Introduction to Sociology

Introduction to Sociology


Building Blocks of Society Lecture Transcript


Society is like a building. It has walls and structures, if you will, that shape the behavior of the people inside of it. As many of you know, this I s a screenshot of the video game, “The Sims” And what we can see here in this scene, in this shot, is that the design of the building is going to impact the people. SO in other words, if we look on the left side of the building, we can see a kitchen. So we know in the kitchen, people are going to do certain behaviors. They’re going to act a certain way. They’re going to prepare food. Then where are they going to go to eat the food? The area on the bottom left….there’s a dining room table there. Maybe they’ll eat their food there, or maybe they will go sit on the sofa and eat it there. Who knows? Maybe they even might take food to bed. We can see a bathroom. So we know the bathroom is essentially this “shrine” to the body, if you will, to our bodies that all of us have in our homes. We go into the bathroom and we do “body things.” We groom. We urinate and we defecate. We do these kinds of things in the bathroom. That’s where it’s supposed to happen. It’s not supposed to happen, you know, on the sofa. You’re not supposed to trim your toenails or something like that on the sofa. You might get looks of disgust from the people that you live with if you do such a thing. But there is a certain organization to our homes, and this organization shapes our behavior. Well we can think of society in the same way. Society has this structure to it. It has walls. Sometimes, well most of the time, in fact, they are figurative walls, if you will. But these walls still impact the behavior of all of us. Today, this introductory lesson is going to be quite a bit different from the other introductory lessons of the quarter in the sense that this is an introductory lesson where I am going to review the five most important concepts, and attempt to define them for you, that are in the Newman chapter. And I’m doing this because these concepts are so important that you will see them resurface time and again for the remainder of the quarter, so it’s probably a good idea for you to take notes if at all possible. IF you miss any of this material, I can assure you that it’s also in the Newman book. The reason I am presenting it to you here is because repetition really helps with memory. So please do take your time, focus, and concentrate as I go through this lesson. I think this lesson may be a little more dry than the other introductory lessons for the other weeks, but nevertheless, this is extremely important material that we need to talk about.


So the structure of society, in Newman’s framework and in a sociological framework, means that there are different parts of the building. So we have walls, essentially, to our society. We have glue, or mortar, that’s going to hold all of the society together. We have a foundation that our society rests upon. Next week, you’ll begin to learn about the foundation of the society – that is a society’s sense of reality. That’s the upcoming chapter. But this week, we’re going to be talking about the building blocks. Those concrete blocks, if you will, that create the walls, that create the core structure of our society. And there are five key building blocks in our society, the first of which is called a status. All of us, every person as an individual, holds multiple statuses. And what a status is is essentially a position or a title that you occupy in society, and many of us have multiple statuses at any given time. So you might be, for example, a student. That’s a title that you have in the society. You might be a daughter, or you may be a father, or you may be a barista, or you may be a dancer, or you may be…and so on and so forth. We have so many different kinds of titles in our society – many different statuses – and these things, these titles that we have, shape our behavior. There are certain expectations that come along with these statuses.

Sociologists identify or classify statuses into two main types – ascribed and achieved. An ascribed status is something that you’re given without your choice. It’s not a result of any of your actions or thoughts. So, in other words, “daughter” is something that happened to you. You didn’t choose to be daughter. You were just born and given – other people gave you – the status of “daughter.” Likewise, “grandchild.” You’re born, and right away, you are somebody’s grandchild or granddaughter. As soon as you’re born, you’re given a status of “male” or a status of “female.” Race is also a status that’s ascribed in our society. Other people tell you that you’re “white” or that you’re “Asian.” And so on. These kinds of statuses are ascribed.

Some other kinds of statuses, however, are achieved. And these are the statuses that are the result of our behavior. So being a “student” for example is a status that is the result of your actions. You’ve gone to school. You get up out of your bed every day, and you are making a choice and acting on that choice to go to school. Right? So the status of “student” is something that’s achieved. And there are many of these. Being a mother. Being a father. You might think, “Wait a second! Sometimes you are accidentally a mother or a father with an unplanned pregnancy or something like that,” and yes, of course that’s the case. But becoming a mother is still the result of your actions. You did something. Literally. You did something that created that status for you. So that’s something that’s achieved.

Every single status that we have in our society is accompanied by what’s called a role. Statuses and roles go together. Every single status has these expectations that goes along with it, and these expectations are called roles. So your status as “student” goes along with the role of student. And the role is everything you are supposed to do. So what are some of the things a student is supposed to do? Well, a student is supposed to read the material, study the material, come to class, visit the website, and do the assignments. All of those things are part of the student role. So statuses and roles go together in very important ways, and all of us have them. So, I, Denise, am simultaneously an instructor, a daughter, a sister, and a mother, and all of these things have different roles for them. My role as instructor means to come to campus, to frequently visit my course websites and respond to students, to create assignments, those kinds of things. But my role as mother is very different – to provide for my daughter, to give her love, to make sure she is fed and protected. Sometimes these different roles can conflict. So sure enough, every year I have issues where my daughter becomes sick, and my husband and I have to sit down and we have to decide, “Well, what are we going to do? Which one of us is going to stay home with her?” Because we can’t take her to daycare. She’s not allowed to be sick at daycare. So we have what’s called a “role conflict.” My role as instructor is conflicting with my role as mother because I can’t, at that moment, do both. I can’t stay home with my daughter and also come to campus. It’s not possible. I can’t come to campus to teach my classes. That’s what’s called a role conflict, and in my experience, I’ve noticed that many students at Bellevue College experience role conflict. Maybe you have family obligations or work obligations at the same time you also have school obligations. So role conflicts are something that’s very common. This is all a part of the structure of society – the building blocks of society.

