Sociology Reading Notes
Week one – Chapter one Ravelli & Webber
-Sociology- the systematic study of human groups and their interactions
-Sociological perspective- a view of society based on the dynamic relationships
between individuals and the larger social network in which we live.
Charles Wright Mills and the Sociological Imagination
-personal troubles- personal challenges that require individual solutions
-social issues- challenges caused by larger social factors that require collective
-quality of mind- Mills’ term for the ability to view personal circumstances within a
-sociological imagination- C.W. Mills’ term for the ability to perceive how dynamic
social forces influence individual lives
-cheerful robots- people who are unwilling or unable to see the social world as it
-seeing the general in the particular- ability to look at seemingly unique events or
circumstances and then recognize the larger or general features involved
eg. Homeless person asking for spare change. It is a unique event but how many
times have you seen it before and how many more homeless people are out there
doing the same thing.
-seeing the strange in the familiar- seek out what is familiar and view it as strange
eg. Students go to class, study and write tests to be graded and pass a course. But
why? Why must a professor give you something to justify your learning?
-agency- the assumption that individuals have the ability to alter their socially
-structure- the network of relativity stable opportunities and constraints influencing
individual behaviors Minority Status
Are you part of a minority race? If you’re caucasion, heterosexual, able-bodied and
never been diagnosed with a disease you’re living with a social advantage and have
a good self image. What if you weren’t? what if people avoided eye contact? Stared
Society treats men and women differently. Why on average do men make more
money then women?
-patriarchy- a system where men control the political and economic resources of
People are ranked by income, education, occupation and area of residence. Some
children are both with a socio-economic advantage like being born into a wealthy
family which may give them access to university and material things.
-socioeconomic status (SES)- a combination of variables (income, education,
occupation, etc) used to rank people into a hierarchical structure
-ascribed status- attributes (advantages and disadvantages) assigned at birth (eg.
-achieved status- attributes developed throughout life as a result of effort and skill
(eg. Course grades)
Children’s well-being depends partly on family income. Children living in families
with higher income are usually have better physical, social/emotional, cognitive and
behavioral well-being. Children with single parents generally have a dis-advantage
because their parent has a lower income.
Kids born in a small town are different then kids from the city and vice versa. Is this
because of where they grew up?
The Origins of Sociology
-Confucius (551-479 BCE), Chinese philosopher and the ancient Greeks engaged in
discussion about society in general and the role of the citizen
-Sophists (first paid teachers) travelled the world catering to the rich who wanted to
know how to live happily. -Socrates (469-399 BCE) and his student Plato (427-347 BCE) challenged the virtue
of being paid for ones knowledge and advocated deeper reflection on human social
-Roman Emperor Marcus Aurellius (121-180), Muslim philosopher and scientist Al
Farabi (870-950), Italian theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), and
William Shakespeare and John Locke all explored individual role in society.
-Ibn Khladun (1332-1406) is recognized as first social philosopher working from
the sociological perspective.
-Term sociology was coined by Auguste Comte for his naming of the discipline he is
often referred to as the father of sociology
Three Revolutions: The Rise of Sociology
The emergence of sociology was brought about by: the scientific revolution, the
political revolution and the industrial revolution
The Scientific Revolution
Occurred just after 1800 when world began to be explained through science and not
Comte came up with The Law of Three Stages
1. Theological Stage- occurted from early age to 1300. Everything was
explained by religion
2. 2. Metaphysical stage began during enlightenment. A field of philosophy
dedicated to an understanding of truth and the relationship between mind
3. 3. Positive Stage- 1850 world viewed through a scientific lens, observation,
experimentation and logic
Scientists do not give Comte full credibility for his idea of “three stages”
Positivism- A theoretical approach that considers all understanding to be based on
1. There exists an objective and knowable reality. Physical world can be
understood through observation, experimentation and logic. Suggests reality
is objective and beyond individual interpretation or manipulation.
eg. Objective reality suggests that a chair is in fact a chair
Subjectivity is the attribution of emotional or subjective interpretations
Eg. Although all chairs may be the same could a person not have a favorite
chair? If so that person is deciding there is something to that chair more then
just its function, making subjective interpretations beyond what Is logical or
2. Since all sciences explore the same singular reality, over time all sciences will
become more alike. Since there is only one correct explanation for the physical and social worlds, discipline and scientific boundries will fall away
as we progress in our studies they will all be the same
Eg. On science course intead of chem., bio, physics.
