Sociology, the science - a brief outlinePresentation Transcript
What is “sociology”?
Sociology is the systematic study of social behavior and human groups.
… says our book.
It goes on to say that sociology:
“… focuses primarily on the influence of social relationships on people’s [=individuals’] attitudes and behavior , and on how societies are established and change .”
It is also possible, though, to answer the question “What is sociology?” by saying that…
“ Sociology” is a late-comer among the social sciences;
it is a cluster of heterogeneous research programs and theories that splits into a large number of sub-disciplines,
but preserves a sense of unity by invoking a shared heritage.
In other words,
similar to how peoples maintain their unity by telling themselves stories of shared experiences and genealogies that trace a common origin,
sciences also have their narratives of how they became what they are.
And this is the story of sociology in its briefest version:
French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1857) coins the term “sociology” (« sociologie »).
German philosopher and activist Karl Marx (1818-1883) decrees, in a gesture of impatience with his fellow young philosophers’ attempts to define what “the human being” really is and should become, that our ideas do not determine our existence, but our existence—our position in a particular social world, that is—determines what we think.
With this, the sociological perspective is born.
“ Nicht das Sein bestimmt das Bewusstsein, sondern das Bewusstsein bestimmt das Sein. ”
(And now shut up, all you naïve philosophers—and let ME tell you what the world is really like, and what history has been all about. In other words, let MY ideas define existence…)
Sorry, back to our little genealogy. So we said that…
1) French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1857) introduces the term « sociology ».
2) German philosophy-student and rebel-rouser Karl Marx (1818-1883) decrees that „ human existence determines human consciousness ˝—so that rather than to understand “The Human Being” as an abstract concept, we should strive to understand how real people are shaped by their place in society.
… and now let’s go on:
French anthropologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) explores the influence of collective ideas on the choices individuals make, and investigates the functions that social institutions have in the propagation of society.
German economist Max Weber (1864-1920)
investigates how religious beliefs and practices have shaped economic systems all over the world,
and reflects on the methodological status and rules of the new science, “sociology.”
US-American sociologist Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) interprets society as a system of regular social behavior, and develops tools to understand each sub-system’s structural function within the larger system—that is, its role in the maintenance of society as a whole .
Parsons calls his own approach “structural-functionalist,” and finds in Durkheim a forerunner to his interest in society’s institutions and their functions.
Parsonian-Durkheimian “Functionalism” dominates American sociology during the 1950s and 1960s.
With the ascendance of alternative research-programs and theories starting in the late 60s, however, arises the need to categorize the varying approaches, and place the elders in different camps:
Major Theoretical Perspectives
Table 1-1 Comparing Major Theoretical Perspectives
Weber, to be sure, is not always placed in the “interactionist” camp; he does not seem to fit neatly into any of these categories.
Some textbooks, however, do categorize him as “interactionist,” citing his focus on social acts ( soziales Handeln ).
Generally, George H. Mead is considered the “father” of the interactionist perspective—though that may be a bit problematic as well.
Be that as it may. Something that unites the different camps or “schools” of sociology, something that the different “major perspectives” have in common, is their use of what has been termed, by C. Wright Mills, the “ sociological imagination ” — which is a mindset that seeks to understand the individual as the product of his and her social worlds, and seeks to understand the peculiarities and histories of such social worlds.
To apply the “ sociological imagination ” is to… … observe people’s behavior, beliefs, and attitudes under the aspect of how they are shaped by their social contexts . To do this, we need to be able to… — view our own society as an outsider would and — compare various social worlds, and various sets of behavior, beliefs, and attitudes, to one another.