How common sense knowledge affects your everyday decisions

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Throughout this course you will be asked to use your sociological imagination to view situations from a variety of perspectives. As Mills suggested in the above quote, this might require you to narrow your focus on the life of a homeless individual or to broaden your scope and look at a multinational corporation and its effect on the global economy. Then step back even further to consider how these two perspectives might influence the development of humanity as a whole. In this week's Discussion, we will start by looking at your own values and recognizing the personal experiences and cultural biases that might have affected them. Understanding how your values are shaped and affected can give you clues as to how your own culture and society forms views on similar issues.

To prepare for this Discussion:

Review pages 5 - 9 and 19 - 21 on social imagination in your course textbook.

Consider how "common sense" knowledge affects your everyday decisions.

Reflect on how the sociological imagination challenges certain core values and basic beliefs in one's own society and culture.

With these thoughts in mind:

A value of your own that you think studying sociology may challenge. Explain why you chose that value and how you would use your social imagination to bring awareness to other possible viewpoints of the value.


Course Text: Schaefer, R. T. (2012). Sociology: A brief introduction (Laureate Education, Inc., custom ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Chapter 1, pp. 2 - 2

What Is Sociology?

Sociology is the systematic, scientific study of the patterns and processes of social life, touching on all of its major dimensions.


Because the scope of sociology is extremely broad, this list names only a few of its major dimensions.

How Did the Study of Sociology Begin?

Before the Industrial Revolution, people interpreted human social interactions and human society from the point of view of philosophy and theology. However, the Industrial Revolution disrupted the old patterns of human relationships and the routines of everyday life. For example, instead of farming in the countryside, many people settled in cities so they could work in factories. Because the old way of looking at social life didn't work anymore, Auguste Comte (1798-1857) coined the name "sociology."

The Founder of Sociology: Auguste Comte

Motivated by the political upheaval of the French Revolution as well as the societal changes created by the Industrial Revolution, Comte wrote six volumes about the social and scientific achievements of the world in which he lived. His insistence on systematic observation, experimentation, and historical analysis-called positivism-created the intellectual foundation for the science of sociology.

While you don't have time to write six volumes, you probably do know more about sociology than you think you do. Although it will not be graded, taking this True/False I.Q. test will connect you to some of the issues in today's American society. The scientific study of these societal issues is what Comte called "sociology" over 250 years ago.

Below are a series of statements about American society. Read each statement carefully and click on "True" or "False."

Sociology versus "Common Sense"

Did some of the answers on the I.Q. test surprise you? That's because the scientific study of society creates answers that are very different from what we call "common sense," "common knowledge," or "conventional wisdom." We learn these ideas around the dinner table or on the porch steps while talking to parents and grandparents. It is sometimes difficult to replace this common knowledge with scientific facts, but that's what sociologists ask you to do-put on your critical thinking cap over an open mind!

English Sociologist and Feminist: Harriet Martineau

Social scientists and other scholars who didn't speak French learned about Comte's ideas through translations done by English sociologist Harriet Martineau (1802-1876). She studied social behavior in England and the United States. Not only did she translate Comte's work, but she also wrote about her own observations about American society.

Martineau's major contributions to sociology:

Wrote the first book on how to do social research.

Proposed that sociologists should not limit themselves to just observing and reporting about social conditions, they should follow her example and act on their convictions to benefit society.

Another Pioneer in Sociology: Herbert Spencer

While Harriet Martineau wanted to improve society, another sociologist who lived in England, Herbert Spencer, just wanted to understand how societies change. Because he viewed the evolution of society in the same way that Charles Darwin viewed the evolution of animals and plants, Spencer called his ideas "Social Darwinism." Spencer thought that changes in society were "natural," and it was his belief that these changes would cause a society to progress and improve on its own.

Spencer's major contributions to sociology:

Focused on the family, religion, education, and the economy and how the functions of these structures help society survive.

His idea that it was "natural" for some people to be rich and some poor, and that the government should not interfere were heavily influenced by and aligned with the popular political and economic views of his time.

Founder of Sociology's Conflict Theory: Karl Marx

Karl Marx (1818-1883) viewed himself as a political activist, not a sociologist. However, he formed the basis for a major sociological perspective: Conflict Theory. Marx's perspective was that society is divided into two parts which history showed would inevitably clash: those who own the means to produce wealth and those who do not.

Comte, Martineau, and Spencer's View: Marx's View:

The world seeks balance, cooperation, and harmony. The class struggle between rich and poor is the essence of society.

First Professor of Sociology in France: Émile Durkheim

Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) was another pioneer in sociology. He was educated in both France and Germany. As a sociological thinker, his ideas on crime and punishment, religion, and the workplace had a dramatic impact on the systematic study of human behavior.

Durkheim's major contributions to sociology:

Behavior must be understood in its larger social context.

In the context of work, the specialization of labor that occurred in the change from an agriculturally based to an industrialized society caused some people to lose a sense of purpose and direction or what Durkheim referred to as "anomie."

The idea of anomie led to Durkheim's groundbreaking theoretical research on suicide.

Who Has Influenced Sociology the Most? Max Weber

Just as every team has an "all-star player," Max Weber (1864-1920) is sociology's "all-star." This German scholar contributed insights to Marx's Conflict Theory during his career; he also founded another theoretical perspective called Symbolic or Social Interactionism.

Weber realized that analyzing social behavior is not the same as measuring weight or temperature. He told his students to apply "insight" and "understanding" to all social interactions (the precise word in German is Verstehen.) In other words, it was important to learn the subjective meanings people attach to their actions in order to fully explain their behavior.


Theoretical Sociological Perspectives

It is important for you to realize that in the field of sociology there isn't only one general body of understanding accepted by all scientists. On the contrary, there is a wide range of theoretical perspectives, which are simply different ways of observing and understanding the social world.

In this week's Discussion, you have had your first chance to use your sociological imagination, removing yourself from your personal experiences and familiar cultural zone in the process. Here you have another opportunity to practice studying a topic from a variety of viewpoints, in a more structured format, using three major theoretical perspectives.

To prepare for this Application:

Review the directions for submitting a file.

Review pages 13 - 16 on theoretical perspectives in your course textbook.

Consider the analysis of sports from the various theoretical perspectives found on page 18 in your course textbook.

Reflect on your first experience using your sociological imagination for this week's Discussion, and how these three theoretical perspectives can enhance your analytic skills.

The assignment:

Choose one of the topics listed below, and for each of the three major theoretical sociological perspectives, write two to four statements representing how proponents of that perspective may analyze the topic. You do not need to do extensive research on the topic, but avoid obvious stereotypes and overly broad generalizations.

The music industry.

Outsourcing of customer service jobs to foreign countries.

The prominence of women in government in various nations.

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