(Lecture Notes: Chapter 1) 1
[CHAPTER 1] Sociology: Theory and Method
WHAT IS SOCIOLOGY?
• Sociology is the scientific study of human social life, groups, and societies. • Sociology shows us that aspects of life we consider natural or take for granted are influenced by social and historical forces.
• Sociology is a discipline that insists on studying people within their social context. Your textbook begins by defining sociology and then by asking you to consider an unlikely topic—autism—sociologically. As sociologists we can look at virtually any topic and try to understand it in a new way. With autism, for example, we can ask questions about the rapid rise in diagnoses, about the gender and racial differences in diagnoses, and about the effects of mainstreaming autistic children in schools on classroom functioning. The point is that autism, a medical condition, is also a social issue, and as sociologists, we can examine it as such. At its core, then, sociology is a discipline that enacts systematic, objective analyses of the social world and that allows us the opportunity to pull back the curtain on nearly any topic.
THE SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION
• C. Wright Mills (1959) coined this phrase, which explained the need to move from away from viewing problems as personal troubles and toward recognizing them as public issues. • An important part of learning to think sociologically is to gain and utilize the sociological imagination.
What Mills recognized was that we have to step out of our own life experience to truly understand the social world. He said that we must understand history, biography, and society before delving into any particular social problem or issue, as context is critical to deeper understanding. Additionally, Mills emphasized the idea that as sociologists, we must investigate topics that might at first glance seem to be individual concerns. For example, sociologists can study topics like unemployment. We don’t study one man or woman who loses a job, but unemployment more broadly as a social concern. To return to a topic like autism: It does not affect only individual children, or even individual families, but entire communities, and should be studied in that light.
• Goal of sociology: to understand the connections between what society makes of us and what we make of ourselves.
• What we do both gives shape to and is shaped by society. That is, we structure society and at the same time are structured by society.
• Our lives are structured, or patterned, in particular, non-random, ways. • Social structures are dynamic. Societies are always in the process of structuration, which means they are constantly being affected by human actions.
The relationship between the individual and society is a crucial one for any student of sociology to consider. Certainly, individuals have an effect on societies, but as sociologists, we understand that societies also have significant effects—some positive, some negative—on individuals. In fact, in this relationship society is typically the stronger partner. It is also important to understand that the effects of society are not random, but patterned—structured. Our social lives, in fact, can be found to have many, many patterns based on social structures such as gender, social class, and race. What is also true is that even with the power society wields, it is not a static—stuck in place—reality. Societies are constantly in flux, as they are made up of individuals and social groups whose actions have meaningful impacts. The word sociologists use to describe this is structuration, which is meant to indicate the dialectical relationship between the individual and society.
A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
• As sociologists, we must now be global observers.
• Globalization affects all of us every day, both as individuals and as members of nation-states, economic markets, and more.
• A global view offers insight into worldwide connections, as well as a...
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