The Reification of Virginity

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When taking into consideration the ways in which past structural functionalist such as Radcliffe-Brown, Malinowski, and Evans-Pritchard have attributed particular elements of a society into their framework, it is necessary to remember that these models are not a real thing. They reiterate time and time again how people’s behaviors are motivated by the ‘needs’ of this so-called ‘social structure’. Several anthropologists have employed this structural functionalist abstract model for particular societies and have accepted this ‘logical fiction’ (Moberg 2013). This can be recognized as a form of reification. Reification can be defined as, “creating a concept that helps to understand a society and then attributing real force to that concept in peoples’ actions, even though they themselves are unaware of the concept” (Moberg 2013).  Structural functionalists make use out of this from an outsider’s perspective looking in on the ‘other’. This idea reification can also be attributed in a non-structural functionalist way and be applicable within a society where the ‘other’ could be peers.

Take the concept of virginity for example. Virginity is not a real thing (or a biological thing), rather it is a constructed idea meant to categorize people in society a particular way. Historically the concept of virginity was meant to serve as a social or religious marker that symbolized purity, chastity, and innocence. Disobeying particular societal norms about virginity could have lead to conflict or the ostracizing of people. The concept was rooted in personal beliefs that were reinforced by the group as well as stemmed from within that group’s ‘norms’. Unlike the previously mentioned definition of reification, in terms of virginity a society such as ours is aware of the concept. This idea however was taught and learned, along with any significance associated with it.

Today we still adhere to the reified concept of virginity. People continue to attribute real force to the concept and associate certain behaviors and actions with it. Our culture has taught us to place value and significance on virginity while simultaneously emphasizing the opposite of it. In this way we are our own structural functionalists. We found a ‘logical fiction’ and gave it meaning as a way to invisibly categorize ourselves and others in a form of an ‘us’ and ‘them’ perspective. Although we can divide people through this idea, we still view virginity as a very individualized thing, making it impossible to analyze it completely from the view points of anthropologists like Radcliff-Brown. The reification of virginity has given this concept power and made it ‘real’ for us.

Brianna Hayden

The Giver and The Organic Analogy

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 9.22.52 PM.pngEmile Durkheim used the organic analogy to attribute the workings of society to that of the human body. He believed that all humans exist according to one another and are interconnected to create a cohesive whole. The society described in the popular novel and film The Giver is also analogous to the structures of the body. The story is set in the future when a group of people set out to create a perfect society. It was made up of several small communities in which nearly everything was organized and predetermined. There was no such thing as color, race, religion, emotion, or conflict. Everything was controlled; everyone was in a state of contentment. The main ideals of the society were based on sameness and following rules. Each person was assigned their family unit and given assigned partners and children. When kids finished their schooling they were assigned specific jobs to fulfil within their community. This reflected the interdependence of each role and their necessary function.

This utopian society is comparable to each organ in the human body and how it is supposed to function in order for the rest of the body to be able to. Durkheim thought of these pieces of a whole to work with a collective conscious. The Giver displayed this through the creation of a stable, impersonal, organized society. They eliminated any possibility of individualization and focuses on the group. They ultimately created social solidarity that was orderly and highly organic. Like Durkheim, The Giver was interested in creating and maintaining social relations. However, the Giver disregarded social groupings such as religion within a society that were defining characteristics for Durkheim. They completely disregarded ideologies that could cause for any differentiation.

In our real life societies, we can apply the organic analogy to our occupations and roles we fulfil similar to that in The Giver. Although if we were to break down all the pieces, we would be able to see that the system is way more complicated than it appears. Somewhere the individual person is lost and sometimes forgotten, as each individual also makes up a part of something bigger. It is like losing a part of your lungs, they will still work, but not as perfectly and efficiently as it could if it were intact. To an extent society can only function on the macro level if it is also working on the micro level.

