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Lecture 1 study notes.docx

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Barry Mc Clinchey
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Sociological theory (chapter 1)
Introduction: Why Theory?
- Antonio Gramsci believed that everyone is a social theorist
- We already use our intellects to explain how society works
The nature of Social Life
- Many social want specifically to understand the taken-for-granted nature of social life:
- Why it is so often unthinkingly orderly, routine, and generally predictable?
The Sociological Imagination
- Mills’ (John Stewart Mill) ideas were ignored for some time in mainstream sociology
- He believed that we must address social problems by linking an individual’s personal
troubles with the way society is organized and structured
- Mills also suggested that the discipline of sociology should understand an individual’s
private troubles as rooted in widespread public issues
- When we do so, we exhibit ‘The sociological imagination’
The birth of Sociology in the Age of Revolution
- Sociology was developed in the 19th century by European scholars who were aware that
their world was changing rapidly and fundamentally
- What was new when sociology was invented about two centuries ago was the idea that
society could be studied scientifically
- The enlightenment encouraged the use of reason to understand the world
Auguste Comte (1798-1857)
- Coined the term ‘sociology’. The application of science to understand the social world
- He believed that sociologists should attempt to discover ‘natural’, social laws of human
- Comte believed that social thinking passed through three stages:
1. The assumption that the world was run by supernatural, powerful gods
2. The idea that nature replaced the belief in a miraculous god
3. The application of science to understand the social world
- Throughout most of the 19th century, sociological thinking involved the search for low-like
certainties that could explain social life
- Following Comte, this approach became known as positivism
Classical Sociology
- Many of the questions sociologists are interested in don’t have a rational basis
- Many social theorists seek to understand peoples intentions and bring the elements of
thinking and choosing into their analysis
- Comte realized two apparently contradictory things appear true of society; it basically
stays the same over time and it is constantly changing
- Functionalist theorists seek to identify the basic functions that must be fulfilled in all
- From a functionalist perspective, if something exists in society and persists over time –
religion, for example, or sports, or even crime – it must perform some necessary function
that is important for the reproduction of society
Emile Durkheim
- (1858-1917) was the most famous French sociologist of the 20th century
- Durkheim argued that the simplest societies were held together by such practices as
religious celebrations and gift-giving. When wives, or gossip, or stories, or gifts were
exchanged among tribal members, relationships were strengthened and given meaning
- A second source of togetherness, Durkheim said, originated in regular, sacred
gatherings, events in which the tribe feasted and celebrated its community
- People were no longer united by a single code of right and wrong, an uncertainty
Durkheim termed anomie
- The task of sociology was to put an end to anomie and conflict
- Durkheim was known for his study on suicides
- Durkheim’s social theory examined society as a totality of interconnected parts,
- An approach that is fundamental theory
- Through his publications, his teaching, and the work of his followers,
- Durkheim stamped his functionalist approach to understanding society on the new
discipline he helped to create
Karl Marx
- While he did not describe his work as sociological, Karl Marx (1818-1883)
- Inspired movements of revolution and reform that have had deep and lasting
consequences for sociological theory
- In the 1960s and 1970s,
- Marx’s theories entered sociology directly as part of a critical and radical reorientation of
the discipline
- The challenged functionalist arguments and emerged as conflict theory
- Marx sought to understand social life by focusing on how it distributed the basic
necessities of life
- The transition to capitalism was marked by a surplus of goods. The surplus went to the
elite capitalists
- Marx referred to wage workers as the proletariat
- Marx believed that the proletariat were exploited by capitalists, religious leaders, and the
- Religious messages pacified workers
- He referred to religion as ‘the opium of the people’. This is because religion dulls the
pain caused by capitalism
- Ultimately, the fate of capitalism depended upon the working-class to revolt against the
- Usher in a more cooperative system known as socialism
- No highly industrialized society has ever made the transition to socialism
-Alienation refers to the separation of things that go together
- Capitalism is especially alienating for working people
Power and Resistance
- The existence of power and resistance are important concepts of conflict theory
Max Weber
- (1864-1920) spent much of his time studying individualism in a capitalist context
- Formal rationally involves ascertaining the most efficient means to achieve objectives.
Modern societies are characterized by such authority
- In modern societies, politics have become rationalized
- Policies and regulations
- Modern capitalism created a new middle class of professionals, technicians, and office
- Who were paid higher salaries and given more autonomy at work
- Weber’s focus on class, status, and power
- Suggested that a multi-variable analysis of modern society was needed
Pierre Bourdieu
- Following Weber, Bourdieu (1930-2002) examined the various ways that people acquire
power and control