FK8R 34 Sociology A: Introduction to Sociology Alisha Walsh In the mid 1800’s, French author Auguste Comte came up with the term “sociology”. Although previous philosophers, historians and political thinkers had studied and tried to make sense of their societies, this was when it began to develop as a distinctive science. Comte grew up in a time of great social and political upheaval. As the world rapidly changed, he and others began to study the societies they lived in.
He sought to create a science of society that could explain the laws of the social world just as science explained the functioning of the physical world. (Giddens 2006:11) Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century political revolutions occurring throughout Europe, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution all lead to previously unseen changes in many societies. The French Revolution of 1789 meant that monarchs of Europe came under severe scrutiny. Subjects began to question their “divine right” to rule.
Ideas of individuals’ rights and their say in how society was run emerged. Political parties and social reform quickly followed. Great scientific discoveries formed a perspective of looking to science and reason to answer questions about the natural and social world. People were turning away from the church, religion and superstition for these answers. The Industrial Revolution 1780-1800 had a profound effect on Britain and laterally Europe. Almost all aspects of life were changed as people became part of the factory system.
People moved from rural areas and agricultural jobs to towns where social life was more impersonal and anonymous. They began to work by a clock instead of the rhythms of the season. Traditional values and roles were dropped as new ones evolved. To study Sociology, one must have what C. Wright Mills called a “sociological imagination”. Sociological thinking and imagination requires us to remove ourselves from our everyday lives and experience, and look at them differently. Only then can we realise that individual experience can actually reflect larger issues.
He emphasised the difference between “personal troubles of millue” and “public issues of social structure”(Mills 2000 :5) This means that the sociological imagination allows us to see that public issues such as war, marriage, the economy, urbanisation etc, can affect the individual as well as personal circumstance and experiences. “The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two. That is its task and its promise. ”(Mills 2000:2) He stated that sociologists must ask three crucial questions: What is the structure of this particular society?
Where does this society stand in human history? What varieties of men and women prevail in this society and in the coming period? (Mills 200:3) He believed that as individuals these questions would help us make sense of our own place and experience in the society we live in and identify its structures and characteristics. He also stated that “they are the questions inevitably raised by any mind possessing the sociological imagination. For that imagination is the capacity to shift form one perspective to another”.
The sociological imagination allows us to be analytical and critical of the world and to look at the bigger picture. There are many sociological theories which attempt to explain how society works. They provide a framework for explaining social behaviour. They find the relation between individuals, groups and society. These theories can be put into two broad categories, macro theories and micro theories. Macro theories such as Functionalism and Marxism look to explaining behaviour through the notion of social structures and look at society holistically.
Macro theories tend to use quantitive research when a social theory or model is being explored. Data has to be measurable and proccessed mathematically (surveys) to provide unbiased results that can be measured, compared and related to large parts of society (Amit B. Marvasti 2004:7). Micro theories such as social action and symbolic interaction look at individual behaviour and how small scale interactions shape society. Micro theories use qualitive research methods, concentrating on smaller groups but providing more detailed analysis and descriptions of human experience.
The experiment can be based around a theory and results are recorded as detailed, narrative descriptions as opposed to numerical codes found in quantitive research (Amit B. Mavasti 2004:10) Functionalism analyses how social structures explain behaviour. Interdependent parts of society have to function together to create a whole system. Biological or mechanical analogies are often used. Functionalism emphasises integration, harmony, stability and continuity. It is a positive perspective that views even tragedies or inequality as serving a function in society. McClelland2001:1) It looks at society as a whole and is good at explaining the persistence of social phenomena (anomie). Marxism also focuses on social structures but is a conflict theory. Society is made up of infrastructure and superstructure. This structure is based on the inequality of distribution of production and causes conflict. It recognises different power interests in groups and is good at explaining conflict and change ( SparkNotes Editors 2006). Social Action theory emphasises the intentional behaviour of individuals as the cause of social structure.
Individuals shape society as a result of intentional individual or group interaction. It concentrates on the meaning of social behaviour and its interpretation by others and is good at explaining small scale interactions. According to Anthony Giddens , good sociology must examine both social structures and social interactions. It is how a fuller understanding of social life is achieved (Giddens2005:25). Socialization, Social order and Social Stratification are three key concepts in sociology that try to explain the relationship between the individual and society.
