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Key Perspectives in Sociology

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Unit One: Key Perspectives in Sociology Date: 17th December 2007 Name: Jules Hindle Assignment No: 1 Introduction During this assignment I will be looking at the difference between sociology and common sense, investigating the different methods used by sociologists in their research, exploring 'The Sociological Imagination' and discussing the benefits and limitations of Marxism and Functionalism. Sociology and common sense Sociology is the study of human society or, according to Haralambos & Holborn (2004), 'the study of people in social groups'. It provides us with a unique insight into our societies, cultures and behaviour within. Those critical of sociology might say that sociological findings are merely common sense but we should be wary of writing things off as simply 'obvious'. Sociological research is about looking beyond assumptions and aims to provide proven facts and statistics about human society. Made simple, common sense can be described as every-day thinking born of assumption whereas sociology is facts and figures and seeks the truth, based on research. Sociological research Research is crucial to sociology and sociologists use various methods of research in an attempt to gain a better knowledge of human society. The type of method used depends on the type of insight required but most studies fall into two main categories: qualitative and quantitative methods. Qualitative methods are concerned with people and observations, where sociologists look at the detail of people's lives. Observations can be either participant or non-participant observations. ...read more.


The Sociological Imagination The sociological imagination is a term created in 1959 by the sociologist C. Wright Mills, an American Marxist who challenged functionalist views in sociology. Mills suggested that if we wanted to obtain a deeper understanding of the issues affecting society, we should look beyond the private issues of individuals and focus on those of the public as a whole. He believed that personal issues only affect the individual and those immediately around them whereas public issues affect the whole of society. Mills went on to state that if we can understand the connection between the two then we can understand how structural forces shape individuals and their actions. An example given in Haralambos & Holborn (2004, Pg xxv) stated that "specific circumstances may lead to one person being unemployed, but when unemployment rates rise in society as a whole then it becomes a public issues that needs to be explained". Rather than blaming themselves, individuals can hold responsible the social forces that caused them to be into their present state. "To be able to do that is to possess the sociological imagination" (Mills 1959 in Taylor et al, 2005, Pg 1). This is an important tool for sociologists as it allows them to ask questions such as "what is unemployment? Why does it happen? How does it affect people?" It provides a starting point for sociological analysis and highlights the issues and questions that they need to consider (Bessant & Watts, 2001, Pg 29). ...read more.


It is not a very forward thinking perspective as it primarily just wants to maintain the status quo. Functionalists tend to see only the benefits that various institutional relationships bring to society. Whereas some feminists would argue that the family group can be oppressive and exploitative in favour of men. Marxists would argue that capitalist institutions, such as work, may only be beneficial to a small section of society, rather than to society as a whole (www.sociology.org.uk 2005). Post-modernists would argue that it doesn't take the free will of the individual into account enough. Conclusion Marxism and Functionalism are similar in their viewpoint because they both come under the same social systems perspective however functionalism is concerned with keeping the status quo and not rocking the boat but is this actually conformism in disguise? Marxism is more radical way of thinking as it is ultimately about pursuing change. Both perspectives are valid viewpoints and each has their own merits. I think the UK runs as a functionalist society which can be demonstrated if we look at family as an example: it relies on the government for welfare and support, on education systems to educate children so that they can go into the workforce and create revenue for the economy. The majority of society agrees that these are our common norms and values. This is not to say that there are no elements of Marxism present. Ultimately workers are still paid as little as possible, still making 'fat cat' bosses 'fatter' and those in power still have more sway economically and politically than an individual citizen. ...read more.

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