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April 29, 2017 / C H Thompson

What is sociology

What is sociology? Sociologists are people who examine the social world around us and its impact on individual behaviour. While psychologists study the influence of the mind on individual actions sociologists study the influence of society on individual actions. Taken at face value this might seem straightforward and innocuous. However like most things the closer you look the more extraordinary they become.

To understand what I mean, take a moment to think about the car journey you may have taken to school this morning. Along the way you might have been listening to your iPod, chatted on your mobile phone or maybe chatted to the person driving the car. I imagine that not once on that journey did you consider the vehicle you were riding in. Have you ever thought about how a car works especially its engine?

Have you ever lifted the bonnet looked at the engine and wondered what went on inside the engine? Or do you just assume that because it works then there’s no need to understand how it works or consider ways of improving it.

Watch the clip to see how an engine works. While you do take a moment to think if you know how society works.

Society is very similar to the way a car engine works. It’s extremely complicated with lots of moving components. Whereas an engine has pistons, values, push-rods etc to help it function, society has schools, the family, criminal justice system, healthcare etc to help it work.

When the engine needs improving or breaks-down a mechanic takes the engine apart. Such a process is analogous to the way sociologists examine society to see if things can be improved. And in the same way mechanics use tools to take an engine apart, sociologists use concepts (ideas) to take society ‘apart’ so they can examine it in more detail to suggest ways of fixing society. Sometimes governments use sociologists ideas to create social policies which are designed to remedy things.

In the first lessons you will learn three key sociological concepts (socialisation; stratification and social class) to equip you with a sociological toolkit. In order to accomplish this, sociologist C. Wright Mills (1916-62) advocated sociologists needed to view the world using what Mills’ termed the sociological  imagination. In order to have a sociological imagination, the reader needs to see the social influences affecting individual and group behaviour. In effect the reader becomes a sceptical stranger by challenging all the common-sense notions about the world they’ve acquired bringing sociology alive.

You can try being a sceptical stranger by watching the clip below. While you’re watching use your sociological imagination to try and identify as many terms, words or ideas which seem bizarre in your eyes.

The media’s role in teaching us about what is or isn’t normal can’t be underestimated therefore before we explore our A level sociology, we need to familiarise ourselves a little more with the power of the media.


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