In an effort to organise my reading in a practical way, and keeping in mind that the disciplines of Sociology and Political Sciences may overlap, at least in the context of e-democracy, I have decided to start from the core principles of Sociology and then go on to more complex concepts.
The book that I have been reading this week is Sociology by John J. Macionis. As the title suggests it is an introductory textbook to Sociology. It is a well written textbook, up to date and quite successful, at least judging from the fact that I am using its eleventh edition.
Despite having already been in contact with some terms, principles and methods of Sociology (through the Foundations of Web Science module), I decided to go through them again and in more depth. So I read about the theoretical approaches that are used such as the structural-functional approach, the social-conflict approach and the symbolic-interaction approach. The book has a great example on how to use these approaches and also has a paragraph for each that serves as a critical review. These will be quite useful if I will need to apply theories during my analysis of e-democracy.
But besides the three theoretical approaches, there are also three methodological orientations when doing sociological research: scientific sociology, interpretive sociology and critical sociology. There are also various methodologies, which I already came to know through the Research Methods Group Project module. Although it is not necessary to read research papers for the purpose of this module, been able to understand how sociologists work may be helpful in getting a general understanding of their discipline.
After reading the introductory chapters, reading about Society was the obvious way to continue. What I found particularly relevant, was the concept of socio-cultural evolution (Nolan & Lenski, 2004) that describes how societies change due to technological changes, which obviously is what the Web is doing to our society. After this, the book presents the 3 great sociologists of the past: Karl Marx, Max Weber and Emile Durkheim. Their (sometimes conflicting) analysis of modern societies roughly corresponds to the three theoretical approaches mentioned before. Concepts like capitalism, rationalisation, alienation and anomie were introduced.
Between the individual and the society, stand various groups and organisations. The groups that are relevant to e-democracy (such as political organisations) are mainly secondary groups, that is groups that their members have relationships that are often short term and usually less close and broad than in primary groups (such as families). Moreover, they are also based on the pursuit of a common goal. Group leadership and group conformity are two important factors affecting the operation of groups.
A more formal type of secondary group is a formal organisation. Normative organisations, that is organisations that their members have joined to pursue a morally worthwhile goal, are the organisations of most interest, as these include both political parties and voluntary political organisations, both instrumental to e-democracy. Organisational models are discussed, with an emphasis on bureaucracy, with its shortcomings such as alienation stressed. Modern democracies seem to suffer from such shortcomings and these are some of the problems that e-democracy may solve.
I briefly read about social stratification and social class as I believe that they will be necessary for my subsequent understanding of Political Science principles. Although I continued reading about Politics and Government (from a sociologist’s viewpoint) and to keep this post simple, I will add this section to next week’s post or incorporate it in a post about Political Science. For the following week, my reading priorities will be the chapters about social change, collective behaviour and social movements. I may also start reading about Political Science basics.