Ch. 1 Sociological Perspectives


The Main Sociological Perspectives


The Sociological Perspective is the view that an individual’s social backgrounds influence their attitudes, behaviour, and life chances.
The Debunking Motif involves looking for levels of reality other than those given as the official interpretations of society.
The debunking motif is related to the Sociological Imagination. According to C. Wright Mills, the 'Sociological Imagination' is the ability to recognise that private troubles are rooted in public issues and structural problems.

Auguste Comte questioned how social order was created and maintained. Comte supported the positivists’ consensus approach to studying society and wanted to establish ‘social facts'.

Karl Marx believed that social order was created and maintained due to conflict.
➔ The theory believes that people are controlled through force and persuasion.
Marx focuses on economic determinism, which is the idea that economic forces determine and mould all aspects of a society, and individuals’ life chances.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (he’s related to Communism) believe that the economic system was the foundation for the society to be built on.

In capitalist societies:
i) the dominant group ➔ bourgeoisies ➔ those who own the means of economic production
ii) working class ➔ proletariat ➔ owns nothing, hence works for the bourgeoisie to survive.

Strength of Marxism - It helps understand the role of conflict in bringing about social change.
Weakness of Marxism

  • Too much emphasis is given on the role of economic factors in causing social change.
  • Theory fails to recognise other forms of conflict that would cause social change, i.e. religion, gender.
  • Too deterministic – individual behaviour is explained in terms of how social forces would shape them.

Max Weber examined how societies were modernised.
Weberian theory examined how and why pre-industrial societies developed into industrial societies. Modernization included industrialization, urbanisation and rationalisation. Weber argued that modernisation in Europe was fuelled by the ideas of the Protestant religion.
Social Action Theory stated that social change is the result of individuals acting purposefully/meaningfully with their own free will.

Emile Durkheim followed the value consensus theory that social order is created and maintained due to a common agreement.
➔ People developed social solidarity in 2 ways:
i) Pre-industrial society - Mechanical solidarity
ii) Industrial society – Organic solidarity
➔ He believed that societies can only be understood in terms of the relationship between various institutions. Supported Parsons’ Organic Analogy.
➔ His study on suicide helped prove that quantitative data can be produced when conducting sociological research.
Strength: A scientific approach can be taken to study society.
Weakness: Sociologists criticise that the official statistics used in the suicide study were unreliable.

Science: a logical method of producing knowledge that is reliable and valid.

Procedural Rule of SociologyPopper's Hypothetico Deductive method:
1. Choose a research topic
2. Review the literature
3. Form a testable aim and hypothesis
4. Choose a research method
5. Collect data
6. Analyse data
7. Present conclusions

This method can be implemented because we try to prove cause and effect relationships to establish statements predicting social behaviour.

Ethical rules of sociologyValue freedom
➔ Researchers should focus on falsification (they must try to falsify their hypothesis)
➔ Researchers shouldn’t have a personal/financial stake in the outcomes of their research (big sciences manipulate findings to make results favourable to them – capitalists, media, govt).

In sociology, scientific knowledge is produced by mainly outlining 2 theories: positivism and interpretivism.

Positivism – believes that the social world can be studied the same way that natural scientists study the natural world. The objective of the research is to falsify the hypothesis. Sociologists must be personally objective – value-free. Positivists try to collect quantitative data.

Research methods: Experiments, official statistics, content analysis, close-ended questions in questionnaires, and structured interviews.

Interpretivism – believes that social behaviour can only be understood subjectively, by understanding how people interpret situations and give them meaning. They study how individuals interact in everyday life and group settings. Interpretivists say it’s not possible to predict human behaviour. Social reality and behaviour can only be understood by the one who creates it, hence, sociologists should empathise/demonstrate verstehen (verstehen - take the role of the other).
Interpretivists try to collect qualitative data.

Research methods: Participant observation, open-ended questions in questionnaires, and unstructured interviews.

Postmodernism – the idea that people construct stories – narratives.
Metanarratives are created at different times and societies to explain how the world works. In the pre-industrial era, religion was the metanarrative.
In industrial societies, science was the metanarrative. People in postmodern societies have disbelief towards meta-narratives.

Their research method suggests the idea that it's impossible to study people as they may show demand characteristics in one way or another.

