The Study of Social Life
Sociology is the systematic, study of human society. A lot of people think that they know everything about social behavior because it is around us everyday. Sociologists have unique ways of looking at human behavior and special tools for studying them.
More Than Common Sense
Most people think that sociology is a way to discover what everyone already knows, they believe that it is common sense. Some of ideas and beliefs obtained from common sense have been proven false from facts of sociological research, but some validate what we already know. Sociology can tell us which popular beliefs are true and which are false. It also helps reduce the confusion that comes from common sense. You possibly have heard that “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” From sociological research we can conclude that the effect of a person’s absence on another depends on the strength of the relationship. If two people were deeply in love, the absence of the other will make the heart grow stronger, but if it were two high school students then the relationship will most likely fall apart. Sociology is not common sense, because if it was then people would not waste their time studying it. Common sense cannot tell us which ideas and beliefs are true, but sociology can. Sociology gives us facts supported by ideas and excitement of discovering new things about ourselves.
The Appreciation of Social Diversity
Sociology suggests that we can know ourselves better by studying others. We can see how others are similar to us in some ways and different in other. If we all lived under the same conditions, then we would all likely behave the same way. We learn a lot from people who go through social marginality- being excluded from mainstream society-such as racial and ethnic minorities, women, the poor and homeless, elderly, homosexuals, and ones with disabilities. We can see how different social conditions affect socially marginal people, and see how hard it is for them to make in it society. We also can see the advantages by members of mainstream society, making it easier for them to succeed. The study of social diversity reveals the different ways that society influences the lives of different people, even our own.
The Importance of Global Analysis
The whole world has become a global village, a closely knit community of all the world’s societies. So, whatever happens in one part of the world affects what happens on the other side of the world. Economic globalization- the interrelationship among the world’s economics- can influence the U.S. economy and society. First, the quantity of low-paid workers in poor countries decreases wages of American workers because companies want to cut down on production costs, including wages, to compete. The quantity of low-paid foreign workers turns the U.S. companies to turn to outsourcing, the practice of producing inexpensive products by building factories and hiring workers. Shifting low-skilled jobs from the United States to poorer countries will increase the other countries income, making them bigger markets for U.S. goods. Competition in the global market may increase the availability of quality, but cheap products. By guiding us through the global village, sociology lets us to better understand our lives by opening our eyes to social forces that we would most likely not see in our own society.
Sociology as a Science
The goal of society is to find order in obvious chaos. Scientists look for regularity, something that appears over and over again., across space and time. After scientists discover a pattern in the world, they describe it in the form of a hypothesis, a tentative statement of how various events are related to one another. Then they test the hypothesis against observations, providing evidence against it. The hypotheses must be related to one another to prove a larger range of phenomena. A set of logically related hypotheses that explains the relationship among various phenomena is called a theory. A scientific theory is always open to revisions with new evidence. Scientific findings are subject to be verified by other scientists to prove them true. They usually check to verify if the findings confirm or contradict of their colleagues.
The Sociological Imagination
Sociologists stand back and look “from the outside” at people as members of society, rather than “inside them” to examine their thoughts, personalities, and motivation, to understand human behavior. They have found out that our personal experiences are influenced by social forces- forces that arise from the society of which we are a part. C. Wright Mills referred to the ability to see the impact of social forces on individuals, especially on their private lives, as the sociological imagination. Excercises a lot of power on individuals that can be seen through their behaviors. Emile Durkheim looked at suicide in the nineteenth century. On force he found to have a great impact on suicide was social integration, the degree to which people are tied to a social group. If there is too much, or too little social integration, then there will likely be a high suicide rate. Divorced and widowed are more likely to be isolated and receive less attention when they have a problem. More isolation makes people more individualistic, and more dependent on themselves.
The Development of Sociology
Sociology is a relatively new science. Two factors combined to change some philosophers into sociologists: the social upheavals of nineteenth-century Europe and the advancements of natural sciences. Many social philosophers felt challenged to find solutions to their societies’ new problems and to understand how and why changes occur. As sociology progressed, these two urges continue to motivate sociologists.
The Pioneers of Sociology
French philosopher Auguste Compte is called the father of sociology. In 1838, he coined the term sociology to refer to the scientific study of society. He believed that every society goes through three stages of development: religious, metaphysical, and scientific. He envisioned a science of society with two branches: statics, the study of organization that allows societies to endure, and the dynamics, the study of the processes by which societies change. Harriet Martineau, liked Comte’s work so much, she translated it into English. Herbert Spencer believed a society can be compared to a living organism. Each part of the society contributes to the whole. Spencer said that if society was left alone, it will correct its own problems. He called social problems working themselves out, survival of the fittest. Karl Marx said that the primary feature of society is class conflict, the struggle between capitalists, who own means of production, and the proletariat, who do not. Max Weber said that sociologists must go beyond what people do, beyond what can be observed directly. To do this, sociologists must adopt a theory called Verstehen- emphatic understanding of their subjects. By putting them in the same mental position of their subjects, they can better understand their behaviors.
Sociology in the United States
In the twentieth century sociology has made it’s way from Europe to the United Stated. Like their European predecessors, American sociologists first tried to figure out the problems of their time, like crime, poor neighborhoods, and racial problems. Jane Addams, a founder of U.S. sociology and social work, set up the Hull House. It was a place for social reform and research, which was made up mostly of women. Their main goal was to solve social problems using sociological theory and research. She helped establish Social Security and other government programs. W. E. B. DuBois was the first African American to receive a doctorate from Harvard University. Then he founded the nation’s second department at the University of Atlanta. For the first 40 years of sociology in the U.S. sociologists focused on studying and solving social problems, then later they concentrated on general theories of society.
