Sociological Perspective

Sociological Perspective

Perspective even from the glow of the faded red-and-white exit sign, its faint light barely illuminating the upper bunk, I could see that the sheet was filthy. Resigned to another night Of fitful sleep, I reluctantly crawled into bed. I kept my clothes on. The next morning, was determined. Joined the long line of disheveled men leaning against “l will experience what the chain-link fence. Their they experience,” faces were as downcast as their kept telling myself. Clothes were dirty. Not a glimmer Of hope among them. No one spoke as the line slowly inched forward.

When my turn came, I was handed a cup of coffee, a white plastic spoon, and a bowl of similitude that I couldn’t identify. It didn’t look like any food had seen before. Nor did it taste like anything I had ever eaten. My stomach fought the foul taste, every spoonful a battle. But I was determined. “l will experience what they experience,” kept telling myself. My stomach reluctantly gave in and accepted its morning nourishment. The room was strangely silent. Hundreds of men were eating, each one immersed in his own private hell, his mind awash with disappointment, remorse, bitterness.

As I stared at the Styrofoam cup that held my coffee, grateful for at least this small pleasure, I noticed what looked like teeth marks. Shrugged off the thought, telling myself that my long weeks as a sociological observer of the homeless were finally getting to me. “It must be some sort of crease from handling,” I concluded. I joined the silent ranks of men turning in their bowls and cups. When I saw the man behind the counter swishing out Styrofoam cups in a washtub of murky water, I began to feel sick to my stomach. I knew then that the jagged marks on my cup really had come from another person’s mouth.

How much longer did this research have to last? I felt a deep longing to return to my family-?to a welcome world of clean sheets, healthy food, and “normal” conversations. 3 4 Chapter 1 THE SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE sociological perspective understanding human behavior by placing it within its broader social context society people who share a culture and a territory social location the group memberships that people have because of their location in history and society Please supply Cree The Sociological Perspective Why were these men so silent? Why did they receive such despicable treatment?

What was I doing in that homeless shelter? After all, I hold a respectable, professional position, and I have a home and family. Sociology offers a perspective, a view of the world. The sociological perspective (or imagination) opens a window onto unfamiliar worlds-?and offers a fresh look at familiar ones. In this text, you will find yourself in the midst of Nazis in Germany and warriors in South America, as well as among people who live in a city dump. (If you want to jump ahead, you can see the photos took of the people who live in a dump in Cambodia: pages 000-000. You will also find yourself looking at your own world in a different light. As you view other worlds-?or your own-?the sociological perspective enables you to gain a new perception of social life. In fact, this is what many find appealing about sociology. The sociological perspective has been a motivating force in my own life. Ever since I took my introductory course in sociology, have been enchanted by the perspective that sociology offers. Have enjoyed both observing other groups and questioning my own assumptions about life. Insincerely hope the same happens to you. Seeing the Broader Social Context Examining the broad social context in which people live is essential to the sociological perspective, for this context shapes our beliefs and attitudes and sets guidelines for what we do. From this photo of a Yeoman¶ man blowing yoking, a hallucinogenic powder, up his nose, you can see how distinctive those guidelines are for the Yeoman¶ Indians who live on the border of Brazil and Venezuela. How has this Yeoman man been influenced by his group?

How have groups influenced your views and behavior? The sociological perspective stresses the social contexts in which people live. It examines how these contexts influence people’s lives. At the center of the sociological perspective is the question of how groups influence people, especially how people are influenced by their society-?a group of people who share a culture and a territory. To find out why people do what they do, sociologists look at social location, the corners in life that people occupy because Of where they are located in a society.

Sociologists kick at how jobs, income, education, gender, age, and race-ethnicity affect people’s ideas and behavior. Consider, for example, how being identified with a group called females or with a group called males when you were growing up has shaped your ideas of who you are. Growing up as a female or a male has influenced not only how you feel about yourself but also your ideas of what you should attain in life and how you relate to others. Sociologist C. Wright Mills (1959) put it this way: were sociological imagination [perspective] enables us to grasp the connection between history and biography. By history, Mills meant that each society is located in a broad stream of events. This gives each society specific characteristics-?such as its ideas about the proper roles of men and women. By biography, Mills referred to the specific experiences that give individuals their orientations to life. In short, people don’t do what they do because they inherited some internal mechanism, such as instincts. Rather, external influences-?our experiences-?become part of our thinking and motivation.

