Sociology is the systematic study of human society and social interaction. It is a systematic study because sociologists apply both theoretical perspectives and research methods (or orderly approaches) to examinations of social behavior. Sociologists study human societies and their social interactions in order to develop theories of how human behavior is shaped by group life and how, in turn, group life is affected by individuals.
Sociology helps us gain a better understanding of ourselves and our social world. It enables us to see how behavior is largely shaped by the groups to which we belong and the society in which we live. A society is a large social grouping that shares the same geographical territory and is subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations, such as the United States, Mexico, or Nigeria. Examining the world order helps us understand that each of us is affected by global interdependence — a relationship in which the lives of all people are intertwined closely and any one nation's problems are part of a larger global problem. Environmental problems are an example: People throughout the world share the same biosphere — the zone of the earth's surface and atmosphere that sustains life. When environmental degradation, such as removing natural resources or polluting the air and water, takes place in one region, it may have an adverse effect on people around the globe.
Individuals can make use of sociology on a more personal level. Sociology enables us to move beyond established ways of thinking, thus allowing us to gain new insights into ourselves and to develop a greater awareness of the connection between our own "world" and that of other people. According to sociologist Peter
Berger, sociological inquiry helps us see that "things are not what they seem." Sociology provides new ways of approaching problems and making decisions in everyday life. For this reason, people with a knowledge of sociology are employed in a variety of fields that apply sociological insights to everyday life.
Sociology promotes understanding and tolerance by enabling each of us to look beyond intuition, common sense, or our personal experiences. Many of us rely on intuition or common sense gained from personal experience to help us understand our daily lives and other people's behavior. Commonsense knowledge guides our ordinary conduct in everyday life. However, many common-sense notions are actually myths. A myth is a popular but false notion that may be used, either intentionally or unintentionally, to perpetuate certain beliefs or "theories" even in the light of conclusive evidence to the contrary.
By contrast, sociologists strive to use scientific standards, not popular myths or hearsay, in studying society and social interaction. They use systematic research techniques and are accountable to the scientific community for their methods and the presentation of their findings. Whereas some sociologists argue that sociol6gy must be completely value free — free from distorting subjective (personal or emotional) bias — others do not think that total objectivity is an attainable or desirable goal when studying human behavior. However, all sociologists attempt to discover patterns or commonalities in human behavior. When they study suicide, for example, they look for recurring patterns of behavior even though individual people usually commit the acts and other individuals suffer as a result of these actions.
Consequently, sociologists seek out the multiple causes and effects of suicide or other social issues. They analyze the impact of the problem not only from the standpoint of the people directly involved but also from the standpoint of the effects of such behavior on all people.
Sociologist C. Wright Mills described sociological reasoning as the sociological imagination — the ability to see the relationship between individual experiences and the larger society. This awareness makes us able to understand the link between our personal experiences and the social contexts in which they occur. The sociological imagination helps us distinguish between personal troubles and social (or public) issues. Personal troubles are private problems of individuals and the networks of people with whom they associate regularly. As a result, those problems must be solved by individuals within their immediate social settings. For example, one person being unemployed may be a personal trouble. Public issues are matters beyond an individual's own control that are caused by problems at the societal level. Widespread unemployment as a result of economic changes such as plant closings is an example of a public issue. The sociological imagination helps us place seemingly personal troubles, such as losing one's job or feeling like committing suicide, into a larger social context, where we can distinguish whether and how personal troubles may be related to public issues.
Speaking of the importance of a global sociological imagination we should mention that although existing sociological theory and research provide the foundation for sociological thinking, we must reach beyond past studies that have focused primarily on the United States to develop a more comprehensive global approach for the future. In the twenty-first century, we face important challenges in a rapidly changing nation and world. The world's high-income countries (sometimes referred to as industrial countries) are nations with highly industrialized economies; technologically advanced industrial, administrative, and service occupations; and relatively high levels of national and personal income. Examples include the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the countries of Western Europe. As compared with other nations of the world, many high-income nations have a high standard of living and a lower death rate due to advances in nutrition and medical technology. In contrast, middle income countries (sometimes referred to as developing countries) are nations with industrializing economies and moderate levels of national and personal income. Example of middle-income countries include the nations of Eastern Europe and many Latin American countries, where nations such as Brazil and Mexico are industrializing rapidly, how-income countries (sometimes referred to as underdeveloped countries) are nations with little industrialization and low levels of national and personal income. Examples of low-income countries include many of the nations of Africa and Asia, particularly the People's Republic of China and India, where people typically work the land and are among the poorest in the world. However, generalizations are difficult to make because there are wide differences in income and standards of living within some nations.
