Sunday, May 20, 2012

Simmel and Society

What is Society?

Unlike the natural sciences, society is studied by elements from within it and emphasizes the significance of human interactions, not observable objects. Simmel argues that sociation, the creation of society, is revolves around human interaction. These interactions are motivated by both Freudian and moral objectives। A society is created when at least two individuals experience an interaction and is an association of free individuals. These interactions can be temporary or long term. Sociology's role is to study the forces, forms and development of sociation. As geometry is used to offer structure and insights into the physical science, sociology is to provide similar scientific structure to psychology, political science and other specialized fields that delve into the specialized topics by focusing on the forms of society.

Simmel notes that individuals are the elements of society and as more humans are introduced into a society, the dynamics of interactions between individuals change. He has clearly defined individual interaction within small societies by dyads and triads. Within a dyad, two individuals are able to maintain their identity as they interact with one another. There is not formal social structure and the individuals are able to dissolve this society by simply opting out of the relationship. Within triads, the group dynamic takes on a social structure that is independent of the individuals within it. Unlike dyads, members of triads inevitably experience competition, mediation or alliance.

As the size of a society increases, individuals gain more autonomy and are more independent of the society's structure. This is due to what Georg Simmel, David Frisby and Mike Featherstone describe as "the group's direct, inner unity loosens, and the rigidity of the original demarcation against others is softened through mutual relations and connections.” When society becomes large enough that individuals do not ascribe to the social structure established by society due to its elusive and undefined nature, smaller societal structures offer individuals connections, such as family, religious groups, sports teams, or political parties. Despite feelings of disconnectedness felt by some humans within large societies, large societies can offer its members more freedom of movement and action because these individuals are less tied to regimented demarcations of identity or obligated to fulfill specific roles within the society's division of labour.

In my place

During my first week back in Amman, I was being my feisty self when my friend's husband kept rejecting my offers to pay for my taxi fair.  As the taxi twisted and turned around the bends towards my apartment, I waved the money in his direction to no avail.  The taxi driver chuckled to himself and said "sister, you live in a man's world and what the man says goes. You are a lady and we respect you and want to protect you and do things for your good." My friend's husband looked at the driver apologetically and said, "She's an American and doesn't get it sometimes." The two smiled to themselves thinking that they had won the hospitality card for the day.  I was appreciative of the hospitality but my mind was preoccupied with what the taxi driver had said that afternoon.  Do the men do what they do to protect us and to show us that they love and respect us? In many respects I believe this is true.  Too many people forget the second portion of the quotation and just see the Middle East as a man's world that is hostile toward women. Yes, you do have to be smart and yes, you should be modest but as a single woman, I am just as safe here as in any bigger city.

My students are great! I'm so excited to have them all here.  When my first intern arrived, she said that Jordan is like my baby and I just want to share it with everyone.  This is true.  I love sharing my Jordan with others.  Each person that comes experiences the culture, the food, the smells and the people through a slightly different lens.  My first morning in Amman, I got kanafe khishna for breakfast and purchased a kilo of askedinias. Askedinias are my favorite fruits and kanafe khishna is my favorite dessert.  As time as passed and my Arabic has improved, so many opportunities and treasures have presented themselves to me. It has been a journey and a wonderful one at that.   Today I showed the students my favorite art galleries, Dar al-Anda and Dar al-Fanun.

I have finally gotten a chance to visit my dear relatives. It's comforting to know that they are close by. My apartment is small, quiet and clean. It is very modest, but I love it.

This past week I have decided that I need to learn more about Edward Said and his works. Not only do I think it would be interesting to read given my interest in Hisham Sharabi's memoir, Embers and Ashes, but also because of the Palestinian perspective that he offers about Orientalists and their sometimes condescending approach to Middle Eastern civilization.

I wish that I had more time to do everything and explore all of my curiosities.  There are so many books on my "To Read" list that I have lost track completely. Life is quite busy but I am content and am quite literally stopping to smell the flowers and grow a few of my own.