Introduction to sociology

Sciences Po Reims campus, B.A. 1st year, 2013-2017

The main aim of this introductory course is to help students get a sense of what it means to see the world with a “sociological eye” and develop “sociological imagination”, to quote American sociologists Everett Hughes and Charles Wright Mills. More than a body of knowledge, sociology will be apprehended as a way of thinking, seeing and analyzing the world. This is why we will be focusing on the types of questions sociologists ask and the methods and concepts they use, as much as on the results they produce. Sociology provides essential tools to reflect on the contemporary world and its transformations, but also to better understand one’s position in society and the motives of one’s action. It helps question the given and improve scientifically based critical thinking.

The first section of the course defines sociology as a scientific perspective on social life, implying axiological neutrality, empirical investigation based on systematic methods, and theory-building. We particularly insist on the implications of the non-normative dimension of sociology: sociology is not about judging society or saying how it should be, it is about describing, analyzing and explaining how society is. The diversity of methodological and theoretical perspectives, as well as elements regarding the historical roots and “founding fathers” of the discipline, are also introduced in this section.

The next four chapters deal with two sets of tools of major importance in order to understand the sociological perspective: social norms and social inequalities. Sessions 2 and 3 are organized around the two main theoretical questions that arise from Durkheim’s analysis of social facts as “constraining” and “exterior” from the individual: if social norms are constraining, how do people break them and what does deviance and its punishment reveal about social norms and society? And if social norms can be characterized as “exterior” from individuals, then how do they become so well interiorized that we don’t experience them as social norms on a day-to-day basis (but as nature and/or as individual preferences or choices)? Therefore session 2 deals with norms and deviance, and session 3 with norms, culture and socialization. Sessions 4 and 5 address the question of social inequality and the way sociologists analyze it in terms of class, race and gender. Session 4 focuses on stratification and social class, and session 5 focusses on gender, race and intersectionality. Based on the tools provided by the first 5 sessions (a general introduction to the sociological perspective, and tools regarding the study of social norms and social inequality), the next sessions focus on seven key topics: urban sociology, education, the family, religion, capitalism and economic sociology, the state, social movements.

  1. What is sociology?
  2. Social norms (1): Norms and deviance
  3. Social norms (2) : Norms, culture and socialization
  4. Social inequality (1): Stratification and social class
  5. Social inequality (2): Gender, race and intersectionality
  6. Education
  7. Urban sociology
  8. The family
  9. Religion
  10. Capitalism and economic sociology
  11. The state
  12. Social movements

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