Sociology Perspective, Theory and Method
Sociology is study of social structure. Sociologists concentrate on the pattern of behavior of individuals share with others in their group or society. The starting point for sociology is the predictability and recurrence of social behavior. Sociologists are interested in the patterns of social relationships referred to as social structures.
The average person tends explain human behavior in individualistic or personal terms: a young man goes to war to prove his patriotism, woman divorces her husband to develop her potential, a college student commits suicide to escape depression. Sociologists attempt to explain these same events without relying on the personal motivation of individuals.
They look for social rather than personal explanations when they examine war, divorce, or suicide; young men go to war because they were taught by the society to be patriotic. More women divorce because of the social trend toward sexual equality; college students commit suicide because of pervasive societal expectations of academic performance. Sociologists do not speak of a young man, a woman or a college student. They concentrate on categories of people – young men, married women, college students.
As we know college students in a classroom do not behave exactly alike. Some attempt to write down everything professors say, some just listen to the lecture, some use tape recorders and some tune in and out. Yet, if you visit almost any college or university, you will find patterned relationships. Professors lecture, students remain in their seats, professors give examinations, students take them. Although, the individual characteristics of students and professors relate in similar patterned ways, it is the recurrent patterned interaction between people and the social structures created by such interaction that capture the attention of sociologists.
Sociologists assume that social relationships are not solely determined by the particular characteristics of the individuals involved. Emile Durkheim, a pioneering nineteenth century sociologist, argued that we do not attempt to explain bronze in terms of its components parts, but we treat it as an alloy, a unique metal produced by the synthesis of several distinct metals. Even the consistency of bronze is not predictable from its components; bronze is hard, where as lead, copper and tin are soft and malleable. Durkheim resorted that if a combination of certain metals produces a unique metal, some similar process might happen in groups of people.
Indeed, people’s behavior within group setting cannot be predicted from the characteristics of individual group members. Something new is created when individuals come together as a collective. For example, after winning the Super Bowl, some exuberant and rowdy Denver Branco fans tipped over trash cans and cars, spilled newspaper boxes, broke windows in buildings, tore down street signs, and started bonfires – behavior they would not have exhibited as lone individuals.
When the World Trade Organization met in Seattle, many protestors peacefully demonstrated their opposition to its global economic effects, while others broke shop windows and looted stores. In 2005, civil unrest in French cities, involving for the most part French Arab rioters, destroyed more than 1000 vehicles and many buildings. When hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, terror from crime, both real and imagined, delayed evacuation of the dead and injured, causing some police officers to quit and grounded helicopters.
We live in groups ranging in size from a small family to an entire society and they all encourage conformity – often, conformity promoted by social forces that individuals do not create and cannot control. Because of this accommodation, people who belong to similar groups tend to think, feel, and behave in similar ways. American, Russian and Chinese people for instance, have distinctive eating habits, type of dress, religious beliefs and attitudes toward family life. Groups of teenagers tend to listen to the same music, dress alike and follow similar dating customs.
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