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PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 4:28 pm 
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What's this?

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.

Conworlder's View

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?

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 4:51 pm 
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Well it sounds like a boringly interesting topic };-{). I would like to see how this thread turns out. I don't really have any advice so. Good luck.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 5:23 pm 
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As a (former!) sociology major, I approve of this topic.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 8:09 pm 
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Very interesting, Torco. Thanks for sharing.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 9:35 pm 
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Very good overview with interesting prompts. Keep it coming.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 9:40 pm 
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During socialization isn't it the norms which come first truly? And the "deeper reasoning" (for lack of a better term) is the value which is learned after the norm?

But I guess from actual structural standpoint, the value underlies the norm no matter what eh?

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:03 pm 
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 02, 2011 6:23 am 
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You've piqued my interest. Aroused it. I want morrrrre. I would be chomping at the bit if I were a horse!


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 02, 2011 12:58 pm 
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Aha, interesting... You know, lately I've been thinking about what makes orchs "evil", and had just been thinking that maybe it's because they have radically different values than the other races.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 02, 2011 1:59 pm 
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 02, 2011 3:24 pm 
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I have not done tons of conculturing, but when I have done it, I have tried to avoid making them too normative, to avoid projecting anything onto them that I didn't explicitly decide to, and so forth. Although is rather dystopic, but mainly because I'd had enough of happy-kingdom concultures and wanted to explore a society that isn't doing so well. So not totally value-free but not highly normative either.

I have to admit some interest in concultures that are realistically plausible but so against the grain of our own mores that nobody wants to hear about them. One good example is Dewrad's Proto-Western culture (also in Akana) where the people do all sorts of things we find abhorrent, largely out of one single belief that there is a finite amount of "life force" in the world and it shouldn't be wasted, leading among other things to ritual cannibalism and ritual pedophilia... both only in limited ways, but it still makes us squirm a bit to read the details. He did a fine job of it and it's all completely plausible. Sadly this is no longer online. A worse example is an idea I've had for a long time that is so terrible by our own standards that I don't dare go into detail. I think it's realistic that an ancient culture could have a system of mass public sex acts of a quite perverse nature, as a form of religious worship and civil cement, but I don't think anybody wants to hear it. (Don't ask me or I'll tell you, and you will regret it.) So there's a fine line there for conworlders to walk: how far behind can you leave normativity and still retain your audience?


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 02, 2011 3:38 pm 
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 03, 2011 1:37 am 
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I think there's a difference though between the 'un-us' who violate every single one of our norms for the sake of violation and those that adhere to some and do not adhere to others with an internal consistancy. I think the former would lose audiences more than the latter, even if the violation is in a big way. To bring up the Aztecs again, tearing peoples' hearts out is gory, but someone has to keep the sun a-shinin'. Likewise, cannibals don't eat flesh for the evulz. The purpose could be to gain their enemy's fighting spirit. I suppose an unanalysized 'shock culture' could be just as bad as a modern world but with a medieval European glaze sort of conworld, it all depends on if there's a reason for it.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 03, 2011 2:14 am 
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Thanks for the insightful post Torco. I'll definitely take note of it. :D

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 03, 2011 8:25 am 
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Personally, perhaps because I did Theory of Sociology, I would think it would be useful to touch on different approaches to sociological explanations. At the least, Rational Choice/Agent Theory and Game Theory, (Symbolic) Interactionism, and Functionalism.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 03, 2011 12:47 pm 
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 06, 2011 9:02 am 
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 06, 2011 10:57 am 
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 06, 2011 8:59 pm 
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Well, I think the basic and classical ideas of sociology are more relevant to modern sociology than the basic and classical ideas of economics. Similarly, sociology comparatively recently fractured into factions of theorists, rather than emerged from such a bubbling stew of theories, like economics (if I understand your post - which I might not have since I know more or less zilch about the history of economic thought).

---------------------------

Torco, I liked the post, but I'm not sure if dystopia and utopia are the right word. At least to me, they're more about how the audience interprets the conworld - and therefore less about whether the conworlder brought their norms into it, but rather whether the audience brought theirs. For instance, I think a lot of the Faraneih subcultures I've worked out would seem brutally hostile to each other, assured of their own superiority over the rest of the world, and otherwise pretty repugnant to most of the people on this forum, but I've tried to establish that specific social forces and realities have made those attitudes seem reasonable, and even familiar to an audience like people on this forum.

