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Introduction to Sociology

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Introduction to Sociology ­ SOC101
VU
Lesson 2
THE SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE
Sociology is a reasoned and rigorous study of human social life, social groups, and societies. At the heart of
sociology is a distinctive point of view called "the sociological perspective". Thus sociology offers a
perspective, a view of the world. For example: why do human lives seem to follow certain predictable
pattern? The truth is that:
Our lives do not unfold according to sheer chance,
Nor do we decide for ourselves how to live, acting on what is called `free will'.
We make many important decisions everyday, of course, but always within the larger arena called "society".
The essential wisdom of sociology is that:
Our social world guides our actions and life choices just as the seasons influence our activities and
clothing.
This is sociological perspective. Perspective means a view or an outlook or an approach or an imagination (of
the world). Hence sociological perspective means an approach to understanding human behavior by placing it within
its broader social context.
People live in a society. Society is a group of people who share a culture and a territory. People's behavior
is influenced by their society. To find out why people do what they do, sociologists look at social
location, where people are located in a particular society.
For human beings the existence of society is essential. It is essential:
For the survival of human child at birth; and also
For social experience ­ for purposes of `nurturance'.
The human child is so helpless at the time of birth that without the help of other members of society
(family for example) the mere survival is at stake. Then the other important aspect is to `nurture' this
human being into a `social being' i.e. a participating member of the society. For developing the child into a
regular participating `social being' the role of society is crucial. The cases of isolated children (Anna,
Isabelle, and Genie) provide evidence to the fact that without the interaction with members of society the
natural potentials are lost and the child may not become a normal `social being'. Each society nurtures the
child into a `social being' within its own societal perspective.
Seeing the general in the particular:
Peter Burger (1963) described the sociological perspective as seeing the general in the particular. It means
identifying general patterns in the behavior of particular people. Although every individual is unique, a
society shapes the lives of its members. People in the USA are much more likely to expect love to figure in
marriage than, say, people living in a traditional village in rural Pakistan. Nevertheless, every society acts
differently on various categories of people (children compared to adults; women compared to men, rich
compared to poor).
General categories to which we belong shape our experiences. Children are different from adults, more
than just biological maturity. Society attaches meaning to age, so that we experience distinct stages in our
lives i.e. childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, late adulthood, and old age. In fact all these stages with
respect to the lines of demarcation (years as cutting points) are determined by society. What is the position
of a particular age category in the society and what are the roles and responsibilities assigned to members of
that age group are all determined by that society. Therefore age is social construction.
Children are often considered as dependent, whereas adults as responsible. What about the old? What is the
cutting age point for this group and what are the society's expectations about this group in Pakistani rural
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Introduction to Sociology ­ SOC101
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society? Are these expectations in Pakistani rural society different from Pakistani urban society? [Give some
thought to this issue.]
Although societies define the stages of life differently, yet there are differences by social class within
the same society. Here a particular social class may be considered as a sub-society in itself and may have
their own distinct definition of stages of life. For example concept of `childhood' may be different in the
lower class than what one finds in the middle class of Pakistani society. In the lower class, child shoulders
the adult responsibilities much earlier (starts at around age 10 years) than a child from the middle or upper
class. In the lower class there is a "hurried childhood" and that is how we come across the concept of
"child labor". This concept of "child labor" is not only associated with the lower class within the national
boundaries but also internationally with the low-income countries compared with the high-income
countries.
Gender is also a social construction
Male and female is a biological distinction but there are different role expectations attached to these two
categories of human beings in different societies. Societies give them different work and different family
responsibilities. The advantages and opportunities available to us differ by gender. Not going into the
rationale of such differences, for the present one could simply say that it is the society that determines the
image of a gender. Further to the societal variations in gender outlooks, one could see gender differences
by social class in the same society.
Society affects what we do
To see the power of society to shape individual choices, consider the number of children women have. In
the US the average woman has slightly fewer than two children during her lifetime. In Pakistan it is four, in
India about three, in South Africa about four, in Saudi Arabia about six, and in Niger about seven. Why
these striking differences?  Society has much to do with decisions women and men make about
childbearing.
Another illustration of power of society to shape even our most private choices comes from the study of
suicide. What could be a more personal choice than taking one's own life? Emile Durkheim showed that
social forces are at work even in the apparently isolated case of self-destruction. One has to look into such
individual decisions in social context. You may look at the social forces that are at work for the suicide
cases in Pakistan.
Applying the sociological perspective
People should develop the ability to understand their own lives in terms of larger social forces. This is called
sociological imagination, a concept given by C. Wright Mills. Sociological imagination is the strategies that
can help you sort out the multiple circumstances that could be responsible for your social experiences, your
life choices, and your life chances. Therefore, think sociologically, which implies to cultivating the
sociological imagination.
It is easy to apply sociological perspective when we encounter people who differ from us because they
remind us that society shapes individual lives. Also an introduction to sociology is an invitation to learn a
new way of looking at familiar patterns of social life.
Benefits of Sociological Perspective
Applying the sociological perspectives to our daily lives benefits us in four ways:
1.
