Send the link below via email or IMCopy
Present to your audienceStart remote presentation
- Invited audience members will follow you as you navigate and present
- People invited to a presentation do not need a Prezi account
- This link expires 10 minutes after you close the presentation
- A maximum of 30 users can follow your presentation
- Learn more about this feature in our knowledge base article
Do you really want to delete this prezi?
Neither you, nor the coeditors you shared it with will be able to recover it again.
Make your likes visible on Facebook?
Connect your Facebook account to Prezi and let your likes appear on your timeline.
You can change this under Settings & Account at any time.
Introduction to Sociology - Spring 2016
Transcript of Introduction to Sociology - Spring 2016
The Sociological Imagination
Sociological Methods and Interactions
Deviance and Social Control
Race and Ethnicity
Cities & Communities
and the Family
Gender and Sexuality
Demography and Health
Culture and Technology
Question 1: We used to say that half of all
marriages ended in divorce, but today, the
divorce rate is declining. Why are fewer
couples getting divorced?
Question 2: How have technologies like
Facebook or Twitter changed the ways
we interact with our social groups?
Question 3: Why are fewer and fewer
Americans identifying with a religion
when asked about their religious
Question 4: What are the consequences
of growing up in poor neighborhoods?
Why does the neighborhood where you
grow up impact your trajectory in life?
Question 5: What is the consequence of
having a criminal record for your prospects
of getting a job? Do you think the
consequences are different for blacks and
Question 6: Why do some social movements
succeed at their goals, but other social
Question 7: Why do people get involved in
community life - volunteering, attending
town meetings, socializing with their neighbors
or voting in local elections - but other people
1. Define the sociological imagination,
and consider how it provides a different
way of looking at the social world.
2. Identify what it means to approach
3. Discover the importance of social
context, and why sociologists believe
that social context matters.
C. Wright Mills
The Power Elite
The Sociological Imagination
Capital (Three Volumes)
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
The Division of Labour in Society
: What is the sociological imagination? What does it mean to approach the social world with a sociological imagination?
is the capacity to think systematically about how many things we experience as personal problems that are really social issues shared by others in a similar social position to us. It is a way of understanding human behavior - individual lives unfolding in, and being shaped by, the surrounding social environment.
: How is the sociological imagination, as a way of approaching the world, different from other ways that we typically think events and behaviors? How can it help us to analyze, interpret or understand the social world?
Sociologists would argue that
developing your sociological imagination leads you to ask questions that go beyond individual lives, asking instead about the broader social factor that shape individual and group behaviors. It use theories about the way the world works to explain social action and behavior.
Come up with a sociological question that interests you. Tell me why the question is distinctly sociological.
According to C. Wright Mills, "Neither the life of an individual, nor the history of a society, can be understood without understanding both."
It is the link between biography and history - between 'personal troubles of the milieu' and 'public issues of the social structure.' He offers unemployment, war, marriage and the city as examples.
The sociological imagination connects intimate realities of how we know ourselves with larger social realities about context and history.
refers to the range of social environments, including economic, political or cultural environments, that surround individuals and influence our lives.
Consider the idea of social context, including organizations, political or economic systems, or types of communities, that have shaped your own individual experiences.
: What are some organizations that shape your lives, and how?
Political / economic systems
: What are some systems that shape your lives, and how?
: What communities shape your lives, and how?
1. Identify the key methods of research
used by sociologists.
2. Consider the components of a strong
3. Evaluate the research methods that are
appropriate for answering particular
: Come up with a research question, drawing on your understanding of the sociological imagination, that a sociologist would want to ask and answer.
Writing Good Research Questions:
1. Can I answer the question?
2. Do I care about the answer?
3. Is the question clear, and are the
4. Does the question build on
existing sociological research,
including existing social theory?
: In groups, how would you answer the following research questions? Focus on the methodologies you would use, rather than what you expect the answers to be.
Question 1: Do LGBT-identified people face discrimination in the labor market? Is it more difficult for LGBT people to find jobs, or to get potential employers to respond to their applications?
Question 2: How have attitudes about the welfare state (e.g., how much the government should provide assistance to the poor, spend on social programs, etc.) changed over the last couple decades? Are Americans more conservative or liberal regarding these policies than they were in the 1980s?
Question 3: How does being on parole shape the social lives of African-American men in urban neighborhoods? How does it impact the way they interact with their communities, or relate to their families?
Question 4: How do women make decisions about their work-life balance? How do they make decisions about when to have children, and whether or not to work full-time? Do these processes differ depending on the social class of the women?
The Scientific Process
1. Develop Hypotheses.
2. Operationalize key variables.
3. Make predictions about the relationship
4. Collect and analyze data.
5. Draw conclusions.
: Can the measurement be
used in another study with similar results?
: Does the measurement actually get
at the concept you're trying to measure?
Quantitative Research Methods:
1. Survey Research
2. Experimental / Audit Studies
3. Statistical Analysis
Qualitative Research Methods:
3. Content Analysis
4. Comparative-Historical Research
: What is the
: Why might sociologists
(or other social scientists) not always
strict to the scientific method?
Strengths: Identifying causal relationships;
generalize to broader populations; design
and implement specific studies; conduct
experiments; survey large populations.
Limitations: Thin descriptions of social
processes; limited nuance to social analysis;
fewer opportunities to probe further.
: What are some strengths and
weaknesses of quantitative
research? When might quantitative
research be particularly useful?
: What are some strengths and
weaknesses of qualitative research?
When might qualitative
research be particularly useful?
Strengths: Thick descriptions; rich understanding of social processes and decision-making; opportunities for immediate follow-up.
Limitations: Limited sample size; challenges of identifying causality; consideration of biases of researchers.
Identify the rules and norms that guide behavior in the social world, considering both how we learn those rules and what happens when we break them.
Understand the way we develop a sense of self - an understanding of who we are - through society and our social interactions.
Consider the multiple roles and social statuses we have, and what happens when they come into conflict.
: What is ethnomethodology?
According to the sociologist Harold Garfinkel,
ethnomethodology refers to the practices of
everyday life, and the rules that we use to make
sense of our social world.
Social interaction is guided by a set of rules and social norms, all of which you know and come to understand. We can think of these as the methods or rules that guide social interaction.
What are the rules that govern
the way you interact with your professors?
: What are the rules that
structure the way you have a phone
: What are the rules about
how you behave when someone, walking
directly in front of you, slips on the ice
and falls down?
Garfinkel (and others) have argued that one of the best ways for understanding the rules that govern everyday life is by breaking them. Through
, in which participants violate the social rules, ethnomethodologists believe that we can better understand the rules that govern social life. We do so by watching how people deal with these violations of the social rules.
: What rules guide your behavior
in a sacred place (e.g., church, Vietnam
As sociologists, we are concerned not just with understanding the rules that govern behavior in social settings, but also about how our social interaction shapes our identities - our social selves.
: a status is a recognized social position occupied by an individual. It is a distinct social category associated with a particular set of behaviors and roles for individuals to assume.
