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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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”
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
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?