Social analysis means taking the time, habit, to question what is happening in the world around us. It means asking questions about society and looking for answers about what’s going on and who it affects. Social analysis not only helps us develop a critical awareness of the world, but also to lead us toward social justice. When analyzing these questions it often brings out other links, or connections between different social issues, and this helps us dig beneath the surface, and find out what is really going on in society.
For example, when discussing coffee, one might want to find out where it comes from, how are the workers treated, what process it goes through to get to you. You also might want to ask yourself about the health hazards of caffeine, sugar, or whitener etc. Social analysis tries to make clear how basic needs of life are being transformed into commodities. It helps show us where the market is violating people’s fundamental rights, like clean air, clean water, and proper health care.
Social analysis also helps us become critical, which means becoming conscious, aware, and questioning. It helps us develop an attitude to want to get to the bottom of things. As well it may also lead to unsuspected connections between issues. Social analysis also leads to actions on behalf of justice, and opens up the need for political analysis, which is in turn a basic task of developing the organizations of civic society and finding workable solutions.
Commodification or reification, is the tendency to reduce a person, relationship or turning something into an object of economic value, a commodity to be sold in the marketplace. For example, the basic need of decent, affordable housing has been commodified into a consumer item, which is only available to those who can afford it.
Social costs, are costs caused mainly by industries, businesses, and large corporations, such as air and water pollution, as well as soil contamination, that often go unrecognized and end up being paid by the community at large. What social analysis does, is help us analyze these conditions that usually go unrecognized and help us make sure that the ones making the profit out of the situation, also takes care of repairing the damage they cause.
Social structures, are not visible to the naked eye, but are just as real as the structure of any building. We can identify social structure by considering the complex relationships involving:
-patient, health worker, doctor, hospital;
-consumer (tenant or buyer), landlord, developer;
-citizen, industry, regulator, newspaper.
Social analysis takes straightforward and common relationships and considers them not as separated, isolated units but as a whole, as parts of a structure. It unveils the more general structures that define or confine these common relationships, that define the meaning and set the limits of our daily activities. In some cases these structures can be helpful or harmful in their effects on people.
Popular beliefs and patterns of thought also influence the shape of society. If popular belief of issues were always right, then there would be no need for social analysis. Unfortunately this is not the case, in fact most beliefs tend to be based on scattered bits of information or even misinformation. This is why social analysis is critical. It questions whether official truth is always true. The results may well stand in sharp contrast to popular beliefs.
Just about every social issue has a long history, and has been studied many times before. When doing a historical analysis, the object is to view the past not as the good old days, but critically, with an eye for the effect on the present. Most social issues have a history that contributes to the problem currently at hand, and if understood, can help to explain and deal with the problem.
Concentration of ownership is the basic idea of owning and controlling as much as possible. What this means for companies, is greater profits based on the economies of scale and the benefits of holding a monopoly position in various businesses and locations. A good example of a monopoly would be the company Microsoft run by Bill Gates.
The media tend to attract an audience by intensity. For many this is a “must” ingredient. Journalists and editors either choose events for their drama, or focus selectively on the dramatic elements within items. Another way of establishing newsworthiness is that the information be cut and dried, unambiguous, and presented from a “balanced” or “objective point of view”. As a result it is the black and white picture that tends to become common knowledge and hold popular currency. The overly simple news items, laced with the intensity needed to attract attention, draws in the audience required to keep advertisers happy, but often distorts what is really going on.
In order to become news, an event must be culturally familiar and socially recognizable. In newsrooms there is a kind of story called “the bus plunge.” This type of story gets mentioned briefly because it is intense and uncomplicated. The faraway event is familiar because it fits in with common notions about poor roads, faulty equipment, and crazed drivers in underdeveloped countries. They use repetitive phrases and images and have a cumulative effect, reinforcing the prejudices that many of us already have. Unfortunately, the news industry tends to use all-too-well (racial, sexual, economic, and political) stereotypes again and again and with each use, reinforces them.
The theory of marketable, is that to attract the largest audience, news has to come across as intense, unambiguous and familiar. Just as TV networks produce prime-time soap operas to attract a large audience, so too is the news geared to consumer taste. Television’s tendency to replace quality with choice is further evidence of marketability.
The analysis of the media shows that contrary facts, prior conditions, long term causes, and underlying structures that explain events tend to be downplayed or crowded out, not because of ill will, but because of bias built into the manufacturing process. One would expect the media to push the big-business values that shape our economy and the social order based on it. The media covers issues related to racism, sexism, violence against women, and the plight of the poor. But women and minorities are most often seen only as social problems or as with problems. They are often stereotyped, treated negatively and set aside from what is considered everyday, ordinary, or normal humanity. Most often, white middle-class men are considered to be the norm in the “larger” Canadian society, and the voices of others are rarely heard in the mainstream media.
Ideology by definition from Webster’s dictionary is “the doctrines, opinions, or way of thinking of an individual, class etc.; specif., the body of ideas on which a particular political, economic or social system is based.” Many of our reactions to daily happenings and circumstances do not represent a deliberate position or well-thought-out theory, but rather reflect semi-conscious beliefs and values. These built in attitudes largely shape how we see ourselves, society and the world. The word ideology describes the interaction between what goes on in our heads and what is going on outside, in society. It refers to the whole complex of dominant ideas that both form from the basis of an economic and political system and shape the manner of thinking of groups or classes of people within that system. For example if a mentally ill man lurched into your kitchen, dug his hand into your supper, and wolfed down a good portion, you would probably be shocked, in fear and outraged before calling the police to take away this intruder.
Liberal capitalism is the prevailing or dominant ideology in Canada, which is so taken for granted that many people unconsciously accept it as the norm, rather than as one specific ideology option. For many of us it is indistinguishable as “common sense,” and its features are taken for granted. Liberal capitalism is taken from two words; capitalist because it organizes the economy around the private accumulation of capital, and liberal because it enhances individual liberty and initiative. It stresses limited or constitutional reform and emphasizes the maintenance of justice by the state.
The paradox “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others,” by George Orwell highlights the practical contradiction within the ideology of liberal capitalism. What this paradox means is that society sees people as basically equals, but would still consider a member of upper class better and worthier then a poor or unemployed person. Also for instance although businesses believe in freedom of competition, entrepreneurs also want to be free from government interference that would restrict or “equalize” them. they want to be free to invest as they see fit, which means dealing from financial strength and political power, not from the equality they laud.