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The Study of Society
Mid-term Review (I)
Irene H. Ahn
Four Overarching Units
1. Introduction of Sociology
2. How are race, class, and gender socially constructed?
3. How are social inequalities involving these categories produced and
reproduced in key institutions?
4. How do race, class, and gender operate in everyday life?
q What is sociology?
q What does it mean to think
q How is sociology different?
What is sociology?
The study of society…
The study of human behavior and social relationships, and how people’s lives,
attitudes and actions are both shaped by and shape the societies in which they
Sociological Research :heterogenous (education, religion, family, health, crime,
Mills: What does it mean to think sociologically?
When thinking about individual outcomes (e.g.
educational achievement, health, occupation,
home ownership etc.), popular discourse often
emphasizes “personal trouble” and “biography”
while overlooking “public issue” and “history”.
ü The sociological imagination
ü Biography and history (and their relationship)
ü Troubles vs. Issues
What is the sociological imagination?
“Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood
without understanding both.” (Mills)
How their biography is a result of historical process and occurs within a larger
Biography vs. History
● Biography: Individual’s personal characteristics; specific experience
Ex: Race, gender, personality (lazy, hardworking…), personal education, individual success
● History: beyond individual; historical development; shaped by the society;
larger context of the society
Biography situated within history
Individuals are located in particular social context
Individual’s success/failure is shaped by social/historical context
John is unemployed because:
Popular discourse often emphasizes “biography”:
John is lazy
John decided not to go to college
John lacks adequate skills
The sociologist also considers “history”:
Technological developments and mechanization of work
Globalization and outsourcing
Durkheim: What makes sociology different?
● Social Facts
Ways of acting, thinking and
feeling that exist outside the
of the individual, yet shape
individual actions, ways of thinking,
ways of feeling and so forth.
Social facts have coercive power!
● A social fact is both external to
individuals and something
which exerts some form of
constraint over individuals
● A good example is languagelanguage is both separate from
us and constrains our
expression in many ways
Norms and conventions that regulate
clothing and acting
For example, a woman is expected to sit like a ‘lady’ with her legs closed. A man on the other hand
should sit with his legs open, or else he might be labelled a sissy.
Examples of Social Facts
● Systems of signs and symbols
Individuals are autonomous in their behavior
● No, we (sociologists) actually need to consider social
● What social facts exist?
● How do these shape human behavior?
1. Race (Week 2)
2. Class (Week 3)
3. Gender (Week 4)
January 31, Friday (Week 4)
● People believes that race is fixed and innate category; sociologists debunk
this idea and argue that race is socially constructed.
● Race: scientific concept based on biology; different race have different
biological distinct, but sociologists show it is a social concept.
● Race shapes hierarchy: the idea of race as biology has historically been
used to justify stratification
● Omi and Winant : “Race as a social concept and specifically a
sociohistorical concept…. (p.13)
● (1) Race and meanings related to race are shaped by social, economic, and
● (2) Racial means also shape the social, economic and political context of a
● (3) With racial formation, race become a central defining character of social
(Racial formation is a progress)
1) How is race a social and social historical concept?
2) How has race been historically linked to stratification?
3) How has the category of “whiteness” shifted over time? And what does that tell us about the concept
Race as a social concept, and specifically a
● “Racial categories and the meaning of race are given concrete expression by
the specific social relations and historical context in which they are
embedded. Racial meanings have varied tremendously over time and
between different societies.” – Omi and Winant pg.13
The Concept of Whiteness (Brodkin)
● Jewish people faced
● Ex: faced discrimination on
● Expansion of the notion of
whiteness to include Jews
Structural barriers removed;
institutionalized forms of
New opportunities opened (in
housing, education, employment)
More opportunities for upward
● The idea of race as biology has historically been used to justify stratification
Slavery, Jim Crow
Who is allowed to own property, who is not
Who is allowed to vote, who is not
Racial Ideology & Racial Myth
● Race is imbued with powerful social meaning
● There exists a “racial order” that shapes identity, interactions, relationships,
opportunities, and explanations about groups and differences between
● Racial formation shapes opportunities and disadvantages
● …. Differences in skin color and other obvious physical characteristics
supposedly provide visible clues to differences lurking underneath(Omi and
As part of racial ideology …
Race is used to infer information like a person’s temperament, sexuality, athletic ability,
intellectual ability, interests and aesthetic preferences
Racial myths and stereotypes operate throughout everyday life and are central to our social
Myths are so engrained that they lead to the belief that race is natural, biological, fixed.