The difference between Positivism and Interpretivism

  1. Harris identified that Positivists suggest that human behaviour is controlled by forces an individual cannot resist.
    Interpretivists however, argue that people are different from inanimate objects as they have consciousness which allows them to think and act rather than just react in a pre-determined way.
  2. Positivism explains people's behaviour 'from without' interacting with the people and the behaviour being studied.
    Interpretivists develop explanations 'from within' by understanding how people make sense of the behaviour they're involved in. They suggest sociologists should empathise and take the role of the other to truly understand individuals' behaviour and actions. This research technique is called verstehen.
  3. Interpretivism focus on collecting qualitative data which explains feelings, but the reliability is low as it cannot be accurately replicated. Validity is higher, however as the reason for the behaviour is found.
    Positivist research is objective, and it tests whether the hypothesis is true or false. The research design is firm, and they collect quantitative data which is less valid but more reliable.
  4. Positivist research makes judgements based on the data to collect and the conclusions to make on whether a hypothesis is true or false.
    Interpretivist research is non-judgemental, and the reader is left to draw their own conclusions.

  5. Values
    The data collected and analysed in sociological research must be value-free.

    1. Research topics are influenced by personal views. The danger and difficulty level of conducting the research influence the research method as well.
    2. Topic choice is influenced by the funders. They influence what is studied and how it is studied.
    3. Data analysis - the researcher makes decisions on what to include/exclude, hence bias/values are exhibited again.
    4. The research method is influenced as the chosen method reflects the researcher's beliefs on how to best achieve validity and reliability.
    5. Becker: it is impossible to achieve value-neutrality when it comes to social issues. Sociologists should choose to either promote the interests of the disadvantaged or support state activities.

    Use of sociological knowledge:
    Before, sociological knowledge was used to explain ideas of social order and change. For example, Marx on capitalism & social exploitation, Weber on modernisation, and Durkheim on social forces of religion producing change.
    Now, sociological knowledge is being used to improve the position of women for example, with the Suffragette movement, Equal Pay Act, and Sex Discrimination Act.

    Townsend & Abel-Smith's UK poverty research has helped the UK government to improve its method of collecting official statistics.
    Painter & Farrington conducted a study and found that crime was less likely to occur in well-lit areas than in dimly lit areas.

    Social Policies and Social Problems
    A Social Problem is a behaviour that causes public friction in the form of a public outcry. It is defined by the powerful (the capitalists, media, and government).
    Ex. Climate change, gender equality, poverty, crime, and race discrimination.

    A Sociological Problem is a behaviour that does not cause public friction, but if unchecked, it has the potential to cause or become a social problem.
    Ex. Domestic abuse, child abuse, corruption, and divorce.
    ➔ 2016 Wadeemah Law in the UAE.

    It is difficult to investigate social problems as it's not possible to stay value-neutral. If they accept the reasons of the powerful, they may fail to recognise the role of the powerful in causing those social problems. If they over-identify with the interests of the powerful, they may be accused of being agents of social control.

    Becker argues that it's impossible to achieve value neutrality and that sociologists should make a choice to either promote the interests of the disadvantaged, or support state activities.
    Mirsa: social policies relating to employment, poverty, and children in the USA have been influenced by women's activism.

    Cross-cultural diversity - the differences between societies. E.g. The UK has an elected monarch as head of state, but Mauritius is a republic with an elected president.
    Intra-cultural diversity - the differences within the same culture.

    Cultural diversity is described through social categories: class, age, gender, ethnicity, and religion.

    Examples of intra-cultural diversity:

    Class - Working class & Middle class.
    High culture characteristics and interests of the middle & upper class: opera, theatre, art, uniqueness, and quality.

    Pop culture characteristics and interests of the working class include TV shows, mass-produced products, mainstream interests & trends, and pop concerts, seen as unique by the elite, seen as worthless & disposable by the elite.

    Age - Differences between childhood, youth, and elderly lifestyles. Adulthood & responsibilities. Marriage consent in different countries. The consent laws within each country for different types of sexual relationships. Kagan notes the following: Tamil Nadu (thalaikoothal) - senicide of elderlies by own family members, Columbia - elders are seen as wise people, Sierra Leone - elders are seen as being brought closer to god.

