Chapter 1: An Invitation to Sociology
The Sociological Perspective
Sociology is the scientific study of social structure, examining
human social behavior from a group, rather than an individual, perspective. Sociologists focus on
the patterns of behavior shared by members of a group or society. The sociological perspective
enables us to develop a sociological imagination—the ability to see the relationship between
events in our personal lives and events in society. Using our sociological imagination helps us to
make our own decisions rather than merely conform, and to question common interpretations of
human social behavior.
The Origins of Sociology
Sociology is a relatively young science, beginning in late nineteenth-
century Europe during a time of great social upheaval. Intellectuals such as Auguste Comte,
Harriet Martineau, Emile Durkheim, and others began to explore ideas for regaining a sense of
community and restoring order. After World War II, however, the greatest development of
sociology has taken place in the United States. Two early contributors were activists Jane
Addams and W.E.B. DuBois, who helped focus people's attention on social issues.
Functionalism focuses on the contributions of each part of society; the conflict perspective looks
at conflict, competition, change, and constraint within a society; and symbolic interactionism
considers the actual interaction among people. Each of these perspectives provides a different
slant on human social behavior, so by considering all three perspectives together we can see most
of the important dimensions of human social behavior.
Chapter 2: Sociologists Doing Research
Like all scientists, sociologists gain their knowledge by doing research; their
methods, however, differ from most other scientists. These methods are classified as either
quantitative—using numerical data, or qualitative—relying on narrative and descriptive data.
Quantitative research is usually conducted through the use of surveys and precollected data,
while field research is the method most commonly used in qualitative research.
Causation in Science
Scientists assume that an event occurs for a reason, a concept known as
causation, and that all events have causes. When they conduct studies, scientists identify
variables to investigate, and look for correlations of how things relate to one another. Three
standards are used to determine causal relationships: two variables must be correlated, all other
possible factors must be taken into account, and a change in the independent variable must occur
before a change in the dependent variable can occur.
Procedures and Ethics in Research