Introduction to sociology lecture 1


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Introduction to sociology lecture 1

  1. 1. Introduction to Sociology What is sociology?
  2. 2. 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.
  3. 3. Defining Sociology • The study of a society’s people, and it’s institutions. • Sociology always looks at groups of people. • By race • Gender • Or some unifying trait (music subcultures, occupation, etc.) • Sociology can also look at the institutions which make up a society. • Sociology of work • Sociology of the city • Sociology of religion • Sociology of education and school
  4. 4. 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 new clothes. • 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.
  5. 5. Qualitative Sociology • Qualitative Sociology • Concerned about understanding the qualities of the human condition. • Trying to uncover meaning. • Concerned with why people do what they do • More apt to use interviewing techniques, observation, or practicing ethnography. • 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.
  6. 6. Quantitative Sociology • Looking for large scale patterns of behavior collected via official resources. • Primarily use statistics, census data, crime reports, and other surveys. • 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 this.
  7. 7. Limits & Strengths of Qualitative Sociology • Limits • 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 the group. • Strengths • Uncovers things surveys cannot. • Gets at meaning by using thick description.
  8. 8. Thick Description • Geertz, Clifford. "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretative Theory of Culture." In The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 1973. • 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.
  9. 9. Limits and Strengths of Quantitative Sociology • Strengths • 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. • Limits • 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.
  10. 10. 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 combat. • People are unable to connect what is happening in their own lives (personal troubles) to larger trends in society (public issue). • 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.
  11. 11. Conclusion • Sociology has a variety of divisions. • Many of these divisions are arbitrary. • The best sociology involves a mixture of both quantitative and qualitative strategies. • The sociological perspective, as captured by Mills, means placing the data into a historical framework that explains social phenomenon.