In short, the society in which we grow up, and our particular location in that society, lie at the center of what we do and how we think. Consider a newborn baby. As you know, if we were to take the baby away from its U. S. Parents and place it with the Yeoman¶ Indians in the jungles of South America, when the child began to speak, his or her words would not be in English. You also know that the child would not hint like an American. The child would not grow up wanting credit cards, for example, Sociology and the Other Sciences 5 or designer clothes, a car, a cell phone, an pod, and the latest video game.

He or she would take his or her place in Yeoman society-?perhaps as a food gatherer, a hunter, or a warrior-?and would not even know about the world left behind at birth. And, whether male or female, the child would grow up assuming that it is natural to want many children, not debating whether to have one, two, or three children. People around the globe take their particular views of the world for granted. Something inside us Americans tells us that hamburgers are delicious, small families desirable, and designer clothing attractive.

Yet something inside some of the Sinai Desert Arab tribes tells them that warm, fresh camel’s blood makes a fine drink and that everyone should have a large family and wear flowing robes (Murray 1 935; McCabe and Ellis 1990). And that something certainly isn’t an instinct. As sociologist Peter Berger (1963) phrased it, that “something’ is society within us. Although obvious, this point frequently eludes us. We often think and talk about people’s behavior as though it were caused by their sex (“men are like hat”), their race (they are like that), or some other factor transmitted by their genes.

The sociological perspective helps us escape from this cramped, personal view by exposing the broader social context that underlies human behavior. It helps us see the links between what people do and the social settings that shape their behavior. If you have been thinking along with me-?and I hope you have-?you should be thinking about how your social groups have shaped your ideas and desires. Over and over in this text, you will see that the way you look at the world is the result of your exposure to specific human groups.

I think you will enjoy the process of self-discovery that sociology offers. The Global Context-?and the Local As is evident to all of us-?from the labels on our clothing that say Hong Kong, Brunet, or Macaw, to the many other imported products that have become part of our daily lives-? our world has become a global village. How life has changed! Our predecessors lived on isolated farms and in small towns. They grew their own food and made their own goods, buying some sugar, coffee, and a few other items that they couldn’t produce.

Beyond the borders of their communities lay a world they perceived only dimly. And how slow communications used to be! In December 1814, the United States and Great Britain signed a peace treaty to end the War of 1812. Yet two weeks later their armies fought a major battle in New Orleans. The armed forces there had not heard that the War Was over (Volt 1995). Even though we can now pick up a telephone or use the Internet to communicate instantly with people anywhere on the planet, we continue to occupy our own little corners of life.

Like those of our predecessors, our worlds, too, are marked by differences in family background, religion, job, gender, race-ethnicity, and social class. In these corners, we continue to learn didst incentive ways of viewing the world. One of the beautiful-?and fascinating-?aspects of sociology is that it enables us to analyze both parts of our current reality: the changes that incorporate us into a global network and our unique experiences in our smaller corners of life. In this text, we shall examine both of these vital aspects of our lives.

Just as humans today have an intense desire to unravel the mysteries around them, so did people in ancient times. Their explanations were not based on observations alone, however, but were also mixed with magic and superstition. To satisfy their basic curiosities about the world, humans gradually developed science, systematic methods to study the social and natural worlds and the knowledge obtained by those methods. Sociology, the study of society and human behavior, is one of these sciences.

A useful way of comparing these sciences-?and of gaining a better understanding of sociology place-?is to divide them into the natural and the social sciences. Science the application of systematic methods to obtain knowledge and the knowledge obtained by those methods 6 The Natural Sciences The natural sciences are the intellectual and academic disciplines that are signed to explain and predict the events in our natural environment. The natural sciences are divided into specialized fields of research according to subject matter, such as biology, geology, chemistry, and physics.

