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 solutions
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 truly
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
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 constructed
structure the network of relativity stable opportunities and constraints influencing
Minority Status Are you part of a minority race? If you’re caucasion, heterosexual, ablebodied 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 at you?
Society treats men and women differently. Why on average do men make more money
patriarchy a system where men control the political and economic resources of society
People are ranked by income, education, occupation and area of residence. Some children
are both with a socioeconomic 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. Sex)
achieved status attributes developed throughout life as a result of effort and skill (eg.
Children’s wellbeing depends partly on family income. Children living in families with
higher income are usually have better physical, social/emotional, cognitive and
behavioral wellbeing. Children with single parents generally have a disadvantage
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 (551479 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 (469399 BCE) and his student Plato (427347 BCE) challenged the virtue of
being paid for ones knowledge and advocated deeper reflection on human social
condition Roman Emperor Marcus Aurellius (121180), Muslim philosopher and scientist Al
Farabi (870950), Italian theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas (12241274), and William
Shakespeare and John Locke all explored individual role in society.
Ibn Khladun (13321406) is recognized as first social philosopher working from the
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
2. 2. Metaphysical stage began during enlightenment. A field of philosophy
dedicated to an understanding of truth and the relationship between mind and
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 science
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 defensible.
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
AntiPositivism 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
Eg. You get a 85 on your sociology midterm. 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 human
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
Quantitative and Qualitative Sociology
Quantitative Sociology the study of behaviors that can be measured (eg. Income levels)
Qualitative Sociology The study of nonmeasureable subjective behaviors (eg. Effects
The Political Revolution
Machiavelli suggested human behavior is motivated by selfinterest and the desire for
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
JeanJaques 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.
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 smallgroup dynamics within a larger society
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 sociocultural 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 centers).
1 billion people out of the worlds 6 billion control 80% of the worlds wealth while the
remaining 5 billion live in poverty.
Chapter 2 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
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
DeanJaques 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
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
Organic analogy society is just like an organism with interdependent and interrelated
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
laissezfaire 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
Laissezfaire 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
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
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
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 of
Latency – the system needs to motivate individuals to release their frustrations in socially
Tension maintenance – recognizes the internal tensions and strains that influence all
Pattern maintenance – involves socially appropriate ways to display tensions and strains
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