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Chapter 1: Sociology and the Real World

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1 Chapter 1: Sociology and the Real World

2 What Is Sociology? Sociology is one of the social sciences—disciplines that examine the human, or social, world. The social sciences are interested in understanding the social world in the same way that the natural sciences are interested in understanding the natural or physical world. Social scientists and natural scientists even use many of the same research methods, including the scientific method! Social scientists employ many different kinds of research methods, which we’ll learn about in Chapter 2. [

3 Sociology and the Social Sciences

4 What Is Sociology? (cont’d.)
Sociology can help you develop a sociological perspective—a way of taking a sociological approach or thinking sociologically about the world.

5 What Is Sociology? (cont’d.)
Sociology—the study of society According to Howard Becker, sociology is the study of people “doing things together” because neither the individual nor society exist independently of one another. Human beings are social beings—without the contact of other people, we would not be the unique individuals that we are. You can ask students if they have ever been told that they “act like” a relative. Then, have them speculate as to whether this is a genetic link or if they learned that shared trait through their interactions. Ask them to continue to consider this question as it may come up again in Chapter 5. [

6 What Is Sociology? (cont’d.)
Sociology looks at a broad range of institutions (structures in our society, like education, economics, and politics) to better understand social relationships. Students who have never been exposed to the social sciences before may find the concept of an institution abstract and difficult to grasp. A few examples of institutions include religion and family. You can explain that institutions aren’t physical buildings or locations, but rather structures that make up our society. These structures may be different in other societies—for instance, in some societies, education is not available for all children, thus the structure of education in those societies will be much different. [ [ [ 6

7 What Is Sociology? (cont’d.)
Sociologists are interested in all aspects of society. Society—a group of people who shape their lives in patterned ways that distinguish their group from other groups

8 Culture Shock Culture shock is the sense of disorientation you experience upon entering a new environment. Behaviors that are typical in one society or culture may seem very strange in another context. Culture shock is a very common experience when people travel abroad. For discussion, ask your students if they have experienced this. It is also possible to experience culture shock when traveling to another part of the country. If you’re from a big city, mannerisms of people in small towns (like saying hello to strangers) might surprise you. If you’re from a small town, hailing a taxi in a big city might be difficult until you become accustomed to that culture. This relates to Mills’s quote—without understanding the context, it is difficult, if not impossible, to understand social life.

9 Sociological Imagination
Sociological imagination is a term coined by C. Wright Mills. Mills says, “To understand social life, we must understand the intersection between biography and history.” Ask students to speculate on what this means. Students seem to have a hard time grasping Mills’s abstract language, but you may be able to help them by trying the following activity: On the overhead or chalkboard, draw a long horizontal line ending in an arrowhead on both sides. Write the year 1900 under the arrow on the left and the current year under the arrow to the right. Tell students that this line represents roughly the last 100 years of history. Then, ask them what has happened in this span of time that is important. Put a hash mark with the event and approximate year of each event that they name. When they have a pretty thorough list, tell them that there is one last thing to add to the list. Draw a stick figure and tell them that is representative of them. “At some point, you were born, and you entered our timeline. This is the intersection between YOUR biography, and history.” Now, ask them to think how their life might have been different if they were born this year; or in 1910, before women had been granted the right to vote; or in the 1950s, before the civil rights movement gained momentum; or in the 1970s, before Facebook, cell phones, and the internet! C. Wright Mills says that if we don’t take history into account, we can’t understand the social lives of people.

10 Sociological Imagination (cont’d.)
Sociological imagination: a quality of the mind that allows us to understand the relationship between our particular situation in life and what is happening at a social level This is the intersection of biography and society (social structure and historical context).

11 The Beginner’s Mind Just as it sounds, the “beginner’s mind” is the opposite of an expert’s mind. Bernard McGrane says that to explore the social world, it is important that we clear our minds of stereotypes, expectations, and opinions so that we are more receptive to our experiences. Talk to your students about the experiment on page 21 and emphasize the importance of using their beginner’s mind. [

12 Levels of Analysis Sociologists can use different levels of analysis to explore social relationships: Microsociology: examines small-group interactions to see how they impact larger institutions in society Macrosociology: examines large-scale social structures to determine how they impact groups and individuals A microsociological analysis might look at the relationship between a couple or the interactions of a sports team, or even the short interaction between a cashier and a shopper. A macrosociological analysis might look at the economy and how it impacts consumer behavior or how a presidential election influences American morale.

