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What is sociology?

- study of society and social interaction
- a multi-perspectival science (many perspectives/paradigms)
- key insight: being in a group changes your behaviour
- sociologists study all aspects and levels of society


social interaction

anything involving at least 2 people (even in the seclusion of one's mind)



- a group of people whose members interact, reside in a definable area, and share a culture
- society is not an object, and is not independent of the individual



group's shared practices, values, beliefs, norms, and artifacts


micro-level analysis

focuses on social dynamics of intimate, face-to-face interactions (ex. between family, co-workers, etc.)


4 levels of analysis

- micro (primary)
- meso
- macro (primary)
- global


macro-level analysis

focuses on large-scale, society-wide interactions (ex. institutions, classes, societies)


Sociological imagination

- Proposed by C. Wright Mills
- the ability to see your private troubles in the context of the broad social processes that contain them


early history of sociology

- Ancient Greeks provided foundation
- 13th century Chinese historians recognized the importance of social dynamics
- Sociology established as a discipline in the 19th century (due in part to development of modern science)


Rationalism vs. empiricism

- rationalism: using the truth of reasoning and ideas
- empiricism: making careful, methodical, detailed observations of the world


important people in the history of sociology

- August Comte
- Karl Marx
- Harriet Martineau
- Emile Durkheim
- Max Weber
- Georg Simmel


August Comte

- "father of sociology"
- created positivism: scientific study of social patterns


Karl Marx

- critically analyzed capitalism
- saw material and economic basis of inequality as a cause of social instability and conflict
- believed that sociology (or historical materialism) should be a "ruthless critique of everything existing"
- created framework for critical sociology -> rigorously analyzing society in order to change it



- economic system characterized by private ownership of goods and the means to produce them
- inherently unstable


why is capitalism unstable?

- need to expand markets and create cheap products -> reduce cost of production -> downward pressure on wages -> failure of businesses, economic crises and recessions, etc.
- yet the capitalists rely on worker's labour to produce wealth -> injustice may eventually lead to its destruction


Harriet Martineau

- first female sociologist
- focused on social reform movements, added women's perspective to sociology
- recognized that researcher/subject relationship needed to be different in social sciences vs. hard sciences (ex. impartiality, critique, sympathy)


Emile Durkheim

- helped establish sociology as an academic discpline by establishing the first department of sociology at a university
- represented the sociologist as a doctor -> healthy societies were stable, unhealthy ones experienced a breakdown and needed social remedy
- saw religion as something that functioned to unify society
- key figure in development of positivist sociology



state of normlessness (no clear direction and purpose to individual action)


Max Weber

- noted that business leaders and owners of capital were Protestant
- focused on development of the "Protestant work ethic": duty to work hard
- argued that Western society developed due to rationalism
- introduced concept of "verstehen": understanding in a deep way (ex. an outsider understanding another culture from an insider's POV)
- founded interpretive sociology


interpretive sociology

finding systematic means to interpret and describe meanings behind social processes, cultural norms, and societal values


Georg Simmel

- wanted to know how society is possible
- developed formal sociology (sociology of social forms)
- proposed "tragedy of culture": social forms like interactions, art, music, etc. tend to detach themselves from lived experiences, and humans have a limited ability to understand them



a way to explain different aspects of social interactions and create testable propositions about society



frameworks used to formulate theories, generalizations, and research performed in support of them


3 types of sociological knowledge

- positivist sociology
- interpretive sociology
- critical sociology


4 paradigms of sociological thinking

- structural functionalism
- critical sociology
- feminism
- symbolic interaction


positivist sociology

- emphasizes empirical observation and measurement; values neutrality and objectivity
- forms: quantitive sociology and functionalism


quantitive sociology

uses statistical methods and surveys with large numbers of participants


structural functionalism

- describing sociology in terms of objective social facts -> how each party of society functions to create a whole
- macro-level


mechanical solidarity vs. organic solidarity vs. dynamic equilibrium

- mech solidarity: shared collective consciousness with harsh punishment for deviation from norms
- org solidarity: complex system of interrelated parts working together to maintain stability
- dynamic equilibrium: stable state; combination of mech and org solidarity



- Adaptation (adapting to environment)
- Goal attainment
- Integration (achieving social cohesion)
- Latent pattern maintenance (maintaining cultural patterns and belief systems)