Major Perspectives in Sociology
Sociologists approach the study of human society in different ways. They look at the macro view, the “big picture” to see how society operates, focusing on the large social phenomena of society. Also the micro view, zeroing in on the immediate social situations in which people interact with each other. From these two views, sociologists have developed many theoretical perspectives, each a set of general assumptions about the nature of society. There are three perspectives: functionalist, conflict, and perspective.
Functionalist Perspective: A focus on Social Order
Spenser and Durkheim provided ideas that inspired the functionalist perspective, which focuses on social order. It says that each part of society performs certain functions for the society as a whole. Society holds itself together by social consensus, a condition in which most members of society agree on what would be good hor everybody and cooperate to achieve it. Mechanical solidarity is a type of social cohesion that develops when people do similar work and have similar beliefs. Organic solidarity is a type of social cohesion that arises when the people in a society perform a wide variety of specialized jobs and therefore have to depend on one another. Large city’s mechanical solidarity is not likely to be strong because they cannot conform to the same ideas, but are easily more bound together by their need for each other. Robert Merton had two types of functions: manifest and latent. Manifest functions are those that are intended and seem less obvious. Latent functions are unintended and often unrecognized.
Conflict Perspective: A Focus on Social Conflict
Marx’s conflict perspective portrays society as always changing and always marked by conflict. It looks at how social change in beneficial, and to assume that the social order is forcibly imposed by the powerful on the weak.
Feminist theory, a form of conflict theory that explains human life of the experiences of women. Women’s experiences are said to differ from those of men. Women’s position in most social situations is unequal to that of men. Compared with men, women have less power, freedom , money, and respect. Women are oppressed, restrained, subordinated, controlled, molded, or abused- by a male-dominated society. A patriarchy, a system of domination in which men exercise power over women.
Symbolic Interactionist Perspective: A Focus on Social Interactions
George Herbert Mead’s symbolic interactionist perspective directs our attention to the details of a specific situation ant the interaction between individuals in that situation. People assign meanings to each other’s words and actions. Symbolic interactionist perspective two things: people do not respond directly to physical things, and they do things over and over again, they tend to believe them, then act accordingly.
Major Perspective in Sociology
Perspective Focus Insights
Functionalist Social order or stability Society consists of interdependent groups pursuing common goals. Social order is maintained through social consensus, whereby people agree to cooperate in order to contribute to social order.
Conflict (including Feminist theory) Social Conflict or change Society is made up of conflicting groups, such as women and men, each pursuing their own interests. Social Order is maintains through coercion, whereby social order is imposed by the powerful over the weak , such as how patriarchy is imposed by men over women.
Symbolic Interactionist Interaction between individuals Society is composed of individuals whose actions depend on interpreting each other’s behavior. Social order is maintained through constant negotiations between individuals trying to understand each other’s actions and reactions.
Sports: Illustrating the Three Perspectives
Sports influence people all over the world. Sports are beneficial to society in some ways and harmful in others.
Sports as a Beneficial to Society
The functionalist perspective says sports contribute to the welfare of society by performing at least three major functions. First, Sports are conducive to success in other area of life. Being competitive, trying to win, self-discipline, and physical fitness. Second, sports enhance health and happiness. They live healthier and longer. Third, sports contribute to social stability and order.
Major Research Methods
There are four major ways to conduct a research: survey, observation experiment, and analysis of existing data.
Survey-asking questions about opinions, beliefs, or behaviors- is the most used research by sociologists. To take a survey, we need a population-the entire group to be studied. In each case we need a sample, a relatively small number of people selected from a larger population. Representative sample is called random sample. Systematic sampling is the process of drawing a random sample systematically rather the haphazardly. Stratified sampling is the process of drawing a random sample in which various categories of people are represented in proportions equal to their presence in the population. In a structured interview, the researcher asks standardized questions that require respondents to choose from among several standardized answers, comparable to those in self-administered questionnaires .Unstructured interviews, have open-ended questions and respondents are allowed to answer in their own words.
Observation and Ethnography
There are two types of observation: detached and participant. In detached observation, we observe outsiders, from a distance, without getting involved. In participant observation, researchers take part in the activities of the group the are studying. Ethnography is an analysis of people’s lives from their own perspective.
An experiment, a research operation in which the researcher manipulates variables so that their influence can be determined. There are two groups: a experimental group and control group. The experimental group, is exposed to the independent variable; the control group, is not.
Analysis of Existing Data
In secondary analysis, the sociologists searches for new knowledge in the data collected earlier by another researcher. From secondary analysis, sociologists do content analysis, searching for specific words or ideas and then turning them into numbers.
Major Research Methods in Sociology
Method Characteristics Advantages Disadvantages
Survey Selecting a representative sample of people and asking them to fill out questionnaires, interviewing them in person or on the phone Self-administered questionnaires inexpensive and useful: greater response from subjects in personal interviews: phone interviews convenient Questionnaires not returned” personal interviews costly in time and money: phone interviews discourage subjects’ cooperation Observation Observing subjects’ activities as a detached outsider or as a participating member identifying or concealing oneself as a researcher to subjects Provides firsthand experiences with natural, real life situations: useful for developing new theories Findings largely relevant to one particular case: not generalizable to other cases or useful for testing theories Experiment Manipulating variables to determine their influence on subjects in the field or laboratory Relatively easy to test theories by determining the relationship between independent and dependent variables Observer’s presence in the field may influence subjects: subjects may not behave the same outside laboratory as inside Analysis of existing data Secondary analysis involves studying someone else’s quantitative data: content analysis entails examining and converting qualitative into quantitative data Both secondary and content analysis save much time and money: content analysis also unobtrusive to subjects and uniquely suitable for historical research Both secondary and content analysis not sufficiently valid and reliable because interpretation of data tends to be subjective.