Friday, January 20, 2012

Left Brain, Right Brain, and Social Class

Will Barratt, Ph.D.




I read some interesting work on left brain and right brain inter-communication before lunch one day and after lunch I read some interesting work on socioeconomic status.  I could almost hear the “ping” in my brain as these two concepts collided and fit together in interesting ways.  It occurred to me that sociology, being about people and interpersonal relationships in groups (among other things of course), is primarily about right brain non-linear ways of being in the world.  Economics, being about the attempt to bring linear sequential rationality to the large scale exchange and manufacture of goods and services (among other things of course), is primarily about left brain linear sequential ways of being in the world.  Socioeconomic status is a view of social class combining right (socio) and left (economic) world views.

Seeing concepts like social class from multiple paradigms enriches our understanding of social class.  Exploring those multiple paradigms in different ways enriches both those paradigms and the concept we are trying to understand.

Left brain and right brain is another interesting way to understand social class.  I am a little dominant in my right brain, my creative side, and I can do linear sequential left brain activity if I need to.  I wonder to what extent this hemisphere dominance has affected how I think and write about at social class.  My preference is to see social class as personal, as social, as internal to the individual, and as messy and wholistic.  I also realize that there are wonderful linear sequential models of social class.  For me the linear sequential models help illuminate the messy and wholistic vision that I have of social class.

Left brain and right brain is another interesting way to view how we create social class.  Social class does not exist on its own; social class is wholly co-constructed and co-evolved among us all.  If I am mildly right brain dominant do I create a social interaction and personal emphasis on social class?  Do I rely mostly on personal and interpersonal cues to read social class status?  Do others rely mostly on economic and occupational title cues to read social class status?  What if my hemispheres are balanced precisely; do I get a balanced wholistic and linear sequential experience of social class?

Science is inherently linear sequential and rests on data that are observable and that the observation is repeatable.  If I conduct a certain experiment and you conduct a copy of that experiment, then we should get the same results.  The scientific method has dominated the past century.  Conclusions, theories, and concepts rest on observable and repeatable data.  Is it any wonder that the primary paradigms for social class come out of this linear sequential tradition?

Pre-scientific views of social class relied on non-rational non-linear sequential views, for example the station of your birth determining your social class for life.  Recall that the origins of the idea of the middle class came from the rising economic group that was in the middle between the proletariat workers and the hereditary elite nobility.  Kings and Queens are hereditary; they attain their position based on parentage.  This is a wholly different model for social class and social status than has come from the rational linear sequential scientific tradition.

Post-scientific non-linear-sequential right brain models of social class are emerging.  My central thesis that social class is personal comes from this right brain tradition and possible from my right brain preference.  However, to be useful I need to frame social class as personal within a linear sequential model.  Identity is messy, but we can tease out some of the essential elements and explore them in a more linear sequential way.  I write about people’s social class of origin, current felt social class, and attributed social class in an attempt to provide some degree of left brain linearity to what is essentially right brain messy creativity. 

What about the limbic system?  How does that affect to how we create, experience, and analyze social class?  There are clearly emotional components in social class.  Hierarchy, one essential element in social class, is in part emotional and consequently regulated by the limbic system.  In reality our brains are complicated, and parts of the brain all inter-communicate for most of us.

In reality, social class comes from our whole being.  The left side, the right side, the limbic system, and all of the other delightful and mysterious things going on inside our skulls, our nervous, digestion, circulatory, and other systems.  People are in reality a body-mind system.  And we are a body-mind system with certain unique individual preferences.  My right brain preference influences how I create, experience, and analyzes social class.  And on a large scale a collection of people with certain preferences create art, music, history, sociology, economics, psychology, neuroanatomy, and other disciplines that provide lenses on social class.

I want to thank Karen Buchholz for the original art.

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