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Kevin Everett and Peggy Shifflett. THE FUNDAMENTALS OF SOCIOLOGY. PART I: THE SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE. Chapter 1: What is Sociology?. WHAT IS SOCIOLOGY?. SOCIOLOGY: the systematic study of human society and social life—the study of humans as members of society and social groups.

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kevin everett and peggy shifflett
Kevin Everett and Peggy Shifflett


part i the sociological perspective


Chapter 1: What is Sociology?

what is sociology
  • SOCIOLOGY: the systematic study of human society and social life—the study of humans as members of society and social groups.
  • SOCIETY: is a group of people who live together over an extended period, occupy a territory, are subject to a common political authority, and share a distinct way of life.

C. Wright Mills

“Whatever else he may be, man is a social and an historical actor who must be understood, if at all, in close and intricate interplay with social and historical structures” (1959:158).

sociological imagination

the ability to see the relationship between individual experiences and the larger social context.

sociological imagination cont d

For Mills, the difference between effective sociological thought and that which fails rests upon imagination. The sociological imagination is simply a “quality of mind” that allows one to grasp “history and biography and the relations between the two within society.”

history of sociology
History of Sociology

Two important changes in the social world gave rise to sociology as a field of scientific study.

1. Industrialization: the process by which societies arechanged from agricultural-based economic activity to manufacturing-based economic activity.

history of sociology1
History of Sociology

2. Urbanization: the process by which an increasing proportion of society’s population lives in cities instead of in rural areas.

  • Urbanization and industrialization stimulated the development of sociological thinking.
auguste comte 1798 1857

Comte stated that sociologists should be concerned with two aspects of society: social statics (social order)—what holds society together and social dynamics (social process)—what is the nature of social activities within social order?

emile durkheim 1858 1917
  • first to use scientific method with sociological perspective
  • identified social bond as the important variable in the commission of suicide
  • developed the concept of social facts
functionalist perspective
Functionalist Perspective

Functionalism is often referred to as “consensus” theory because it does not address the issue of conflict in society. It tends to project an ideal picture of harmonious social relationships.

historical background of functionalism
Historical Background of Functionalism

Functionalism emerged in Europe in the 19th century as a response to what was perceived as a crisis of social order resulting from two developments:

historical background of functionalism cont d
Historical Background of Functionalism (cont’d)

Emergence of a new industrial society resulting in:

a. loss of community

b. poor working conditions

c. increase in crime

d. growth of housing slums

e. poverty

historical background of functionalism cont d1
Historical Background of Functionalism (cont’d)

The French Revolution which suggested:

a. ideals of equality

b. happiness

c. freedom of the individual

principles of functionalism

All societies have functional requirements (basic needs) that must be met if the society is to survive.

Social order and stability are basic needs and must prevail in any society.

In what ways do various parts that make up a society function to maintain social order?

principles of functionalism cont d

The basis of a stable and orderly society is a common value system.

Herbert Spencer (1899) compared society to the living human body where each different body part contributes to the overall working and survival of the body.

parson s contribution to functionalism

Parsons’ most noted contribution to functionalism was his AGIL scheme which held that a system must meet the following functional imperatives: adaptation, goal attainment, integration, and latency (pattern maintenance) in order to survive.

merton s contribution to functionalism

The unanticipated consequences of purposive social action. Merton maintained a distinction between manifest and latent functions.

Manifest functions are those functions that are expressed and, at least publicly, intended.

Latent functions are the functions that an organization actually serves.

figure 1 2 manifest and latent functions of prostitution
Figure 1.2 – Manifest and Latent Functions of Prostitution



Manifest way to make money

spreads disease

way to have deviant

sexual needs met

Latent protects institution denigrates the

of marriage when one female

partner has deviant

sexual needs

provides income for

cities through fines

provides jobs for police

and the court system


karl marx 1818 1883 conflict theorist

Marx saw society as composed of two main groups. The bourgeoisie, or the capitalist class, was the class that owned the key economic resources in industrial societies, or what Marx termed the means of production. The proletariat, or the working class, was composed of people who owned only their ability to labor, which they sold to the bourgeoisie in order to earn a living. Marx viewed these two classes as in conflict over the allocation of economic resources: the bourgeoisie wanted higher profits while

max weber 1864 1922 opposed to marx s emphasis on economics as only source of conflict
MAX WEBER (1864-1922)opposed to Marx’s emphasis on economics as only source of conflict

Weber introduced a multi-dimensional aspect to Marx’s exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie by adding power, prestige, and membership in statusgroups as other sources of conflict and inequality.

symbolic interactionism

Main focus is the subjective meanings that people create and attach to social phenomena; it is these meanings that shape people’s interactions with each other. Perceptions or subjective meanings are of greater analytical interest to the symbolic interactionist than objective conditions and relations.

george herbert mead 1863 1931
George Herbert Mead (1863-1931)

“Society is a society of ‘selves’. We are both subjects and objects of our own acts. On the basis of desired acts, we plan, reflect upon, respond to what we want to do, what we have done and what we hope to do. We modify, improvise, evaluate, and respond to our own behavior as well as that of others. It is a process, not fixed.”

charles horton cooley 1864 1929
Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929)

Cooley contributed the concept of the “looking glass self” to symbolic interactionism. We will examine this concept in depth in Chapter 6.

herbert blumer 1900 1987
HERBERT BLUMER (1900-1987)

Coined the term

“symbolic interactionism”

blumer s principles of s i

Blumer outlined three major principles of symbolic interactionism:

principle of meaning: humans act toward other people and things based upon the meanings that they have given to those people and things.

principle of language: provides a means by which to negotiate meaning using symbols

principle of thought provides a way for each individual to interpret symbols

erving goffman 1922 1982

Symbolic Interactionist.

He called his approach to understanding social life dramaturgical analysis. He suggested that members of a society are like actors playing out roles on the social stage.

contemporary sociological theory
Contemporary Sociological Theory

Contemporary sociological theory has been a forum for the synthesis of many strains of thought that characterized traditional sociological theory. The neo-functionalist school, critical theory, feminist theory, and postmodernism are representative of the “new” canon of sociological theory.

neo functionalism

Neo-functionalism (Paul Colomy)

contributes a new view of how societies change. While the traditional functionalists, such as Durkheim and Spencer, viewed social change or differentiation as a function of an emerging division of labor, Paul Colomy (1986, 1990) suggests the concept of dedifferentiation and unevendifferentiation to present a more dynamic understanding of social change.

critical theory
Critical Theory

Critical TheoryGeorg Lukacs (1885-1971) an early neo-Marxist, is credited with contributing the concept of reification, the notion that reality is socially constructed yet privately experienced appears firmly rooted in classical functionalism and conflict theory. The goal was to highlight the Hegelian roots of Marx’s work and to introduce a subjective orientation to complement the objective material world dealt with in Marx’s historical materialism..


Feminism is a response to the historical neglect of gender as a sociological variable. Theorists with an interest in gender relations have used all three of the sociological perspectives.

post modernism

Jean Baudrillard highlights the concepts of simulation and hyper reality in postmodern society. He suggests that modern reality is a synthesis of fiction and truth. We experience the world vicariously through the images and sound bites we are bombarded with on a daily basis.


Michel Foucault (1926-1984) Relativism argues that there is no such thing as “objective truth.” Reality has no meaning apart from what is believed to be real. We take science and scientific knowledge for granted.