Chapter 1. An Introduction to Sociology

Chapter 1 Resources and Activities

Key Terms

agency: The capacity of individuals to act and make decisions independently.

AGIL schema: Talcott Parsons’ division of society into four functional requisites: Adaptation, Goal attainment, Integration, and Latent pattern maintenance.

anomie: A social condition or normlessness in which a lack of clear norms fails to give direction and purpose to individual actions.

capitalism: An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership, production, and sale of goods in a competitive market.

collective representations: The shared meanings, symbols, concepts, categories and images of a social collectivity.

content: The specific reasons or drives that motivate individuals to interact.

critical sociology: A theoretical perspective that focuses on inequality and power relations in society in order to achieve social justice and emancipation through their transformation.

culture: A group’s whole way of life including shared practices, values, beliefs, norms and artifacts.

definition of the situation: The mutual understanding of the tasks or situation at hand shared among co-participants.

dialectics: A type of analysis that proposes that social contradiction, opposition, and struggle in society drive processes of social change and transformation.

disenchantment of the world: The replacement of magical thinking by science, technological rationality, and calculation.

dominant gender ideology: The belief that physiological sex differences between males and females are related to differences in their character, behaviour, and ability.

dual consciousness: The experience of a fissure or division in consciousness when one crosses a line between the abstractions of institutional knowledge and the direct, lived experiences of everyday/every night life.

dynamic equilibrium: A stable state in which all parts of a functioning society are working together properly.

dysfunctions: Social patterns that have undesirable consequences for the operation of society.

empiricism: The philosophical tradition that seeks to discover the laws of the operation of the world through careful, methodical, and detailed observation.

egoistic suicide: Suicide which results from the absence of strong social bonds tying the individual to a community.

essentialism: The idea that the characteristics of persons or groups are significantly influenced by biological factors or human nature, and are therefore largely similar in all human cultures and historical periods.

feminism: The critical analysis of the way gender differences in society structure social inequality.

figuration: The process of simultaneously analyzing the behaviour of an individual and the society that shapes that behaviour.

formal sociology: A sociology that analytically separates the contents from the forms of social interaction to study the common forms that guide human behaviour.

functionalism (or functionalist perspective): See structural functionalism.

global-level sociology: The study of structures and processes that extend beyond the boundaries of states or specific societies.

historical materialism: An approach to understanding society that explains social change, human ideas, and social organization in terms of underlying changes in the economic (or material) structure of society.

interaction ritual chain: A series of linked mechanisms of mutually focused emotion and attention, producing a continuous shared reality, which thereby generates solidarity and symbols of group membership.

interpretive sociology: A perspective that explains human behaviour in terms of the meanings individuals attribute to it.

labelling: A social process in which an individual’s social identity is established through the imposition of a definition by authorities.

latent functions: The unrecognized or unintended consequences of a social process.

macro-level sociology: The study of  society-wide social structures and processes.

manifest functions: Sought consequences of a social process.

micro-level sociology: The study of specific, local relationships between individuals or small groups.

mode of production: The way a human society acts upon its environment and its resources in order to process and distribute them to meet their needs.

multi-perspectival science: A science that is divided into competing or diverse paradigms.

paradigms: Philosophical and theoretical frameworks used within a discipline to formulate theories, generalizations, and the experiments performed in support of them.

patriarchy: Institutions of male power in society.

phenomenology: The study of social structures and processes on the basis of a systematic description of the contents of subjective experience.

positive stage: A stage of social evolution in which people explain events in terms of scientific principles and laws.

positivism (positivist perspective or positivist sociology): The scientific study of social patterns using the methodological principles of the natural sciences.

quantitative sociology: A sociological approach which transforms aspects of social life into numerical variables, such as statistical methods and surveys with large numbers of participants.

rationalization: The general tendency of modern institutions and most areas of life to be transformed by the application of instrumental reason.

rationalism: The philosophical tradition that seeks to determine the underlying laws that govern the truth of reason and ideas.

reification: Referring to abstract concepts, complex processes, or mutable social relationships as “things.”

social action: Actions to which individuals attach subjective meanings.

social constructivism: A theoretical perspective that focuses on the socially created nature of social life.

