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Sociology: the study of group interactions, societies, and social
interactions, from small and personal groups to very large
Society: a group of people who live in a defined geographic area, who interact with one another, and who
share a common culture.
Sociologists learn about society as a whole while studying one-to-one and group interactions.Micro-level:
analysis of small groups and individual interactions.Macro-level: analysis of large groups and societies
Sociological imagination: an awareness of the relationship between a person’s behavior and experience
and the wider culture that shaped the person’s choices and perceptions.
Auguste Comte‚Äč is considered by many to be the father of sociology. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Commons)Positivism: the scientific study of social patterns.
Harriet Martineau (1802-1876)-the first female sociologist-translated Comte’s work to English-experienced
gender discrimination
Karl Marx was one of the founders of sociology.
Herbert Spencer: survival of the fittest Emile Durkheim: academic discipline Max Weber: objectivity
Scientific method: an interpretative framework that helps to increase our understanding of societies and
social interactions
Hypothesis: a testable educated guess about predicted outcomes between two or more variables
Hawthorne effect-where people change their behavior because they know they are being watched as part
of a study
Ethnocentrism: evaluating and judging another culture based on how it compare’s to one’s own cultural
Culture Shock: the feeling or experience of disorientation and frustration when confronted with all of the
differences of a new culture
Xenocentrism: refers to the belief that another culture is superior to one’s own
Experiencing new cultures offers an opportunity to practice cultural relativism.
Elements of Culture: values, beliefs, norms, symbols, language
Popular Culture: refers to the pattern of cultural experiences and attitudes that exist in mainstream society
Subculture: a smaller cultural group within a larger culture that share a specific identity
Counterculture: a type of subculture that rejects some of the dominant culture’s norms and values
Preindustrial Societies
Before the Industrial Revolution and the widespread use of machines, societies were small, rural, and
dependent largely on local resources. Economic production was limited to the amount of labor a human
being could provide, and there were few specialized occupations. The very first occupation was that of
Hunter-gatherer societies demonstrate the strongest dependence on the environment of the various types
of preindustrial societies.
Industrial Society
In the eighteenth century, Europe experienced a dramatic rise in technological invention, ushering in an
era known as the Industrial Revolution. What made this period remarkable was the number of new
inventions that influenced people’s daily lives. Within a generation, tasks that had until this point required
months of labor became achievable in a matter of days. Before the Industrial Revolution, work was largely
person- or animal-based, and relied on human workers or horses to power mills and drive pumps. In
1782, James Watt and Matthew Boulton created a steam engine that could do the work of twelve horses
by itself.
Postindustrial Society
Information societies, sometimes known as postindustrial or digital societies, are a recent development.
Unlike industrial societies that are rooted in the production of material goods, information societies are
based on the production of information and services.
Digital technology is the steam engine of information societies, and computer moguls such as Steve Jobs
and Bill Gates are its John D. Rockefellers and Cornelius Vanderbilts. Since the economy of information
societies is driven by knowledge and not material goods, power lies with those in charge of storing and
distributing information. Members of a postindustrial society are likely to be employed as sellers of
services—software programmers or business consultants, for example—instead of producers of goods.
Social classes are divided by access to education, since without technical skills, people in an information
society lack the means for success.
The functionalist perspective, also called functionalism, is one of the major theoretical perspectives in
sociology. It has its origins in the works of Emile Durkheim, who was especially interested in how social
order is possible or how society remains relatively stable. As such, it is a theory that focuses on the
macro-level of social structure, rather than the micro-level of everyday life. Notable theorists include
Herbert Spencer, Talcott Parsons, and Robert K. Merton.
Social conflict theory sees social life as a competition and focuses on the distribution of resources, power,
and inequality. Conflict theorists view society as an arena of inequality that generates social conflict and
social change. Karl Marx is considered the father of social conflict theory