Applying Forest and the Trees

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Dan Costa
Sociology 100
28 September 2012

Applying The Forest and the Trees
In Allan Johnson’s book, The Forest and the Trees, Johnson explains the importance of culture and structure in society and how it influences the way we live. Johnson’s ideas are clearly shown in the film Far from Heaven. The Forest and The Trees also helps a question I had at the beginning of this semester, “What makes me act the way I do and what has influenced my behavior?” In Allan Johnson’s The Forest and the Trees, Johnson (2008:38-62) defines culture as the way we construct reality within a social system, using ideas and symbols to assign meaning, and it’s the way we habitually behave to the meaning we have constructed. Those ideas can be put into four categories. Those four categories are beliefs, values, norms, and attitudes. Beliefs are defined as ideas that society has defined as true (Johnson 2008:45). Values are a type of a belief that people believe to right or wrong, they are rankings that help people make decisions (Johnson 2008:48). Norms are values that have consequences or rewards from society (Johnson 2008:53). Lastly, attitudes are knee-jerk reactions based on someone’s beliefs, values and norms. An example of Johnson’s ideas can be shown at the University of Michigan. At Michigan, it is a belief that Michigan and Ohio State are rivals, it is a value that Michigan is better than Ohio State, and a norm is that if someone were to support Ohio State while in Ann Arbor, that person would receive dirty looks. Those dirty looks that are given are examples of attitudes, because the emotional reactions towards Ohio State are not beliefs, values, or norms. In addition to beliefs, values, norms, and attitudes, Johnson believes that material culture also defines culture (2008:66). Material culture is everything that someone owns. One can find sociological trends with material culture. For example, in the United States, it is important to keep up with technology. First off, most people in the United States have a smartphone. If someone was to ask those smartphone owners if they have the first generation of the device, the person would not get many people saying yes. The overall combination of beliefs, values, norms, attitudes, and material culture is what makes up culture in Johnson’s view.

Another thing that influences our place in society is structure. In The Forest and the Trees, Allan Johnson defines social structures as the organization of relationships at all levels of society (2008:76). These relationships can be split into two subcategories, status and role. Status is the position someone holds in a given social system (Johnson 2008: 90). These statuses can be either permanent or temporary. A permanent status can be ‘sibling’, while a temporary position can be ‘driver’ if someone is driving a car at the time. This position can either empower or constrain the person who has that role. An example of this can be seen in the family dynamic. The ‘baby’ of one family might be neglected because more attention is given to the older siblings, while in another family, the baby can receive more attention, and have it easier than its older siblings. How one behaves may be a product of their status and not necessarily the personality of that person. Johnson defines role as the collection of beliefs, values, norms, and attitudes that apply to a position holder (2008:107). This creates paths of least resistance and shape how that person behaves. If a student is assigned a project, the role of that student influences him or her to do the project, in most cases, because that is the path of least resistance (Johnson 2008: 109). However, having multiple statuses can create role conflict (Johnson 2008: 109). That same student also has the role of being a friend, and his or her friends want to hang out. The role of the student wants them to do the project, but the role of being a friend wants to go out and...
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