These are further subdivided into even more highly specialized areas. Biology is divided into botany and zoology; geology into mineralogy and geomorphology; chemistry into its organic and inorganic branches; and physics into biophysics and quantum mechanics. Each area of investigation examines a particular “slice” of nature. The Social Sciences People have not limited themselves to investigating nature. To try to understand life, they have also developed fields of science that focus on the social world. The social sciences examine human relationships.

Just as the natural sciences attempt to objectively understand the world of nature, the social sciences attempt to objectively understand the social world. Just as the world of nature contains ordered (or lawful) relationships that are not obvious but must be discovered through controlled observations, so the ordered relationships of the human or social world are not obvious and must be revealed by means of repeated observations. Like the natural sciences, the social sciences are divided into specialized fields based on their subject matter. These divisions are anthropology, economics, political science, psychology, and sociology.

The social sciences are subdivided further into specialized fields. Thus, anthropology is divided into cultural and physical anthropology; economics has macro (large-scale) and micro (small-scale) specialties; political science has theoretical and applied branches; psychology may be clinical or experimental; and sociology has its quantitative and qualitative branches. Since our focus is sociology, let’s contrast sociology with each of the other social sciences. Anthropology. Anthropology, which traditionally focuses on tribal peoples, IS closely related to sociology.

The chief concern of anthropologists is to understand culture, a people’s total way of life. Culture includes a group’s (1 ) artifacts, such as its tools, art, and weapons; (2) structure, the patterns that determine how its members interact with one another (such as positions Of leadership); (3) ideas and values, the ways the group’s beliefs affect its members’ lives; and (4) forms of communication, especially language. Graduate students working on their doctorate in anthropology usually spend period of time living with a tribal group. In their reports, they emphasize the group’s family (kin) relationships.

As there are no “undiscovered” groups left in the world, this focus on tribal groups is giving way to the study of groups in industrialized settings. When anthropologists study the same groups that sociologists do, they place greater emphasis on artifacts, authority (hierarchy), and language, especially kinship terms. Natural sciences the intellectual and academic disciplines designed to comprehend, explain, and predict events in our natural environments social sciences the intellectual and academic disciplines signed to understand the social world objectively by means of controlled and repeated observations Economics.

Economics concentrates on a single social institution. Economists study the production and distribution of the material goods and services of a society. They want to know what goods are being produced, what they cost, and how those goods are distributed. Economists also are interested in the choices that determine production and consumption; for example, they study what motivates people to buy a certain item instead of another. Political Science. Political science focuses on politics and government. Political scientists examine how governments are formed, how they operate, and how they are related to other institutions of society.

Political scientists are especially interested in how people attain ruling positions in their society, how they maintain those positions, and the consequences Of their actions for the people they govern. Psychology. The focus of psychology is on processes that occur within the individual, inside what they call the “skin-bound organism. ” Experimental psychologists do research on intelligence, emotions, perception, memory, even dreams. Some study how personality is formed and the causes of mental illness. Clinical psychologists work as therapists, helping people resolve personal problems, such as recovering from abuse or addiction to drugs.

Others work as counselors in school and work settings, where they give personality tests, intelligence tests, and vocational aptitude tests. Sociology. Sociology overlaps these other social sciences. Like anthropologists, sociologists also study culture; they, too, do research on group structure and belief systems, as well as on how people communicate with one another. Like economists, sociologists do research on how a society goods and services are distributed, especially how that distribution exults in inequality.

Like political scientists, sociologists study how people govern one another, especially how those in power affect people’s lives. And like psychologists, sociologists also study how people adjust to the difficult Ties of life. With such similarities, what distinguishes sociology from the other social sciences? Unlike anthropologists, sociologists focus primarily on industrialized societies. Unlike economists and political scientists, sociologists do not concentrate on a single social institution. And unlike psychologists, sociologists stress factors external to the individual to determine what influences people and how they adjust to life.

