SOCI 1002 E
Foundations of Sociology
What is Sociology?
• It is the study of the “social” and its enabling and constraining influence.
• Sociology emerges from a branch of Philosophy.
• Ontology: what is real?
• Epistemology: How do we know what we know? (observing, seeing, hearing, touching,
• Thomas Hobbes’s assertion that government’s appropriate role lies in preserving peace
while allowing individuals to pursue their self-interests.
• John Locke’s belief in individual freedom and autonomy.
• Charles de Montesquieu’s comparative methodology and his appreciation for cultural
• Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s analysis of the social contract and his belief in individual
Sociology and Common Sense
• Unlike common sense, sociology subordinates itself to the precise rules of responsible
speech (we define the terms we use to be exact).
• Size of the field where material for sociological thinking is drawn.
• Each makes sense of human reality in terms of how they understand and explain events
• Power of common sense depends of its self-evident character: doesn’t question its
precepts and to be self-confirming in practice (unwritten rules).
Sociological Explanation of Suicide • Durkheim demonstrated suicide rates were strongly influenced by social factors.
• Suicide often regarded as a supremely antisocial and non-social act (common sense
theory of suicide: due to a psychological disorder).
• Hidden social causes of suicide include social solidarity that Durkheim researched in
• Concluded suicide was not due to psychological disorders.
• Social solidarity: the degree to which people share beliefs and values (close interactions
with the society around you). Medium level of social solidarity, the least likely to commit
• Mechanical (similar characteristics: same jobs, same values, same religious beliefs)
• organic (based on everyone depending on one another to an extent) forms of social
Egoistic suicide: lack of attachment (lonely, depression). Low social solidarity.
Altruistic suicide: Ready to give their live for a higher cause (honour, religion, justice, sacrifice).
High social solidarity.
• Far more men than women commit suicide. Different age groups affect the amount of the
number of suicides.
• Social structure: stable patterns of social relations that affect our thoughts, feelings,
actions, and identity. There are three levels of social structure:
o Microstructure: patterns of intimate social relations formed during face-to-face
o Macrostructure: patterns of social relations outside one’s circle of intimates and
acquaintances. (inside one society)
o Global structures: patterns of social relations outside the national level.
Theory, Research and Values • Auguste Comte (1798-1857): Sought to understand the social world using scientific
method of research. Coined the term “sociology”. Had the vision of ideal society but
never conducted any research
• Herbert Spencer (1820-1903): Made claim for discovering scientific laws governing
operation of society. Never conducted research.
• Tension between belief in importance of science and vision of ideal society. Reflected in
works of important figures in sociology and continues today.
• Theory: Tentative explanation of some aspect of social life that states how and why
certain facts are related. After theories, they conduct research.
• Research: process of carefully observing social reality, often to “test” a theory or assess
• Off-style information: contradicts or disagrees with the explanation that you have,