Brekhus Sociology of the Unmarked

Brekhus, 1998. "A Sociology of the Unmarked: Redirecting our Focus, Sociological Theory, 16:1 (Mar., 1998), pp. 34-51. JSTOR

Leading Questions

  1. What was Dunier’s Slim’s Table about and how does it work as the lead for this article?
  2. What, after this intro, is the overall structure of the article?
  3. Where does the concept of “markedness” originate? Give an example of how it is used in that field (34-5).
  4. How does Durkheim’s distinction between the sacred and the profane fit in here? (35)
  5. Contrast the term “generic” and “marked” by giving a few examples. (35)
  6. According to his introduction, what four things will Brekhus do in this article (36)?
  7. Name and explain (where necessary) the five formal properties of social markedness (36).
  8. Name and describe the two models of social markedness (36).
  9. On p. 37 Brekhus notes that markedness varies over social time and space. In some “subcultural spaces” the unmarked becomes marked (his example is the married couple in the gay bar) and that which is usually taken for granted cannot be. Think of a few more examples of this and see if you can move toward a general statement of the relationship between markedness and the taken-for-granted.
  10. What does “coloring” have to do with markedness (37)?
  11. Extreme-types tend to come to represent the typical case. Explain (37)
  12. Distinguish between empirically, politically, and analytically interesting (38.5). Why does a focus on the empirically and politically interesting run the risk of re-inforcing social stereotypes?
  13. “When we select our focus based on the moral, social, and political concerns of our time, we tacitly reassert existing conventions of markedness (39).” Comment. Give examples.
  14. “While much work in sociology challenges negative stereotypes of the marked, it does so by inverting the social value of the mark rather than by reducing its magnitude (41).” Explain what the author means by this.
  15. Why does a focus on extreme types among a marked category amount to “sampling on a restricted range of the dependent variable”? (41)
  16. What is reverse marking? (43)
  17. What does it mean to mark everything? (45)
  18. What is an analytically nomadic perspective? (47)
  19. Where does Goffman’s Behavior in Public Places fit in with Brekhus’ ideas?
  20. How does the “think like an immigrant” theme compare to questions of unusual and strange and our attempt to render visible the taken for granted?

Projects (journals and papers)

  1. For your journal: come up with ten pairs of marked/unmarked
  2. For your journal: think up hyphenated terms and identify the generic type
  3. Journal (37) For some marked category, describe ideal-type and extreme type.
  4. Draw diagrams and pictures for this article.
  5. More examples of binary and trinary
  6. Project.  Theorem (37) Lower frequency should be associated with higher intensity of markedness. And "magnitude of markedness tends to decline as the proportion of the marked relative to the unmarked increases."  Changes across time and social space.
Saints/Sinners Example 2……………………
Attribute of Markedness Marked Unmarked Marked Unmarked
Heavily articulated v. unarticulated Both heroes and deviants
get attention
Average, part good and part bad
folks never get story told
Exaggerated importance/distinctiveness As if the world depends on them or is
threatened by them
Probably the majority but "don't matter"
Disproportionate Attention (wrt frequency) Rare but visible Majority but invisible
Within Group v. Between Group Differences
Properties of marked generalized and confined
Umarked universalized
All heroes heroic and no one else is a hero Not sure how this one fits

Terminology and Vocabulary

routinization of caricature (37)
binary / trinary markedness
empirically / politically / analytically

endemic (37)

episodic (37)
epistemological ghetto (38)
epistemologically unproblematic (35.3)
epistemology (34)
expressive and performative (41)
extremetype (37)
gestalt/figure/ground (35)
heuristic (35)
marked / unmarked (35)
ontological (34)
reverse marking
right brain sociology
sampling on the dependent variable (41)
sociomental (36)
truncation bias (41)