Sociology and Social Order

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Goffman examines the rituals of trust and tact in everyday lives, which provide the parameters of daily social interactions, through control of bodily gesture, the face and the gaze, and the use of language. For instance, a person encountering another on the street shows with a controlled sort of glance that the other person is worthy of respect and, by adjusting the gaze, that he or she is not a threat to the other, while the other person does the same. These ‘strangers’ meeting on the street exchange a number of codes of ‘civil indifference’ as an implicit contract by which they acknowledge each other and the rules which protect their encounter. This contract is drawn up by individuals participating in a public setting of modern social life, like a street. Yet street interaction is often of an unfocused kind because individuals, although in one another’s visual and aural range, go about their respective businesses unconnected in their attention, despite sharing one same contract. Think of yourself walking in a busy city centre. Going about on a street, you meet other people but you do not wear the expressions you are expected to wear when purposefully meeting someone else. In these public situations you are often not conscious of being a social participant in an interaction. Yet, not only do you participate in a social context but most often you are bound by a set of rules of conduct. These are part of the invisible social order. Still on a street, or perhaps in other social contexts, gazes may be misinterpreted,

According to Foucault, power works in subtle ways through discourse – what can be talked about – to shape popular attitudes. These discoursesChapter 7 Making social order Chapter 4 of this book
also talked about
‘discourses’ in relation
to questions of identity.
Here the focus is the
connections between
discourse and power.
can be used, and are used, as a powerful tool to normalise behaviour. Discourses provide the frameworks that shape what can be thought about and talked about. In relation to social order, discourses make it possible for people to know that if they behave in a certain way they are normal. Thus, forms of knowledge serve as a force of control. Whereas for Goffman the centre of his analysis is the individual performance, the sum of which constitutes the social, the idea of discourse is at the centre of Foucault’s thinking. He shifts the individual from the centre of social analysis, seeing the individual as being made up by social practices: as socially constituted.

Socially constructed
The meanings that
people use to navigate
social life are
constructed in social
processes. As a result,
they are socially and
historically specific,
rather than either
natural or universal.
Foucault’s ideas are often regarded as obscure and it is difficult to make his theory accessible. Yet he has been very influential since the 1970s in studies of social life and its orderings. In his vision of social order, people are both shaped and constrained on all sides by social determinations. People live their lives through the socially constructed meanings that are available to them. Discourses provide the

assumptions and prescriptions that mould everyday practices and relationships. These discourses are social phenomena. What does this mean? It means that individuals do not create either the meanings of the discourses that construct them, or the practices that inform the meanings of these discourses.

The ideas that circulate, and prevail, in particular social contexts become a dominant discourse, when they are seen as common social assumptions (Foucault 1972, 1977, 1978). This means that such ideas have gone beyond the institutional confines that originated them. One example is the development of the modern discourse of sex. Originating from a concern to ensure the thriving of bloodlines of the bourgeoisie, ensuring hereditary and racial purity, these ideas about sex were later adjusted and...
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