By learning the rules of a community
or a society, we undergo a process of
. This refers to the process
through which we internalize the values,
beliefs, norms and behaviors in a society.
Later in the semester, we will talk about
gender socialization - i.e., the way we learn
the rules of our gender - but sociologists
argue that we are constantly being
socialized into groups or categories.
: How were you socialized into being a
Georgetown student? What are some of
the rules, beliefs or norms that you have
adopted since arriving at Georgetown,
and how did you come to internalize
this set of values?
: the role is the set of duties or expectations that accompany my status. What are the activities or duties I am expected to perform, given my status?
As your professor, I am expected to show up to
class, prepare a lecture, engage in your learning,
show authority, etc.
we always maintain multiple
statuses and multiple roles in life. When these
roles come into conflict, we experience role conflict - the tension between your role as a student and your role as an athlete, for example.
Based on the roles and statuses you consider for
yourself, can you come up with an example of
role conflict - when competing roles caused strain because they were difficult to reconcile?
Ascribed vs. Achieved status
: we often distinguish between a status that we were born with (ascribed) and a status that we became (achieved).
Do you think there is flexibility between ascribed
and achieved statuses? Are there statuses that you
have that don't nicely fit into only one of those categories?
: sometimes, one status trumps all other statuses. It stands out, or overrides the rest.
What are some examples of statuses that we might consider to be 'master' status?
Sociologist Erving Goffman presented a
of society - he argued
that we are concerned about impression
management. We use
our social roles. We give off
, and we are conscious of
managing those everyday presentations of
Goffman distinguished between
You are expected to preform your role on the
front-stage - to be an attentive, engaged student
in the classroom; to take notes; to ask questions; to look alive. The role expectations (and actions)
are blurred in the back-stage performance.
What would happen if, next time you were home, you treated your parents' house as a hotel (e.g., demanding dinner at particular times, expecting the bed to be made, formally checking out)?
What if you went to the Metro and asked people to give up their seats without explanation?
What about going into an elevator, facing backward, and whistling?
: In small groups, talk about how you
manage your presentation of self on-line.
If your Facebook page is your 'front-stage,' are there particular things you do to manage your presentation?
How does Facebook shape the types of social identities you develop? Does it shape the social identities that you show off to the public?
How does your Facebook profile / interactions relate to the idea of a social self - a self-identity developed through social interactions?
We study social interactions - under the methodology of
(or symbolic interactionism) - to understand how our preferences and personalities are created through social interactions with other people.
Our individual personalities, and the meanings we assign to things, are developed through social processes. We act based on the meanings we give to objects; we give meaning based on our social interactions; these meanings often change on account of our social relations.
Consider the rules of social engagement and social interaction, and the way we learn those rules. What happens when we break those rules.
Identify how your own identity is shaped through social interactions.
Reflect on the multiple roles, statuses and identities that we each develop, and the ways they shape our sense of self.
Consider how these processes of interactionism, front-stage/back-stage and the rules of social engagement change when we go on-line.
Understand the way that we classify ourselves - and are often classified - into social hierarchies, and how those social hierarchies provide groups with power and privilege.
Appreciate the way that institutions, organizations, rules and laws impact our life chances, and how these structures constrain our choices / agency.
Identify the concept of social mobility, and understand patterns of social mobility in the united States.
Explain how institutions set and reinforce rules, and why changing these institutions is often very difficult.
Why are people poor in America? What explains the persistence of poverty in America?
Structure vs. Agency:
One of the great debates in sociology is between structure and agency. Take two minutes and write down a definition of social structure and a definition for agency. What do those terms mean? What are sociologists talking about when we talk about structure versus agency?
When we talk about
, we're referring to your free will - the ability to do whatever you want, or behave however you want, without social constraints.
, on the other hand, acknowledge that social structures limit our free will, or the ability to behave according to our preferences.
refer to the set of forces - often institutions, organizations, cultural practices and social hierarchies - that shape our everyday lives. These structures provide order to society, and are the foundations upon which our everyday lives are based.
: What are the key features of the social structure?
Social structures endure across time. Although they can change, as we will discuss next week, these structures are largely permanent features of society.
These structures are typically invisible. We don't observe them directly.
Social structures constrain the choices that we can make. They pattern privilege and power, placing some groups in advantaged positions vis-a-vis other groups.
We will divide our discussion of social structures into two sections: social hierarchies and social institutions.
refer to the fact that some groups have an elevated status vis-a-vis other groups. There is a rank-order in society between social groups.
: What are some other social hierarchies in the United States?
There are systems that rank people according to their place in the social hierarchy, and we call these systems of
. When we talk about systems of social hierarchies, where some people have power or status than others, we are identifying social stratification.
Our interest in systems of stratification - and with social hierarchies - are largely related to the way they shape both
: With the people in your row, come up with a definition of
and a definition of
. What do each of these terms mean?
refers to the ability to influence the behavior of other people / social groups.
: How do we know when social groups have power? How do we exercise our power? Give some examples.
Example #1: Your professors exercise power by influencing how you spend your weekend, what you do to succeed, etc.
Example #2: Wealthy people exert power in the political system by contributing money to elections, influencing outcomes, etc.
is the ability to make special claims or gain access to special rights.
: What types of privileges do you have on account of your position in the social hierarchy?
: What do we mean by white privilege? Does white privilege exist?
Our discussion of social hierarchies is often aimed at understanding the concept of
. What is social mobility?
: How much mobility across social classes (or social mobility) do you think exists in the United States? Is there a lot of mobility - in other words, people can climb from one class to another fairly easily - or do you think there is little mobility?
: Why does your social position - where you are born in the social hierarchy - influence your chance of becoming a homeowner?
: How does your status as a homeowner influence your position in the social hierarchy? How does owning a home impact your life chances?
Concerned primarily about social class, Bourdieu argued that our schools, families and social networks shape our habitus, and this typically reflects our social class.
Our habitus helps us 'fit in' to particular privileged groups, and grants us access to the resources they control.
We often refer to
as a tool - either informal or formal - to maintain the structures of privilege. Discrimination can limit opportunities for people to climb to a higher position in the social hierarchy.
: What are some forms of formal discrimination? What are some examples of informal discrimination?
: Imagine you wanted a job on Wall St. According to Bourdieu, how would your habitus shape your job prospects ...
In addition to social hierarchies, the social structure is comprised of institutions that also shape our agency as actors with free will.
refer to the enduring customs, practices, ideologies and habits that structure our social lives, decision-making processes and life-chances. They also refer to more formal organizations, like schools, prisons or religious groups.
Your book gives some examples of institutions, like religion or the institution of marriage, that influence social life.
: What are some other examples of important institutions to consider?
We also describe the role of the government (or the state) as an institution that shapes life chances.
: Take a minute to consider how the state (or government policies) might shape your life chance. What programs or policies do you benefit from, and how might this impacts your position in the social hierarchy?
