Civil Society and Politics

Last week myself and several of my classmates had to attend a lecture as one of class assignments. The lecture was by well renowned sociologist Dr. Arlie Hochschild and it was centered on her book The Outsourced Self. During the hour long lecture, Dr. Hochschild spoke to the audience about multiple examples about what she sees at the outsourcing of our most intimate movements and responsibilities to an ever expanding market. As the forces of capitalism continue to push people and countries to become more and more competitive, it is also providing way for people to outsource their more mundane tasks and responsibilities to a growing number of people specializing in the service industry. Thus allow people to spend more time on their work and career.

Now depending on one’s personal natural and ideological orientation, this is either a good thing or a bad thing. Dr. Hochschild is more orientated towards the later then the former. In her book she says “If a friend did you a favor, you weren’t obliged to repay it right away…It would have defeated the purpose of the gift exchange, which ensured long-term bonds…Part of such bonds expressed love of one another’s company, but they also represented an unspoken pact: “I’m on call for you in your hour of need and you are for me.” Villagers might quarrel, gossip, get bored and leave. But living there, they paid a moral tax to the community in this readiness to “just do.”” It would appear as though the good dr. much more favors communal approach then the individualist one.

At first glance I found myself immediately disagreeing with this opinion. If some people want to be left alone and outsource their mundane responsibilities or intimate needs, why not. It drives the economic process and allows them to focus on what they see as the more important tasks in their life. Just because I may not spend all day at work and instead choice to see my family and friends doesn’t mean that others share the same ideas. For all I know they may hate their family. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had heard this argument before but in a different context.

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In fact I had. Robert Putnam has put forward a similar argument in his essay, Bowling Alone. In it he a put forward the view that community involvement and integration has a direct correlation to civic engagement. Through the actions of meeting neighbors and being around family more, new ideas, discussions and thought processes are developed. Most of them would properly be around movies, TV shows and local gossip but a small portion would be about politics. Local, state and national. The theory of deliberative democracy teaches us that active deliberation encourages new ideas and thought. Much in the same way in which a jury decides a verdict. This does not have to occur in a well regulated environment though, it can occur in the public or within a community. This growth in discussion usually leads to a better understanding of political views and an easier ability to compromise. In addition, it can encourage civic engagement. Something that is Putnam argues can have a very positive effect on government. In his essay he states “The norms and networks of civic engagement also powerfully affect the performance of representative government.”

Thus while the idea of community interaction may in make people shudder, it would appear to be a vital part of the democratic process. By encouraging more civic engagement it may better strength the representative form of government which is currently in use.

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