A social class is a group of people
of similar status, commonly sharing
comparable levels of power and
wealth. In sociology, social classes
describe one form of social
Gain basic vocabulary for discussing social
mobility and stratification
● Social mobility
● Horizontal mobility and vertical mobility
● What is a mobile system of stratification? What is an immobile system of
● Transition of any social object (individual, social groups) from one position
to another; involves vertical or horizontal mobility
● Social status (position) : refers to our rank in the social hierarchy
( occupation, wealth, achievements, education)
● Vertical mobility: the movement from one social status to a different social
status; a change within the lifetime of an individual to a higher or lower
status than the person had to begin with
● Horizontal mobility: the movement from one position within a social status
to another position ; a change in occupational position or role without a
change of position in the social hierarchy
1. American Dream (Meritocracy)
● American Dream: success is an individual endeavor ; character, work ethic,
attitude etc. determine your success ; thinking positively ; very pervasive in
the US society
2. Factors beyond the individual that shape
● Educational tracking (Bowles and Gintis; 1976)
● Differences in quality of schools (think poor neighborhood vs. wealthier
● Social networks and social capital (success can be influenced by who you
-The “dark side” of social networks
● Lack of jobs in a community and related factors
What are dominant explanations for social
The American dream (idea of meritocracy) : when we think about success, think about individual characteristics
(positive, independent of a your attribute): if you try to hard we all will be successful!
Social structure (structural factors)
Beyond individual shape mobility
Differences in quality of school
Social networks and social capital (success can be influenced by who you know)
MacLeod Presents a third perspective : we should look at together (this is an empirical Mill’s theory or idea)
“ain’t no making it”
Aspirations and expectations
Hallway Hangers vs. Brothers
● Immobile (shared interest, completely understand each other; closed
system; you will be very unified; solidarity will be very strong) An example is
India. Traditionally, hierarchically closed, caste system, historically caste
system dictate all life (privilege, giving more power, lower class denied;
allowed job depends on your caste system); India and the caste system
(Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras, Dalits (street cleaner, menial
● We can see a great amount of social cohesion;
● Social antagonism between class; relationship between slaves and masters
(tenants and landlord) the same antagonism like between bourgeoisies and
● Solidarities based on class position (immobile societies)
● Mobile system: individualized, isolated, classes less solidarity; solidarity and
cohesion based on class ideality (but class ideality is weak; people are
solidarity based on their tastes, interests (but not clear as much as
● Solidarities based on interest (mobile societies) -- because of shared
interest (For example, I like playing soccer )
4 myths about class in the U.S.:
We are a middle-class nation
Class doesn’t really matter in the U.S.
We live in a land of upward mobility
Everyone has the chance to succeed
Sex vs. Gender
● Sociologists make a distinction between sex, which is biologically
determined, and gender, which is socially constructed
● People are socialized to perform the gender that corresponds with their
biological sex (for example, by behaving in ways that are considered typical
for their gender).
● The normative pressures to perform gender can be strong, and individual
who don’t perform gender in expected ways can face bullying and exclusion.
Social construction of Gender
● Operation of gender and gender differences in societies
● Society and culture create gender roles and, and these roles are prescribed
as ideal or appropriate behavior for a person of that specific sex
● Refers to the interactions between genders that tends to strengthen and
perpetuate gender boundaries
Activities often lead to same-gender teams
Contests between the sexes
● Schools are sites in which notions of gender and gender boundaries are
● Gender is an organizing factor around which interactions between boys and
girls are organized.
● Gender boundaries (and definitions) are created through play and other
similar face-to-face interactions.
● When gender boundaries are activated, the loose aggregation ‘boys and girls’
consolidates into ‘the boys’ and ‘the girls’ as separate and reified groups. In
the process, categories of identity that on other occasions have minimal
relevance for interaction because the basis of separate collectivities… These
stylized moments evoke recurring themes that are deeply rooted in our
cultural conceptions of gender, and they suppress awareness of patterns that
contradict and qualify them. (1993: 65-66)
Changing sex (or gender) vs. changing race
Rachel Dolezal vs. Caitlyn Jenner
● Paradoxically, while sex is a biological category in a way that race is not, sex
and gender are understood to be more open to choice and change than are
race and ethnicity. The distinction between sex and gender?
● The distinction between sex and gender – and the irrelevance of ancestry to
definitions of sex and gender – has made it possible to construe gender
identity as subjective individual property that is uncoupled from the body.
● Racial identity, however, is understood to be tightly couple to the body and
to be grounded in social relations, specifically in family and ancestry. This
holds even more strongly in North America, where racial classification has
historically depended not only on phenotype but also, crucially, on ancestry.
What might Durkheim say?
● Racial ideology is too ingrained in our society
Race trumps gender in organizing social life
Maybe people are too invested in existing racial order
● Race is linked to culture in a way that gender is not
● Broader LGBTQ+ movements
● People of different races are more divided than people of different genders
Good luck with your mid-term!
See you next week!! J