Archive for the ‘Sociological Perspective’ Category


Durkheim and Anomie

March 4, 2010
Posted by: Chad M. Gesser
Twitter: @profgesser
Anomie is one of those concepts in the field of Sociology that can be applied in a variety of ways.  Coined by French Sociologist Emile Durkheim in his 1897 study “Suicide”, anomie refers to a sense of normlessness, resulting in individual detachment and disconnection from other members of a group or society at large.

Sociologists see society as an organism, much the way the human body is an organism.  Society, just like the human body, is a sum of its parts.

Staying with the human anatomy and physiology theme, I like to think of the above image as the “skeleton” of society.  Below you’ll find the makeup of the “central nervous system”.  These are the fundamental elements of culture.

Keep in mind that norms are the guidelines and expectations in society.  They are not right or wrong, but we as members of society determine at any given moment in time or history the makeup of norms.  For example, it once was the norm for males to hold the door open for females.  That is a particular folkway that seems to not carry as much importance in relationships anymore.  Norms, just like culture, change.  The “skeleton” of society, and the “central nervous system”, remain the same.

This is the stuff that theory is made of, and precisely the insight that Durkheim was seeking to provide in his study on suicide, and his coining of the term anomie.  Individuals that feel connected to the prevailing cultural norms, to groups, to society as a whole, engage in conventional behavior and have more in common with others in the group or community.  Some would suggest that those that feel more connected also have a more positive sense of self or self concept.  When people feel detached, when they feel that they do not belong, this is anomie.  What groups or individuals in society are seen as detached or disconnected?

In order to understand anomie one has to understand not only how society and culture is organized, but also the subjective nature of society and culture.  Therefore anomie, just like society and culture, changes.  This poses a challenge to members of society; the need to change, to adapt, to fit in.  Structural functionalists would say that social institutions play an important role in this regard of keeping society organized and efficient, that members of society feel included.  Social conflict theorists may suggest that anomie is a byproduct of society; that varied access to resources inherently breeds anomie in society, thereby leading to constant inequality and social change.

Can you think of other examples of anomie?  Do you feel that you are connected to the prevailing social norms?  Do you feel that most people in your community have a sense of anomie or feel like they belong in the community?  How does sense of connection change over the life span?  What can members of social institutions and organizations do to make sure people feel included and connected?


Developing a Sociological Imagination

February 8, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

One of the most difficult things for the new sociology student is to understand what on earth the “sociological imagination” or the “sociological perspective” is.  The idea of learning to relate, as C. Wright Mills puts it, your biography to your moment in history and realizing the ways in which that combination of factors influences how you view the world is challenging to say the least, and one of the major goals of any introductory sociology class.

Probably the easiest way to develop the muscles of your sociological imagination is to USE them; the only way to learn to think sociologically is to challenge yourself to DO SO.  This week, I asked my class to do just that – to think about how their own biography and history would impact their interpretation of a social phenomenon such as poverty, educational inequality, gender inequality, or the changing divorce rate.

As an example, we spoke about how my own biography and history might impact my interpretation of the childfree by choice movement.  In this growing social movement, individuals and couples of childbearing age are making the conscious decision to forego parenting for a variety of reasons.

Every individual would come to an analysis of this phenomenon based on their own experiences.  For me, a number of factors will impact how I look at the movement.  First off, I am a parent.  Not only that, I did not come by parenthood easily.  That personal experience naturally must shade my thoughts about people who would choose not to raise children.  I’m not just a product of my own relationship to parenting, though; my opinions are also influenced by the historical context in which I live.  In particular, I look at the idea of choosing a child free life through the lens of our growing knowledge of the impact that the growing human population is having on the planet.

Somewhere in the space between those considerations lies my sociological perspective on the childfree movement.  We all go through this same process, whether consciously or unconsciously, whenever we try to flex our sociological imaginations.  The challenge is to be aware of the process.

How do your own biography and history impact your sociological imagination?


The Sociology of Avatar

January 15, 2010

Posted by: Chad M. Gesser

Twitter: @profgesser


I’m not a movie connoisseur or reviewer by ANY stretch of the imagination. Seriously, you would likely bow your head, shaking it in shame if you knew the movies I had NOT seen.

Ok, so I got that off my chest.  Now, let’s turn our attention to a little movie that came out late December of 2009 called “Avatar”.  Without question the most significant aspect of Avatar was/is how the movie was made.  Groundbreaking technology was used in filming the movie, not to mention the movie came out in both 3D and normal movie viewing mode.  While numbers of movie goers having seen Avatar is hard to come by, the dollar figures aren’t.  At the time of this blog post, Avatar has made well over $1 billion, making it the fastest movie ever to reach that amount in box office sales.

There are those movies that I went into expecting a ton, and was quite disappointed.  I didn’t even want to see Avatar, so I went to say I indeed had seen it.

