Sunday, September 21, 2008

An Introduction to Sociology

I'm actually preparing for a test- and it's not the night before? Who knew this was possible?


Sociology is the study of society (the scientific study of society.) Scientific study of human social life, groups, and societies. Sociology can be used for lots of different things. It can help us evaluate our experiences and see them as part of a larger whole. Sociology teaches us that what we think of as true, natural and expected might not be any of these. We are individuals in a much larger social hand. One of sociology's goals is to identify general patterns of behavior and be systematic in explaining the social influences on those behavioral patterns.

Averting the Social Headlights is from Erving Goffman. When we see someone walking towards us, we look away (don't stare into someone's eyes whom we don't know.) Sometimes we don't do it- if we want to look at them, know them, or do know them.

Using the sociological imagination- a concept that comes to us from C. Wright-Mills. He says that using our sociological imagination is like thinking ourselves away from the situation. Looking at bigger social influences on the situation and on the person. Allows us to see the intimate realities of our lives as part of larger social trends. Helps to show strong link between an individual's life and the society in which they live.

(Example: Sociology is about looking at living in a bad neighborhood and how that impacts the likelihood that you will graduate/ succeed. Race, class, gender, religion, groups, bureaucracies.)


Auguste Comte (1798-1857) coined the term sociology in 1839, suggested scientific method could be applied to social events. He is the Father of Sociology. He thought we should study not just what causes change in society but also how society stays the same.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) focused on class conflict. He thought there were two types of people, the proletariat (average people) and bourgeois - people with capital, the people who could make money and products. This idea, of everything revolving around class conflict, has to do with economic determinism. Economic foundations provide the foundation for social and political structures, which means class determines how you'll vote/ succeed in society. Marx had a dream of a future society, after the proletariat rise up and take control- in which there is a command society and inequalities will disappear. He wrote The Communist Manifesto among other works. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, 1/3 of the world lived in societies that claimed to draw inspiration from Marx.

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) thought society must study social facts- aspects of social life that shape our actions as individuals.

Organic Solidarity- Institutions that work together to create a cohesive whole
Social integration- degree to which people are a part of social group
Social constraint- society sets limits on our activities as individuals.

He wrote a book called Suicide and said there were two types of suicide that result from an imbalance between societal regulation and personal freedom.

Fatalistic- Society overregulates and allows too little freedom
Anomic- Too much freedom and too little regulation

Who commits suicide? He studies Protestants, Catholics and Jews specifically (Durkheim wanted to figure out which of these people kill themselves the most.) Protestants kill themselves the most. Why? Because there's too little structure in their lives/ they are less socially integrated than Jews. Jews kill themselves the least.

Max Weber (1864-1920) Bureaucracy- large organization that is divided into jobs based on specific functions and staffed by officials ranked by a certain hierarchy. He thought bureaucracies were great for making organizations work, but felt they stifled the individual/ not flexible enough. Weber argues with Marx and says that it's not just about economy, but also religion. He wrote The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism which says that religious value associated with Puritanism were of fundamental importance in creating capitalism. (The Calvinists believe similarly with regard to predeterminism.) Weber says people will work very hard, not just because they are members of the proletariat and need to but to show God has shone his favor upon them.

Symbolic Interactionism was created by George Herbert Mead (1863-1931) and focuses on how symbols are used to develop meaning and communicate. Focus on how individuals are shaped by relationships and interactions. (Example: Engagement rings- bad on a particular finger- we give that meaning)

Functionalism (otherwise called Structural Functionalism)- to study the contribution that a social activity makes to the continuation of society as a whole. There are two types of functions- manifest, and latent. (Can be "functional" or "dysfunctional" as well.)
The idea here is that everything in society is going to serve a purpose. Question is what everything contributes to the whole. Homelessness, for example, provides many jobs- social workers, non-profit organizations, day laborer, a reminder of what could happen to you. Functions can be manifest or latent. Manifest is what we intended- send people to school to learn how to read (manifest function.) Latent is an unintended consequence (sending kids to school, where they will learn how to sit still and follow directions, which will help them in the workplace later on, for instance.)

Marxism (or Conflict Theory)- Society is made up of groups competing for scarce resources. Power/ authority and then ideology. Today feminist theory. Power/ authority is the ability a group has to accomplish their aims. An ideology is going to be a shared set of beliefs that justify the interests of the dominant group.

(Ideology of submission- Christian women supposed to submit to their husbands. Ideology can be used to help keep people in their spot/ ensure people stay there.)

Feminist theory brings in conflict theory-says part of the problem is men aren't doing their share.

Macrosociology (macro analysis)- Examination of large scale social systems or patterns of society. Usually used by functionalists and conflict theorists. This is looking at the big picture- interaction of large scale systems- how families interact with political systems.

Microsociology (micro analysis)- Everyday behavior in situation s of face-to-face interactions. Usually used by symbolic interactionists. People to people, basically, classrooms, for instance, person to person interactions.


