Background to sociology
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Background to Sociology. Scientific revolution of 17 th century “Enlightenment” Philosophy of 18 th c. French Revolution (1789--) Industrial Revolution (19 th century). Scientific Revolution. Newton: physical world governed by invariant laws

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Background to Sociology

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Background to Sociology

  • Scientific revolution of 17th century

  • “Enlightenment” Philosophy of 18th c.

  • French Revolution (1789--)

  • Industrial Revolution (19th century)

Scientific Revolution

  • Newton: physical world governed by invariant laws

  • Locke: all ideas from sensations, from the outside

  • Descartes: supremacy of reason, cognition

  • Francis Bacon: empiricism

Church View

  • Life “here and now” a preparation for the afterlife, entry into the kingdom of God

  • Humanity under curse of original sin

  • Physical universe is “God’s mystery”

  • Active providence

  • Knowledge from authority, tradition

  • Humanity in decline (‘The Fall’)

The “Enlightenment”

  • Happiness in the “here and now”

  • Freedom from physical and mental coercion

  • Reason: as a human faculty and as a force

  • Nature: nature is reasonable, can reveal Natural Law, affect human conduct

  • Natural Science as method of understanding

  • Progress: human world can get better

Extension of Enlightenment principles

  • Natural law and natural rights the basis of the political community

  • Pursuit of individual interests is good

  • Political freedom is “natural” including freedom to own land

  • Education should be for the development of human faculties

  • Knowledge should be based on empirical analysis

Auguste Comte

  • Tried to overcome conflicting points of view through science

  • Believed that warfare caused by differing points of view based on substandard knowledge

  • Thought that science and the scientific method could provide a new authoritative belief system

Comte’s “Law of three stages”

  • Human thought has evolved through these stages:

  • Theological

  • Metaphysical (abstract principles)

  • Positive (scientific)

The Sciences have progressed by moving into the positive stage in a sequence

  • Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Phrenology (psychology?), (and finally) SOCIOLOGY

Sociology would provide the new blueprint for a society

  • With a plan based on science, society could be reorganized to achieve peace and prosperity (order and progress)

  • A system of education, industry, and law based on the science of sociology

  • A world government to settle disputes and avoid war

Problems with Comte:

  • Phrenology a pseudo-science

  • Premise that we are “born” to fulfill a specialized role is suspect (natural inequality)

  • Replaced dogma of Church with dogma of Sociology

  • Vision of a “managed society”

Emile Durkheim

  • Tried to give respectability to sociology

  • Criticized the assumptions of the liberal society of his time (19th century)

  • Founder of “Functionalism”

  • Worked from the Positivist perspective

Durkheim’s positivism

  • There is a unity to nature

  • Social phenomenon are part of the objective world of nature

  • Social phenomenon are subject to their own laws which are “natural”

  • Social causality

Basic Concepts (Durkheim)

  • Social Facts as objective reality

  • Social Facts (1)=Rates

  • Social Facts(2)=institutions (with their rules)

  • Are external to the individual

  • Exercise a constraint

Durkheim—more concepts

  • Mechanical Solidarity (the bond based on similarity)

  • Organic Solidarity (the bond based on interdependence and specialization)

Suicide Study—Challenged these:

  • Suicide caused by climate/geography

  • Suicide caused by “Race” (genetic factors)

  • Suicide caused by Mental Disease

Protestant rates higher than Catholics, higher than Jews

Single persons rate higher than married

People from small families higher than people from large families

Higher education, higher suicide rate

Society during peacetime higher than wartime

Suicide rates are social facts

One Cause: higher degree of Egoism

  • Weaker bonds within the group, or weaker social solidarity

  • Or, isolation from a group

  • Egoism=little shared group life or, “weakened social integration”

Opposite of Egoism=Altruism

  • Group bonds too strong, life of individual unimportant compared to group

Another dimension: Anomie

  • Changes in relation between the individual and “controlling circumstances”

  • Anomie= being without norms (rules)

  • A-norm


  • Divorce

  • Widowhood

  • Unemployment

  • Losing wealth

  • Rapid wealth gain

Opposite of Anomie=Fatalism

  • Excessive regulation


  • Suicide of prisoners

  • Suicide of slaves

  • Suicide by wives in a traditional family system

Karl Marx 1818-1883

  • Philosophy Student, Journalism

  • Allied with “Left Hegelians” in 1840s

  • Germany-Belgium-France-England

  • International Workers Movement

  • Best known for Manifesto of the Communist League and Capital


  • Humans must (necessarily) interact with natural environment through human labor

