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SAGE Publications, Inc.

2012
Taking a New Look at
a Familiar World
Chapter 1
Sociology
Sociology is the systematic study of
human societies.
Everyday social life is the product of a
complex interplay between societal
forces and personal characteristics.
Sociology examines the interpersonal,
historical, cultural, organizational, and
global environments that individuals
inhabit.
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Sociology vs. the Individual
Individualistic explanations
We tend to look at internal qualities to
explain experiences.
Sociological explanations
We try to look at external factors that
shape individual choices and
opportunities.
SAGE Publications, Inc. 2012
Thinking Sociologically
Looking at individual problems
Example: the break-up of a
relationship, loss of a job, or credit-
card debt
What are some of the possible individual
causes of these events?
Now, examine this within a societal
context. What are some other possible
explanations?
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Contrasting Fields
Biologists and psychologists focus on
processes within the individual
Biology: focuses on innate characteristics
(genetics, bio-chemical explanations)
Psychology: focuses on personal
characteristics (the mind)
Sociologists study what goes on among
people as individuals, groups, and
societies
Sociology: focuses on a systematic study of
human interaction (people as a part of the
larger society)

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Thinking Sociologically
How might research on alcohol use
differ among these three disciplines?
Biology
Psychology
Sociology
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SAGE Publications, Inc. 2012
The Sociological Imagination
C. Wright Mills (19161962)
The ability to see the impact of massive
cultural and historical processes on our
private lives
The ability to recognize that the solutions to
many of our most serious social problems lie
not in changing the personal situations and
characteristics of individual people but in
changing the social institutions and roles
available to them
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Suicide
mile Durkheim (18581917)
Classic sociological work titled
Suicide, published in 1897
Compared statistics and historical data
across different groups
If suicide is an act based in individual
explanations, rates would be fairly
constant across time and place.
However, this is not the case.

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Different Types of Suicide
Fatalisticwhen people see no
possible way to improve their
oppressive circumstances
Anomicwhen a persons life has been
suddenly disrupted by a major social
event
Egoisticwhen a person belongs to a
group that has weak ties
Altruisticwhen a persons ties to the
community are too strong
Fatalistic Suicide
When people feel horribly oppressed
in their social situation
When people perceive no possible
way to improve their lives
Examples: inmates in prison, slaves

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Egoistic Suicide
When peoples ties to their social
networks are weak or deemphasized
When people feel alienated from social
networks
When there may be too much emphasis
in on individualism
Current U.S. society has weaker ties
and suicide rates have risen as
Durkheim predicted
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Altruistic Suicide
When ties to ones community are too
strong, individuality may be
overshadowed
In circumstances where community or
family needs are considered far
superior to needs of individual
Examples may be found in greedy
group sects
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Anomic Suicide
When conditions around which people
organize their lives dramatically
change (economic depressions, wars,
famines etc.)
May result in sense of hopelessness
and despair
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Suicide Rates Among Young
African Americans
Potential individual-based influences
Growing sense of hopelessness
Reluctance to open up about mental
health issues
Broader social factors
More and more black families moving into
middle class
Increased pressure to succeed in white-
dominated professions
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Thinking Sociologically
Suicide rates among young African
Americans have dropped over the
last few years

Can you think of a sociological reason to
account for this trend?

Summary
Everyday social life is the product of a
complex interplay between societal forces
and personal characteristics.
To explain why people are the way they are
(or do the things they do), we must
understand the interpersonal, historical,
cultural, organizational, and global
environments they inhabit.
To understand either individuals or society,
we must understand both (C. W. Mills, 1959).


SAGE Publications, Inc. 2012