sociology unit 4

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social action theory: Weber

  • emphasised the importance of verstehen; the idea of understanding human behaviour by putting yourself in the position of those being studied and trying to see things from their point of view. 
  • An adequate explanation involves two levels:
  • 1. the level of cause (structural factors)
  • 2. the level of meaning (the subjective meanings that individuals attach to actions)
  • In his study of the rise of capitalism, at the level of the structural cause, the protestant reformation introduced a new belief system which changed people's worldview, leading to a change in their behaviour. 
  • At the level of subjective meaning, the Calvinists saw work as a calling from God. As a result they accumulated wealth and became the first modern day capitalists. 
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Symbolic interaction: G.H. Mead

  • Interactions are based on meanings we give to situations, conveyed through symbols.
  • Humans respond to the world by giving meanings to the things that are significant to us. We create a world of meanings by attaching symbols to the things around us. 
  • There is an interpretive phase between a stimulus and our response to it, in which we interpret its meaning. 
  • We interpret other people's meanings by taking their role- putting ourselves in their place. This ability develops through interaction; children internalise siginificant other's meanings and later in life see themselves from the point of view of the generalised other. 
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Dramaturgical model- Goffman

  • Individuals actively construct our "self" by manipulating other people's impressions of us. He uses analogies with drama to explain this. 
  • Two key concepts are presentation of self and impression management- we seek to present a particular image to our audiences, controlling the impression our 'performance' gives. 
  • Impression management techniques include tone of voice, gestures, props and settings such as dress, makeup, equipment, decor and premises. 
  • As in a theatre, there is a front stage where we act out our roles, while backstage we can step out of our roles and be ourselves. 
  • There is a role distance between our real self and our roles, which are only loosely scripted by society and allow us a lot of freedom in how we play them. This implies that individuals can manipulate audiences and conceal our true selves. 
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Phenomenology- Schutz

  • People share categories that we use to classify the world with other members of society. 
  • The meaning of an action varies according to its social context. Meaning is given by the context, not by the action itself- meanings are potentially unclear and unstable. 
  • Typifications make social order possible- they give members of society a shared "life world" of commonsense knowledge that we can use to make sense of our experience. 
  • This is called "recipe knowledge"- like a recipe we can follow it without thinking too much, using it to make sense of the everyday world. 
  • The social world is an inter-subjective one that can only exist when we share the same meanings. 
  • The fact that society appears to be a real, objective thing outside of us simply shows that all members of society share the same meanings. In turn, this allows us to cooperate and achieve goals.
  • Berger and Luckmann reject the idea that reality is merely a social construct. Once constructed, it takes on a life of its own and becomes an external reality that shapes our lives. 
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Ethnomethodology- Garfinkel

  • Social order is created from the "bottom up"- it is something members of society actively construct in everyday life using commonsense knowledge.
  • The sociologist's task is to uncover the taken for granted assumptions people use to construct social reality. 
  • Indexicality- meanings are always potentially unclear- this is a threat to social order because if meanings are unclear or unstable, communication becomes difficult and social relationships break down. 
  • Reflexivity is the use of commonsense knowledge to construct a sense of meaning and order to prevent indexicality occuring.
  • Language is of vital importance in achieving reflexivity. It gives us a sense of reality existing 'out there' when all we have actually done is construct a shared set of meanings. 
  • Garfinkel used breaching experiments to disrupt people's expectatios of a situation- students behaving like lodgers in their parents' home.
  • These show how the orderliness of everyday situations is not inevitable and how we use our commonsense, taken for granted assumptions to actively create social order. 
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Giddens' structuration theory

  • Seeks to combine the two approaches into a single unified theory of structure and action. 
  • There is a duality of structure- structure and agency are two sides of the same coin- neither can exist without the other. 
  • Our actions produce, reproduce and change structures over time and space, while these structures are what make our actions possible in the first place. This relationships is known as structuration. 
  • For Giddens, structure has two elements: 1) rules, 2) resources. Rules and resources can be either reproduced or changed through human action. However our actions generally tend to reproduce rather than change them. This is because society's rules contain a stock of knowledge about how to live our lives, so our routine activities tend to reproduce the existing structure of society. 
  • We need to reproduce exisiting structures because we have deep-seated need for ontological security- a need to feel the world is orderly, stable and predictable. 
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Giddens: late modernity and reflexivity

  • Accepts the changes that postmodernists describe; however, he says that these changes have not brought a new era of postmodernity but into late modernity/ high modernity. 
  • This means that the knowledge we gain from society can affect the way we act in it. In late modernity, reflexivity grows in importance, as the speed of social change and growing uncertainty mean that social institutions are constantly having to reflect on what they do and how they do things, and people are having to think about and reflect on the circumstances in which they live their lives. 
  • Reflexivity for individuals focuses on personal freedom and fulfilment as people establish goals for 'life projects'. This means that people and institutions can act to change and improve the world, which is part of the modernist era. 
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Beck: risk society/ reflexive modernity

