Sociology

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Sociology is a social science that deals with the study of society. It is a broad discipline that explores human social behavior and social relationships. At its core, sociology promotes critical thinking, poses analytical questions, and pursues solutions. The word sociology is derived from the Latin word socius (companion) and the Greek word logos (study of), which means the study of companionship. 

The discipline examines human behavior influenced by social structures (groups, communities, organizations), social categories (age, sex, class, race, etc.), and social institutions (politics, religion, education, etc.). The traditional focus of sociology includes social class, social mobility, religion, gender, law, and sexuality. It has now extended its focus to other subjects and institutions like the military, education, social capital, and health.

Origin:

Sociology is a relatively new discipline, with roots in the works of ancient philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Confucius. It formally originated in the early 19th century during the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution was one of the main factors in the emergence of sociology.  The industrial revolution had immense effects creating an unprecedented amount of change as well great implications on modern society. Where the once meticulous art of making goods and items by hand was the norm, this was quickly replaced with engine manufacturing allowing goods to be produced in large quantities and bringing about the development of factory organization. The emergence of the nuclear family as well as work force diversifications, are all but some of the implications of the industrial revolution.

Ways of Thinking...: Three Perspectives of Sociology

Auguste Comte, a French philosopher, coined the term sociology in 1838 and is thus known as the “Father of Sociology.” Comte became interested in studying society because of the changes that took place as a result of the Industrial Revolution. He believed that science could help study and understand the social world, and scientific analyses could aid the discovery of laws governing social lives. He then introduced the concept of positivism to sociology — a way to understand the social world based on scientific facts. From his observations of the numerous changes taking place on the societal front, he believed that society should be understood and studied as it was, rather than what it should be. 

The founding fathers of sociology are Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Karl Marx, and Herbert Spencer. They helped define and develop sociology as a science and discipline, each contributing theories and concepts still used and understood in the field. Some of the other prominent contributors to this discipline were – W.E.B Du Bois, Harriet Martineau.

Main Approaches:

The two main approaches of sociology include micro-sociology and macro-sociology. These two sociological approaches are conceptually different from each other but are interrelated and essential in the study of society.

Microsociology is the study of an individual. It refers to approaches and methods that focus on the nature of everyday human behavior at the community level. At this level, Social status and social roles are the main components of social structure. 

Macrosociology is the study of society as a whole. It refers to approaches and methods that study large-scale patterns and trends within the overall social structure and population. At this level, the main focus is on the social system of a higher level.

Areas of Sociology:

Sociology is a broad discipline with many branches of study. The following are a few areas of sociology –

Criminology: This branch of sociology studies the criminal behavior of individuals or groups. 

Religion: The sociology of religion examines the practices, history, development, and roles of religion in society. 

Family: The sociology of family focuses on marriage, divorce, child-rearing, and domestic abuse.

Education: The sociology of education studies how educational institutions influence social structures and experiences.

Globalization: The sociology of globalization focuses on the economic, political, and cultural aspects and implications of a globally connected society.

Consumption:  The sociology of consumption places consumption at the center of research questions, studies, and social theory. 

Race and Ethnicity: The sociology of race and ethnicity examines the social, political, and economic relations between races and ethnicities. 

Social Inequality:  The sociology of social inequality studies the unequal distribution of power, privilege, and prestige in society.

Work and Industry: The sociology of work examines the implications of technological change, globalization, labor markets, work organization, and employment relations.

Health and Illness:  The sociology of health focuses on the social effects and society’s attitudes towards diseases and disabilities. 

Theories of Sociology:

Symbolic Interaction Theory:
The symbolic interaction perspective is also called symbolic interactionism. George Herbert Mead, an American philosopher, introduced this theory in the 1920s. This perspective relies on the symbolic meaning that people develop in the process of social interaction. This theory studies society, focusing on the symbolic meanings given by people to objects and behaviors. Importance is given to symbolic meanings because people act based on what they choose to believe. People comprehend each other’s behavior, and these comprehensions help form social bonds.

Conflict Theory:
Conflict theory explains that conflicts arise when resources and power are not distributed equally between groups in a society. Karl Marx, a German philosopher, introduced this theory focused on the causes and consequences of class conflict between the bourgeoisie (owners of the means of production) and the proletariat (the laborers). The basic idea of conflict theory is that individuals and groups within society will work to maximize their wealth and power. The conflict theory, premised on class conflicts, is now used to study how other conflicts on race, gender, sexuality, religion, culture, and nationality can affect our lives.

