There are four different levels of sociological analysis, including meso. The micro level focuses on "the social dynamics of intimate, face-to-face interactions" (Little et al., p. 4), the macro level focuses on "large-scale, society-wide social interactions" (Little et al., 4) and the global level is higher still, looking at more universal sociological themes. The same event can be viewed through these different lenses, because many sociological interactions will occur at both micro and macro levels, and there are often global elements to such interactions as well.
For instance, the book discusses the 2011 Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver. On an individual level, the event can be studied in terms of what drove any individual person to join the riot, in particular what factors might contribute to somebody who would not normally break the law to join the riot. A more macro-level analysis might wish to examine what in the culture of Vancouver, or BC, would lead to such events, given that a similar riot occurred in 1994. Or conversely, what about the way Western societies experience sport would contribute to antisocial behaviour, given things like the Rocket Richard riot in Montreal in 1955, or football hooliganism in Europe.
The global perspective would take an even wider view, perhaps examining the riot through the lens of how societies interpret the concepts of law and order, in particular where it comes to structuring and break rules governing such concepts. That study would be the widest possible view and would draw on a lot of ideas, not just riots or other singular events.
2. Durkheim viewed suicide through a sociological lens. Thus, he studied suicide rates in order to determine the extent to which there was a social context to suicide. He found that rates of suicide differed among different regions and different religions, and that those rates remained fairly stable over time. This, he concluded, meant that there was a social dimension to suicide. It is from this observation that the conclusion was made that suicide was not simply an individual act, to be taken in isolation from the society surrounding it.
He argued instead that the differences in suicide rates can be explained in the degree of integration that could be found in different religious communities. Groups that had higher anomie were more likely to have higher suicide rates. Thus, where there were fewer social norms, in particular norms governing suicide, there was more likelihood of there being suicide. Social norms thus dictate behaviour, was the essential conclusion of his study about suicide.
He did not seek to explain the individual conditions of suicide, but rather looked at it from a macro-level, to determine if differences in suicide rates could be explained by differences in societies. So this was the basis of his work on suicide, taking a sociological view. He had to imbue this work with assumptions about the different religions and communities, and still only drew from a relatively small sample of Western cultures, but nevertheless his studies on suicide illustrated how a sociological approach could be used to understand even the most individual of actions.
1. Scientific thinking differs from non-scientific thinking in a few key ways. First, scientific thinking is based on the scientific method, which revolves around the gathering and processing of evidence. Scientific thinking questions its assumptions, and its conclusions, and seeks to prove as much as possible. Non-scientific thinking is not nearly as evidence-based, even when it purports to be. Assumptions and conclusions are not challenged with the same dogmatic rigour, and the result is that non-scientific thinking is not as strong as scientific thinking.
This can be applied to sociology, and Durkheim is a good place to begin this analysis. In Durkheim's suicide study, he took facts regarding suicide, and from those facts it is possible to derive a number of hypotheses. But his study was not strictly based on facts, because he had to make certain assumptions about the characteristics of other cultures, in particular the degree of anomie that exists within given religious groups. A lot of his assumptions on that regard could have been based on personal observation but would also have contained a lot of bias, in particular those groups to which he did not personally belong. A scientific approach would use only the facts -- drawing conclusions about suicide rates and their correlations with specific religious groups. The assumptions about anomie in those religious groups are not representative of scientific thinking, however, but yet they were the basis on which Durkheim's conclusions rested. So he was using a combination of scientific and non-scientific thinking.
Sociology today still blends the two. There is a case to be made that the rigour afforded by scientific thinking is necessary in sociology. By removing as much bias as possible, facts can be established and correlations made. There is, however, a lot of subjectivity in sociology, because a lot of important information cannot be quantified effectively. Thus, there are going to be degrees of bias in a lot of sociological work. It is important for the student or the scholar to understand that any given research can have both a scientific and non-scientific thought element. To the extent possible, scientific thinking should be used. Even when the study is qualitative, scientific thinking provides a strong structure around which a study can be designed and around which qualitative data can be interpreted.
Scientific thinking should be the basis of sociology. Scientific inquiry seeks to increase rigour, for example. It begins with some evidence around which a reasoned argument is form. That argument is then tested, so that generalisations can be determined and that the study is conducted in a systematic way. The scientific method of thinking makes for better studies and therefore should be the objective of sociological study. This will distinguish sociology as a science, versus general social commentary, which may be based on slipshod observations, ad hoc reasoning and contain more biases than absolutely necessary. Non-scientific thinking has allowed for some horrific thinking to be done about social groups (usually a group not one's own) and that is why it is important for the integrity of the field, and for sociology to provide value to humanity, that it be studied in as scientific a manner as possible.
2. In sociology, it is accepted that there are different approaches. Three are the functionalist, the feminist and the symbolic interactionist. The functionalist approach looks at social phenomena through the lens of the function that those phenomena perform in a society. The symbolic interactionist approach looks at social phenomena through the lens of the interactions between individuals in a society. This is a communication-focused perspective, concerned with the interactions between individuals. The feminist approach focuses on "the power relationships and inequalities between women and men" (p.31).
Thus, the same social phenomena can be viewed through any of these different approaches. To illustrate these differences, take the Trudeau cabinet, which was designed to be gender and race representative, a deliberate action, but one not before seen in Canadian politics. The functionalist approach would look at the formation of such a cabinet and examine how this functions in society. The symbolism of such a cabinet would therefore become a focal point for the analysis -- what function does such equity play in society. There is some distinct functional element to this, because the nation is a multicultural democracy and it will be run differently by a representative government than it would be a more traditional, white male-dominated government.
A structural interactionist would contribute a slightly different view. Perhaps recognizing that there is a function that such equity would play, the structural interactionist would examine the symbolic meaning of the cabinet composition. It might play an influencing role on how Canadian society views itself, but the interactionist would want to understand why that is. There are different elements at work in such analysis, such as understanding the symbolism of the basic numbers of different peoples represented, and what the symbolizes to different groups in the country about their participation in the governance of the nation.
There are a few different perspectives within feminism, but without question there would be an analysis of the cabinet from the viewpoint of gender justice and equity, but also what it means that it still took a privileged white male Prime Minister to bring about such equity. There would also be an opportunity to examine whether such surface-level equity on one aspect of governance would help to bring about any meaningful transformation in the gender-based power structures of the nation.
All three perspectives can examine such a simply piece of evidence about social change in Canadian society to examine its meaning, from symbolic meaning to functional meaning to the relationship between genders, or through other perspectives as well, such as race relations. This can be said for any type of social change, because social change and social institutions all have meaning. Sociology can benefit from the use of different lenses…
Sources Used in Document:
Little, W., McGiven, R., Keirns, N., Strayer, E., Griffiths, H., Cody, S., Scaramuzzo, G., Vyain, S. (2013). Introduction to Sociology, 1st Canadian Edition. In possession of the author.
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