  • Suggests that there is a new phase of modernity- reflexive modernity- in which there are high levels of uncertainty and risk in what he calls 'risk society'.
  • These risks occur in rapidly changing everyday life in social institutions like family, as seen in the rising divorce rate, and the growing diversity of personal relationships.
  • They can also be seen in the failings or abuse of so called science and technological progress in modernity.
  • We are living in a period of reflexive modernity, as people and institutions need to think and reflect more about risks today, work out how to solve problems, and therefor change society. 
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Harvey and Marxism

  • Suggests that many of the changes claimed by postmodernists to be evidence of postmodernity can be explained by modernist theories such as marxism.
  • Harvey suggests, that changes like globalization, rapid cultural change, the growth of consumerism and the individualization of indentity reflect capitalism opening up new markets and new sources of profits in a global economy. 
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social policy- Positivism and Functionalism

  • Early positivists saw sociology as a science that would both discover the cause of social problems and provide their solutions. Science and reason could be used to improve society.
  • Functionalists see society as based on value consensus, so the state serves the interests of society as a whole, implementing rational policies for the good of all.
  • For both, the sociologist's role is to provide the state with objective, scientific information on which it can base its policies.
  • Functionalists favour policies that are referred to as "piecemeal social engineering"- gradual change as opposed to rapid change. 
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Social policy- social democratic perspective

  • The social democratic perspective on social policy favours a major redistribution of wealth and income from the rich to the poor. 
  • Sociologist's should be involved in researching social problems and making policy recommendations to eradicate them.
  • Townsend's research on poverty has led him to make recommendations for policies such as fairer, higher benefit levels. 
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Social policy- Postmodernism

  • For postmodernists, it is impossible to discover objective truth. All knowledge produced by research is uncertain, and so sociological findings cannot provide a satisfactory basis for policy making. 
  • Sociologists can only take the role of 'interpreters'- offering one view of reality among many, and not the role of 'legislators'. 
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Social policy- Marxism

  • In the Marxist view, social policies serve the interests of capitalism, not society as a whole. 
  • Social policies provide ideological legitimation of capitalism- the welfare state gives it a caring face. 
  • They maintain the labour force for further exploitation- the NHS keeps workers fit to work.
  • They are a means of preventing revolution- the welfare state was a way of buying off working-class opposition to capitalism.
  • For marxists, the sociologist's role should thus be to reveal the exploitation that underpins capitalism and the way in which the ruling class uses social policies to mask this. 
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Social policy- feminism

  • Feminists see society as patriarchal, benefitting men at women's expense. They see the state's social policies perpetuating women's subordination.
  • Research by liberal feminists has had an impact in a number of policy areas- anti-discrimination and equal pay policies. 
  • Some radical feminist ideas have also had an influence on social policy- the establishment of women's refuges for women escaping domestic violence. 
  • However, many marxist and radical feminists reject the view that reformist social policies can liberate women and call for more radical changes that the exisiting state cannot offer. 
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Social policy- The New Right

  • The New Right believe that the state should have only limited involvement in societ- welfare state provision should be minimal.
  • State intervention undermines people's sense of responsibility, leading to greater social problems.
  • Murray argues that policies such as welfare benefits and council housing for lone parents act as 'perverse incentives' that encourage a dependency culture.
  • The New Right see the role of sociologist's as being to propose policies that promote individual responsibility and choice. 
  • The New Right support a strong 'law and order' policy and research by right realist criminologists Wilson and Kelling's Broken Windows, has been influential in the introduction of zero tolerance policies. 
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Giddens' social policy

  • Proposes nine ways sociology contributes to social policy:
  • Providing an awareness of cultural differences and of others
  • Providing self-awareness and understanding 
  • Changin assumptions ( McNeill) 
  • Providing a theoretical framework (Murray)
  • Providing practical professional knowledge (Home Office)
  • indentifying social problems (Townsend)
  • Providing the evidence
  • Indentifying unintended consequences of policies (Merton)
  • Assessing the results 
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Davies

  • points out that debates about social policy do not take place in a vacuum, but have an ideological basis to them, and depend on current public and other perceptions of the issue.
  • Thus, sometimes governments ignore evidence that doesn't fit with perceptions when formulating social policies on controversial issues. 
  • Prostitution: government ignored:- research on prostitute's clients which showed they were fairly typical men, not violent and abusive as stereotypes assume; evidence from Sweden that undermined their own strategy; the effectiveness of alternative approaches adopted by other countries.
  • Cannabis: The government decided to reclassify the legal status of cannabis from a class c to a class b drug (2008), reversing its own policy of downgrading the drug in 2004. It did this despite advice from scientific and professional advisers that reclassification was unnecessary and would not have the desired effect on decreasing cannabis use. 
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McNeill

