Page 8 - Flipbook: Sociology Shortcuts Issue 3
P. 8

If social life is patterned - it isn't just a simple series of random,
       purposeless or unstructured events - something must cause

       institutionalised behaviour (a “pattern of shared, stable, behaviour”

       such as a family). Is that “something” instinct or culture?

       Instinct…                                             Instincts have three main features; they tell an


       The idea we have “instincts” that guide our           • what to do,
       behaviour in some way is still a fairly               • when to do it and
       common assumption in our society, for a               • how to do it.
       couple of reasons:
                                                             To clarify these ideas, consider this example:
       Firstly, we are taught that animal behaviour is
       guided by instincts, by which we generally            What? Every year blue tits nest in my garden,
       mean to be some sort of genetic programming in the bird box I’ve so thoughtfully provided
       that tells them how to behave (they                   for them (except, I should add, when my
       “instinctively know” how to do something).            garden was being redesigned and I took the box
                                                             down. They nested in my barbecue instead, the
       And since people are “essentially animals”,           little scamps). This is evidence of instinctive
       it’s only a short step to believe that some - if      behaviour because the adult blue tits know
       not necessarily all - human behaviour has a           what they’ve got to do each year. They do not
       similar instinctive basis.                            need to be taught this behaviour.

       Secondly, the concept is frequently used in           When? Aside from nesting every year, the blue
       everyday language, where people use phrases           tits also know at what point to start nest-
       like “The striker’s instinct for goal” or “She        building, egg-laying and chick-rearing. Again,
       seemed to instinctively know they were                this is instinctive behaviour because it doesn’t
       talking about her”.                                   have to be taught or learned.

       This gives the idea a taken-for-granted               How? Without fail, these birds build exactly
       quality, something “everybody knows”, that            the same sort of nest each year (a single-story
       becomes part of our commonsense store of              “everyone-in-it-together” affair). This, again, is
       knowledge.                                            instinctive behaviour because the adult birds
                                                             have no choice in the matter. Rather than build
       While the concept of instinct does have some          something a little more accommodating they
       usefulness when explaining how and why                just build the type of nest they’ve been
       some animals behave as they do, its                   genetically-programmed to build.
       usefulness when applied human behaviour
       tends to be questioned by sociologists.

       And to understand why, we need to be clear
       about its meaning.

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