INTRODUCTION TO SOCIOLOGY
Sociology: systematic study of human behaviour in social context; idea that our relations with other
people create opportunities for us to think and act but also set limits on our thoughts and action. It is
also an elastic discipline that shares some elements in common with other fields of study.
Ex: Philosophy: ontology (what is real?), epistemology (how do we know what we know?)
Hobbes: government’s appropriate role lies in preserving piece
Locke: individual freedom and autonomy
Montesquieu: comparative methodology; appreciation for cultural diversity
Rousseau: social contract and belief in individual autonomy
Emile Durkheim: showed that suicide rates are influenced by social forces; examined association
between rates of suicide and rates of psychological disorder but discovered that it varied and supported
idea of social solidarity.
Social Solidarity: degree to which members share beliefs/values and frequency of their interaction;
makes suicide rates vary because of its degree differences
Suicide: regarded as an antisocial and non-social act and there are hidden social causes.
Types of suicide:
1. Altruistic: when norms tightly govern behaviour; individual actions are often in the group’s
interest (altruism: devotion to the interests of others). Ex: soldiers giving up lives for members
2. Egoistic: lack of integration into society because of weak social ties to others
3. Anomic: norms governing behaviour are vaguely defined. Ex: people living in society that lacks
widely shared code or morality
Social structures: relatively stable patterns of social relations that affect our thoughts, actions & identity
1. Microstructures: patterns of intimate social relations like face-to-face interaction
2. Macrostructures: relations that lie outside and above circle of acquaintances/intimates
3. Global structures: international organizations, patterns of worldwide travel and communication,
and economic relations between countries
Sociological imagination: ability to see connection between personal troubles and social structures;
how people are influenced by their society by looking at social location (Mills).
Developed when 3 modern revolutions occurred:
1. Scientific Revolution (16 c.): encouraged use of evidence to prove theories
2. Democratic Revolution (18 c.): encouraged that human action can change society
3. Industrial Revolution (19 c.): created host of new and serious social problems that
attracted attention of many sociologists Sociological Perspective: seeing the general in the particular; Society acts differently on various
categories of people.
Major theoretical traditions in sociology:
1. Functionalist theory (macro): main focus is values; image of ideal society is state of equilibrium;
stresses that human behaviour is governed by relatively stable patterns of social structures;
social structures maintain social stability; social structures are based mainly on shared values
(Durkheim, Parsons, Merton). ROLE, FUNCTION, PURPOSE.
Dysfunctional consequences: effects of social structures that create social instability
Manifest functions: visible and intended effects of social structures
Latent functions: invisible and unintended effects of social structures
2. Conflict theory (macro): main focus is class inequality; image of ideal society is reduction of class
privilege; shows how major patterns of inequality 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; suggests that decreasing
privilege will lower the level of conflict and increase sum total of human welfare (Marx, Weber).
INEQUALITY, POWER, WHO BENEFITS.
3. Symbolic interactionism (micro): main focus is meaning; image of ideal society is respect for
validity of minority views; focuses on face-to-face communication; emphasizes that
understanding subjective meanings of people’s social circumstances is required; stresses that
people help to create their social circumstances; validate unpopular viewpoints that increases
our tolerance of different people (Weber: Verstehen; understanding people’s motives they
attach to things to understand their actions, Mead: sense of self, Goffman: social interaction is a
staged play). MEANING, CONSTRUCTION OF MEANING.
Social constructionism: variant of symbolic interactionism; argues that when people
interact, they typically assume things are naturally what they seem to be; natural features of
life are often sustained by social processes.
Protestant ethic (Weber): belief that their religious doubts could be reduced and state of
grace ensured if they worked diligently and lived modestly
4. Feminist theory (micro¯o): main focus is patriarchy; image of ideal society is reduction of
gender inequality; holds that male domination and female subordination are determined not by
biological necessity but by structures of power and social convention; contends that existing
patterns of gender inequality can and should be changed. INTERROGATING CATEGORIES.
Globalization: process by which formerly separate economies, states and cultures become tied together
and people become increasingly aware of their growing interdependence; makes people around the
world simultaneously more alike and more different.
Sociology has a logical/empirical basis; for the assertions to be accepted, it has to make sense and
correspond to the facts. SOCIOLOGICAL KNOWLEDGE & SCIENCE
Most of what we know is a matter of agreement and belief, or through observation. Can help me figure
out where I fit into society, and how I can make society fit me.
Babbie: Sociology is the study of our rules for living together: what they are, how they arise and change
Epistemology: science of knowing
Methodology: science of finding out (subfield of epistemology)
Ordinary human inquiry: humans undertake casual and probabilistic reasoning.
