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Nicole – post no.2 – Sociology: the first two books…   no comments

Posted at 3:09 pm in Sociology

Blog Post two – Sociology.

I have been reading about Sociology and Gender from two main texts, Marsh et al. (2009) Sociology. Making Sense of Society and Haralambos & Holborn (2004) Sociology Themes and Perspectives.  Both have given me a really good broad overview into general sociological approaches, as well as more in-depth details of sociology’s approach to understanding gender.

I am particularly interested in the key issues as outlined by Marsh et al. of sociological perspectives in practice and how sociological knowledge is produced.

Sociological perspectives – key issues:

It seems from the readings that I have carried out so far that there is no unified body of approaches to/theories in sociology.  Sociologists seem to struggle to agree on concepts, I am particularly interested by Gouldner’s criticism describing social surveillance as ‘cow sociology’ (1975).

Sociology seems to claim to follow a scientific method to collect data with which it can make statements about behavioural patterns, but these tendency statements do presumably invest quite a high percentage of their accuracy on the dependency of regularity.  People are not necessarily always going to behave in a predictable manner, even if sociology has studied other individuals/groups in a similar situation in the past.   I like the idea of considering in every situation these factors: biological, psychological and social.  But, as my first book on sociology tells me, it is often difficult to distinguish between these factors.

Production of Sociological knowledge

Marsh et al. outline the cyclical trends in sociological research (2009:119), as highlighted by McNeill (1990), and also discuss the importance, as put by Pawson, in the differences between positivist and interpretivist approaches to understanding social research: “both qualitiative and quantitative approaches face identical problems and need to adopt common solutions.” (Pawson, 1989:31-2).

According to Marsh et al., sociologists like Karl Marx, Durkheim and Weber base their work on analysing second-hand evidence, such as historical sources and not on first-hand research.  Whereas Charles Booth and Seebohn Rowntree were all about the survey and qualitative research (Marsh et al.,2009:119).  So there seems to be a dichotomy with the forms of research most appropriate for generalising societal behaviours, or for making statements on a much smaller scale of individuals’ actual behaviours.

I wonder how this will all tie in with looking at gender from a sociological perspective. ..

Different approaches to sociology

Haralambos and Holborn’s publication has a good introduction to the differences between structural and social action theories (2004:855-856).  I found the outlines of functionalist (Durkheim, Merton and Parsons), social capital (Putnam), conflict perspectives, including Marxism (Marx), neo-Marxism (Gramsci), post-capitalism conflict theory (Dahrendorf), and social action and interpretive perspectives (Weber, Ritzer) really useful.  I struggled to understand symbolic interaction (Mead and Dewey) with its notion of the self (2004:881), although the argument put forward by Ropers that “the activities he [Mead] sees men engaged in are not historically determined relationships of social and historical continuity; they are merely episodes, interactions, encounters, and situations” (quoted in Meltzer et al., 1975) that Haralambos and Holborn include in this section (2004: 883) does make the approach of the symbolic interactionists a little easier to understand.  I loved the section on phenomenology (2004:885) (Schutz) with its wonderfully sensory approaches to understanding how people come into contact with the world.  As an Archaeologist, this is an approach that I have come across many times and feel quite comfortable with as a useful way to try to think about the way that knowledge is constructed and shared.  Humans creating their own idea that there is a society is something that I love the idea of, I wonder how far this approach could be used to think about the way that we understand our own gender and other individuals’ projections of their own gender (or notion of it)…

Ethnomethodology (Garfinkel) seems a bit off the wall (it was developed in the 1960s, so…).  It looks at social order as fiction, which I like, and which could be great when looking at gender constructs (can I say that it’s a ‘construct’ this early on; maybe not).  But I do not feel comfortable with the idea of social life as Garfinkel’s words here: “essentiall reflexive” (1967).  So an account of the social world actually constitutes that world (Haralambos & Holborn, 2004:885-7).  So that would mean that our attempts to define the world are what creates the world, and this really doesn’t sit well with me.  Haralambos and Holborn tell us that Gouldner was “scorn[ful]” of Garfinkel (1970) (I am liking Gouldner more and more), and Giddens apparently said that Garfinkel had little reference to “the pursuance of practical goals or interests” (1977).  I like to think that sociology will always look to try to understand why people behave in certain ways and look at the effects of external factors on individuals’ behaviours, and Garfinkel doesn’t seem to think that this is important.   Modernity, postmodernity and postmodernism (I had no idea that there was any difference between these two) are also outlined in this section of the book.

