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Chapter 1 Introducing Sociology Chapter Summary Sociology, or the scientific study of society, emerged as a discipline in the nineteenth century in Western Europe. Auguste Comte is credited with coining the term sociology, but the founding fathers of the discipline are Émile Durkheim, Karl Marx, and Max Weber. In contrast to psychology, which explains people’s behaviour by focusing on internal influences, sociology focuses on external influences. A particularly useful concept is the sociological imagination, which situates the personal experiences of individuals within the societal context in which these experiences occur. A number of theoretical perspectives or paradigms have been developed in the field of sociology. Sociologists using a functionalist perspective view society as a set of inter-connected parts. These sociologists emphasize cohesion, stability, and order in a society. Critical theorists, on the other hand, believe society is composed of groups competing for scarce resources. Symbolic interactionists differ from both the functionalist and critical paradigms by viewing society as a product of interaction between people in their everyday social relationships. For symbolic interactionists, the focus is on the individual, rather than on society. More recently, other perspectives have emerged. For example, feminist theory stresses the importance of gender, while postmodernists challenge the existence of reality and objectivity. Sociology students should note that individually, none of these perspectives can explain the complexity of human behaviour. Moreover, although each provides a different explanation of how society works, they should not be seen as competing with each other; rather, they are complementing each other. Learning Objectives In this chapter, you will • come to understand the main competing approaches of sociology and see how they can be fused together to give us an understanding of society; and, • learn about the history and development of sociology as a social scientific discipline. Key Terms expectation: A shared idea about how people should carry out the duties attached to a particular status. 2 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. macrosociology: The study of social institutions (e.g., the Roman Catholic Church or marriage) and large social groups (e.g., ethnic minorities or college students). microsociology: The study of the processes and patterns of personal interaction that take place among people within groups. negotiation: The ways in which people try to make sense of one another, and make sense to one another; for example, by conferring, bargaining, making arrangements, compromising, and reaching agreements. role: The expected pattern of interaction with others. social institution: One kind of social structure, made up of a number of relationships (i.e., stable patterns of meaningful orientations to one another). social structure: Any enduring, predictable pattern of social relations among people in society. society: The largest-scale human group, whose members interact with one another, share a common geographic territory, and share common institutions. sociology: The systematic study of social behaviour, or the study of society. sociological imagination: An approach to sociology that situates the personal experiences of individuals within the societal context in which these experiences occur. status: A socially defined position that delineates people’s rights and responsibilities. Recommended Readings Allan, K. (2007). The Social Lens: An Invitation to Social and Sociological Theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press. The goal of this book is to provide a comprehensive discussion of both classical and contemporary social theory, outlining different approaches to sociology and describing the scholars who put these forth; however, Allan does not present these perspectives as competing with each other, as do some other books. Instead, each perspective is intended as a starting point for students, an introduction to its ideas and a base for future exploration. Bell, V. (2007). Culture and Performance: The Challenges of Ethics, Politics, and Feminist Theory. Oxford and New York: Berg. 3 Bell places feminist theory within the context of ethics, politics, and the concept of ‘performativity’. She considers both this latter concept and feminist theory with reference to other philosophers and presents a new approach to considering contemporary feminist ideas. Blackledge, P. (2006). Reflections on the Marxist Theory of History. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press. Blackledge takes his reader on a journey of the Marxist tradition in social theory. Each chapter outlines the theory’s transition, from Europe in the nineteenth century, to the Soviet Union in the twentieth, to its relevance in modern sociology. Cheal, D. (2005). Dimensions of Sociological Theory. New York: Palgrave Macmillan This is a clear and reader-friendly discussion of five key debates in relation to sociological perspectives. The organization is innovative, taking a thematic mode of introducing the paradigms, rather than a conventionally historical one. Kimmel, M. S. (2007). Classical Sociological Theory. New York: Oxford University Press. Kimmel’s main purpose is to expand the sociological ‘canon’, to describe the life and works of more than just the sociologists who are typically included in historical discussions. He discusses the work of early feminist sociological theorists and also the work of individuals of non-European descent with ethnic backgrounds other than European, which predominates among the scholars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Turner, J. H. (ed.) (2001). Handbook of Sociological Theory. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers. This is a collection of essays written by prominent scholars on sociological theory. It focuses on five main themes that highlight the diversity of theoretical perspectives in modern sociology. Recommended Websites Statistics Canada www.statcan.gc.ca/start-debut-eng.html E-STAT for Education www.statcan.gc.ca/estat/estat-eng.htm SocioSite www.sociosite.net 4 Socioweb www.socioweb.com Marxist Internet Archive (mia) www.marxists.org Verstehen: The Sociology of Max Weber www.faculty.rsu.edu/~felwell/Theorists/Weber/Whome.htm Émile Durkheim Archive http://durkheim.itgo.com/main.html Sociology Undergraduate Network (SUN) www.sociundergradnetwork.org Websites Multiple Choice Questions 1. Who coined the term sociology? a) Émile Durkheim b) Karl Marx c) Auguste Comte d) Max Weber 2. Who is considered to be the father of modern sociology? a) Auguste Comte b) Karl Marx c) Talcott Parsons d) Émile Durkheim 3. According to sociologists, a) human behaviour is very difficult to analyze, as we can’t be certain exactly why people act as they do. b) how any of us views the world is determined in large part by our position in society. c) it is much more productive to focus on individuals’ internal characteristics to explain their behaviour. d) all of the above 4. Sociology is defined as 5 a) the systematic study of social behaviour. b) the systematic study of individual behaviour in social context. c) the systematic study of culture in modern societies. d) the systematic study of the unequal distribution of social rewards. 5. A __________ is defined as the largest-scale human group, whose members interact with one another, share a common geographic territory, and share common institutions. a) society b) global community c) megalopolis d) nation 6. __________ theory views society as a set of interconnected parts that work together to preserve the overall stability and efficiency of the whole. a) Critical b) Symbolic interactionist c) Functionalist d) Postmodern 7. According to Robert Merton, __________ are functions of social institutions that are intended and easily recognized. a) manifest functions b) overt functions c) intentional functions d) latent functions 8. Robert Merton used the term, __________ to describe the unintended consequences of social institutions. a) manifest functions b) accidental functions c) hidden functions d) latent functions 9. An approach to sociology that situates the personal experiences of individuals within the societal context in which these experiences occur is known as the a) fusion perspective. 6 b) sociological imagination. c) dual concepts approach. d) bi-directional analysis 10. Émile Durkheim used the term __________ to reflect the condition that is typical in times of rapid social change
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