sociologyWelcome to the first module in our online Sociology of the Family course for Fall 2016. This week, our objective is to understand what sociology is as a discipline, the perspective it has, and how it relates to the family. According to the American Sociological Association:

“What Is Sociology?

  • the study of society
  • a social science involving the study of the social lives of people, groups, and societies
  • the study of our behavior as social beings, covering everything from the analysis of short contacts between anonymous individuals on the street to the study of global social processes
  • the scientific study of social aggregations, the entities through which humans move throughout their lives’
  • an overarching unification of all studies of humankind, including history, psychology, and economics”

While sociology is similar to, and may incorporate information from these other fields like psychology and economics, how is it different? What is the difference between sociology and psychology? [Videos for your information, not required, unless stated otherwise.]

While psychology focuses on the individual, their brain functions, and how they exist in a vacuum, or maybe consider their relationships to their parents, sociology studies people in relationships to other people, group relations, and especially, POWER, and how it is exercised through social institutions. What are social institutions? List a few and think about how each one of them create conformist behaviors.

Three of the most important organizing concepts in sociology are: Institutions, Power, and Demographics. 

Religion confusion
Health Care
The Family

Institutions and the Family:
Thinking about these institutions, how do they constrict behaviors and beliefs as they relate to the family? How does schooling impact the family? How does religion impact the family? How does the government constrict the family? How does the military create family structures? How does the family interact with healthcare? How have these institutions shaped your own family? This will be the information that you will write about in your sociological autobiography in the next module.

Institutions and POWER:
How do each of these institutions exercise power over and between people? Power is a central organizing concept as we look at all social relationships, because power is a dynamic between all human interactions and how institutions structure human behavior. How do schools exercise power? How does religion exercise power? How does the government exercise power? How does the health care system exercise power over people?

The sub-groups we are born into, and the bodies in which we inhabit, shape our relationship to others because social aspects and power relationships have been placed over natural embodies states, such as ethnicity, race and gender. Ethnicity is one’s national identity (country into which one was born), one’s national identity which one identifies, if not within the country that one lives in (i.e., immigrant family), and the related cultural aspects of this nation-based identify (food or religion practices).  Race is a social concept that has no biologically proven aspect, but has become an organizing concept in society. People are placed into different racial categories, but these categories are based on the history of the country and how this country has related to certain groups. It does not point to a reality of racial differences, which becomes apparent when we try and understand the racial boundaries and overlaps between groups. For example: “Asians” is a term in the U.S. that captures people that come from dozens of different countries, have different nationalities, cultures, languages, and include all skin colors and races, from black to brown to white, yet in the U.S., they are called by the same term and therefore the treatment and understanding of this group is organized by this categorization. Yet, the categories based on race, ethnicity, and gender have huge impacts on how other people will treat us, and even how we understand ourselves. How have you been taught what ethnicity and racial categories you fall into? Did your parents teach you? Did your school or friends? Did the T.V.? How has your own ethnicity been exercised inside the house and in relation to other institutions? (i.e., how does one exercise their Asian American identity inside the military? Inside school?) How would you be different if you were the opposite gender? How do you perform your gender identity through the clothes you wear, your behavior, and your interests?

In the U.S., which groups are in power? How does that power manifest itself in structural ways (through institutions and laws, for example) and how does power manifest itself through interaction between two people (a teacher and a student, segregation of races, how men and women interact). In whichever categorization of people, some are empowered socially through our history and social institutions. For example, which gender is more empowered in our society: men or women? How is this manifested through institutional structures? How is this created through interpersonal interactions: men and women in the family? When someone goes against these power structures, how are they punished? What happens when someone wants to be outside of the binary of men and women and wants to consider themselves transgender or “genderqueer” (not identifying as strictly woman or man but a mixture of the two). We often do not explicitly speak of power, but in this course, we will want to examine this as a central organizing concept, because it is not only dividing people into different groups and categories, but then assigning supremacy and preference to one of these categories, over others: Men and women, whites and blacks, Americans and Mexicans, and rich and poor. List the different groups you belong to and which ones are dominant and which ones are marginalized? How does it shape your life to come from the dominant white racial group in the U.S.? How would your life be different if you were a different race? How does it shape your relationship to school when you come from an immigrant family?

OPTIONAL comment response:
You have the option after you have set up your account, to leave a comment in the section below, and respond to some of the questions that have been addressed in this module. Also, you can provide a response to a classmates’ comment. What questions do you have from this module? What would you ask your classmates? The comments section below is a space in which we can communicate with each other based on the ideas expressed in this module. Also, feel free to find other information online and post links to additional information that you found useful.

The field of Sociology  by
What  do Sociologists do? By the British Sociological Association