THE SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION
Sociology is the study of human society.
In the mid-twentieth century, sociologist C. Wright Mills argued that we need to use
our sociological imagination to think critically about the social world around us.
The sociological imagination is the ability to connect ones personal experiences to
society at large and greater historical forces. Using our sociological imagination
allows us to make the familiar strange or to question habits or customs that
seem natural to us.
WHAT IS A SOCIAL INSTITUTION?
A social institution is a group of social positions, connected by social relations, that
perform a social role. Social institutions, such as the legal system, the labor
market, or language itself, have a great influence on our behavior and are
The interactions and meanings we ascribe to social institutions shape and change
Social identity is how individuals define themselves in relationship to groups they
are a part of (or in relationship to groups they choose not to be a part of). We all
contribute to one anothers social identity, which can also be thought of as a
grand narrative constructed of many individual stories.
THE SOCIOLOGY OF SOCIOLOGY
The French scholar Auguste Comte, founder of what he called social physics or
positivism, felt that we could better understand society by determining the
logic or scientific laws governing human behavior.
Harriet Martineau, the first to translate Comtes written works to English, was one
of the earliest feminist social scientists.
Historical materialism, a theory developed by Karl Marx, identifies class conflict
as the primary cause of social change.
Max Weber felt that culture and politics as well as economics were important
influences on society, and his emphasis on subjectivity became a foundation of
Emile Durkheim, considered the founding practitioner of positivist sociology,
developed the theory that the division of labor in a given society helps to
determine how social cohesion is maintained, or not maintained, in that society.
Georg Simmel established what is today referred to as formal sociology, or a
sociology of pure numbers.
The Chicago School focused on empirical research with the belief that peoples
behaviors and personalities are shaped by their social and physical environments.
Double consciousness, a concept developed by W. E. B. DuBois, refers to an
individual's constant awareness of how others perceive them and how those
perceptions alter their own behavior.
Modern sociological theories include functionalism, conflict theory, feminist theory,
symbolic interactionism, postmodernism, and midrange theory.
SOCIOLOGY AND ITS COUSINS
Sociology focuses on making comparisons across cases to find patterns and create
hypotheses about how societies work now or in the past. Sociology looks at how individuals interact with one another as well as at how groups, small and large, interact
with one another. History and anthropology tend to focus more on particular
circumstances, though in cultural anthropology in particular, there can be a lot of
overlap with sociology. Psychology and biology examine things on more of a micro level
than sociology does, and economics is an entirely quantitative discipline. Political
science focuses on one aspect of social relationspower. These distinctions are
important, but its also important to keep in mind that a lot of overlap exists between the
work done in different academic disciplines.
DIVISIONS WITHIN SOCIOLOGY
Interpretive sociology focuses on the meanings people attach to social phenomena,
prioritizing specific situations over a search for social facts that transcend time
Positivist sociology, also called the normal science model of sociology, attempts to
reveal the social facts that affect social life by developing and testing hypotheses
based on theories about how the social world works.
Microsociology seeks to understand local interactional contexts, focusing on face-to-
face encounters and gathering data through participant observations and in-
Macrosociology generally looks at social dynamics across whole societies or large parts
of them and often relies on statistical analysis to do so.
Causality is the idea that a change in one factor results in a corresponding change in
Research methods are standard rules that social scientists follow when trying to
establish a causal relationship between social elements. Quantitative methods
seek to obtain information about the social world that is in, or can be converted
to, numeric form. Qualitative methods attempt to collect information about
the social world that cannot be readily converted to numeric form.
RESEARCH 101: THE BASICS
Sociological research generally begins with a question that asks what causes a certain
social phenomenon to occur.
Using a deductive approach to research, we start with a theory, develop a
hypothesis, make empirical observations, and then analyze the data collected
through observation to confirm, reject, or modify the original theory. Using an
inductive approach to research, we start with empirical observation and then
work to form a theory.
Correlation exists when we simply observe change in two things simultaneously;
causation exists when we can prove that a change in one factor causes the
change in the other factor.
Sociologists conduct research to try to prove causation. In order to prove causation,
researchers need to establish correlation and time order and rule out alternative
A dependent variable is the outcome that a researcher is trying to explain; an
independent variable is a measured factor that the researcher believes has a causal impact on the dependent variable.
In social research, a hypothesis is a proposed relationship between two variables. For
all hypotheses, both a null hypothesis and an alternative hypothesis exist.
Operationalization is the process by which a researcher specifies the terms and
methods he or she will use in a particular study.
Moderating variables are factors that affect the relationship between the
independent and dependent variables; mediating variables are factors that are
positioned between the independent and dependent variables but do not affect
the relationship between them.
Measures used to evaluate variables in a hypothesis must be valid and reliable and the
outcomes of a particular research study must be generalizable to a larger
Researchers must be aware of the effects they have on the people, relationships, and
processes they are studying.
Feminist methodology treats womens experiences as legitimate empirical and
theoretical resources, promotes social science that may bring about policy change
to help women, and is as conscious of the role of the researcher as that of the
subjects being studied.
Participant observation, interviews, survey research, historical methods, comparative
research, experimentation, and content analysis are all types of data collection
used in social research.
ETHICS OF SOCIAL RESEARCH
Researchers must meet codified standards, which are often set by professional
associations, academic institutions, or research centers, when conducting studies.
Researchers must guard against causing physical, emotional, or psychological harm to
their subjects. By adhering to informed consent and voluntary
participation guidelines, researchers can make sure their subjects know they
are participating in a study and have voluntarily chosen to participate.
Public sociology refers to the practice of using sociological research, teaching, and
service to reach a wider (not solely academic) audience and to influence society.
DEFINITIONS OF CULTURE
Culture can be loosely defined as a set of beliefs, traditions, and practices.
The concept of culture has evolved and expanded throughout history. Perhaps one of
the oldest understandings of culture focuses on the distinction between what is
part of our natural environment and what is modified or created by humans.
As Europeans came into contact with non-Westerners, they began to think of culture
in terms of differences between peoples, which could be viewed positively or
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a new dimension was added to the concept
of culturethe idea that culture involved the pursuit of intellectual refinement.
MATERIAL VERSUS NONMATERIAL CULTURE
Material culture is everything that is a part of our constructed environment, such as
books, fashion, and monuments. Nonmaterial culture encompasses values,
beliefs, behaviors, and social norms.
Culture includes language, the meanings we assign to words, and concepts such as