Tag Archives: sociology

Coursenotes SOCI221 Week 3

SOCI221/2AA – Sociology of Cyberspace

Meeting 3
September 22, 2014
Geeks and Nerds by Randall Munroe CC-BY-NC
Geeks and Nerds by Randall Munroe CC-BY-NC


  • “Definitive” class list
  • Two class meetings before Thanksgiving and Midterm
    • Social Structure (September 29)
    • Social Dynamics (October 6)
  • End class with preparation for next
  • Required texts
  • Activities

Past Week

Introducing Cyberculture

Required Texts

Silver, David. “Looking Backwards, Looking Forward; Cyberculture Studies 1990–2000.” Web Studies: Rewiring Media Studies for the Digital Age. Oxford University Press, 2000. http://rccs.usfca.edu/intro.asp
Turner, Fred. “Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy: The WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community.” Technology and Culture 46, no. 3 (2005): 485–512. doi:10.1353/tech.2005.0154. http://lar.me/2zb


Silver, David. “Looking Backwards, Looking Forward; Cyberculture Studies 1990–2000.” Web Studies: Rewiring Media Studies for the Digital Age. Oxford University Press, 2000. http://rccs.usfca.edu/intro.asp

Cyberculture Studies

  • Cyberspace as hallucination
  • Frontier mentality
  • Social groups
  • Introducing ‘Net to journalists
  • Technophilia and Technophobia
    • Enthusiasm and anxiety
    • Geeks and Luddites
  • Democracy
  • Distributed intelligence
  • Hypertext


Turner, Fred. “Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy: The WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community.” Technology and Culture 46, no. 3 (2005): 485–512. doi:10.1353/tech.2005.0154. http://lar.me/2zb


Interior, Further / Furthur, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters famous bus, Hempfest 2010, Myrtle Edwards Park, Seattle, Washington, 2010, at which time it had recently been restored.
Further/Furthur 19
By Joe Mabel.

Interior, “Further” / “Furthur”, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters’ famous bus, Hempfest 2010, Myrtle Edwards Park, Seattle, Washington, 2010, at which time it had recently been restored.

New Communalists

  • War and Peace
  • Communes
  • Utopias
  • “Community” in strong sense (“disembodied tribe”, “transcendent collective”…)
  • West Coast, European-American, college-educated Baby Boomers
  • Collaboration and horizontality
  • Medium and networks
  • Employment, reputation, expertise
  • Shift to business
  • Subversion, recuperation, reappropriation

Crash Course

Sociology in a Few Minutes (or Refresher)

Sociology Bullets

  • WMDs: Weber, Marx, Durkheim http://lar.me/wmd
    • Symbolic Interactionism, Conflict Theory, Functionalism
    • Dialogue, Inequality, Stability
  • Group, socialization, role, status…
  • Power, control, conformity, norms, deviance
  • Culture, subculture, counterculture
  • Feminism as key
  • “Who Decides?” as key question
  • Structure and Agency

Next Week

Social Structure

Online Activity: Geek Test

  • Take one of the following “geek tests”:
  • Post something about your results or about the test itself.

Required Texts

Ritzer, G., and N. Jurgenson. (2010) “Production, Consumption, Prosumption: The Nature of Capitalism in the Age of the Digital ‘Prosumer’.” Journal of Consumer Culture 10 (1): 13–36. doi:10.1177/1469540509354673. http://joc.sagepub.com/content/10/1/13.short
Warschauer, M., and T. Matuchniak. (2010) “New Technology and Digital Worlds: Analyzing Evidence of Equity in Access, Use, and Outcomes.” Review of Research in Education 34(1): 179–225. doi:10.3102/0091732X09349791. http://rre.sagepub.com/content/34/1/179


Ritzer, G., and N. Jurgenson. (2010) “Production, Consumption, Prosumption: The Nature of Capitalism in the Age of the Digital ‘Prosumer’.” Journal of Consumer Culture 10 (1): 13–36. doi:10.1177/1469540509354673. http://joc.sagepub.com/content/10/1/13.short


