Introduction to Sociology
How people form communities, live together; study people in society, what they do, how they
behave the institutions they create and use. Interested in society, less interest on individuals
Lots of research, almost anything people do they research
Sociological imagination - observing people carefully than most others
Sociology: study of everything that people do
Areas of sociological inquiry: theory, culture, socialization, groups and organizations, crime and
deviance, social stratification and class, global stratification, race and ethnic relations, sex and
gender, religion, mass media
Sociological perspective: way in which sociologists see our world and dissect dynamic
relationships between individuals and the larger social network in which we live
Charles Wright Mills
Suggested that people who do not or cannot recognize social origins of their problems may be
unable to deal with them effectively
Personal troubles: result from individual challenges
Social issues: caused by larger social factors, require collective solutions
Quality of mind: term for the ability to view personal circumstance within a social context.
o Not seeing a failure on a midterm as at least partially the result of social forces exhibits a
lack of quality of mind. If no one says anything, than the student has a trouble and the class
never realizes there is an issue.
o Improve quality of mind with social imagination.
sociological imagination: ability to understand dynamic relationship between individual lives and
o Developing an appreciation of how individual challenges are influenced by larger social
o Problem of how we relate to the society in which we live
o Everyone is influenced by the society in which we live; education, religion, government,
health care etc, that's what makes us who we are as human beings
o Seeing yourself as a product of your family, income level, race, gender
Expanded on the sociological imagination by seeing the general in the particular. Taking one
situation and looking at broad societal issues (ex. Why people are homeless)
To appreciate individual circumstances you have to broaden your perspective to larger social
Think about what is familiar and see it as strange (part of the sociological imagination). Example:
watching people in one familiar area and seeing something odd in that situation (fighting over
Engaging the sociological imagination
Used in research, the way we see the world
Agency: ability to alter socially constructed lives Perception of ourselves and others are the products of many factors: minority status, gender,
socioeconomic status, family structure, urban-rural differences
Socioeconomic status describes a combination of variables such as income level, education level,
occupation, area of residence. Majority of people born poor remain poor, though there are
exceptions of people rising above.
Ascribed status: define a situation in which a person is assigned advantage or disadvantage
Achieved status: status a person has been able to gain through personal attributes and qualities
Higher income parents predict better physical, social, emotional, cognitive and behavioural well
Try to view the world from a sociological perspective; understand own biases and investigate the
social world by seeing the general, particular, strange and familiar.
Origins of Sociology
Sophists of Greece: wanted to learn how to live well and be happy, focused their efforts on the
Socrates and Plato: deeper reflection on human social condition
o The Republic (Plato): asks what social justice is and what the characteristics of a just
Comte referred to as the father of sociology because he named the discipline.
The Scientific Revolution:
Developed during the Enlightenment, facilitated social change
o Auguste Comte: scientist who believed the techniques used in sciences to explain the
physical world should be applied to the social world as well. To understand working of
society, one must understand how human thinking has changed through time. Created Law
of Three Stages, defines how advances of the mind created three different types of societies.
Theological Stage: longest period of human thinking, began with earliest human
ancestors and ended in the middle ages (1300). Characterized by religious outlook,
explains world and society as expression of God's will, view's science as means to
discover God's intentions. Concluded with the emergence of the Renaissance and
Metaphysical Stage: people began to question everything and challenge the
power and teachings of the Church. Characterized by assumption that people could
understand and explain their universe through insight and reflection. Feelings,
passions and fears were explored in an attempt to understand ourselves better.
Positive Stage: world interpreted through scientific lens, guided by
experimentation, observation and logic. Sociologists would be ideal leaders because
they would be trained in science of society.
o Issues with the Three Sages: assumes human thinking is as good as it will ever get, and idea
that the final stage was emerging during Comte's lifetime is self serving.
The Political Revolution:
o Challenged social convention
o Machiavelli, The Prince; suggests human behaviour is motivated by self interest and desire
for material gain. Controversial position at the time, since those ascended to power thought
to have done so by divine right and should be followed. Said anyone could be a prince,
nobility and power were not a birth right. Incredibly revolutionary
o Rene Descartes; famous for the idea that we are thinking beings, "I think therefore I am".
Was a liberating position for the time, confirmed that human beings were able to understand their world through rational reflection- allowed for emergence of Comte's
positivism. Idea that we are master's of our own destiny
o Thomas Hobbes; people were driven by two primary passions: fear of death and desire for
power. Perspective led him to observations that our lives our solitary, poor, brutish and
short. True nature of humankind is self preservation; long term stability achieved only when
citizens join together and agree to forgo individual power to gains achieved within a
collective. People responsible for creating social roles.
o John Locke; assertion that ideas are not innate and all knowledge is the result of experience.
People are born as blank slates. Only way to increase knowledge is to gather more
information about the material world through observation and experimentation. Challenged
primacy of the church and belief system based on faith. Right to self preservation and
o Jean Jacques Rousseau; challenged true nature of social life. Suggested that, prior to
organized society, human beings existed in a natural state, individual's desires were solitary
and self centered. The social contract: people existed in the symbiotic and idyllic
relationships in the natural state. As society developed, people began to see benefits that
could be achieved by working together. Means you have certain rights within a society for
support, care, sharing that goes along with societal obligations.
o Changed virtually every aspect of life: family structures, how people made a living, people's
thoughts, dreams, and aspirations
Moved from agricultural to rural economy, capitalist to urban,
o Most capital activity focused on non agricultural goods
o Steam engine and locomotion also instrumental in facilitating industrial evolution.
o Move from rural to urban environment led to a new series of social problems (child labour
factories, poverty, malnourishment, crime rates). Early sociologists tried to understand what
was causing these conditions and what could be done to fix them
o People who live in cities generally don't feel as connected to their neighbours. In small
towns there is a different feeling of community. Cities emerged as a result of the industrial
revolution, mark a recent change in how humans live their lives.
The need to understand these three revolutions led to the emergence of sociology
Positivism and Anti-Positivism
Positivism: considers all understanding to be based on science
There exists an objective knowable reality, singular explanation, value free (doesn't
make a difference if you believe, it just is). World can be understood through observation,
experimentation and logic. Reality is objective. Physical and social existence is knowable
Since all science explores the same, singular reality, over time all sciences will become
more alike. Only one correct explanation for the physical and social world, all science is
investigating the same reality.
No room in science for value judgements.