Sociology is the scientific study of society and the social behavior of people in groups.
Sociologists study groups and the behavior of people within them. A social movement theorist might look at what would cause normally law-abiding citizens to not be so law-abiding and start to riot.
Another angle of interest to a sociologist may be:
If somebody says to be in the square at this time, how is that information communicated? Are they using Facebook and Twitter or more old fashioned mechanisms? You can imagine, then, that a sociologist is interested in the role of technology, such as social media.
- How are these riots organized?
- Where were they congregating?
- Where are people communicating?
- Where was the actual physical space that is facilitating discussion and then, in a sense, revolution?
In addition to those two angles, a sociologist might also be interested in the power structure of the society and other similar factors that contribute to a revolutionary ethos:
- Who's in power?
- How do they get there?
- How do they use that power?
- How unequal is the society?
Sociology also incorporates systematic study. Do you think sociologists are just going out drinking coffee and generalizing? No, it doesn't work like that.
They use rigorous scientific methods, often in the form of surveys, questionnaires, interviews, and even participant observation. In addition, they can use statistical analysis and a number of regression techniques.
So, what kind of perspective do sociologists bring to their work?
The sociological perspective is defined as seeing the general in the particular. Sociologists are looking for broad, general patterns in the behavior of individuals and particular people.
So, these jobs used to be done in America--and they were primarily done by poorer, blue-collar workers. Now, the capitalists were only trying to be more competitive by outsourcing these jobs.
They didn't set out to decimate the inner-city working class, but it just worked out that way. As the jobs left, poverty and crime became more rampant.
Fast forward to today, these trends have only gotten worse. Now the urban, old manufacturing core that used to give all these people jobs is simply gone.
So what do sociologists really do? They recognize broad, general trends, and see how they work out in the lives of individual people.
EXAMPLEA 10-year-old boy born in a poor neighborhood of South Chicago--a neighborhood that used to be a manufacturing neighborhood that had somewhat stable jobs.
One of the most famous sociologist of all time, C. Wright Mills, called thinking this way using your sociological imagination. When you use your sociological imagination, you're able to see the general (big trends) in the particular (people's lives).
There are four general benefits of the sociological perspective:
EXAMPLEYou may have heard people say that an individual could get ahead if they worked hard and weren't so lazy. Well, a sociologist would come along and say, "wait a second, not everybody's life chances start out the same way." It's not as easy for somebody to pull themselves up by the bootstraps if they're in a disadvantaged position from the start.
Following the final benefit of the sociological perspective is what we call the global perspective. This is a look at an individual society with respect to the larger global system. We look at how an individual society is operating within and with respect to the larger global system. This is increasingly the norm for sociologists, especially in reference to what we discussed earlier about globalization causing jobs to leave America.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Zach Lamb.