- Food assistance programs (SNAP)
- Housing assistance programs (e.g., Section 8,
public housing, homeownership subsidies)
- Education spending (financing public
education, Pell Grants, research funding)
- Poverty reduction programs (Medicaid, TANF,
- Health care programs (Affordable Care Act,
- Discrimination programs (Fair Housing laws,
With your classmates in your row ...
How are the lives of the men in this article shaped by the social structure? Consider the different points we have talked about this week - privilege, power, social hierarchies, institutions, habitus, etc.
Is the dichotomy of structure vs. agency a useful framework for thinking about the people in the article?
Finally, we can identify a certain set of norms, rules or habits associated with your position in the social hierarchy. The French theorist Bourdieu referred to this as
Finally, sociologists often note that social structures are very difficult to change. They endure across generations, and are very difficult to change.
You need only think about the institution of marriage, the persistence of 'white privilege' or the rules of the high school lunchroom to acknowledge that, although there is some movement, these structures are very sticky.
Previewing next week, sociologists are often interested in why social structures persist across generations, and why are they so difficult to change. What are some explanations about the stickiness of social structures?
One reason is path dependency. Early developments and institutions persist, and we get very used to them. It becomes easier to stay the course than to change directions. (e.g., Affordable Care Act)
A second reason is that some groups - often people in the top of the social hierarchy, people with a lot of power or privilege - benefit from these structures. They are often resistant to changes in the social structure that would weaken their position in the social hierarchy. (e.g., money in politics)
How do social structures change?
Consider the ways that social structures limit individual agency in the context of structure vs. agency.
Identify different types of social hierarchies, and the power and privileges associated with positions in the social hierarchy.
Understand how institutions, both formal and informal, can act as social structures, limiting the capacity for human action.
Reflect on the degree of social mobility in the United States, and the way social structures limit opportunities for social mobility.
Evaluate why social structures persist across generations, despite the inequalities in privilege, power and access to resources that they often impose.
Consider the reasons that social movements exist, how they come into being, and how they sustain themselves.
Understand why people join social movements, and how these movements help to create a sense of collective identity.
Think about why movements succeed or fail, and the organizational challenges associated with keeping movement alive.
Identify the importance of issue framing as a movement tactic.
Study movements in relationship to the social structure, thinking about ways that movements work to change the social structure.
: How many of you have
participated in a social movement
activity - a demonstration, a protest,
a march, etc.
: What made you participate in this movement?
: How do you know if a social movement has succeeded or failed? What types of measures should we think about to understand the success of a movement?
is often defined as a
foster or retard social change
, typically using tactics
outside the normal institutional
channels encouraged by authorities.
For this week, I want you to put aside
your own opinions about the specific goals
of social movement - liberal or conservative,
progressive or traditional, good or bad, etc. -
so we can think about what movements are
and why movements matter.
: Why are social movements
important? Why should we, as sociologists,
study social movements?
Social movement matter because ...
They highlight the limits of structural change through institutionalized practices.
They raise important social and political issues that may not be addressed through normal political channels.
They invite citizens to develop common interests and form common identities around social issues.
They heighten our moral and ethical sensibilities.
They introduce collective action problems, and help use understand the way organizations matter.
One of the first things that we want to know
about social movements is why people join them.
: Why do people become involved in movements? Why do they join these movements to advocate for social change?
If you weigh the costs & benefits of joining a movement, you might choose not to ...
... but people join because they are recruited via
, they find a sense of
purpose or identity
through their involvement in movements, or they are moved by
(or other emotions) to become involved.
: What is collective action problem? How do social movements overcome this collective action problem?
: Why are non-institutionalized tactics that social movements use? Why are they so often outside of normal political channels?
: With your neighbor, talk about the social movement you selected for your weekly assignment. What movement did you pick? How did it help to reshape the social structure?
The collective action dilemma asks why, as a rational actor, I would join a social movement. Even if I don't join the movement, I still get the benefits from a successful social movement. If you can get the benefits, but not do the work, why would a rational actor join a social movement?
: When do social movements happen? Why do some activities evolve into a sustained, organized movement, and others fade away without a sustained presence?
The resource mobilization hypothesis suggests that successful social movement have strong organizational structures. These organizational structures help to recruit participants into the movement, make decisions about the tactics of the movement, and ensure broader financial resources and political connections to help the movement thrive.
When crafting a message, we are often concerned about the
of the movement message. Framing identifies the way that movements shape their ideas and beliefs to the general public.
While movements are largely about changing the social structure, they also help participants to develop a sense of
: What do we mean by collective identity? How does this relate to other concepts we've talked about in the course?
: One of the hardest questions for movement scholars is identifying whether or not social movement succeeded, and if not, why they failed. Here, Occupy Wall Street provides an instructive example. Did Occupy Wall Street succeed as a social movement? What leads you to your conclusion?
: What's the difference between a revolutions and a social movement?
When there is an opening in the social structure, or an opportunity for a movement to arise.
theorists argue that movements grow and are sustained by the presence of sufficient resources - money, people, solidarity, organizations, etc. These are often
to the movement.
As part of this, movements may seize public opinion trending in their direction to sustain a social movement.
More generally, these fall under
theories of social movements - the belief that movements develop and are sustained when when movements see instability in the social structures, increased access to sympathetic political leaders, or less capacity by the state (e.g., the police) to quell their movement. These are often
to the movement themselves.
: With your neighbors, talk about the Rolling Stone article you read about Occupy Wall Street. Specifically, answer the following three questions.
1. What were the goals of Occupy Wall Street?
2. Describe the organizational structure of Occupy Wall Street.
3.Do you think Occupy Wall Street was successful as a social movement? Why or why not?
What is the social movement organization for ...
The animal rights movement.
The civil rights movement
The gay rights movement
The pro-life movement
What's the frame of the Human Rights Campaign and the marriage movement?
If you pay careful attention, it's not gay marriage or the right to marry, but it's about
Similarly, the pro-life movement does not frame itself as being against a woman's right to choose (as the pro-choice movement would have it), but about the sanctity of life.
The pro-choice movement does not frame itself around questions of when life begins (as the pro-lie movement would have it), but as empowering women to make their own choices.
Issue framing helps to make sure that movement
with everyday people, and they help
: How do social movements help to shape collective identities?
1. They deepen our
emotional or affective ties
within the social groups. Activists develop strong ties with one another, further linking them to their shared identity.
2. Social movements do
differentiating "us" from "them." They provide a clear sense of who is in your group, and who is not in your group. What other social groups do boundary work?
3. Movements provide a set of
shared rituals and practices
that strengthen group membership. Similarly, how does participation in religious group introduce rituals and practices that reinforce group membership?
4. Social movements often provide a
, or set of ideologies, through which to make sense of the social world. People develop linkages through their ideological affinities.
Short-term success: Did the movement win new rights, achieve stated goals, or win legislative victories? Is society different on account of the social movement?
Long-term success: Did the movement achieve a change in cultural attitudes, or the way people think about an issue? Often, these changes in habits and norms take longer to happen.
Typically, revolutions refer to profound political or social change, many of which either topple political regimes or radically alter the economic/class structure of society.
