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Sociology

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Sociology
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Sociology is a cult based around the intellectual pseudoscience of studying society. Originally popular with old bearded men who smoke pipes whilst reclining in arm-chairs, it has now managed to find a younger generation of converts thanks to its curricular introduction into sixth-form colleges and universities. Synonymous with Scientology, Sociology uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop and refine a body of knowledge and theory about human social activity
—Uncyclopedia

Sociology is the academic study of human societies and the effects of human behavior on society or societies.[1] Many sociologists specialize in the study of specific subdivisions of society such as religion, the workplace, crime and punishment, the media, and racism. Sociology as a discipline was born during a period of dramatic change. The Industrial Revolution, increasing urbanization, and political upheaval in 18th- and 19th-century Europe motivated academics to analyze society systematically. Auguste Comte (1798-1857) is one of the field's founders; Karl Marx (1818-1883), Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) and Max WeberWikipedia's W.svg (1864-1920) are the classical theorists. Key current theorists include Anthony GiddensWikipedia's W.svg (1938- ) and Jürgen HabermasWikipedia's W.svg (1929- ).

Sociology, as a social science, can generate some controversy among laymen. Critics might suggest there is something inherently suspect about a discipline in which every question can be answered by asserting the existence of an invisible social structure that defies scientific observation, whereas supporters would argue this may just be a bit of an oversimplification. Like other scientific fields, sociology attempts to find patterns in the real world and to analyze their causes.

Overview[edit]

Sociology is the systematic study of human society. Unlike psychology, which focuses on the individual and uses the psyche to explain behavior, sociology focuses on groups and seeks to explain behavior in terms of societal forces. Sociology can be divided into two broad categories depending on the groups being studied: Macrosociology deals with human interaction at a large scale, as in nations, cities, or institutions. Microsociology focuses on interaction on a more personal level, such as in the family or in interactions between individuals.

Theories[edit]

A sociological theory is an approach to research that offers a perspective on society. Traditionally, there are three major theories in sociology.

Structural-Functional approach[edit]

Sociologists working from a Structural-Functional approach tend to study society in terms of social structures and institutions and their functions and dysfunctions. They attempt to explain how institutions like family, religion, and government influence each other and society as a whole. Influential sociologists working from the Structural-Functional standpoint include Robert Merton and Emile Durkheim.

Social-Conflict approach[edit]

Sociologists working from a Social-Conflict perspective tend to view society in terms of conflict between groups. They focus on the power struggles and inequality that exist in society, usually focusing on the influence of race and class on societies. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels brought the perspective into the mainstream, and it has heavily influenced sociology since.

Symbolic-Interactionist approach[edit]

Sociologists that subscribe to the Symbolic-Interactionist approach focus on daily interactions and group dynamics. Unlike the previous two approaches, which are macrosociological, Symbolic-Interactionism is a microsociological theory. George Herbert Mead's writings particularly influenced the approach.

Culture[edit]

Sociologists spend much of their time studying culture, because of its immense influence on society. Culture can be simply defined as "a way of life." It preexists us, shapes how we act and think, and has symbolic elements. Culture consists of both material and nonmaterial elements. Material elements of a culture can include tools, commodities, and luxuries (for example, cars are a significant symbol of American culture). Nonmaterial elements include language, believes, ideals, and mores. Within a broader culture, there are subcultures that introduce an element of cultural diversity. A phenomenon found in most cultures is ethnocentrism, which is the tendency to judge other cultures by one's own standards rather than the standards of that culture.

Socialization[edit]

Sociologists tend to view socialization as the mechanism by which a self-image is formed and culture is learned. According to Symbolic-Interactionists like George Herbert Mead, the concept of "self" can only be developed through social interaction. Through the exchange of symbols the individual develops a self-concept in relation to his significant others (those close to him) and his generalized others (the culture at large). Throughout history, the primary agents of socialization have been the family and, later in life, the peer group. In the modern era, school and mass media play a large part in socialization. Socialization is the subject of many studies because it is viewed as key to developing self-image and teaching social skills.

Deviance[edit]

Deviance is any behavior that differs from the cultural norm. Whether this behavior is morally right or wrong is the subject of ethics, not sociology, which merely studies the causes and effects of deviant behavior. Societies naturally attempt to curb deviant behavior in order to affirm cultural values and norms via social control, such as criminal justice systems. Subcultures may develop where normal behavior within that subculture is deemed deviant by society at large (e.g. organized crime, persecuted religious groups/cults). The strongest predictors of deviant behavior in modern America are, surprisingly, not race or class, but age and gender. Most deviant behavior is committed by younger men.

Stratification[edit]

Sociologists often study hierarchy in societies. All societies tend to rank categories of people to some degree. In some societies, this ranking takes the form of a caste system, in which people are born into a strata with defined roles and must remain in that strata for the rest of their lives. In other societies, there is a class system, where strata still tends to be determined by birth, but the roles are less defined and moving from one class to another is possible during the individual's lifetime. Societies can be stratified according to race, gender, religion, or any number of characteristics. Stratification by definition requires inequality, and this can lead to conflict within societies.

Structural-functionalist perspective[edit]

From a structural-functionalist point of view, stratification is a necessary institution that plays an important role in allowing society to function. The Davis-Moore explanation of stratification has been particularly influential on the structural-functional perspective. Davis and Moore argue that stratification is required to fill all of the roles within a society.

According to the theory, some roles are by nature more "important" than others. If it were possible for everyone to be a doctor, for example, there would be no janitors. Thus becoming a doctor requires a degree of hard work and sacrifice, preventing everyone from attempting to become one. At the same time, if being a doctor were not rewarding, nobody would attempt to become one. Thus, being a doctor offers notable perks compared to being a janitor to incentivize the truly skilled to fill that role. Many criticize the theory, noting that some roles that are not important (i.e. movie stars or athletes) are heavily incentivized.

Social-conflict perspective[edit]

In contrast to the structural-functionalist view, most sociologists who operate from a social-conflict perspective emphasize the unfairness of social stratification and the role it plays in dividing societies. According to these sociologists, stratification does not reflect the actual merit of individuals. Rather, even in a class society, most people's roles are a result of the family they are born into, their gender, or their race.

References[edit]