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Malcolm Mac Kinnon
Study Guide

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Introduction to Sociology I
Week 1
Chapter 1 – Introduction/suicide
The Sociological Perspective
* Analyzing suicide sociologically test the claim that sociology takes a unique, surprising and
enlightening perspective on social events.
- antisocial and non-social act
-condemned by nearly everyone in society
-committed in private
-comparatively rare
Why people commit such acts? You should focus on their individual states of mind rather than
on the state of the society.
Emile Durkheim – suicide is an act of individual that results from a psychological disorder.
-suicide rates tend to be high where rates of psychological disorder are high, and low
where rates of psychological disorder are low.
Social solidaritythe more beliefs and values a group’s members share, the more frequently
and intensely they interact, the more social solidarity the group has.
Social Structuresstable patterns of social relations according to sociologists.
Microstructures are patterns of intimate social relations. Families, friends and so.
Macrostructures are patterns of social relations that lie outside and above your circle of
intimates and acquaintances. Class relations, bureaucracies, and patriarchy (the traditional
system of economic and political inequality between women and men in most societies).
Global structuresthird level of society that surrounds and permeates us. International
organizations, worldwide travel and communication, economic relations between countries.
Sociological imaginationability to see the connection between personal troubles and social
structures. By C. Wright Mills (1959).
Origins of the Sociological Imagination
Scientific Revolution 1550 – conclusions about the workings of society must be based on solid
evidence, not just on speculation. Using evidence to make a case for a particular point of view.
Democratic Revolution 1750 – suggested that people are responsible for organizing society and
that human intervention can therefore solve social problems. People control society; people
could replace unsatisfactory rulers.

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Industrial Revolution 1780 – created a host of new and serious social problems that attracted
the attention of social thinkers. Growth of industry, people move to the city, working long hours.
Auguste Comte (1798-1857) – French social thinker, coined the term sociology in 1838.
Theories are tentative explanations of some aspect of social life. They state how and why certain
facts are related.
Research is the process of carefully observing social reality, often to `test` a theory or assess its
Values are ideas about what is right and wrong. Inevitably, values help sociologists formulate
are favour certain theories over others.
Sociological Theory and Theorists
*Durkheim`s theory of suicide is an early example of what sociologists now call functionalism.
Functionalist theories incorporate these four features.
1. They stress that human behaviour is governed by relatively stable patterns of social relations
or social structures.
2. How social structures maintain or undermine social stability.
3. Functionalist theories emphasize that social structures are based mainly on shared values or
4. Functionalism suggests that re-establishing equilibrium can best solve most social problems.
*Robert Merton, functionalist, noted that social structures may have different consequences for
different groups of people. Merton noted that some of those consequences may be disruptive of
dysfunctional. Some functions are manifest (visible and intended), others are latent
(unintended and less obvious).
Conflict Theory
- second major theoretical tradition in sociology emphasizes the centrality of conflict in social
life. Conflict theory:
* generally focuses on large, macrolevel structures, such as `class relations` or patterns of
domination, submission, and struggle between people of high and low standing.
* conflict theory shows how patterns of inequality in society produce social stability in
some circumstances and social change in others.
* stresses how members of privileged groups try to maintain their advantages while
subordinate groups struggle to increase theirs.

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* leads to the suggestion that eliminating privilege will lower the level of conflict and
increase total human welfare.
Karl Marx (German social thinker) – originated conflict theory. Marx argued that owners of
industry are eager to improve the way work is organized and to adopt new tools, machines, and
production methods.
* These innovations allow them to be more efficient and earn a higher profit and drive out
inefficient competitors out of business.
- He observed the hardship and discontent produced by the Industrial Revolution and proposed a
sweeping argument about the way societies develop.
Class conflictthe struggle between classes to resist and overcome the opposition of the
other classes, lies at the centre of his ideas.
Marx argued, organizations would eventually seek to end private ownership of property,
replacing it with a “communist society: a system in which there is no private property and
everyone shares property and wealth.
Max Weber (German sociologist) – first to find flaw’s in Marx’s argument. Weber argued that
many members of these occupational groups stabilize society because they enjoy higher status
and income than manual workers employed in the manufacturing sector.
- Class conflict is not the only driving force of history. In his views, politics and religion are also
important sources of historical change.
C. Wright Mills (laid the foundations for modern conflict theory in the 1950s) – he argued that
power is highly concentrated in American society, which is therefore less of a democracy than
we are often led to believe.
-* conflict theory took hold in North America around the 1960s.
Protestant ethicProtestants believed their religious doubts could be reduced and a state of
grace ensured if they worked diligently and lived modestly. According to Weber, people who
followed this belief saved and invested more money than others did.
* Functionalist and conflict theories assume that people’s group memberships – whether they are
rich or poor, male or female, black or white – determine their behaviour.
Symbolic interactionism: (by Herbert Blumer 1900-86)
- focus on interpersonal communication in microlevel social settings distinguishes it from
both functionalist and conflict theories.
- emphasizes that social life is possible only because people attach meanings to things.
- stresses that people help to create their social circumstances and do not merely react to
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