SOC100- Chapter 1: A Sociological Compass
The Sociological Perspective
Sociology offers a unique, surprising and enlightening perspective on social events (e.g. suicide).
Suicide Most anti-social act
o Everyone in society condemns it
o Typically committed in private, far from public’s intrusive glare
o Comparatively rare (recent years: approx. 11 suicides for every 100,000 Canadians)
o When trying to figure out the reason for someone’s suicide, we usually focus on their individual state of mind
rather than the state of the society.
Sociology can reveal the hidden social causes of such a non-social and anti-social phenomenon.
The Sociological Explanation of Suicide: Emile Durkheim
o Suicide is more than an individual act of desperation resulting from psychological disorder. Rather suicide rates are
strongly influenced from social forces.
o He gathered statistics from European gov’t statistics, hospital records, and other sources which conveyed that
suicide rates are not high when psychological disorder is high and vise versa.
More women than men were in insane asylums but four male suicides occurred for every female suicide.
Jews had highest rate of psychological disorder in France but had lowest suicide rate.
Psychological disorders occurred frequently when people reach maturity, but suicide rates increased steadily
with advanced age.
o Durkheim’s argument: suicide rates varied due to differences in the degree of social solidarity in different
categories of the population.
The more the group members shared beliefs and values more frequently and intensely they interact
more social solidarity exists within group more firmly anchored individuals are to social world less likely
to take their own lives.
High solidarity groups lower suicide (up to a point).
o Durkheim’s Theory: Suicide rate declines and then rises as social solidarity increases.
Altruistic suicide occurs when norms tightly govern behaviour. Soldiers who knowingly give up their lives
to protect comrades commit altruistic suicide out of a deep sense of patriotism and comradeship.
Egoistic suicide results from the poor integration of people into society because of weak social ties to
others. Someone who’s unemployed and unmarried is this more likely to commit suicide than someone who
is employed and married.
Anomic suicide occurs when vague norms govern behaviour. The rate of anomic suicide is likely to be high
among people living in a society that lacks widely shared code of morality.
o Durkheim’s Results:
Married men are half as likely as unmarried men to commit suicide it creates social ties and moral
cement, binding individual to society.
Women are less likely to commit suicide than men they are more involved in intimate social relations of
Jews are less likely to commit suicide than Christians centuries of persecution turned them into more
defensive and tightly knit.
Seniors are more prone to taking their life they most likely live alone, lost spouse, lack job, and lack wide
network of friends.
“suicide varies with the degree of integration of the social groups of which individual forms a part” A person’s likelihood of committing suicide decreases as the degree to which he or she is anchored in society
Suicide in Canada Today
o Rate of suicide among youth and young adults has increased in Canada compared to Durkheim’s France.
o Shared moral principles and strong moral ties have eroded since the early 1960s for Canada’s youth.
In 1960s, more than 50% Canadians attended religious services weekly, today only 25% do, and only 15%
people born after 1960 do.
Unemployment rate has increased. In 1960s unemployment rate = 3%. 1990s = 10%. July, 2010 = 8%. At
14.1%, unemployment rate was twice as high for Canadians under the age of 24 as it was for older
Divorce rate has increased sixfold since 1960s. Birth outside marriage are also much common than they used
to be. Therefore, children are brought up in single-parent families than in the past less frequent and
intimate social interaction with parents and less adult supervision.
o Social solidarity is lower than it was a few decades ago, especially for young people. They are less firmly rooted in
society less likely to share moral standards resulting in young people in Canada now are more likely now than
they were half century ago to take their life, if they are in deep personal crisis.
The Sociological Imagination
Sociologists call relatively stable patterns of social relations social structures.
Aspects of social structures such as level of social solidarity of groups you belong to, affect you innermost thoughts
and feelings, influence your actions, this help you shape who you are.
C. Wright Mills (1959): Sociological Imagination- ability to see connection between personal troubles and social
structures. He used language that’s considered sexist in today’s society.
o He argued that one of the sociologist’s main task is to identify and explain the connection between people’s
personal troubles and the social structures in which people are embedded.
o To broaden our awareness involves recognizing three levels of social structures.
Microstructure: patterns of intimate social relations formed during face to face interaction. E.g. Families,
friendship circles, and work associations.
