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Randall Collins

Randall Collins (born 1941) is an American sociologist who has been influential in both his teaching and writing. He has taught in many notable universities around the world and his academic works have been translated into various languages. Collins is currently Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a leading contemporary social theorist whose areas of expertise include the macro-historical sociology of political and economic change; micro-sociology, including face-to-face interaction; and the sociology of intellectuals and social conflict. He is considered to be one of the leading non-Marxist conflict theorists in the United States, and served as the president of the American Sociological Association from 2010 to 2011.

Born: July 29, 1941; Knoxville, Tennessee

Successful rituals

All the key features of a strongly integrated society are produced by successful rituals.

The success of a ritual depends upon (1) bodily assembly of participants; (2) barriers excluding outsiders; and above all the cumulative feedback between (3) mutual focus of attention and (4) a shared emotional mood. Traditional formalities are not essential, since they only help to keep the group focused by doing the same thing, «uttering the same cry» as Durkheim said, or going through the same motions together. What makes or breaks a ritual however is (4), the extent to which the group builds up a strong collective emotion. When this pervades individual consciousness, those persons assembled experience what Durkheim called «collective effervescence», a feeling of being brought out of oneself into some larger and more powerful. In the broader sense of interaction rituals, this collective feeling may be many different emotions — awe-struck, joyful, solemn, angry, laughing, fearful, sad. Thus the particular kind of emotion (ingredient 4) is crucial for making one ritual experience qualitatively different from another. The rituals of politics, the rituals of ordinary sociability, entertainment, erotics, etc. are distinguished from the rituals of religion; and different religions can have different emotional tones — what Weber would call different “ethics” of life-conduct, because of their emotional ingredients.

Successful rituals produce the outcomes of (5) membership feelings, which are stored in (6) sacred objects or symbolic emblems; individuals are pumped up with (7) emotional energy — confidence, enthusiasm in carrying out their repeated round of rituals and in a course of life-conduct oriented towards its symbolic goals; and the community is filled with (8) moral feelings of right and wrong, including righteous anger in punishing those who violate its symbolic code. Thus as Durkheim points out, all the key features of a strongly integrated society are produced by successful rituals.

Randall Collins
The Micro-sociology of Religion:
Religious Practices, Collective and Individual

Technological substitution

Technological substitution is a mechanism by which innovations in equipment and process organization save labor resources, thereby allowing fewer workers to produce more products at a lower cost. …

In the past, there were five main routes for capitalism to emerge from the crisis of technological substitution. Next, I will show that now all of them are blocked, that is, they turn into dead ends.

1. New technologies create new jobs and entire areas of new types of work.

It was argued that when automated and computerized systems replace telephone operators and clerks, the latter will be retrained as software developers, computer technicians and mobile phone salesmen. However, no one has ever formulated any convincing theoretical argument why the number of jobs should be the same in both cases, and even less why automating these types of technical and communication tasks (for example, through online commerce) will not be able to reduce the number of white-collar workers. At the moment, the technological replacement of the middle class is still at an early stage — in general, this process began no earlier than 20 years ago, …

2. Geographic expansion of markets.

… I would like to emphasize that today the globalization of markets is undermining the work of the middle class. Internet technologies allow white-collar workers from India, and indeed from anywhere else, to compete for jobs in the field of servicing computerized enterprises in the central (core) capitalist regions of the world. If in the past middle-class workers were much more protected from competition than manual workers, now those times are over. …

3. Metamarkets in the financial sector.

If the labor of the worker, and then the middle class, is subjected to technological displacement, is it not possible to compensate for the lost jobs by making everyone a capitalist? …

… Ever since capitalism entered a phase of self-sustaining growth, or else internally driven expansion, the markets for material goods and services have become linked to the markets for financial instruments. … since finance is essentially a speculative instrument, its relationship to existing, material things may vary in anomalous proportions. …

… finance professionals can create commitments that promise to pay other commitments, and so on up to any level of complexity. Loans, pledges, common stocks (equities), bonds — all these are relatively low levels of the pyramid. Short-selling stock market shares, bundling mortgages for secondary resale markets, leveraged buyouts, mutual funds, hedge funds and other complex trading schemes are markets of a higher order that rise above mere instruments of exchange. …

yramid-shaped financial markets have a high degree of social construction (constructedness). Of course, almost everything in this world is in some sense socially constructed, but some things are connected with the material world much more indirectly than others. For example, the army is characterized by a high degree of social construction, especially in battle, where, according to Napoleon, the moral is to the material as three to one. …

… financial markets are inherently non-egalitarian: wealth is concentrated in a small number of large players at the top of the pyramid. …

The next hurdle: Technological substitution can be expected to encroach on employment in the financial sector as well. … it is hard to imagine that in the automated future, almost all employees will become hedge fund managers. However, the cherished dream that capitalism can offer to the future is still a world where no one does real productive work, but everyone is financial manipulators. Perhaps in the future we will encounter this phase, and if it does, then I argue that this will be the beginning of the final collapse of capitalism.

4. The government provides employment and investment.

… Can government spending now solve the problem of technological replacement of the middle class?

The main form of direct government employment has become middle-class administrative employment, so any development of a trend towards automation and computerization of such work will reduce government employment as well. … Another version of this policy that has worked in the past is military Keynesianism, that is, creating jobs in the armed forces while stimulating the economy through military production. However, modern warfare has become a kind of high-tech, … technology is helping to transform armies into smaller combat units that are coordinated by computers, satellites, airborne sensors, and remote surveillance and targeting control devices. The military is at the forefront of robotics…

In addition to direct public employment, there is also an increase in public spending — a priority tool of the current stimulus anti-crisis packages. Most government investments are made in physical infrastructure — roads, bridges, airports, energy, and along with this — in the so-called information highway (information highway). But these industries are also subject to computerization and automation, thus supporting the trend of technological substitution. …

In principle, political power can do anything, limited only by political will … I am not suggesting that the controversial measures of "liberal" governments in the field of support for the private economy will not keep capitalism from moving unsteadily into the future. However, this ambiguous approach is unlikely to solve the long-term problem of technological substitution as long as the economy is driven by private profit.

5. College Degree Inflation and Other Hidden Varieties of Keynesianism. … education excludes more and more people from the actual workforce …

Returning to the most inevitable crisis — our current movement towards the technological replacement of the middle class, we ask ourselves: how far into the future does this process extend? I do not think that we will see a full-blown crisis before 20 years, but our descendants will have to be surprised if it does not happen by the second half of the 21st century.

Randall Collins
Технологическое замещение
01 декабря 2009

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