3. There is no room in science for value judgements. There is no good or bad
science since they are all the same anyway.
Eg. Searching for an aids vaccination is no better or worse then finding out
how to shrink a hydrogen bomb
Anti-Positivism- A theoretical approach that considers knowledge and
understanding to be the result of human subjectivity
1. Hard science can be useful for exploring the physical world but the social
world cannot be understood solely through numbers and formulas. Numbers
only have relative importance
Eg. You get a 85 on your sociology mid-term. You feel good about this mark
until you find out the class average was 96. Your mark has not changed but
your feelings toward your mark have.
2. All sciences will not merge over time and no single methodological approach
can reach a complete understanding of our world. To truly understand the
human condition we need to appreciate and validate emotions, values and
3. Science cannot be separated from our values. Sociologists define values as
those cultural assessments that identify something as right, desirable and
moral. What we choose to study is also a social expression. Eg. Would any
society consider the shrinking of the hydrogen bomb as worthy as finding a
vaccine for the AIDS virus.
Quantitative and Qualitative Sociology
Quantitative Sociology- the study of behaviors that can be measured (eg. Income
Qualitative Sociology- The study of non-measureable subjective behaviors (eg.
Effects of divorce)
The Political Revolution
Machiavelli- suggested human behavior is motivated by self-interest and the desire
for material gain
Rene Descartes- Cogito ergo sum “I think, therefore I am”
Comte- we are masters of our own destiny
Thomas Hobbes- people driven by fear of death, and desire for power
John Locke- all knowledge is the result of experience
Jean-Jaques Rousseau- prior to current society, humans existed in a natural state
where an individuals focus was self centered The Industrial Revolution
Around 1750 ind revolution replaced our need to hunt, gather and feed ourselves.
Changed agricultural and rural economy to urban and capitalist one. Farmers
changed from growing everything for themselves to specializing and selling that
product (eg. Potato farmer).
Macro and Micro Sociology
Macro Sociology- the study of society as a whole
Karl Marx- Humans were brought into competition for material things in an early
age. Power imbalances will always exist.
Emile Durkheim- believed people wanted to work together for collective benefit.
Max Weber- social world is becoming increasingly rationalized over time or people
are more focused on selecting the most efficient way to do things.
Micro Sociology- the study of individual or small-group dynamics within a larger
George Hebert Mead- we become ourselves through social interaction. His theory
became known as symbolic interactionism
Symbolic interactionism- a perspective asserting that people and societies are
defined and created through the interactions of individuals.
Charles Horton Cooley- people define themselves by how others view them. We
become what others see in us.
Hebert Blumer- continued what Mead started with symbolic interactionism
Sociology in Canada
Not as old as in U.S. and smaller. Canadian sociology is a product of it’s larger
counterpart, America. It has four defining features that separate it from American
Geography and Regionalism
Canad’s ability to survive over time, in face of hostile elements (cold winter)
The role of east vs. west (eg Quebec vs west)
Focus on Political Economy
Political Economy- the interactions of politics, government and governing and the
social and cultural constitution of markets, institutions and actors
Canada focuses heavily on political Economy
Sociologists trained in the U.S. were hired to come to Canada to learn more about
Canadian sociology is more radical then American because of its focus on
macrosociology as well as greater support for feminist ideas and social change.
Sociology in a Global Perspective
Globalization- a worldwide process involving the production, distribution and
consumption of technological, political, economic and socio-cultural goods and
services Global village is a term which describes the way humans currently communicate in
real time so to speak meaning events that happen in one part of the world are
immediately felt in other parts throught internet, social media (eg. World trade
1 billion people out of the worlds 6 billion control 80% of the worlds wealth while
the remaining 5 billion live in poverty.
Theory – a statement that tries to explain how certain fact or variables are related to
predict future events.
Thomas Hobbes – people create social world around them. Said human lived in
natural state before modern society, believed that deep down humans are driven by
self interest and pursuit of power. Humans would give up some of their rights and
enter a contract of peace (government).
John Locke – said god was responsible for modern society. Humans are born in
tabula rasa (blank slate). Meaning knowledge is independent of experience. God
granted certain rights to people like right to self preservation.
