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Sociology: The Core, 6/e
Michael Hughes, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University
Carolyn J. Kroehler
James W. Vander Zanden, The Ohio State University (Emeritus)

Developing a Sociological Consciousness

Chapter Summary

The Sociological Perspective

Sociology is the scientific study of social interaction and social organization.

  • New Levels of Reality.  The sociological perspective encourages us to examine aspects of our social environment in ways that delve beneath the surface. As we look beyond the outer appearances of our social world, we encounter new levels of reality.

  • The Sociological Imagination.  The essence of the sociological imagination is the ability to see our private experiences and personal difficulties as entwined with the structural arrangements of our society and the times in which we live.

  • Microsociology and Macrosociology.  
    is the detailed study of what people say, do, and think moment by moment as they go about their daily lives. Macrosociology focuses upon large-scale and long-term social processes of organizations, institutions, and broad social patterns.

The Development of Sociology

  • Auguste Comte: The Founder of Sociology.
    Auguste Comte is commonly credited as being the founder of sociology. He emphasized that the study of society must be scientific, and he urged sociologists to employ systematic observation, experimentation, and comparative historical analysis as their methods. He divided the study of society into social statics and social dynamics.

  • Harriet Martineau: Feminist and Methodologist.
    Harriet Martineau wrote the first book on social research methods and was among the first to do systematic, scientifically based, social research. Her comparative analysis of slavery and the position of women in the Western world paved the way for feminist scholarship and the further pursuit of gender equality.

  • Herbert Spencer and Social Darwinism.  Herbert Spencer depicted society as a system, a whole made up of interrelated parts. He also set forth an evolutionary theory of historical development. Social Darwinism is Spencer's application of evolutionary notions and the concept of survival of the fittest to the social world.

  • Karl Marx: The Role of Class Conflict.
    Karl Marx focused his search for the basic principles of history on the economic environments in which societies develop. He believed that society is divided into those who own the means of producing wealth and those who do not, giving rise to class conflict. Dialectical materialism is Marx's theory that development depends on the clash of contradictions and the creation of new, more advanced structures out of these clashes.

  • Émile Durkheim: Social Integration and Social Facts.  Émile Durkheim was especially concerned with social solidarity, distinguishing between mechanical and organic solidarity. He contended that the distinctive subject matter of sociology should be the study of social facts.

  • Max Weber: Subjectivity and Social Organization.  Max Weber said that a critical aspect of the sociological enterprise is the study of the intentions, values, beliefs, and attitudes that underlie people's behavior. He used the word Verstehen in describing his approach and contributed his notions of the ideal type and a value-free sociology.

  • American Sociology.  In the United States, sociology and the modern university system arose together. The first department of sociology was established at the University of Chicago in 1893, and Chicago served as a "social laboratory" at the beginning of the century. Midcentury sociologists crafted survey techniques and refined models of society. "New breed" sociologists in the 1960s and 1970s refined Marxism and established new research approaches and perspectives.

  • Contemporary Sociology.  Contemporary movements in sociology include critical theory, feminism, and postmodern social theory.

Theoretical Perspectives

    Contemporary sociologists acknowledge three general theoretical perspectives, or ways of looking at how various social phenomena are related to one another. These are the functionalist, the conflict, and the symbolic interactionist perspectives.

  • The Functionalist Perspective.  The structural-functional-or, more simply, functionalist-perspective sees society as a system. Functionalists identify the structural characteristics and functions and dysfunctions of institutions, and distinguish between manifest functions and latent functions. Functionalists also typically assume that most members of a society share a consensus regarding their core beliefs and values.

  • The Conflict Perspective.  The conflict approach draws much of its inspiration from the work of Karl Marx and argues that the structure of society and the nature of social relationships are the result of past and ongoing conflicts.

  • The Interactionist Perspective.  
    Symbolic interactionists contend that society is possible because human beings have the ability to communicate with one another by means of symbols. They say that we act toward people, objects, and events on the basis of the meanings we impart to them. Consequently, we experience the world as constructed reality.

Conducting Research

  • The Logic of Science.  Sociology is a social science. Science assumes that every event or action results from an antecedent cause-that is, cause-and-effect relationships prevail in the universe. These causes and effects can be observed and measured, and sociologists look for correlations among variables as a way of doing so.

  • How Do Sociologists Collect Data?  
    Four major techniques of data collection are available to sociologists: experiments, surveys, observation, and archival research. In the experiment, researchers work with an experimental group and a control group to test the effects of an independent variable on a dependent variable. Interviewing and questionnaires constitute the primary techniques used in surveys, using random or stratified random samples. Observation can take the form of participant observation or unobtrusive observation. Other techniques include archival research and feminist methodology.

  • Steps in the Scientific Method: A Close-up Look.  The scientific method includes selecting a researchable problem, reviewing the literature, formulating a hypothesis, creating an operational definition, choosing a research design, collecting the data, analyzing the data, and stating conclusions.

  • Research Ethics  It is important that sociologists observe the ethics of their discipline in carrying out research. They have an obligation not to expose their subjects to substantial risk or personal harm in the research process and to protect the rights and dignity of their subjects.