Discussion Questions for Critical Sociology
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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...
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