In forming your own global sociological imagination and in seeing the possibilities for sociology in the twenty-first century, it will be helpful to understand the development of the discipline, beginning about 150 years ago. Next lecture will be dedicated to this point.
To learn to think "sociologically" means to have a wide view of the surrounding world, it also means to develop your imagination. As sociologists we have to imagine ourselves hove people feel about some certain experience. Sociological studies cannot be a routine process of acquiring knowledge. Sociologist is the one who is able to break narrow stiffening borders of personal circumstances and is able to put certain facts in a wide context. The work of sociologist depends on the thing that was called "sociological imagination" by American sociologist C. Wright Mills.
Sociological imagination first of all demands to believe yourself to be out of the flow of personal everyday life with the aim to look at it in a new way. Sociological imagination enables us to see many things that at first sight refer only an individual but in fact reflect more general and important problems.
2. Subject of sociology.
Before reading the following definition of sociology try to remember whether you have ever met this term before. What life situations were related to this term? Results of different polls, rating of political leaders, messages from parliament social services and independent sociological centers - these and many other spheres of applying of the term "sociology" give us slight idea of the science that studies a real life of society, i.e. social world, social reality. As we meet these notions we imagine to some extend that social world and social reality are phenomena that can be seen, understood and learned. Social reality is created in the process of social interaction of subjects; it is a result of their consciousness and vital activity in certain restricted territory and time (historical) space. It can be traced in humans' behavior, in the character of their value orientations, in forms of life organization, in their role behavior. Social reality has subjective and objective indices, for instance labor division, national and demographic communities.
As far as levels of interaction can be rather different, levels of social reality and social life will also differ. We can speak of social world of person, group, society, world society. Very often the difference between these social worlds can be rather striking. For instance there can be poor people in an economically successful society or people with a very low cultural level in high cultured society.
Culture, as a system of values, social life norms, behavior patterns, language, character of communications, traditions and cults, material culture, etc., can serve as a generalized index of social reality.
The study of social life is cognition of the world that we live in. This moves us to the idea that a person plays the most important role in the world creation in which he wants to live and which will be inherited by his ancestors. If we want to leave this world to our children we should study it constantly and remove the obstacles that harness its progress. Sociology fulfills this function to great extend.
The word "sociology" originates from Latin word "societas", meaning society, and a Greek word "logos", meaning word, doctrine, teaching. Sociology in the widest meaning of the word is a science about laws of formation, functioning and development of society in general, social relationships and social communities. Sociology can also be defined as a scientific study of society and social relationships. As any other science sociology has its object and subject of study. Object comprises definite part of reality that is studied by sociology and subject is an aspect, position, side from which the object is viewed.
Object of sociology is a social reality, i.e. life of society. Subject of sociology comprises peculiarities, sides, relationships and processes of given reality or social life. What is the procedure of defining the fragments of social reality that are to be taken as an object of social research? How is the subject of investigation defined? A problematic situation in the society is the orientation for such choice. Here we have to investigate the character of contradiction, conditions that caused it to find way out of the difficult situation. A problematic situation creates subject of sociological investigation and localization of problematic situation serves as a basis for distinguishing of the object of sociological investigation.
As far as problematic situations can bear different character, universal (for all the society, mankind), private (for a large social group, for instance the youth, women, etc.) or unitary (for collective body of an enterprise) we distinguish several levels that form structure of sociological system of knowledge. It can be presented like this:
First level: General sociological theory.
Second level: Special sociological theories: 1. Theories that study separate communities: (a) sociology of a city, (b) sociology of a village, (c) ethnosociology, etc.
2. Theories that study vital activity of communities in separate spheres: (a) sociology of labor, (b) economical sociology, (c) sociology of education, etc.
3. Theories that study separate elements of society: (a) sociology of activity, (b) sociology of organization, (c) sociology of social control, etc.
Third level: Theory, methodology and technique of concrete-sociological (empirical) investigations.