13 The Micro-Macro Continuum

14 Microsociology Macrosociology
Macrosociology credit: [ Microsociology credit: [

15 Sociological Theories
Theories in sociology are propositions that explain the social world and help to make predictions about future events. Theories are also sometimes referred to as approaches, schools of thought, paradigms, or perspectives. Your book mentions the poem about the blind men and the elephant. The purpose of this is to suggest that there are different ways of approaching or looking at a specific topic. While people (even sociologists) may disagree about which way is the best, there are times when considering many different perspectives or theories will lead to the best understanding of the topic.


17 Sociology’s Roots Auguste Comte:
Stated that sociology needed to be treated like any other scientific discipline Laid the groundwork for future sociologists and helped build the discipline Auguste Comte was the first thinker to provide a program for the scientific study of society, or a “social physics,” as he first labeled it. Comte, a French scientist, developed a theory of the progress of human thinking from its early theological and metaphysical stages toward a final “positive,” or scientific, stage.

18 Auguste Comte

19 Sociology’s Roots (cont’d.) Harriet Martineau:
A social activist who traveled the United States and wrote about social changes that were radical for this time period Martineau translated Comte’s work into English, making his ideas accessible to England and America. Martineau became a journalist and political economist, proclaiming views that were radical for her time: for example, she supported labor unions, the abolition of slavery, and women’s suffrage.

20 Harriet Martineau

21 Sociology’s Roots (cont’d.)
Émile Durkheim worked to establish sociology as an important academic discipline. Interested in the social factors that bond and hold people together Studied the correlation between social isolation and suicide In his work, he demonstrated the effectiveness of using scientific (empirical) methods to study “social reality,” essentially completing the project that his countryman Comte had anticipated half a century earlier. In his first major study, The Division of Labor in Society (1893), Durkheim expressed his belief that social bonds were present in all types of societies, but that different types of societies created different types of bonds. He suggested that the mechanical solidarity experienced by people in an agrarian society bound them together on the basis of shared tradition and beliefs and similarities of experience. On the other hand, in industrial societies, where factory work was becoming increasingly specialized, organic solidarity prevailed: people’s bonds with each other were based on the tasks they performed, interdependence, and individual rights. In both cases, people are bound to each other—it is the qualities of the bonds that are different. Durkheim believed that even the most individualistic of actions had sociological explanations, and he set out to establish a scientific methodology for studying these actions. He chose for his ground-breaking case study the most individualistic of actions, suicide, and used statistical data to show that suicides were related to social factors such as religious affiliation, marital status, and employment. Explaining a particular suicide by focusing exclusively on the victim’s psychological makeup neglected the impact of social bonds.

22 Émile Durkheim

23 Sociology’s Roots (cont’d.)
Karl Marx was a German philosopher and political activist. Marx contributed significantly to sociology’s conflict theory. Sociologists have found that Marx’s theories continue to provide powerful tools for understanding social phenomena. His idea that conflict between social groups is central to the workings of society and serves as the engine of social change is one of the most vital perspectives in sociology today.

24 Karl Marx

25 Sociology’s Roots (cont’d.)
Marx believed that capitalism was creating social inequality between the bourgeoisie, who owned the means of production (money, factories, natural resources, and land), and the proletariat, who were the workers. According to Marx, this inequality leads to class conflict. Marx noted that a small percentage of the population owned the means of production and thus were able to exploit the masses and thereby ensure greater gains for themselves. This is the basic tenet of capitalism today, and many modern sociologists use Marx’s theories to evaluate the contemporary workplace.

26 Sociology’s Roots (cont’d.)
Max Weber was also interested in how society was becoming industrialized. He was concerned with the process of rationalization, applying economic logic to all human activity. He believed that contemporary life was filled with disenchantment, the result of the dehumanizing features of modern societies. Much of Weber’s work expressed a pessimistic view of social forces, such as the work ethic, that shaped modern life. Like other social theorists of his time, Weber was interested in the shift from a more traditional society to a modern industrial society. Weber proposed that modern industrialized societies were characterized by efficient, goal-oriented, rule-governed bureaucracies. He believed that individual behavior was increasingly driven by such bureaucratic goals, which had become more important motivational factors than tradition, values, or emotion. Weber believed that this lifestyle left people trapped by their industrious way of life in what he called an iron cage of bureaucratic rules, which led to disenchantment.