  • Humans produce their “means of subsistence”

  • Humans create their own history (including the institutions of human society)—although they are not always aware of it

Marx: Stages of Human Societies

  • 1.Pre-class (tribal)

  • 2. Asiatic

  • 3. Ancient (Greece, Rome)

  • 4. Feudalism

  • 5. Capitalism

“History” based on Class Conflict

  • Class structure different depending on type of society

  • Tribal societies have no social class structure


Bourgeoisie vs. Proletariat

Worker’s Protest Through:

  • Labor Unions

  • Political Parties

  • “Underground” Parties

Capitalism overthrown through revolutionary activity of Working Class

The Sociology of Karl Marx

  • Progress through the development of the “forces of production”

  • Philosophy, religion and the “idea systems” of a society based on the nature of the economic base of a society (the forces and relations of production taken together)

Economic base consists of:

  • Productive forces (labor power, means of production [tools etc], raw materials)

  • Social Relations of Production (the property relations, system of ownership)

Marx: major concerns

  • How social life is structured by the commodity relationship under capitalism (alienation, treating people as a means to an end)

  • Economic crisis of capitalism, monopoly

  • Social change

Marx: Dialectical and anti-positivist

Capitalism has “laws”, but are specific to this mode of production. Society and its institutions are ultimately under the control of the members.

Max Weber (1864-1920)

  • Criticized the materialist side of Marx

  • Was anti-positivist

  • No “general history” of humans (e.g. evolutionary theory)

  • Every choice involves a tradeoff

  • Sociology to deal with specific problems or issues

Max Weber’s sociology: context

  • Historical school (study the unique cultural productions of a society)

  • Positivism=look for the general laws that structure societies

Weber’s method:

  • Rejects Positivism (need to look at the meaning that events, actions have for a group)=Verstehen sociology

  • Rejects historicism. There are a relatively small number of concepts that enable us to comprehend various societies and the historical past.

Limited number of types of social action:

  • 1. Rationally purposeful action (Zweckrational) instrumental rationality (varies among individuals)

  • 2. Vertrational=Value-rational goals or ends defined in terms of subjectively meaningful values (noble death)(salvation)

  • 3. Affective action (emotional, impulsive)

  • 4.Traditional

Limited number of types of authority:

  • 1. Legal rational

  • 2. Traditional

  • 3. Charismatic

Weber’s concerns:

  • 1. Uniqueness of Western Society=Science and Capitalism

  • 2. Capitalism (bureaucracy) has standardized the experiences of all individuals (iron cage of bureaucracy) loss of “magic”

  • 3. How religion influences personality and behavior

  • 4. Use of sociology to deal with problems of German Society

Weber’s sociological method

  • Value freedom (separation of analysis from personal values)

  • Sociological inquiry cannot establish values

  • Verstehen (interpretive) method

  • No reconciliation between individual and society (competing demands)


  • Marx: sociology for enlightenment, de-mystification of understanding

  • Durkheim: search for General Laws of human society (cannot be changed, only adapted to)

  • Weber: cannot escape from the structured choices that individuals face

Current major approaches:

  • 1 functionalism (how do actions, activities maintain the social order?)

  • 2. Symbolic interactionism—in interaction people create rules, meanings

  • 3. Conflict theory

Causality in science—metaphor?

  • Positivism: cause-effect model independent variable causing changes in dependent variable

  • Weber: multiple causes (meaning antecedents or limiting factors)

  • Marx: system of capitalism imposes limits on behavior

Sociological Research

  • 1.experiments

  • 2. Surveys

  • 3. Observation (unobtrusive) and “participant”

  • 4. Comparative and Historical

  • 5. Analysis of existing data (archival)

  • 6. Community, institutional study.

Approach to Research

  • 1. “Researchable Problem”

  • 2. Review Literature

  • 3. Formulating a Hypothesis --operational definitions

  • 4. Research Design

  • 5. Data Collection

  • 6. Data Analysis 7. conclusions

Major approaches (Text)

  • Functionalism

  • Conflict theory

  • Symbolic Interactionist (Interactionist)

Other approaches

  • Critical Theory (Frankfurt School)

  • (used Marx and Freud)

  • (capitalism and culture)

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