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Chapter 1


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SOC103H1 – Chapter 1
Introducing Sociology
Sociology: emerged 200 years ago in response to new social problems that arose from
industrialization, urbanization & political revolution
Two social revolutions were especially important for the growth of sociology
Industrial Revolution: changed people’s lives by drawing them into harsh urban conditions
and new kinds of exploitative, impersonal economic relationships.
French Revolution: which overthrew the monarchy, convinced people throughout the
Western world that new social and political arrangements were possible and should be
How to live in post-revolutionary societies
Present-day sociology is deeply concerned with how we know what we know: how we view and judge
different pictures of reality.
Herodotus: world first historian, devoted his attention to the differences between Egyptian, Greeks,
and Persians
Voltaire: French Enlightenment thinker, reflected on differences between English Protestants and
French Catholics
Max Weber: analyzed different religions to understand why capitalism arose in northwestern Europe,
but not elsewhere
Sociology: the systematic study of social behavior, or the study of society
Society: largest-scale human group, whose members interact with one another, share a common
geographic territory, and share common institutions
Sociology: began with comparisons, look for explanations to explain our differences, to find patterns
in people’s social relations, oriented to solving problems-to find better ways of living together
New problems of living in an industrial society
Move social theorizing away from:
o Moral philosophy
To blame is not to understand
Social life is innately contradictory and paradoxical (many good intentions
produce bad results)
While everyone has agency and free will, everyone is also constrained and
Thus everyone is more or less, to blame for something
oI.e. People living in developed nations benefits from the
oppression (low wages and poverty) of workers in the southern
hemisphere (less-developed nations)
oI.e. Everyone who enjoys a high level of material consumerism
benefits at the expense of future generations (whose natural
non-renewable resources we are using up)
oCommon sense explanations
Common-sense knowledge is that uninspected package of beliefs,
understandings, and propositions that people (merely) assume to be prudent
and sound.
oPsychological and psychiatric theories to explain widespread social problems
Often ignore the root social causes, thus, miss finding a solution
I.e. schoolyard bullies usually act the way they do because they
themselves are victims. Seeing bullies in this way-as victims as well as
victimizers-is sociological, because it looks at the broader social factors
that influence how individuals act within society. Many psychological
problems-even varieties of mental illness-have social origins. Need to
get to the interpersonal root of the problem to break the cycle
Consider the unequal distribution of social rewards. What people get in life is largely the
result of circumstances beyond their control. I.e. patterns associated with unequal
opportunities. Such patterns perpetuate from one generation to the next, shaping the ways
people can lead their lives. The difference in life experiences from one person to the next is
rarely a simple result of higher intelligence, more hard work, or other personal characteristics.
Ways of looking at sociology

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Macrosociology: study of social institutions (for example, Roman Catholic Church or marriage) and
large social groups (i.e. ethnic minorities or college students)
Microsociology: the study of the processes and patterns of personal interaction that take place
among people within groups
Functional theory
Society as a set of interconnected parts that work together to preserve the overall stability and
efficiency of the whole
Individual social institutions: families, the economy, government, education, etc
Robert Merton: that social institutions (one kind of social structure, made up of a number
of relationships, i.e. stable patterns of meaningful orientations to one another. People use
institutions to achieve their intended goals, as students use schools, or patients use hospitals)
perform both manifest (those intended and easily recognized) and latent (unintended and
often hidden) functions
oI.e. Education is intended to provide students with knowledge, skills and cultural values
that will help them to work effectively in society. Both the school and its participants-
formally recognize these roles (the expected pattern of interaction with others). At the
latent level, education also works as a regular babysitter for young children and
teenagers and also works as a matchmaker
oI.e. Durkheim’s example of crime. Crime is serves the latent function of mobilizing
popular sentiment and helps clarify the social boundaries for proper behaviour,
thereby strengthening social solidarity
oFunctionalists explain social problems by focusing on the failure of institutions to fulfill
their roles during times of rapid change. By this reckoning, industrialization and
urbanization in North America a century ago caused a sharp increase in social
disorganization, leading to an upsurge of crime, mental illness, poverty, unsanitary
living conditions, and environmental pollution.
oDurkheim introduced the term anomie, or normlessness, to reflect the condition
typical in times of rapid social change, in which social norms are weak or in conflict
with one another.
oFrom the functionalist perspective, the best way to deal with social problems is to
strengthen social norms and slow the pace of social change
Police restraining a protester during a riot illustrates what can happen when
social control and norms break down, a condition Durkheim termed anomie
oSociological imagination: an approach to sociology that situates the personal
experiences of individuals within the societal context in which these experiences occur
Critical Theory
Arises out of the basic division between society’s haves and have-nots
Focuses on the unequal distribution of power – the domination of one group by another
Reject functional explanations, criticizing their limited attention to power struggles
Karl Marx: where critical approach originates
oMarx attributed social problems not to industrialization & urbanization (like
functionalists), but to capitalism
oBourgeoisie (elite owners of the means of production) vs. proletariat (working class,
who sell their labour)
oBourgeoisie class controls the economic system, they use their economic power &
political influence to remain in power
Solution to social problems is to abolish class differences and private ownership of the means
of production
Max Weber: shifted the focus beyond classes to contending status groups. This enabled
critical theory to also address other struggles for domination: i.e. conflict between men and
women, and between people of different racial or ethnic groups
Symbolic Interactionism
Functional theory and critical theory focus on large elements of society, such as social
institutions and major demographic groups
By contrast, symbolic interactionism focuses on small-group interactions, the glue that holds
people together in social relationships
The shared meanings, definitions, and interpretations of interacting individuals
They analyze how certain behaviours come to be defined or framed, and how people learn to