Revolutions typically grow out of social movements, as these movements embrace the goal of seizing state power.
: How did Occupy Wall Street frame their issue? What are some other example of issue-framing in social movements?
By making people feel like they are part of a community, this sense of collective identify helps to overcome the collective action problem (e.g., whether rational actors would join a social movement).
Likewise, this collective identity helps to strengthen social solidarity - the ties that people feel to other like-minded people, or people with similar social identities.
What do you think social the next 'major' social movement is going to be? Based on your knowledge of movements - how they organize and require resources; the way they often emerge from a crack in the social structure; the effectiveness of previous movements - what do you think the next major movement to sweep the United States will be?
- Consider the political process and resource mobilization perspectives to consider when and how social movements develop.
- Think about why people join movements, how they develop collective identities, and the ways that movements overcome collective action problems.
- Identify the challenges of measuring the success of social movements.
- Consider the myriad of social movements in the United States - and around the world - today!
Poverty & Inequality - Learning Goals
1. Distinguish between types of poverty measures, including the relative value of each.
2. Consider the importance of studying both wealth and income, and the challenges of studying American elites.
3. Think about measures of social class and the reasons social class matters.
4. Identify trends in inequality in the United States, and the types of policies that exacerbate or ameliorate inequality.
: To begin thinking about poverty in the United States, let's start by crafting a budget identifying
the least amount of money
that you think you need to survive. For this exercise, imagine yourself as the household head for a
family of four
living in Washington, DC. You and your partner have two small children ages 2 and 5. The goal of this exercise (like golf) is to get the lowest score possible while still being realistic about your expenses. How little money would it take for you and your family to survive in Washington, DC?
For each of the following eight categories, what's the least amount of money you think you can reasonably spend for your family for a year.
1. Housing. What's your rent for a year?
2. Food. What's your food budget for a year?
3. Transportation. What are your transportation costs to get to / from work?
4. Childcare. How much will you pay for childcare?
5. Health. How much will you spend on health care, medical expenses, etc.
6. Entertainment. How much will you spend on entertainment?
7. Clothes. What's the clothing budget for your family of four?
8. Additional expenses: These could include cell phones, travel, or other incidentals.
What's your budget? What is the least amount of money that your family of four could survive on for a year?
The United States has a
- an absolute line below which we consider you to be in poverty and above which we consider you not to be in poverty.
The poverty threshold was designed by Molly Orshansky at the Social Service Administration in the 1960s. It was based on 3x the economy food budget.
In the United States, we continue to use an
absolute poverty measure
. This measure is based on an absolute number that we believe is required for basic survival, and has no relationship to the distribution of incomes or wealth in the country.
Throughout much of Europe, they use a
relative poverty measure
. This measure does not consider an absolute basket of goods that people need to survive, but instead compares how well people at the bottom are doing relative to people near the middle, or at the top.
: What are the advantages or disadvantages of both the absolute and relative measures?
: Looking at these guidelines, what are some concerns about our poverty measure? Do you think these are good guidelines to identify who is in poverty in the United States?
Some concerns ...
1. Lack of geographic variation despite the fact that some places are more expensive than other places.
2. The difference between just above and just below the threshold ...
3. Ignores broader questions of social exclusion.
: Why does it matter how we measure poverty?
Our anti-poverty programs are often
, meaning that households are eligible for the program if they fall below the poverty line (or some multiple of it). As a result, eligibility for government assistance programs is based on the measure of poverty.
These poverty measures and means-tested programs are typically based on household income. As sociologists, we often differentiate between wealth and income.
: What's the difference between wealth and income, and why should we care about each one?
refers to the amount of money we receive over a particular period of time. Our hourly wage or annual salary are examples of income.
refers to the value of all of the assets that a family or individuals holds. It includes their stocks or investments, the value of their home, business they own, etc. Wealth is a measure of the total set of resources available to a household.
One way to think about this distinction is to consider two people with similar incomes, but very different levels of wealth. The first person earns $60,000 a year, and owns a home, has a retirement account, and a substantial savings invested in the stock market. The second person also earns $60,000 a year, but doesn't have any assets or investments.
What happens when they lose their jobs, or they need to send their children to college, or they have to pay some unexpected medical bills ...
: What is the
, and how do you know whether you're in it? What defines the American middle class?
Sociologists often use the term
to identify people that occupy similar social and / or economic positions. These are people who may have roughly the same life chances, or who may benefit from the same set of government programs.
How do we actually measure social class? What criteria might we use to identify which social class people belong to?
1. Income measures. We might simply group people into a social class based on the amount of money that they make. What's the problem with this type of measure?
2. Occupation. Sociologists often classify people into class positions based on their occupation, arguing that people within these groups have similar interests. What types of categories could you come up with to classify people into a social class based on occupation? What are the challenges of this type of measure?
3. Socioeconomic Status (SES). The measure accounts for a handful of factors - your education, occupation, income, homeownership status, etc. - to put you in a class position. Do you think this is a better measure of social class? Why or why not?
: Social class (along with race and gender) is one of the central topics studied by sociologists. Why do you think it is so important, as sociologists, to pay attention to the dynamics of social class? Thinking back to earlier topics in the course, why do you think social class is such a formative concept?
Finally, let's talk about the
of wealth in the United States. The distribution refers to who owns how much of the wealth - in other words, how wealth is distributed across the population.
: Why does wealth inequality matter? Should we be concerned that wealth is unevenly distributed and, if so, why do you think that we should be concerned about it?
When we talk about
, we are interested in the unequal distribution of valued goods or resources - resources like wealth or income.
: Why is wealth unevenly distributed? In other words, why is there so much inequality in the United States?
1. Changes in the economy (or what social scientists often call
). The decline of manufacturing employment (through
) has led to fewer steady jobs for low-skill workers, and the rise of c
has changed the regularity of work. The US has experienced a decline in skills-based manufacturing jobs - traditionally, the bread and butter of good jobs for middle-class Americans - and the rise of both high-end and low-end service jobs - FIRE industry and service professionals.
2. Often, government policies can ameliorate or worsen economic inequality. Policies like a minimum wage can increase income or wealth at the bottom, lowering inequality. Similarly, tax policies can increase or lower taxes on the wealthy, changing inequality. What are some other policies that shape income inequality?
Activity: We often talk about the American Dream. What is the
? Why is it such a powerful cultural or ideological force in the United States? With your neighbors, define the American Dream, and explain why it resonates so strongly in the United States.
3. Life chances. Your social class impacts your life chances for the types of reasons we've discussed - wealth, homeownership, etc.
Beyond measures of wealth in the United States, we can measure other patterns of inequality. For example, we might be interested in patterns of inequality between countries, or we might be concerned about the uneven distribution of people in their residential location (e.g., where they live).
is a measure of the distribution of global wealth. It tells us, within a country, how unevenly income is distributed. A measure of zero means wealth is evenly distributed, and a measure of one means that wealth is entirely held by a single person.
