Study Questions: Chapter 2
1. What elements characterize sociological theory according to George Ritzer? Is there anything problematic about his definition? If so, what?
Answer: American sociologist George Ritzer identified three criteria that can be used to identify a sociological theory. These are that the theory must (1) have a wide range of applicability, (2) deal with centrally important social issues, and (3) have stood the test of time. However, this definition of sociological theory is problematic because not all sociologists agree about which issues are “centrally important” and which are not. Further, many new theories have not yet had the opportunity to “stand the test of time,” but this doesn’t mean they are not sociological theories (e.g., queer theory). (pp. 27–28)
2. What is the significance of Michel Foucault’s The Archaeology of Knowledge?
Answer: In The Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault wrote about the importance of discovering how individual discourses developed as a way of examining their strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. He called this process of discovery an archaeology of knowledge. The sociologist must dig through the layers of presentation of information considered to be factual (a discourse) in order to discover how the supposed fact or truth was established or constructed. (p. 39)
3. What is standpoint theory?
Answer: Dorothy Smith, a Canadian sociologist, developed standpoint theory directly out of her own experience as a woman discriminated against by male colleagues in the academic community. Her standpoint theory challenged traditional sociology on two fronts, both relating to sociology’s preference for objective (depersonalized and distanced from everyday life) as opposed to subjective (personalized and connected to everyday life) research and analysis. Her first criticism attacked the traditional position that the objective approach to research is more scientific and therefore truthful, while the subjective position is ideological, based on biases and prejudices, and therefore distorted. According to Smith, knowledge is developed from a particular lived position, or “standpoint.” Sociology, having developed from a male standpoint, had long denied the validity of the female standpoint and overlooked the everyday lives of women—an oversight that feminist researchers today are still working to correct. (pp. 37–38)
4. How does Erving Goffman’s sociology reflect Max Weber’s ideas about sociology?
Answer: Max Weber’s unique approach to sociology was that people interpret the meanings of things around them from their own subjectivity and then act based on their subjective interpretations. The goal of understanding people’s subjective interpretations was placed above the goal of discovering any objective “truths.” Erving Goffman followed Weber’s example in his own sociology by being interested in how people interpret their particular realities subjectively. This can be seen, for example, in his work with patients in a psychiatric hospital. He was interested in how the patients felt and how they viewed the world. Goffman differs from Weber in that he denied that objectivity and neutrality had any place in his sociology whereas Weber believed he had a method (verstehen) of researching subjectivity that was objective in its process. (pp. 33–37)
5. What is intersectionality theory and how has it advanced feminist theory?
Answer: Intersectionality theory is a feminist theory that was developed, first by Kimberlé Crenshaw and later by Patricia Hill Collins, out of the critique of mainstream feminist theory as being “white-centred.” Early feminist theory was seen as promoting the idea that all women’s experiences were the same. Black women, such as Crenshaw and Collins, proposed that while gender expression exists and is shared by all women, there are other, additional factors (such as “race”) that come together in an interlocking matrix of oppression that makes the oppression experienced by non-white women even more powerful and significant. Intersectionality theory advances feminist theory as it provides a tool to examine the specific, and perhaps deeper, oppressions that are experienced by non-white women, poor women, women with disabilities, and lesbians. (pp. 40–41)