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engage in everyday activities
Labelling theory: that any given social problem is viewed as such simply because an
influential group of people defines it so
Howard Becker: argues marijuana smoking is a social problem because influential moral
entrepreneurs make it one
Herbert Blumer: proposes that social problems develop in stages that include social
recognition, social legitimating, mobilization for action, and finally the development and
implementation of an official plan, such as a government-sanctioned war on drugs
Roles of stigma and stigmatization as forms of social control
Interaction: the processes by which, and manner in which, social actors-people trying to meet each
other’s expectations-relate to each other, especially in face-to-face encounters
Expectation: a shared idea about how people should carry out the duties attached to a particular
Feminist Theories
Branch of critical theory, since it also focuses on relationships of inequality
In practice, most feminist research is a mixture of symbolic interactionist and critical theory.
Common theme in the many types of feminism is the view that domination of women is not a
result of biological determinism but is a result of socio-economic and ideological factors – of
what Weber called closure and usurpation.
A unique set of assumptions informs feminist research: all personal life has a political
dimension; both the public and private spheres of life are gendered (that is, unequal for men
and women); women’s social experience routinely differs from men’s; patriarchy-or male
control-structures the way most societies work; and because of routinely different experiences
and differences in power, women and men view the world differently (i.e. consequences of
First, feminist research pays the greatest attention to gendered influences on social
life, or the gendering of experiences. Some experiences are specifically female or male.
I.e. violence against women, women’s economic vulnerability through job insecurity and
divorce, and women’s vulnerability to male-dominated standards of attractiveness and social
A second interest is in the problem of victimization. Feminists are especially interested
in women’s victimization and the experiences of other victimized groups. Feminists are
especially interested in intersectionality: the interaction of gender with other victimizing
social characteristics such as class and race, to produce particular combinations of
Feminists stress the gendered nature of both deviance and control. Ex. They call our attention
to the relationship between events in the private sphere (e.g. domestic violence) and events in
the public sphere (e.g. the cultural and legal tolerance of domestic violence). They note the
gendering of law enforcement practices (ex. how they police treat prostitutes compared with
how they treat prostitutes’ customers). They note the survival of patriarchal values in the legal
system-ex, the centuries of failure to concede that a husband might be guilty of raping his
Postmodern Theories
Form of critical theory, interested in unmasking ideologies that protect the dominant social
Assert that reality is fragmentary: all we have are disjointed, often conflicting accounts of
reality. Any claim that there is a single knowable and known truth, or that any one account is
the truth, is false and illusory.
Efforts to find and promote universal or essential truths are self-deluding or are forms of
propaganda designed to confuse and dominate the population.
It is the job of the postmodern sociologist to analyze these universalizing accounts and expose
their flaws. At best, postmodernists hold that we can discover only particular explanations for
particular situations, not universal, timeless laws of social life
By denying universal knowledge and highlighting the value of local or particular insights, has
an attraction for counter-cultural movements.
Attacks modernism-a 19th and 20th century approach to studying social phenomena
Modernism: holds the view that through science we can discover the truth about reality, and
there is only one truth per situation. If so, it should be possible to change and improve society
through social engineering, using discovered truths or natural laws about the social order. It
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