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Lecture 1

SOC 305 Lecture 1: First Half of Semester Lecture Notes

31 Pages
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Department
Sociology
Course Code
SOC 305
Professor
Krippner Greta

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1.11 1/11/2017 4:05:00 PM
Reading: Hollis, “Problems of Structure and Agency,” pp. 1-22
What is theory? Allows us to generalize; rather than stating facts, you’re
generalizing from particulars of many facts you know; moving from
particulars to general context
If all college courses and much of our everyday communication
deals in theory, why are we taking a course on theory? Because we
are focused on a specific set of theories that define sociology
Sociological thinks first to develop general language for
conceptualizing “society” or “the social
Before there was “society,” Medieval thought of the “collective” but
it was understood as the Church rather than individuals
Thomas Hobbes introduces the modern concept of the “individual”
Key intuition of sociology- while individuals are necessary to understand
the social world, the social world is so much more than just the individual;
cannot be reduced (thanks Hobbes, but we’re going to build on this)
Explanation vs. interpretation:
Explanation: why do people believe in god? Why does water form
ice when cold? These are questions, looking for an explanation
o Positivism- JS Mill’s position that there are regularities in
human behavior that can be traced to human nature,
information that is readily available and empirical data (ex.
we know that one pool ball hits and makes the other move,
because we’ve seen it enough times to know it is true; the
info is easily visible) (ex. we know this person will vote
Republican because his race, SES, age, etc.)
o Realism- causal explanations are not directly observable;
there are hidden realities (ex. you can stare at a watch for
hours but not know how it really works, you have to open it
up and see the cogs; you see the pattern of regularity, but it
doesn’t matter)
Marx- there are hidden forces in the economy, so we
need a theory to tell us how they work because we can’t
see them
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Interpretation: an action can have different meanings depending
on how their intention is interpreted; understanding the action
through the perspective of the actor
o Mostly, sociologists care more about causation than meaning
Structure/agency debate- external factors or internal factors, which is
more influential in determining social outcomes; how much is social change
possible?
Ex. social mobility- the possibility that people have to change
positions in society over the course of one’s life
Race, SES- so many factors that can inhibit social mobility
Agency = the motivation, knowledge, and ability of the individual;
action is unconstrained
o More Mill’s theories- places more agency on individual
Structure = extra-individual factors in shaping the possibilities for
social mobility; people born in one position will stay there for
generations
Utilitarianism- it’s your agency, contrast to sociological approaches
Discussion Notes: Hollis
-STRUCTURE & AGENCY
How does this relate to the fall of the soviet union? Both structure and
agency are at play here, you can’t just look at one
When trying to understand society, you have to look at both ideas playing at
the same time
-Structure = top down; sociologists favor this account, because you’re not
focusing on individual’s wrongdoing, you’re looking at structural constraints
-Agency = bottom up; individuals are the reason that society is the way it is
-EXPLANATION & INTERPRETATION
Explanation causal, objective; natural science; did x cause y?
Interpretation meaning, subjective, understanding; social
research
-POSITIVISM & REALISM
Positivism empirical, visible regularities; pure observations
Realism hidden reality, pure observation is a façade
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Description
1.11 1112017 4:05:00 PM Reading: Hollis, Problems of Structure and Agency, pp. 122 What is theory? Allows us to generalize; rather than stating facts, youre generalizing from particulars of many facts you know; moving from particulars to general context If all college courses and much of our everyday communication deals in theory, why are we taking a course on theory? Because we are focused on a specific set of theories that define sociology Sociological thinks first to develop general language for conceptualizing society or the social Before there was society, Medieval thought of the collective but it was understood as the Church rather than individuals Thomas Hobbes introduces the modern concept of the individual Key intuition of sociology while individuals are necessary to understand the social world, the social world is so much more than just the individual; cannot be reduced (thanks Hobbes, but were going to build on this) Explanation vs. interpretation: Explanation: why do people believe in god? Why does water form ice when cold? These are questions, looking for an explanation o Positivism JS Mills position that there are regularities in human behavior that can be traced to human nature, information that is readily available and empirical data (ex. we know that one pool ball hits and makes the other move, because weve seen it enough times to know it is true; the info is easily visible) (ex. we know this person will vote Republican because his race, SES, age, etc.) o Realism causal explanations are not directly observable; there are hidden realities (ex. you can stare at a watch for hours but not know how it really works, you have to open it up and see the cogs; you see the pattern of regularity, but it doesnt matter) Marx there are hidden forces in the economy, so we need a theory to tell us how they work because we cant see them
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