Recently, the “boundary” concept played a significant role in the social sciences such as sociology, social psychology, history, and political science. “Boundaries” contribute to cultural integration, social issues, and human self-identity in the society. Although the concept of “boundary” was recently justified, Durkheim, Marx and Weber studied it earlier in the 19th century (Lamont 167). The studies were conducted to reveal theoretically enlightening differences and similarities in the way boundaries are proceeding across types and contexts of groups at the cultural, socio-psychological, and structural levels. The understanding of the task of symbolic resources in designing and maintaining, competing and even dissolving of methodical social differences is crucial in distinguishing between social and symbolic “boundaries”. This paper examines symbolic boundaries which not only aid humans in making sense of their place in society and differentiating between groups but also produce distinctions, which lead to varying access to social resources.
Symbolic boundaries are conceptual dissimilarities made by civic actors to classify objects, practices, people, and even space and time. They are devices by which groups and individuals agree upon and struggle over interpretations of reality. Inspecting them allows to capture the dynamic extents of social relationships, as groups compete under the condition of diffusion, production, and institutionalization of alternate systems of categorizations. Symbolic boundaries also divide people into classes and produce feelings of group membership and similarity. They are a crucial medium through which humans acquire status and monopolize resources (Lamont 168).
Symbolic boundaries have a certain classification to distinguish their types. Firstly, symbolic boundaries include social and collective identity, which suggests that evaluation of individuals is made through an in-group as well as an out-group contrasting that leads civic groups to undertake to distinguish themselves from one another. Moreover, social psychologists demonstrate that people accustom to the outer environment through cognitive stereotyping and categorizing. These boundaries also play a crucial role in an individual’s division by gender and race. They affect how we treat people’s failures and successes, and self-blaming interpretations are more willingly used by males than by females (Lamont 170).
Secondly, symbolic boundaries differentiate between class, race, and gender inequality. Class boundaries explain class markers, cultural consumption, and class reproduction, as well as in which way an individual is determined by class inequality. An example of a class boundary can be treating children from families of different social state. Students from low-class families are often perceived through the prism of their families’ financial condition (Lamont 172).
Racial inequality is another type of symbolic boundaries. The most significant race boundary is the growing polarization between non-whites and whites. The immigrants have reasons to single white humans out and violate the protection of their privileged status, which leads to ferocity against non-whites.
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Another type of symbolic boundaries is gender boundaries. People unconsciously gender-categorize somebody other to whom they must relate, and the perception of every specific person becomes nested through the automatic, prior categorization of an individual as male or female, so that occupational roles, for example, obtain a slightly dissimilar meaning as a result (Lamont 175-176).
Some other types of symbolic boundaries include professions, science, and social knowledge. These types of boundaries aim at understanding how professions are distinguished from one another, laymen from experts, non-science from science, subjects between themselves, and how methods of classification appear to bring arrangement in our lives (Lamont 177). Communities, national identities, and spatial boundaries are other types. Boundaries always were a central issue of studies of national and urban communities. They pinpoint the degree to which national identity is relationally defined and appears from dynamic sessions of negotiation and interaction between national and local forces (Lamont 181).
The chief thing in understanding symbolic and social boundaries lay in the way how symbolic resources of designing, maintaining, competing, or even disintegrating institutionalized civic differences. Social boundaries appears to be objectified forms of civic differences indicated by inequality of social opportunities and resources, and in unequal access. Only when symbolic boundaries become widely agreed, they can take on a compelling character and system of social interaction in significant ways. Only then they can become social boundaries. However, social and symbolic boundaries should be considered as equally real.
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Term “borderwork” aids in conceptualizing communication based on gender boundaries. “Borderwork” illustrates that worlds of girls and boys are not equal. Girls can be more likely defined as corrupted (Thorne 64). Examples of “borderwork” include chasing, contests, rituals of invasions and corruption. Contests initiated by teachers and children transferred class games and lesson into competitions of boys against girls. During chases boys often teased girls while girls responded with kisses. In such kind of game the “borderwork” more often contribute to boys’ privilege over girls who were treated as contaminated. The “borderwork” relates to the symbolic boundaries as it is an interaction, which assist in marking the dissimilarities between social groups as well as between individuals in daily life.
Gender “borderworks” on playground are those which reinforce boundaries between boys and girls. Thorne suggests that while playing girls are more likely to play boys’ roles than the reverse. Performing boys’ roles girls obtain more privileges and seem to be more powerful (Thorne 78). Usually it is high-status girls who tries to cross gender boundaries and play boys’ games, whereas boys who attempts to behave likely are often ridiculed. This proves that there is a significant gap between boys’ and girls’ cultures. This gap is affected by the way adults treat various gender kids. Entertaining themselves on playground children know that they are different and it strengthens boundaries between boys and girls. Moreover, boys tend to with outer environment more rigidly. That is why it is easier for girls to be tattle that for boys tattletale (Thorne 77). Symbolic boundaries can become social boundaries only when they are fully agreed upon and take on a constraining character. Playground games can be seen as a way of evaluating social boundaries. The “borderwork” unites children of various genders and make them understand and feel each other better, thus, shifting of symbolic boundaries occurs.
In the nineteenth century, designation and reinforcement of the latest cultural boundary was introduced in American culture. Levine’s work on “William Shakespeare in America” provides a better understanding of the historical period. Shakespeare’s performances were elite and popular entertainment. His works such as Hamlet, Othello, Romeo and Juliet were the mainstream in the local theaters. The chief factor that elevated Shakespeare to high culture, was the fact that only a few of well-educated people could read scripts of the master; however plenty of ordinary people could enjoy him through theater performances (Levine 38). Another factor that helped Shakespeare to elevate to high culture was the notable role of the theater in cultural diffusion, equal to the significance of a church. Moreover, there were many moving theaters that focused on performing for the working pars of the population, thus, plays of Shakespeare were popular even in the remote areas. Actors performed in deficiently equipped places such as paper mills, mining fields, or even the hotel dining rooms. In this social context, the cultural boundaries were distinctly ambiguous (Levine 42).
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The world evolved as well as people and culture. Mass popularity of theatre disappeared. The working class knew the egalitarianism, and could not tolerate the aristocratic leaning actors. Furthermore, new entertainments such as silent movies, radio and others started to appear. Certain distinctions in the performance caused differentiating of theatre audiences. Firstly, Shakespeare’s plays lost some popularity but were better glorified and persevered by the rareness of elite that proposed the upper-class superiority. Secondly, artistic code and language were specialized, enriched, and used to separate the elite off interpretive community. Finally, Shakespeare’s plays were packed with advanced academic vocabulary, which ordinary people concidered hard to comprehend. In addition,
the seating stratification in the theaters did not satisfy the upper-class audience that rejected to tolerate the badly-behaved low class accompanies (Levine 54).
Symbolic boundaries play a crucial role in interaction between people. They are tools by which individuals and groups agree upon and compete over interpretations of reality. Symbolic boundaries distinguish people between the classes and generate feelings of a group belonging and similarity. The action of symbolic boundaries appears in the early childhood when kids play in playground or during the lessons. Having taken patterns of gender roles from parents, boys behave rather rigidly teasing girls. Children endeavor the “borderwork”, which makes stricter contact and differences among kids of various genders. Not only children but also adults experience symbolic boundaries effect. Symbolic boundaries make humans distinguish among social boundaries and put themselves to a certain social class, not tolerating the lower ones.
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