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  • 1. Lecture 1 The sociological imagination (and the things that stunt it)
  • 2. Outline of the course
    • “ Introducing the subject matter, theories and research methods of sociology, by exploring concepts of social position (eg social class, human capital or capabilities) and their relationship to social structure”.
    • An historical approach to social theory: theorists from the 18 th to the 21 st century.
    • Practical examples using social survey evidence, particularly the British Household Panel Study (BHPS)
  • 3. Outline of today’s lecture
    • Introducing sociology: C.Wright Mills’ text The Sociological Imagination (1959).
    • Exploring key conceptual contrasts:
      • theory vs empirical approaches
      • macro- vs micro-sociology
      • quantitative vs qualitative sociology
      • cross-sectional vs longitudinal survey data.
    • A sociological approach to a practical problem: the gender wage gap.
  • 4. Private troubles and public issues
    • “ No such thing as society” (Mrs Thatcher) hence blame the victim
    • Individual conditions embedded in social structures
    • The core sociological enterprise: understanding individuals’ predicaments within the appropriate social setting
    • Mills (1959) ungrounded theory vs abstracted empiricism
  • 5. Grand Theory and Abstracted Empiricism
    • Portentous theory without systematic evidence vs evidence without theory.
    • Mills’ two poles of bad sociology, since they…
    • “… seize upon one juncture in the process of work, and allow it to dominate the mind. Both are withdrawals from the tasks of the social sciences.”
    • Mills 1959 p 51
  • 6. Mills’ take on Grand Theory
    • Distrust it!
    • Try to restate it simply in the form of testable propositions.
    • Then test it!
  • 7. Eg: quote from Talcot Parsons
    • “ Attachment to common values means, motivationally considered, that the actors have common “sentiments” in support of the common value patterns, which may be defined as meaning that conformity with the relevant expectations is treated as a “good thing” relatively independently of any specific instrumental ‘advantage’ to be gained from such conformity, eg in the avoidance of negative sanctions…..”
    • Mills 1959 p30, quoting Parsons’ The Social System
  • 8. Mills’ translation
    • “ When people share the same values, they tend to behave in accordance with the way they expect each other to behave”.
    • In Mills’ view: this is “not very impressive”. (Is it testable?)
  • 9. Mills on Abstracted Empiricism
    • “… technical and quantitative, atheoretical, segmentalised, and particularised, specialised, and institutionalised….in short….Americanised.”
    • “… a pronounced tendency to confuse whatever it is to be studied, with the set of methods suggested for its study.”
    • Mills 1959 p. 51
    • Mills blames Lazarsfeld!
  • 10. Eg Pahl on work and leisure
    • “ There is a distinction between work and play but it is not based on the intrinsic nature of the task. … Consider an image of a woman ironing. Is she at work or is she at play?”
    • Pahl 1986 pp 744—749.
  • 11.  
  • 12. Ray Pahl on work and leisure
    • “ There is a distinction between work and play but it is not based on the intrinsic nature of the task. … Consider an image of a woman ironing. Is she at work or is she at play?”
    • Pahl 1986 pp 744—749.
      • Is she a waged worker – full or part time? – piece-work? – in the registered or the unregistered economy?
      • Perhaps she’s self-employed, ‘petty-commodity production worker”.
      • Maybe ironing for some other member of her household, a husband (loved or hated), her mother-in-law, her child
      • Maybe for herself – is it a work garment?
      • Maybe for non-household member – costume for a play?
    • The activity is only given meaning by its social context.
  • 13. Survey methods
    • Sampling to “represent” populations…
    • … allow authoritative statements about the nature of social “reality”…
    • … and associations among variables allow inferences about social processes.
    • BUT what’s measured is a social artifact…
    • ... its meaning depending on context.
  • 14. Qualitative methods
    • Alternative to sample surveys, some use “sociographic” methods…
    • … in depth, detailed investigation of social phenomena, revealing meaning and context of actions – ask what she’s doing at the ironing board.
    • BUT issue of representativeness: how to use evidence of this sort to make authoritative statements about society as a whole?
  • 15. Lazarsfeld on mixed methods!
    • On the Marienthal Study:
    • “ Our idea was to find procedures which would combine the use of numerical data with immersion into the situation.” (1933) “The combination of quantification and interpretive analysis of qualitative material is today at the forefront of the research fraternity’s interests.” (1971)
    • Lazarsfeld (original 1933, English edition 1971, pp xi-xii)
  • 16. Example: explaining the gender wage gap
    • Survey evidence (New Earnings Survey, Annual Survey of Earnings and Hours)
      • National random samples  representative
      • Repeated “cross-sectional” surveys
      • Shows change over time at the national level
    • Women’s wages lag 20% behind men’s despite equal opportunities legislation. (Social Trends 2006 p. 72)
  • 17.  
  • 18. Longitudinal data: The BHPS
    • In this course, use examples from the British Household Panel Study (BHPS).
      • 5000 randomly sampled GB households, all members interviewed repeatedly each year
      • Old people die, descendents of original sample join aged 11, stays representative .
      • Asked each year about work, family, well-being, health, beliefs etc.
  • 19. Social trends: longitudinal evidence
  • 20. Alternative household work strategies
  • 21. Alternative household work strategies
  • 22. Discussion
    • Looking at the household work strategy suggests that the division of domestic labour in British households may explain part of the gender wage gap…
    • … what do we, as sociologists, do next, to confirm or disconfirm this hypothesis?