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Chapter One: How to Think Sociologically
Are religious and scientific views of the world necessarily in conflict with each other? How are they either contradictory or complementary?
Sociology arose through the massive changes we call modernization. What other examples can you identify where social change (large or small) has prompted people to think about their world in a different way?
Sociologists like to say “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” What are some good examples of this sociological principle known as emergentism?
Some of sociology’s richest insights involve unintended consequences. What examples can you provide of actions that “backfire” on people and led to outcomes that they neither anticipated nor wanted?
What is meant by “objectivity” in social science? Is this goal either possible or desirable? Why or why not?
Chapter Two: The Legacy of the Discipline
Is a science of society really possible? What examples suggest that we can apply the same scientific principles to understand society that we do to understand nature?
Must a science of society be different from a science of nature? What is it about people (as opposed to atoms, planets, chemicals, or gases) that require a different kind of scientific approach?
How does social science differ from common sense? What common sense ideas or beliefs about the world are challenged or contradicted by social scientific knowledge?
One type of sociology – critical sociology – rests on values of freedom and equality. How can these values be justified or defended as the basis of a sociological approach?
Scientific, humanistic, and critical sociology rest on different premises. Choose some social process or phenomenon and discuss how it would be studied differently by each of these three approaches.
Chapter Three: Toward a Critical Sociology
How can rational means lead to unreasonable outcomes? What is a real-life example of people using instrumental rationality and producing an outcome that is irrational or unreasonable?
How valid is the concept of “internalized oppression?” What examples can you give where people accept ideas, values or beliefs about themselves that contribute to their own inequality or powerlessness?
In an ideal speech situation, communication is not distorted by power differences, hidden interests, or social inequality, and the best argument produces a consensus. What real world examples most closely approximate these conditions, and what examples are furthest removed from these conditions?
According to the colonization thesis, much of everyday life is shaped and distorted by larger forces of profit and power. What examples support and illustrate this idea? What parts of social life manage to escape this colonizing force?
New social movements are one way of resisting the colonization of our lives. What are the most prominent examples of such movements today? How do you evaluate their relative degree of success or failure in achieving their goals?
Chapter Four: A Late Capitalist World
Marx expected capitalism would bring alienation, exploitation and economic crises. What current economic conditions or processes can you identify that either support or contradict these expectations about capitalism?
State intervention helped capitalism survive the Great Depression, but some now argue that we should reduce the role of government in the economy. What forms might this take, and what might be the consequences of such a change in our everyday lives?
A rationality crisis occurs when the state becomes overburdened with too many obligations. What are some current examples of a rationality crisis?
A legitimation crisis occurs when people withdraw their support and actively challenge elites. Given all the problems in contemporary society, why aren’t we seeing more challenges to the legitimacy of the system that produces those problems?
A motivation crisis occurs when a generation raised to be self-directed and autonomous encounters authoritarian workplaces and bureaucracies demanding conformity. What evidence do you see of this kind of motivation crisis in your generation?
Chapter Five: The State of the State
According to Max Weber, nation-states are ultimately rooted in control of force or coercion. What real-world examples either support or contradict this view of the modern nation-state?
Pluralists argue that political power is widely dispersed in modern society. What do you see as the best evidence that supports the pluralist theory of power?
Elite theory and neo-Marxist theory argue that power is concentrated in the hands of a small elite or a ruling class. What do you see as the best evidence that supports these views of power?
Considering all three theories (pluralism, elite theory, neo-Marxism), which one do you find most convincing as an analysis of our contemporary society? Why?
It is sometimes argued that wars benefit the elites of the countries that wage them. What kinds of benefits do elites realize from warfare? To what extent does this explain the origins and/or continuation of wars?
Chapter Six: A Mass-Mediated World
The concept of habitus suggests that groups without a lot of cultural capital come to see themselves as inferior or undeserving of any better status. Such beliefs then help recreate inequality. Is this convincing? What examples or counterexamples support or refute this view of the role of habitus?
