Introduction to Sociology
Chapter 1: Sociology and the Real World
Instructor: Jacqueline R. Popp
Note: I have added notes to give you more information for each slide. Some of you may prefer the word file script of the same material.
· What is sociology? How does it differ from psychology? Why is sociology important?
· How will you use a sociological imagination?
· What are theoretical approaches and theories?
· What are the three major theoretical approaches?
· Which theoretical approach appeals to you the most? Why?
· Sociology Defined
· Sociology and psychology share similarities and have differences as fields of inquiry.
· Sociology is “the systematic or scientific study of human society and social behavior, from large-scale institutions and mass culture to small groups and individual interactions” (9).
Many students begin their study of the social sciences in psychology, although sociology and anthropology are social sciences, too. Thus, psychology and sociology are similar due to being social sciences. As far as differences, psychologists focus on the individual, the mind, and how the mind connects to behavior. On the other hand, sociologists direct their attention on large systems in society and how these systems impact people’s lives. For example, a sociologist might study how the banking industry impacts our society in the United States, and in turn, how this impacts real people’s lives (e.g., foreclosures and homelessness). Sociologists often study inequality between groups in society.
Sociology is “the systematic or scientific study of human society and social behavior, from large-scale institutions and mass culture to small groups and individual interactions” (9). Sociologists are professionally trained to find answers to important questions about society using the scientific methods and other techniques of enquiry that we will cover in chapter 2. These tools are then used to aid in understanding our world, informing public policy, and hopefully, improving the quality of life of people.
· Example of Sociological Study
· An example of a sociological study is Arlie Hochschild’s book, “The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling.”
· Past work studies
· Emotional labor
· Flight Attendants
· Bill Collectors
· Your jobs
This is by no means the most important sociological study, but it is recent and a favorite of mine because it relates to so many people’s lives in our culture. In fact, many of you may have to perform emotional labor in your jobs. In the field of work sociology, researchers prior to Hochschild often focused only on mental and physical labor of jobs. However, Hochschild noted that we’ve become a service economy, meaning that many of our jobs relate to customer service. Therefore, there is a new component to our jobs called emotional labor. Emotional labor is “the management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display” (7). This may sound complicated, but it is a fairly easy idea. To complete our jobs, we often have to act happy (or other emotions) that we do not actually feel. Many students perform jobs that require this “acting.” You may have to smile when a customer is being rude to you. Hochschild observed flight attendants and bill collectors. Flight attendants were told in training that they had to smile and act happy no matter how someone was treating them. A customer might be cursing them out, or even threatening them, but the employees were expected to have a smile on their faces. On the other hand, bill collectors had to act stern, stoic, and sometimes actually angry in their jobs. In a later chapter, we will discuss the term power. Power “is the ability to control the actions of others” (273). How might power play a role in how much emotional labor a person has to do for their occupation? How might this relate to social class? In a discussion post, you will discuss a time when you had to perform emotional labor. The more examples you create, the more likely you will remember the idea.
She found that there were negative costs of emotional labor, and researchers since Hochschild have found some evidence that emotional labor can cause harm. It really depends on the situation. While you may be thinking that this sounds more like psychology than sociology, it is actually a great example of how the social context around us, in this case, the workplace, can impact how we act, and even how we feel. Our culture in the U.S. also often tells us that boys shouldn’t cry, and girls shouldn’t feel angry. These rules for emotions are not the same worldwide.
· The Sociological Imagination
· C. Wright Mills (1916-1962) [The high energy Texan]
· The significance of The Sociological Imagination
· Thinking with your “sociological imagination” means that you should be thinking creatively about your society and your place in your society. Mills issued a challenge to other sociologists, stating that they were not being creative enough.
C. Wright Mills was born in Texas and died of his fourth heart attack. He was a very intense person, and he pushed for change in the field of sociology. Mills was very high energy, and he didn’t even have chairs in his vacation home due to the fact that he was always standing and moving. He wrote important books like “The Sociological Imagination” and “The Power Elite.” For now, we are going to focus on the sociological imagination. “The Sociological Imagination” is both a book and a concept. One of the major ideas in it is that people, including sociologists, should be thinking more creatively about their societies. We should wake up and be alert to the realities around us. Often, teachers will admonish students to “think with their sociological imaginations” in sociology class. In essence, this means “to think outside of the box.” We’re so used to the way our society works that we don’t often question why things work the way they do. Mills would say that we need to wake up.
