HSP3M Grade 11 Anthropology – Introduction to Sociology

Section 3.1—Schols of Thought

Sociology: Past and Present

The Roots of Sociology

  • Ibn Khaldun was a 14th century philosopher of history who wrote about the world around him
    • contained valuable information about the political events and social problems of the Muslim world
    • his work is the record of the pre-modern world filled with observations about society and social conditions
    • sociology hadn’t existed during his time (therefore he was considered forefather of sociology)
  • discipline of sociology didn’t formally exist until the Industrial Revolution of England (18th and 19th century)
    • a period of massive change in agriculture and manufacturing
    • the changes of revolution significantly altered the social, economic, and cultural conditions of England
    • every aspect of daily life was altered by the changing economy (how people worked and lived for example)
    • revolution benefited middle class, it had disastrous effects on the working class (many lost jobs to machines, poor work conditions, poor pay, child labour)
    • many came to the city to find jobs  overcrowded cities (poor living conditions, high crime rates)
    • many people began documenting the social problems they observed, and many of the theories of social inequality from the Industrial Revolution are still applicable today


Defining Sociology

  • sociologists study the interactions among people living together in a society, and their actions, beliefs, and behaviours in order to understand society
  • sociologists also compare and contrast human interactions between different societies
  • sociologists examine a wide range of issues and topics to investigate problems like gender roles, family structure, social classes, criminal behaviour, ethnicity, sexuality and social institutions
  • August Comte (French philosopher) was the first to use the term sociology
    • defined sociology as the systematic study of society
    • believed that society is always changing, and observed that individuals and groups struggled to adapt to these changes
    • he felt the changes in society were positive for society
    • developed theories on social inequality which influenced other theorists (Karl Marx)
    • one of most important ideas he contributed was positivism (the application of the scientific method to obtain quantifiable data in order to understand society)


What Do Sociologists Do?

  • sociologists observe and conduct research into key social issues and behaviours to explain why a society functions the way it does
  • sociologists ask broad questions and look at different elements to make sense of them as a whole
    • studying criminal activity in Canada (broad) by looking at the individual cities (element)
  • sociologists are interested in cultural expressions of a society (the shared symbols and learned behaviours that everyone in a society recognizes—in Canada, maple leaf and beaver are our symbols)
  • learned behaviours come from particular values, norms and roles
    • values: shared ideas and standards that are considered acceptable and binding (example: equity, honesty)
    • norms: expectations about how people should behave in certain situations (be quiet at a library; be loud at a concert)
    • role: the expected behaviour of a person in a particular social position (dentist examines teeth; mechanic fixes your car)
  • it is important for sociologists to approach their research objectively
    • set aside own beliefs and avoid making judgements when they encounter situations that conflict with their own views
  • sociologists should also recognize objects of universality (aspects of human society that are similar in many different societies)
    • example: studying parenting in Africa can help researchers understand parenting in Canada, because parenting is something universal (done similarly in many different societies)


Sociological Schools of Thought

  • in sociology, different schools of thought provide different ways of observing, studying, and understanding society
  • there are 4 schools of thought in sociology: structural functionalism, conflict theory, feminist sociology, and symbolic interactionalism
  • sociologists can study societies either through a macro or micro view
    • macrosociology: an approach to sociology that analyzes social systems and populations on a large scale
      • studies society as a whole
      • ex: understanding religion by studying religion as a whole (as a social institution)
    • microsociology: the study of small groups and individuals in the society
      • microsociologists are interested in understanding the bases of social action and interaction
      • they study the role and interactions a small group/person has on society
      • ex: understanding religion by looking at individual worshipers


School of Thought: Structural Functionalism

  • belief that a society is stable when social institutions (family, religion, politics etc.) meet the needs of its citizens
  • believe that structures/institutions of society work interdependently to meet the needs of the individuals
  • structural functionalists study how these structures work together to help society function
  • believe that social structures create harmony and happiness among its members
  • criticism for this thought: overlooked the issues like poverty and racism which are usually caused by these social structures and institutions which the structural functionalists believe to only serve good in society (they ignore social injustices)


