restricted access ONE: Identities Seek Control
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ONE IDENTITIES SEEK CONTROL I DENTITIES spring up out of efforts at control in turbulent context. But our everyday sense of reality then guides us. Being common sense, it enables communication among us, and thus makes our lives work. This book argues that “common sense” also obscures the social processes that lie behind us and our everyday perceptions. An identity emerges for each of us only out of efforts at control amid contingencies and contentions in interaction. These control efforts need not have anything to do with domination over other identities. Before anything else, control is about finding footings among other identities. Such footing is a position that entails a stance, which brings orientation in relation to other identities. Biophysical context, of course, also impacts footings, most obviously as lines of visibility. The control efforts by one identity are social realities for other identities . So this identity can be perceived by others as having an unproblematic continuity in social footing, even though it is adding through its contentions with others to the contingencies they face. Thus, social contexts assert normality that is at odds with the improvisations and stumblings in direct experience. Perceived normality is a gloss on the reality of turbulent efforts at control by identities as they seek footings. Smooth social stories intrude into common sense. News broadcasts imply that everyday life is not newsworthy. Researchers should put on different eyeglasses that unfold the complexities of the everyday. We often work outward from observation of some tangible pattern and can disregard notions of an overarching “society.” At all scales, normality, and happenstance are opposite sides of the same coin of social action. Sociology has to account for chaos and normality together, and this book works toward suitably flexible framings. Identity achieves social footing as both a source and a destination of communications to which identities attribute meaning.1 Consequently , without footing, identities would jump around in a social space without meaning and thus without communication. Gaining control presupposes a stable standpoint for orientation. Identity be1 Theorist Luhmann (1995, chapter 2) lays out a subtle yet precise argument for meaning emerging in co-constitution of communication among identities. 2 C H A P T E R O N E comes a point of reference from which information can be processed, evaluated. Footings thus must be reflexive; they supply an angle of perceptions along with orientation and assessments that guide interaction with other identities, to yield control. So all these processes among identities in their footings can be understood only as an inextricable intermixture of social with cultural spreads, out of which meanings are constructed jointly. 1.1. Identities Out of Events in Context A firm, a community, a crowd, oneself on the tennis court, encounters of strangers on a sidewalk—each may be identities. Identity here is not restricted to our everyday notion of person, of self, which takes for granted consciousness and integration, and presupposes personality.2 Instead I generalize identity to any source of action, any entity to which observers can attribute meaning not explicable from biophysical regularities. Those regularities are subsidiary to social context as environment , and persons will appear as bundles of identities. I claim that all scopes and scales of social process induce themselves in some such fashion as the following: Identities trigger out of events— that is to say, out of switches in surroundings—seeking control over uncertainty and thus over fellow identities. Identities build and articulate ties to other identities in network-domains, netdoms for short. However, netdoms themselves remain subject to interruption from further switching with attendant netdoms. Thus, the world comes from identities attempting control within their relations to other identities. In their search for control, identities switch from netdom to netdom, and each switching is at once a decoupling from somewhere and an embedding into somewhere. An Internet forum, as illustration, can flesh out this claim. There you can create an account in order to participate and use it. It’s not the mere subscription but the postings that create your identity in a forum while linking you by stories to others and their comments. You don’t exist in the forum as a whole person but as a user, contributing to the specific topic of the forum—e.g., football or sociology. Since you can have accounts in many forums, you can switch between them by logging out of, say, the football forum so as to log on to the sociology forum. We can see the...


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