This deals with microsociology (one-on-one).

Social Structure- There is a framework of society. It tends to override personal feelings and desires. Learned due to place in social structure, culture, class and status. There is an organizing principle to our society- help decide how we're going to act in certain situations/ help give us direction. At some point in our life we learn where we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to act.

Culture includes language, beliefs, values, behaviors and gestures.
Class is a combination of your economic background, education and occupational prestige.
Status is the position someone occupies (example: convicted felon is low status vs. elected official.) Our relationship to other people/ where we are in a hierarchy of positions.

Do we have different expectations for how people of different cultures, classes and statii will act?

Class and Status- Social class is your income, education and occupation. Weber states wealth, power and prestige. Marx states capitalists and workers. Social Status can either be ascribed or achieved. Ascribed statues are things you're born with- race or ethnicity, your social class, birth order (firstborn male, for example, getting the double portion.) Achieved statii- success in school, homecoming queen or a champion swimmer. Achieved you earn.

Master status- Status that takes precedence, what people see first. It'd be Sex/Age/Race/ Handicapped. This is what you'll see when you look at somebody. Now, you can't see all handicaps- you can see glasses, wheelchairs, etc.

Status inconsistency is where one status contradicts the other.

Roles- Behaviors, obligations and privileges attached to status. Roles tell us what is expected of people. Role exit is when we leave a role. We are going to occupy a status, but we play a role. (A former priest who leaves observance and has to sit through a sermon- conflicted about what he is doing/ feels like he should be up there giving the sermon. Or leaving student role and going into the workplace.)

Groups- People who regularly and consciously interact with each other. similar values, norms and expectations (group membership will affect their roles, statii, etc.)

Social Interaction in Everyday Life is a book written by Goffman.

There are stereotypes, personal space, touching and eye contact. How we label groups- how we expect people to act sometimes/ inaccurate portrayals based slightly on facts.

PERSONAL SPACE: There are four different types.

1. Intimate space: 0 to 18 inches. We leave this for intimate people, parents when we are young, boyfriends/ what happens if someone comes too close who you don't want coming that close? We don't like it (in different cultures, it would be different distances)

2. Personal space: 18 inches to 4 feet. Interactions with people, friends, acquaintances.

3. Social distance: 4 to 12 feet. This is for job interviews, formal meetings.

4. Public space: 12 feet and beyond. Dignitaries and speakers.

Touching- subordinates don't touch the people above them. The boss might touch the person below them. You won't see a subordinate doing that. Touching is how we show who is dominant.

Eye contact- We reserve eye contact for intimates- we do not stare into the eyes of people we do not want to know.


Erving Goffman (1922-1982) came up with dramaturgy. Dramaturgy is the idea that life is like a play. Front stage is where we put ourselves out to our audience, show them who we are. Back stage is where we do our preparation for this (put on costumes, makeup and suchlike.) What do we do back stage? Shower, floss, clip nails.

Role performance is the particular interpretation/ presentation that we give to our role. We have ideas of what people should look like in particular roles (teachers, lawyers, etc.) We'll also sometimes have role conflict- that will be conflict between our roles. Student who has a job- conflict between being a student and being a worker. Role strain is strain within a role, conflict within a role.

(Back stage behavior that you do in front of others does NOT necessarily make it front stage behavior.)

Sign vehicles are used to communicate information about ourselves. There are three types of sign vehicles:

1. Social setting- place which includes all the appropriate materials to decorate the setting (whiteboard, chalk, desks, classroom for a teacher, for example)

2. Appearance- This includes all of our props for the role (chalk, paperclips= teacher, wipes, crayons= mother)

3. Manner- usually act very mature, tells people you are responsible or serious- attitudes we show as we play our roles


What is culture?
-Values held by a certain group
-The norms they follow
-Material goods they create

Values are abstract ideals. They can include things like freedom and individualism, a belief in a higher power...

Norms are the dos and don'ts of society. (We have a norm in New York of jay-walking. Other cities are not quite so brave. You can't jaywalk in Seattle.)

Culture is also going to include language and beliefs.

Our culture, and everyone's, is socially constructed- something we tend not to think about. (Person wearing Star of David- that only has meaning to us because of the meaning we give it.) We agree as a society to give something meaning. And something only has meaning because we give it to them.

(Tongue-curling is not meaningful in our society. Or, here we eat hamburgers, and in India not.)


-Using one's culture to judge another's culture
-Usually negative results

(My culture is right and you are wrong. You should eat hamburgers like me, says the fool to the native of India.) Being ethnocentric is like looking at other people's cultures through your own set of glasses.

What have we done in the past? Strategies for dealing with different cultures/ immigrants:

1. Assimilation
2. Melting pot
3. Pluralism
4. Multiculturalism

Assimilation: Having people come in, teaching them your ways and having them assimilate. White-breading of America. Assimilation is also called anglo-conformity. When they become Americans, they are rewarded- given better jobs, etc.