Brianna Hayden

Questioning Reality in Fight Club

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As anthropologists in training, it is our job to learn how to question our surroundings and the surroundings of others not known to us. It is important to question what makes something within a society `real’. People make assumptions about reality and determine what they think is `real’ through sensory receptors and presume that their ideas of the world can be molded into those of other groups of people. However, in order to really decipher someone’s reality it is necessary to study the perceptions people have that make things meaningful to them, or in other words, phenomenology. In the popular book and film Fight Club, the main character reveals what his reality is and shares the content of his consciousness – or so he believes.

The main character of the story remains nameless, or unknown to the reader or watcher until it is later revealed in a fiasco he experiences with his own consciousness. He is described as a young businessman who owned a well furnished condo and had a stable career. He had everything necessary for the perfect American adult life according to the socially acceptable norms that his consciousness recognized. The only issue was that he was experiencing insomnia and complained to the doctor that he was in pain. The doctor refused to give him the sleeping pills he so desperately wanted and recommended that he go and visit a support group for men with testicular cancer to witness what real pain is like. So he did just that, and for the first time in a while was able to sleep like a baby. By doing what the doctor recommended he was bracketing ideas of his conscious to discover he had taken for granted what it really meant for him to be in pain. Going to support groups then became addictive to him, he was attending groups for ailments that he never had, writing a different name on his name tag everywhere he went.  In these places he could be whoever he wanted to be or be no one at all, while during most days he had a certain role to fulfil in society. It was not until one day that upon arrival home from a business trip that his world was truly turned upside down by a man named Tyler Durden. He went back to his condo building only to find out that his unit had been blown up, to which he proceeded to call the only phone number on a business card in his pocket from Tyler Durden, who he had just met on the plane hours before. The two men met up at a bar where they proceeded to get intoxicated and persuaded one another to start punching each other. This was the end of his need for going to support groups, and the beginning of their Fight Club.

Tyler Durden was the antithesis of the societal norm. The main character began living in an old house with him, spending time with him, and attending their growing Fight Club. Fight Club was making him rough, turning him into the opposite of what he was. The influence of Tyler was substantial on his life. Tyler rejected material things, and the need to live life according to the constraints of society. Tyler began another group called Project Mayhem in which they carried out a series of crimes for what they considered to be the greater benefit to the people. For example, in the film they show a scene where the two approach a young worker at a convenience store and hold him at gun point until the victim states what he has always wanted to do with his life. He then states that if he is not on the path to doing what he dreamed of within the next two weeks, he will come back and kill him. Tyler called these “human sacrifices”, without actually killing anyone, he ensured that the next day of their life will be the best, because they are alive and going to set out to what they really wanted to do instead of dying working at a convenience store. These were like breeching experiments, that disrupted people’s assumptions about life. The main character experienced several breeching experiments throughout the story by breaking the barriers of the constraints of being a ‘white businessman’, but those old ideals still remained within his consciousness, only now his reality was different.

When he came to the realization that things with Project Mayhem and Fight Club were getting out of control, he started putting puzzle pieces together to find Tyler, who was suddenly MIA. All things started pointing in a direction that only led to himself. It was after an epiphany that he realized HE was Tyler Durden all along. This Tyler was everything he could not be, so therefore he existed as another person to him, and not the same. During this time all the people around him operated with the notion that he was Tyler Durden and the only person not aware of this was himself. His imaginary friend was very much real to him, he was responsible for everything life changing and damaging that occurred. Margaret Atwood argued that “the real world and the world of the imagination are not separate and opposed but are deeply interconnected”, and Fight Club is a demonstration of that. All realities vary from person to person and from group to group. Our consciousness structures our reality, therefore we need to question what is real for different people and not assume that all realities are the same.

 

Brianna Hayden

References

Fight Club. 20th Century Fox, 1999.

Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996.

Sears, Alan, and James Irvine Cairns. A Good Book, in Theory: Making Sense through Inquiry. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010.