Themes in Sociology

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  • Created by: scarlett
  • Created on: 09-01-20 14:08

Study of Society

- study of human society, including its development, functions and organisation
- three 'founding fathers' of sociology - Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber
Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Marx believed that capitalism oppresses the working class, and that there needs to be a revolution to make all people equal

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917)
Durkheim was a functionalist. He believed that society is made up of different institutions, each with its own function - these institutions work in harmony to create a stable society
Max Weber (1864-1920)
Weber belived that sociologists should study both structures and actions to understand society. He thought that and individual's behaviour is shaped by structural factors (such as the law) and subjective factors (such as emotion)

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Culture

- society's way of life
- the culture of a group of people refers to the way they live - their language, beliefs, norms, values, knowledge and skills. it reinforces the sense of community in a society
- norms are behaviours and views that society sees as normal
- values are beliefs and ideas about what is right and wrong
- cultures vary from place to place - e.g. british culture is very different to indian culture
- culture also varies with time, today's culture is very different to the culture of 100 years ago

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Socialisation

- socialisation is the way in which culture is passed on from generation to generation
- it begins in childhood, where you learn how to behave and what to believe, and continues into adult life
- socialisation comes from families, schools, friends, religion, the media and work
- a society's values are internalised by socialisation, so that they become part of your way of thinking

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Identity

- there are different levels to identity:
- the most basic level of your identity is made up of simple facts e.g. your name, age, appearance etc.
- on a deeper level, your identity is the way you see yourself, and the way you are viewed by others. this is called your social identity. it's influenced by things like class, ethnicity, gender, age and sexuality, and also by your roles in society e.g. teacher, friend, cousin etc. 

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Globalisation

- globalisation is the idea that the world is becoming more connected
- improved technology and communiction, an increased in transnational corporations (TNCs) and more migration have all meant that national boundaries are breaking down
- globalisation affects many different areas of sociology - e.g. some sociologists say that culture is now globalised

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Social Differentiation

- the way society is divided up
- any society can be divided up into different groups 
- the groups can be based on biological features (e.g. age, sex), cultural features (e.g. class, religion) or more personal characteristics, like abilities

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Stratification

- also splits society into different groups, but the groups are ordered in layers, with a define hierarchy
- the groups can be based on things like status, income, religion, ethnicity, gender and age, but are usually based on social class (especially in Western societies)
- the top layer is made up of the richest and most powerful people, and the bottom layer is the poorest people who have the least power
- in between, there are many different layers, known as strata

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Power and Wealth

- power can be seen as the ability to get someone to do something that they wouldn't normally do
- a lot of sociology focuses on the balance (or imbalance) of power in society
- a person usually has power because of their wealth, job or social class, but could also have it because of their gender or religion, for example
- some sociologists argue that people who have power use it to contol society so that they can remain in power (e.g. by oppressing those with less power)

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Sociological Methods and Theories Overview

- sociologists do research to try to find explanations for how society works and why it changes
- they can use different research methods for this, including interviews, questionnaires, observations, documents, government statistics and experiments
- once the data has been collected, it needs to be analysed and interpreted
- sociologists look for patterns and correlations, and use these to draw conclusions
- sometimes, sociologists carry out research that related to the main theories of sociology
- the main theories are Marxism, functionalism and interactionism (also called interpretivism), as well as feminism and postmodernism
- there are also subcategories, such as neo-Marxism and radical feminism

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Functionalsim

- Emile Durkheim believed that society is made up of various institutions, each of which has a useful function
- they look at how society is structured (functionalism = structural theory)
- functionalists look at how insitutions in society work, and how they affect individuals
- the family - function of socialising children
- education - function of preparing young people for adult society
- religion - function of uniting society through shared beliefs
- functionalists believe that the institutions of society are structured to allow society to run as smoothly as possible
- functionalism is a type of consensus structuralism because it states that society is structured to function harmoniously
- interactionists (also called interpretivists) think that functionalists don't focus enough on the individual
- Marxists say functionalism ignores the unequal power of some groups. they think that society is structured to serve the interests of the rich, not to keep society ticking along as smoothly as possible