Macrostructures: patterns of social relations that lie outside and above your circle of intimates and
acquaintances. E.g. patriarchy economic and political inequality between women and men, religious
institutions, and social classes.
Global structures: third level of social structure. They are increasingly important because inexpensive travel
and communication allow all parts of the world to become interconnected culturally, economically, and
politically. E.g. international organizations, patterns of worldwide travel and communication, economic
relations among countries.
o Personal problems are connected to social structures at micro (finding job), macro (gender equality) and global
levels (ending world poverty).
Origins of the Sociological Imagination: In ancient times, philosophers relied on speculation, not evidence to reach
conclusions about how world worked. The sociological imagination was born when three modern revolutions pushed
people to think about society in a new way.
o The Scientific Revolution: 1550s. Encouraged that sound conclusions must be based on evidence, not just
speculation. Scientific method using evidence to make a case for a particular point of view. In 19 century,
sociology emerged as a distinct discipline and the scientific method was one of its firm pillars in sociological
imagination. o The Democratic Revolution: began in 1750. Suggested that people are responsible for organizing society and
human intervention can solve social problems. American (1789-83) and French (1789-99) Revolution helped
undermine the idea that God ordained the social order. They proved that people can replace unsatisfactory rulers
and that people can control society.
o The Industrial Revolution: began in 1775. Created a host of new and serious social problems that attracted the
attention of social thinkers. Growth of industry = people moving from countryside to city. Worked long hours in
crowded and dangerous factories. Lost faith in religions, confronted faceless bureaucracies. Reacted to filth and
poverty through strikes, crime, revolutions, and wars.
o Scientific Revolution science of society was possible. Democratic Revolution people could intervene to
improve society. Industrial Revolution presented social thinkers with a host of pressing social problems crying
out for a solution. They responded with the sociological imagination.
Auguste Comte and the Tension between Science and Values: French social thinker (1798-1857)
o Coined the term “sociology” in 1838.
o Tension in his work: was eager to adopt the scientific method in the study of the society, but he was a conservative
thinker, motivated by strong opposition to rapid change in French society.
o Rapid social change destroyed what he valued – especially respect for traditional authority. Therefore, he urged
slow change and preservation of everything traditional in social life.
o Same tensions appear in the work of three other sociologists: Karl Marx (1818-83), Emile Durkheim (1858-1917),
and Max Weber (1864-1920). They wanted to improve people’s lives and were committed to the scientific method
The Sociological Theories and Theorists
Functionalism: Emile Durkheim
o Human behaviour is governed by stable patterns of social relations/social structures. E.g. how patterns of social
solidarity influence suicide rates. Functionalists usually analyze macrostructures.
o Show how social structures maintain or undermine social stability. Functionalists analyze how the parts of society
(structures) fit together and how each part contributes to the stability of the whole (its function). E.g. Durkheim
argued that high social solidarity = maintenance of social order. Growth of industries = lower level of social
solidarity this contributes to social instability (higher suicide, frequent strikes).
o Emphasize that social structures are based mainly on shared values. Durkheim considered social solidarity a moral
binding people together.
o Suggest that re-estthlishing equilibrium best solves social problems. E.g. Durkheim wrote that social stability could
be restored in 19 century Europe by creating associations of worker that would lower worker’s expectations about
what to hope from life people agreeing on wanting less increased solidarity fewer strikes lower suicide
Conflict Theory: conflicts in social life.
o Focuses on large macro structures class relations, patterns of dominance, submission, and struggle between
high and low class.
o Major patterns of inequality social stability in some circumstances, social change in others.
o Stresses that privileged groups maintain their advantages, while subordinate groups struggle for advantages.
o Suggests lessening privilege lower conflict increase human welfare.
o Karl Marx: originator of conflict theory.
Class Conflict: struggle between classes to resist and overcome opposition of other classes. Company owners care about profit want to improve way of work use tools, machines, production
methods production more efficient, higher profit concentration of workers in large establishmets
lower wages low working conditions large and growing class of poor oppose small and shrinking class
of wealthy owners.
Class Consciousness: awareness of belonging to a social class of which one is a member (exploited class).
Working class consciousness encourage growth or trade unions/labour parties no ownership of private
properties (communist society) everyone shares property and wealth according to needs.
o Max Weber: pointed out flaws in Marx’s