: Across the world, what countries do you think have the highest and lowest Gini coefficients, and why?
We could measure inequality in the racial distribution of a population in a city - or segregation. To do so, we use a measure called the
index of dissimilarity
, which tells us what percentage of residents in a city would have to move to create an equal distribution of races across neighborhoods. (In other words, if a city is 40% black and 60% white, what percentage of city residents would have to move to make it so every neighborhood is 40% black and 60% white?)
- Consider the different measures of poverty, including the advantages & disadvantages each one offers.
- Explain why sociologists might prefer using wealth, rather than income, in our studies of social class.
- Identify factors that explain the persistence of inequality.
- Highlight the important of social class as an analytical tool.
Race & Ethnicity - Learning Goals
1. Distinguish between race and ethnicity.
2. Identify what we mean when we talk about race as a 'social construct'.
3. Consider types of prejudice, discrimination and stereotyping.
4. Identify the ways that race continues to matter for systems of stratification in the United States.
: Imagine that the Director of the Census has tasked you (and your classmates) to come up with a survey question to measure the race of respondents on the Census. In small groups, discuss how you would ask respondents about their race, and what categories you would provide for them to identify their race.
Note: Make sure that categories are exhaustive (e.g., they cover all possible races) and mutually exclusive (e.g., everyone falls into one and only one category).
: What's the difference between race and ethnicity? What is your race? What is your ethnicity?
Most sociologists argue that
refers to a
system of classification
based on some innate or physical similarities.
, on the other hand, refers to a classification system for people perceived to share the same set of cultural traits or geographic origin.
: How does race matter to our lives?
We spend a lot of time - as sociologists, but also
in our everyday lives - talking about race. Why is race such an important, salient feature of our lives? How do systems of racial classification shape lived experiences?
: Sociologists argue that race is socially constructed. What does that mean? What does it mean for race to be
is a social phenomenon that has been invented by humans, and is continually reshaped within the time, place and historical period.
For evidence of a social construction, ask yourself: In the United States, who counts as white - historically and today? In other countries, who counts as black? What it means to be white or black is conditioned on the social and political moment.
Because we acknowledge that race is socially constructed, we are not denying that it is real. Race matters to people's everyday lives, and to their life chances, but races are not biological.
: Americans often have a very difficult time talking about race. Public figures often get in trouble when they make remarks about race, and we often find it uncomfortable to talk about race relations. Why is talking about race so complicated?
2. Many people hold stereotypes or prejudices about specific racial or ethnic groups. These ideas often creep into the public discourse and dialogue. How do you think that racial prejudices are learned? What are the factors that influence our prejudices or reinforce stereotypes?
are negative (or maybe positive) preconceived ideas, beliefs or attitudes that are held about groups of people. Prejudices are often difficult to change, even in the face of new information.
One important way that prejudice operates is through stereotyping.
are generalizations made about groups based on a characteristics, and often based on racial characteristics.
is behavior that is meant to harm or disadvantage individuals on the basis of their membership in a particular social (e.g., racial) group. It often denies individuals resources or rewards on account of a particular characteristics.
suggests actions or policies that intentionally discrimination on the basis of race. What are some forms of overt (or intentional) discrimination?
Covert (or subtle) discrimination,
refers to acts of racism that are done (often) unintentionally or unconsciously. They may be a more passive form of discrimination, but the consequences may still be to deny people access or privilege. What are some examples of subtle racism?
refer to single - and often personalized - acts of discrimination intended to harm people on the basis of their race.
Institutional, or structural, discrimination (or racism)
identifies ways that discrimination is institutionalized or codified in policies, regulations or laws. It is part of an institutional set of practices that differentially impact different racial groups. What are some forms of institutional discrimination?
3. While we often discuss racial discrimination against African-Americans, sociologists are also concerned about particular types of privileges that people have on account of their race. This includes white privilege. Do you think white privilege is common? What are some ways that this racial privilege manifests itself?
1. Should race be a factor in college admissions? When Georgetown considers your application, including your high school transcript and co-curricular activities, should they also consider your race in deciding whether or not to accept you into college? Why or why not?
Learning Goals - Crime, Deviance and Social Control
1. Consider the social construction of deviance, and the ways that deviant behavior strays from social norms.
2. Identify the types of sanctions used to promote social control.
3. Discuss the social function of deviance - why is it that society needs deviant behavior.
4. Understand the contours of the criminal justice system, and criminality as a form of social deviance.
: In groups, come up with an action, behavior or a social group that you all consider to be socially deviant. Explain why the behavior is deviant. What makes that group a deviant group?
Then, come up with an action, behavior or social group that was once considered deviant by society, but is no longer considered to be deviant. What changed to influence whether the behavior was considered deviant?
as behavior that violates social norms or social rules. Although we often criminalize deviant behavior, there are many other types of deviant behavior that are not punished by the criminal justice system.
Some types of deviance are performed by only a small number of people - for example, joining a gang, committing a murder, etc. Other types of deviance are more widespread, and practiced widely throughout society - adultery, traffic violations, smoking weed, etc.
Whether or not a behavior is considered deviant often depends on the social status or position of the person committing the behavior. Some deviant behaviors are considered socially acceptable when performed by some groups of people, but socially unacceptable when performed by other groups.
Deviance also changes by the culture or social setting in which the act occurs. Some behaviors that are considered deviant in one cultural or social setting would not be considered deviant in another.
Sociologists contend that deviance is socially constructed. The types of behaviors that are classified as deviant are the result of particular social norms and rules, and these rules are constantly changing.
One approach is through what sociologists call
. This theory argues that behaviors are not inherently deviant. Instead, by labeling something as deviant, it becomes so. What is deviant today may not be labeled as deviant tomorrow. Deviance is defined not by the action, but by the social interaction between deviants and non-deviants.
This American Life story on the reclassification of homosexuality as a deviant behavior.
Societies react to deviant behaviors through a process of stigmatization. A
is a socially constructed attitude, behavior or reputation which is intended to be discrediting. It causes the classification of a group, or an action, as socially undesirable, and brings a negative social status upon a group.
: Identify some stigmas in society. What behaviors or social groups are stigmatized? What purpose does this process of stigmatization serve?
When we discuss deviance, sociologists are concerned about
, or the ways that we, as a society, encourage members of society to adhere to certain socially-acceptable norms and behaviors. We reward particular social behaviors, and we punish others ones, as a means of social reproduction. These rewards and punishments are often doled out through
We can differentiate between
positive and negative social sanctions
as those that reward particular behaviors or those that condemn them, or express disapproval.
: What are some examples of positive and negative sanctions?
We can differentiate between
formal and informal sanctions
. Formal sanctions could be rules or laws that punish or reward particular behaviors, while informal ones are not codified, but remain present in social life.
: What are some examples of formal and informal sanctions?
: As sociologists, we would argue that there is a
that is served by labeling and stigmatizing deviant behavior. Why, as a society, do we need to label certain behaviors as deviant? What is the
of delimiting the boundaries of social deviance?
Identifying deviant behaviors helps to clarify the norms and the rules.