27 Max Weber

28 Sociology’s Roots (cont’d.)
George Herbert Mead was interested in the connection between thought and action—or between the individual and society. Mead suggested that the meanings that we give to objects in our society are social processes—people interact, and meanings come from these interactions. For example, a chair isn’t inherently important as an object for sitting (as many of us know, it can also be used for climbing and reaching, for blocking an entrance, or as a weapon against an enemy), but because we interact on a daily basis with others who use chairs most commonly for sitting, we come to accept that this is the meaning of this object. This is a trivial example, but the idea can be applied to lots of other objects in our society—for example, things like flags or religious icons have meanings that have been shaped by social interactions. Mead is a symbolic interactionist. We’ll talk more about symbolic interactionism in a minute.

29 George Herbert Mead

30 Sociology’s Roots (cont’d.)
Erving Goffman was interested in how the “self” is developed through interactions with others in society. Goffman used the term dramaturgy to describe the way people strategically present themselves to others. Goffman found it interesting that a person could “act” one way in front of his or her parents, and yet “act” totally differently in front of friends. When you think about it, people are usually very adept at recognizing the social situation they are in and acting accordingly. This does suggest, though, that we are always acting, so when you feel you are being “your true self,” is this really the case?

31 Erving Goffman

32 Schools of Thought Your book refers to paradigms, or schools of thought. Paradigms are ways of thinking, or “theoretical umbrellas,” meant to provide a broad explanation for the way things work. Sometimes the terms paradigms, theories, and schools of thought are used interchangeably. These terms are all very abstract to beginning sociological thinkers, so you may want to take a little extra time to emphasize the importance of understanding them.

33 Modern Schools of Thought
Structural functionalism: Society is viewed as an ordered system of interrelated parts, or structures, which are the social institutions that make up society (family, education, politics, the economy). Each of these different structures meets the needs of society by performing specific functions for the whole system (society). The key word here is function. According to this theory, everything in our society has a function. The main principles of the functionalist paradigm are these: 1. Society is a stable, ordered system of interrelated parts, or structures. 2. Each structure has a function that contributes to the continued stability, or equilibrium, of the whole. 33

34 Modern Schools of Thought (cont’d.)
Conflict theory: Sees social conflict as the basis of society and social change Proposes that conflict and tension are basic facts of social life and suggests that people have disagreements over goals and values and are involved in struggles over both resources and power Conflict theory proposes that conflict and tension are basic facts of social life and suggests that people have disagreements over goals and values and are involved in struggles over both resources and power. The theory thus focuses on the processes of dominance, competition, upheaval, and social change. The main emphases are on: 1. a materialist view of society (focused on labor practices and economic reality) 2. a critical stance toward existing social arrangements 3. a dynamic model of historical change (in which the transformation of society is inevitable) [

35 Modern Schools of Thought (cont’d.)
Symbolic interactionism: Sees interaction and meaning as central to society and assumes that meanings are not inherent but rather are created through interaction Society is produced and reproduced through our interactions with each other, by means of language, and our interpretations of that language  through interaction that we create a meaningful social reality Symbolic interactionism is America’s unique contribution to sociology and has proved to be the most influential perspective of the twentieth century. For symbolic interactionists, society is produced and reproduced through our interactions with each other, by means of language, and our interpretations of that language. Symbolic interactionism sees face-to-face interaction as the building block of everything else in society, because it is through interaction that we create a meaningful social reality. Here are the three basic tenets of symbolic interactionism, as laid out by Herbert Blumer in 1969: We act toward things on the basis of their meanings. For example, a tree can provide a shady place to rest, or it can be an obstacle to building a road or home; each of these meanings suggests a different set of actions, and this is as true for physical objects like trees as it is for people, institutions, beliefs, or any social activity. Meanings are not inherent; rather, they are negotiated through interaction with others. That is, whether the tree is an obstacle or an oasis is not an intrinsic quality of the tree itself, but rather something that people must determine. The same tree can mean one thing to one person and something else to another. Meanings can change or be modified through interaction. For example, the contractor who sees the tree as an obstacle might be persuaded to spare it by the neighbor. Now the tree is something to build around rather than bulldoze. Although symbolic interactionism is focused on how both self and society develop through interaction with others, it is useful in explaining and analyzing a wide variety of specific social issues, from inequalities of race and gender to the group dynamics of families or coworkers.

36 Class Activity In groups of 3-5, please answer the following question…
Pick any topic from the syllabus (crime, gender, race, social class, etc.) and discuss how each of the 3 Sociological Paradigms might view that topic 1. Structural Functionalism 2. Conflict Theory 3. Symbolic Interactionism

37 This concludes the Lecture PowerPoint presentation for Chapter 1

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