This article is going to explore ten sociological concepts ( explained with simple examples) that everyone should know about.
10 SOCIOLOGICAL CONCEPTS
- SOCIAL STRATIFICATION: It refers to the categorization of groups into a hierarchy base on their socio-economic conditions like wealth, income, caste, race, etc. In western Societies, social stratification exists in three layers: The upper class, the middle class, and the lower class. Then there are further subdivisions within one class for eg. The upper-middle class. This is both a cause and a consequence of Inequality. An example is the Indian caste system. Another example can be how in the United States of America, there is a division between the Blacks and the whites. However in most societies, these positions in a stratified structure aren’t fixed, they can change via a process called social mobility.
- SOCIAL MOBILITY: Social Mobility is the movement of people, families or communities within or between the social strata of society. It leads to a change in their social status relative to one’s current social location in society. The movement can be both downwards and upwards. Societies present different opportunities for mobility depending on their value. For eg. Western systems are generally meritocratic, so through educational attainments, better-paying jobs, one can move up the system. Another form of social mobility which is seen in India is through Sanskritisation- which is the movement of lower caste groups upward the caste hierarchy.
- MARXISM: Marxism is a social, political, and economic theory named after Karl Marx which tries to understand the effects of capitalism on labor, production, and economic development and supports a worker’s revolution to defeat capitalism. Marxism focuses on the struggle between social classes, specifically the bourgeoisie and the proletariats. Marxism was first propagated by Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels in the 1848 Communist Manifesto. Marx believes that the bourgeoisie class controls the means of production whereas the proletariats are responsible for using their labor to transform raw things too valuable commodities. Marx believed that capitalism maximises profit for the capitalist lords whereas it pays the lowest wages to the labourers.
- SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION: The term was coined by American sociologist C. Wright Mills in a book called ‘The Sociological Imagination’ in 1959. This the awareness of the relationship between personal experience and wider society. A person who indulges in this should be able to separate themselves from a situation and think of it from an alternative point of view. Another way of understanding sociological imagination is that social outcomes are based on things that we do in our personal lives. So for eg. The COVID 19 pandemic affected the economy and caused the great recession, this, in turn, affected all of us personally as well as many of us lost our jobs and businesses declined
- SOCIAL FACT: A social fact is something that transcends the individual and acts as a controlling factor on them. The French sociologist Emile Durkheim coined this term and argued that the discipline of sociology is the empirical study of social facts. For Durkheim, social facts “consist of manners of acting, thinking, and feeling external to the individual, which are invested with a coercive power by which they exercise control over him.” Social Facts are a result of our socialisation, and what we have been taught by our family, friends and other institutions. Durkheim’s study of suicide rates as asocial fact is a monumental piece of work. Durkheim analyzed the suicide rates of both the Catholic and Protestant communities and concluded that suicide rates are higher in the protestant community as compared to the catholic community.
- FEMINIST THEORY: Feminism when extended to political, philosophical, or theoretical discourse, is called Feminist Theory. It examines women and men and their social roles, experiences interests, politics in a variety of fields including sociology and anthropology. The feminist theory first emerged in ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ by Mary Wollstonecraft. Many sociologists including Judith Butler, Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan. Feminist theory, which is essentially an extension of feminism aims to overthrow patriarchal order and looks at all social issues from a gendered lens. For eg. Feminist theory argues that Women aren’t born women, socialization makes them behave in a “feminine” manner. Through rewards and social sanctions, they are taught what is the appropriate way for their gender to behave.
- FUNCTIONALISM: This is a sociological perspective which says that society is characterized by certain norms and rules for it to function properly. Functionalists use the human body as a parallel to society as they say that different aspects of society, just like the different parts of the body are all interconnected and interdependent, thus, disfunction in one part might be symptomatic of disorder in the other. Some famous sociologists from this school of thought are Emile Durkheim, Herbert Spencer, and Talcott Parsons. For eg. A functionalist theory will support the gendered hierarchy in a family, as they believe that certain set roles need to be performed by the mother, father, and child for the family to be a functional unit of society.
- CAPITALISM: Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production. This system ensures that the majority of the profit is accumulated in a minority owner class’s hands also called the bourgeoise. While the ones who suffer are the majority labour class, also called the proletariats. Capitalism supports the institutions of the free market, private property and wage labour. The bourgeoise classes are dependent on the proletariats for converting raw material into economically valuable substances by using their labour-power. Critics argue that a capitalist system leads to the exploitation of the worker class. An eg. Of a capitalist society is the United States of America.
- STRAIN THEORY: Sociologically, the strain theory states that social structures within society end up pressurizing people to resort to criminal activities. This was advanced in 1938 by Robert K. Merton, Albert K. Cohen, Neil Smelser and Richard Rosenfeld. This is based on the work of Emile Durkheim. It is also prominent in criminology. It states that often there is unsaid pressure on individuals to achieve socially acceptable goals like the American Dream even though they may not have the means to achieve it. This leads to strain on the individual, and thus they may end up resorting to crimes to achieve the means to realize their dream. However, strain theory does not explain all kinds of crime, for eg. It fails to tell us why sexual harassment or other crimes arising out of gender-based differences take place.
- SOCIAL CHANGE: Sociologists define social change as changes in human interactions and relationships that transform social institutions. These changes may occur over time and have profound consequences on society. For eg. Only as a result of the Suffrage Movement in the past, have women been granted the right to vote for their representatives today all across the world. This is an example of how social change takes time but creates a lasting impact. Marx’s theory suggests that changes in the modes of production can bring about a change in the structures and relationships of society. For eg. In a feudal mode of production, the serfs were the lower class, while the kings were the upper class. After the coming of the capitalist mode of production, things changed, as the bourgeoisie became the masters and the proles became the exploited class.