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People who like to avoid shocking discoveries, who prefer to believe that society is just what they were taught in Sunday School, who like the safety of the catchphrases of what Alfred Schütz has called the “world taken-for-granted,” should stay away from sociology. People who have no curiosity about human beings, who are content to admire the scenery without wondering about the people who live in those houses on the other side of that river, should probably also stay away from sociology. They will find it unpleasant and unrewarding. People who are interested in human beings only if they can change, convert or reform them should also be warned, for they will find sociology much less useful than they hoped. And people whose interest is mainly in their own conceptual constructions will do just as well to turn to the study of little white mice. Sociology will be satisfying only to those who can think of nothing more entrancing than to observe others and to understand all things human.

There are four basic ways people look at sociology 

One group thinks sociology has something to do with social work because the words sound alike. Social workers focus on people, just like sociologists do, but then again, so do psychologists and anthropologists. The big difference is that social workers are caseworkers who provide support services, financial assistance, and supervisory roles, like probation and parole officers. Sociologists study human behavior.

A second group sees sociology as being like anthropology, which is close. The big difference is that anthropology studies people at the micro- levels: individuals, tribes, groups. Think Margaret Mead in Samoa and New Guinea. Anthropologists ran out of remote jungle tribes to study and now study urban tribal groups. Sociology looks at the bigger picture that goes on at the regional, national and global levels.

A third group of people thinks sociology is a fusty academic discipline where tenured professors spend grant money studying things that will further their careers. Some of that is true.

A fourth group knows much of today’s sociology has moved out of academia and into the world of businesses that sell products and services. Business sociology examines how consumers think and understands why the do the way they do. Business sociologists conduct studies using individual interviews, group interviews, and surveys on behalf of businesses that want to better understand their customers at regional, national, and global levels. The primary motivation of business sociologists is to find what products to build, which services to provide, and what the future holds so their clients can gain strategic advantage over their competitors.

Business sociology is about people

Business sociology is the use of behavioral science methods outside of academic settings to examine and understand real-world markets, customers and the competition. The Harvard Business School says business schools that once ignored human behavior have now opened their minds to the notion that a deeper understanding of humans and how they interact has real value. They go on to ask this very good question: How can you possibly expect to succeed in business if you don’t understand customers and competitors – or subordinates, superiors and co-workers, for that matter?

My first-ever sociology class was taught by K.M. George

The first thing he told us was “Sociology is the study of why we do the way we do.” It was a succinct and pithy definition that has stayed with me ever since. Dr. George was a good teacher and would have been a great one if his speech wasn’t so hard for students to understand. He had a heavy accent and a clipped manner of speaking that sounded like this: “Sosology isda study uff vy ve dooda vay ve do.”

Here are some of the things people say about sociology
  • Whatever sociology may be, it is the result of constantly asking the question, what is the meaning of this? C. Wright Mills 
  • Good sociology produces meaningful descriptions of organizations and events, valid explanations of how they come about and persist, and realistic proposals for their improvement or removal. Howard S. Becker
  • The difficulty in sociology is to manage to think in a completely astonished and disconcerted way about things you thought you had always understood. Pierre Bordieau
  • My students often ask me “What is Sociology?” I tell them it is the study of the way human beings are shaped by many things they don’t even see. Sam Richards, teacher and Ted Talker
  • Cultural and social critic Os Guinness said sociology should be used to analyze the world around us so we can become more discerning. To resist the dangers of the world, we need to recognize the distortions and seductions of the world.
  • Digital anthropologist and futurist Brian Solis says technology will continue to change and evolve, but the future of marketing and social media will be all about sociology.
  • Novelist Tom Wolfe, a writer of autobiographical fiction, said sociology is the key to understanding our lives.
The Sociological Imagination

Peter Berger said the Sociological Imagination is a way of seeing through the outside appearances of people’s actions and organizations, much as X-rays and MRIs see right through our exteriors to the really important things that are hidden inside, things that are invisible to casual observers. Sociological imagination does not stop at identifying patterns of social behavior, but seeks explanations for those patterns. 

The sociological perspective is a way of thinking about the world

The sociological perspective seeks to understand and explain the connectedness between things most people consider only one at a time. Many people believe they understand the world and the events taking place within it, even though they have not engaged in any systematic attempt to comprehend these things. The sociological perspective provides a framework for understanding our social world that surpasses any notions we derive from our personal experiences.

Peter Berger says only by applying the sociological perspective can we gain a clear understanding of what is happening right in front of us. Only by looking through objective eyes – beyond the stereotypes and assumptions that most people think is all they need to know – can we develop meaningful insights. The sociological perspective searches for the true, hidden meanings that most are unaware of.

In their quest for understanding, sociologists move through the world of men without respect for the usual boundaries and pecking orders

Good sociologists have so many questions that they have no choice but to seek answers. Sociologists want to open all the doors they find because behind each closed door they will find something not yet perceived or understood. Sociology is not the excitement of coming upon the totally unfamiliar, but rather the excitement of finding the familiar becoming transformed in its meaning. The fascination of sociology lies in the fact that its perspective makes us see in a new light the very world in which we have lived all our lives.

Tom Wolfe wrote The Right Stuff

Wolfe said he always looked down on sociology as a status-seeking discipline. But once I had exposure to it, he said, I realized here is the key to understanding our lives. Hunter Thompson, the inventor of Gonzo Journalism, had this to say about Tom Wolfe: Take those suits, which he once called a marvelous, harmless form of aggression. The great thing about those white suits of his was that they were out of place everywhere, an all-purpose signal of self-alienation.

Wolfe said he wore white suits to irritate those who looked down their noses at him. He bought his first white suit shortly after coming to New York in the summer of 1962. But it was made of wool and too heavy for the heat, so he ended up wearing it in December. When people sniffed at his faux pas, he took their scorn as a badge of honor, and he’s donned a version of the suit ever since.

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