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Sociologists identify and study patterns related to all kinds of contemporary social issues. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the emergence of the Tea Party as a political faction, how Twitter has influenced everyday communication—these are all examples of topics that sociologists might explore.

Studying part and whole: how sociologists view social structures

A key basis of the sociological perspective is the concept that the individual and society are inseparable. It is impossible to study one without the other. German sociologist Norbert Elias called the process of simultaneously analyzing the behavior of individuals and the society that shapes that behavior figuration    .

An application that makes this concept understandable is the practice of religion. While people experience their religions in a distinctly individual manner, religion exists in a larger social context. For instance, an individual’s religious practice may be influenced by what government dictates, holidays, teachers, places of worship, rituals, and so on. These influences underscore the important relationship between individual practices of religion and social pressures that influence that religious experience (Elias 1978).

Individual-society connections

When sociologist Nathan Kierns spoke to his friend Ashley (a pseudonym) about the move she and her partner had made from an urban center to a small Midwestern town, he was curious about how the social pressures placed on a lesbian couple differed from one community to the other. Ashley said that in the city they had been accustomed to getting looks and hearing comments when she and her partner walked hand in hand. Otherwise, she felt that they were at least being tolerated. There had been little to no outright discrimination.

Things changed when they moved to the small town for her partner’s job. For the first time, Ashley found herself experiencing direct discrimination because of her sexual orientation. Some of it was particularly hurtful. Landlords would not rent to them. Ashley, who is a highly trained professional, had a great deal of difficulty finding a new job.

When Nathan asked Ashley if she and her partner became discouraged or bitter about this new situation, Ashley said that rather than letting it get to them, they decided to do something about it. Ashley approached groups at a local college and several churches in the area. Together they decided to form the town's first gay-straight alliance.

The alliance has worked successfully to educate their community about same-sex couples. It also worked to raise awareness about the kinds of discrimination that Ashley and her partner experienced in the town and how those could be eliminated. The alliance has become a strong advocacy group, and it is working to attain equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LBGT individuals.

Kierns observed that this is an excellent example of how negative social forces can result in a positive response from individuals to bring about social change (Kierns 2011).

Summary

Sociology is the systematic study of society and social interaction. In order to carry out their studies, sociologists identify cultural patterns and social forces and determine how they affect individuals and groups. They also develop ways to apply their findings to the real world.

Short answer

What do you think C. Wright Mills meant when he said that to be a sociologist, one had to develop a sociological imagination?

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Describe a situation in which a choice you made was influenced by societal pressures.

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Further research

Sociology is a broad discipline. Different kinds of sociologists employ various methods for exploring the relationship between individuals and society. Check out more about sociology at (External Link) .

References

Elias, Norbert. 1978. What Is Sociology? New York: Columbia University Press.

Hanson, Kenneth, and Craig Gundersen. 2002. “How Unemployment Affects the Food Stamp Program.” Food Assistance and Nutrition Research Report Number 26-7 . USDA. Retrieved January 19, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

Ludden, Jennifer. 2012. "Single Dads By Choice: More Men Going It Alone." npr. Retrieved December 30, 2014 (http://www.npr.org/2012/06/19/154860588/single-dads-by-choice-more-men-going-it-alone).

Mills, C. Wright. 2000 [1959]. The Sociological Imagination . 40th ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sahn, Richard. 2013. “The Dangers of Reification.” The Contrary Perspective . Retrieved October 14, 2014 (http://contraryperspective.com/2013/06/06/the-dangers-of-reification/).

U.S. Census Bureau. 2013. "America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2012." Retrieved December 30, 2014 (http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p20-570.pdf).