Tradition: offers advantages to human inquiry by accepting what everybody knows. However, if we just
noticed a fact that was already known, we may look like fools.
Authority: we often believe professionals who tell proven facts; but it can also hinder human inquiry
because the professionals can make mistakes too.
Errors in Inquiry & Solutions:
1. Inaccurate observations > make a conscious plan to observe
2. Overgeneralization > make a replication of inquiry
3. Selective observation > a specified research design will advance the number and kind of
observations to be made
4. Illogical reasoning > use systems of logic consciously and explicitly
Sociology vs. Common Sense:
- Sociology makes an effort to subordinate itself to rigorous rules of responsible speech
- Sociological thinking is drawn from certain size of field
- Sociology makes sense of human reality; understands and explains events
- Power of common sense depends on its self-evident character (self-confirming)
Characteristics of a critical thinker:
1. Independence of mind: thinking for oneself; autonomous thinking
2. Intellectual curiosity: disposition to wonder about the world
3. Intellectual courage: evaluating all ideas and beliefs fairly, and to take a position
4. Intellectual humility: awareness of one’s limit of knowledge
5. Intellectual empathy: putting oneself in place of others
6. Intellectual perseverance: pursuing intellectual insights and truths despite difficulties
7. Reflexive disposition: being aware that one’s own approach is fallible
Premodern view: early ancestors all assumed that they saw things as they really were; assumptions.
Modern view: accepted diverse views; accepted human subjectivity (spirits)
Postmodern view: suggests there’s no “objective” reality and there are only our several subjective views;
tries to observe what is really happening without bringing along personal orientations. Objectivity: observation of the world can occur in neutral fashion without being influenced by theory or
personal assumptions. “We all see the same thing”
Subjectivity: observation of the world influenced by theory or personal assumptions. “You don’t see
Sociological research is undertaken with the objective of: describing, understanding, and improving
Science is about logic (theory) and observation (method).
Attributes: characteristics of people or things (ex: female, male)
Variables: logical groupings of attributes (ex: gender); concept that can have more than 1 value
Independent variable: variable with values that are taken as given; the cause
Dependent variable: variable assumed to depend on by another; the effect
Idiographic explanation: explains one case in great detail; seeks to exhaust the causes of a particular
condition or event (trying to list all the reasons of a particular event, and making up excuses).
Case: unit of analysis; may be individuals, countries, neighbourhoods, etc.
Nomothetic explanation: explains a set of cases with factors; seeks a few causal factors that influence a
class of conditions or events.
Inductive reasoning: moves from particular to general; from a set of specific observations to discovery
of a pattern (ex: Jews are more likely to vote Liberal than Protestants, concluding that religious
minorities are more affiliated with Liberal Party and explaining why).
Deductive reasoning: moves from general to particular (ex: starting from the general principle that all
deans are meanies, you might anticipate that this one won’t let you change courses).
Positivist epistemology: sociologist accepts that he can best know things through experiments and data
Interpretive epistemology: sociologist endeavours to understand subjective meaning of social action
The Research Process: define problem, review existing research literature, formulate research question,
operationalize, select research method, collect and analyze data, and develop conclusion.
Operationalization: procedure by which researchers establish criteria for assigning values to variables;
“How are you measuring the concept? What counts/doesn’t count? How will you observe the concept?”
4 methods of sociological research: field (participant observation), experiments, surveys, analysis of
existing documents and statistics. CULTURE
Culture: knowledge, language, values, customs, and material objects that are passed from person to
person and from one generation to the next in human group/society. It is made up of ideas, behaviour,
and material possessions. Culture is shared, learned, taken for granted, symbolic and varies across time
and place. Also a “tool kit” for survival.
Perspectives of Culture:
1. Functionalist: common language and shared values help produce consensus and harmony
2. Conflict: culture may be used by certain groups to maintain their privilege and exclude others
from society’s benefits
3. Symbolic interactionist: people maintain and change culture through their interactions with
4. Postmodern perspective: culture is based on simulation of reality rather than reality itself; we
need a new way of conceptualizing culture and society
Our cultural toolbox is divided into two:
1. Material culture: consists of the physical creations that members of society make, use and share.
2. Nonmaterial culture: consists of abstract human creations of society that influence people’s
Humans don’t have instincts; they have reflexes and drives—and they don’t determine how people will
behave in societies.
1. Reflex: unlearned, biologically determined involuntary response to physical stimulus (sneeze
after breathing pepper)
2. Drives: unlearned, biologically determined impulses common to all (sleep, food, water, etc.)
Cultural universals: customs and practices that occur across all societies; useful because they ensure the
smooth and continual operation of society. May have been imposed by members of one society on
members of another (ex: conquering nation used its power to enforce them on those who were
Components of Culture: Symbols, Language, Values, Norm.