The next building block of society is called a group, and sociologists essentially break down groups into primary and secondary groups. A primary group refers to those people that you are closely bonded to. Those groups that you interact with usually pretty often, and you have a high emotional investment in those groups. So for most people, primary groups refer to your loving family – your immediate family, if you will – and your close network group of friends. Secondary groups, on the other hand, refer to, for example, your classmates. Your coworkers. These are people that of course you interact with, but you don’t have that intimacy that is present in a primary group.

So when sociologists are talking about groups, we’re talking about the word “group” in a different sense from how most people in every day English use the word “group.” So, let me give you an example. If I’m at the mall, and I’m at the food court, and I see a ;long line of people standing in line at Sbarro’s to get their pizza, I might turn to my friend and say, “Look at that huge group of people over there at Sbarro’s.” You’ll notice I used the word “group,” but sociologists would say that, sociologically speaking, that’s the inappropriate application of that concept. That number of people, those people standing in line at Sbarro, are not a group, and that’s because they are not conscious of their membership in that group, and it’s not part of their identity. And these are two really core features of sociological groups. They need to be people that we interact with AND that we are conscious of that group membership. That group membership essentially has become part of our identity. So those people standing in line at Sbarro’s don’t have a sense of group membership as “the Sbarro’s customers.” They are not essentially standing in line and thinking of one another as “Hey, we are the Sbarro standing in line people!” No, they don’t have that sense. But there are other examples that I can give you of groups that I think illustrate appropriately the sociological application of this term.

And the first example would be “Mariners fans.” Mariners fans are a set of people who interact with one another, of course they do. But they are also conscious of their identity as a group. So if you’re a Mariner’s fan, and you’re walking through that same mall, and you pass someone who has a New York Yankees shirt on, you might have a very clear sense of “Oh my goodness, they aren’t one of us. That person is a Yankees fan. We, on the other hand, are Mariners fans.” And I must admit, as a diehard Florida Gator fan, this is my kind of reaction when I see our university’s rivals and people wearing t-shirts of our rivals. So if I see someone wearing a Miami Hurricanes shirt, I might think “Oh brother, that’s one of them! Oh please, a Miami Hurricane fan?! Oh, ugh. Yuck! But we’re the Gator fans.” And if I pass someone who’s wearing a Florida Gator shirt, we have this culture – Gator fans do – where we look at one another and say “Go Gators!” And then we might just continue to pass them. We have this sense of membership. It’s part of our identity, and that’s what a group is sociologically speaking.

The next building block is an organization. An organization is essentially a network of statuses, groups, and roles. So statuses, groups, and roles that work together for a specific purpose. But there’s also hierarchy within them. And so the positions, the statuses within the organization have more and less power. So if we look at Bellevue College as an organization, and indeed it is, the purpose of Bellevue College is to educate people. Okay? So we have groups – our classes. We have groups – our students are a group, instructors are a group, janitors are a group, administrators are a group. We have all of these different groups on campus. We have statuses and roles on the campus and they all work together for this purpose – to educate. But there’s also a hierarchy. So at the very top of the Bellevue College organizational structure, we have the President, then we have the Vice Presidents, and then we have the Deans, and the instructors, and so on. And unfortunately I hate to say, Students are pretty much at the bottom of the hierarchy, although students have much more power and ability to change the institution than you probably you realize.

The next building block is an institution, and these are really the largest building blocks of the society. When sociologists are talking about institutions, we are not talking about a specific place. We are not talking about that building that’s across the street from you. But really, an institution tends to be more of an idea, if you will. Newman defines an institution as an enduring pattern of social life. So some examples of institutions, and the major institutions in our society, are…the economy. Right? We have this pattern of social interaction in which we exchange money for goods and services. Right? We ALL are expected to participate in the economy.

There’s a certain governmental structure that’s made up of different organizations within it. So we have he Senate, we have the House of Representatives, we have police. We have the military, and so on. All of these are examples of organizations that work together to create this structure, this institution of government. The media is another institution, as you can see, religion, education, and family are as well.

So these five concepts – statuses, roles, groups, organizations, and institutions – reflect what sociologists call the building blocks of society. These are the core concepts that give shape to our behavior and organization to our society. One of the things that I really like about the Newman book, and I’m going to read an excerpt. I’m not certain if it’s from the edition that you have, but one of the things that I like about this book is the way he describes architecture. And he says, “Society has an architecture. Like buildings, societies have a design discernible to the alert eye. Both are constructed by bringing together a wide variety of materials in a complex process. Both, through their structure, shape the activities within. At the same time, both change. Sometimes they change suddenly and gradually as the inhabitants go about their lives. Sometimes they are deliberately redecorated or remodeled.”

As you make your way through this class, I’d like you to think about the ways in which society is structured by these five core concepts.

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