Levels of context and hegemony

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When categorism is done, it is done in a social context. This context can be interaction between two or a few individuals (micro level), a biger context such as an organization (meso level) or a very big context such as a country or global subculture (macro level). In the given context, a certain form of categorism may be more or less maginalized or more or less hegemonic. In a context where categorism against a certain category of people is widespread or even hegemonic, it can be reasonable to count the people in this category as being oppressed.

Note that the categorization into levels, just like any other act of categorization, is of more or less limited accuracy: The boundaries between the levels are often more or less arbitrary. While a distinction between levels is preferable in some situations, there are also situations where it is more fruitful to view it as uninterrupted sliding scales.

Levels of context

Levels of context is a sliding scale: ranging from on one hand what’s going on within a single individual mind, to on the other hand what’s going on within the entire culosphere. The term “culosphere” refers to the sum of all cultures and all social life, just like the term “biosphere”refers to the sum of all biotopes and all biological life. This scale can be divided into three parts, called micro level, meso level and macro level.

Levels of context
More specific levels Broader levels
Individual Micro level
Crowd Meso level
Local subculture

Nation Macro level

Micro level

Such as individuals and small groups. This level is about invividual persons. A person is not a category, but may identify with a category and/or be categorized by others.

When an individual person has a system of thought or behaviour, it's typically called "systematic" rather than "systemic". Such a personal system may or may not correlate to what is hegemonic on the macro level.

Meso level

Such as organizations and subcultures.

Macro level

Such as nations and the entire culosphere. On this level, categoris are about statistics rather than about individuals. When a system of behavior or thought is widespread or hegemonic in a society, it's often called "systemic".

Note the difference between...

  • how a category on the macro level statistically 'do behave,
  • how this behavior statistically differs from the statistical behavior of other categories,
  • prescriptive social norms (widespread or hegemonic in the society) for how a category of people ought to behave, and...
  • descriptive social norms (widespread or hegemonic in the society) for how a category of people is assumed to behave.

Take for example the idea that people of a certain gender or skin-color would be violent. Lets say that within this society exists some norms that people of this gender or skin-color ought to be violent, as well as assumptions that people of this gender or skin-color are violent. Statistics shows that people inn this category are four times as likely to be convicted of violent crimes than people in the other category are: among a hundred thousand citizens of this category, four are convicted violent criminals - meanwhile, in the other category only one in a hundred thousands is a convicted violent criminal. This statistics does support the notion that there is a statistical difference between the categories, but it is irrelevant to the prescriptive norm and it does not support the descriptive norm. It doesn't show that people in this category are generally violent, on the contrary it indicates that 99.994 of 100.000 are innocent. When people are trying to use the statistics to support the prescriptive or descriptive norm, they are misusing the statistics.

Types of structures

Different kinds of social structure include for example discourses, socioeconomic structures (such as distribution of wealth), formal structures (such as the laws of a nation or the formal dogma of a faith) and social norms. When it comes to social norms, we should distinguish between prescriptive norms for how people ought to be, descriptive norms for how people are assumed to be, and mixed norms such as norms for what kinds of behavior (and from whom) we should view as “unfortunate but unavoidable”.

Different kinds of structures include:

  • Prescriptive norms: Norms for how things ought to be.
  • Descriptive norms: Norms for how things are assumed to inherently be.
  • Discourse: How we talk and think about things.
  • Formal structures: Laws, rules, formal dogmas, et cetera.
  • Socioeconomic structures: Distribution of wealth, et cetera.

Levels of hegemony

Levels of hegemony is a sliding scale: ranging from on one hand a certain norm or other structure having almost complete hegemony or dominance within the context, to on the other hand the norm or other structure being very alternative or repressed.

Note that this can differ between different contexts: A social norm which is hegemonic in one context can be alternative in another, or vice versa. Also note that when a structure is squarely on an individual level of context, then it can be called a mental structure rather than a social structure.

Cases versus systemic

When something happens, it can be a rather isolated incident or it can be a rather typical part of a larger system. Or somewhere in between. The more hegemonic a certain norm or other structure is, the more people are likely to act on it. If one person innocently ask you a question based on a misconception about you, this is unlikely to be anything worse than a little bit of annoying. When you every day face several different new persons who each confront you with this same misconception about you, it becomes much worse for you. The individual person who ask the question is still just as innocent, but the effects on you are not.

An example: Kyle's context & views on sexuality

Lets say that a man named Kyle has a very strict belief that bisexuality is the only moral sexual orientation and also the only trye one. He believes that everyone is actually bisexual, that everyone who claims to be heterosexual or homosexual is lying or deluding themselves. However, Kyle spends most of his time in a subculture where bisexuals and heterosexuals are looked down upon - the mainstream social norm within this subculture is to be homosexual. This subculture is situated in a nation which as a strong history of homophobia but no history of heterophobia. Today heterosexuals, bisexuals and homosexuals have equal rights, although there is still traces of homophobia in mainstream society and there are some subcultures which actively seek to persecute homosexuals and bisexuals.

So, lets break this down into three levels of context.

  • Micro level,Individual: In the mental reality of Kyle's own mind, a certain kind of binormativity is strongly hegemonic.
  • Meso level, subculture: Kyle lives in a subculture where the social norms are such that homonormativity is quite hegemonic.
  • Macro level, nation: Kyle and the local subculture he lives in exist within a nation where the social norms are such that heterormativity is no longer hegemonic but still quite widespread. While the lingering prejudices is mainstream society is still a problem, the main problem is the attacks from people who live in subcultures where heteronormativity is strongly hegemonic. The main problem with homophobia in mainstream society is not a matter of mainstream society being homophobic (although that's also still a problem), but is instead a matter of mainstream society not doing enough to protect LGBTQ+ people from homophobic individuals and groups.

Being bisexual himself, Kyle is beset on two sides: On one hand homophobia and biphobia from mainstream society and from individuals who are anchored in bigoted subcultures, and on the other hand heterophobia and biphobia within Kyle's own subculture. People keep telling him that heterophobia doesn't even exist, as if that would make things better in the context he's actually living in. The fact that Kyle himself has both homophobic and heterophobic tendencies (based on a bisexual norm rather than on a heterosexual or homosexual norm) doesn't hurt anyone as long as he's single or dating another bisexual, but can start to become a problem if he ever get any personal power over a person who is heterosexual or homosexual or manages to influence some social environment.