Fundamentals of Sociology- ICT 1009

Lecture 1- What is Sociology?

Iresha M. Karunaratne Department of Sociology- University of Colombo

we must understand both (C. everyday thoughts and actions of individuals without examining the social forces that influence them. To understand either individuals or society. ‡ External features beyond our immediate awareness and control often exert more influence on the circumstances of our day-to-day lives than our µinternal¶ qualities. 1959). ‡ Everyday social life is the product of a complex interplay between societal forces and personal characteristics.W. ‡ We cannot explain the ordinary. What is Sociology? . ‡ By focussing exclusively on such personal characteristics we overlook the broader societal trends that can affect a person¶s achievement or failure. Mills.‡ When people are faced with achievement and failure. the usual human tendency is to attribute them to the relevant individual¶s personal qualities.

events and societal features that surround us. sociology provides unique insight into the taken-forgranted personal events and the large-scale cultural and global processes that make up our everyday existence. . ‡ By showing how social processes can shape us. ‡ The structure of our lives often is not immediately apparent. and how individual action can in turn affect those processes.‡ Sociologists do not deny that individuals make choices or that they must take personal responsibility for those choices. ‡ But they point out that we cannot fully understand things happening in our personal lives without examining the influence of the people.

groups or societies. neurology and psychology also studies human life. ‡ They focus almost exclusively on structures and processes that reside within the individual. ‡ In contrast. sociologists study what goes on among people as individuals.‡ Other disciplines such as biology. .

or directing idea of sociology is. the academic study of society. instead of singling out a particular aspect of society for study. i.e. Sociology. that of social structure: the systematic interrelation of forms of behaviour or action in particular societies. ‡ The Industrial Revolution in Europe and the French Revolution had a significant role to play in the development of sociology. ‡ However. ‡ Sociology was.The Origin of Sociology ‡ For thousands of years humans have reflected upon the societies and groups in which they live. . ‡ The basic conception. with social anthropology. is a modern science with history of about hundred years. the first science to concern itself explicitly with social life as a totality. with the whole intricate network of social institutions and groups which constitute a society. therefore.

eating disorders. sexual violence. Wright Mills (1959) called the sociological imagination. .Sociological Imagination ‡ The ability to see the impact of social forces on our private lives is what the famous sociologist C. suicide and so on will not go away simply by treating or punishing a person who is suffering from or engaging in the behaviour. crimes. ‡ The social problem of unemployment cannot be solved at the personal level. ‡ The task of sociology is to help us view our lives as the intersection between personal biography and societal history. ‡ Sociological imagination enables us to understand the larger historical picture and its meaning in our own lives. Drug addiction. homelessness. ‡ Being unemployed is not a character flaw or personal failure if a significant number of people in one¶s community are also unemployed. to provide means for us to interpret our lives and social circumstances.

‡ Emile Durkheim¶s classic piece of sociological research on suicide was an attempt to link suicide. ‡ If. however. unhappy individuals should be roughly equal across time and culture. ‡ For about seven years he carefully examined the available data on rates of suicide among various social groups in Europepopulations of countries. one would not expect to find any noticeable changes in the rates from year to year or society to society.with the structure of society. and so on. members of religions or ethnic groups. unstable. ‡ He said that suicide is more likely to occur when the social ties that bind people to one another are either too weak or too strong. ‡ He argued that if suicide were purely an act of individual desperation. something more than individual disposition would seem to be at work.perhaps the most private act one can commit. certain groups or societies had a significantly higher rate of suicide than others. . ‡ That is. the distribution of desperate.

family. then a person is likely to lack a supportive network that could be a buffer against personal difficulties.‡ He argued that when group. or community ties are weak. ‡ The structure of our communities discourages the formation of bonds with others and not surprisingly. . ‡ Durkheim felt that life in modern society tends to be individualistic and dangerously alienating. people feel disconnected and alone. ‡ If a person lacks family ties and close friends or lives in a community that stresses individualism and de-emphasises ties to a larger group. the likelihood of suicide increases at the same time.

‡ Durkheim also felt. they may take their own lives out of loyalty to group norms. that suicide can become more likely when the ties to one¶s community are too strong. ‡ Durkheim discovered that suicide rates were higher among. When cult members feel they can no longer contribute to group and sustain their value within it. ‡ In certain societies individuality is completely overshadowed by one¶s group membership. 1) Widowed. however. single and divorced people than among married people 2) People without children than among parents 3) Protestants than among Catholics. require their members to reject their ties to outside people and groups and to live by the values and customs of their new community. for example. the individual literally lives for the group. ‡ Religious cults. .

‡ When enough people alter their behaviour.what we do.Society and the Individual ‡ The usual tendency for people is to consider society as a relatively unchanging set of organisations. ‡ To fully understand society then. in pairs or in groups. we must see it as a human construction made up of people interacting with one another. institutions. ‡ But this is only one side of the sociological coin. . say. ‡ The sociological imagination also encourages us to see that each individual has a role in forming a society and influencing the course of its history. ‡ Society does exert influence on its members through certain identifiable structural features and historical circumstances. ‡ This characterisation is not altogether inaccurate. the nature of society changes. It consists of everyday microsituations. systems and cultural patterns into which successive generations of people are born and socialised. feel and think when we are alone.

.: Workers¶ strikes. ‡ Sometimes the actions of ordinary people mobilise larger groups of people to collectively alter some aspect of social life. E.‡ Whenever we modify the expectations of behaviours associated with a social position we occupy. ‡ Individuals who occupy highly visible and influential positions are particularly effective. we are simultaneously modifying a part of our society.g.

reaffirming and transforming society. ‡ But although we create society. we live in a world in which our behaviours are largely a product of societal and historical processes. believe it is independent of us and live our lives under its influence. we then collectively µforget¶ that we have done so.‡ In sum. we are constantly creating. ‡ Society is an objective fact that coerces. maintaining. Hence society is part and parcel of human interaction. us. ‡ At the same time. even creates. .

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