Are mass media basically a propaganda machine? What evidence or examples either support or refute the claim that our mass media essentially distribute propaganda in the guise of “news?”
Conventional mass media are hierarchical and centralized, but many people argue that computer mediated forms of communication are more decentralized and egalitarian. Do you find this argument convincing or unconvincing? Why?
American culture relentlessly promotes consumerism. Do you see our preoccupation with shopping and buying commodities as a form of domination or as a means of self-expression?
Mass or popular culture is a pervasive force in modern society. In what ways does it control or manipulate us? In what ways do we remain in control of these powerful forces and images all around us?
Chapter Seven: The Crucible of Class
What do you see as the most fundamental type of social inequality today? What logic or evidence supports your choice against alternatives?
How many classes are there in U. S. society today? How do you draw the lines or define the boundaries separating one class from another?
Some argue that social class has become less important in a post-industrial society. Do you agree? What are some ways in which social class continues to be a central dimension of our society?
Consider the double-diamond model of class structure described in this chapter. What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of this model for capturing the most important aspects of how social class operates in contemporary society?
Education has often been promoted as a social equalizer but it seems to contribute to the transmission of inequality. What evidence or examples can you cite to support either one of these claims?
Chapter Eight: The Social Construction of Race
Common sense sees race as biological but sociology sees is as socially constructed. Do you find the sociological argument persuasive even though it contradicts common sense? Why or why not?
What is your racial or ethnic heritage? How closely do the larger models of ethnic assimilation or internal colonialism apply to your own family history?
Consider the various forms of discrimination (interpersonal, institutional, intentional, unintentional, etc.) Which of these have you experienced or witnessed? How pervasive do you believe they are in contemporary society?
Institutional discrimination seems especially difficult to eradicate. Given this, what types of “affirmative action” would be fair and just to all groups as we attempt to eliminate institutional discrimination?
Race is often taken to refer to minorities. Why is it difficult to see whites and whiteness as a race as well? What does it tell us about the politics of race that the term is so readily associated with minorities and so rarely applied to whites?
Chapter Nine: Gendered Selves and Worlds
The social construction of gender often emphasizes or exaggerates gender differences and translates them into gender inequality. What examples or evidence do you see that supports or refutes this argument?
Norms about sexuality and sexual behavior have historically reinforced male domination and privilege. What examples help illustrate this point, and what recent trends suggest that this pattern of male domination may be changing (or continuing)?
Socialist feminists argue that the gender division of labor operates in both the private and public spheres to the benefit of men and capitalists and the disadvantage of women. Do you find this argument persuasive? How might you criticize it?
The notion of a matrix of domination suggests that everyone occupies multiple identities and positions. What are your identities in terms of social class, race/ethnicity, and sex/gender? Which identity(ies) is most salient, and what privileges and disadvantages are attached to each of your identities?
Judith Butler suggests that gender and gender identity are not core realities as much as they are performances that we all partake in. Is gender nothing more than a “performance?” What are the implications of this view for how we see gender?
Chapter Ten: The Emergence of the Individual
Even in modern societies with organic solidarity, there are subcultures based more on mechanical solidarity. What are some examples of such subcultures, and how do they differ from the dominant society?
Can you identify a situation you have experienced that Durkheim might describe as anomic? How did you respond in this situation if there were no clear or obvious guidelines about how you were supposed to behave?
In modern society, the transition from child to adult has been separated by the intermediate stage of adolescence. What social indicators signify the end of adolescence and the beginning of adulthood in this society?
Social critics point out that our pursuit of individualism leaves us feeling lonely and isolated from others. Do you agree? Is there a way out of this dilemma that balances both individuality and connections with others?
People often seek to “find themselves” through some adventure or process of exploration. Can you identify any turning points in your own biography where a certain experience helped solidify your own sense of identity? Chapter Eleven: How We Become Who We Are
Construct your own sociograph. Try to include everyone you interact with on a regular basis. Which people in your network have the greatest influence on your identity or sense of self? What else can you learn from this exercise?