social facts: The external laws, morals, values, religious beliefs, customs, fashions, rituals, and cultural rules that govern social life.

social function: The role a social phenomenon performs in satisfying a social or biological need and ensuring the continuity of society.  

social reform: An approach to social change that advocates slow, incremental improvements in social institutions rather than rapid, revolutionary change of society as a whole.

social script: Pre-established patterns of behaviour that people are expected to follow in specific social situations.

social solidarity: The degree to which a group of people cohere or are bound together through shared consciousness, qualities or social ties.

social structure: General patterns of social behaviour and social coordination that persist through time and become habitual or routinized at micro-levels of interaction or institutionalized at macro or global levels of interaction.

society: A group of people whose members interact, reside in a definable area, and share a culture.

sociological imagination: The ability to understand how personal problems of milieu relate to public issues of social structure.

sociology: The systematic study of society and social interaction.

standpoint theory: The examination of how society is organized and coordinated from the perspective of a particular social location, group or perspective in society.

structural functionalism: A theoretical approach that sees society as a structure with interrelated parts designed to meet the biological and social needs of individuals that make up that society.

symbolic interactionism: A theoretical perspective that focuses on the relationship of individuals within society by studying their communication (language, gestures and symbols).

theory: An explanation about why something occurs.

Section Summary

1.1 What Is Sociolgy?
Sociology is the systematic study of society and social interaction. In order to carry out their studies, sociologists deploy the sociological imagination to identify cultural patterns and social forces, and determine how they affect individuals and groups. Patterns and social forces can be analyzed at three different levels of analysis: micro, macro and global.

1.2 The History of Sociology
Sociology was developed as a way to study and try to understand the changes to society brought on by the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of the earliest sociologists thought that societies and individuals’ roles in society could be studied using the same scientific methodologies that were used in the natural sciences, while others believed that is was impossible to predict human behaviour scientifically, and still others believed that the role of social science was to address power inequities. These differing perspectives continue to be represented within sociology today.

1.3 Theoretical Perspectives
Sociologists develop theories to explain social events, interactions, and patterns. A theory is a proposed explanation of those patterns. Sociology is a multi-perspectival science: a number of distinct perspectives or paradigms offer competing explanations of social phenomena. There are three different types of theory in sociology: positivist, interpretive and critical.

1.4 Why Study Sociology?
Studying sociology is beneficial both for the individual and for society. By studying sociology people learn how to think critically about social issues and problems that confront society. The study of sociology enriches students’ lives and prepares them for careers in an increasingly diverse world. Society benefits because people with sociological training are better prepared to make informed decisions about social issues and take effective action to deal with them.


Quiz: An Introduction to Sociology

1.1 What Is Sociology?

  1. Which of the following best describes sociology as a subject?
    1. The study of individual behaviour
    2. The study of primitive and modern cultures
    3. The study of society and social interaction
    4. The study of market behaviour
  2. Wright Mills once said that sociologists need to develop a sociological                        to study how society affects individuals.
    1. theory
    2. imagination
    3. method
    4. habit
  3. A sociologist defines society as a group of people who reside in a defined area, share a culture, and who:
    1. interact.
    2. are incorporated.
    3. identify with a national identity.
    4. are anonymous.
  4. Seeing patterns means that a sociologist needs to be able to:
    1. compare the behaviour of individuals from different societies.
    2. compare one society to another.
    3. identify structures.
    4. separate the individual from society.

1.2 The History of Sociology

  1. Which of the following was a source of early sociology?
    1. Astrology
    2. Social chaos
    3. The Council of Trent
    4. Historical modes of production
  2. Which founder of sociology believed societies changed due to class struggle?
    1. August Comte
    2. Karl Marx
    3. Ibn Khaldun
    4. Émile Durkheim
  3. The difference between positivism and interpretive sociology relates to:
    1. whether sociologists are positive or negative towards society.
    2. whether research methods use statistical data or sociological imagination.
    3. whether sociological studies can predict or only describe society.
    4. all of the above.
  4. Which would a quantitative sociologist use to gather data?
    1. A large survey
    2. A literature search
    3. An in-depth interview
    4. A deconstruction of media images
  5. Weber believed humans could not be studied purely objectively because they were influenced by:
    1. biochemistry.
    2. their culture.
    3. their subconscious.
    4. the researcher’s questions.

