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Chapter 1: The Sociological Imagination: An Introduction

Sociological imagination: the ability to connect the most basic,

intimate aspects of an individuals life to seemingly impersonal and
remote historical forces.
- Ask ourselves what we take to be natural that actually isnt.
Yale graduates might not have needed to go to college to earn higher
wages, they might have been successful anyway: Mark Zukerberg,
Steve Jobs, and Lady Gaga.
Social institution: a complex group of interdependent positions that,
together, perform a social role and reproduce themselves over time;
also defined in a narrow sense as any institution in a society that works
to shape the behavior of the groups or people within it.
- The grand narrative that constitutes social identity is nothing
more than the sum of individual stories told between pairs of
- Altering an identity is fairly difficult, even though it is
ultimately nothing more than an idea.
Auguste Comte invented social physics or positivism: we can
determine right and wrong without reference to higher powers or other
religious concepts.
1. Theological Stage: society is the result of the divine will
2. Metaphysical Stage: Enlightenment thinkers saw humankinds
behavior as governed by natural, biological instincts.
3. Scientific Stage: we would develop a social physics of sorts in
order to identify the scientific laws that govern human behavior.
Harriet Martineau translated Comtes work and was considered one
of the earliest feminist social scientists writing in the English language.
Karl Marx: believed that conflicts between classes drove social
change throughout history; saw history as an account of mans
struggle to gain control of and later dominate his natural environment.
Max Weber: implied the concept of understanding why people act
they way they doa sociologist must understand the meanings people
attach to their actions (subjectivity).
Verstehen: German understanding. The concept of Verstehen
forms the object of inquiry for interpretive sociologyto study
how social actors understand their actions and the social world
through experience.
Emile Durkheim: the division of labor of a given society helps to
determine its form of social solidaritythe way social cohesion among

individuals is maintained. Social forces condition suicide. Considered

founding practitioner of positivist sociology.
Anomie: a sense of aimlessness or despair that arises when we
can no longer reasonably expect life to be predictable; too little
social regulation; normlessness leads to suicide.
Positivist sociology: a strain within sociology that believes the
social world can be described and predicted by certain
describable relationships (akin to a social physics).
Gerog Simmel: established formal sociology (sociology of pure
numbers). His work was influential in the development of urban
sociology and cultural sociology.
American sociology: characterized by empirical research, applied
perspective, and came to be referred to as the Chicago school.
- Chicago school: humans behaviors and personalities are
shaped by their social and physical environments social
W.E.B. Dubois: developed the concept of double consciousness.
Double consciousness: a concept describing the two
behavioral scripts, one for moving through the world and the
other incorporating the external opinions of prejudiced onlookers,
which are constantly maintained by African Americans.
Functionalism: the theory that various social institutions and
processes in society exist to serve some important (or necessary)
function to keep society running.
Conflict theory: the idea that conflict between competing interests is
the basic, animating force of social change and society in general
inequality is unfair and exists at the expense of less powerful groups.
* Functionalism and Conflict theory are in opposition.
Feminist theory: emphasizes womens experiences and a belief that
sociology and society in general subordinate women.
Symbolic Interactionism: a micro-level theory in which shared
meanings, orientations, and assumptions form the basic motivations
behind peoples actions.
Postmodernism: a condition characterized by a questioning of the
notion of progress and history, the replacement of narrative within
pastiche, and multiple, perhaps even conflicting, identities resulting
from disjointed affiliations.

Social Construction: an entity that exists because people behave as

if it exists and whose existence is perpetuated as people and social
institutions act in accordance with the widely agreed-upon formal rules
or informal norms of behavior associated with that entity.
Midrange theory: a theory that attempts to predict how certain social
institutions tend to function.
- Generates falsifiable hypothesespredictions that can be
tested by analyzing the real world.
Relation to history Sociologists are always implicitly drawing
comparisons to identify abstractable patterns.
Microsociology: seeks to understand local interactional contexts; its
methods of choice are ethnographic, generally including participant
observation and in-depth interviews.
Macrosociology: generally concerned with social dynamics at a
higher level of analysisthat is, across the breadth of a society.