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by Phil Bartle, PhD

Training Handout

Much of Sociology is looking at things about which we already know something, but in a different way

Sociology usually looks at events and situations of every day life.

It interprets them through the sociological perspective (way of looking at them).

This is because they are as much a part of the observer’s interpretation as they are something intrinsic in themselves.

While the way we are brought up gives us at least one lens to see them, sociology gives us another lens through which to see them.

Furthermore, sociology gives us several perspectives through which to observe those every day events and conditions.

Unlike how we usually see things and are taught to see things, which tend to be prescriptive (how we should do things or judge things), sociology teaches us to look at them in a scientific (descriptive) and non judgmental way.

There are many examples of how we see things differently in sociology than in our everyday life.

  • Society is not people, for example, because people are biological organisms who pass their characteristics on through genes, while society is cultural, being sets or systems of behaviour and beliefs (actions and understandings) that are passed along via symbols. Society is "carried" by people.
  • Technology is as much a part of culture as is ballet or symphony.  It is transmitted by symbols rather than by genes.
  • The same situation can be viewed in radically different ways, even within sociology, such as the conflict approach, which sees competition and dynamics, versus functional, which sees stability and seeks purpose.
  • Sociology is like all scientific disciplines which have models that differ from everyday understanding, such as the sun rising in the morning,* or models of atoms.
  • In almost every class in this course we looked at differences between every day common sense assumptions and scientific observations.
  • The idea of a model, orthodox, monolithic or "natural" family is a myth.  No society has a practice that isn’t full of variation.
  • To be human is to be biased, because learning a language means making assumptions and categorizing a wide variation in senses into boxes (eg words).
  • External social forces are as important as internal processes (including psychological) in the internal dynamics of every family.
  • To be objective and scientific, we need to be descriptive rather than prescriptive.
  • To be objective about culture would require knowing and experiencing the absence of culture. We would be strange fish, out of water, if we did so.  Experiencing a different culture would give us binocular vision about culture, but not genuine objectivity. We cannot escape culture to look at it.
  • A member of any culture is likely to be the least objective about it.  To say that only xxxs are qualified to teach about xxx culture is essentially racist.
  • To be human is to have culture and to be social, but that does not guarantee that we understand culture or society.
  • We learn that our characteristics, which we might have thought were "in our blood," are passed on to us as we are socialized, ie by symbols.
  • Facts do not speak for themselves; meanings are not intrinsic, but are imposed on us as we observe what we call facts.
  • There is a resistance to learning to see things through a sociological perspective, because we think we know them already, and it is more difficult to unlearn something we already know than to learn aomething we accept that we do not already know.

Footnote: There is a difference between rotate and revolve.  It is the earth rotating on its own axis that provides us with the illusion that the sun comes up every morning.  The earth revolving around the sun does not produce sunup; it produces seasons of the year (combined with the 23o angle of the earth).

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Last update: 2012.06.28

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