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Социология Text I. WHAT IS SOCIOLOGY?
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Learning Objectives

Looking Ahead

Unit one presents sociology as a field of study, introduces the sociological perspective and its main goals, defines the sociological imagination. It compares sociology with other social sciences, outlines the fundamentals of the sociological theory and its levels of analysis and finally discusses the origins and founders of sociology.

After studying this unit, you should be able to answer the following questions:

1. What are sociology and sociological perspective?

2. How does the sociological imagination, as a unique feature of sociology, make sociology different from the other social sciences?

3. Why is sociology more than a collection of commonsense observations?

4. Why do sociologists regard suicide as a social as well as an individual act?

5. What social scientists greatly contributed to the development of sociological thought?

6. How are sociological theories classified and what levels of analysis are employed in studying human behavior?

The sociologist has a distinctive way of examining human interactions. Sociology is the systematic study of social behavior and human groups. It focuses primarily on the influence of social relationships upon people's attitudes and behavior and on how societies are established and change. As a field of study, sociology has an extremely broad scope and it deals with families, gangs, business firms, political parties, schools, religions, labor unions, etc. It is concerned with love, poverty, conformity, discrimination, illness, alienation, overpopulation and community.

The Sociological Perspective. In human society, newspapers, television and radio are the usual sources of information about such groups and problems. However, while the basic function of journalists is to report the news, sociologists bring a different type of understanding to such issues. The perspective of sociology involves seeing through the outside appearances of people's actions and organizations.

One major goal of this perspective is to identify patterns of and influences on social behavior. For example, sociologists study the passionate desire of movie or rock fans to see in person, to talk with, even to grab the clothing of a star. Why do people feel this need so powerfully?

The sociological perspective attempts to provide explanations for such patterns. Sociologists are not content to just recognize that millions of people want to meet stars, rather they examine the shared feelings and behavior of fans within the larger social context of human culture.

The Sociological Imagination. In attempting to understand social behavior, sociologists rely on unusual type of creative thinking, sociological imagination, i.e.an awareness of the relationship between an individual and the society. Thus instead of simply accepting the fact that movie stars and rock stars are the «royalty» of human society, we could ask, in a more critical sense, why we are not as interested in meeting outstanding scientists, or elementary school teachers, or architects. Sociological imagination can bring new understanding to daily life around us.

Sociology and Social Sciences. Theterm science refers to the body of knowledge obtained by methods based upon systematic observations. The sciences are commonly divided into natural and social sciences. Natural scienceis the study of the physical features of nature and the ways in which they interact and change. Astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology and physics are all natural sciences.Social science is the study of various aspects of human society. The social sciences include sociology, anthropology, economics, history, psychology and political sciences.

These academic disciplines have a common focus on the social behavior of people, yet each has a particular orientation in studying such behavior. Anthropologists usually study cultures of the past and preindustrial societies that remain in existence today. Economists explore the ways in which people produce and exchange goods and services. Historians are concerned with the peoples and events of the past and their significance for us today. Political scientists study international relations, the workings of government and the exercise of power and authority. Psychologists investigate personality and individual behavior. In contrast to other social sciences, sociology emphasizes the influence that society has on people's attitudes and behavior. Humans are social animals; therefore, sociologists scientifically examine our social relationships with other people.

To better illustrate the distinctive perspectives of the social sciences, let us examine sociological and psychological approaches to the issue of gambling. Viewed from the perspective of psychology, gambling represents an escape into a fantasy world where great fortune can be attained easily. By contrast, sociologists focus on the social networks that develop among many gamblers. Participants in gambling establish friendship groups. For such persons gambling is aform of recreation and may even be their primary social activity. This example shows that by viewing social phenomena from several perspectives, we can enhance our understanding of human behavior.

Sociology and Common Sense. Human behavior ia something about which we all have experience and at least a bit of knowledge from a source of wisdom, which is called common sense. In our daily life, we rely on common sense to get us through many unfamiliar situations. Unfortunately, this source of knowledge is not always reliable. For example, it was once considered «common sense» to accept that the earth is flat.

Like other social scientists sociologists do not accept something as a fact because «everyone knows it». Instead, each piece of information must be tested and analyzed in relationship to other data. At times the findings cf sociologists may seem like common sense. Yet, it is important to stress that such findings have been tested by researchers.