1.3 Theoretical Perspectives

  1. Which of these theories is most likely to look at the social world on a micro-level?
    1. Structural functionalism.
    2. Critical sociology.
    3. Quantitative sociology.
    4. Symbolic interactionism.
  2. Who believed that modern society was afflicted by normlessness or anomie?
    1. Karl Marx
    2. Émile Durkheim
    3. Margaret Mead
    4. George Herbert Mead
  3. “Function” in structural functionalism refers to:
    1. meeting a need.
    2. an institutional or organized event.
    3. a persistent pattern of behaviour.
    4. a mathematical operation.
  4. A symbolic interactionist may compare social interactions to:
    1. involuntary behaviours.
    2. space travel.
    3. human organs.
    4. role playing.
  5. Which paradigm is most concerned with challenging essentialist explanations?
    1. Historical materialism.
    2. Social constructivism.
    3. Post-essentialism.
    4. None of the above.
  6. Which classical sociologist described sociology as the study of social forms?
    1. Martineau
    2. Simmel
    3. Weber
    4. Comte

1.4 Why Study Sociology?

  1. Studying Sociology helps people analyze data because they learn:
    1. interview techniques.
    2. to apply statistics.
    3. to generate theories.
    4. all of the above.
  2. Berger describes sociologists as concerned with:
    1. monumental moments in people’s lives.
    2. common everyday life events.
    3. both 1 and 2.
    4. none of the above.

[Quiz answers at the end of the chapter]

Short answer

1.1 What Is Sociology?

  1. What do you think C. Wright Mills meant when he said that to be a sociologist one had to develop a sociological imagination? What is imaginative about sociology?
  2. Describe a situation in which a choice you made was influenced by societal pressures. How would you describe the pressure?

1.2 The History of Sociology

  1. Some figures in sociology are famous and controversial beyond the confines of the discipline. What do you make of Karl Marx’s contributions to sociology? What perceptions of Marx have you been exposed to in your society, and how do those perceptions influence your views?
  2. Why do you think sociology is still influenced by 19th century thinkers? Is that the same or different than other sciences and disciplines of study?

1.3 Theoretical Perspectives

  1. From your experience of the social world, which theory provides the most convincing account of how societies operate — structural functionalism,  historical materialism or symbolic interactionism? Why?
  2. Do you think the way people behave in social interactions is due to cause and effect, or is it more spontaneous, like actors improvising in a theatrical production? Why? Think of an example to demonstrate your answer.

1.4 Why Study Sociology?

  1. What type of skills do you think sociology students learn?
  2. What sort of career are you interested in? How could studying sociology help you in this career?

Further Research

1.1 What Is Sociology?
Sociology is a broad discipline. Different kinds of sociologists employ various methods for exploring the relationship between individuals and society. Check out CRStal Radio, the podcast of the Canadian Review of Sociology.

1.2 The History of Sociology
Many sociologists helped shape the discipline. Learn more about prominent sociologists on the John J. Macionis website, and how they changed sociology.

1.3 Theoretical Perspectives

Sociology is a multi-perspectival science. Learn more about the different sociological paradigms through mini-lectures and screen cast videos on society and culture from the Khan Academy.

1.4 Why Study Sociology?
The Canadian Sociological Association has produced a useful pamphlet “Opportunities in Sociology” which includes sections on: (1) The unique skills that set sociology apart as a discipline; (2) An overview of the Canadian labour market and the types of jobs available to Sociology BA graduates; (3) An examination of how sociology students can best prepare themselves for the labour market; (4) An introduction, based on sociological research, of the most fruitful ways to conduct a job search.


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Solutions to Quiz: An Introduction to Sociology

1 C, | 2 B, | 3 A, | 4 C, | 5 B, | 6 B, | 7 C, | 8 A, | 9 B, | 10 D, | 11 B, | 12 A, | 13 D, | 14 B, | 15 B, | 16 D, | 17 C [Return to Quiz]


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