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Sociology: Chapter 1 Section 1
Obj: Describe what sociology is and
explain what it means to have a
sociological imagination; Explain how
sociology is similar to and different
from other social sciences.
Our daily lives shape our
view of the world. The
values, beliefs, lifestyles,
and experiences of
those around us, as well
as historic events, help
to mold us into unique
individuals who have
varied outlooks on life.
The fact that we do not
all view things in exactly
the same way is what
gives society its rich
At the same time, however, most of us in
society share many of the same
characteristics and ideas. It is this
combination of diversity and similarity that
is of primary interest to sociologists.
Sociology is the social science that studies
human society and social behavior. Social
sciences are the disciplines that study
human social behavior or institutions and
functions of human society in a scientific
Sociologists are mainly interested in social
interaction – how people relate to one
another and influence each other’s
behavior. Consequently, sociologists tend
to focus on the group rather than on the
individual. Sociologists do this by
examining social phenomena –
observable facts or events that involve
human society.
The Sociological Perspective
Why study sociology? Most
importantly, because it can
help you gain a new
perspective on, or view of,
yourself and the world around
you. This new view involves
looking at social life in a
scientific systematic way,
rather than depending on
common-sense explanations.
By adopting a sociological
perspective, you can look
beyond commonly held beliefs
to the hidden meanings behind
human actions.
The sociological perspective helps you see that
all people are social beings. It tells you that
your behavior is influenced by social factors
and that you have learned your behavior
from others. The sociological perspective can
also help you broaden your view of the social
world. It tells you that there are many
different perceptions of social reality. Using
the sociological perspective allows you to
see beyond your own day-to-day life by
viewing the world through others’ eyes.
Further, the sociological perspective can help
you find an acceptable balance between
your personal desires and the demand of
your social environment. If you always do
what you want to do, you are likely to
conflict with others a great deal of the time.
On the other hand, if you always do what
others want, you will not grow very much as
an individual. Applying the sociological
perspective can help you decide the most
acceptable point between these two
Finally, the sociological perspective can help
you view your own life within a larger
social and historical context. It can give
you insights into how your social
environment shapes you and how you, in
turn, can shape your social environment.
This ability to see the connection between
the larger world and your personal life is
what sociologist C. Wright Mills called the
sociological imagination.
Mills described the sociological imagination
as “the capacity to range from the most
impersonal and remote (topics) to the
most intimate features of the human self –
and to see the relations between the two.”
All good sociologists and students of
society, Mills added, must possess this
Sociology’s Place in the Social
In addition to sociology,
the social sciences
include anthropology,
economics, and
political science.
History is also often
included as a social
• Anthropology – the comparative study of past
and present cultures – is most similar to
sociology in its subject matter. Anthropologists
have traditionally concentrated on examining
past cultures and present simple – or less
advanced – societies. Sociology, on the other
hand, is more interested in group behavior in
complex – more advanced – societies. Today,
however, many anthropologists concentrate on
complex societies. For example, urban
anthropologists examine such things as the
cultural characteristics of neighborhoods in large
modern cities.
• The social science that deals with the behavior
and thinking of organisms is psychology. It differs
from sociology primarily in that it focuses on
individual behavior rather than on group behavior.
In addition, it draws more heavily on the tools of
the natural sciences.
• Areas of interest to psychologists include
personality, perception, motivation, and learning.
Despite differences in emphasis and methods of
analysis, sociology and psychology are related.
This is particularly true in the are of social
psychology, the study of how the social
environment affects an individual’s behavior and
• Economics is the study of the choices
people make in an effort to satisfy their
needs and wants. Economists examine
the processes by which goods and
services are produced, distributed, and
consumed. They also examine the effects
of government policies on economic
growth and stability. Sociologists share
many areas of interest with economists.
For example, the effect of economic
factors on various groups in society has
attracted the attention of sociologists since
the earliest days of the discipline.
• The examination of the organization and
operation of governments is the focus of
political science. The interests of sociology and
political science often overlap. Areas of mutual
interest include voting patterns, the
concentration of political power, and the
formation of politically based groups.
• History is the study of past events. Sociologists
are also interested in the past. Like many social
historians, sociologists study past events in an
effort to explain current social behavior and
Over time, the divisions between the social
sciences have become less distinct. Many
sociologists now borrow freely from the
various social sciences in an effort to
better understand the social forces that
help to shape our lives.