Maybe an example would make this more clear. Within Faraneih society, there's one particular sectarian group, the Polizeih, many of whom organized a revolution of sorts and then proceeded to kill members of most other sects in both areas they controlled and neighboring areas. They then colonized another society, installed themselves as the despotic racially-distinct elite, and ran the country into the ground. From there they scattered into the badlands, picking fights with any one nearby. Don't they sound terrible? I think one of the board members who looked at a history I drew up on them in fact called them "fascists" or something to that effect.

But I always tried to make their choices, if deplorable, somewhat reasonable. They were the hard-scrabble lower middle class sect, fighting to keep what they had during the famines, so it was reasonable for them to rebel against the Heireih-dominated military and political elite. When the more powerful sects fought back, mainly the Heireih and Hakeih, they had to do something, there was nothing else they could have done but start a total war. Their power base in the Faraneih-dominated region of Lescealh was crumbling, so they had to seize control of another area, if they were to survive. Since the section of Malaba they started occupying had a much larger population, they had to install themselves as a terrifying elite, to scare them into submission. Once they were largely exiled from Malaba, they had to scrape by any way they could, raiding settlements in the overpopulated and war torn badlands.

I think of it as an exercise in justifying the means by the ends - from my conpeoples' perspectives, I try to give them attitudes that fit their situations in a way that some one like us could somewhat, not fully but still, grasp. Is that pushing too much of my norms on them, just by another means though?


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 09, 2011 4:35 pm 
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I really like this and want to see more!
Could you please do a basic introduction to how societies change over time, and how culture gets exchanged between neighbouring societies? Or are there any rules governing this like those of historical linguistics? Forgive my ignorance on this field, I don't even know enough about it to know how to begin researching it.
For example, a common debate I've had is whether human societies naturally get more complex, and will almost always adopt technologies (in this sence, including cultural things like a representative government or writing or taxes aswell as more reguliar technologies like the wheel or guns) if they know of them, such as from a neighbouring country. My belief is that the race towards progress that occured after colonization was sort of an anomoly, and that things like the large increase in pastoralism in post-USSR states after the fall of the USSR are just as natural sociologically. But, as I said, I know nothing, and would very much like to know if there's an accepted answer in the field.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 10, 2011 10:20 am 
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 16, 2011 6:04 pm 
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Damn...I never realized how normative I was toward my concultures. (Then again they are only in the beginning of the development stage). This is some great advice that will go a long way. keep it up you Chilean genius!

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 16, 2011 7:27 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri May 13, 2011 7:25 pm 
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All the debates I've had here about the cultural and political tendencies of various demographics have gotten me wondering about rules versus tendencies in sociology. In principle at least, the field of sociology aims to scientifically study society and describe its workings in terms of empirically verified theories. That presumably means the ability to describe social phenomena in terms of laws the same way one can describe any other phenomenon studied scientifically according to laws. On the other hand, though, attempts to define sociological laws or predict social behavior according to laws have generally met with little success or at the very least have proven very controversial. Everyone objects that my statements about a particular culture are just too sweeping and I imagine similar criticisms of other generalizations and proposed laws. As more of an expert on sociology than me, Torco, what do you make of the question of scientific laws in sociology?

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PostPosted: Tue May 31, 2011 6:23 am 
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way i see it, sociology has one of the same problems as economics:

it has FAR more in common with the rules surounding weather than it does the laws of gravity and such.

(though economics has the added bonus fun of none the less TRYING to treat it like physics, and then failing to account for the fact that people will react to the information given by the model of what's going on by attempting to game it, thus disrupting it's inputs and rendering it void)

not that i'm a sociologist or anything.

i saw mention of supply and demand curves earlier too. nice for describing where your optimal price point at any given time Should be.... completely useless for predicting Anything. (economics is one of the few disciplines where the model not matching reality is considered to prove that Reality Is Doing It Wrong rather than that the model is inadiquate.)

anyway, getting off my soap box for a moment, this thread interests me greatly. further posts shall be read with interest.


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