Introduction to Sociology and the Sociological Perspective I. What is

Introduction to Sociology and the Sociological Perspective
I. What is Sociology?
A. A simple definition: A systematic study of how society and social groups
affect individual behavior.
B. Lemert’s definition: The science of social things, external to the individual.
II. The Origins of Sociology
A. Industrial revolution
B. The success of the American and French Revolution
C. Imperialism
III. Sociology as a Science
A. Systematic study
1. More than armchair speculation
2. Science has a “empirical” component
a. Data collection
b. Data analysis
c. Data interpretation
B. Aims to be relevant and maintain value neutrality
1. Relevant in the selection of issues
2. Neutral through method selection to let the “data” speak for itself
Durkheim’s study of Suicide:
An Empirical Example
A. Compared suicide “rates” =number of people who commit suicide times
the population
B. Units of analysis: Countries & Religious faiths
Cross country analysis
Protestant countries
Suicide per
million people
Mixed (p&c)
Catholic countries
Within country analysis
Prussian Provinces (1883-1890)
% Protestant
Average suicide rate
per million people
1. Social integration reduces suicide
a. Principles of Catholicism reduce insecurity in individuals
and provide more social integration
b. Protestantism provides less absolutism regarding conduct
allowing for more free will
IV. Three Reasons we Study Sociology?
A. A description of social life
1. Statistical description
2. Context using verbal description
Explore relationships between variables
-Variable: An attribute or quality that can take on different values.
1. Examples of questions involving variables
-Do higher levels of socio-economic status (SES) lead to lower levels
of psychological distress?
2. Limitations to exploring Social Relationships
a. Relationships indicate tendencies not determinism
b. Relationships are usually bound by time and space.
C. Third reason to study Sociology: Theory building and testing
1. Theory: General explanation for a group of related observations
V. Theoretical approaches or “Paradigms”
A. Symbolic interactionism-emphasizes the role of social encounters
in creating meaning (This approach focuses on the way we learn
our roles and understand our norms through the process of
interaction with other members of society.)
1. Key Figures
a. George Herbert Mead
b. Erving Goffman (Lemert pg. 26)
2. Consider an Example:
B. Structural functionalism
1. Sees society as an organic unit (Consider society as a body with
multiple organs. Each organ functions to benefit the body as a
whole. Functionalism considers that each
component/structure/institution in society also serves a purpose for
society as a whole and functioning/well-being of the individual
2. Assumes that many social practices contribute to the survival of
3. Key Figures
– Emile Durkheim
– Robert Merton
• Manifest function-an element intended to help some part of the
• Latent function-unintended consequences but that also help some
part of the system.
• Latent dysfunction-unintended consequences that can hurt a
Consider an example: Divorce
C. Conflict (of particular importance to the conflict perspective is that society
is comprise of competing groups and those in power are imposing
sanctions and limitations on the activities and life opportunities of the
groups who have less power).
Key Figure: Karl Marx
Sees society as an arena for struggle
Explores how some come to dominate others
Consider an example: Divorce
VI. The Sociological Perspective
A. Structure of a society
B. Where does the society stand in history
C. What varieties of men and women live in this society
-Result: Social Location
A different way to consider sociological perspective/Sociological Imagination
A. A simple definition: The realization that personal “troubles” are
related to larger “issues”
1. Trouble—a private matter
– Example Joblessness
2. Issue—a matter of public interest
– The Economy
B. Two important components of the Sociological Imagination:
1. The history of society
2. The life of the individual