Chapter 1 (L. Xu)

Estimated Reading Time 00:05:22

Notes by Lance Xu

SOC103 Chapter 1

Sociology: systematic study of behaviour 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

-move social theorizing away from moral philosophy (ideas of blame, guilt, sin and wrongdoing)

-common sense not enough, sociologists use research and studies

-people rarely get what they deserve, status/money inherited, high class stay where they are and so do lower class

Macrosociology: study of social institutions and large social group

Microsociology: study of processes and patterns of personal interaction that take place within groups

Sociological imagination: approach to sociology that situates the personal experiences of individuals within the societal context in which these experience occur

Social institution: on kind of social structure, people use institutions to achieve their goals

Social role: expected pattern of interaction with others

Functional Theory

-views society as set of interconnected parts that work together to preserve the stability and efficiency of the whole

Robert Merton- social institutions perform both manifest (easily recognized) and latent (hidden) functions

-social problems = failure of institutions to fulfill their roles during periods of rapid change

Emil Durkheim – Anomie (strain) condition during times of rapid change, when social norms are weak or in conflict with oneanother

-best way to deal with social problems is to strengthen norms and slow pace of change

Critical Theory (Karl Marx)

-Focus on inequalities and unequal distribution of resources/power in society

-view society a collection of varied groups that struggle with one another to dominate society and its institutions

-reject functional theory; criticize their limited attention to power struggles

Bourgeoisie: elite owners of production (upper class)

Proletariat: working class

-solution to social problems = abolishing social classes, private ownership of means of production and economic inequality


Symbolic Interactionism

-Focuses on small group interactions, how behaviours are defined or framed and how people learn to engage in everyday activities.

-Labelling theory – any social problem is viewed as such simply because an influential group of people defines it so (e.g. marijuana vs cigarettes or alcohol)

-Interested in consequences of people being labelled as deviants or criminals (stigma)

Feminist Theories

-focus on gendering and gendered inequality (sometimes considered branch of critical theory)

-women forced to act out role that dominant (male) group have defined

-feminist movement – mid 19th to early 20th century

-different feminist theories have same goal (equality between sexes) but differ in ways to achieve goal

-interested in gendering of experiences, victimization of women and intersectionality (interaction of gender with other victimizing social characteristics like class and race)

Postmodern Theories

-Interested in unmasking ideologies that protect the dominant social order

-modernism holds view that science is key to improving social life

-postmodernists deny this approach, argue that knowledge is situation specific, deny universal knowledge and focus on local or particular insights

-postmodernists are fascinated by mass media and cultural production, as they frame and transmit conventional ideas about normality, gender class and science

-Emile Durkheim – research on suicide rates and causes, concludes that suicide is inversely correlated with an individual’s degree of integration into society (less integrated = more suicide prone)

Functions of Deviance and Conformity

-all societies allow a margin of tolerable or invisible deviance to go unpunished

-psychologists focus on individuals, sociologists look at societal causes of crime and deviance

-social control theory: normal people have deviant impulses, but have “stake in conformity” and are afraid of punishment

-rational choice theory: people are competing for desired social and economic resources, and are motivated to maximize their own welfare even if they have to break some rules

-rise of corporate crime in recent years as a result of failure of government regulation, lack of corporate self regulation and lack of public awareness

-crime and deviance are normal, found in all societies at all time periods, and serve important social functions

Functions of Conflict

-conflict increases social cohesion, cooperation and unity among people who share the same point of view

-people mutually interdependent, conflict unavoidable

Critical Theory

-Believe conflict focuses attention on social problems and brings people together to solve them (LGBT, women’s movement, trade unionism, etc)

-Dominant ideology justifies upper class’s power and authority, society does not rebel against class inequality because they are programmed to believe in values promoted by dominant ideology

Conflicts over Power and Authority

-power: the ability to get your own way or to force another person to do what you want

-authority: power that is exercised in a legitimate way, by people we deem to have the right to exercise it

-modernization is associated with rational authority rather than traditional

Modern Critical Theories

Marx – conflict arose from hierarchical relations of dominance and subordination (capitalists control means of production, workers form resistance groups i.e. unions)

Weber – conflict arises from horizontal relations of difference and mistrust, groups compete to seize and protect their resources

-conflict arises between groups with differing or opposing goals

-media blame young, minorities or poor however conflict exists among people of all types and ages


Stigma (Goffman)

-people conform the society’s norm to avoid stigmatization (ridicule, condemnation)

-in social interactions people try to present themselves as normal, and follow scripts for given situations

-passing: the act of hiding discreditable facts of one’s identity, to appear as normal as possible (difficult with things such as race or physical disability)

-covering: act of deflecting attention away from the stigma (sunglasses for blind man)

Key Ideas of Symbolic Interactionism

Social structures: enduring, predictable pattern of social relations among people in society, they control us so that we act in a certain way in a given situation despite personal differences and they change us so we behave differently in different situations despite our more or less fixed personalities, and they produce social change

1)     humans act toward things on a basis of the meanings that things have for them

2)     these meanins arise out of social interaction

3)     social interaction results from a fitting together of individual lines of action

Social constructionism

-any idea is an invention of a particular culture or society, some ideas considered true and compelling, others are not

-Herbert Mead – shared meanings make social interaction and cooperation possible

-Erving Goffman – society is a theatre where people compose and perform social scripts together, people hide and protect their true identities

-humans react not toe the physical objects or events but to the socially constructed meanings (rose = beautiful, cabbage = ugly)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s