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A Contemporary Introduction to Sociology

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  1. A Contemporary Introduction to Sociology Culture and Society in Transition by Jeffrey C. Alexander and Kenneth Thompson

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. (continued) • 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.

  8. 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.

  9. Table 1.1 Characteristics of Premodern, Modern, and Postmodern Societies

  10. 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

  11. 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

  12. Globalization • 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.

  13. 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

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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?