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A Contemporary Introduction to Sociology
Culture and Society in Transition
by Jeffrey C. Alexander and
Chapter One:Sociological Stories and Key Concepts
- Sociology can help us make sense of our experiences by taking our accounts and sharing or comparing them with others.
- The sociological perspective is constituted of stories told by individuals and groups and shapes how we establish our worldviews.
- We can examine social structures (patterns of organization that constrain human behavior) by observation of the sociological perspective.
Culture vs. Subculture
- Culture: The symbolic and learned aspects of human society. Culture is not biological but, instead, is transmitted and shared via social interaction.
- Subculture: The symbols and lifestyles of a subgroup in society, one that deviates from the “normal,” more general (dominant) culture of a society.
C. Wright Mills and The Sociological Imagination (1959)
- Sociological imagination: the ability to understand not only what is happening in one’s own immediate experience but also in the world and to imagine how one’s experience fits into the large picture
- It is necessary for us to use a sociological imaginationin order to define the troubles we experience through historical changes and the institutions of society
Peter Berger’s four dimensions of sociological consciousness
- Debunking:The sociological perspective is frequently concerned with seeing through the facades of social structures and debunking official interpretations
- Unrespectability:involves a fascination with the unrespectable view of society
- Relativizing:refers to the capacity, typical of the modern mind, but especially developed in sociology, to see how identities and perspectives vary depending on the situation or context.
- Cosmopolitanism:The turbulent urban center of modern times have tended to develop a cosmopolitan consciousness, a knowledge of a variety of lifestyles and perspectives, and a certain sense of detachment from them.
Society Today: So What’s New?
- Sociology came into being as an effort to understand the social issues created by the changes of modernity.
- Modernity: in sociology, refers to the set of historical processes that transformed the traditional order
- Postmodernity:in sociology, refers to the contemporary developments in historical, social, and economic processes.
Table 1.1 Characteristics of Premodern, Modern, and Postmodern Societies
Focuses of the Sociologists of Modernity
- The early sociologists of modernity examined the development of economic life, social organization, integration, culture, gender and socialization, public vs. private, and occidentalism vs. orientalism
Slide 11 Slide 12
- A social phenomenon characterized by the growing number of interconnections across the world.
- Rather than studying society in terms of various nation-states, sociologists today are concerned with multinational and global problems.
Determinism vs. Free Will
- Determinism states that social structures and cultural factors determine behavior of individuals
- Karl Marx insisted, that “it is not consciousness that determines society, but society that determines consciousness.”
- Emile Durkheim, the French founder of modern scientific sociology, stated that individuals have little power against social facts
- Counter-argument: George Herbert Mead (University of Chicago) insisted that the ever creative self is at the basis of institutions.
- Erving Goffman expanded on Mead’s ideas and told a theoretical story that centered on the self and its ingenuity—Just because people espouse accepted social values, they don’t necessarily believe in them.
Structure vs. Culture
- Many of the greatest sociologists have made structure central to the stories they tell about institutions, processes, and groups. The structural approach is objective.
- With a cultural approach, it is values and beliefs that are central to society. The cultural approach is subjective.
- How does the sociological perspective challenge individualism?
- What is the difference between personal troubles and public issues? Can you think of an example that falls into both categories?
- Briefly describe Berger’s four dimensions of sociological consciousness.
Study Questions (continued)
- What do sociologists mean by modernity and postmodernity?
- What is determinism? Describe sociological arguments against this position, and explain why both sides have been heatedly debated in the field.
- What is the difference between structural and cultural approaches? Is either deterministic?