Needless to say, it was definitely a “wow” experience.  The visual effects were stunning.  But what I did not expect going into the movie, and what still captivates my memory of the event that is Avatar, was/is the clear examples of Sociology.

My first reactions after seeing Avatar can be found in a series of tweets I made on Twitter:

There have been a wide range of reactions to Avatar, and the Sociology of the movie.  Josh McCabe at The Sociological Imagination weighed in.  A widely distributed post by Annalee Newitz at the blog io9 highlights the racist overtones of the movie, comparing it to Dancing With Wolves, Distict 9, and others.  Twitter friend of mine “SocProf” had a similar reaction,  found here.

Regardless of one’s positive or negative viewpoints of the movie, no one can argue the Sociological metaphors found throughout the movie.  Did you notice the difference in cultural beliefs of the people of Pandora pitted against the humans from Earth?  What about the role of religion on Pandora compared to the traditional practices of religion we have come to know on Earth?


Finding Sociology in the Everyday

January 7, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

As a teacher of sociology, I am often asked what exactly sociology is.  My usual answer is that it’s the study of groups and social institutions, and that really we are all living sociology every single day.

It is one thing to say this; it is a much harder thing to concretely identify those parts of our everyday lives that could easily be analyzed from a sociological perspective.

As a challenge to myself, I am thinking about this one day – January 6th 2010 – and what sociological issues were raised as I went about my everyday life.

  • As my family got ready to leave the house in the morning, we made decisions about who did what tasks. I made breakfast for the family, and later my husband took our daughter to the bus stop. We only own one car; I dropped my husband off at his office on my way to my own campus. How does this line up with the traditionally gendered division of labor?
  • At work, I met with another faculty member to talk about a student we have in common. He is a senior faculty member and I am a part-time instructor. How did our relative social standing within the department influence our interaction? Later, I talked to the department administrator. Again, how did our relative social standing influence our interaction?
  • After work, I came home and finished unpacking the luggage from a recent two-week trip to India. In what ways did my social class status impact my ability to go on that trip? And what did I learn about relative definitions of wealth and poverty while traveling in India?
  • When my family arrived home, I cooked dinner. How did our ethnic heritage and social class status influence the type, quantity, and quality of the foods that we ate?
  • In the evening, I spent some time chatting online with a friend who lives far away. How are information and communication technologies affecting our social ties? And, as mentioned here previously, can we say whether these changes are good or bad?

This is just one day from one person’s life. How might you analyze a day in your life from a sociological perspective? Which elements of sociology are most apparent in your everyday life?


Sociology: right before your eyes

December 31, 2009

Posted by: Chad M. Gesser

Twitter: @profgesser


Sociology is a relatively young academic discipline. Through the various specialties and considerations of Sociology can be found three primary contributors: Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber.

It’s interesting to note that much of their influence can be traced to the same era: the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Mention and review of their major contributions can be found early on in most Introduction to Sociology textbooks, and can be found often in the most unlikely of places.

The following are recent popular culture references of these major sociological contributors, some of them might surprise you!

Karl Marx: from Venezuela, “Chavez says Obama ‘illusion’ over”; from Israel, via Los Angeles, “Religion everywhere

Emile Durkheim: from the semi-popular Festivus tradition from the comedy series Sienfeld, “What’s the Fuss Over Festivus?”; from England,
Musical or not, you can’t beat belting out a good tune

Max Weber: from Jerusalem, “Obama’s tragic sense of war and peace”; from Knoxville, TN, “Experts in their fields look at the millennium and where they think it’s heading”; from Sri Lanka “Presidential election and Charismatic Leadership

As you read about Marx, Durkheim, and Weber, do their ideas and findings resonate or appear meaningful? Reading about other major contributors, what particular contributors and ideas or works do you find appealing or interesting?


How will you learn THIS semester?

December 29, 2009

Posted by: Chad M. Gesser

Twitter: @profgesser


I’d like to kick off the start of 2010 with a look at a very interesting video by Dr. Michael Wesch. Wesch is an anthropologist at Kansas State University, specializing in digital ethnography. I first came across this video early in 2007, and then later was fortunate to hear Dr. Wesch speak in the fall of 2007 at a conference just outside of Nashville, TN.

At the start of Introduction to Sociology, many students will be exposed to the idea of the sociological perspective. In this case, are teachers and students on the same page regarding learning?

This video brings forth some thought provoking questions. Among them, what do students learn in college, how do they learn, how do they use their time, and is the educational system reaching students most effectively for a wide ranging, learning college experience?

As we start the new year in 2010, and as many of you start the new semester in Introduction to Sociology, what expectations do you have for your class? How will your class utilize the World Wide Web? How will you engage  with the material? How will you learn sociology?

More of Dr. Wesch’s videos can be found here.