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What is Sociology?My favorite definitions: (these mean basically the same thing)1. The scientific study of inter-actions and relations among human beings2. The study of how people influence one another and the (intended and unintended) consequences of these influences.
What explains the rise of Nazism? "Resistance would have been another form of suicide.”
What causes violence and competition? Cooperation?• Why did the British and Germans stop shooting at each other during WWI? More importantly, why would they start fighting in the first place?!• The Christmas Truce of 1914 was a series of widespread unofficial ceasefires that took place along the Western Front around Christmas 1914, during the First World War.• British and German mingled, held meetings, joint burial ceremonies, sang carols, and even played games of soccer.
What is Sociology?• Sociology is interested in the PATTERNS that people generate as they interact, influence, and relate to one another.• In short: THINK PATTERNS, NOT PEOPLE! (at least not individual people)
Individual and Society• How do sociologists view the relationship between the individual and society?• We are always influencing and being influenced by others… ‘Society’, orIndividual Other Individuals
Individual and Society• Individualist bias: the focus on individuality also explains our tendency to think that our own situations and circumstances are entirely a result of our own behavior.
Individual and Society• In this class, we will emphasize that SOCIETY AND THE INDIVIDUAL ARE INSEPARABLE, like two sides of the same coin.
“Men make their own history,but they do not make it as theyplease; they do not make itunder self-selectedcircumstances, but undercircumstances existing already,given and transmitted from thepast. The tradition of all deadgenerations weighs like anightmare on the brains of the (1818-1883)living.” Karl Marx
The Sociological Imagination“Neither the life of an individualnor the history of a society canbe understood withoutunderstanding both.” C. Wright Mills (1916-1962)
The Sociological Imagination• To understand one side, you have to understand the other. Man/Woman Society Biography History Self World Personal “Troubles of Public “Issues of milieu” social structure”• The ability to understand history and its relation to biography is called the sociological imagination by C. Wright Mills.
III. Social Influence andPersonal Responsibility
Influence and Responsibility• We tend to think that because individuals have free will, whatever happens to an individual is exclusively the responsibility of that individual. In our culture we focus on what an individual does as opposed to what is done to an individual.• We think individuals (at least adult humans) are self- determined. This is our common-sense notion of ‘personal responsibility.’ People are responsible for their own actions and decisions in life.
Influence and Responsibility• Basically, we tend to believe that you get what you earn.• Sociologists do NOT deny this perspective, but find it limited for our purposes.• We aren’t in the business of giving advice (even if its very good advice).
The influence of social context• Individuals are often influenced by circumstances over which s/he has little control• Examples: your native language, your religious and political beliefs, your parent’s income, etc. Starvation in East Africa, 2011
The influence of social context• Sometimes, interacting individuals create collective circumstances that everyone is Traffic jam subjected to, but no one intends!• Example: traffic jams Unintended Consequences Intended actions of Actions
The influence of social context• Some attributes are valued more highly in some contexts or societies than in others. Individuals can adapt to these realities, but cannot control them.• Example: standards of beauty.
Social context and decision-making• Most human behaviors are not ‘decisions’; rather we have varying degrees of susceptibility to influence from others.• People are responsible for their own actions and decisions in life, but sociologists will still examine those factors that make some decisions and actions more likely than others.• Example: Smoking Crack
Social context and decision-makingExample: Standing Ovations.• We are socialized to pay attention to how others respond to situations.• Our decision to stand is often not based on how we personally feel, but what other people are doing.
The Influence of Language• “Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.”- Roman Jakobson (linguist) – It’s possible to express any idea in any language, but different languages oblige or force us to pay more attention to some things than others.
The Influence of LanguageExamples:1. English requires me to specify when I met my neighbor in the past, present or future. But Chinese does not oblige its speakers to specify the exact time, or to distinguish between past or present or future actions!
The Influence of LanguageExamples:2. The Matses in the Amazon havethe most elaborate grammar of allknown languages:• It has 3 separate past tenses, distinguishing between the Matsés people recent past (up to a month), distant past (a month to 50 years), and remote past (over 50 years).
The Influence of Language• It also has strict rules for determining “evidentiality”- There are separate verbal forms depending on whether you are reporting Direct experience, Something inferred, Conjecture, or Hearsay. Matsés people• If you ask a Matses man how is wife is doing, he might respond daed ikosh “two there. Were [directly experienced recently]” !!
I. Functionalist Theory1. Consensus about values and norms makes society possible2. Society is a whole made of integrated parts that work (i.e. function) together. – A change to one part of society will affect all others. – All parts are interdependent. – Society is ‘more than the sum of its parts.’3. Society seeks stability and tends to avoid conflict
II. Conflict Theory1. In every society, there are disagreements and differences (i.e. lack of consensus) about values and norms2. Society is made up of subgroups (aka ‘classes’) that are in ruthless competition for scarce resources3. Society is not harmonious: conflict is normal in a society. – The conflict can be latent (i.e. conflict of interests) or manifest (i.e. real conflict such as violence).
III. Symbolic Interactionism• Focuses on how people interpret and ascribe meaning to other peoples behavior and the larger world.• Emphasizes people’s perceptions of reality.• Micro-sociology: Focuses on small encounters
What is Social REALITY?• Thomas theorem: "If people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences“• To understand human inter-actions and relations, sociologists have to understand both reality, and perceived reality. W. I. Thomas 1863 - 1947
Which theory is correct?• Society is like this cube: we can see it from multiple perspectives!• The paradigms are just lenses through which we view society.