The sociological perspective helps us to assess the truth of community held assumptions
(call it "common sense").
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Introduction to Sociology ­ SOC101
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We all take many things for granted, but that does not make them true. A sociological approach encourages
us to ask whether commonly held beliefs are actually true and, to the extent they are not, why they are so
widely held. Consider for yourself: gender differences; ethnic differences; racial differences; and social class
differences. Where do these differences come from?
2.  The sociological perspective prompts us to assess both the opportunities and the
constraints that characterize our lives.
What we are likely and unlikely to accomplish for ourselves and how can we pursue our
our goals effectively?
3.
The sociological perspective empowers us to participate actively in our society.
If we do not know how the society operates, we are likely to accept the status quo. But
the greater our understanding, the more we can take an active hand in shaping our social
life. Evaluating any aspect of social life ­ whatever your goal ­ requires identifying
social forces at work and assessing their consequences.
4.
The sociological perspective helps us recognize human variety and confront the challenges
of living in a diverse world.
There is a diversity of people's life styles, still we may consider our way of life
as superior, right, and natural. All others are no good. The sociological perspective
encourages us to think critically about the relative strengths and weaknesses of all ways
of life, including our own.
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Table of Contents:
  1. THE ORIGINS OF SOCIOLOGY:Auguste Comte, The Fields of Sociology
  2. THE SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE:Society affects what we do
  3. THEORETICAL PARADIGMS:Salient Paradigms, Critical Evaluation
  4. SOCIOLOGY AS SCIENCE:Empirical, Verifiable, Cumulative, Self-Correcting
  5. STEPS IN SOCIOLOGICAL INVESTIGATION:Exploration/Consultation
  6. SOCIAL INTERACTION:Social Status, ROLE, The Social Construction of Reality
  7. SOCIAL GROUPS:Primary and Secondary Groups, Reference Group, Networks
  8. ORGANIZATIONS:Utilitarian Organizations, Coercive Organizations
  9. CULTURE:Universality, Components of Culture, Symbols, Language
  10. CULTURE (continued):Beliefs, Norms, Cultural Diversity
  11. CULTURE (continued):Culture by social class, Multiculturalism, Cultural Lag
  12. SOCIALIZATION: HUMAN DEVELOPMENT, NATURE, Social Isolation
  13. UNDERSTANDING THE SOCIALIZATION PROCESS
  14. AGENTS OF SOCIALIZATION:The Family, The School, Peer Groups, The Mass Media
  15. SOCIALIZATION AND THE LIFE COURSE:CHILDHOOD, ADOLESCENCE
  16. SOCIAL CONTROL AND DEVIANCE:Crime, Deviants, Stigma, Labeling
  17. THE SOCIAL FOUNDATIONS OF DEVIANCE:Cultural relativity of deviance
  18. EXPLANATIONS OF CRIME:Sociological explanations
  19. EXPLANATIONS OF CRIME -- CONTINUED:White-Collar Crime, Conflict Theory
  20. SOCIAL DISTRIBUTION OF CRIME: EXPLANATIONS, Gender and Crime
  21. SOCIAL STRATIFICATION: INTRODUCTION AND SIGNIFICANCE
  22. THEORIES OF CLASS AND STRATIFICATION I:Critical evaluation
  23. THEORIES OF SOCIAL CLASS AND STRATIFICATION II
  24. THEORIES OF CLASS AND SOCIAL STRATIFICATION III
  25. SOCIAL CLASS AS SUBCULTURE
  26. SOCIAL MOBILITY:Structural factors, Individual factors, Costs
  27. THE FAMILY: GLOBAL VARIETY, Marriage Patterns, Patterns of Descent
  28. FUNCTIONS OF FAMILY:Reproduction, Social placement
  29. FAMILY AND MARRIAGE IN TRANSITION:Family is losing functions
  30. GENDER: A SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION, Gender socialization
  31. GENDER SOCIALIZATION:Role of family, Gender Stratification
  32. EXPLANATIONS OF GENDER INEQUALITY:Conflict Explanations, Feminism
  33. FUNCTIONS OF SCHOOLING:Cultural Innovation, School Tracking
  34. ISSUES IN EDUCATION:Low Enrollment, High Dropout, Gender Disparity
  35. POPULATION STUDY AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE:Crude Birth Rate
  36. THEORY OF POPULATION GROWTH:Theory of Demographic Transition
  37. POPULATION PROFILE OF PAKISTAN:World Population Growth
  38. POPULATION PROFILE OF PAKISTAN (Continued):Age Distribution, Sex Composition
  39. IMPLICAIONS OF POPULATION GOWTH:Additional GDP needed per year
  40. POPULATION POLICY:Goals of Population Policy, Objectives, Strategies
  41. ENVIRONMENT AND SOCIETY:Global Dimension, Historical Dimension
  42. ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES:Preserving Clean Water, Clearing the Air
  43. SOCIAL CHANGE:Social change is controversial.
  44. CAUSES OF SOCIAL CHANGE:Culture and Change, Conflict and Change, Modernization
  45. MODERNITY AND POST MODERNITY:Cultural Patterns, Post-modernity