Melting Pot- Everything (everyone comes together in a cholent/ stew)- everything comes in and we mix it all up and everything is combined.

Pluralism is when all ethnic groups retain separate and independent identities, yet share equally in the rights and powers of citizenship. (You can still have separate neighborhoods/ identities.)

Multiculturalism- Ethnic groups exist separately and share equally in social and economic life. (Also can participate fully in society.)

Nazi Germany- Jews taken out of social and economic life- in pluralism, you can vote. In multiculturalism, you'll be reading books by dead white men, but also Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the like.


-Culture involves a tool-kit of practices, knowledge and symbols
-Ann Swindler
-Cultural capital

Tool-Kit:It is like you are born with an invisible, empty toolbox, and you learn things as you grow. Took-kit idea was advanced by Ann Swindler. Cultural capital are the tools in the tool kit.

Culture shock! -Disorientation felt when you come into contact with a fundamentally different culture.

Cultural Relativism- Understanding a culture on its own terms and also attempting to refocus our cultural lens. Trying to leave our assumptions behind (about what's natural and good)- paying attention to race and class divisions and folklore and sex roles (role of men, role of women)- also need to be aware of what our culture is like.

Nonmaterial/ symbolic culture- Symbol is something we attach meaning to or use to communicate. Gestures, language- but we can also attach meaning to someone's necklace/ brother/ aunt, etc.

Gestures are not universal. Every culture has gestures, but we don't use the same gestures to mean the same thing overall.

Expressions *are* universal. Facial expressions *are* universal.

Language are symbols that can be combined in an infinite number of ways and used to communicate in long-lost ways.


1. Allows people to communicate in past and future tense
2. Allows us to exchange ideas and share understandings
3. Allows for goal-directed behavior
4. Is the basis of culture (the fact that we give lots and lots of words for something shows how important it is)
5. Not just limited to humans (there was a parrot who was taught how to speak, not just repeating but knowing how to combine different words)

Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: Culture is not only expressed through language but also shaped by language. Zerubavel was an Israeli sociologist who focused on classifications. In Israel, never knew the difference between jam and jelly (because there was no word for that in Hebrew.)

Women are expected to learn lots of words and names for colors- don't expect man to tell the difference so much.

Norms, Values & Sanctions

Values: Desirable
Norms: Expectations or rules
Sanctions: Reactions to following or breaking the norms. These can be positive reactions or negative reactions.

Values are what is desirable. Norms are expectations and rules, dos and don'ts. Sanctions can be good or bad- how one reacts. Sanctions are reactions to breaking or following the norms.

Folkways and Mores: Folkways are not strictly enforced. Mores, which are pronounced MORE-ays, are essential to core values- and we must have conformity. An example of a folkway would be jaywalking in New York, or men wearing shirts (in certain weather, it is perfectly acceptable for men not to wear shirts.) Mores are what one *must do* (like wearing pants, or something to cover the lower half of one's body, or for example, not DUI.)

Moral Holidays: These are specified times when people are allowed to break norms. They often involve being drunk or rowdy. They are a *deviance outlet* and are *found everywhere*. Examples include: Halloween (when women can wear very sexy, barely-anything costumes they could not wear normally), St. Patrick's Day (drunk), New Year's Eve, Mardi Gras and the like.

Every culture has to have some kind of escape valve for deviance, acting-out behavior and extreme behavior.

Taboo: Norm so strongly ingrained that it brings revulsion if one considers breaking it (incest, beastiality, cannibalism, eating feces.)

American Values, page 52:

-Achievement & Success
-Activity & Work
-Efficiency and practicality
-Science & Technology
-Material Comfort
-Racism & group superiority
-Romantic Love

Social change: We have value contradictions- when we see social change. Eemrgiving values currently include: Leisure, self-fulfillment, fitness, youthfulness, concern for the environment. Culture wars are between the old culture and the up-and-coming culture.


Ideal culture: Values, norms and goals that th society considers worth aspiring for (ideal!)
Real:Where we actually end up

(Examples of high culture vs. low culture would be opera vs. rock and rap)


Subculture:: Distinguished from larger culture
Counterculture: In opposition to the larger culture

Subculture is a group whose values and behaviors distinguishCounterculture is in opposition to the larger culture. Most groups are subcultures- very few are countercultures. An example of counterculture: Satanists, who believe in blood sacrficies. Hell's Angels- a motorcycle gang which focused on committing crimes and so forth.

Subculture- supports rest of the culture but might have one thing they do different (tango in Central Park)

GLOBAL VILLAGE: Technology allows for cultural leveling.


So, how do we study society? In different ways, depending on what we want to know.


1. Empirical (factual and testable)
2. Comparative (contrasting examples, US & Canada, men and women)
3. Developmental (comparing past and present)

Note to self: Read a book called Bachelor Girl.



gayle said...

An original and stimulating introduction to sociology that is informed and written to meet the needs of a new generation of students. Very Good/No Jacket.

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