Can you identify some gestures that are significant symbols for some people or groups but not for others? How do such symbols help establish group boundaries and define group identity?
Mead describes the self a consisting of an impulsive “I” and a socialized “Me.” What are some examples of tensions between the I and the Me as people interact in the social world? How are such tensions resolved?
Identities are solidified when announcements by self and placements by others coincide. Describe some cases where these are inconsistent either because someone claims an identity not recognized by others or is assigned an identity they don’t accept.
Going to prison is one example of “suspended identity.” What are some other examples of situations where people surrender an identity for a significant amount of time? How do people manage such transitions between identities?
Chapter Twelve: The Sociology of Everyday Life
Describe some taken-for-granted assumptions you make on a daily basis. Now describe some situation where one or more of these assumptions proved to be untrue. How did you react and what did you conclude about your assumption(s)?
Consider a recent conversation you had with a friend. Can you distinguish between what was literally said and how it was understood? What ethnomethodological techniques did you use to make sense of the conversation?
Have you ever been in a situation were someone “made trouble” in Garfinkel’s sense of the term? What happened to undermine people’s sense of social order and how did they react to the situation?
Goffman suggests that we are always involved with impression management and staging performances for others. Are there any situations where this is not true? Is there ever an “authentic self” that does not rely on these dramaturgical processes?
The notion of a commodified self suggests that we construct our identity to be marketable, popular, or in demand. What examples can you give of this process? Do you see this as good or bad?
Chapter Thirteen: The Challenge of Globalization
Many people claim that globalization is turning the world into a “global village.” What examples or evidence support this view? What examples or evidence contradict this view?
Mass media often cover global problems of hunger, poverty and debt. How are these problems framed and explained? Do these media accounts tend to “blame the victims” or do they recognize external causes of such problems?
The United States enjoyed unprecedented dominance through much of the 20th century. What examples or evidence suggest the U. S. will either retain or lose its position of global dominance as the 21st century unfolds?
Globalization seems to promote cultural homogenization as different places adopt similar cultural practices and products. What examples can you cite of this process? Do you see this as a good or a bad thing?
How do you assess the impact of globalization on the average U. S. citizen? Has it affected them for better or worse? How might a different kind of globalization provide more benefits and fewer drawbacks?
Chapter Fourteen:The Role of Social Movements
What images come to mind when you think of social movements? Are they positive or negative images? Do you think there are biases in how the mainstream media depicts protests and protesters?
Have you ever been part of any kind of social movement or collective action to bring about change? How did you become involved and were your efforts successful?
Why do some social movements succeed while others fail? What combination of factors is most important in leading movements to either success or failure?
Social movements have made vital contributions to making the U. S. more equal and democratic. How much were you taught about these movements and contributions in your high school and college classes on history, civics, or politics?
The current Iraq war is now as unpopular as the Vietnam War became in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the Vietnam case, there was a mass anti-war movement. Why is there no equally massive anti-war movement against the Iraq war now?
Chapter Fifteen: The Case for Democracy
Have you ever participated in a truly democratic process of decision-making? What was it like? Was the decision or outcome a better one than if the decision had been made in some other fashion?
Most workplaces are bureaucratic if not authoritarian. If your workplace adopted democratic principles of decision-making, how would it operate differently from the way it does now?
Do elections in the U. S. provide meaningful input for ordinary citizens? What obstacles limit such input and what reforms might enhance citizen control over governmental processes?
Is it possible in a large and complex society like the U. S. to approximate an ideal speech situation of truly participatory democracy? How might newer forms of communication technology hinder or enhance the prospects for a richer democracy?
“Free spaces” are critical to nurturing democracy. What does this concept mean, and what examples can you cite of free spaces in contemporary society that can help incubate a more democratic form of politics?