Sociology is the scientific study of human societies and human behavior in the many groups that make up a society. A. Lets break down the components of that definition. What is meant by the “scientific study”? Science is composed of two things: 1) the process used to acquire knowledge and 2) the knowledge that is acquired. So there is both a specific process (the scientific method) and a body of knowledge that results from the use of that knowledge. As sociologists, as social scientists, we are pushed to become “critical thinkers”. We hear of this term often as a goal of learning, but what does it mean? Critical thinking 1) is the willingness to ask any question (no matter how difficult); 2) to be open to any answer that is supported by empirical evidence; and 3) to confront our own biases when they get in the way or disagree with the evidence. There are two types of sciences: the Natural Sciences (or ‘hard’ sciences) and the Social Sciences ( or ‘soft’ sciences). The Natural Sciences include: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy, and Geology. The Social Sciences include Sociology, Psychology, Economics, Political Science, and Anthropology. Each of the social science focuses on a different aspect of the social world. Sociology is a bit different than the others because it doesn’t focus on one specific areas but how social structure affects human behavior in all social institutions. B. Back to our definition of Sociology. We understand now why it is important to distinguish sociology as a scientific study, but why does the textbook definition put an emphasis on “human societies and human behavior”. Quite simply, because the focus of sociology is on society and behavior. Sociologists are interested in asking causal questions - what causes a certain type of behavior? Sociologists ask these causal questions at three different levels of analysis, or three different levels of social reality (according to you book). They are: 1) The Macro level - focuses on the societal level 2) The Meso or Middle Level - focuses on the mid-level of society, somewhere between the societal and individual level (for example, focusing on a specific organization). 3) The Micro Level - focuses on individual interactions C. Why not stop the definition of sociology with the scientific study of human societies and human behavior? Why does Kornblum go on to include “many groups that make up a society”. He includes this to illustrate the fact that when we look within a particular society such as the U.S., it is not homogeneous. Instead it is made of many groups which have differing levels of power, wealth and influence which result in varied patterns of behavior. When we compare the U.S. to other countries around the world, we also see that there are inherent differences. Therefore, this last part of the definition hints at the three main areas of interest, or the three foci of sociology. They are: 1) Diversity, 2) Inequality, and 3) Globalization. D. Now that we know what sociology is, what is the purpose of our learning anything about it in this class? The purpose of this class is for you to develop a sociological perspective, what academics call the “sociological imagination.” The term “sociological imagination” was developed by a famous sociologist named C. Wright Mills. It refers to the intellectual ability to see how structural forces affect our individual lives and behavior. Specifically, it is the capacity to see things from perspectives which go beyond our personal experience. We want to learn to see: 1) how social forces influence our individual experiences, and 2) how our experiences fit into the larger pattern of social action.
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