Sociological Concepts

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Due to the familiar and personal nature of social phenomena, any explanations and interpretations of them are susceptible to unexamined, commonsense assumptions; beliefs founded solely on majority consensus. However, the fact that a large percentage of the population believes something to be true is no guarantee of its validity. Thus sociologists employ a variety of tools and concepts based on critical thinking and standardized methodologies in order to determine which popular assumptions are correct and which are myths. A key assumption hindering a sociological understanding is that of Western societies tendency to conceptualize individuals as entities distinct from social context. This emphasis on autonomy and freedom of choice preclude recognition of the social forces that limit or constrain such choices. In order to view individual circumstance as a result of broader social patterns Wright Mills (1970:12) developed a perspective called the sociological imagination. This viewpoint encourages an awareness of the relationship between individuals and the wider society, arguing that society, not individual choices are responsible for social problems, thus transforming personal troubles into public issues. A crucial element of the sociological imagination is the ability to ‘step outside’ ones own personal experience and cultural biases to view society from a more objective standpoint, devoid of influence from ones own assumptions (Van Krieken et al. 2010:2). In order to debunk commonsense assumptions about social life sociologist must collect knowledge of such social phenomena. Unless this is produced in a systematic way, any conclusions drawn may only amount to conjecture. Thus, sociologists use empirical evidence to substantiate explanations of social life. Empiricism in sociology means constructing conclusions based on evidence that is documented and gathered with as much objectivity as possible, drawn from observed patterns and information from cases and...
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