These differences might not be entirely clear, so let’s go to the Down-to-Earth Sociology box below and, in an updated ancient tale, consider how members of different disciplines might perceive the same subject matter. Down-to-Earth Sociology An Updated Version of the Old Elephant Story t is said that in the recent past, five wise men and women, all blindfolded, were led to an elephant and asked to explain what they “saw. ” The first, an anthropologist, tenderly touching the trunk and the tusks, broke into a grin and is really primitive. I feel very comfortable here. Concentrate on these. The second, an economist, feeling the mouth, said, “This is what counts. What goes in here is distributed throughout the body. Concentrate your research on how it is distributed. ” The third, a political scientist, feeling the gigantic ears, announced,’This is the power center. What goes in here controls the entire beast. Concentrate your studies here. ” The fourth, a psychologist, stroking the top of the elephant’s head, smiled contentedly and said,”This is the only thing that counts-All feeling and thinking take place inside here. To understand this beast, we’ll study this part. “

Then came the sociologist (of course! ), who, after feeling the entire body, said,”You can’t understand the beast by concentrating on only one part. Each is but part Of the whole. The trunk and tusks, the mouth, the ears, the head-?all are important. But so are the parts of the beast that you haven’t mentioned. We must remove our blindfolds so we can see the larger picture. We have to see how everything works together to form the entire animal. ” Pausing for emphasis, the sociologist we also need to understand how this creature interacts with similar creatures. How does its life in groups influence its behavior? Sis I could conclude this tale by saying that the anthropologist, the economist, the political scientist, and the psychologist were dazzled on hearing the wisdom of the sociologist, and, amidst gasps of wonderment, they tore off their blindfolds, joined together, and began to examine the entire animal. But, alas and alack! On hearing this sage advice, the specialists stubbornly bound their blindfolds even tighter so they could concentrate all the more on their particular part. And if you listened very, very carefully, you could even hear them mutter, “Don’t touch the tusks. “Stay away from the mouth-? that my area. “Take your hand off the ears. ” “The top of the head is mine-?stay away from it. ” 7 8 The Goals of Science The first goal of each science is to explain why something happens. The second goal is to make generalizations, that is, to go beyond the individual case and make statements that apply to a broader group or situation. For example, a sociologist wants to explain not only why Mary went to college or became an armed robber but also why people with her characteristics are more likely than others to go to college or to become armed robbers.

To achieve generalizations, sociologists look for patterns, recurring heartsickness or events. The third scientific goal is to predict, to specify in the light Of current knowledge what will happen in the future. To attain these goals, scientists do not rely on magic, superstition, or common beliefs, but, instead, they do systematic research. They explain exactly how they did their research so it can be reviewed by others. Secrecy, prejudice, and other biases go against the grain of science. Sociologists and other scientists also move beyond common sense-?the prevailing ideas in a society, the things that “everyone knows” are true. Everyone” can be misguided today just as everyone was wrong when moon sense dictated that the world was flat or that no human could ever walk on the moon. As sociologists do their research, their findings may confirm or contradict commonsense notions about social life. To test your own “common sense,” take the “fun quiz” on the next page. The Risks of Being a Sociologist. Sometimes the explorations of sociologists take them into nooks and crannies that people would prefer remain unexplored. For example, a sociologist might study how people make decisions to commit a crime or to cheat on their spouses.

Since sociologists want above all to understand social life, they don t cease their studies because people feel uncomfortable. Sociologists consider all realms of human life legitimate avenues to explore, and they do so, from the respectable to the downright disreputable. As they examine how groups operate, sociologists sometimes face pressure to keep things secret. Every group, it seems, nourishes some ideal image that it presents to others. Because sociologists are interested in knowing what is really going on, they peer behind the scenes to get past those sugar-coated images (Berger 1 963; 2007).

This can threaten groups that are being studied, eating to pressure and conflict-?all part of the adventure, and risk, of being a sociologist. Origins of Sociology Tradition Versus Science generalization a statement that goes beyond the individual case and is applied too broader group or situation common sense those things that “everyone knows” are true Ancient peoples tried to figure out how social life works. They asked questions about why war exists, why some people become more powerful than others, and why some are rich but others are poor. However, they often based their answers on superstition, myth, or even the positions of the stars,

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