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Marxism

- focused on the effects of capitalism
- Marx thought that a society's economic system (the infrastructure) influenced its non-economic institutions (the superstructure), and that the superstructive, in turn, determined the society's beliefs and values
- marxists believe that the most important force in society is class conflict
- marxism is a type of conflict structuralism because it states that there is conflict between the two main classes of society
- in capitalist societies, workers are employed to produce goods which are sold by their employers at a profit
- only a bit of this money ends up in the workers' wages as most of it is kept by the employer
- marx said that if workers were allowed to notice the unfairness of this, they'd revolt. so, to avoid revolution, the capitalist system shapes the superstructure to make sure that the workers accept their lot in life
- institutions like the family, education and religion are part of the superstructure. they lead individuals into accepting the inequalities of capitalism
- Marx believed that society was divided into two classes:
- bourgeoisie - ruling class, minority with all the money and power
- proletariat - working class, majority of society but have little or no power

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Neo-Marxism and Disagreements of Marxism

- Neo-Marxism is a 20th century version of Marxism, developed to be more relevant to the modern world
- Neo-Marxists focus on ideology (a set of ideas and beliefs about how things should be)
- they study how this ideology is communicated and enforced by the ruling class to maintain its power

- Functionalists say Marx put too much emphasis on the role of economic structures in shaping ideas and beliefs
- Interactionsists say he put too much emphasis on class and not enough on individuals
- Postmodernists say social class doesn't have such an important influence on individual identity any more - they say poeple are defined by the choices they make, not by whether they're a worker or a boss

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Feminists

- believe society is patriarchal and that things are done in men's best interests
- many inequalities in society based on gender, and want to make society more balanced
- structuralist thoery
- liberal feminism - want equal rights and opportunities for women. they believe that introducing opportunities for women into the existing structures of society is the best way to try to bring about equality
- radical feminism - radical feminists believe that society is structured to oppress women, and that society itself needs to change. they believe there's an imbalance of power in all relationships, and that all women are always expected to be subservient to all men
- marxist feminism - marxist feminists combine the beliefs of Marxism and feminism - they belive that women are exploited by capitalist societies (which are run by men)
- radical feminists criticise liberal feminists for not acknowledging that it's more than just institutions that are patriarchal, it's all relationships. For example, families have a male-dominated structure too

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Interactionists

- action theories: theories that say that society is determined by the behaviour and interaction of individuals, emphasise the action of individuals
- interactionist theories start with the idea that all individuals interpret society around them; people try to make sense of society
- interactionists say that culture comes from people's own ideas of how people interact with each other
- interactionists suggest that each of us responds to social structures in our own way
- they say we arent just products of socialisation and that we all have free will and make choices
- the results of individual choice can have large-scale social change
- for example, Johnathon Gershuny (1992) made an interactionist analysis of gender roles in the home:
- some women decided they wanted to work outside the home (individual choice)
- male partners then took on more childcare and housework. it became acceptable for men to adopt roles in the family that had been considered feminie (large-scale social change)
- marxists say interactionists don't pay enough attention to conflict or to the fact that some social groups are more powerful than others
- functionalists say they don't acknowledge the importance of the socialisation process

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Main Points of Functionalism, Marxism, Feminism an

Functionalism
- society is made up of different institutions that function together as a whole
Marxism
- society is split up into two classes
- the ruling class oppress and exploit the working class
Feminism
- society is patriarchal and women have fewer rights and opportunities than men
Interactionism
- the behaviour of and interaction between individuals determine how society works

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New Right

- form of consensus structuralism
- believe society needs values and institutions to maintain social order
- focus on subjects such as family, education and welfare
- argue that a nuclear family is one of the most important social institutions
- argue that traditional roles within the nuclear family (the man goes out to work and the woman stays at home) are crucial to maintain social order
- new right sociologists such as Charles Murray say that the traditional family is under threat, which has lead to a decline in moral standards and the breakdown of society
- most other sociologists would disagree with NR sociologists
- feminists criticise the New Right's ideas of traditional roles within the family, which they see as being oppressive to women and reinforcing a patriarchal society

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Modernism and Postmodernists

- postmodernism came about as a reaction to modernism
- modernism is the period of industrialisation and urbanisation that began with the Industrial Revolution, when rational, scientific thinking was valued
- modernist theories include marxism and functionalism
- modernist theoires are also known as 'metanarratives' (big, all-encompassing stories that explain why things are as they are)
- postmodernists say that society has moved on from modernism - it's no longer ordered and structured in the same way
- society is a lot more flexible, and there's more choice of cultures and lifestyles due to increased globalisation
- they claim that metanarratives are no longer appropriate - there are many different ways of understanding society, rather than one universal truth or theory
- functionalists disagree with postmodernists becuase postmodernism ignore the role of institutions
- interactionists disagree becuase it ignores how individuals react
- marxists disagree becuase postmodernism ignores inequalities

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