Sociologyis a reasoned and rigorous study of human social life, social groups, andsocieties. At the heart of sociology is a distinctive point of view called “thesociological perspective”. Thus sociology offers a perspective, a view of theworld. For example: why do human lives seem to follow certain predictablepattern? The truth is that:

  • Our lives do not unfoldaccording to sheer chance,
  • Nor do we decide forourselves how to live, acting on what is called ‘free will’.

Wemake many important decisions every day, of course, but always within thelarger arena called “society”.

The essential wisdom of sociology isthat:

Our social world guides our actionsand life choices just as the seasons influence our activities and clothing.

Thisis sociological perspective. Perspective means a view or an outlook or anapproach or an imagination (of the world). Hence sociological perspective means an approach to understanding human behavior by placingit within its broadersocial context.

Peoplelive in a society. Society is a group of people who share a culture and aterritory. People’s behavior is influenced by their society. To find out why peopledo what they do, sociologists look at social location, where people are located in a particular society.

Forhuman beings the existence of society is essential. It is essential:

  • For the survival ofhuman child at birth; and also
  • For social experience –for purposes of ‘nurturance’.

Thehuman child is so helpless at the time of birth that without the help of othermembers of society (family for example) the mere survival is at stake. Then theother important aspect is to ‘nurture’ this human being into a ‘social being’i.e. a participating member of the society. For developing the child into aregular participating ‘social being’ the role of society is crucial. The casesof isolated children (Anna,

Isabelle,and Genie) provide evidence to the fact that without the interaction withmembers of society the natural potentials are lost and the child may not becomea normal ‘social being’. Each society nurtures the child into a ‘social being’within its own societal perspective.

Seeing the general in the particular:

PeterBurger (1963) described the sociological perspective as seeing the general in the particular. It means identifying general patterns in the behavior of particularpeople. Although every individual is unique, a society shapes the lives of itsmembers. People in the USA are much more likely to expect love to figure inmarriage than, say, people living in a traditional village in rural Pakistan.Nevertheless, every society acts differently on various categories of people(children compared to adults; women compared to men, rich compared to poor).

Generalcategories to which we belong shape our experiences. Children are differentfrom adults, more than just biological maturity. Society attaches meaning toage, so that we experience distinct stages in our lives i.e. childhood,adolescence, early adulthood, late adulthood, and old age. In fact all thesestages with respect to the lines of demarcation (years as cutting points) aredetermined by society. What is the position of a particular age category in thesociety and what are the roles and responsibilities assigned to members of thatage group are all determined by that society. Therefore age is social construction.

Childrenare often considered as dependent, whereas adults as responsible. What aboutthe old? What is the cutting age point for this group and what are thesociety’s expectations about this group in Pakistani rural society? Are theseexpectations in Pakistani rural society different from Pakistani urban society?[Give some thought to this issue.]

Althoughsocieties define the stages of lifedifferently, yet there are differences by social class within the same society.Here a particular social class may beconsidered as a sub-society in itself and may have their own distinctdefinition of stages of life. For example concept of ‘childhood’ may bedifferent in the lower class than what one finds in the middle class of Pakistanisociety. In the lower class, child shoulders the adult responsibilities much earlier(starts at around age 10 years) than a child from the middle or upper class. In the lowerclass there is a “hurried childhood” and that is how we come across the conceptof “childlabor”. This concept of “child labor” is not only associated with the lowerclass within the national boundaries but also internationally with the low-income countriescompared with the high-income countries.

Gender is also a social construction

Maleand female is a biological distinction but there are different roleexpectations attached to these two categories of human beings in differentsocieties. Societies give them different work and different familyresponsibilities. The advantages and opportunities available to us differ bygender. Not going into the rationale of such differences, for the present onecould simply say that it is the society that determines the image of a gender.Further to the societal variations in gender outlooks, one could see genderdifferences by social class in the same society.

Society affects what we do

Tosee the power of society to shape individual choices, consider the number ofchildren women have. In the US the average woman has slightly fewer than twochildren during her lifetime. In Pakistan it is four, in India about three, inSouth Africa about four, in Saudi Arabia about six, and in Niger about seven.Why these striking differences? Society has much to do with decisions women andmen make about childbearing.

Anotherillustration of power of society to shape even our most private choices comesfrom the study of suicide. What could be a more personal choice than takingone’s own life? Emile Durkheim showed that social forces are at work even inthe apparently isolated case of self-destruction. One has to look into suchindividual decisions in social context. You may look at the social forces thatare at work for the suicide cases in Pakistan.

Applying the sociological perspective

Peopleshould develop the ability to understand their own lives in terms of largersocial forces. This is called sociological imagination, a concept given by C.Wright Mills. Sociological imagination is the strategies that can help you sortout the multiple circumstances that could be responsible for your socialexperiences, your life choices, and your life chances. Therefore, thinksociologically, which implies to cultivating the sociological imagination.

It iseasy to apply sociological perspective when we encounter people who differ fromus because they remind us that society shapes individual lives. Also anintroduction to sociology is an invitation to learn a new way of looking atfamiliar patterns of social life.

Benefits of Sociological Perspective

Applyingthe sociological perspectives to our daily lives benefits us in four ways:

1. Thesociological perspective helps us to assess the truth of community heldassumptions (call it “commonsense”).

Weall take many things for granted, but that does not make them true. A sociologicalapproach encourages us to ask whether commonly held beliefs are actually trueand, to the extent they are not, why they are so widely held. Consider foryourself: gender differences; ethnic differences; racial differences; andsocial class differences. Where do these differences come from?

2. Thesociological perspective prompts us to assess both the opportunities and the constraints that characterize our lives.

Whatwe are likely and unlikely to accomplish for ourselves and how can we pursueour our goals effectively?

3. Thesociological perspective empowers us to participate actively in our society.

If wedo not know how the society operates, we are likely to accept the status quo.But the greater our understanding, the more we can take an active hand inshaping our social life. Evaluating any aspect of social life – whatever yourgoal – requires identifying social forces at work and assessing theirconsequences.

4. Thesociological perspective helps us recognize human variety and confront thechallenges of living in adiverse world.

Thereis a diversity of people’s life styles, still we may consider our way of life assuperior, right, and natural. All others are no good. The sociologicalperspective encourages us to think critically about the relative strengths andweaknesses of all ways of life, including our own.

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