A definition of the sociological imagination is “a quality of the mind that allows us to understand the relationship between our individual circumstances and larger social forces” (12). It means seeing how historical and social forces impact our biographies, meaning the story of our lives. The next slide has some important examples.
· Two Key Ideas of Mills
· Organizations shape our lives.
· Individual problems may be social problems.
C. Wright Mills had two key ideas: (1) Organizations shape our lives, and (2) Individual problems may be social problems.
The first idea refers to the fact that we are constantly surrounded by organizations that want to control or modify our behavior in some way. We may not always pay much attention to this, but if we wake up, we will start to notice them all around us. (If you’ve ever seen the movie, “The Matrix,” it is a bit like when Neo takes the pill and starts to understand the reality of the world.) From the time you wake up in the morning, how many organizations do you come into contact with? And you may be wondering, what is an organization? Organizations, for purposes of this discussion, are made up of people working towards a common goal or purpose. Usually, there is a bureaucratic structure involved. For example, since you are taking this class, you have a contact with Wake Tech today. Organizations may want us to buy something, may want to persuade us of an idea, or may want to change our behaviors. Why does this matter? We may be manipulated by these organizations in many ways.
The phrase, individual problems may be social problems, means that something that seems like it may just be based on the individual actions or choices of a person may actually be influenced by society. Pretend for a moment that you just found out that an acquaintance has lost their job. What might be the reasons for this? If you thought something like poor job performance or attendance, then these probably relate to the individual. On the other hand, we all know someone who has been laid off in this economy. If you are thinking with a sociological imagination, you might ask, well, are there social forces that explain layoffs. Many companies can’t afford to keep their employees. Others are moving overseas. Again, you might wonder, “what social forces explain jobs going overseas?” A few answers are: (1) poor labor laws in other countries, (2) cheap labor forces due to poverty in other places, and (3) lack of unionization in other countries. We certainly do have individual choices that may lead to problems, but often, there are problems that are embedded in the society around us. This connects back to the core idea that the social forces and historical forces around us impact our biographies.
· The Sociological Perspective
· Aspects of the Sociological Perspective
· Seeing the General in the Particular
· Means that we can see general patterns in the behavior of particular people
· Seeing the Strange in the Familiar
· Means that sociology allows for us to view things we are familiar with in a new way
· Seeing Society in Our Everyday Choice
· Means that even things that seem like very individual acts are impacted by social forces
· Durkheim and Suicide Studies
· Seeing Marginality and Crisis
· Means that people who are marginalized in society are more likely to understand how society functions
· Benefits of the Sociological Perspective
The sociological perspective is a lens that allows us to more clearly see how human society works. Peter Berger makes four major points when considering the sociological perspective. The four points are:
Seeing the General in the Particular
Seeing the Strange in the Familiar
Seeing Society in Everyday Choice
Seeing Marginality and Crisis
The first, seeing the general in the particular, means that we can see general patterns in the behavior of particular people. Our experiences are shaped by the categories that we belong to. The categories that we belong to also shape our identity. For example, the categories of gender, race and ethnicity, social class, age, religion, disability status, and sexual orientation all impact our lives and our identities. For example, as a woman in my forties, if I go to the mall and am laughing boisterously with my friends, do you think mall security would say anything to me? What if my friends and I were teenagers?
The second, seeing the strange in the familiar, means that sociology allows for us to view things that we are well acquainted with in a very unfamiliar, new way. A good example of seeing the strange in the familiar is the fact that I view funerals as events that should be somber and serious. However, if I look at them more closely, as a sociologist, I can begin to see that what I see as “familiar” is actually quite strange from other cultural perspectives. There are many cultures worldwide that have joyous celebrations with dancing when a loved one dies. I should be looking at my own culture as if I’m an outsider. There are many norms, or rules, that we follow that we usually don’t think about. For example, we tend to walk on the right side of the sidewalk if we are passing someone in the U.S. Yet, it would be just as valid in another culture to walk on the left. Try to look at your life for the next 24 hours. What things are familiar to you that might be strange to another culture?