Language: system of symbols that expresses ideas and enables people to think and communicate with
one another. It may influence our behaviour and interpretation of social reality but it doesn’t determine
Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: “language shapes its speaks’ view of reality”; language precedes
thought and can influence our behaviour.
Values: collective ideas about what is right or wrong, good or bad, and desirable and undesirable.
Norms: established rules of behaviour or standards of conduct; often influences us without us noticing
because they’re taken for granted habits; exert a constraining pressure on us; not universal and change
over time Prescriptive norms: state what behaviour is appropriate and expected to do
Proscriptive norms: state what behaviour is inappropriate and not expected to do
Informal norms: unwritten standards of behaviour understood by people who share
Informal sanctions: not clearly defined and can be applied by any member of group
(frowning at someone)
Folkways: informal norms/everyday customs that may be violated without serious
Mores: strongly held norms with moral/ethical connotations that may not be violated
without serious consequences
Taboos: mores that are so strong that their violation is considered extremely offensive
Cultural lag: gap between technical development of a society and its moral and legal institutions
2 faces of culture: culture as constraining influence which limits certain amount of our choices OR
culture as enabling influence which increases our choices.
Cultural change occurs through:
1. Discovery: process of learning about something previously unknown; response to changed
2. Invention/Innovation: process of reshaping existing cultural items into new form
3. Diffusion: transmission of cultural items or social practices from one group/society to another
4. And cultural changes can be imposed.
Cultural diversity: wide range of cultural differences found between and within nations
Homogeneous society: includes people who share common culture and typically from
similar social, religious, political and economic backgrounds (ex: Sweden)
Heterogeneous society: includes people who are dissimilar in regard to nationality, race,
class, education, occupation (ex: Canada)
Rights revolution: process by which socially excluded groups have struggled to win equal rights under
law which began in second half of 20 c. (Cultural diversity has become a source of conflict at political
Subculture: group of people who share distinctive set of cultural beliefs and behaviours that differ from
those of larger society (ex: religion).
Countercultures: group that strongly rejects dominant societal values/norms and seeks alternative
lifestyles; acts as social control mechanism (ex: Hippies of 1960s, environmentalists).
Culture shock: disorientation that people feel when encountered radically different from their own.
Ethnocentrism: tendency to regard one’s own culture as the standard and superior.
Cultural relativism: views and analyzes another culture in terms of its own values/standards; “The idea
of cultural relativism is nothing but an excuse to violate human rights” (Shirin Ebadi). High culture: activities patronized by elite audiences (ex: operas).
Dominant Culture: most powerful group in society; receives most support from major institutions and
constitutes the major belief system.
Popular culture: mass produced and mass distributed beliefs, practices and objects that are appealed to
middle/working class (ex: movies).
Fads: temporary but widely copied activity followed by lots of people
Consumerism: tendency to define ourselves in terms of goods we purchase
Cultural capital theory: views high culture as a device used by the dominant class to exclude the
Cultural imperialism: extensive infusion of one nation’s culture into other nations.
SOCIALIZATION & SOCIAL INTERACTION
Socialization: never-ending social process that allow people to become members of society, develop a
sense of self, learn their culture and roles, and participate in social relationships with others.
Primary socialization: crucial learning process that occurs in childhood and initiates our
entry into society
Secondary socialization: occurs after people have already undergone primary socialization
(ex: learning to be a parent, making new friends, etc.)
Self: a sense of individual identity that allows us to understand who we are in relation to others and
differentiate ourselves from them; allows us to react to what we learn.
Nature (biological inheritance) vs. Nurture (social environment)—they are inseparable because
whatever we might be born with are developed in a social setting.
Freud: only social interaction allows the self to emerge; infants form self when demands are denied;
they start to learn by themselves.
Cooley: introduced the idea of the looking-glass self, gestures and reactions of others are a mirror in
which we see ourselves.
Mead: his ideas became foundation of symbolic interactionism; society is essential to human
development; the key to socialization is the ability to take the role of the other.
3 stages in taking the role of the other:
1. Imitative stage: child has no real conception of themselves; thus acts out behaviour associated
with certain roles
2. Play stage: child begins to adopt the roles of significant others and imagine how people will
respond without actually acting out the situation 3. Game stage: child develops a generalized impression of the behaviour people expect and
awareness of his own importance to the group; responds to generalized other (conception of
how people in general will respond)
Internal conversation: “I” subjective part; actor/”Me” objecti