    Gender - Gender inequalities exist within families as women do most of the unpaid domestic work. In various cultures, men take the greater personal share of ‘family’ resources.

    • In terms of education, girls in the UK generally outperform boys, however, ethnic factors can affect this as Asian boys may outperform white British girls.
    • In the US women can freely take on paid employment, however women in Saudi Arabia need a male guardian’s permission to do so.

    Ethnicity - Ethnicity refers to the cultural differences between social groups based on background & history.

    • Britain predominantly consists of people of white British ethnics. However, this group is made up of a range of ethnicities (English, Scottish, etc.).
    • Favell: London is actually the fourth largest French city.

    Religion - There are various types of religious practices: monotheism (Islam), polytheism (Hinduism), atheism. Individual level – communal practices, personal commitment. Social level – religion acts as a secondary agent of socialisation to inculcate beliefs, values, and establish social solidarity & unity. There is diversity within religions (Shia and Sunni Muslims).

    Global Culture - Globalisation involves the exportation and spreading of trends across societies over digital devices. People develop fragmented identities. People have a pick-and-mix approach towards culture. Globalisation results in cultural hybridisation. Cultures become more alike and people from various countries develop common cultural bonds by sharing mutual interests.

    Social Order – How is social order maintained?

    The structuralist perspective involves the consensus, and conflict approaches. The 2 approaches believe in structural determinism (the idea that society is a powerful force controlling people’s thoughts and behaviour).

    1. Functionalism — functionalists believe that social order has been created and maintained because of a consensus between people.
      ➔ Organic Analogy - Durkheim
      ➔ Social institutions were created to satisfy institutional purposes & needs.
      ➔ Individuals fit into the overall structure of society on the basis of functional prerequisites.

      Parsons' Functional Sub-systems:
      • Family sub-systems ➔ Solves the problem of socialisation.
      • Cultural (media, religion, and education) sub-system ➔ Solves the problem of social integration.
      • Economic sub-systems ➔ Solves the problem of survival needs.
      • Political sub-systems ➔ Solves the problem of social disorder.
    2. Feminism — feminists share the belief that contemporary societies are patriarchal to some degree.
      ➔ Interpersonal power – exploitation of women within the family.
      ➔ Cultural power – male-dominated societies are structured to oppress and exploit women.
      ➔ Marxist feminist - E.g. In capitalistic societies men are encouraged to exploit women's 'weaknesses'.
      ➔ Radical feminist - E.g. In the public, women are paid less, but in the private at home, women become dual-workers as they perform unpaid work.
    3. Marxism — focuses on economic determinism, which is the idea that the natural resources that we have, decide our life chances. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels proposed Marxism. They believe that the economic system is the foundation on which society was built and, that society is in order due to conflict and power differences between the relations of production (owner and non-owner), and others.
    4. Neo-Marxism — a new form of Marxism. Neo Marxists say that power differences are not just due to economic determinism, because for example, we obey a police officer regardless of his economic standing but because of his status and authority.
      • Ideological State Apparatus - Structural Marxism (Althusser) – Ideologies shaping a state (society). Religion, media (norms, values), education (hidden curricula-obedience). The ideologies brainwash us to think in a certain way, and thus control individuals.
        The ISAs teach the principles of a capitalistic society which leads individuals to develop ideologies favouring the capitalistic structure of society.
      • Repressive State Apparatus - Humanist Marxism (Gramsci) – formal social mechanisms used to maintain social order. The law/judiciary/prison are repressive social institutions.
      Therefore, those institutions that control us through ideology and oppression are more powerful as they enforce inequality through power and authority.
    5. Interpretivism - Interpretivists argue that social order is created through interaction by labelling. The labelling theory suggests that when a label is associated with an individual's set of characteristics, these characteristics influence or control the individual's behaviour.

