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1. Sociological Theory.docx

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SOC 101
Barry Mc Clinchey

Chapter 1: Sociological Theory Introduction: Why Theory?  Antonio Gramsci believed that everyone is a social theorist o We have intellect and use our minds to make sense of the world in which we live o We already use our intellects to explain how society works  Social theorists come up with ideas that explains the world that people construct and inhabit  We are able to use our intellect to understand the world and guide the actions we take o From sociological perspective, what we do is part of the making and remaking of the actual world we live in  We expect the social world to follow rules that we can take for granted (E.G. driving on right hand side, mothers loving children, etc.) o Rules of nature are not the same as the rules of society  Following social rules is necessary for society to work  Social theorists want to understand the taken-for-granted nature of social life o Naturalistic o Our thinking has become something we accept as natural, not something we question o We play the role we are born into --- born into an existing society of things and people and into a world of ideas of what we should and shouldn’t think or do o Identity is not something we make by ourselves o Gramsci says that all these ideas about the world and our place within it reflect theories of society that have been built into our intellect  Sociologists argue that though people are physical beings, they are also intellectual beings who can question the rules about social problems o People can even choose to violate what might be seen as the most basic rule of biology, survival.  C. Wright Mills says that the key to understanding is the ability to connect personal problems with larger forces in society o He was a critical and caustic sociologist o His ideas were ignored for some time in mainstream sociology o It wasn’t enough to focus only on a person’s experiences o Experiences must be understood in their social content o Sociology must address social problems by linking an individual’s personal troubles with the way society is organize and structured  Should understand an individual’s private troubles as rooted in widespread public issues  Great deal of sociology is concerned with the question of why society operates so imperfectly  Binary thinking: o The use of either/or propositions o One of the most important binary distinctions in contemporary social theory is between ‘structure’ and ‘agency’ o One hand, we are born into pre-existing social arrangements/structures, but we also choose one course of action over others o Much of our social life is shaped by existing social institutions, rules, practises, and structures of power and authority o Social theory focuses on the working of these pre-existing structures and institutions that set the limits and boundaries of our lives The Birth of Sociology in the Age of Revolution  European social theorists created the binary concept, ‘modern’ (meaning Europe during the modern age) and ‘traditional’ (meaning Europe before the modern age) o They believed the key difference separating the traditional from the modern was the way people understood and thought about the world o Traditional society --- world of magic, mystery and irrational authority o Modern society --- entered world of Enlightenment (through use of reason/rationality, the human mind can discover ‘true’ knowledge)  Auguste Comte (1798 – 1857) o Invented term ‘sociology’ o Intended to create a ‘science’ of society that would allow us to understand social life the way that biology had enabled us to understand physical life o ‘Science’ was used to give sociology high statue among the branches of knowledge o Based on facts, evidence, and scientific laws  Scientists had ‘discovered’ that natural laws made the world orderly and predictable  Knowledge of the natural world could lead to having power over nature  To move forward --- discover the ‘natural’ laws that determined social life o Once discovered, could be used to control society  According to Auguste Comte, there was a law according to which social thinking necessarily passed through three stages o First stage --- theology, assumed that the world was run by supernatural powers (gods) o Second stage --- philosophy, idea of ‘nature’ replaced the idea of an active, miracle-working god o Third stage --- apply scientific knowledge of the laws of nature to change the physical world to suit themselves  Throughout most of the 19 century, sociological thinking involved the search for law-like certainties that could explain social life o Approach known as positivism  Herbert Spencer believed that society, like nature, was a struggle for existence o The strongest/best individuals rose to the top of the social pyramid, weak/poor sank to bottom of the pyramid o Karl Marx sought to discover the laws of modern, capitalist society --- these laws would inevitable lead to a working-class revolution, causing capitalist system to crash and the pyramid would be reversed Classical Sociology  The idea that we frequently act according to habit or custom, unthinkingly, or according to our beliefs and values, suggest that people often do no reason things out and make rational choices  Many of the things we accept as natural are socially constructed  Many social theorists have sought to understand people’s intentions and bring the elements of thinking and choosing into their analysis  Max Weber said that people act on the basis of what they intend and what they believe o To understand them, you have to take these subjective factors into accord o We accept authority as legitimate and follow the rules that are given to is o Instead, if we believe the law represents only the interests of the rich and powerful, we might disobey, intentionally.  