  • Author of The McDonaldization of Society (1993)
  • Sociology of production, consumption, and prosumption
  • Change to postindustrial society
  • Web as context and hope more than focus


Warschauer, M., and T. Matuchniak. (2010) “New Technology and Digital Worlds: Analyzing Evidence of Equity in Access, Use, and Outcomes.” Review of Research in Education 34(1): 179–225. doi:10.3102/0091732X09349791. http://rre.sagepub.com/content/34/1/179


  • Known for Digital Divide
    • Representative of studies
  • Beyond access
  • Data-heavy
    • Almost “meta-analysis”
    • Can skip details
  • Focus on sections (out of school use, 21st Century Learning Skills…)
  • Study smart
  • Collaborative studying

ATT4: Sociology’s Major Theoretical Perspectives

This one is a post I sent to students in an online course to help them understand a key matter in introductory sociology: the distinction between some core theoretical perspectives. As an anthropologist, I’m often struck, while teaching introductory sociology, how consistently these perspectives come up. This specific course is based very directly on Richard T. Schaefer’s Sociology: A Brief Introduction. So a few points are specific to that book (and the exam students will take is based on that textbook). But I’ve seen a number of other textbooks in introductory sociology, using some as inspiration for questions in other exams or as required rteadings in other courses: the very same perspectives come up all the time.
Not that other disciplines don’t have this. But I really don’t see anything similar in cultural anthropology even though introductory courses in anthropology, like introductory sociology, is very standardized in terms of chapter headings.
The reason I post here as a tidbit, apart from the fact that I happen to think it could be useful for other people, is that there’s a teaching angle to this.
This is a course which is really based on content. It’s a “GenEd” course for nurses at a school of health professions associated with a health system with five hospitals in Texas. What I’m doing here, in terms of “instruction,” is very different from my usual teaching strategies in that it’s very directly related to an exam. I usually wait until my last interactions with students before I build the exam, so that I don’t “teach the exam.” In this case, though, these theoretical perspectives are so fundamental that it’s very far from telling them about things they should memorize. Besides, it’s easy enough to do a copy-paste like this and it might encourage me to post more tidbits (something which has been on my mind, recently).
Making Sense of Major Theoretical Perspectives (MTPs)
As I’ve said so many times, these perspectives are really key to introductory sociology. And they’re really not that hard to spot, once you get the differences. So I’ll give you a few tricks. This isn’t a thorough analysis of their differences but kind of a “cheat sheet.” Of course, you can’t use cheat sheets (or any documentation) on exams. But if you understand what it’s about, at this point, you won’t need a cheat sheet.
So, the Major Theoretical Perspectives.


To summarize:

  • Functionalism
  • Conflict Theory
  • Interactionism

With these three, you can understand a lot of what’s going on in sociology. Because they’re associated with Durkheim, Marx, and Weber, I tend to call them the “WMDs.” (DMW would also work, and it vaguely sounds like a car manufacturer, but “WMD” makes the point more strongly.)
You could argue that feminism is the fourth one and I’ll talk about it But the first three are what can guide you.
One thing to notice is that the order I listed them is pretty much the order in which they appear in most places. Not that they’re really in chronological order. But there’s a notion that conflict theory was a response to functionalism and that interactionism contextualizes the other two.

Recognizing Functionalism

  • As I hinted in another post, any mention of “stability” should give you a clue that it’s probably functionalism. Functionalism is about seeing society as a funcitoning system: stable, balanced, durable. A well-oiled machine (the mechanical metaphor) or a living organism (the organic metaphor). In a functionalist’s view, everything in society has a purpose and the overall purpose is the functioning of the society as a whole.
  • You recognize the early signs of functionalism in Auguste Comte (the guy who coined the term «sociologie» which is the origin of “sociology”) but Émile Durkheim was pretty much the founder of modern, functionalist sociology. In the US, Talcott Parsons and his “equilibrium theory” are the most obvious examples of sociological functionalism. In a way, the 1950s were the heyday of functionalism in North American social sciences.
  • Functionalists make models which are very “scientistic.” In some forms of functionalism, you even perceived society as a “lab.”