    Social Change

    1. FunctionalismParsons’ organic analogy or structural differentiation is the idea that social institutions are interrelated, and that the change in one causes a change in another. During the change from the pre-industrial to the industrial era, they required literate workers, so a social institution of education was built. This further resulted in changes within institutions as well as they lost or gained a function.
    2. MarxismMarx argued that social change was driven by economic forces and power differences between the relations of production. Conflict comes about when people compete with one another.
      ➔ Microsocial changes would be workers having a strike for more money.
      ➔ Macro social change is when conflicts lead to wider political and economic changes.
      Weber however argued that other factors such as political issues and religion can also contribute to social change.
      Weber does not recognise that conflict between economic relations does contribute to causing social change but it’s not the biggest factor.
    3. Feminism
      • Liberal feminism promotes a range of anti-discriminatory laws such as the Sex Discrimination Act, Equal Pay Act, and the Suffragette Movement.
      • Marxist feminists challenge capitalism as a route to free women.
      • Radical feminists see female oppression in terms of patriarchal relationships. They believe a social change can only come about by overthrowing the ideas on which male domination is based.
    4. Interpretivism
      Small-scale social change includes changing attitudes towards gender and globalisation. E.g. Western cultures have exhibited gender equality in areas such as employment and education.
      Globalisation has led to the exportation of culture.
      Change in the macro-level in relation to religion would be how Weber said that Calvinism (Protestant ideologies) helped promote a strong and lasting transformation in the form of capitalism.

    Sociology as a Science

    Positivists say that value-free sociology is possible and that the natural science research method can be followed however it's not practical due to difficulty in controlling variables, and ethical issues. Hypothetico deductive method is the scientific procedure that can be used. sociologists can avoid personal judgments from interfering; quantitative methods can be used to lower researcher bias.
    Science is empirical, and data can be obtained by objective observation & systematic testing of causal relationships.

    Comte said that we should look for causal relationships and measurable patterns.

    Durkheim agrees that society is made up of social facts, and also says that sociologists must apply ‘induction’ (data accumulation) and ‘deduction’ to studies. Induction and deduction allow patterns of a society to be deduced, which can then be used to predict future behaviour. We’ll form a ‘general law’ that is open to interpretation.

    Mayhew and Rowntree collected government statistics on income, drugs, education, poverty, and crime.

    Durkheim's study on suicide (he conducted a cross-sectional survey), Le Suicide implemented the comparative analysis method to look for causal relationships between statistics to see what led to suicide. He found that suicide rates were higher amongst Protestants than Catholics. He found that when the inclusiveness level was low, people suicide.

    Sociology as a Science - Positivism
    Science community. Responses of the positivists

    • Science is empirical, but sociology is not. Durkheim argues that there are social facts that can be observed and measured. Marx argues that capitalistic structure is a social fact that can be measured. Ex. Poverty.
    • Science seeks causal relationships that rely on predictable phenomena. Sociology studies unpredictable matter, therefore, no causal, predictable relationships can be found. Durkheim says that individual behaviour cannot be predicted, but group behaviour can be, as individuals conform.
    • Science has no bias or preferences. It is value-free. Sociology is not, as it is created by value-biased individuals. Durkheim says that it can be value-free when the hypothetico deductive method is strictly followed.
    • Science agrees with sociology on linear progression. Linear progression is when knowledge builds on old knowledge over time. Relates to Darwin’s theory on the origin of life.
    • Science is open to verification. Anything ‘social’ is value-laden, so it is open to refutation (prove wrong) due to different perspectives.

    Criticisms of Sociology as a Science
    Popper: Science is unique: Falsification

    • Sociology can be objective through verification, induction & deduction however, falsification is required instead of verification.
    • Sociology cannot be science until it is value-free, but then sociology wouldn’t exist.
    • He values sociology as it helps in forming new theories.

    Kuhn: Science is unique as it shares universal truths. Sciences are based on paradigms. Sociology is not like science because different sociological theories disagree on fundamental issues.
    (Paradigm provides scientists with a basic framework to work from. Paradigms are a set of norms that unites followers.)

    New scientists are socialised to fit into existing paradigms. Those that think outside the paradigms are shunned. Dr Velikovsky had a theory that opposed Darwinism, so he got boycotted.

    Why strive to be scientific?
    Billig: Sociology should embrace different ‘knowledge paradigms’ instead of trying to be purely scientific.
    Bauman: Postmodernity suggests that all knowledge paradigms are worth investing in.

    Conclusion on sociology as a science
    We can only consider whether sociology is a science or not by looking at the perspective and the topic being studied.
    For example, if looking at the effect of external forces on society, and individuals' reactions to them, it can be a science. Or, if studying the interpretivists' view on how society is a creation of shared meanings, it isn’t possible to study society objectively.