Poverty is more likely than not to beget poverty o Most people settle back into the same social position once they’re in the workplace  Comte realized that two contradictory things about society is true: o It basically stays the same over time o It is constantly changing  Binary of continuity and change has led to two different sociological perspectives o Most important about society is how it remains the same  Look at the classroom and all the things your classmates could be doing, what they are doing in reality allows the lecture to go on in an orderly routine way o Understand this continuity ---- how society is reproduced  Society possesses powerful mechanisms that force us to obey  Maintaining social order is usually much more subtle than employing direct coercion  Operating more/less behind the scenes are powerful social forces that shape what we do and help determine the consequences of our actions  Sociological theory --- understanding these structural forces  Functionalist theorists --- seek to identify the basic functions that must be fulfilled in all societies and understand how they are accomplished o If something exists in society and persists over time, it must perform some necessary function that is important for the reproduction of society o Social solidarity ---- understand the forces that generate agreement and consensus among people  Marx said that the purpose of social theory is not to understand the world but to change it  According to the conflict perspective in sociology, change comes from conflict o Between generations, government & people, rich & poor  Émile Durkheim (1858 – 1917): th th o Most famous French sociologist of the late 19 and early 20 century o Originally destined to be a rabbi o Born in eastern France to orthodox Jewish family o Educated in Paris --- understood the powerful hold that religion has on people o Began life long study of the relationship between the individual and society  Modern society seemed to have lost the solid and shared code of morality that had acted as the glue holding it together  People no longer shared a collective conscience  Argued that the simplest of societies were held together by such practises of religious celebrations and gift-giving  Relationships strengthened and given meaning  Second source of togetherness originated in regular sacred gatherings --- events when the tribe feasted and celebrated its community  Experience collective effervescence, during celebrations, that bound them together and generated a feeling of spirituality --- sensed power greater than them, root of religious belief  Hypothesized that over time, the sacred part of life had become overshadowed by the secular  Felt the power of religion to uphold a system of moral rules had diminished  People no longer united by a single code of right and wrong, an uncertainty --- anomie  Other traditional institutions also seemed to be breaking down in modern society  Marriage was a sentence that had to be endured for the good of society  People became more individualized as modern society evolved away from the spirit of community  Community spirit cannot be brought back  Positive effect --- promoted respect for human rights  Negative effect --- created problems since it undermined people’s connection to society, root of modern aimlessness and anomie  To overcome anomie, society needed a new moral code  People would have to educated to recognize that each person’s individuality should be respected  Each individual should understand that their welfare depends on everyone else  Organic solidarity --- society plays a part in maintaining social life  Individual is ‘the organ’ of a much larger organism, society, and everyone must learn to perform conscientiously ‘one’s role as an organ’  Feeling closely connect to others was good for society, but it was also essential for the well-being of an individual o Durkheim’s best-known application of sociological methods to understand a social problem we his examination of suicide  Taking one’s own like would seem to be an absolutely individual act that could only be understood by examining the psychology of a victim  Used his examination of suicide to demonstrate that sociology could make an important contribution to the study of what was perhaps the most lonely act  His friend, Hommay committed suicide in 1886  He felt like a stranger in the small, isolated town where people observed each other too closely  Durkheim concluded that Hommay’s situation might have been due to the fact that he felt isolated --- has few ties to other people and sees no reason to live  Key to the sociological explanation for suicide was the strength or weakness of the individuals’ ties to their community and society  Saw self-destruction as a social fact that could be understood scientifically and objectively  Karl Marx (1818 – 1883): o Has inspired movements of revolution and reform that have had deep and lasting consequences for the study of sociology o Marx’s theories entered sociology directly as part of a critical and radical reorientation of the discipline that challenged functionalist arguments and emerged as conflict theory o Born into respectable middle-class family in Trier, Germany o Married Jenny von Westphalen (daughter of baron) --- out of romance o Marx’s writing ran afoul of the German authorities and Marx & Jenny, along with their six children, spent the rest of their lives in England, living often from hand to mouth o Sought to understand the origins of contemporary society and the forces leading to change within it  Way to begin was to examine the way it produced and distributed the basic necessities of life (economic system)  Surplus --- excess goods produced which went to support the elite who were free from the burden of daily burden o Economically what distinguished traditional from modern society was the rise of capitalism  Originated as a group of merchants, buyers and sellers who occupied space as a ‘middle class’ between the serfs (lower class) and aristocracy (upper class)  Middle class grew economically wealthy until they took political power from the monarch and aristocrats through a series of revolutions, making them the new dominant upper class  Under capitalist control, economic system revolutionized  Proletariat --- wage workers o Pyramid of Capitalist system  The labour of the working class toiling at the bottom provides surplus in the form of profit for the livelihood of the opulent capitalist class, for priests, and for the government  Government orders soldiers to shoot the workers when they rebel  Religion tells lies to keep the workers pacified o He believed that religion acted as ‘the opium of the people’ to dull the pain of their oppression o He believed that the fate of capitalism hinged on the conflict between the proletariat and capitalists and expected that a working-class revolution would replace capitalism with a more cooperative and collective society -
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