What is sociology?
- How we create something as we come together, Relationships between people, the study
of social groups.
- The simplest definition: Sociology is the study of society
- A concrete abstraction: not something you can observe but is real = affects all of us,
guides, teaches, reinforces. (ex. Everyone wears clothing enforced by law, a custom
Observation #1 Humans are social animals (like dogs, antelope)
We are driven to be together, compelled to be with others. Why humans survived (we are super
Things that make people happy: to feel accepted, loved.
90% of people live in major urban areas we are genetically programmed to be in contact with
people (cell, TV). We are with people 99% of the time of our lives. There will always be people
who attempt the opposite.
Observation #2 A person and people are fundamentally different things
A person is a rational thing with a personality. When people come together, we create
expectations, peer pressure and knowledge. You dont have culture on your own; it is created as
an emergent property.
Emergent properties: You can take two things or elements (or people) that are dangerous on
their own (i.e. oxygen and hydrogen) and put them together and they will create new things. Ex
people create languages. They are not naturally created, the world we live in was not inevitable,
we created it; the world was product of our choices, negotiations and conflicts.
Observation #3 These emergent properties have huge benefits... but they also have a dark side.
Benefits: Emergence of different roles (farmer, doctor, etc) if not we would have spent 80-90%
of our time fending for our fundamental needs. Now only 3% of the population works in
agriculture. The emergence of roles does not exist at an individual level (ex a class clown).
Humans are compelled (or cursed) to think, understand, get comfort in each other through
meditation, tradition, etc.
Dark side: Child labour in Pakistan, children making Nike soccer balls... UNICEF: approx a
quarter of a billion under the age of 15 work and 5 million under the age of 9 years old.
Economy has no basis of nature, created by people, concrete abstraction which produces real
1 consequences. Cheap soccer balls at WalMart = child labour. The labour market: must go to
university to avoid a bad job. Cultural icons: ex Hitler (Nazis) or religion/groups the people
outside may be unhappy.
- How people create, reinforce and challenge society
- How society affects individuals and people
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Why are things the way that they are (and not some other way)? We have a need to understand
who we are, what were doing, what others are doing... 500 years ago: thought that the sun went
around the earth, the earth didnt change much geographically.
We are programmed to not see specific things; we simplify complicated things and make mental
short cuts. (Ex. you know how to drive a car, but you dont know how it works... engine, etc)
mechanics. Same thing with how we go through life; you have to do specific things to do other
things. (Planning a trip). Sociologists pick things apart and ask the question WHY. Everything in
contingent, we create things, theres nothing natural. How can we change things? Lesson in
socio: asking questions.
What is society? Concrete abstractions, nothing you can touch, taste or see. Its real thing that
affects us. Our lives are governed by people we have never met, all created through rules.
(Formal rules: laws, Norms and expectations: to not behave in a specific way) Our lives are very
strongly patterned and structured. Not just a whole bunch of people, it is emergent properties.
We cannot co-exist if we went around doing whatever we want.
Idea#1 - Societies are the product of human interactions
Throughout human history, the roles of the household have been completely flexible. We have
experimented with different forms of families. Same with economy, laws, etc. Social structure
produced through consensus (or agreement, negotiation, plan). Social structures also created by
conflict. Ex. the legal system: protecting ourselves but mostly protecting property. Way to
regulate a large amount of conflict. Rich person vs. poor person. (The poor seek wealth, laws
protect the wealthy.) To get a prestigious job, you must go through university get accepted, etc.
If it was a free for all to get any job, conflict would be created.
We are always participating in something larger than ourselves (Allan Johnson, p.13) While
that may or may not be true, we are in charge of our own lives. We are always involved in a lot
of other things that are larger than us.
Idea #2 - While people create societies, societies are autonomous from any single person.
2 Self-perpetuating: runs itself, in motion. Example elections, structure does not change but after
a certain amount of time, the roles progress or change, new people are voted. (The individuals
change but the roles do not, i.e. classrooms.) With every new generation we create, we dont
have to reinvent, they recreate themselves.
Self-enforcing: mutual expectations we all have on what to do. Rules of a group will be
reinforced by all of us. (Not facing the elevator door when you get in) Cutting in line, we get
stared down from people around you. Lines to get food, McDonalds (line up behind cashes) vs.
Tim Hortons (one line).
The world is full of choices, but its the things we dont choose that make us who we are
Anonymous. Things we dont choose: gender, ethnicity, hair color (flexible), eye color (flexible).
Ex. In article: whiteness in a high end store. High-end lawyer or politics: (women) talk about
what theyre wearing, who theyre dating, etc.
Man makes his own history, ... but not in circumstances of his own choosing. (Karl Marx) First
authentic sociologist. Individuals make their own choices, but not freely. This is still going on;
choices are framed, structured and manipulated by society.
Sociology definition: The study of individuals and their behaviours in the context of society and
its forces. Present the freedom of choices, but presenting conflict when it comes to parting from
How to study society
Why are people attracted to the mirror image of themselves?
Seeing the strange in the familiar: make things appear strange. Ex. Going to school: Why do we
spend most of our time of the week in school? A way to socialize children, create employment
opportunities, to make parents proud, we need more skills. What is the function of this?
Structuring them and creating a transition, frees the parents of work (takes child out of the
home), learn they have to take notes, sit quietly, and wait in line (kids learn to become
obsequious, to listen and to behave).
Education system is a giant machine to sort people, take all of the individuality of children and
reduces it to numbers. (A student, D student). Creates winners and losers, the lawyers and the
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Assignment 1: distributed tues sept 20 due Friday sept 30 . (600-700 words of thoughtful