothing for them to do to change their fates. Weber argued that people have a desire to know whether or not they are part of the “elect” which leads people to look for signs of God’s favor. He also mentions that due to the uncertainty that the doctrine of predestination gives, people who follow it will be driven to find evidence of God’s favor. With looking for evidence came working hard as well as going to church and doing other good things. This makes sense because though a person would not be able to know if they are an “elect” or not, they do know an “elect” would do certain things like going to church, and in keeping their own chances of becoming an “elect” open, they too would do things an “elect” person does. I find that Weber’s explanation for the Protestant work ethic and quotes like “see the ball, be the ball” and “monkey see, monkey do” apply nicely to his idea since both the quotes and the Protestant work ethic have an underlying quality of idolizing something in order to be more like the person/object being idolized.

Lastly, while thinking about Weber’s explanation for the Protestant work ethic, I saw a similarity in how a student may work towards becoming an A student. In a similar way to a Protestant doing thing an “elect” would do in order have a possible better chance of becoming an “elect”, a student may emulate an A student, doing things an A student does (like studying more or asking questions in class, etc.) to have a better chance of becoming an A student.  

-Madeline Baumeister

Marx and Conflict in Maycomb County

In high school, when reading To Kill a Mockingbird was a requirement, I had paid no attention to one of the most prominent inhabitants of Maycomb County. In my defense, the name Karl Marx was never eluded to nor included as an actual character in the novel. Nonetheless, he had been there the whole time. And so, with Marx in mind, I thought I would examine Maycomb with a true Marxist fashion and take interest in class conflict.

In analyzing Maycomb County from a conflict perspective, it is important to take note of its aspects. In short, the conflict perspective is the idea that there is a conflict over limited resources, the control of those resources, and the power held by those that have control over the resources. The most obvious example of Marx’s theory pertains to the economic distribution within Maycomb County. In this situation, the people who hold the power are those like Scout’s Aunt Alexandra, Scout’s father Atticus Finch, and Lync Deas. Aunt Alexandra and Lync Deas hold power in this society because they own plantations and in turn, the means of production. Atticus also holds power and means of production, though on a smaller scale, since he employs Calpurnia as a live in maid. These people that have the means to do so, provide jobs for people in the working classes and then the work done is turned into the resources which the employers hold. This may represent the economic distribution in Maycomb in relation to Marx’s conflict theory, but there are other ways power is held.

There are a couple examples of other groups coming to possess and use power over others and how power is maintained in To Kill a Mockingbird. These examples are in reference to race and gender socialization. In the novel, Atticus keeps watch over an African American man, Tom Robinson, who is in jail prior to his trial, when a group from the working class come to harm Mr. Robinson. They tell Atticus to step aside and in the meanwhile Dill, Scout, and their friend Dill come to their father’s aid. At first the power held is from a concept of race. The social structure in the community of Maycomb is in part determined by the social construct of race. Since everyone in the group that show up to harm Tom are white, they hold power over him. In this instance, the conflict perspective would recognize those lacking a higher concentration of melanin in their skin as people in power, as well as the people in control of the resources seeing that the resource is the color of one’s skin. However, when Scout steps up and Atticus assists her, the people in power change. Now the power held is social rank in terms of class and persuasion abilities. Scout is able to empathize with Walter Sr. and strip away his power because the resource is no longer the color of one’s skin. Instead, the resource is economic class rank and an ability to persuade others with good speaking skills and a heightened vocabulary (in terms of Atticus).

An additional example is power in terms of gender socialization. In much of the novel, we see how Scout is more of a tomboy and enjoys participating in activities socially acceptable for boys to do. This power is neither economical nor racial, but rather in terms of gender. The times when Scout is able to wear the overalls she likes to adorn and participate in the same activities as boys, she holds more power. However, we see a change in Scout’s hold of power when Alexandra forces more socially acceptable gender roles onto Scout. For example, Aunt Alexandra encourages Scout to act like a lady which, in their society and many others, means she should wear dresses and not ‘play in the mud’. This act of encouraging Scout to act in a more socially acceptable way takes away the power Scout held at times when she wore her overalls and played with the boys as just ‘one of the boys’. And although she has more power when she dresses how she likes, I do recognize that even by being a girl she will not have the same power as either her brother or friend Dill at many times, she still has a significant amount more power when she breaks social norms and, in turn is not as hindered by gender socialization.

One last connection I want to address with Maycomb County and its most prominent inhabitant is that of dialectical materialism. After making the connection between Maycomb County’s economic system and the conflict perspective, I was then able to make another connection of their economy and how it fits into Marx’s idea that a person’s social existence determines his consciousness. Like previously discussed, people like Aunt Alexandra and Lync Deas hold a great deal of power in this society because they hold the means of production. They own the plantations where resources like cotton and tobacco are produced. The mode of production in Maycomb gives rise to the political arrangements and even then the ideology of the society. The social relationships in Maycomb as well as their ideology, in my opinion, revolve heavily on race and your ranking in social class.

In closings, after reflecting back on my latest reading of To Kill a Mockingbird, I was able to identify not only a new, unmentioned, character in a book written fifty-six years ago, but also see the roles in which the conflict perspective and dialectical materialism play within Maycomb County.

 

-Madeline Baumeister