Sociology readings notes:
Sociology: the study of the relationship between the individual and society, investigating how
human thought, action and interaction shapes and is shaped by society
According to C. Wright Mills: the quality of [your] life is determined by meanings [you]
have received from others
Life chances: chances of obtaining those things defined as desirable and avoiding those
things defined as undesirable in [your] society (Van Krieken, 2000, p50)
Structure vs. agency: the dilemma concerning the extent of what we do being intellectual
free will, as opposed to learnt behaviour (social conditioning and constraint).
- Karl Marx (agency vs. structure): ―Men make their own history, but they do not
make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by
themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from
Week 2 Readings:
- A belief in science
- A belief in progress injustice, poverty and inequality will be eliminated
- French Social thinker
- Made the term sociology in 1838
- Tried to understand the social world as it is, not as he or anyone else imagined it
- Never conducted any research
- British social theorist
- Never conducted research
- Applied Darwin’s theory of evolution to society and explained that societies evolve
in the same way biological species do.
- His ideas came to be known as ‗social Darwinism‘
‗What you see depends on where you stand‘
Research is the process of carefully observing reality to assess the validity of a theory
Values are ideas about what is right and wrong.
Sociological theory and theorists:
Durkheim’s theory of suicide is an example of functionalism. Functionalist theories are
macro-level theories that incorporate four features:
1- Human behaviour is governed by stable patterns of social relations
2- Functionalist theories show how social structures maintain/ undermine social
stability. Functionalists analyse how the parts of society fit together and how each
part contributes to the stability of the whole. 3- Functionalist theories emphasise that social structures are based mainly on shared
4- Functionalism suggests that re-establishing equilibrium can best solve most social
Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) was a proponent of functionalism.
- Argued that society is well integrated/ in equilibrium when the family successfully
raises new generations, military successfully defends society against external threats,
schools are able to teach students the skills/values they need to function as productive
adults, and religions create a shared moral code among people.
Society is a macro-level system of social inequalities based on class (Marx), gender
(feminism) and race (race-conflict) approaches
1- Generally focuses on large, macro-level structures such as class relations or patterns
of domination, submission and struggle between people of high and low standing.
2- Shows how major patterns of inequality in society produce social stability in
some circumstances and social change in others.
3- Conflict theory stresses how members of privileged groups try to maintain their
advantages while subordinate groups struggle to increase theirs.
4- Conflict theory typically leads to the suggestion that eliminating privilege will lower
the level of conflict and increase total human welfare
How does society divide a population?
How do advantaged people protect their privileges?
How do disadvantaged people challenge the system seeking change?
Karl Marx (1818-1883):
- German social thinker
- Theory of class conflict: the struggle by classes to resist and overcome the opposition
of other classes. Class is defined by your relationship to the means of production; do
you own it (bourgeoisie) or not (proletariat)
- Claimed that workers would become aware of belonging to the same exploited
class and he called this awareness ‘class consciousness’
- Commented on the demise of capitalism, rise of communism
Capitalism: Bourgeoisie (capitalists) vs. the proletariat (working class)
C. Wright Mills:
- American sociologist
- Conducted research on American politics and class structure.
- Argued that power is highly concentrated in American society, which is therefore less
of a democracy than we are often led to believe.
Incorporates these features:
1- Focus on interpersonal communication in micro-level social settings distinguishes it
from both functionalist and conflict theories.
2- Symbolic interactionism emphasises that social life is possible only because
people attach meaning to things. 3- Symbolic interactionism stresses that people help to create their social
circumstances and do not merely react to them.
4- By focussing on the subjective meanings people create in small social settings,
symbolic interactionists sometimes validate unpopular/unofficial viewpoints. This
increases our understanding and tolerance of people who are different to us.
- German sociologist
- The understanding that people bring to social encounters and the meanings they
attach to their situation
- Subjectivity is important
- Emphasised the importance of empathetically understanding people‘s motives and the
meanings they attach to things to gain a clear sense of the significance of their actions.
He called this the method of ‗Verstehen’ – German for understanding.
Harriet Martineau (1802-1876):
- One of the first feminists/ female sociologist.
Modern feminist theory:
1- Feminist theory focuses on various aspects of patriarch, the system of male
domination in a society.
2- Feminist theory holds that male domination and female subordination are
determined not by biological necessity but by structures of power and social
3- Feminist theory examines the operation of patriarchy in both macro and micro-level
4- Feminist theory contends that existing patterns of gender inequality can and should be
changed for the benefit of all members of society.
(text online at monash library- no copyright infringement intended) The post industrial revolution: refers to the technology driven shift from manufacturing to
service industries and the consequences of that shift for virtually all human activities.
Globalisation is the process by which formerly separate economies, states and cultures are
being tied together and people are becoming increasingly aware of their growing
Week 3 Readings:
Socialisation: the process by which we learn the norms and rules of the culture that we are a
- Primary socialisation: acquiring skills needed to function in society during childhood
- Secondary socialisation: occurs later in life as new roles are moved into
Culture: the language, beliefs, values, norms and behaviours passed from one generation to
- Material culture: the material objects that distinguish a group of people, such as their
art, buildings and weapons.
- Non-material culture: a group‘s way of thinking/ beliefs including language and other
forms of communication
Culture is the lens through which we perceive and evaluate the world around us
Ethnocentrism: a tendency to use our own group‘s ways of doing things as a yardstick for
judging others – belief that your culture is superior to others
Cultural relativism: not judging a culture, but trying to understand it on its own terms.
A taboo: a norm so strong that it often brings revulsion if violated
Institutions: the organised, usual or standard ways by which society meets its basic needs.
E.g. family, political system, religion
- Can talk about Stanford Prison Experiment
- From the late 18 century onward there has been:
o Heightened division of labour (more men, less women)
o Increasing urbanisation
o Rise of capitalism
- Workers needed to be completely re-socialised to fit in with this new way of doing
Efficiency and Taylorism: Fredrick Taylor‘s key principles
1. Management should gather all traditional knowledge of working people and reduce
this to laws and formulae
2. Brian work should be taken away from factory floor and carried out in planning
3. Management should plan the work and give instructions to each worker, specifying
exactly what he/she should do Week 4:
- In Australia, 20% of people own 62% of the wealth, the poorest 20% own about 1%
(according to ABS)
- Women earn 17.5% less than men and the gap is growing
- Booth, Leigh & Varganova in their 2012 study found that there is clear evidence of
discrimination, with Chinese and Middle Eastern people both having to submit at
least 50% more applications to receive a job interview.
Social stratification: the division of society into groups that are ranked hierarchically –
usually to do with class, characteristics in certain groups of people (race, gender)
- Vertical mobility: moving up or down social hierarchy
- Horizontal mobility: changing roles but staying in the same place in the hierarchy
- Intergenerational mobility: change between/within generations (between parents/our
Social mobility in Australia is higher than in countries like the US/UK, but you are still very
likely to end up in the same position as your parents, or one very close to it
- Societies benefit from stratification:
o People who are at the top are more capable, able to do harder jobs and deserve
o People at the bottom are less capable so they perform the maintenance and
support roles in society
o For the greater good of the society
Thomas theorem: ―that which we perceive to be real is real in i