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Sociological Snippets

by Dan Brook

*****An Invitation from TSS*****

TSS Directory

The links here are a joint effort between Dan Brook and David H. Kessel. Some are substantive links (to writings, etc.) and some are informational (details of the individual or the concept). Some directly reference the specific "snippet" and others reference a general body of ideas...through which the reader will have to look. A few are "applications" of the areas not overtly sociological. We tried to use just one link for each name or idea, but in some cases there were more than one which were good. In those cases, a double asterisk (**) is included after the name...linking you to a list of further sites you might want to visit. When a name appears more than once, the previous link will be inserted...unless there's a more pertinent one for that entry.

Certainly, no claim is being made that these links are the "best" ones...they are only suggestive... if anyone has other sites they feel are worthy of inclusion here, contact either Dan or David. We hope you enjoy not only the snippets themselves, but also the educational journey through the links.

The Snippets

**Sociology is the study of groups of two or more people and their interactions, including how they act and react, organize themselves, construct ideas, explain the world, communicate with each other, form groups and build institutions, protect themselves, produce, distribute, and consume things, work, play, conform, resist, learn, love, live, and die. Sociology also focuses on the social forces that shape individual lives and how groups of individuals influence those social forces.

**Basic sociological questions for any given situation may include, but are not limited to:
a) what are people thinking and doing there?
b) what kinds of people are there?
c) who is included and who is excluded?
d) what rules and norms govern behavior there?
e) how are roles assigned and tasks divided?
f) who says so?
g) how are people socialized?
h) whose interests do these social arrangements serve?
i) who benefits and who loses?
j) what powerful people, processes, institutions, and structures influence these arrangements?
k) in what ways are things changing there and in what ways are they staying the same?
l) when, how, and why do people resist?
m) is this process or system relatively sustainable?
(E. Barbara Phillips)

**Things are not necessarily as they appear. Surfaces often hide essences. "You canít judge a book by its cover" (proverb). Appearance isnít always reality. "Things are not what they seem" (Peter Berger). "Little things may contain big meanings; social insignificance need not imply sociological insignificance" (Gary Marx & Doug McAdam; Erving Goffman).

**When people "define situations as real, they are real in their consequences" (William I. Thomas). Surfaces are often treated as essences. Appearance sometimes becomes reality. Oneís face, or a structureís facade, is whatís primarily seen by others and often taken as a representation for the whole.

**People who are labeled and treated as different and deficient often act different and deficient (Walter Lippman), are exaggerated bits of truth about certain groups of people, which are blown up into monstrous imagined untruths that are then applied to individual members of those groups ( ecological fallacy). Like a "looking-glass self"(**) , you are what people think you are (Charles H. Cooley; labeling theory), making the self both subject and object (George Herbert Mead). Self-fulfilling prophesies are very common and appear to prove themselves, yet they may be more self-fulfillment than prophesy (Robert K. Merton).

**Names, language, metaphors, culture, and beliefs shape reality. What we think about something, what we call it, and how we describe it can be powerful influences on how it is viewed, treated, understood, and valued by ourselves and others (George Lakoff).

**Social structures constrain individual behavior, but social structures also empower individuals. Individual behavior can reinforce social structures, but people can also subvert them. Likewise with social systems. People and institutions continuously interact with each other, mediated by culture, recreating and reproducing each other (Anthony Giddens; William Sewell; agent-structure problem).

**People exist within multiple networks of family, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, peers, co-congregants, co-workers, colleagues, classmates, and others. No one is alone in society, even though many people are alienated and therefore may feel alone (John Donne; existentialism). Some social ties are stronger than others and may serve different purposes and perform different functions at different times ( Georg Simmel; Mark Granovetter).

**People often act in the pursuit of status, engaging in "conspicuous consumption", "conspicuous leisure", "conspicuous waste", and other prominent activities designed for show more than substance (Thorstein Veblen; Vance Packard).

**The questions we ask help determine the answers we get, along with the policies and solutions we propose and accept. Definitions, conceptualization, ideology, perspective, methods, deep assumptions, underlying beliefs, and levels of analysis can influence outcomes. "What you see depends on how you look at it" as well as who and what you are (E. Barbara Phillips) .

**People act differently in groups (Emile Durkheim). Society is greater than the sum of its inhabitants.

**Change is constant and ubiquitous. Nothing is static. The only thing that doesnít change is change itself (I Ching; Tao Te Ching; Heraclitus; Euripides; theory of becoming; Georg Simmel). People, languages, societies, and cultures are always changing, most often very slowly but occasionally very quickly. People generally both fear and embrace change.

**People are always making choices and these always involve social opportunity costs. Even when we donít want to or donít even consciously think about it, we are making choices. Even choosing not to choose is making a choice. Choices are therefore inevitable. Everything we do (or donít do) and everything that is done (or not done) has effects on ourselves and others (Immanuel Kantís "categorical imperative").

**Common sense is generally the common ideas associated with mainstream society and its dominant ideologies. The ruling ideas of the day are the ideas of the ruling class (Karl Marx).

**Everything is, in some way, related to everything else ( Erwin Schrodingerís "entanglement"(**) ; Stanley Milgramís " degrees of separation"). Change in one area often produces change in other areas. Very small changes in the initial circumstances of a process can lead to very large changes in the outcomes (ecosystems analysis; chaos theory). "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality" (Martin Luther King, Jr.).

**Race, class, gender, and sexuality, as well as other axes of power, are omnipresent in society, even when these issues may appear absent. They are not just master characteristics of people, they are also projects and processes that are "carried out", "done", "accomplished", "performed", and enforced by creating or maintaining social differences, and are embedded in social interaction (Candace West and Don Zimmerman; Judith Butler). "Identities are often personal and political projects in which we participate" (Craig Calhoun(**) ). None of these characteristics are biological, natural, or fixed, but rather are processes which are continuously socially constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed. Identities are created and recreated through collective action, producing feelings of "us" (or "we") and "them" (or "other"), sometimes referred to as "othering". These master characteristics co-define and re-produce each other, while they also infuse all social relations and social structures.

**Social phenomena (including people) are processes as well as events ( Alfred North Whitehead; Mae-Wan Ho). Things happen, but they also have a context in which they happen, especially a history and a future. Events and processes co-exist in relation to other events and processes (event-process tracing).

**Most societal problems are social and therefore cannot be solved by technical means alone, but rather can only be solved by incorporating moral and social changes (Garrett Hardin).

**Acts arenít criminal until we as a society deem them so. We do not dislike actions that are criminal, rather we criminalize actions that we do not like (Emile Durkheim).

**Culture guides action. Everyone thinks, speaks, feels, views, creates, enjoys, works, behaves, resists, protests, loves, learns, rears, dreams, fights, consumes, develops, exists, and dies in a cultural context (Clifford Geertz).

**People search for meaning, love, acceptance, interaction, belonging, and community. People also try to make sense of their world and often act to reduce uncertainty. Therefore, they join groups, create families, make friends, form attachments, have children, construct belief systems, name objects and phenomena, engage in rituals, tell stories and jokes, make love, create art, build things, and follow traditions. Money is sometimes held out as a substitute for meaning, yet it rarely, if ever, successfully becomes so.

Snippets Continued Here

Looking Glass Self
Another site

Craig Calhoun
Another Site

Erwin Schrodinger
Another Site