• Unit 1: What is Sociology?

    Why should we study sociology? How can we apply it to the real world? Sociology is the systematic study of society. C. Wright Mills (1916–1962), the American sociologist, coined the concept of sociological imagination to encourage us to recognize the connections and distinctions between our personal lives and larger social issues.

    For example, did you know the United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world? Sociologists explore individual decisions through the lens of society. Using the scientific method, we can study how and why the trend of teen pregnancy exists. How do social issues influence this personal experience? Teenagers receive direction and influence from sex education in schools, religion, access to birth control, sexualization in the media, poverty, and women's alternatives to childbearing.

    Humans create theories to make sense of the world. These theories are not necessarily "right" and "wrong" but frameworks we use to understand. For example, the earliest humans created theories about how the Earth originated and what happens when we die. Sociological theories examine our societal beliefs. We will explore three classical sociological paradigms; structural-functional, social conflict, and symbolic interaction. Each paradigm presents a different lens sociologists use to study society.

    Finally, we examine why we should study sociology. For example, sociologists helped argue for ending "separate but equal" racial segregation in the United States. Sociology teaches how individuals fit into society and how we classify ourselves and others.

    Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.

    • 1.1: Introduction to Sociology

      Sociology is the study of society. As with other academic disciplines, sociology uses the scientific method to systematically examine the groups, interactions, institutions, and categories that shape our individual lives. This section introduces how we use the sociological imagination to view the world differently.

      Sociology helps us assess the truth of "common sense" and the cultural expectations we take for granted. Sociology can help us be more active and informed participants in our diverse world. Sociology can teach us to empathize with others and help create a better society and world.

    • 1.2: History of Sociology

      Sociology became prominent as an academic discipline in Europe during the industrial revolution (1760–1840) when researchers began studying rapid social change. They adopted a scientific approach rather than relying on opinion, religion, and dominant cultural ideologies.

    • 1.3: Social Constructions of Reality

      Society is a social construct. This means that humans create a society, and we define what things mean in our everyday communications. Our actions are not driven by instinct but by the rules of engagement based on the situation or status we occupy. For example, consider your status as a student. What are some expected behaviors for students?

    • 1.4: Three Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology

      Theories help us understand and explain social phenomena. A paradigm is a set of ideas. Think about paradigms as if you are putting on a pair of glasses to view the world. For example, you could use biology glasses to view teen pregnancy from the perspective of health and the human body. Sociological theories help us understand and explain society.

      This section introduces the three classical paradigms in sociology, which we will explore as we study different sociological situations and concepts throughout this course: functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism. Functionalism and conflict theory use a macro perspective to view how society works to create order, stability, conflict, and inequality. Symbolic interaction is a micro perspective that examines how everyday interactions influence our society.

      1. Functionalists view society as a living organism that is always seeking stability. Émile Durkheim studied how we behave differently individually and collectively regarding collective consciousness and shared ideas. Notice the difference between societies held together by mechanical and organic solidarity.

      2. Karl Marx created the idea of conflict theory which focuses on the economy as a basis of society, its institutions, and its superstructure. According to conflict theory, owners create false consciousness among the workers, and the nature of their work leads to alienation.

      3. Finally, symbolic interaction theory builds on Max Weber's ideas of rationalization of society and the impact of power on individual interactions. A rational society is built around logic and efficiency rather than morality or tradition. Weber's primary focus on the structure of society lay in the elements of class, status, and power.
    • 1.5: Types of Societies

      Sociologists categorize societies as pre-industrial, industrial, and post-industrial. Each stage examines the social impact of daily life, institutions, and individual interactions. Many of our behaviors follow the status and roles of society that were determined before we were born. We often think our behavior is entirely shaped by psychological factors.

      Consider Shakespeare's idea that society is a stage, and we are merely actors playing our parts. How do you present yourself in everyday life? How do you manage the impression you make in different settings, such as in an office environment or during a job interview?

      Code-switching refers to how people from minority communities consciously and unconsciously adjust their language, syntax, grammatical structure, behavior, and appearance to fit into the dominant culture. We all do this to some extent in different venues, but the pressure to conform is often stronger and more critical for those less represented.

    • Unit 1 Assessment

      • Receive a grade