Charles De Montesquieu – argued that people never existed outside of society but
rather he proposed that humans were defined by society. Employed ideal types
Ideal types- classic or pure forms of given social phenomenon
Dean-Jaques Rousseau – argued that natural state was not awful existence but
rather peaceful, humans working together. Said people entered social contract not
because they were forced to but because they wanted to.
Philosophies – French philosophers in the enlightenment who advocated critical
thinking and practical knowledge
Before enlightenment thinking was driven by God. Led to American and French
revolutions and eventually more freedom in society.
Conservative reaction to enlightenment thinking
To enlightenment thinkers the individual was the building block of society. In
contrast conservatives believe that society is not the product of individuals but
rather an entity itself.
Functionalism – view the social world as a dynamic system of interrelated and
interdependent parts. Perspective is often reffered to as the organic analogy. Society
is just like a living organism. If one part of it doesn’t work then the whole thing
breaks down. Organic analogy - society is just like an organism with interdependent and
Herbert Spencer – coined the term survival of the fittest. 10 years later Charles
Darwin developed idea of natural selection. Spencer used darwins theory of
evolution and applied it to society. This resulted in social Darwinism which states
that societies evolve just as organisms do. The belief that it is best to let things take
care of themselves is called a laissez-faire approach. Spencer thought the idea of
welfare or catering to the weak was stupid and they should be rid of to make more
room for the people who can support themselves.
Natural selection – the biologically based principle that environmental pressures
allow certain beneficial traits to be passed on to future generations
Evolution – the biological process by which genetic mutations are selected for or
against through environmental pressures
Social Darwinism – spencers assertion that societies evolve according to the same
principles as do organisms
Laissez-faire a point of view that opposes regulation of or interference wuth natural
Emile Durkheim – culture and society exist outside of the individual, are
independent of and outlive the individual. Collective conscience drives your
behaviors without you even being aware of it. Social facts are general social features
that exist on their own and are independent of human manifestation (eg. Laws,
beliefs). Anomie is a state or normalessness that results from a lack of clear goals
and creates feelings of confusion. (eg. Students who go to school without knowing
what they want to do).
Collective conscience – durkheim’s concept highlighting the totality of a society’s
beliefs and sentiments
Social facts – general social features that exist on their own and are independent of
Anomie – durkheims term for a state of normalessness that results from a lack of
clear goals and may lead to higher suicide rates
Mechanical solidarity – describes early societies based on similarities and
Organic solidarity – describes later societies organized around interdependence and
the increasing division of labour
Talcott Parsons – teacher and writer at Harvard. His social action theory was an
attempt to separate behaviors, which he saw as almost mechanical responses to
specific stimuli, from actions, which he viewed as the results of an active and
inventive process. Viewed people as “actors”.
AGIL – required for a social system to maintain homestasis
1. Adaptation – social system must be able to gather and distribute sufficient
environmental resources as well as adapt to changes in environment or
manipulate environment to achieve needs 2. Goal attainment – system needs to establish clear goals and priorities. The
central question that goal attainment must answer is how to use legit power
to implement social decisions
3. Integration – The system needs to maintain solidarity within it as well as
have the different units in society work together. The system must
coordinate and adjust to the needs and aspirations of the various subgroups
in society. It must find ways to motivate its actors to fufill their roles and
regulate them when they do not.
4. Latency – The system needs to motivate individuals to release their
frustrations in socially appropriate ways, and to the imparitives of tension
maintenance and pattern maintenance.
Adaptation – the social system must be able to gather and distribute sufficient
resources and adjust to changes in its environment
Goal attainment – the system needs to establish clear goals and priorities
Integration – the system needs to maintain solidarity while allowing the aspirations
Latency – the system needs to motivate individuals to release their frustrations in
socially appropriate ways
Tension maintenance – recognizes the internal tensions and strains that influence
Pattern maintenance – involves socially appropriate ways to display tensions and
Parsons AGIL typology was an important contribution to functionalists theory as it
Robert K. Merton – former student of Parsons at Harvard stressed manifest and
latent functions. Manifest functions are the intended consequences of an action or
social pattern. Latent functions are the unintended consequences of an action or
social pattern. Eg. Whilst studying for sociology test your intent is to do well on your
exam (manifest function) but you also meet your future ex wife (latent function)
Manifest functions – the intended consequences of an action or social pattern
Latent functions – the unintended consequences of an