Deviance helps to clearly demarcate people within one mainstream social group, and those outside that social group.
It helps to build up a sense of solidarity among in-group members.
Identifying deviance can help to main social control in society.
Minute: 5:50 -12:30
the criminal justice system
incorporate the entire state apparatus devoted to enforcing the laws of the United States. This includes the court system, the police force, the prisons and jails, etc. that enforce the rules and laws. The field of
is a sub-field of sociology that focuses on the nature, causes and consequences of crime and criminal activity, both for society and individuals.
: Why is the criminal justice system important for society? What social purpose does it serve to arrest people for infractions, and to jail them for offenses? What function does it serve?
1. We might prosecute and punish people as a form of
. This suggests that people who commit crimes should be punished and suffer for the crimes they committed.
2. We might do it for
, hoping to deter other would-be criminals from committing crime. Deterrence would instil fear in potential criminals and discourage them from committing crimes.
3. We might consider offenders to be dangerous, and our efforts to prosecute and imprison offenders would keep them from repeating their crime. They would be
incapacitated from committing other crimes
4. We might expect the justice system to be
. We can change the behaviors or attitudes of criminal offenders if the system helps to rehabilitate convicted criminals.
Much attention is given to
in the social sciences. Compared to both other comparable countries and other historical time periods, the United States imprisons more people - and specifically, more minority men - than anywhere else and any previous time.
Beyond mass incarceration in the prison system, we also implement systems of social control through
: How does the regulation of citizens through parole or probation contribute to efforts of social control?
: What are the reasons for mass imprisonment in the United States? Why do we have rates of imprisonment that exceed our historic rates, and that exceed the rate in every comparable country?
The types of activities that are criminalized (e.g., drug crimes, War on Drugs)
The importance of tough on crime policies to politicians; rewarding politicians who lock-up offenders.
Racism and racial stereotyping of certain groups of people, and increased policing in particular communities.
Privatized prisons benefit from high rates of incarceration.
The stigma of criminal behavior for finding a job, getting public benefits, voting / disenfranchisement, etc.
Communities hollowed out of young and middle-aged men; rise of single-family households.
Disruption of family ties, including consequences for children.
Broader patterns of social distrust within communities, including distrust of the criminal justice system and the police, in particular.
Incredible expense associated with incarcerating citizens; privatization of prisons.
Recognize deviance as a social construction by noting the way that labeling deviant behaviors makes them so.
Consider ways that we stigmatize and sanction deviant behaviors, both formally and informally.
Acknowledge the massive growth in the penal state through the system of mass incarceration, comparing the United States both to other countries and to our own past.
Identify some of the consequences for communities and families from this system of mass imprisonment.
Midsemester Review - SOC-001
Name three of the founders of the discipline of Sociology.
Who wrote the Sociological Imagination, and what do we mean when we talk about using our sociological imagination?
What is an ethnography? Come up with one research problem that we might studying using ethnographic methods.
What is an audit study? Come up with one research problem that we might stud using an audit study.
Define symbolic interactionism.
What is an example of role conflict?
What is the difference between an ascribed status and an achieved social status?
Come up with a definition of social structure.
What is path dependency? Give an example of path dependency.
What do sociologists mean when they say that social movements occur outside of normal institutional channels?
What is the collective action problem inherent in social movements?
Give an example of issue framing in a movement, and explain why issue framing is important.
What are four ways that movements help to shape our collective identity?
What is a poverty threshold?
What's the difference between income and wealth?
What does it mean to say that race is socially constructed?
What is labeling theory, as it relates to social deviance?
What do we mean by social control theory
What purposes might the criminal justice system serve, according to sociologists?
Poverty and Inequality
Question 8: How many racial groups are there in the United States? What is the process we use to classify people by race?
Question 9: What does it mean to be socialized into a gender? What processes lead to gender socialization?
Question 10: How does Georgetown help students to build and maintain social capital? What is social capital, and what are the benefits from high levels of social capital?
: In the book by Shamus Kahn,
how does he argue that students are being
socialized as part of the new elite? What are
the practices of socialization occurring
at St. Paul's school?
: For your writing assignment, I asked you to identify some social groups to which you belong. These are groups that are important to your identity and your sense of self - in other words, we begin to understand who we are though our membership in social groups. What groups did you identify, and how do these groups shape your identity or sense of self?
refers to the ability of individuals to change their social position - for example, to move from lower-class to middle-class, or from middle-class to upper-class.
Based on your readings for today, why do you think Kahn titled his book, Privilege?
Question #1: What is the method used by Edin and Shaefer to conduct their research? Why was this a good method to answer their research question?
Question #2: Give an example of the way government policies shaped the lives or activities of people living on $2.00 a day.
Question #3: Describe one survival strategy that surprised you, and explain why you found it surprising.
From your weekly paper, spend a couple minutes with your classmates discussing some of the reasons you came up with to explain the persistence of poverty in America.
An early definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams (in 1931) was that "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement," and that this should not be determined by birth or social class. Today, we often identify ideas like homeownership, upward social mobility, completing college or achieving above your parents' social status as signs of the American Dream.
When we talk about the middle class, we often refer to the
of society. The class structure refers to a hierarchical organization of social groups in a society. We can think of a lower class, a middle class, and an upper class in society (and, according to many sociologists, an underclass).
According to recent public opinion polls, Americans overwhelmingly think of themselves as part of the middle class. In fact, more than half of Americans think of themselves as middle class or upper-middle class. Why do you think this identity is so powerful in the United States?
was coined by sociologist William Julius Wilson to describe a set of people living in segregated urban neighborhoods who, Wilson argued, were largely outside of the existing class structure. They faced long-term joblessness and social isolation in their neighborhoods, with very little reasonable prospect of climbing the social class hierarchy (or achieving social mobility).
4. Self-identified social class. Returning to questions about our social identity and the ways this identity is shaped by social groups, we may simply rely on self-identified measures of class position from surveys, etc.
1. Develop an identity. Deepen our social ties by recognizing comparable material circumstances, social practices, etc.
2. Group interests and social movements. It helps classify us into social groups and may lead to movement participation. "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes." - Marx, Communist Manifesto
4. Social mobility and life chances. Your social class may shape your life chances by determining the set of resources available to you. It may shape your ability to climb a social hierarchy and factor into your social mobility.
: With your neighbors, talk about two things. First,
what do you think the distribution of wealth in the United States is
? What percentage of the nation's wealth is held by the top 1% of Americans, the top 20% of Americans and the poorest 20% of Americans?
what do you think the distribution of wealth in the United States should be
? In the ideal society, what percentage of wealth should be held by the top 1%, the top 20% and the poorest 20% of Americans?
To understand the distribution of wealth (or income) in the United States, we often divide people into
). Quintiles give us the top 20%, the next 20%, the middle 20%, etc. (Other percentiles include quartiles, declines, etc.)
: What are some common racial prejudices? Why do you think that these are so difficult to change?
