Emergence of Sociology
• Sociology became prominent after World War 1.
• Chicago school of Sociology founded in 1892. Highly influential work
which tried to understand urban life.
• In 1894 the two biggest American Sociologists began teaching at
University of Chicago, George Herbert Mead and Charles Cooley.
• Concerns of American Sociology
• Social Disorganization Theory
• Society was seen as literally falling apart. The theory saw society as
being strained by three different elements:
• 1. The shift from rural life to urban life.
• Concern about being around a bunch of anonymous people. In rural life everyone
knew each other, and this intimacy kept people in check (ie stealing, murder, etc.)
• 2. The changing nature of the family and ‘traditional’ social institutions.
• Traditional family life consisted of a large extended family, now the emphasis was on
the nuclear family.
• 3. Changing in the nature of work.
• The move from the farm to factory meant learning a new skill set. It also meant
orientation to the time clock rather than the sun.
• The study of a society’s people, and it’s institutions.
• Sociology always looks at groups of people.
• By race
• Or some unifying trait (music subcultures, occupation, etc.)
• Sociology can also look at the institutions which make up a
• Sociology of work
• Sociology of the city
• Sociology of religion
• Sociology of education and school
How do you do sociology?
• Sociology is made up of a variety of divisions over this matter.
• Division 1 – Qualitative versus Quantitative
• This is the main one this lecture will cover.
• Division 2 – Structure versus Agency
• An old argument going back to Plato and Aristotle.
• Agency – means your free to choose your path.
• Structure – means society constricts your ability to freely choose.
• Division 3 – Applied versus Theoretical
• This is a somewhat new division, but in actuality is an old debate in
• Applied – Research which tries to theorize how we might improve
social life. IE health research testing access to medical services.
• Theoretical – Research which tries to uncover underlying social
processes that make life possible.
• Qualitative Sociology
• Concerned about understanding the qualities of the human
• Trying to uncover meaning.
• Concerned with why people do what they do
• More apt to use interviewing techniques, observation, or
• Ethnography – is where the sociologist goes out spends time with
the group, and studies them as an insider. Some famous studies:
‘Pool Hall Hustlers’ – ethnography of professional pool hall hustlers.
‘Outsiders’ – a study of deviants including jazz musicans. ‘Sidewalk’
– A study of the working poor in NYC. ‘Nickel and Dimed’ – A study
of those working in low wage jobs.
• Observations and interviews are not necessarily ethnography.
But, ethnography includes observations and interviews.
• Looking for large scale patterns of behavior collected via
• Primarily use statistics, census data, crime reports, and other
• Can tell us what people do, cannot say why they do it.
• Some types of interviewing can be quantitative! Many
older, and well funded, studies do a kind of survey where the
interviewer asked a series of questions to the interviewee.
The reason for this is if the subject tripped up, or had defined
the a behavior (like sex) in a different way than the researcher.
E.g. some people feel masturbation, or oral sex is not sex. If I
ask you how many times you had sex and you feel this way
you might misreport. A survey/interview would help catch
Limits & Strengths of
• Can only speak to specific cases, cannot generalize to everybody.
• The idea is not so much for you to be able to say that what is true for
one specific group is true for everyone, but to uncover general social
processes, and truths specific to the individuals you study.
• Can go native.
• ‘Going native’ is an anthropological term. What this term means is
when the researcher spends so much time with the group that they
abandon their research in order to fully integrate into the group.
Today, going native is not as much of a concern. What ‘going native’
means today is that you get so involved with the group you become
blind to what your studying. You learn to be overly sympathetic to
• Uncovers things surveys cannot.
• Gets at meaning by using thick description.
• Geertz, Clifford. "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretative Theory
of Culture." In The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic
• In The Interpretation of Cultures, Clifford Geertz discusses the role of
the ethnographer. An ethnographer observes, records, and analyzes
a culture. This interpretation is based on "thick description". As an
example he uses the "wink of any eye". Is he merely "rapidly
contracting his right eyelid“, is he "practicing a burlesque of a
friend”, or “faking a wink to deceive an innocent into thinking
conspiracy is in motion"?
• Geertz is trying to get ethnographer's to pierce deep into a culture by
understanding the signs. “Thick Description”, his method, involves
writing as many details as possible so that the reader can put
themselves into the moment, and so that when analyzing research
notes you can cross reference, double check, and add validity that
your interpretation is accurate.
• So qualitative methods can still be highly analytical, and just a
thought out as a survey.
Limits and Strengths of
• Widely accepted even among the hard sciences.
• We can talk about large scale trends throughout our society.
• We can say precisely how many people live in poverty, or how
widespread a particular problem in in society.
• We can also use quantitative methods to test and evaluate
programs implemented to reduce certain problems.
• Quantitative methods sacrifice depth in order to gain breadth.
• As a method you can only report the larger trends.
• You cannot say why something is occurring in society.
The Sociological Imagination
• C. Wright Mills
• Author of “The Sociological Imagination”
• Personal biographies connect to larger historical trends.
• The trap -
• The individual is unable to see themselves as part of society
due to rapid historical changes that discombobulate them.
• People assume that the large problems are impossible to
• People are unable to connect what is happening in their own
lives (personal troubles) to larger trends in society (public
• E.g. Sandy is a young professional who is told she is being laid off.
Sandy does some looking around and realizes the only people to
be let go are women. This is an example of a public issue, and is
a demonstration of using the ‘Sociological Imagination’ to
analyze the situation.
• Sociology has a variety of divisions.
• Many of these divisions are arbitrary.
• The best sociology involves a mixture of both quantitative and
• The sociological perspective, as captured by Mills, means
placing the data into a historical framework that explains