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Sociology Class

Introduction to Sociology

An Invitation to Sociology/Sociology as an Individual Pastime (Peter L. Berger; reader article)

The idea of this article is to gain an understanding of what a sociology is, what a sociologist is, and what a sociologist does.  This will also give you an insight to who I am and my interests but also have you evaluate whether or not Sociology is for you.  Several times this semester you may experience culture shock while learning about sociology… “be warned” sociology is not just about understanding “the sectors that are familiar” but to look at and understand that which is different from our own.  In other words many have stated that sociology is about everyday life; however, understanding others’ everyday life is key to understanding our society.  As noted in the article “if you ever wondered how society functions, sociology will give you the tools to find out.”  Berger states that a sociologist is “a gatherer of statistics about human behavior”.  Sociologists interpret statistical data and utilize sociological theories in order to explain sociological data.  Berger states that a sociologist is “intensively, endlessly, shamelessly interested in the doings of men {and women}…in [their] natural habitat…their institutions, their history, their passions…events that engage [their] ultimate beliefs, their moments of tragedy and grandeur…[a sociologist] is fascinated by the common place, the everyday…and seeks answers”.  He notes that [a sociologist] likes to ‘listen to gossip, look through keyholes, read other people’s mail, to open closed cabinets’.  However, a sociologist is a professional and academic and does not really do these things, the point is that she/he is interested in people’s lives.  Berger states that behind the closed doors there are “human voices…[he/she] will want to open the door, to understand these voices”.  A sociologist must be objective, is interested in people and society, and refrains from judging others.  Rather than judging, a sociologist merely wants to understand others, what guides one’s decisions and behaviors.   A sociologist is often “on the job” 24/7, a sociologist thinks from a sociological perspective all day, every day.

He also notes that there is room for all disciplines and there is importance in learning about all disciplines…you may be wondering about the relevance of certain GE courses throughout your college career but I am here to tell you that YES, you will use the information again someday and that it is relevant to your life.  Even though you may all come from different disciplines I cannot lie, I love sociology and would like nothing more than to convert you to sociology!  If not, that is okay, but I do want you be a sociologist and think like a sociologist several times throughout this semester so be prepared!

Finally, Berger states if you ‘like to avoid shocking discoveries…have no temptation before closed doors…have no curiosity about human beings…are content to admire scenery without wondering about the people who live in those houses on the other side of that river…[you] should stay away from sociology”.  He also states that ‘if you are only interested in human beings only if they can change…be warned” as from a sociological perspective we do not think we can “change” people rather we focus on institutions in society and how we can perhaps change aspects of society and our social institutions that would result in changes in human behavior.

“Sociology will be satisfying, in the long run, only to those who can think of nothing more entrancing than to watch [men] and to understand things human” – P. Berger


When we say “a group of people who share territory and culture” we mean a group of people who live in the same area (share territory) and share culture.  They have similar attitudes, values, beliefs, and norms.  What society/societies are you a part of (United States, state, county, subculture)?

Social Sciences

The social sciences are the sciences that observe and study human behaviors and human relationships.  Your text discusses the differences between several of the social sciences.  We are going to discuss three specific social sciences: anthropology, psychology, and sociology.  Do you know the differences between each of these sciences?  Just as a side note, I have had several people ask me what I “do.”  When I say I teach sociology several people have responded, “Oh, psychology.”  I say “no, sociology” and have been faced with the response, “oh, same thing.”  No, they are not the same thing.  Let’s discuss how they are different.

Have you taken an anthropology class?  Have you taken a psychology class?  If you have, you are already aware of the differences.   Anthropology focuses on culture and understanding a specific group’s culture.  An anthropologist looks at the norms, values, beliefs, artifacts, weapons, etc. of a specific culture.  Psychology focuses on individuals.  For instance, an individual’s mental processes, IQ, personality, etc.  The key to think of in terms of psychology is focusing on the internal happenings of the individual.  So then, what is sociology?


Sociology is “the scientific study of society and human behavior.”  Sociology focuses on groups as the unit of analysis.  We focus on the external factors.  We can look at the external environment and how it affects an individual.  For instance, we can look at the groups individuals belong to and how those groups affect individuals’ behaviors.  We look at the group influence on behavior.  I always say that once you have two people, you have sociology!

One of the goals of sociology is to understand the meaning of behavior.  We are always attempting to understand why people do what they do.  Why people make the choices they make and behave the way they do.  When I say to understand I do not necessarily mean condone all behaviors but to have an understanding of why people do what they do.  For example, if you watch the news or read the newspaper you probably see or read about people who do some “crazy” things, especially when we see or read about people who break the law.  When we hear about criminal activity do we automatically say to ourselves “what an idiot?”  As sociologists, our goal is to understand why people are criminals and not just be quick to judge them.  A newborn baby does not think “when I get older I want to be a drug dealer or a thief!”  It’s not that we are condoning the behavior but we are trying to understand it…understand the causes of the behavior.  Sociology looks at cause and effect relationships.