While racism refers to these prejudices, stereotypes and discrimination based on the belief in the superiority of one race over another, a movement of
rejects notions of racial superiority or hierarchy. These are practices and forms of thought that seek to confront, eradicate and ameliorate racism and racist practices.
Take five minutes and answer the questions about the Coates article we read for today.
What are your reflections on the case made by Coates to consider a program of reparations?
Many Americans that identify with multiple races or ethnic groups navigate the complexities of contemporary racial categories. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of Americans that identified with two or more races increased from 6.8 million people to more than 9.0 million people.
: What are some of the challenges that Americans who identify with more than one racial category face in contemporary society?
Shifting racial identity as acceptance of mixed-race identity grows.
Being perceived as a race separate from the one(s) with which they identify.
Complicated narratives of what it means to be of a particular ethnic groups (e.g., speak a language, know customs and traditions, etc.)
Privileges or discrimination associated with multiple racial groups.
Perceived as a different race depending on the social context, or the characteristics of other people.
: In small groups, discuss each of the following questions. I will ask you to spend about five minutes discussing the questions before we return to discussing the issue as a class.
posits that the best way to reduce prejudice or discrimination between in-group and out-group members is by facilitating social contact. When members of different social groups, including different racial groups, have the opportunity to communicate freely and share perspectives, the contact hypothesis suggests that this will lead to less racial prejudice.
Can you think of examples where the contact hypothesis has - or could be - effective in reducing racial prejudice?
4. Today in the United States, African-Americans living in cities overwhelming live in racially-concentrated, segregated neighborhoods. In cities, these are often neighborhoods of poverty and concentrated disadvantage. What are the causes of persistent neighborhood segregation by race in the United States?
Power & Privilege:
1. Consider power as a social phenomenon, including ways that social groups express their power over other groups.
2. Identify the ways that Weber describes authority and power.
3. Discuss the three faces of power and the multiple ways that influence can be wielded.
4. Consider the Milgram experiments as an exercise in power and social control.
Shamus Kahn is interested in the way that institutions - and particularly, the institution of schools catering to the 'new elite' - work to create privilege and reinforce norms or behaviors central to the expression of this social status of the elite.
The animating idea to Kahn's research about the students at St. Paul's is their embodiment of ease. "Ease is the stance, the posture of the elite adolescent," Kahn writes.
Kahn argues that the students at St. Paul's make hierarchies seem natural, rather than durable social structures. What does this mean - that social hierarchies are constructed as 'natural', rather than viewed as 'durable social structures'?
Referencing the embodiment of ease that defines the new elite, Kahn writes that to be elite is no longer about knowing things (e.g., which forks and knives are to be used, the plot of a novel, etc.) because that information is easily accessible across social groups. Instead, the knowledge is about how to carry oneself in the world. It is about how to eat the meal, rather than what to order. To theorize this distinction, he distinguishes between
, which can be learned by anyone, and
, which is developed through situations and practices. You can figure out how to select the fork and knife on-line, but to embody the ease of engaging in this ritual requires practice in these situations and circumstances, like the dining room rituals described by Kahn. Corporeal ease, then, is the mark of privilege.
: Can you think of ways that this corporeal ease is taught (or learned) at Georgetown? What are some ways that Georgetown teaches students to embody ease in their displays of privilege?
: What are some other examples of corporeal knowledge as the embodiment of privilege?
Kahn discusses the conflicting social roles experienced by some students at St. Paul's, and particularly students of color and low-income students. He suggests that some of these students may have a harder time embodying the privilege of St. Paul's because they experience
. Poorer students never talk about being the 'smartest guy in the room,' whereas wealthier students often firmly believe that their place at St. Paul's was earned. Non-white students may hold another view of how the world works - for example, acknowledging structures and experiences of racial discrimination that contradict the St. Paul's ethos (or belief) about meritocracy and hard work. Reconciling conflicting statuses or roles can be challenging, especially for students of color and low-income students.
: Can you think of examples of this at Georgetown? Are there ways that particular groups of students may have a more difficult time embodying the ease of privilege or navigating their status as elites?
Referencing the gender scholar, Judith Butler, Kahn argues that performativity is meant to make social constructions seem natural. (We will discuss gender as a social construct next week, and the ways that people perform a gender.) Kahn discusses some examples of the performance of Paulie students changing over the course of their first year. For example, he suggest that the clothes they wore to embody or perform their role at St. Paul's changed over the year, and that their interactions with faculty were transformed. Kahn describes ways that Paulies performed the fact that they worked hard, often being at ease or natural about it. He tells the story of a student who lugged her backpack across campus, thereby failing to perform the ease of hard work. While all students had a lot of work to do, she showed that she had a lot of work to do, thereby failing in the corporeal embodiment of privilege.
: Are there ways that you think your performance of being a Georgetown student has changed since you first arrived? More broadly, are there ways that the performativity of the student body changes over the course of the first year at Georgetown? What do you do to make being a Hoya seem natural - embodying the ease of your social position at Georgetown?
In the final chapter, Kahn describes the way that St. Paul's encouraged students to be consumers of endless culture and knowledge, and to believe that they could make a contribution to it. He writes that students saw themselves and their peers as exceptional, rather than just very good. No one ever fails at St. Paul's. There is a tremendous level of audacity and self-assurance. Extraordinary events were viewed as everyday activities. Students believed they were learning a way of thinking, rather than just information or facts.
: Did this experience ring true of your time at Georgetown? Why is this way of thinking - the myth of the exceptional, or the treatment of extraordinary events as ordinary ones - so important to the embodiment of privilege?
1. Despite the common idealistic notion of the America Dream that has been the axis of the United States' appeal, social mobility in the US has become increasingly more stagnant. This idea of working hard to earn more and to climb in social rank is no longer one that the United States can pride itself on.
2. Social media activism presents a peaceful, effective and efficient way to protest and call attention to issues within both political and social realms. Online activism is perhaps the perfect form of widespread nonviolent civic resistance popularized by the like of those like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, had the breadth of their lives coincided with the technological developments of today's age.
3. The "American Dream" is rooted in the idea that anyone who works hard can get by, and by extension, that economic success is a result of personal determination, ingenuity and grit. But as the middle and lower classes strive with all their might to achieve upward social mobility, to achieve a better material life, the upper classes work to make their climbs steeper and their goals unreachable.
- Clunky sentences
- Use of the semi-colon
- Long paragraphs - one idea, one paragraph
- Unoriginal ideas / textbook regurgitation (e.g., playing it too safe)
- Relevant examples
- Answer the prompt & stay on-topic
- Clearly stated thesis and argument preview in introduction
- Repetition of phrases, syntax, etc.
Moving away from our discussion of privilege, we are going to talk specifically about
today. This includes what power is, how people exercise it, and that ways that
is asserted and maintained in society.
To begin thinking about power - or perhaps, the reasons people obey authority or do things that they otherwise do not want to do - we will begin with a brief video of the Milgram experiments.
: What were the Milgram experiments?
: What is power?