Emile Durkheim

  • Emile Durkheim was a French sociologist (influenced by Comte), who helped propel sociology forward along with Karl Marx and Max Weber
    • his theories provided the foundation of structural functionalism, and many are still used today
    • his work was about: society functions logically and protects the interests of its members (studied forces that united individuals)
    • found that humans are social creatures who defined themselves by their social interactions at home, play and worship
    • believed society to be in a constant state of flush—changes in society meant it was becoming more diverse (believed the diversity to be positive and necessary)
    • he called the diversity functional differentiation: divisions that are created to help deal with a complex environment (these  divisions operate independently but are connected to one another)
      • these divisions were believed to allow groups to work together more productively and peacefully
    • he wrote a book on suicide—the stats were very well organized, examined, and explained
      • concluded the decision of suicide to be very personal, but the causes of suicide are deeply rooted in society
      • he believed the reason why there were so many suicides during the Industrial Revolution was that people were unhappy because they were disconnected from their society


Talcott Parsons

  • Talcott Parsons was an American sociologist who was the first to develop this school of thought in the USA
    • believed all social phenomena and relationships could be explained through their functions in society
      • meaning all individuals and specific groups in society could be defined by the purpose they served
    • believed that if something appeared in more than one society, then it must exist to serve a big purpose
    • believed people act according to their values and the values of the people around them (thus creating stability in society)
    • even though people acted for self-interest, many people wanted to get along with each other, and achieve goals based on the shared values
    • he believed in social evolution and social Darwinism (meaning he believed negative aspects of society, discrimination, existed for a purpose as well)


Social Darwinism

  • Herbert Spencer applied Darwin`s evolutionary theory to society in what he called survival of the fittest
  • this theory is based upon belief that the fittest people in society should survive while the weak deserved to live unfortunate lives or die
    • ex: believed the weak (poor, elderly etc.) shouldn`t be given financial assistance—they`re simply unfit to survive
  • used to justify colonialism and slavery
    • because white were superior to other races, they were justified in taking over other countries or enslaving people
    • this was used by notorious people like Hitler (he used social Darwinism to justify the Holocaust)
  • he believed in eugenics—believed in selective breeding (fit people mate together)and sterilizing and killing the unfit
    • in Alberta, women were sterilized without knowledge because they were deemed unfit, and their offspring would be as well



School of Thought: Conflict Theory

  • study of how competition between different groups for power
    • there is always competition between those who have economic/political power and those who don’t
    • Karl Marx said there is always conflict between the wealthy class and the poor working class, creating conflict in society
      • those who do have power keep it away from those who don’t
  • typically focuses on economic conflict between poor and rich; however, it can also be gender (power imbalance between men and women), race (white dominant, other races not dominant) etc.


Karl Marx

  • Karl Marx was a German philosopher interested in economic history
    • author of the “Communist Manifesto”
    • his theories are based on class conflict, its role in social evolution, and its usefulness in understanding social issues
    • Marx lived in London during Industrial Revolution, and witnessed as the workers were pushed around, and believed that the workers will eventually revolt one day
    • examined societies through their economic organizations and found that Western society is based on property ownership and labour exploitation (especially in capitalist economic systems)
      • society was based on a fierce competition for property and wealth
      • wealthy class made it impossible for poor to achieve economic equality; therefore the only way for poor to gain power was to topple the rich class out of power
    • believed social conflict created isolation which would lead to disruption and change, and this was the only way for society to evolve (from feudal  capital  communist)
    • showed that we had to understand the economy in order to understand society
    • his theories explain why social inequalities exist in societies


School of Thought: Feminist Sociology

  • feminist sociologists examine gender inequality
  • in the early 20th century, female sociologists expanded their study to how men controlled their lives (jobs, finances, and how they dressed)
  • believed women were marginalized, deprived of power, and without equal membership in society
  • they believed the symbols, values, and norms of society favoured men
    • men had authority and society favoured them
  • social class for men was their economic role, while for women it’s their sexual connection to men
  • feminist sociologists faced hardships—less job opportunities and funding for their research
    • by 1960-1970, the women movement occurred and female sociologists began to be treated more fairly


