So I think knowing a bit about sociology, and other social sciences, is a good thing for a conworlder: in theory it should make your constuff more believable, consistent, or verosimile. In practice, I just find it gives one a broader perspective and a lot of useful concepts to think with. As one of my professors said to me in first year soc. theory, nothing's as practical as a good theory. So here it goes, I'm going to be telling you guys a bit about sociology, and whenever we come across a sociological concept, or a concept that is interesting, for that matter, I'll discuss its relevance to conworlding. I hope you will join this discussion, however, as otherwise it's guaranteed to be boring. Of course, you can ask questions and argue with me and all, that's all well and good, but my expositions tend to be more like "hey, check this out, isn't this a cool way to think about things" and less like "okay, so the universe works like this and like that". So if someone goes like "nah, Marx is wrong because blablablabla" they're missing the point.
chapter one: WTF is sociology
Sociology is a science, applied and theoretical, or at least it wants to be [we can discuss if it succeeds or not elsewhere, with pleasure]. Its therefore concerned about getting empirical data, coming up with theories that match and explain that data, and turning those theories into useful knowledge. Sociologists are concerned about just about anything that involves social phenomena... what is social phenomena? simply put, it's just the relationships between people. anything that happens where more than one person is involved is a social thing to happen, so there you go, sociology explores just about anything that is of interest to people.... because, duh, we're pretty gregarious, in case you haven't noticed.
In a normal exposition there would be a lot to say here about the discipline: the importance of critical thinking, of debuking and de-mythifying the world, the question of research versus research/action, the complicated epystemology of social sciences, and others. But they aren't relevant to this exposition: suffice to say that sociology requires you to analize your beliefs and preconceptions, and to turn a bit away from common-sense knowledge about society, and yes that most likely means forget your own preconceptions about it. However, we will touch upon one of these debates here: normative sociology versus value-free sociology.
One one side, science is supposed to be objective and impartial, and a scientist isn't supposed to let his preconceptions, ideas, values, religious stances and stuff alter his work, but on the other hand, social phenomena are different from other kinds of phenomena; they're starred by people, and people matter. I mean it's pretty easy to be objective and detached when speaking about, say, tectonic plates, or black holes, or germs: they're all stuff. But the classical goal of being objective means, unsurprisingly, turn the thing you're studying into an object, a thing, and drawing a clear-cut distinction between yourself, the subject that attempts to know, and the thing you're trying to understand, the object. Thing is, it's not always that easy to treat people like objects. For instance, a sociologist who is too into objectivity and into treating people like objects might apply their knowledge by manipulating people's feelings and minds to make them want things they don't need, conditioning them to be unhappy if they don't do a certain thing, and then making billions of dollars charging them for something they're convinced they need but can do perfectly well without. Even worse, they might go into marketing and advertising. So there you go, you're just starting to learn about sociology and you have your first schism [remember, there's at least one different opinion per sociologist regarding anything within the field, so yeah, deal]
What does this mean for the purposes of conworlding? well, it means that you might take either approach. It has been said that a good conworlder is like a good creator: he does not pick favourites, he does not treat their creation as subjects but as objects, he makes his creation as a whole and doesn't have, so to speak, mary sues or avatar characters within it. If you treat creations as subjects, you're bound to proyect stuff on them. for instance, in other post, the question of why exile is so common a punishment in conworlds; I think this is because people think of their conpeople as... well... people, and applying capital punishment to people who have broken a behaviour code that we don't believe in (because most conworlds have norms and values that aren't the ones their creator espouses) feels kind of icky, or evil; it causes cognitive dissonace.
This brings us to out first set of classic sociological concepts: norms and values. These are rather self-explanatory; values are things a certain group of people considers valuable and rich in meaning and worthiness (prominent values of our culture are life, freedom, justice, reason, property, family). They are things people are attached to, for emotional reasons, not rational ones: you don't value justice because you think that is it conductive to something else; you feel that justice is good, and that injustice is bad, and that's the end of it. You don't -in general- question whether people have a right to life or not; you generally assume they do. Of course, not everyone has the same concept of them values, or the same values either: for some people the value of family means nuclear heterosexual pseudo-traditional family, for others, just a bunch of people who love each other. for some people life begins at conception, for others, it's kind of a continuous, so yeah.
The idea is that values give meaning to norms, and norms don't last long without meaning. if a norm, a rule, a social mandate, doesn't make sense to you, you're probably going to ignore it if you have reason to, and if you break a rule no one cares about, you're not gonna get very much punished, so the rule becomes obsolete. Continuing our example, most of the norms we do observe are grounded on values: for instance, do not kill [an old one] doesn't make a lot of sense if life isn't worth anything, although it could be grounded on freedom [you could kill a person, but only with their permission... *some* people might hold this belief, though very few do] the whole do unto others thing tends to be grounded on the concept of reason. A lot of norms on this board, for instance, stem from our belief in the value of reason; for instance, it is considered rude in the zbb to ask someone else to believe what you say just because you say it, or because you say it forcefully enough, and this is because the zeeb, as a culture, values rational debate over other kinds of truth-establishing. do not steal tends to be grounded on the right to property, but don't screw someone else's wife [a weak norm, many of us would break it without guilt if aroused enough, even though we would slightly frown over someone else doing it] is based on the whole family thing. or maybe in the value of the institution of the monogamous couple, or something else.
That's right, the same norm may, in different cultures and in different people, be grounded on different values. in principle, there could be as many justifications to the same rule as there are people to observe/believe in the rule. in practice, norm and value complexes are learned socially during the process of socialization, which is just a fancy word to refer to the fact that, as we interact with others, we learn what is acceptable and what isn't.
So we went over three basic things: the question of normative versus value-free sociology and norms and values. Let's look at this from the conworlder's POV. Imagine conworlding, or at least the process of creating societies [which we might call consocietying, but it sounds ugly as fuck] as a form of sociological engineering; you're making [up] a society, and you want it to be more or less realistic [or not, in which case, you have no use for all this] just like a bridgebuilder doesn't want his bridge to fall. Are you going to be a value-free or a normative social engineer? are you creating a utopia? a dystopia? are you making a political point? then you're being normative: remember, it's basically the same thing if you're trying to create a pleasant and easy-going utopia, like, say, the Shire, or an awesome dystopia like, say, Warhammer 40k.If your work has morality at its heart, you're being normative. nothing wrong with that. If, on the other hand, you assume that both utopias and dystopias are not your thing and it's enough that your stuff is realistic and whatever else (fun, thought-inducing, exotic, blabla) you're probably being more value-free. It's really easy to get normative without realizing it, so be careful.
Norms and values: if this makes sense to you, you should already know what values your culture's mores, laws and norms are grounded on. Later, when we check out Charlie Marx we will see that norms are also governed by other dynamics, but let's not put the chariot ahead of the horse. Are your people monarchists? you need to know *why* !
If you want homework, I guess here is some: Take your culture's mores on the issue of something moderately relevant: say, fashion: what's the dress code? does it differ from men than from women? lay out a few socially enforced rules that are relevant to your people's dressing habits. Then explain them in terms of underlying values. I dunno, maybe as a [rule] women can't wear blue... why? because blue in your culture means war and the [value] of family for them means a [values] peaceful, loving, charitable mother.
Alternatively, take some other survey post; the one about crime and punishment, for instance. What's the worse crime in your culture? but more importantly *why* are people appalled by it? what basic rules does it break? and what values underly those rules? why do those rules matter to the conpeople in question?
Last edited by Torco on Mon Jul 11, 2011 11:21 pm, edited 2 times in total.