John Searle: Status Function Essay
John Searle, celebrated American philosopher, has contributed many valuable ideas to the subject. Many are interesting, though possibly none are as thought provoking as the ideas on social ontology, with a specification on status function. It appears status function is an idea based solely on language and perception, relying entirely on society’s relaying of messages to one another for actions to become normalized or not. Searle proposed status functions hold society together; he believed status functions were fundamental to human existence, as well as society . As such, Searle believed that we should all pay attention to them, and nurture them, because without them society would not be able to function properly.
In order to understand Searle’s ideas properly, we must understand what status functions are. According to Anthony Coopers and Chris Perkins’ article, “Borders and Status-Functions: An Institutional Approach to the Study of Borders,” they are Searle’s “bearers of societal norms, obligations, and rights . In short, Searle believed a status function was what society used to describe what was normal, correct, or obligatory. Status functions prescribed normalcy to the otherwise chaotic intentions of a wayward society. Essentially, Searle believes status functions are related to deontic logic, which means they are concerned with permission and obligation, according to, “Perspectives on Social Ontology and Social Cognition .
If status functions are based on perception of society as a whole, then why should we care about them? They truth is we should not, in most cases. We should abide by some societal norms. For instance, we are not only scolded, but also sentenced to prison for committing crimes. It is a societal norm not to murder one another, and this is a status function we should care about because it helps keep us safe. However, there are other status functions, such as being a caring, nurturing single father, which we should not care about. These individuals are often mocked. Society creates a hostile environment for nurturing single fathers because it is perceived as a woman’s job to be the nurturer. This is unhealthy, and society should not care about this status function, or any others that disallow an individual the opportunity to be themselves. Despite the fact that status functions do, in a lot of cases, stop people from being themselves, they do have the power to hold society together. As mentioned, status functions have the power to normalize a safe environment. This does not account for individuals being inherently good, or simply not wanting to harm one another, but it does discourage the individuals who may want to harm others. Status functions also normalize a sense of routine and propriety, which helps us keep a certain amount of control over ourselves, as well as others. Many of us would like to skip wearing pants to work, but status functions would insist we be scolded, reprimanded or fired. Further status functions, whether external or internal, would see us depressed for having lost our jobs or disappointing our families. Without a job, we would be unable to feed ourselves, our families, or contribute to society. If we all acted out in this way, jobs would disappear, civilized society would disintegrate, and eventually collapse on itself. Though sometimes harmful, status functions do manage to hold society together in their own way.
In sum, status functions are a fascinating, albeit sometimes harmful, concept. Based entirely around communication and perception, they are the glue that holds society together, whether we like it or not. Searle proposed that the internal and external communication proposed by ourselves and the rest of society helps normalize what is right for society, placing obligations on us, and resting a sense of propriety on the population. This sense of propriety is what keeps up civilized. Our continuous communication with one another forces our perception of what is normal, creating a reality in which some actions are right, while others are wrong, allowing us to know how to behave. Status functions, then, are only a society’s self-imposed view of how to run itself, rather than a true reality. Nonetheless, status functions allow society to run in a relatively civilized manner.
Coopers, Anthony and Chris Perkins. "Borders and status-functions: An institutional approach to the study of borders." European Journal of Social Theory (2012): 55-71. Article.
Gallotti, Mattia and John Michael. Perspectives on Social Ontology and Social Cognition. New York: Springer , 2014. Book.
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