Questions & Answers

what is social change
Maryann Reply
Social change in sociology is the alteration of mechanisms within the social structure, characterized by changes in cultural symbols, rules of behaviour, social organizations, or value systems.
derickamishae
a social change is the difference of material objects and the attitude of using such things along the time and space .
Aqeel
Also collective behavior and social movements are just two of the forces driving social change, which is the change in society created through social movements as well as external factors like environmental shifts or technological innovations. Essentially, any disruptive shift in the status quo.
derickamishae
Derickamishae Thomas,you are corect about social change
Aqeel
I also think social change is when groups of individual at a certain period can no longer adapt with the current structure they find themselves in the society& decides to come together to bring about about a different social structure that would or could be of benefit to them.
Rabi
Can anyone tell me in urdu plzzz?
Shahid
about what thing
Ayaz
@Ayaz Allai. ..about social change?
Shahid
Advantage of Extended family over Nuclear family
Patricia Reply
nuclear family means a maried cuple live with unmaried childrens
Aqeel Reply
what are nuclear and non nuclear families?
Syed Reply
nuclear family mean , a maried cuple live with there unmaried children
Aqeel
 extended family group consists of non-nuclear(or "non-immediate") family members considered together with nuclear (or "immediate") familymembers.
Aqeel
sir, a joint family would be considered non nuclear?
Syed
yes offcourse,
Aqeel
Basic features of evolutionary theory
Krishna Reply
previous limits of engineering not yet almost surpassed
Matthew
what is collective behavior
Owais Reply
what is slavery?
naveed Reply
what is stratification
naveed
what are the common characteristics in the early studies carried by anthropologist
justus Reply
How can we define symbolic interaction in family?
hafsa Reply
how does technology impact the soceity?
Lizzy Reply
technology impulse the society to change its manners . bcz society cannot b live without. it has to adopt technology with it's new trend.
Sajjad
who can tell me benefits of sociological imaginations?
Mohamed Reply
who cn tell me benefits of sociological imaginations?
Mohamed
helps in being analytical and prevents too much bias in our observations
Rabi
please someone should elaborate on gerontology..
onoja Reply
study of ageing proccess is called gerontology...
Ayaz
why is sociology a science
Joseph Reply
Because its study human individual, group and the society
Baba
b/c the subject matter of sociology is the behavior of human being and society ...and sociology studies these under sceintific method ...empiricaly and clearly...it include all scientific method in its every study level...... 1.observation 2.research or literature reveiw 3.hypothesis 4.testing 5.th
Ayaz
5.theory sociology solve every problem with the help of above methods ...and it is clear that subject which solve any problem by such method is science..
Ayaz
it is a systematically study of human behaviour. sociology is a science bcoz it search the fact behind the behaviour.
derhagwara
socialogy as prospective? explain.
Natasha Reply
sorry i dont know you explain plz
Tariq
I think it is about sociologist view I just want to confirm it
Natasha
sociology as a perspective is about how different schools of thought views the society by providing explanation&process involved in analysing the society. there are basically 3 perspectives in sociology functionalists conflict interactionist perspectives .I take it, that's what you're asking, yes?
Rabi
what is interaction ritual chain
Rabi
Negative impact of family in the Society
Bode Reply
when the family does not pamper their offspring properly it badly effects the society....with my piont of veiw....
Ayaz
can you give me answers please
Bode
negative impact the way people treat badly 😔 with other people
Natasha
what is Florida? plz explain
Hashim
when a family impose outside thoughts on the society or thinking intraward, not take care the principles of society.
Sajjad
This is not a question...?
Matthew
what is the benefits of sociological imagination
mugunda
The Sociological imagination provides a framework for understanding our social world that far surpasses any common sense notion we might derive from our limited social experiences.
hasnain
thanks but I need more points if you have
mugunda
The sociological imagination kind of critical thinking helps to understand other people. It provides clues to the reason why a given person is under-educated, or unable to secure employment. It promotes analytical thinking and identification with the specifics of another person's social situation
Sajjad

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Source:  OpenStax, Introduction to sociology 2e. OpenStax CNX. Jan 20, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11762/1.6
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