Sociology the Shifting Definitions of Term Paper
- Length: 10 pages
- Subject: Black Studies - Philosophy
- Type: Term Paper
- Paper: #41556052
Excerpt from Term Paper :
Weber made appoint of recognizing that, even something so seemingly objective and abstract as the law, was, in reality, a substantive tool in the hands of judges and politicians. Judges are not "automata of paragraphs' (Weber) because they are of necessity implicated in the values they are compelled to adjudicate. Substantive judgments and discretionary, extra-juristic evaluations are smuggled in under the camouflage of formal legal rationality." (Baehr 2002) the law, as it was printed on the page, was objective - it always said the same thing. However, it was the various judges, each of whom brought to the bench a unique collection of experiences, who necessarily interpreted those words in different ways. All of this was thus, a completely natural and "scientific" process. Each part of the machine performed as it was supposed to - it just depended on how you assembled the machine.
One sign that is frequently taken as a hallmark of the Postmodern World is that world's lack of self-assuredness; that world's lack of confidence in an unalterable, and ever-existent, truth. Before multiculturalism, before the "Global Village," and the Information Age, humankind was sure of its place in the universe. Max Weber's fellow citizens were certain that a way could be found, a truth could be discovered, that would eventually form the underpinnings of a more perfect, and more efficient world. Yet, Michel Foucault was among those who made a shocking discovery: we do not all look at things in the same way. Yes, Weber had believed that the experiences of the individual colored his or her interpretation of the facts... still... those facts were real. What Foucault proposed - and what is now excepted by most Postmodern thinkers - is that everything is relative. There is no such thing as an absolute definition of anything! Foucault's ideas apply particularly to his definition of power as "the possession of dominion over others":
The thesis that there are no facts independent of interpretation, or real-world structures independent of discursive mediation the claim that different periods of Western thought have been ruled by radically different epistemes, the claim that all knowledge is essentially "powerknowledge" and is tied to non-discursive social structures, and claims relating to the explicitly local and regional nature of Foucault's analysis which pertain also to the issue of the universality of knowledge.
(Olssen 1999, 75)
Power, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Foucault's dominant individual exercises the quality of dominance not because his or characteristics automatically equate to a position of dominance given all of the other characteristics of his or her world, but because he or she assumes an appearance of power.
In the Postmodern World, money is frequently considers to be a source of power - the more money an individual or group has, the greater the power of that individual or group relative to others. While this idea would be generally agreed upon by most residents of postmodern, Information Age states, it would not necessarily be understood by residents of what postmodernists like to call "the Developing World," nor would this idea have been readily comprehended by our own ancestors in pre-modern, pre-industrial Europe. Money equals power because money gives us the means to exert power and influence. "In addition to serving the role of capital, money is a store of value or, phrased alternatively, store of command. It allows people to enter an exchange without having instantaneously to obtain the commodity they wish to consume." (Wennerlind 2001, 557) Money stands in for the naked physical force that in other situations would be necessary for the coercion of other people and groups. "Money, of course, is of paramount importance here, because it is the symbolic means by which this Hegelian master/slave experience is conveyed." (Wennerlind 2001, 557) Postmodern Australians - those who reside in Australia's cities and towns in the year 2005 - allow money (or the moneyed) to exercise dominion because money has come to represent the ability to command resources. Inherently money has no power at all - it is so many pieces of paper - but in the Postmodern World, those who command the most money, command the most of everything else. All in all, this would have seemed very strange to, say, an English peasant of the Twelfth Century. He did not often see or use money, and his subservient position - that of serf - was not based on the fact that his lord - the dominator - possessed greater reserves of money than himself. Instead, the serf's lord exercised dominion i.e. The lord commanded power, because he literally possessed the physical force to protect the serf. It was by means of his warlike capabilities that the lord won his right to command others. and, if one were to look at that century's approximation of our money, one would have to look to the land that was owned by the lord, for inevitably, a lord needed land to support men-at-arms. It was exactly his insufficiency of land that prevented the peasant from commanding men-at-arms, and which thereby, placed him at risk of attack by other peasants and lords. The medieval serf surrendered his freedom in order that he might live.
The medieval concept of power as a lord/serf dichotomy causes us to look more deeply that the meaning of the concept of power in the Postmodern World.
Michel Foucault suggests that to understand the meaning and operation of power in modern society, we must look beyond the model of power as "sovereignty," a relation between ruler and subject, and instead analyze the exercise of power as the effect of often liberal and "humane" practices of education, medicine, bureaucratic administration, production and distribution of consumer goods, and so on.
(Young 1995, 67)
In other words, for Foucault - the quintessential Postmodernist - the definition of power is to be found in the sum of all those people, ideas, and things that go into the Postmodern World. The very fact that Postmodern Australians value money as one of the keys of domination is because everything in their society guides them toward that logical conclusion. At heart, it is a very different notion from that espoused by Max Weber. Weber would have us believe (and the Australians too) that money inevitably occupies the position it occupies because no other result would be possible given the relationship of all the "facts of life" in the Postmodern World. Things could have been different, but they are not. However, Michel Foucault would argue that the importance of money is a kind of chimera that has taken hold of most Postmodern Australians. It is a thing of absolutely no inherent value except that everyone and everything lives - school, economy, government, family - has insisted not only that it possess a very real value, but that it must possess the value it currently possesses. It is a little like our friend Descartes one day deciding to say, "I think therefore I am not" - would M. Descartes then cease to exist? Would the world around him cease to exist? One is tempted immediately to answer, "No, of course not." but, is it not possible that all the cosmos is held together merely because we believe it to be held together, and in such-and-such a form? Can anyone get inside another individual's head to know how she or he genuinely sees the world? No. Not one among us, according to Foucault, possesses the ability to see reality through the eyes of another. For all any of us knows, what Individual #1 sees as blue, Individual #2 sees as what Individual #1 calls brown. A disturbing thought certainly, but one that is essential to understanding the Postmodern conception of truth. Power is what each of us believes it to be - and nothing more... Or less. After all, a young child - even a Postmodern Australian child - does not recognize the "inherent" power of money. For a five-year-old girl, "power" might consist of controlling access to the best video game on the block. If another little girl were to gain possession of that game, would she not be "the most powerful on the block"?
Rarely do most of us stop to consider how much of our world consists of individual impressions and perceptions. The Postmodern World - that which we agreed would consist of post-industrial, information age nations that had formerly been industrial nations - is a world that has grown smaller than any that has ever existed (at least so far as we know). Technology has brought each one of us into closer contact with people from all over the globe. Communications that once took months now occur in an instant. The "other world" of China, India, or America, is now visible to us at the press of a button.…