The Sociological View
Published: Saturday 22 February 2020 | 09:03:07 pm.
By Graziella Pogolotti
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Grounded in the Industrial Revolution, with the invention of the steam engine, mass production and the resulting competitive drive to ensure the dominance of the world market had its effects, at an accelerating pace, on the life of society. The soot was invading everything. Cities began to grow rapidly. The proletariat was constituted as a social class. The dizzying change had repercussions on the rise of the social sciences. History changed its perspective, the economy became an indispensable reference point, psychology, anthropology and sociology acquired autonomy. The latter permeated other disciplines with its influence.
With the cost of paper now down, the press has a new reading public. It introduced the soap opera into its pages. It was the antecedent of the current soap opera [telenovela]. With the emergence of creative literary giants, narrative reached an unprecedented peak. First, social romanticism and later the proliferation of “costumbrismo” (local color), the latter spread through the novel, sharpened the sociological outlook. The characters moved in a specific context.
The historical perspective left the past behind to shape the approach of the present. The contradictions in everyday life and the exacerbation of individualism in the struggle to survive, to accumulate power and fortune and to move up the social ladder came to the fore. Little read today, Dickens became a bestseller of that time by showing the drama of helpless childhood in the city environment, captured by crime and victim of the debtors’ prison that punished them along with their parents. Balzac warned about the domination of the financial world, enriched by usury and the consequent disappearance of the small merchant. Emile Zola, A French writer preferred by the cigar factory lectors [workers who read live to cigar workers] wanted to systematize the analysis. He articulated the sequence of his novels to a family genealogy that allowed him to focus each of them on a specific sector of reality.
In one of his novels, Zola examines the seduction exerted on women by the emergence of the first department stores. In accordance with the traditional division of labor, women are responsible for taking care of domestic chores, but they also take on the responsibility of buying what is necessary for the home. Pressed by a concrete need, they turn to the dazzling display case that offers all sorts of temptations. To the purchase of the indispensable, they add the dispensable, with the apparent advantage of having a credit card. Not having to take money out of their purse, they lose track of what they have spent. They fall into debt that, in the end, will be unpayable. It was the original cell of the policy of encouraging consumerism, unleashed more than half a century later, a way of avoiding the overproduction crises characteristic of capitalism through the constant increase in demand, with its depredatory effects on the planet’s goods.
Like history and psychology, sociology became a science. It opened up perspectives that went beyond the field of specialists,. It influenced so-called investigative journalism and can help shape the outlook of better-informed citizens. This approach to reality rethought the complex nature of the link between the individual and society. Considered as a subject of history, human beings build their life expectations from a set of determining factors, among which are class roots, family environment and the education system.
Other factors act on the consciousness of each one, among which the media, entertainment, the use of free time and the formation of paradigms stand out. Some time ago, in the miserable favelas, where the essential was lacking, the television antennas were pointed out. Now, in a similar context, cell phones are everywhere. They offer escape routes, projected towards an illusory world that is not their own. The proposal of models of careers towards individual success replaces the image of a virtuous life in the struggle to transform reality for the benefit of all.
It is often forgotten that among the founders of historical science were Marx and Engels, who put knowledge at the service of the emancipatory revolution. The hegemonic power understood the scope of this way of exploring reality and finding the formulas to intervene in it by operating on human subjectivity. Politics has to strengthen the essential revolutionary condition of the sciences devoted to the study of society, a living and therefore changing phenomenon. It is an urgent demand to calibrate in its right measure the concreteness of the facts, without diluting them in vague generalizations. In the demands of the “wretched of the earth” lies the preservation of the future of humanity. Because once the reserves of the tiny Earth are exhausted, it will have no other planet to inhabit.
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