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Questions on Sociological Approach

What is Sociology?

Sociology is the that studies society and human behavior.

What is special about the way sociologists approach topics?

The subject matter of sociology is quite often invisible or not directly observable. However sociologists can observe the consequences of such social characteristics as group pressure, authority, prestige and culture. They then form images of these concepts using what C Wright Mills has called the sociological imagination taking into account the influence in order to view their own society as an outsider might.

What sort of questions do sociologists address?

Sociologists want to understand:
(a) what goes on in and between groups of people ;
(b) what are the social differences we observe;
(c) what is happening in social institutions;
(d) why and how social change is occurring.

What are theories, concepts and propositions and how are they used?

A sociological issue as a question we seek to answer with a theory or general explanation of a social phenomenon. A concept is a category of behaviour, events or characteristics that are considered similar for the sake of theory construction. A proposition is a statement that explains one concept by means of another. If we seek to discover why racial groups sometimes live in harmony and sometimes so not, we may use the concept of racial harmony to describe the differing ways of relating. The behavior is defined as indicating harmony exists. We would then state our theory in propositions for example different racial groups will live in harmony in situations where enough work exists for all groups to earn a decent living.

How did the discipline of sociology develop?

Sociology developed in the midst of the social and intellectual upheaval surrounding the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. Three branches of sociology grew from roots in three interest groups: social activists a new breed of scientists dedicated to applying the scientific approach to society and philosophers interested in humanity's social nature.

What is the place of Marx, Comte, Spencer, Durkheim, Mead and Weber in the development of sociology?

Karl Marx was the first major proponent of the conflict perspective. He believed that inequality between classes causes conflict between groups of people and that society must change in order to fulfill the needs of all the people.Auguste Comte was the French scientist who gave sociology its name and promoted the scientific study of society. Herbert Spencer extended his work developing the idea that society was an organic whole that could be studied much like the human body- the beginnings of structural-functionalism.Emile Durkheim also promoted sociology as a science and strucutural -functionalism as a perspective with his emphasis on social facts explaining other social facts -for example in his classic study ,Suicide. George Herbert Mead focused on how we use symbols, including language and how our use of symbols influences our social dev elopement and social life.Max Weber's analysis of the major dynamics of society and social change provides the foundations for much of the sociological theory and research of our time. His study 'The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism' was an important study of the roots of the industrial Revolution which was sweeping the world in his day.

What are the basic concepts of structural - functionalism, the conflict approach and symbolic Interactionism?

Structural-functionalism assumes that order is dominant in society and that social arrangements arise and persist because they serve society and its members well. The conflict approach assumes the dominant process in society is conflict and that society divides into two groups the masses and small elite who exploit them. The symbolic - interaction perspective assumes that the important action in society takes place around the use of symbols that channel our thoughts and thereby define what is socially comprehensible and incomprehensible. Practitioners of this approach often focus on interaction among individuals in contrast to the other perspective which tend to look more at social institutions.

What are the contributions of Mills, Collins, Parsons, Davis, Thomas and Goffman to the development of these theories?

C Wright Mills effectively promoted a general conflict perspective in the US focusing on social class differences and introducing the concept of power elite, a tiny minority of government, military and business figures believed to control the US. Randal Collins is one of the most articulate voices today from that perspective and he developed a formal theory of conflict applicable to all levels o society, especially analyzing the inequalities in the American educational system.Talcott Parsons extended Durkheim's tradition into the 20th century developing the idea that society could be viewed as a system that must adapt to changes in its environment, pursue its goals, integrate itself with other systems and maintain order within itself much like a biological organism.Kingsley Davis is a major contemporary proponent of this structural-functionalism perspective and he analyses wealth and poverty from this viewpoint.W.I.Thomas extended Mead's ideas, theorizing that people define or construct their own social reality and that their definitions become real because they are real in their consequences.Erving Goffman has served as a major contemporary spokesperson for the symbolic interaction perspective and he describes how people present themselves in everyday life in order to manage the impression they give to others.

What is the scientific method and how can it be applied to the study of sociology?

The scientific method involves eight basic steps:
a) Observation of an event that stimulates thinking.
b) Defining or classifying the terms or events being considered.
c) Formulating the research issue or hypothesis.
d) Generating a theory or proposition - a general statement that serves as a potential answer to the research question.
e) Creating a research design in order to test whether the theory or proposition is valid.
f) Collecting data-working through the research design to make observations.
g) Analyzing the data
h) Making conclusions and evaluating the theory.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the survey method, analysis of existing sources, observational study and experimental research in the study of sociology?

A survey is a research method in which a representative sample of a population is asked to respond to questions. In principle every member of the population has an equal chance of being selected so the survey should give an accurate representation of the views of a population. However people may try to answer questions as they think the survey interviewer wants them to biasing the results of the research. Analysis of existing sources is a research technique in which the researcher uses existing documents that were created for some other purpose. This research generally costs much less than the survey allows access to otherwise unavailable subjects and to date over long periods of time and involves data that is not influenced by the interviewer. Documents used however may be biased toward their original purpose and thus distort the true picture the researcher is trying to find. In an observational study the researcher actually witness social behavior in its natural setting either as a participant or an unobtrusive observer. The advantage of this study is that research is accomplished by directly observing subjects' behavior thus permitting access to nonverbal a well as verbal behaviour.Obervation also allows for study over a time rather than at one point. An experiment is a research design in which the researcher exposes a group of subjects to a treatment and observes its effect usually in comparison to a similar control group that did not receive the treatment. Experiments can demonstrate clearly that a variable has a particular effect on the subject group because the researcher retains maximum control over the circumstances of the research. However experiments are very expensive. Sometimes an aspect of the experiment other than the treatment is the real cause of the experiment's outcome but this goes unnoticed and the artificiality of many experimental settings makes generalizing to natural settings risky.

What are some of the challenges and ethical issues in the study of sociology?

Sociology faces the challenge of working with human beings and their social groupings because people have rights that limit what we can do with them while we are studying them. Sociological subjects can give us important information but their information can be distorted. Sociologists must decide whether their own views will influence their research and theory development, either believing that knowledge is neutral or that value neutrality is either naïve or a rationalization for the fact that one is working for the elite because most sociological research is funded by and disproportionately available to powerful elites.
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