Another goal of sociology is to describe, explain, and predict human behaviors and social phenomenon.  As sociologists we describe what is happening, explain why it is happening, and predict the outcomes.  When we explain why something is happening we use sociological concepts, terms, and theory in our explanations.  This is what you will be doing with the writing assignments in this class.  Sociological analysis is describing, explaining, and predicting.  Predicting is best described as looking at patterns of behaviors and making generalizations.  For instance, if we look at an individual who has come from a family of alcoholics ONE of the predictions is that the individual will also become an alcoholic.  We are not stereotyping…we do not say to a person “oh, your parents are alcoholics?  Well you are going to become an alcoholic.”  What studies have shown us is that there is a high probability of this happening, not the only possible outcome, but statistics show that this is the most common outcome (more on the other outcomes later).  What we do with this information is note that this is a pattern of behavior and develop and implement programs to try to break this cycle.  Sociology is interested in solving the social problems and the only way to do this is to understand the problem.

Social Forces

What makes us behave the way we do?  What causes us to make the choices we make?  We are all a product of social forces.  Social forces are social factors that cause us to behave the way we do and make the choices we make.   We like to think that we are all very independent and are not affected by anything and anyone when we make certain decisions; however, that is not the case.  There are three main social forces that affect us: history, culture, and environment.  The time in history we were born in, raised in, and current live in definitely affect our decisions.  If it were 1950 right now would any of you make different life decisions than you are making right now?  Would I be teaching this class or would I be home darning socks?  A good example of this is the movie “If These Walls Could Talk” which deals with the issue of unwanted pregnancy in three different decades and the choices the individuals make.  There are three separate vignettes featured.  “Google” for additional information on this film.

Because these three individuals live at different times in history they make different choices about their unwanted pregnancy.  You can also see how a person’s culture would impact such a decision.

Another example: There is a man who you would consider a “racist.”  He make derogatory comments and labels ethnic and racial minorities as well as toward homosexuals.  Now, most of us would say he is a “racist” or uneducated, etc…  Do we agree with his actions?  NO.  But can we try to understand why he is this way?  Yes, let’s look at social forces to explain.

  1. History: he is in his mid seventies
  2. Culture: he retired from the military
  3. Environment: he lives in Alabama

Do these factors explain why he is the way he is?  It’s not that we are condoning his behaviors but now we can understand them.

Think about this: how many of you think you would be able to convince your grandmother that same-sex marriages should be legalized?  Most of us, unless your grandmother is considered a young grandma, could talk till we were blue in the face and still never convince grandma!  The goal is not the change grandma, remember what Berger said, “If you are only interested in people if you can change them, be warned,” but to change the next generation…to break these cycles.

Macro Sociology and Micro Sociology

What is the difference between macro and micro?  What is a macro level of analysis?  What is a micro level of analysis?  We are looking at large-scale patterns of behaviors versus small-scale patterns of behaviors.  An example: If I were to research the homeless how would I do it from a macro level of analysis?  How would I do it from a micro level of analysis?

  • Macro: I would research the social causes of homelessness.  I may ask the question, why is homelessness increasing in our society?  I would look at the state of the economy in our society or corporate downsizing.
  • Micro: I would observe the homeless and see how they are able to survive.  Or I could observe the homeless to see how they interact with one another.  Do you see the difference?  In the next section we will be discussing our three main social theories, two of them are macro theories and one is a micro theory – but we will look at each from both perspectives.

The Sociologist

There are many different types of sociologists.  There are sociologists that research social problems and find the causes of the problems.  There are those that develop solutions to the social problems.  There are those that implement the solutions (social workers are part of the process here).  And finally there are those that evaluate the programs implemented to see if there are actually helping to solve the social problems.  We all work together to help solve the problems.

The Sociological Imagination/The Sociological Perspective (C. Wright Mills, 1959)

“The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society” – C. Wright Mills

“The sociological imagination is the awareness of the relationship between a person’s behavior and experience and the wider culture that shaped the person’s choices and perceptions. It’s a way of seeing our own and other people’s behavior in relationship to history and social structure” (Openstax).  Essentially the sociological imagination, also called the sociological perspective, is the understanding of the relationship between one’s experiences, history, and their position within the social structure and their perceptions, behaviors, and the choices/decisions they make.  In this class I will expect you to take on the sociological imagination and view society and the issues addressed in this class from a sociological perspective.  You will strive towards understanding the relationship between behavior and experiences and perceptions and choices and how one’s behaviors are influenced by history, experiences, and the social structure.

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