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Introduction to Sociology

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Topics: Sociology
Introduction to Sociology
Society is a complex structure that both creates and modifies itself continually. One area of society affects another directly or indirectly. The ideology of society influences decisions made on marriage, economics, love, freedom, politics, etc. Recognizing these different facets of life does not assist with the explanation of their existence, perpetuation, or evolution. What is needed to research these different aspects of life is a social science method that, using rigor and good practice, will address the core behaviours of the individuals involved in the interactions within a society. A sociologist seeks to make sense of the beliefs and values of the personalities interacting within the complex society that is continually being recreated.
Karl Marx (Marxism)
Sociologist Karl Marx (1818-1883) believed that he could study society using a scientific method to try to predict social outcomes. His theory is called Marxist theory. For Marx, production is essential for the advancement of society. Associated with the creation of goods there will be, eventually, a few individuals that will control the majority of the resources and their means of production.
The division of social class marks the place for conflict in Marx's theory. Owning the means of production elevates a person's class status while all other workers are forced to find a way to make money using their skills. Marx's Labour Theory of Value states that human productive power will be exploited in order to maximize profits for the bourgeois. Exploitation of the workers' (the proletariat) skills produces goods valued at more than the workers are being paid. This process reinforces that profit is made by a company, ultimately making the rich richer. This illustrates that money and economics are driving forces in our society. Understanding the enormous influence money has on our society is the key to understanding how any given society is organized.
Marxism also focuses on the negative nature of changing a society. Marx argues businesses are potential exploiters and he fails to recognize the positive nature of the bourgeois. As a modern example, automotive companies aim to increase profits with the movement of automotive production to places where there is a lower wage. Paying the workers a lower wage than North American workers increases the profits for the automotive company. There is an increased benefit for the same standard of production of goods.
To learn more about Karl Marx and his theory of Marxism, watch this short video
Talcott Parsons (Structural Functionalism)
There is a saying that "as much as things change they stay the same". Structural functionalism is a theory that embraces this doctrine. Talcott Parsons, a structural functionalist, believed that society will create structures within itself that will assist with its fundamental functioning requirements. That is, our society will work to achieve a homeostasis where equilibrium will be maintained by its interdependent social structures (parts). Every aspect of society contributes to the successful function of another aspect. Each relies on the other to contribute meaningfully to its function. When part of the system breaks down, it is necessary for the other components of the society to take over the function of the missing social structure, or to assist with the recreation of the malfunctioning social structure. For example, it is necessary to have a legal system to keep people following the laws made to maintain the system. If the legal system falls apart, people will take over enforcing the rules.
Structural functionalism deals with the maintenance of a society. It does not look at social change. It looks at changes in the system and will seek a way to return it to its normal functioning state.
Take a few minutes to view this video that further explains the concept of Functionalism.

Questions
Think about a local example of an institution that contributes to the stability in your local society.
How does this institution stabilize your community?
What does this institution require in order to continue to function?
What would happen to your community if this institution ceased to exist?

George H. Mead (Symbolic Interactionism)
Society is not only its institutions creating stability or the conflict between the different classes of its citizens. Symbolic Interactionism focuses on how human beings interpret or "define" each other's actions. Their "response" is not made directly to the actions of one another, but instead is based on the meaning which they attach to such actions. That is, we interpret what we see based on what we know. People influence their surroundings and shape the development of a society. Mead theorized that individuals learn and react from interactions within a society. The society shapes the individual as he/she is shaping the society. Our individuality and sense of self arises from our experiences in the society in which we live. Our group interactions help to form our individual selves. Instead of approaching human experience in terms of individual psychology, Mead analyzes experience from the "standpoint of communication as essential to the social order." At an individual level a person will interpret what s/he sees based on his/her core value system and thus makes an interpretation of a social fact. For example, one person may value riches and prestige as a result of his/her experiences in a privileged level of society, while another person may value charity work. Each person believes their value to be the most valid because of their distinct experiences within their society.
View this video for more information concerning the theory of symbolic interactionism.
Feminism
The women’s suffrage movement promotes pro-women initiatives
Social theory has examined social structures and economic practices thus far. The Feminist ideology offers another unique interpretation of society. Within the Feminist approach there are different focuses. Liberal Feminists examine social institutions and address issues of equal access to increase women’s influence on society. Radical Feminists focus on the exploitation of women. They seek to change the patriarchal social structures through complete structural changes within a society to equalize the rights of women. Marxist Feminists focus on women’s labour being undervalued and underpaid. Paying women less ensures that males are the dominant ruling class, thus creating a “glass ceiling” for women who wish to rise in the social structure. Socialist Feminists look at the overthrow of the capitalist system of economics and believe that this system is the root of the problem between male and female power struggles.
Let's take a closer look at the concept of feminism by viewing this video.

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