Dorothy Smith

  • Dorothy Smith is a Canadian sociologist
    • believes women have long been marginalized in society
    • she believed sociology should reach and speak to all members of society\believed culture was socially constructed, and since society is constructed to favour men, it doesn’t operate in the women’s best interests (therefore women had less rights; what they said didn’t matter etc.)
    • aims to make sociology reflect upon everyone despite gender, race, or economic status


Current Research in Feminist Sociology

  • current research today by feminist sociologists: issues relevant to upper class women as well as examining gender in context to race, class, and sexuality
    • Chandra Mohanty examines race within feminist theory and how Western feminism has constructed the “Third World Woman”—an idea that portrays diverse women from different cultures and different countries as having one identify and implies that all women suffer from the same oppression
    • Judith Stacey studies same sex families—her studies conclude children from same sex families function just as well as heterosexual families


School of Thought: Symbolic Interactionalism

  • studies human interactions at the micro level—focuses on the individual that lives in society
  • the individual is at the centre of understanding society since social values and roles are formed by individual interpretation
  • individuals create a sense of self by the reactions of others
  • social life depends on our ability to imagine ourselves in our social roles, but also the ability to see ourselves reflected in the experiences of those around us
  • individuals through their interpretations of social situations and behavioural negotiation with others give meaning to social interactions
  • we accept roles for ourselves in order to fit into the society—different societies have different roles


Max Weber

  • Max Weber was a German that believed social life is filled with conflict and cohesion
    • his theory of rationalization: social actions motivated by efficiency or benefit (not custom or emotion); this is believed to help society function more efficiently
    • believed the capitalist system trapped and restricted individuals, but believed it could be solved through bureaucracy (and not revolution like Marx)
      • bureaucracy is a large administration the pursues a wide variety of goals
      • bureaucracy is an organization where people are given specialized tasks and where each role is supervised in a hierarchy
      • a person holds a job based on his/her competence; people are treated impersonally so that everyone is treated the same
      • rules and regulations guide the organization
      • Weber designed an ideal bureaucracy but knew it wouldn’t work in reality—they would be iron cages which reduced people to be cogs in  a machine
    • bureaucracies are common in our world today; Weber believed that bureaucracies would help make society equal by evenly distributing goods and services (social inequality wouldn’t exist)


The Chicago School

  • the Chicago School are the theories of the scholars at the University of Chicago
    • theories based on how physical environment and social structures determine individual behaviour (ex.: how a community shapes how people act and behave)
    • they pioneered a new way of researching social issues: by immersing themselves in urban environments and conduct participant observation
    • they relied on qualitative methods, which became their liability (no quantifiable data)


The Looking-Glass Self

  • created by Charles Cooley
    • Charles Cooley studied the relationship between the individual and society, believing the two are interconnected and can’t be separated
      • the individual can shape society just as much as society can shape the individual
    • Cooley attributed the important concept of the primary group (the set of people with whom an individual has strong emotional and personal connections; typically family and friends), and constant interaction with the primary group is responsible for developing social identity
    • Cooley developed the looking glass self: belief that the individual’s sense of self is mirrored and reflected by others (an avatar for example—represents what someone looks like, or the way they want to be seen by others)
      • the glass is a way of explaining how individuals see themselves through the eyes of those with whom they interact with)
  • George Herbert Mead extended on the looking-glass self theory
    • Mead who was Cooley’s colleague and believed that the individual assumes a variety of different social roles and learns early on which “mask” to where
  • of all the theories which came from the Chicago School, the looking glass self is the best one, as it represents the important influence of the individual on overt social behaviour
  • because of his work, Mead became known as the founder of symbolic interactionalism
  • his ideas became the framework for socialization (the continuing process where an individual learns the appropriate behaviour patterns, skills, and values for his or her social world)


Sociological Imagination

  • C. Wring Mills was a sociologist influenced by Marx and Weber
    • he developed the idea of sociological imagination, which is connecting individual experiences to social realities
    • this ability is required to understand the society in which we live
      • without this understanding, individuals can’t understand either themselves or their role and place in society
  • Mills and Parsons had conflicting ideas
  • Mills believed Parson had too rigid and conservative ideas, and Mills believed society isn’t static and one can’t look at society as a whole to understand it