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Chapter 1

SOC 101 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1: Symbolic Interactionism, Scientific Method, Class Consciousness

Course Code
SOC 101
Glenn Eichel

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1.1 The Sociological Perspective
- Americans live in a “free” country; unlike other nations, they have freedom of choice
- However our freedom to think and act is constrained at least by some degree by society’s
standards and expectations and by the many aspects of our social backgrounds
- Society shapes our attitudes and behaviors, but does not determine them altogether
- Our freedom is limited by society’s expectations
Life chances - our chances of being healthy, wealthy, and well educated and more generally, of
living a good, happy life
Social environment - social backgrounds and other aspects of sociology
Sociology - the scientific study of social behavior and social institutions
*Sociological perspective - the belief that people’s backgrounds influence their attitudes,
behaviors and life chances
Society - a group of people who live within a defined territory and who share a culture
Key Takeaways:
- According to the sociological perspective, social backgrounds influence attitudes,
behavior and life chances
- Social backgrounds influence, but do not totally determine attitudes and behavior
- Americans may be less “free” in their thoughts and behavior than they normally think
they are
1.2 Sociology as a Social Science
Generalization - a conclusion drawn from sociological research that is meant to apply to broad
categories of people but for which many exceptions will always exist
Laws - in the physical sciences, a statement of physical processes for which no exceptions are
- Sociology can be used to predict people’s behavior, attitudes and life chances, but many
people won’t fit the predictions
How do we know what we know?
1. Personal experience
2. Common sense
3. The media (including internet)
4. Expert authorities (teachers, parents, government officials, etc.)
5. Tradition
- Personal experience is better than nothing, but it often offers only a very limited
understanding of social reality other than your own
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- Common sense can be helpful, but it can also contradict itself; also not always
- We gain a lot of information from the media, but media coverage may oversimplify
complex topics or even distort what the best evidence from systematic research seems to
be telling us
- We learn a lot from expert authorities, but not all of what we learn from these sources
about social reality is completely accurate
- Tradition is generally valuable because a society should always be aware of its roots,but
traditional ways of thinking about social reality often turn out to be inaccurate and
- Sociology confirms the obvious but it also confirms the non obvious and challenges
conventional understandings of how society works and of controversial social issues
Debunking motif - from Peter L. Berger, a theme in sociology in which the aim is to go beyond
superficial understandings of social reality
“Things are not what they seem”
Social structure - the social patterns through which society is organized
Horizontal - the social relationships and social/physical characteristics of communities to
which individuals belong
Vertical - a term used interchangeably with social inequality
Social inequality - the unequal distribution of resources, such as wealth, that a society values
Personal troubles - C. Wright and Mills’ term for personal problems that many individuals
Public issues - C. Wright and Mills’ term for problems in society that underlie personal troubles
Sociological imagination - from C. Wright and Mills; the realization that personal troubles are
rooted in public issues
Blaming the victim - belief that people experiencing difficulty are to blame for these problems
Blaming the system - belief that personal difficulties stem from problems in society
Key Takeaways:
- Personal experiences, common sense and the mass media often yield
inaccurate/incomplete understandings of social reality
- The debunking motif involved seeing beyond taken for granted assumptions of social
- According to C. Wright and Mills, the sociological imagination involves the ability to
recognize that private troubles are rooted in public issues and structural problems
- Early U.S. sociologists emphasized the use of sociological research to achieve social
reform and today’s public sociology reflects the historical roots of sociology in this
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