Recognizing Conflict

  • People perceive “conflict theory” as a critique of functionalism. Conflict theory is all about inequalities. You see some comment about problems associated with inequality, exploitation, poverty, classes, chances are it has to do with conflict theory. For conflict theorists, social life is a constant struggle between haves and have-nots, those who are given access to resources and those who are unlikely to ever get much resources. This goes for any kind of inequality: class inequality, inequality based on gender, inequality based on race, global inequality…
  • The “struggle of classes” angle makes it clear that many of these have to do with Karl Marx. Because other people have used ideas from Marx, it’s not uncommon to call the conflict theory “Marxian” to distinguish it from Marxism in the political domain. Schaefer tends to use “Marxist” for both, which can get quite confusing (for one thing, many conflict theorists are against governments).
  • In some ways, conflict theory became mainstream with the human rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Unsurprisingly, some of the most vocal activists in sociology can be heard using concepts from conflict theory.

Recognizing Interaction

  • While functionalists and conflict theorists debate one another, there are sociologists on the sidelines who focus on social behaviors, relationships, and meanings. Interactionism (or “symbolic interactionism,” as it’s often called) is recognized as a micro-level analysis and it’s one which may not be that interested in direct causal links of the big machine or big struggle types. It’s more about what happens between individuals and how things can make sense.
  • Interactionism is very recognizable in labeling theory or in the dramaturgical approach. But some people (including Schaefer) associate it with Max Weber. Weber also did work which was closer to macro-level analysis (including what he’s written about the Protestant Work Ethic, or PWE). But interactionists do turn to Weber as more of an inspiration than Durkheim or Marx.
  • Interactionism is very obvious in the work of many contemporary sociologists but it’d be difficult to say that it’s ever become dominant, in sociology.
  • Interactionists often do things which are close to ethnography, including participant-observation.

The Feminist Angle

Occasionally, people will propose feminism as a fourth member of the MTP group. Schaefer doesn’t really do it like that. In fact, sociological feminism is pretty much a reply to the WMDs. It’s much more clearly influenced by conflict theory, to the extent that some might think of feminism in sociology as a part of conflict theory. In fact, some early feminists in sociology saw women as suffering from gender inequality in pretty much the same terms as class inequality. But feminists also criticized conflict theory as exhibiting machismo at many phases in its development. Overall, feminism has been among the most important changes in the history of sociology during the 20th Century. As the notion that women and men should have equal rights, feminism is very strong throughout the discipline.

Potential Pitfalls

Now, this is all a very simplistic model. But I do think it helps, if you don’t get stuck in it. Which is probably why most introductory textbooks (including Schaefer’s) present some version of it. But you may still run into problems if you follow it blindly.
Here are a few things to be aware of:

  • Nowadays, sociologists mix and match ideas from these MTPs and it’s rare to find a “pure” functionalist, a die-hard conflict theorist, or an exclusive interactionist. Feminists are even more active in terms of using tools and concepts from diverse perspectives.
  • Because functionalism and conflict theory are both working at the macro-level, they often have more in common than one might think.
  • Though functionalism mostly talks about stability, they also talk about transition and adaptation. Going from one stable system to another causes some social problems, which may make them sound like conflict theorists.
  • Similarly, the notion of a “dysfunction” may sound like a conflict theory idea, since it has to do with social problems and even with inequality. But the perspective is still that societies “work.”
  • Many broad sociological concepts are carried across all MTPs. For instance, sociologists in general care about social roles. But the way people handle roles will depend on their major theoretical orientation. For instance, an interactionist will see how people “play” their roles in society, what it means to them. A conflict theorist might emphasize that roles are related to statuses and that statuses are often ascribed. Unsurprisingly, a feminist cares a lot about gender roles and might talk about the fact that these roles can be quite diverse, so that there are many ways to be a woman or to be a man. Finally, a funcitonalist is likely to see the set of roles played by different people in society as complementary to one another: society “needs” criminals, CEOs, students, sick people, homemakers, cousins, nurses…
  • Just so you know, there’s no such thing as a “global perspective” in Schaefer’s book. Sure, sociologists talk about globalization and about global inequalities. Immanuel Wallerstein proposed the World System Analysis. But none of the perspectives discussed by Schaefer is labeled as the “global perspective.”

