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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 diversity 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 manner. 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 extremes. 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 ability. Sociology’s Place in the Social Sciences In addition to sociology, the social sciences include anthropology, psychology, economics, and political science. History is also often included as a social science. • 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 personality. • 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 attitudes. 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.