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Chapter 5 INTERNALIZED SYMBOLS AND THE SOCIAL PROCESS OF THINKING IN IR THEORY, thinking is the third-order circulation of symbols. It follows upon the first-order creation of symbols in intense IRs, and their second-order recirculation in conversational networks. Thinking is yet another loop, now into imaginary internal conversations, which are themselves IRs taking place in the mind. Perform a gestalt switch: instead of starting with the individual engaged in thinking, start with the overall distribution of symbols among a population of people. Visualize what the pattern would look like if you could see it from the air, through a time-lapse photography in which symbols were marked in colors, so that we could trace where they flow, and follow their EE levels as intensities of brightness. We would see symbols circulating as streaks of light, from person to person, and then—our camera zooming in for a close-up—flowing in chains within a particular person’s mind. The effort here, as in previous chapters, is to dynamize Durkheim, to set his model in motion. Durkheim presented an abstract, static sociology of knowledge: the categories in which people think are collective representations determined by social morphology. My aim is to broaden and particularize the theory, to explain who will think what at particular times. Similarly with the other major sociological theory of thinking: Mead’s theory of internal conversation among parts of the self, internalized from social interaction; thought as imaginative rehearsal through taking the role of the other. Again, we are presented with an abstract model, in this case, of the inner structure of the self; but not of what thinking occurs in particular situations. Combining the two theories yields a radically microsociological theory of thinking. Conversation is interaction ritual, charging up symbols with membership significance; thought is internalized conversation , flowing on the EE charges that symbols have at a particular moment in time. In the conversational market an individual moves toward those conversations in which his or her stock of symbols and level of EE produces the highest IR effervescence, and avoids those conversations that reduce EE. The same happens in the internal conversations of the mind: thinking flows into those internal conversations that generate the most EE in the unfolding mental situation. 184 CHAPTER FIVE We shall have to confront an additional complication: whereas external conversations are constrained by the immediate situation of the persons matching up their stock of symbols and EE levels, an internal conversation presumably could go off in any direction whatever; after all, the person who is doing the thinking is imagining the other side of the conversation as well as his or her own side, and thus could supply any possible match-up. Nevertheless, as I will attempt to show, internal conversations are not unbounded or random but have a shape that resembles IR chains. Thinking always takes place in some situation in time, and thus is surrounded by overt IR chains, which both set the starting point for internal thinking, and supply its symbolic and emotional ingredients. Some kinds of thinking stay close to the external situation; these are the easiest case for sociology to deal with. Some kinds of thinking are very strongly shaped by internalizing a structured social network of communications; such is the case with intellectual thinking, which I will present as our best evidence so far for the sociological theory of thinking. There remains the kind of thinking that floats away from its starting point into chains of associations; this will be most difficult to handle sociologically, but even here, as we shall see, patterns can be found. METHODS FOR GETTING INSIDE, OR BACK OUTSIDE What methods can a sociologist use for studying thinking? I raise the question here, not out of a positivist belief that there is a single correct method that must always be applied, but out of the practical sense that theory advances best in tandem with empirical observations. This has been the case with Durkheim, Mead, Goffman, Weber, and virtually any other important sociological (or psychological) theorist that one might mention. By the same token, it is clear that one cannot lay down in advance what empirical research methods must be. This is particularly so among the leading microsociologists. Goffman, Garfinkel, Sacks, Schegloff, Scheff, Katz, and other key innovators have invented methods as they went along, and they would hardly have made their discoveries if they had followed a methods textbook, say, as published in the year 1950. Methods involve...


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