Study Questions: Chapter 1
1. Discuss the definition of sociology and the usefulness of defining the discipline. Use examples to illustrate your points.
Answer: Sociology is broadly defined as “the social science that studies the development, structure, and functioning of human society.” But giving a precise, all-encompassing explanation of what sociology is proves more difficult (and probably less useful) than explaining what sociology does. Sociology involves looking for and looking at patterns in social variables, such as age, gender, “race,” ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation; in social institutions, such as education, religion, and the family; and in social interactions. (pp. 7–8)
2. Briefly contrast the major sociological contributions of Karl Marx and Max Weber that are presented in the text.
Answer: For Karl Marx, conflict was all about class: the division of society into a hierarchy of groups, with each group’s position determined by its role in the production of wealth. Marx saw class conflict as the driving force behind all major socio-historical change. One of Max Weber’s most important and well-known contributions to sociology was his identification of a set of values embodied in early Protestantism that he believed led to the development of modern capitalism. He called this set of values the Protestant (work) ethic. (pp. 11 and 16)
3. Explain what the symbolic interactionist approach is and how it differs from the conflict and structural functionalist approaches.
Answer: The symbolic interactionist approach looks at the meaning (the symbolic part) of the daily social interaction of individuals. The conflict approach is predicated on the idea that conflict exists in all large societies, and the structural-functionalist approach attempts to explain social forms and their contributions to social cohesion. (pp. 13–17)
4. Distinguish between professional, critical, policy, and public sociology.
Answer: Professional sociology has as its audience the academic world of sociology departments, scholarly journals, professional associations, and conferences. Critical sociology makes sure that professional sociologists do not lose sight of important social issues by focusing on statistics while overlooking the individuals behind them. Policy sociology is about generating sociological data for governments and large corporations, to be used in developing laws, rules, and long- and short-term plans. And finally, public sociology addresses an audience outside of the academy. (pp. 22–24)
5. Who was Carl Addington Dawson (1887–1964)?
Answer: Carl Addington Dawson was the first professional, institutionalized sociologist in Canada. His work reflected two elements of early Canadian sociology: the social gospel movement and hands-on social work. The social gospel movement developed as an attempt by people trained for the ministry to apply Christian principles of human welfare to the treatment of social, medical, and psychological ills brought on by industrialization and unregulated capitalism in Canada. (pp. 24–25)
6. 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. (p. 20)
7. What is the significance of John Porter’s work?
Answer: John Porter coined the term “vertical mosaic” to describe the situation he observed in Canadian society, in which systemic discrimination produces a hierarchy of racial, ethnic, and religious groups. To stay within the metaphor of the mosaic, we can say that Porter’s study found that the different tiles were stacked and not placed evenly. (p. 27)
8. Describe what the sociological imagination is and apply it to the issue of unemployment.
Answer: C. Wright Mills calls the sociological imagination “the capacity to shift from one perspective to another—from the political to the psychological; from examination of a single family to comparative assessment of the national budgets of the world … It is the capacity to range from the most impersonal and remote transformations to the most intimate features of the human self—and to see the relationship between the two.” If we apply the sociological imagination to unemployment, then the latter idea suddenly assumes the quality of a large scale problem that exists at the intersection of economics, politics etc. (pp. 8–10)
9. Discuss, briefly, the significance of Foucault’s Archeology 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. 21)