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SOCY 1101 – Ch.

3 & 4
Mary McKenzie
UNC Charlotte
McIntyre – Chapter 3: Science
 Sociologists accept that to understand a
particular social event or interaction, they
must take a multitude of factors into

 They accept that generally it is impossible to

make predictions with absolute assurance.
We can predict what most people will likely
do under particular sets of circumstances,
but we cannot make guarantees.
Sociologists make exact predictions of
human behavior, instead of only
probabilistic predictions.


Most sociologists specialize by
taking chunks of society and
making these their particular
 Sociologists also tend to specialize in
how they approach the study of their
 There are three sorts of divisions:
◦ The first has to do with what chunk of
society a sociologist chooses to study
◦ The second and third have to do with
how particular sociologists approach
their research
 What Sociologists Study
Topic area or subject matter – Table 3.1

 How Sociologists Study

theoretical Perspectives (paradigms, orienting
Levels of Analysis
 Paradigm – framework or model of the world

 3 Major theoretical perspectives:

functionalist, conflict, and symbolic
 Differences between these paradigms mostly
have to do with the sets of assumptions
about the nature of the social world on which
each paradigm is based.
Functionalist Paradigm
 Tend to share three major assumptions about the
nature of the social world:
 Within a particular society, there is a great deal of
consensus about what values and norms are
important. Regardless of the nature of the values
and norms, functional perspectives assume that
there is a general consensus about them in society.
 Society is an entity or whole that is made up of many
integrated parts. Because all the parts are
integrated, or tied together, when one part of society
changes, other parts will change in response.
 Society tends to seek stability and avoid conflict.
Conflict is not normal, but is dysfunctional or
Sociologists who work from
the functionalist paradigm
tend to assume that society is
normally harmonious.

Conflict Paradigm
 Theories that emerge from the conflict
paradigm tend to be based on assumptions
that seem opposite to theories that grow out
of the functionalist paradigm:
 Within any particular society, there are
subgroups of people who cherish different
beliefs and have conflicting values and goals.
 Society is made up of subgroups that are in
ruthless competition for scarce resources.
 Society is never harmonious; conflict is
normal in society.
Those who work from the conflict
paradigm tend to assume that
society is made up of
people and groups who
compete for resources.


Symbolic Interactionist
 Symbolic interactionistsare sometimes called
social constructionists because of their
interest in how people construct their own
social worlds.

 The kinds of questions that symbolic

interactionistsask have to do with such
issues as how people use symbols to make
sense of their environments.
Among other things, a sociologist who adheres
to the symbolic interactionist paradigm
would be concerned about what meanings
people attached to their behavior and how
communicated these meanings to others
around them.


Most symbolic interactionists share four
basic assumptions about the nature of
 How people act depends on how they see
the social world:
and evaluate reality.
 People learn from others how to see and
evaluate reality.
 People constantly work to interpret their own
behavior and the behavior of others to
determine what these behaviors “mean.”
 When people do not attach the same
meanings to behaviors or perceive reality in
the same way, there will be
misunderstanding and conflict.
 The paradigm adopted depends on which of
these aspects of society one judges to be the
most interesting and important.

 Sociologists tend to ask different kinds of

questions about their subject matter
depending on the paradigm or perspective
they hold.
 Sociologists divide up their discipline
between levels of analysis: microsociology
and macrosociology.

 Microsociologists generally focus on the

interactions of individuals and the context of
those interactions.
 Macrosociologists focus on broader social
phenomena, such as whole social structures,
systems, and institutions.
Sociologists studying small group
interactions are utilizing a
macrosociological level of

 Functionalist, or consensus, tend to focus on what
holds society together and on how changes in one
part of society lead to changes in other parts.
 Conflict tend to focus on the kinds of things that
create tension and conflict between people and
groups and on the ways people from one group may
exploit people from another group.
 Symbolic interactionists tend to look at how ideas
emerge from social interaction and then affect that

 Understanding any complex phenomenon may

require the sociologist to make use of the insights
offered by all three paradigms.
Sociologists would never consider
utilizing a variety of paradigms in
their analysis of a societal

McIntyre – Chapter 4: Who’s
Afraid of Sociology?
 Sociologists are concerned with issues of
observable facts. Sociologists tend to be
preoccupied with the empirical world.
 Empirical refers to things that can be
observed through the use of one’s physical
senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste, and
smell. If a thing is not observable, then it is
of little interest to sociologists.
The term “empirical” refers to things
that can be observed through the use
of one's physical senses.


 Max Weber had a term for those pieces of
evidence that contradict what you have
always believed and/or want to believe about
the social world; he called them inconvenient
facts. It is the sociologists’ duty to deal with
inconvenient facts.
Mary firmly believes that if people just work
hard enough they can be successful in this
society. For her, any information that proves
the existence of job discrimination would be
(according to Weber) an unfortunate

 Ethnocentrism – to make a value judgment on
people’s way of life that differs from our own.
We generally do not see difference as merely
difference, but as an indication of inferiority.
 The positive side of ethnocentrism is that it
brings together people and builds solidarity
within a particular society.
 The negative, or dysfunctional, side of
ethnocentrism is that it can lead to nasty
consequences: prejudice, discrimination, even
genocide or “ethnic cleansing.”
◦ Ethnocentrism is especially dangerous because it gets
in the way of understanding since we are viewing
things in terms of our own society.
◦ Culture shock – the resulting feeling of disorientation
when our taken-for-granted assumptions about the
way things out to be are challenged.
Sociologists draw upon their
ethnocentrism to gain insight into
the workings of unfamiliar
groups and societies.

 Cultural Relativism – the belief that other
people and their ways of doing things can be
understood only in terms of the cultural
context of those people. We have to look for
clues in their culture to understand their
 Cultural relativity means being objective
enough to understand people’s behaviors in
terms of their culture and social situation.
 Sociology seeks to understand and explain
behavior. Understanding is difficult to do
unless one is willing to look at things in their
own context.
Americans are the only group of
people who believe that they are
superior to people from
other societies.