Postmodernism (Lyotard, Baudrillard, Philo and Miller) is discussed in terms of Lyotard’s work with language, knowledge and narrative (1984).  There is also a small paragraph tackling Lyotard’s  approach to computers and how they were the principal “force of production” (1984), and where knowledge has become commodified and will cause wars in the future.   Haralambos and Holborn comment that Postmodernism allows for the “possibility of tolerance and creative diversity, in which humans are not corrupted by some doctrinaire metanarrative” (2004: 893).  ‘High modernity and beyond’ is the subtitle of the next section, and this provided much opportunity for further reading.  The section looks at Giddens, with the heightened possibility for greater reflexivity, with sociology as “the most generalised type of reflection upon modern social life” (Giddens, 1991), the opportunities for globalization, and the transformations that were possible where capitalism becomes a ‘post-scarcity system’ – Are we there now with the web? I think I need to read a bit (lot!) more about this as it could be really relevant to the approaches to gender thinking about the ways that participation online is affected by ideas of who we are and what we want (of which I am sure gender is an inextricable factor).

Methods for looking at social life

Participant observation, Quantitative research in the form of surveys, questionnaires and interviews, and qualitative research in the form of interviews and observations are all outlined by Marsh et al. (2009:120-125).  Interestingly, there is also some time given in the book to the other methods of research, such as the use of secondary data, content analysis and discourse analysis, and case studies and life histories (2009:130-139), and these could be potentially very useful in looking towards understanding gender on the web.  I will look into these different methods in more detail as the weeks go on, but for now they have made me think about the tools that sociologists have available to them as being more than a survey, a questionnaire and an interview.  Even here, there has been a revelation, in the types of interviews possible: discussed by Marsh et al. as being: 1) in-depth, 2) interactive, and 3) the most fascinating for me, generative.  This comes from Gubrium and Holstein who say that both the interviewee and the interviewer are participants in a social process so the respondents are: “constructors of knowledge in collaboration with the interviewers” (1997:114).


Haralambos, M. & M. Holborn, 2004.  Sociology Themes and Perspectives, Collins: London

Marsh, I., M. Keating, S. Punch, J. Harden, 2009. Sociology. Making Sense of Society, Pearson Longman: London

Please note, I have not read the following books, but I have Googled the references that I have mentioned above from two books that I have read, so that if you are interested in looking up the various bits that I have mentioned in the whistle-stop tour of my reading this week, you can do so easily.

Garfinkel, H., 1970. Studies in Ethnomethodology, Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ

Giddens, A., 1977. Studies in Social and Political Theory, Hutchinson: London

Giddens, A., 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in Late Modern Age, Polity Press: Cambridge

Gouldner, A. W., 1975. For Sociology: Renewal and Critique in Sociology Today, Harmondsworth: Penguin

Gubrium, J. F., & J. A. Holstein, 1997. The New Language of Qualitative Method, Oxford University Press: Oxford

Lyotard, J.F., 1984. The Postmodern Condition, Manchester University Press: Manchester

Meltzer, B.N., J.W. Petras, L.T. Reynolds, 1975. Symbolic Interactionism, Routledge & Kegan Paul: London

Pawson, R., 1989. A Measure for Measures: A Manifesto for Empirical Sociology, Routledge: London

Next week…

My plan is now to look a little more in detail at some of the sociological ideas that I have come across and to read some sections of general sociology books about Gender.  I’ll stick with Haralambos & Holborn and Marsh et al., but will also look at some more specifically gender related texts, including Abbott et al. (2005) An Introduction to Sociology. Feminist Perspectives, Backett-Milburn & McKie (2001) Constructing Gendered Bodies, and the one that I am most excited about: Case (1990) Performing Feminisms. Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre. That last one may seem a little off the wall, but I am thinking that the idea of feminist theory and theatre may translate quite nicely across to the web as at the moment I don’t see why actions within virtual communities can not be seen as being performative, and there are some good links to identity and gender online within these communities. I think.

Written by Nicole on November 3rd, 2010

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