The third, seeing society in our everyday choice, means that even things that seem like very individual acts are impacted by social forces.
Emile Durkheim is a key figure in sociology that you will learn more about later. Durkheim believed that even an action that seems as individualistic as suicide may have social patterns impacting it. He came up with a theory called social integration. He believed that increased social ties to other people may reduce the chances of suicide when you look at categories of people. Many of the patterns he found in the 1800s still hold today. He found that certain categories of people are more likely to commit suicide than others. Men were more likely to commit suicide, on average, than women. Men had fewer close social ties to other people, broadly. Protestants were more likely to commit suicide than Catholics. Catholics in this period had a much stronger sense of community than did Protestants. People who are wealthy are more likely to commit suicide than those less wealthy people, and the unmarried were more likely to commit suicide when compared with the married. The key is social integration. Basically, this means that categories of people with strong social ties had lower suicide rates.
You can even look at occupations. When compared with the average occupation, do you think elementary school teachers have a lower or higher chance of committing suicide? When compared with the average occupation, do you think artists have a lower or higher chance? Think about these carefully. You do not want to use psychological explanations. Instead, you need to use the theory of social integration and think of their social ties. [The answers are below the section on the Benefits of the Sociological Perspective.]
The fourth, seeing marginality and crisis, means that people who are marginalized in society are more likely to understand how society functions. A good example of this might be racial profiling. As a Caucasian woman, I didn’t realize that racial profiling happened until my friends informed me about it. My friends had personal experiences with being stopped in many situations that I never have been through so they were more aware at a younger age about racial profiling.
Benefits of the Sociological Perspective
What are the benefits of the sociological perspective?
The sociological perspective helps us critically assess ‘commonsense’ ideas.
The sociological perspective helps us see the opportunity and constraints in our everyday lives.
The sociological perspective empowers us to be active participants in society.
The sociological perspective helps us live in a diverse world.
[Answers to the occupations: Elementary school teachers have lower rates of suicide because they have many connections to other people like their students, other teachers, other staff, and parents. Furthermore, they form close bonds with the children (usually) because they see them more often than a college instructor would see his or her students.
Artists, on average, have higher rates of suicide than the average occupation. However, you are not looking for a psychological explanation. Based on this theory, they tend to work in isolation. A sociological explanation would not state that artists tend to have mental illness or something along those lines.]
· Classic Theoretical Approaches and Theories
· Theoretical Approach: the basic image of society that guides thinking and research.
· Structural-functional approach
· Social-conflict approach
· Symbolic-interaction approach
· Each approach has many different theories under it.
· A theory is an “abstract proposition that explains the social world and makes predictions about the future” (18).
Most fields in the social sciences have theoretical approaches or frameworks for guiding thought and research. In sociology, there are three major, classic approaches, although your textbook makes an argument for some other important ones. There are three that we will use for class: (1) structural-functional approach, (2) social-conflict approach, and (3) symbolic-interaction approach. There are many theories underneath each of these approaches. Many of the facts that you will learn about this semester emerged from theories, even if they aren’t stated in the book.
· Structural-functional approach
· This approach is known for its view of society as a complex system. The parts work together to promote stability.
· Society can be compared to the functioning of the human body.
There is a separate worksheet with more information on all three approaches. It is important to keep in mind that this approach is a macro-level approach, meaning that it looks at large systems in society. It would not, for example, look at individual people. It might focus on how the banking industry impacts the housing industry. The different parts of society work together to promote the functioning of the whole. The next slides look at related terms. The worksheet has much more information. The information on these slides on the three theoretical approaches comes from a different textbook by Macionis.
· Structural-functional approach (Continued)
· Social Structure is any relatively stable pattern of social behavior
· Social functions are the consequences of any social patterns for the operation of society as a whole
Note: These definitions make up the title of this approach. This approach is made of structure and function.