  • Points out that what becomes defined as a social problem will depend on individuals or groups being able to create enough support among those with power to make their concerns an issue for public debate and action.
  • Much sociological work is ignored by governments and others with power- this is because sociology is often concerned with social inequalities, educational underachievement, poverty and ill-health. In addition, sociologists have not been slow in questioning the effects of government policies and highlighting uncomfortable truths, e.g. the 1980 Black Report.
  • Those with power therefore often see sociology as a biased and value-laden subject, rather than confront the uncomfortable information it places before them. 
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Gouldner

  • The idea of value-freedom is not value-freedom at all, but simply a refusal to criticize society as it is. For example, if you were observing a fight between a large bully and a small victim, would you be neutral if you stood aside and let the victim get hurt? Or would this neutrality actually be support for the bully, and that you are more concerned with self-preservation than neutrality? Not taking sides supports the powerful in an unequal society. 
  • Can you and should you be neutral when studying the most disadvantaged in society? Or should you be applying your research skills to help them escape their poverty and to tackle social exclusions? 
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Becker

  • Whose side are we on? 
  • He argues that all knowledge must fabour somebody, and therefore we have to choose whom we favour. Sociologists should be committed to social change, for human improvement and take responsibility for the moral implications of their work.
  • Sociologists should abandon the idea of value-freedom. This does not mean that sociology should be any less scientific, but that the choice of research area is committed to a particular value position. 
  • Becker's own research, The Outsiders, reflected this belief. 
  • He argues that sociologists should therefore favour the underdogs in society. 
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Feminist theory

  • Feminism sees society as male dominated and it aims to describe, explain and change the position of women in society. It is a theory of women's subordination and a political movement.
  • A 'first wave' of feminism appeared in the late 19th century with the suffragettes'.
  • Since then, feminism has had a major influence on sociology. Feminists criticise mainstream sociology for being malestream- seeing society only from a male perspective. 
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Liberal feminism

  • Liberal feminists believe women can achieve gender equality through reform and promoting equal rights. They have documented the extent of gender inequality and discrimination, thus legitimising the demand for reform in areas such as equal pay/ employment practices. 
  • Liberal feminists also want cultural change because traditional prejudices and stereotypes about gender differences are a barrier to equality. 
  • Liberal feminists distinguish between sex and gender. Sex refers to biological differences between males and females. Gender refers to culturally constructed differences between the 'masculine' and 'feminine' roles and identities assigned to males and females. While sex differences are fixed, gender differences bary between cultures/ times. What is considered a proper role for women in one society or at one time may be disapproved in another. 
  • Sexist attitudes and stereotypical beliefs are culturally constructed and transmitted through socialisation. Therefore we must change society's socialisation patterns. Over time this will produce cultural change and gender equality will become the norm.
  • They see men and women as equally capable of performing the same roles; traditional gender roles prevent both men and women from leading fulfilling lives. 
  • This approach to feminist theory is the closest to a consensus view if society- gender conflicts are not seen as inevitable and can be changed. 
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Radical feminism

  • It's key concept is patriarchy- a society in which men dominate women. 
  • They argue that patriarchy is universal; Firestone argues that its origins like in women's biological capacity to bear and care for infants, since performing this role means they become dependant on males. They also argue that patriarchy is fundamental and that all men oppress women. Patriarchal oppression is direct and personal. 
  • Links personal to the political; they focus on the ways in which patriarchal power is exercised through personal relationships. Brownmiller argues that fear of **** deters women from going out alone at night. 
  • They argue that patriarchy socially constructs sexuality so as to satisfy men's desires. 
  • They argue for the liberation of women; includes separatism, conscious-raising and political lesbianism. 
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Marxist feminism

  • Marxist feminism see's women's subordination as rooted in capitalism. Women have functions for capitalism. 
  • They are a reserve army of labour, and are used to absorb male workers' anger which otherwise would have been directed at capitalism. They also provide a reproduction of labour through their unpaid domestic work. Thus women's interests lie in the overthrow of capitalism. 
  • Barrett argues that we must give more emphasis to women's motivations, and to the role of ideology in maintaining their oppression. The ideology of the family in particular presents the nuclear family and its sexual division of labour as natural and normal. The family is seen to be the only place women can attain fulfilment. The overthrow of capitalism is necessary to secure women's liberation but we must also overthrow the ideology of familism.
  • Mitchell argues that ideas about femininity are so ingrained in women's unconscious minds that they are very difficult to dislodge and even after the overthrow of capitalism, it will be hard to overcome this deepy rooted patriarchal ideology. 
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Dual system feminists

  • Combine Marxist and radical feminism. The two systems are: 1) Capitalism- an economic system, 2) Patriarchy- a sex-gender system.
  • Dual system theorists such as Hartmann see capitalism and patriarchy as two intertwined systems that form a single 'patriarchal capitalism'. 
  • To understand women's subordination, we must look at the relationship between their position in both the domestic division of labour (patriarchy) and in paid work (capitalism) because the two systems reinforce each other. 
  • Walby argues that capitalism and patriarchy are inter-related but that the interests of the two are not always the same. Capitalism demands cheap, exploitable female labour in its workforce, but patriarchy wants to keep women subordinated within its domestic sphere. 
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