(For the most astute observers among you, it may be obvious that I’m giving you a bunch of hints about the exam. Some clues were subtler than others, but I think they can all be useful.)

Pseudo-FAQ: Informal Ethnographer?

Hello All!

I’ll flesh out Informal Ethnographer as time goes on, but let’s get a few things out of the way, ASAP. Think of it as an FAQ (though no question has been asked).
It’s a copy of a page I posted today. That page will probably change.


My name’s Alexandre Enkerli but you can call me “Alex.” You can find out more about me on my main blog, especially in the About section of that blog. You can also search for “Enkerli” just about anywhere online. My last name is quite rare and, with very few exceptions, any content with that name has to do with me.
For the past little while, I’ve been defining myself as a semi-nomadic French-speaking ethnographer from Montreal.
I’m also into:

  • Coffee I roast coffee beans at home and I’ve served as a judge at barista championships
  • Beer I homebrew and I consider myself a beer geek
  • Music I’m a sax player and I’ve been working on music for a while
  • Social Media I’ve been online for a while and I usually participate in every social media activity I can think of.

You Call Yourself an “Ethnographer?”

Well, yeah… Professionally and academically, it’s probably the best title I can find. So I stick to it.
One reason I like the term “ethnographer” so much is that it brings together most things I’ve been doing.
I’m an anthropologist specialized in linguistic, cultural, musical, symbolic, and social dimensions of the field. All these specializations can be described as “ethnographic.” I also teach a number of things: linguistic anthropology, cultural anthropology, ethnomusicology, symbolic anthropology, sociology, folkloristics, African studies, the anthropology of religion, and material culture. With all of these, I use an ethnographic approach. So, I feel pretty comfortable calling myself an “ethnographer.” I do ethnography, I teach it, and I think about it in different contexts.
Makes sense.
Something I like about “ethnographer” instead of “anthropologist” is that it’s both more precise and less restrictive. I hold two degrees in anthropology (bachelor’s and master’s, both from Université de Montréal), but I’ve worked outside of anthropology. At the same time, I don’t do much that has to do with archæology or human biology, which are important dimensions of anthropology as an academic discipline in North American.
What’s very cool about the term “ethnographer” in my case is that it’s now my official title. I started signing contracts in which I’m described as a “freelance ethnographer.” I think it’s very fitting.
Besides, some people think that calling yourself an “anthropologist” is presumptuous since they see anthropology as something floating above the work we do. It’d be like a physicist calling herself a “philosopher” because she has a “Ph.D.” or a hospital attendant calling himself a “health specialist” because his work has to do with health. I don’t necessarily agree with that view, and “anthropologist” is used by most people who have at least a graduate degree in anthropology. But it’s interesting to think about.
From experience, I could also say that “anthropologist” is often more confusing than anything else. If I don’t get a blank look when I mention “anthropology,” I get cautious: people who think they know what anthropology is often mistake it for something else. It’s actually a big problem.
With “ethnographer,” I get more blank looks, which is actually a good thing because it allows me to define what I do.
Which brings me to the obvious question:

Erm… So… What Do You Mean by “Ethnography?”

Ah-ha! Excellent question! Glad you asked.
One purpose of this site is to clear up some possible confusion about ethnography.
As is often the case with just about any term, “ethnography” has different meanings for different people. At the same time, there’s enough in common in different definitions that, sometimes, the distinctions aren’t so clear.
Here’s my own working definition (drumroll…):

Ethnography is a descriptive approach to cultural diversity.