There are many examples of social structure. There are many types of social behavior in our society from handshakes to our two party political system. A structural-functionalist might ask, “what are the consequences of the two party system for overall society?” “What is the function for overall society as far as the news media is concerned?”
· Structural-functional approach (Continued)
· Eufunctions are positive social functions for overall society
· Dysfunctions are negative social functions for overall society
· Manifest functions are the recognized and intended consequences of any social pattern
· Latent functions are the unrecognized and unintended consequences of any social pattern
There are four terms on this slide. There are two pairs. Eufunctions and dysfunctions go together, while manifest and latent functions go together. Using social structure of news media, we can search for the eufunctions and dysfunctions of news media. For example, the eufunctions of news media might be educating the populace or informing the public of health information. I think these are benefits of news media. I can personally think of many for dysfunctions like political bias, focus on making money, dividing the public on topics, and others.
For manifest functions, it relates to the main purpose of the structure you are observing. For manifest functions of colleges and universities, the obvious purpose is to educate and train the public. (Some of you skeptics many be thinking, the purpose is to make money.) How I think of this is, what would I tell a third grader what the purpose of a structure is?
Latent functions are the hidden or less than obvious consequences of a social pattern. For example, for colleges and universities, they often teach social skills in addition to subject material. They’ve even been known in the past as marriage brokers. Many people met their future partners or spouses in college. Additionally, many 18 to 22 year olds are kept out of competition with other aged workers due to full time enrollment in school. This is true more so in universities than colleges. Of course, many students in that age bracket do work part time or full time.
Students often ask if you can “mix and match” these. You can. A latent function might be a eufunction or a dysfuntion, as an example.
· Social-conflict approach
· This approach is known for seeing society as an arena of inequality that generates conflict and change.
Again, you should see the theorists’ handout for more information, in addition to the textbook.
C. Wright Mills and Arlie Hochschild would both be considered social-conflict approach scholars (see previous slides). Karl Marx is one of the founders of this approach. He is often vilified in our culture. We will be discussing him in more depth this semester so you can make your own judgment about him. He was researching in the 1800s in Europe. He was horrified that in capitalistic systems that there was so much poverty and suffering. In this time, there were two major social classes: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie were the owners of property (like factories), and the proletariat were the workers. There was a great deal of inequality between the social classes. Throughout the semester, we will discuss these ideas in more depth, but Marx had a well known idea of utopia, or the perfect world or society. This is a very controversial topic that we will be able to tease out later in the semester.
Today, social-conflict theorists study all kinds of inequality. In the U.S., they often focus on social class, race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status, but there are more categories than these.
· Symbolic-Interaction Approach
· This approach is known for its view that society is created from our everyday interactions.
· Symbolism and meaning are important.
These theorists are interested in symbolism and daily interactions that help to construct society. They might be interested in the symbolism of the engagement ring in U.S. society. Or they might be interested the actual process of getting engaged. The dramaturgical analysis by Goffman that we will discuss later comes from this approach. Specifically, it focuses on how we are all actors on a stage. When I teach in the classroom (or online), I am in the instructor role. When I’m hanging out with my friends, I act differently. If I’m at a basketball game, shouting might be a normal part of my role. You’ll learn much more about this later.
· Postmodernism is “a paradigm that suggests social reality is diverse, pluralistic, and constantly in flux” (32).
· Postmodernists prefer “mini-narratives”, as opposed to “grand narratives.”
· This view has both pros and cons.
On the one hand, it allows us to understand that there are multiple ways of viewing events and ideas, but, taken to an extreme, it could lead to ” relativity, nihilism, and chaos” (32). What would we share in this view?
· Major Themes of Sociological Imagination and Theory
· Sociology allows us to understand how society operates.
· Sociology allows for public policy to be informed.
· Sociology allows us to see how structures, including organizations, impact our lives.
· Theories fit under the umbrella of theoretical approaches.
· Sociologists use the three theoretical approaches to understand their world and guide their questioning. You, too, will probably prefer one of these approaches!