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What Is Sociology? - Definition, Themes & Careers in Sociology

  • 0:26 Sociology Defined
  • 1:38 Major Themes in Sociology
  • 3:16 Social Institutions
  • 3:48 Possible Careers in Sociology
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Wind Goodfriend
What is sociology? This lesson covers a basic definition of the field, identifies major themes or questions studied by sociologists, and identifies possible careers in sociology. Learn about the main ideas within this popular and fascinating field!

What is Sociology?

Think about the major questions that we ask about our social world. Are men and women really that different? Why do we have problems such as racism? What motivates people to have social status and respect? These questions are hugely important to life as a human being, and they are studied by the field of sociology. A general definition of sociology is the systematic study of human society, culture, and relationships on a group level.

One way to think about sociology is to contrast it with different, but similar fields. For example, social psychology asks many of the same questions as sociology but uses different research methodology and studies people on an individual level instead of the group level. While sociology studies group patterns, such as why one culture believes in men having multiple wives while another culture does not, social psychology would study how the individual people within a marriage feel about their partner. So basically sociology looks at the 'big picture' on the group level, while social psychology studies the attitudes or feelings of each individual person.

Another field that's similar is anthropology. Anthropology also examines human society just like sociology, but anthropology focuses more on how human society has changed over time. It includes the sub-field of archaeology, which examines ancient tools, pottery, and so on to see how ancient cultures compare to modern culture.

So, now that we have a basic foundation of what sociology is, let's talk about some of the major themes or questions that the field tries to understand.

Major Themes and Questions

The lessons within this sociology course cover many of the 'big picture' questions like the ones I discussed a couple seconds ago. Let's go over some of the issues that sociology covers as a field because these are the same issues that are covered by the sociology lessons you might watch.

First, sociology studies different ideas for what might create an ideal society. Some people believe that society should focus on making sure everyone is treated equally, including from an economic perspective. However, other people believe that an ideal society includes different social classes, because wanting to be rich motivates people to invent things and work harder. These questions include the study of how economics, politics, and culture combine in different ways.

Other questions sociology asks are, 'How is culture created, and how is it passed down from one generation to the next?' For example, what foods come from your country? If you're from the United States, our culture includes hamburgers and hot dogs. These food items are incorporated into other aspects of American culture, like when you eat a hot dog at a baseball game. So, how are children influenced by these cultural images, and how do different cultures result in different kinds of people and ideas?

Sociology also studies the similarities and differences among different types of people. Remember at the beginning of this lesson, we talked about whether men and women are really different. What about people of different races or ethnicities? How about rich people versus poor people? How is a grandmother different from a granddaughter?

Finally, sociology studies social institutions. Social institutions are major structures made up of groups or ideas that influence people's daily lives, views of the world, or integration into society. Examples of social institutions are religious groups, schools, political organizations, and families. How have all of these social institutions influenced your life? For example, did you go to a public school or a private school? Did you have a large family or a small family? Were your parents religious, and do you share those same beliefs?

Possible Careers

The last topic for this lesson is possible careers in sociology. Maybe after you study the field, you'll be so excited that you want to spend the rest of your life thinking about sociology! So what could you do with a career in this field?

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