Taking this definition apart:

  1. Approach This is probably where my definition is the furthest from usual definitions. Instead of saying that ethnography is a research method or a set of research methods. I say it’s an “approach” because it really is a way to “get closer to” a specific subject. “Approach” is one of those terms I like to use because it’s meaningful, complex, and clear all at the same time.
  2. Descriptive We don’t necessarily try to predict, try out, compare, experiment with, transform, explain the cause of, or sell our subject. We just try to say how things seem to be. Sure, it can be a step in a given direction, and that’s where ethnography is understood as method. But we still focus on describing. That’s where the “-graph-” part comes in.
  3. Diversity We don’t just have a clear-cut object that we take apart, dissect, simplify. We have a whole field of subtle differences. Our subject isn’t monolithic, static, or countable. It’s more about nuances and fluidity.
  4. Cultural This is probably the most complicated part and it’s our core object: culture. We come from (and frequently refer to) the nature/nurture debate, we’re on the side of nurture. Not that we think nature doesn’t count. Just that we focus on the other side.

What’s Informal about Informal Ethnographer?

A number of things, actually.
One thing which might be kinda clear, by this point, is that I’m not very formal in the way I write, here. Sure, it probably doesn’t sound as informal as if we were having a conversation in a café or a pub. But it’s a far cry from a peer-reviewed academic journal, a report for a major corporation, or even an article in a mainstream newspaper. I’ve been using a more informal style because it fits. At the same time, I’m not trying to do anything too “cute” or fake. I’m just writing in a way that makes sense to me.
Which has a lot to do with the kind of guy I am. I don’t think I’m fussy or stuffy about pretty much anything. I like to be casual in just about everything I do. This site is a part of that: I want to be myself.
Besides, this site is meant as social media and social media stuff is usually pretty informal. There are some people who complain but the way normal people (as opposed to, say, news organizations) write things online can be found in different styles, from l33tspeak to lolspeak. I probably won’t use IMspeak here, but that’s mostly because I don’t do much IM.
This site is also informal in that it’s not supposed to be academic. I have formal training in academic disciplines and I’ve been teaching in a number of universities, but this isn’t a university site. It’s my own personal site about something I love.
Moreover, I’m not doing any formal research that I will make public, here. Ethnographic projects in which I may be involved are in the background, but I don’t wish to talk about them on this site, partly because it can get tricky in terms of confidentiality. There are ways to solve these issues, but I don’t feel like dealing with those issues too directly.
In other words, this site and any of its content aren’t meant to be reliable, valid, vetted, or even that serious.

What’s on This Site?

So far, not much. I’m in the process of adding more stuff on here and I want to keep this site dynamic. But apart from this page, there’s not a lot of content on this site so far.
Still, I want Informal Ethnographer to have a few things:

  1. Blog I’ve created a blog through WordPress.com and I plan on posting a few things on it, on occasion. I call it Headnotes: The Informal Ethnographer Blog (or HIEB for short).
  2. Podcast Through that blog, I’ll host an audio podcast, with monthly episodes on different themes. I call it Rapport: The Informal Ethnographer Podcast (or RIEP for short).
  3. Pages Apart from the blog and podcast, this site is built through Google Apps. Like anything found in the left-hand “Navigation” section (such as the Acronyms page), the page you’re reading is built in Google Sites, “a free and easy way to create and share webpages.” I want to use it to post some content related to ethnography and I already have a number of ideas of what could be added.
  4. Gadgets Still through Google Apps, I’m getting a few neat tools, some of which could be put to good use on a site about ethnography. No big promises here, but I can already see a few cool uses for these tools.

How Can I Reach You?

Simplest way is to email me at info@informalethnographer.com.
You can also find me on Identi.ca and on Twitter.

Can I Contribute to this Site?

Actually, yes, you can. The tools I use allow for collaborative work and I can already imagine myself having podcast cohosts, podcast guests, and guest writers. If you’re interested in contributing, contact me.