Chapter 1: The Sociologically Examined Life

Chapter 1: The Sociologically Examined Life
Schwalbe discusses sociological mindfulness in the first chapter of the text. The chapter
seems to focus on explaining the reason for sociology, and where it fits into our lives.
Schwalbe says that “sociology is often justified on the grounds that it helps people gain
insight into themselves and into society so that they can live more satisfying, selfdetermined, and responsible lives” (2). He then goes on to explain that living responsible
lives means understanding the social consequences of yours thoughts and actions. Being
sociologically mindful, Schwalbe explains, is realizing and understanding that people
must be understood by their “ideas, feelings, desires, bodies, and habits” (3). Schwalbe
then explains why humans sometimes ignore being sociologically mindful. I learned that
they may feel they are powerless to change a situation, or may be clouded by desire for
wealth or status. He finishes the chapter by explaining the differences in liberal,
conservative, and radical theory, and explains that none are the correct ways to live
necessarily, and that regardless or your tendency, labeling an argument of another person
as any of these three categories does not take away from the person’s argument, granted it
is supported with facts.
This chapter reminds me of growing up in rural Currituck County, NC. When Schwalbe
discusses people making racial jokes as not intending to hurt someone, but at the same
time hurting them by reinforcing the social construct of racism in my county.
Furthermore, the piece reminds me of my grandmother and a conversation I had with her
about her childhood growing up in a segregated Currituck. She actually remembers
eating with an African American for the first time. This sounds crazy to us now, but at
the time schools were becoming de-segregated, and socially it was against the norm to be
mixing together. The end of the chapter reminds me of many political arguments with
my friend Aamer, and how I often say “You are very idealistic,” as he is very liberal in
his beliefs. This piece made me question how I listen to his arguments, and promotes
deeper thoughts into why he thinks the way he does.
Chapter 2: The Sociologically Examined Life
In this chapter, Schwalbe explains how society is created by humans sharing common
ideas and values. His examples of money, diplomas, and war helped to illustrate how
ridiculous some of our ideas are, yet shows perfectly the concept of the “power of shared
belief.” I also was fascinated by his point that “Every part of the social world exists only
because of the ideas people embrace and act upon” (16). Also interesting was his point
that families, churches, towns, governments were all just words that we have assigned to
“patterns of activities that involve lots of people” (16). He then explained that these
structures are durable because people refuse to doubt ideas which create these structures.
This is why, he claims, people are so quick to get heated about religion. By questioning
their beliefs, you are questioning the core values which create, for them, a stable
environment, which defines who they are, how they were created, and how to treat others.
Schwalbe also goes on to discuss habits, how they are formed, and how they are
sometimes folded into the culture of society. His argument about brushing your teeth
was a great illustration of this point. Lastly, he discusses how people are masked in
discussions by reification, which he defines as the “tendency to see the humanly made
world as having a will and force of its own, apart from human beings” (21). He explains
that by creating this abstraction from humans, we often create an atmosphere where we
feel powerless to control these reifications, although in reality they are all created and
maintained by humans. Similarly, we discuss race in a similar way. Schwalbe explains
that “it makes it hard to hold anyone accountable for the good or bad results arising from
their actions” (22).
This chapter truly opened my eyes to why people are so protective of their beliefs. I
consider myself atheist, and so when I have discussions about religion, I do not get
worked up about it. This chapter explains why when I do bring up points about religion,
people are often quick to defend themselves, and often find it hard to see my point of
view. Furthermore, the idea that we are masking our actions through reification is also
quite interesting. I have never thought about how we use “technology” and
“government” and “social structure” to mask more than language. But it is true, as I
think about the war in Iraq. I feel better saying “our government invaded Iraq,” yet feel
bad when I think about the fact that we as Americans control of government. It is a
constructed word that I am sure a lot of us use, without even realizing the comfort in
abstracting our involvement in these kind of situations.