Why is power a uniquely sociological concept?
is often defined as the ability to control other people, events or limited resources. Those with power are able to get their way, despite existing obstacles or resistance from opponents. The study of power is inherently sociological because it involves relations between two (or more) groups. In other words, no one can exercise power outside of relationships with other groups. Power can be gained or lost. It can be exercised through subtle or direct means. It may involve people openly in conflict, but often it does not.
The sociologist Max Weber defined power as "the ability of an individual or a group to achieve their own goals or aims when other are trying to prevent them from realizing them." He distinguished between
, which is largely exercised through force, and
, which is typically viewed as legitimate. With authoritative power, people subjected to the power typically do so with consent and have agreed to the legitimacy of the source of power.
Weber famously noted that authoritative power is exercised and maintained in three distinct ways - through traditional authority, charismatic authority and legal / rational authority.
: What do you think the distinction between these three types of authority might be?
David Koresh and the Branch Davidian Cult in Waco, Texas
as "resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him." This power rests on the charisma of an individual leader, including his or her charm or personality, which is used to influence a person or a group. This form of authority is exercised by people who are thought to be extraordinarily charismatic, and as a result, encourage other people to follow their instructions and commands. However, as a source of authority, it may be effective only during the lifetime of a charismatic leader, and may have to be transformed into another type of authority to continue beyond the death of a leader.
: What are some other examples of power exercised through charismatic authority?
A second form of authority is
. Here, power is exercised by established customs or rules that are passed down, often on a hereditary basis. We might be interested in religious groups that exercised this type of power, like the Catholic Church. We may want to know about slowly changing cultural legacies, like patriarchy, as a source of power. We may accept the ruling of a dominant, elite group, especially when that group - like the British monarchy - has governed a place for a long time.
: Beyond patriarchy or the British Monarchy, what are some ways that power is exercised through traditional authority?
rational / legal authority
is exercised when one group has a legal claim to power and they exercise it over subordinate groups. Weber argues that this type of power rests on "rational grounds ... a belief in the legality of enacted rules and the rights of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands." This could be a policeman telling you what to do with the backing of the legal system, or a broader set of laws, codes and rules that influence how your behave.
: What are some other ways that power is exercised through legal / rational authority?
In addition to considering the ways that power is exercised through different forms of authority, we can think about different types of power that people exercise. Sociologist Steven Lukes argues for three faces of power.
: Although the exercise of power is often straight-forward, visible and overt, that is not always the case. What are some other ways that power could be exercised in less obvious, more covert ways?
first face of power
is the most obvious. It is the idea that people can outwardly, overtly exercise control over someone else.
Often, this face of power is associated with social scientist, Robert Dahl, who wrote the book, Who Governs. The book asks about the exercise of power in local politics. He argues for a pluralist politics, meaning that multiple interest groups exercise power on a range of issues. They battle it out through legislative and advocacy processes, and whoever wins can exercise their power and get their way. The first face of power is typically quite open and easy to observe.
: What, then, might be the second face of power?
second face of power
suggests that it's not just about winning or losing an argument or a fight, but that power is exercised through the ability to
set the agenda
. The powerful people can decided what is even debated or discussed. A committee chairman is powerful, for example, because he or she decides which issues will be discussed, debated and voted upon. Some important public issues may never be discussed, thereby underscoring the power of certain groups or interests to keep these issues off the table. (Your parents may have used the second face of power to shut down discussion on non-negotiable items when you were growing up.) This is more often done secretively, or not in an open, deliberate setting.
: If the second face of power is about setting the agenda, what is the third face of power about?
third face of power
is a more subversive way of exercising power. It suggests that power is exercised by
to do something they may not actually want to do by working to change what they want, or making them think they believe something that they don't actually believe by working to change their beliefs. In this way, power can be exercised to convince someone of their interests, even if those interests are not truly their interests.
Critical theorist often refer to this as "
," or the idea that people are falsely manipulated into feeling, believing or thinking something that is not in their interests.
The study of power and privilege go together in the United States because sociologists are often concerned about the ways that elites (or people who are privileged) exercise their power and get their way, especially through the political system.
While concerns about money in politics are more extreme today, these types of questions about the American elite and their role in politics are long-standing concerns for American sociologists.
: Do you remember C. Wright Mills?
In 1956, C. Wright Mills wrote a book called The Power Elite. Against theories of
, which claimed that power was diffuse and struggles between interest groups led to multiple actors having power, Mills argued that economic power, military power and government power had grown increasingly concentrated and controlled by a smaller group of elites. These elite Americans - the
- often had similar social backgrounds, enjoyed parallel interests, had similar worldviews, and often knew each other personally.
Mills noted that the power elite were often from wealthy families. They attended the same schools and universities. They belonged to the same social clubs and they sat on government committees with one another. There was considerable movement between the realms of business, government and the military among the power elite - political leaders sat on corporate boards, business leaders served in (or funded) political office, etc. Against pluralism, he argued that there was limited scope or opportunity for groups outside the power elite to influence the highest levels of government.
Studies have confirmed that the social backgrounds of the ruling elite are unrepresentative of the American public. Only a handful of schools are represented by the Justices of the Supreme Court. A disproportionate share of Congressmen are exceptionally wealthy. Yet, in other ways, political institutions are substantially more diverse than they were in the 1950s, with both more women and racial minorities in positions of social and political power.
: Who gets to define what constitutes deviant behavior? How do we know which behaviors are deviant, and which ones aren't?
People who commit crimes.
People who engage in sexual practices outside of the mainstream (e.g., polygamy, adultery, open relationships, etc.)
People with non-binary political beliefs
People with certain diseases
: In groups, let's come up with five questions that sociologists would ask about crime and the criminal justice system.
In research on misdemeanor courts in New York City, Kohler-Haussman (2012) argues that these low-level courts are a system of
control without conviction
. Through techniques of
, the courts function to exercise social control through the criminal justice system.
: What are these three techniques - marking, procedural hassle and mandated performance?
involves the creation, maintenance, and use of official state records about a person’s
criminal history or contact with the criminal justice system to make decisions.
refers to all the burdens and opportunity costs that come with complying with legal proceedings, including coming to court and checking in with parole officers.
identifies whether people successfully performed the tasks required by the court system.
: What are the consequences of mass imprisonment for individuals, families and communities?
refers to exclusion from voting for people otherwise eligible to vote because of their conviction for a criminal offense.
Based on state laws, which vary from state to state, nearly 6 million people who would otherwise be eligible to vote are barred from voting because of their criminal status or background. While nearly every state bars people in prison from voting, many states also bar people who have completed their sentence from voting, leading to the disenfranchisement of more than 2.5 million people.
One reason sociologists care about felon disenfranchisement is the
racial gap in disenfranchisement
. If African-Americans disproportionately make up the prison population, then they will be disproportionately impacted by disenfranchisement.
We might also ask about the social purpose served by these policies. Do they help to maintain the social order, or serve as a mechanism for social control?
Disenfranchisement has also changed the election outcomes, according to many social scientists, leading to drastic differences in the policy outcomes.