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A Contemporary Introduction to Sociology. Culture and Society in Transition by Jeffrey C. Alexander and Kenneth Thompson. Chapter One: Sociological Stories and Key Concepts. Sociology is the science ( -ology ) of society ( socio- )

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A Contemporary Introduction to Sociology

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A Contemporary Introduction to Sociology

Culture and Society in Transition

by Jeffrey C. Alexander and

Kenneth Thompson

Chapter One:Sociological Stories and Key Concepts

  • Sociology is the science (-ology) of society (socio-)

    “Sociology is an extended commentary on the experiences of daily life, an interpretation which feeds on other interpretations and is in turn fed into them”

    --Zygmunt Bauman

  • 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

The Cultural Turn

  • The Cultural Turnrefers to two developments:

    -the increasing importance of cultural industries and of knowledge more generally in the economy

    -the increasing attention being given to cultural factors in sociological examinations


  • 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

Determinism (continued)

  • 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.

Study Questions

  • 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?

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