The cycles of teaching in an elementary classroom tend to follow holidays. With darkened Jack-O-Lanterns on porches this coming Thursday morning, our students' attention will shift toward Thanksgiving, the next break from school. I'd like to use the Pilgrims of Plymouth to further the discussion I started in the last post along with their sister colony of Jamestown to the south.
The story of the United States begins with the founding of the English colonies of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 and Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. From a sociological perspective, these colonies represent the three major forces which shaped society in the colonies, through to the United States and today shape our world.
The North American colonies of the 17th and 18th centuries are a bridge between monarchism and the rule of democracy across Western cultures, then expanding worldwide during the 20th century. Jamestown was strictly a business venture. Plymouth was a religious freedom movement for the Pilgrims, and a political exercise as the group sought an opportunity to pursue the rights of man distanced from the power of the English crown. Within just a span of thirteen years, the colonies had created the opportunity for three groups of thinker/adventurers to launch concurrent experiments in sociological functions. Jamestown represented capitalism. Plymouth had a dual thrust of religion through its Puritan Christian social order and fledgling republicanism in the Mayflower Compact. Together these two colonies comprised three societal forces that can tear any family apart: money, religion and politics.
I identify these three sociological forces as the thread that ties this post to the last. Sociologists inability to identify a unifying theme for social order is because they have identified three main theories and debate rages over which is "the one". These three main theories are Conflict Theory, Symbolic-interactionism and Structural-functionalism. I suggest the three theories together represent a three-footed basis of human interaction. The colonial experiment illustrates these three forces and identifies sociologists' elusive unifying theme, not one theory but all three exerting influence simultaneously, a braided rope on which society hangs.
I apologize to the regular reader for the sociology lesson, but it is necessary to make my point. I apologize to any sociologists for the over-simplifications.
Conflict Theory states that conflict between have's and have-not's is the key that turns society. (my opinion follows) What causes this conflict? It boils down to who controls the land and the women who go with the land. Women represent men's ability to extend control of land across generations through an established lineage. Land is wealth. Men fight over it. (back to theory) Once a group establishes itself as in-power, the marginalized workers struggle for ascendancy and this shapes society. The capitalism of the US and now the world at large is typified by Jamestown and representative of Conflict Theory. Follow the development of Jamestown across the centuries until one examines the World Bank: do the have's join together to reach out to the have-not's of the developing world for altruistic reasons or to insure that developing-world instability does not disrupt the wealth and power of those in control? Either way, conflict between have's and have-not's is a major sociological function in today's world.
Symbolic-interaction Theory is about the power of symbols to motivate people to action. Consider the Cross of Christianity, the Crescent of Islam, the Menorah of Judaism, the pervasive designer symbols of Madison Ave. and the power of the American flag to bring tears, cheers and rants. The Plymouth connection to this theory seems fairly obvious.
Structural-functionalism Theory is about human ability to establish institutions with an order of purpose, policy, and procedure to insure societal functioning. Republicanism in the colonies was the next wave carrying the political ship of state from monarchism into democracy, such as it is. Political demarcation and compromise remains a major component of most governments in this modern world.
Next, I will connect modern sociological theories to a basic premise of Christian epistemology.