Monday, October 16, 2006

The Reproduction of Social Practice: Why Members of a Collective Tend to Do the Same Things, Part II

The example of beauty contests discussed in Part I may have given the impression that homology of practice can be accounted for by conscious training. The point of that essay is not so much that homology is a practice of conscious training but that it is a product of a common sense of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate practices and strategies and a common sense of the stakes worth competing for. Conscious training, however, is for the most part, not the usual case and this was demonstrated in the earlier essay on deportment.

We learn what is considered appropriate and inappropriate behavior through a largely unconscious process that begins from our infancy. Now that I have a three year old daughter, I see this very clearly in the way she reflects my habits back to me. Everytime I pick her up from play school, I ask her, "How was your day?" and lately, everytime I come home from work, she has taken to askign me the same question. Friends also tell me that my child's deportment around strangers is similar to my deportment towards most people. The was we look at people is the same and our bearing is very similar. My child learns by mimicking and I think for the most part, that is how we learn.

Sometimes we learn when others tell us what to do or what not to do but this is nowhere near the scrutinizing gaze of the professional coach of a beauty contestant. The remarks made to teach us are mostly casual, non-premeditated remarks in response to a situation. We "catch" our child sneezing without covering her mouth, for example, and casually tell her to cover her mouth the next time she sneezes. We probably weren't paying attention to the child at the moment she sneezed just as a professional coach would probably be observing his charge at every moment in time.

Practices are homologous in a society largely because the persons through whom we are socialized already engage in homologous practices and share a sense of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate practices which we tend to reproduce.

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