A number of scholars influence my approach to thinking about rituals of community and exclusion, domination and liberation, of power generally. That sentence certainly gives clues to those who’ve done some reading about these issues. For a few reasons, it’s worth my time to write briefly about the writers who have influenced my thinking thus far, and what I take away from their social commentaries. First, I hope that it helps me identify useful ways to synthesize these ideas and to note informative points of contention. Second, I hope it helps me see holes in my approach to this work I’m doing. For example, the voices I comment on below are clearly gendered, raced, and otherwise privileged. To ignore that as I start to think about rituals of power would be irresponsible. I must also be sure to actually do something about it. I also note that I regularly wonder how much of my inspiration is a result of misunderstanding.
First, I’m reading a lot of C. Wright Mills (or maybe I’m reading certain selections, a lot). This is probably no surprise as Mills has made some of the most well known statements, within sociology, about power and individual freedom. Mills forces me to think about what it means to be free given the intersection of biography with history and fate. More specifically, we live and act within the rules of institutions that we defend intentionally or implicitly. It seems clear to me that we frequently are blind to the inhumanity of our actions because we default, as part of the drift, to bureaucratic rationality. So often one’s defense of an institution takes the form of legitimacy claims that seem meant to malign (imagined) radicals, but also silence those who might otherwise simply wish to engage in constructive conversation with no intention to dismantle said institution.
When I think of imagined radicals, I guess that here I’m thinking about Christian Smith’s (and many others) relatively recent work on the role of narrative in social relations. It’s tricky to disentangle the cultural from the institutional, but maybe that’s not even necessary, or wise? It seems too easy to assume that narratives are shared by those who are silent when my own experience suggests that often narratives are forced upon those who have significant questions about their legitimacy but are kept from speaking up thanks to their tenuous connections to institutions that they see as repressive, but that they nonetheless care about. The tenuous connections one has with an institution are known not only by recognizing one’s own value positions, but also in experiences of being dismissed by others when suggesting alternative visions, or being praised by those same others when passing as a co-ideologist.
My use of the term ritual is, of course, informed by Erving Goffman and Randall Collins. I’m persuaded by the claim that the micro is the primary site of social action. Rituals of group formation and boundary maintenance are what generate and sustain social institutions. I don’t see how one can separate emotional experience from human life and then expect to say much of relevance about it. I’m persuaded that ritual is a deeply emotional experience that builds solidarity and boundaries simultaneously. Some moments of solidarity fade more quickly than others, and some rituals have been institutionalized to the benefit of some and the expense of others. Solidarity is not absolute. Not only does it require regular maintenance, but is experienced to different degrees across bodies, time, and space.
Others who inform my thinking in less clear ways (remembering what I said up top about misunderstanding) are Simmel with his focus on unity and sociation, and Mead when he writes about the fusion of the ‘I’ and ‘Me.’ Maybe I’ll say more about this in the future.
In brief and rare moments of clarity, I see how ideas from each of these scholars illuminate for me the dynamics of power, both in copresent interaction, and during web-mediated interaction. In frequent and longer moments of confusion, I understand how limited is my grasp.