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Lecture Five Social Interaction & the Construction of Social Differences Social Interaction & Social Structure Our day to day social interactions are part of the process of socialization and shape our individual identities as well as the social structures in which we live

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Lecture Five

Social Interaction & the Construction of Social Differences


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Social Interaction & Social Structure

  • Our day to day social interactions are part of the process of socialization and shape our individual identities as well as the social structures in which we live

  • Social structure can be understood as the way society is organized through patterns of behavior and the ideas that support them



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Ideology & Action = Differences meaning they give to their actions

  • Ideology is a system of beliefs, values, and ideas that support a social system

    • What ought to be, not necessarily what is

  • Ideology (how we think about things) and action (our behavior, what we do) intersect to create a social structure based on differences


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Social categories of difference are: meaning they give to their actions

  • Learned through the process of life-long socialization and social interaction

    • Indirectly through representations of social life, such as the mass media

    • Directly through interaction with other people such as in our family, work environments, and with friends


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“Doing” Difference: Gender, Race, Sexuality meaning they give to their actions

Differences are accomplished through our actions and behavior, they are NOT the cause of those actions and behaviors

Difference Behavior/Actions

NOT ↓ …But ↓

Behavior Difference


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Mass Media & Differences meaning they give to their actions

  • As a strong socializing agent the mass media plays a powerful role in shaping our ideas and perceptions of others, especially other groups that we have limited contact with in real life.

  • As we watch the video “Planet of the Arabs” ask yourself:

    • What image of Arabs and Muslims does the media presents us?

    • How do these representations affect our perception of people who are Arab/Muslim?


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Constructing the “Arab” in American Culture meaning they give to their actions

  • In American society, there has been a historic vilification and dehumanization of Arabs and Muslims in the Mass Media

  • The indirect representation in the mass media of Arabs and Muslims (a group most of us have limited contact with) creates a stereotype that they are:

    • Violent

    • Less than human

    • A threat/ Anti-American

    • What else?


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Doing “Race” meaning they give to their actions

  • Stereotyping: exaggerated and inaccurate generalizations about members of a group

  • Prejudice: negative thoughts and feelings about groups of people and to prejudge people based on group membership

  • Discrimination: unequal treatment of others based on group membership

    • Individual – unequal treatments of others

    • Institutional – inequality in social institutions (education, economy, etc.)


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A Class Divided: Learning to Give Meaning to Differences meaning they give to their actions

What does the video show us about:

  • How do we learn racism?

  • How did “differences” emerge through social interaction?

  • How did the negative and positive labels placed on a group become self-fulfilling prophecies?


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Producing Gender meaning they give to their actions

  • Gender: social differences assigned to people of different sexes

    • Masculinity and femininity are socially defined and vary across time and place

  • Sex: biological differences between people

    • Cellular level: chromosomes, sex-specific genes (female: XX; male: XY)

    • Hormonal level: estrogen and testosterone

    • Anatomical: genitals, secondary sex characteristics

    • Reproductive capacity


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Sexual Dichotomy meaning they give to their actions

  • We have a belief in the essentialreality of sexual dichotomy (male vs. female). In our culture we have the idea that one’s sex determines one’s gender.

    • We give meaning to sex differences and make them real through our ideas about gender

  • We believe that sex & gender are:

    • Permanent - you are what you are born with

    • Universal – same meaning across time and space

    • Exhaustive – every one can be placed in one category

    • Mutually exclusive – we can’t be in both categories


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Constructing Gender & Sex meaning they give to their actions

  • Cross cultural examination challenges the idea that gender and sex are universal and mutually exclusive

  • Many cultures make room for a “Third sex” in their social definitions of gender

    • Navajo have a third category for people who are born with ambiguous sex characteristics, all individuals can also choose to be in the category

    • “Male women” like the berdaches of the American Indians of the Great Plains, the hirjas of India, or the xanith of Oman

    • “Female” men like the hwame of the Mohave Indians


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“Doing” Gender meaning they give to their actions

  • Although there is nothing innate about male and female differences, we do see that social life in our culture is organized around the idea that men and women are complete opposites

  • We call the organization of social life around male/female distinctions Gender Polarization, which affects our:

    • Social roles

    • Sexual decisions and partners

    • Emotional expression

  • This creates a Gender-schematic, whereby our decisions are often based upon a society’s polarized definitions of masculinity and femininity


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Women “defend” meaning they give to their actions

Men “protect”

Commercialization of Gender Ideals


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Construction of Sexuality meaning they give to their actions

  • Like gender and race, the idea of sexual identity is socially constructed.

  • The idea that people are heterosexual or homosexual emerged in late 1800’s during the Victorian era when sexuality was highly controlled in society

  • When we look across cultures and different time periods we see that homosexual practices for both men and women are constant, what varies is how homosexuality is treated in society


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“Doing” Sexuality meaning they give to their actions

  • Our culture is based upon Heteronormativity, whereby heterosexuality is accepted as the “normal” mode of sexual expression and supported by our cultural ideas and social institutions

  • Can you think of how the following social institutions reinforce the idea of heterosexuality as “normal” sexuality?

    • State and Family

    • Economy

    • Religion

    • Mass Media


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Understanding the Construction of meaning they give to their actionsDifference: Power & Privilege

  • Gender, race and sexuality are one of the primary ways that power and privilege are exercised in American society

  • Privilege: one’s social position in society is seen as “normal” and objective

    • Privilege emerges from the social positions we occupy and not from innate qualities of individuals


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Invisible Privileges meaning they give to their actions

  • “As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.”

    • Peggy McIntosh “White Privilege”


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Types of Privileges meaning they give to their actions

  • According to McIntosh there are two types of privileges:

    • Positive advantages: these are privileges that we think all individuals in society should have

      • Example: Able to walk through a store without being followed

    • Negative advantage: one that can only be gained at the expense of others

      • Example: American history books generally neglect how the establishment of the USA was based on the Black slavery and the taking of Native American and Mexican lands


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Individual exercise: meaning they give to their actions

Take about 10-15 minutes and write a list of at least 5 privileges that you think you carry around in an invisible knapsack. These privileges can be based on the following structures of privilege:

  • White privilege

  • Male privilege

  • Physical Ability Privilege

  • Heterosexual Privilege

  • Religious Privilege

  • Other?

  • For each privilege explain if this privilege is a positive advantage (one that all individuals in society should have) or a negative advantage (one that can only be gained at the expense of others)? Explain.


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    Understanding Privilege meaning they give to their actions

    • Structures of privilege are often invisible to us

      • “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group”

    • Individuals with privilege are not responsible for the circumstances that brought them privilege, but they are responsible for how they respond to it


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    In conclusion: meaning they give to their actions

    • Social categories of difference in our society such as race, gender, and sexuality are socially constructed and made meaningful when our social interactions and actions reinforce these ideas

    • As we act, interact, and react to these ideas we reinforce a social structure in which ideas about race, gender, and sexuality have real consequences and real inequalities develop

      • We are born in an unequal social structure based on these ideas, but since social structure is only made possible through our actions, we have the power in our day to day interactions to reshape society