Social order is the way in which societies’ basic requirements are met to exist, how peace and order is maintained. It is obtained formally through laws and through the use of social norms, roles and values. It involves a set of linked structures, institutions and practices that can maintain and enforce conformity and social order (Dr Almog 1998). Functionalist theory views individuals as contributing to social order by happily playing out their occupied roles within social institutions. These roles are guided by the norms and values we learn through socialization and are necessary for society to function (Dr Almog 1998).
Marxist theory claims that social order is forced on the individual, norms and values are used by institutions that want to maintain capitalism. They are a way to control the working class (Giddens 2006: 301-302). Social Action theory sees social order as a product of social interactions, symbolic meanings and how they are interpreted by others. The individual is a social actor who will interpret and process social stimuli and makes choices accordingly. Socialization is a lifelong learning process and plays a crucial part in forming our identities. It is the process by which individuals learn the culture of their society” (Haralambos & Holborn 2008:3). The important stage of socialization occurs during infancy. The child learns many basic behaviour patterns of its society by responding to the approval or disapproval of their parents and also by copying their example. In western societies, the educational system, religion, the mass media, the occupational group and peer groups are also important in the socialisation process ( Haralambos & Holbor2008:3).
Functionalist theory believes that socialisation reinforces the social structure and maintains society. That it is functional and beneficial to social order. It transfers culture, norms and values to new generations and integrates individuals into society. It is the social glue that holds society together and helps create a sense of harmony and cooperation (Kent McClelland 2001). Marxism sees socialization as one of the most effective tools of the Bourgeoisie.
It legitimises existing social inequalities and prepares the individual for a class related role they will fill indefinitely (SparkNotes Editors 2006). Social Action theory believes socialization is relevant in relation to symbols and their interpretation, the development of social identity and the small scale interactions that shape it. Socialisation helps maintain social order (Cardiff University 2010). Social Stratification is the ranking and ordering of individuals within a society. It is a structured hierarchy which leads to divisions and higher status, wealth and privilege for some groups.
Social class is the stratification system found in modern industrial societies like the UK, but it can also occur due to other attributes such as gender, age, religious education or military rank (Giddens 2006:295) Members of a particular strata will share a similar lifestyle and common identity which will to some extent distinguish them from members of other social strata (H & H 2008:19) A functionalist perspective of social stratification is that it is based on meritocracy and is therefore an inevitable part of all societies.
Talcott Parsons believed that social stratifications are a basic expression of shared values which are an essential part of a functioning society. Social stratification is functional because it integrates various groups in society (H& H2008:21) Marxism regards stratification as a divisive structure rather than an integrated one. It is seen as a mechanism for the ruling class to exploit the subject class, rather than a means of furthering collective goals (H & H 2008:27). Various institutions such as legal and political systems are used to dominate the subject class resulting in conflict (H & H 2008:28).
Social action theory focuses on how a persons’ social standing affects their everyday interactions. According to Max Webber, social stratification not only involves class but also status and party (social status and political power) (Giddens 2006:302-303). Social action theory studies the processes behind stereotypes, mixed interactions and labelling. Its notes how stratification is a way to put people in groups and questions how much power individuals in these groups have to realise their goals (Cardiff University 2010) References
Haralambos & Holborn (2008) Sociology Themes and Perspectives , 7th Edition, London, Harper Collins Anthony Giddens (2006) Sociology, 5th Edition, Cambridge, Polity Press Amit B. Mavasti (2004) Qualititive Research in Sociology, London, Sage Publications Ltd C. Wright Mills (2000) The Sociological Imagination, 40th Edition, New York , Oxford University Press Inc World Wide Web Page Kent McClelland, Grinnel College 2001 Functionalism (Online) Available: web. grinnel. edu/courses/soc/s00/soc111-01/IntroTheories/Functionalism. tml SparkNotes Editors 2006 Sparknote on Sociology Major Figures (Online) Available: http://www. sparknotes. com/sociology/major-figures/ (Acceseed 31 October 2012) Dr Oz Almog, Electronic Journal of Sociology 1998 The Problem of Social Type: A Review (Online) Available:www. sociology. org/content/vol003. 004/almog. html (Accessed 31 October 2012) Angus Bancroft and Sionead Rogers, Cardiff University 2010 Max Weber-Natural Science, Social Science and Value Relevance (Online) http://www. cf. ac. uk/socsi/undergraduate/introsoc/weber6. html