Functionalist Theory:
The functionalist perspective is also called functionalism. This theory has its origins in the works of Emile Durkheim, who was interested in how social order is possible or how society remains relatively stable. The functionalist perspective perceives society as an elaborate system whose individual aspects work together to promote the stability of the whole. According to the functionalist theory, the different parts of society are composed of social institutions, each designed to fulfill different needs. An institution only exists because it serves a vital purpose in the functioning of society. He considered society as an organism since each component plays an important role but can’t function alone. When one part experiences a problem, others must adjust to fill the void.

Some other notable theories include – Feminist Theory, Game Theory, Critical Theory, Social Learning Theory, Rational Choice Theory and Chaos Theory.

Career Prospects:

Best Jobs for Graduates With a Sociology Degree

Sociology prepares people for a range of careers. A degree in sociology can lead to work opportunities with government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and corporations in fields like social service, counseling, designing policies, and market research. Knowledge in sociology serves as an advantage in sales, public relations, journalism, teaching, law, and criminal justice.

Sociology will help gain a better understanding of the social forces that shape our life. It can provide foundational knowledge about social interactions, organizations and society helpful in the pursuit of careers and a good life for ourselves and our families. Sociology helps enhance one’s ability to be an active and informed citizen, and be able to influence societal choices and policies.

Transgender Community In India : Past

Transgender is a term used to describe the people whose gender identity and expression does not match the sex determined at birth. A transgender woman lives as a woman today, but was thought to be male when she was born. A transgender man lives as a man today, but was thought to be female when he was born.

Historically, transgenders were based in Hinduism and they performed solely for Hindus but they were not all Hindu themselves.  Many of them were were Muslims and a few were Christians too.  In fact, some transgenders followed the beliefs and practices of both Hinduism and Islam.  Just as they were not limited by binary views of gender, some were not limited by a single religious tradition.

They were expected to perform dances, songs, and blessings at both births and weddings of Hindus.  To many Hindus, a transgender’s blessings of a baby would confer fertility, prosperity, and long life on the child.  One to two days after a marriage ceremony—transgenders would perform to bless the couple for fertility. They could also curse a family if they were disrespectful or refused to pay for the blessings.  Many Hindus and the transgenders themselves, took these blessings and curses very seriously.

While transgenders were often invited to perform these rituals, they would also attend births and marriages unannounced claiming their right to attend as their sacred religious duty.  Fearful of receiving a curse from transgenders, Hindu families often welcomed them in and paid them for their services even when uninvited.  However, sometimes Hindu families refused them entry or refused to pay, even went as far as calling the police.  Still the cultural authority of the hijra was so powerful that the police would often do nothing to remove them.  Transgenders were treated with both respect and fear.

Under the Mughal rule, transgenders were called Khawjasaras which was a designation of respect and dignity. Transgenders were employed as security officials in charge of female quarters. This role was assigned to transgenders in imitation of their historic role in holy cities where they served as facilitators between men and women performing prayers and pilgrimage. In most parts of the Muslim world, transgenders commanded respect and were considered holy and special in the eyes of God.

They served as courtiers and councils, giving advice to princes and princesses. They were familiar with court etiquettes and knew the secret workings of Mughal households. They were domestic insiders. Having the controls of intelligence officers and the prestige of royal confidantes, transgenders enjoyed special powers and privileges unavailable even to the most powerful wazirs (ministers) of the kingdom. They were educated in statecraft and nuances of religion. This treatment and elevation in the Mughal courts provided a great incentive for non-Muslim transgenders to accept Islam.

The spirituality of transgenders was considered as authentic as that of men and women. The Prophet of Islam treated transgenders with respect, prohibited their ill-treatment and had good things to say about spiritually-inclined transgenders. Believing that transgenders are dearer to God, some Muslim rulers appointed them as intercessors in royal palaces.

In the beginning of the British period in Indian subcontinent, hijra used to accept protections and benefits by some Indian states through entry into the hijra community. Furthermore, the benefits incorporated the provision of land, rights of food and smaller amount of money from agricultural households in exact area were ultimately removed through British legislation because the land was not inherited through blood relations.

Through the onset of colonial rule from the 18th century onwards, the situation changed drastically. Accounts of early European travelers showed that they were repulsed by the sight of Hijras and could not comprehend why they were given so much respect in the royal courts and other institutions.

