Chapter 1: The Sociological Perspective

What is sociology? It is the systematic study of human social life, groups, and societies.

C. Wright Mills talked about the sociological imagination. This means that we must think ourselves way from the familiar routines of our daily lives in order to look at them in a new way.

Peter Berger stated that "things are not what they seem to be." According to Berger, instead of taking things forgranted or accepting commonplace definitions of what and how things are, sociologists look behind the scenes.

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917): Suicide

Durkheim described suicide as a private act that lacked social approval. He thought that if he could identify social influences, he could establish sociology. He found that suicide was not a fad or the product of insanity. He examined suicide rates records in and around France. He found that some people were more likely than others to commit suicide.

He found that men, Protestants, wealthy people, and unmarried people had higher suicide rates compared to women, Catholics and Jews, the poor, and married people. According to Durkheim, these differences corresponded to people’s degree of social integration. More specifically, people with strong social ties committed suicide less frequently. People who were more socially isolated and individualistic committed suicide more often.

Sociological Theory

Theoretical paradigm: a basic image of society that guides thinking and research.

Theory: a statement of how and why specific facts are related.

Micro-level orientation: a paradigm that focuses on social interaction in specific situations.

Macro-level orientation: a paradigm that focuses on broad social structures that characterize society as a whole. The focus is on the big picture.

Three Main Paradigms: Refer to Table in textbook. Think of these three paradigms as seeing things through the lenses of different pairs of glasses—rose, blue, purple.

1. Functionalist perspective (macro): a view of society that focuses on the way various parts of society have functions, or positive effects, that maintain the stability of the whole. The focus is on social order and stability.

2. Conflict perspective (macro): a view of society that focuses on social processes of tension, competition, and change. It emphasizes power and inequality.

3. Symbolic Interactionism (micro): a view of society that focuses on the way in which people act toward, respond to, and influence one another. The focus is on social interaction in everyday life. Meaning is emphasized.