In the second half of the 19th century, the British colonial administration vigorously sought to criminalize the hijra community and to deny them the civil rights. This was on the basis of Christian beliefs on gender. Ethnocentrism is very much visible in this context. Hijras were considered to be separate caste or tribe in different parts of India by the colonial administration. The Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, instructed colonial authorities to arrest all hijra who were concerned in kidnapping, castrating children and dressed like women to dance in public places. The punishment for such activities was up to two years imprisonment and a fine or both. This pre-partition history influences the vulnerable circumstances of hijra in this contemporary India.

The Enlightenment Age

The Age of Enlightenment, also called the Age of Reason was an intellectual revolution which dominated Europe during the 17th and 18th century. Enlightenment was the emergence and creation of ideas which challenged the existing notions of the world. It questioned the existing set of ideas and conceptions about religion, society and politics. Before this period, Europe was essentially a land dominated by religion. This intellectual movement was carried out by the Enlightenment philosophers like Baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire, David Hume and Adam Ferguson.

According to some, the beginning of the Enlightenment was after the publication of René Descartes‘ philosophy of ‘Cogito, ergo sum’ (“I think, therefore I Am”) in 1637, while others belief the publication of Isaac Newton‘s ‘Principia Mathematica’ (1687) began the Scientific Revolution and the beginning of the Enlightenment.

The philosophers and intellectuals challenged the clergy men who supported the traditional view of society. These new ideas influenced cultural practices like writing, painting, printing, music, sculpture and architecture. There was also significant progress in technology and medical science.

The key ideas of the Enlightenment were Reason, Empiricism, Science, Universalism, Individualism, Secularism, Freedom and similar others. The thinkers stressed on the primacy of reason to establish rationalist ideas based on fact. The key to expanding human knowledge was shifted upon empirical facts and scientific experiments. This concept of scientific reason was considered universal and could be applied to all situations. Philosophers opposed all traditional religious authority and stressed on the importance of knowledge free from all religious biases. They pointed out the creation of a form of knowledge which was not influenced by any religious ideas or superstitions. A secular idea was born and this spread quickly throughout Europe. This led to the belief that all individuals are same and equal despite their religious and philosophical views.

It was the idea of Individualism which was the starting point of all scientific knowledge. Science was the supreme form of knowledge as scientific facts were based on observation and experiments. This led to an increase in objective ideas and decrease in belief of superstitions. The philosophers wrote in a very direct way and took clear positions. They wrote about important changes and transitions going on in the society. A traditional social order was replaced by a modern State. The formation of a political State took place and the powers shifted from the hands of the Church to the State. Society was no longer dependent on the traditional religious institutions. It was believed that the application of reason and scientific knowledge could remove the cruelty and injustice from social institutions. The works of Voltaire instilled a desire for new ideas and belief in progress among the Europeans.

Thinkers like Saint Simon greatly influenced the societal processes. According to him modern society was threatened by anarchy and disorder. To bring back social order a Science of Society would be necessary. He constructed a ‘Social Physiology’ to bring order and stability in the society. He believed that modern society would flourish if science and industry were used for the service of humans. A major social re-organisation would be necessary to bring about order and proceed towards a successful social change which would bring about societal progress. Although his ideas were neglected at first, as Europe became engulfed with disorder and war, these ideas started influencing people. Eventually Saint Simon became a key figure in the liberal political movements of Europe.

Untangling Gender and Sex: Beyond He or She

It’s easy to fictionalize an issue when you’re not aware of the many ways in which you are privileged by it.

– Kate Bornstein

One can imagine many raised eyebrows at the idea of this distinction between sex and gender. Aren’t they the same; two names given to the same phenomenon? Yes, and No.

Yes, because these two terms are often used interchangeably by people at large. No, because thinking of the terms as meaning the same thing is an error. The terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are closely linked, yet they are not synonyms. There is a subtle difference between the two as stated by psychologists and anthropologists across the globe. Today, let us explore how they are different.

The word sex has its root probably in Middle English which means “section” or “divide”. If we go further back, sex means the number six in Latin. On the other hand, the word gender is derived from Middle English which in turn is derived from Old French which is ultimately derived from the Latin word genus. Genus means “kind” or “type” or “sort”.

If we quote from the Medilexicon’s medical dictionary, we find two definitions of sex and gender respectively:

Sex is “the biologic character or quality that distinguishes male and female from one another as expressed by analysis of the person’s gonadal (gonad is an organ in animals that produces gametes, especially a testis or ovary), morphologic (internal and external), chromosomal, and hormonal characteristics.”
Gender is “the category to which an individual is assigned by self or others, on the basis of sex.” To put it in a nutshell, sex refers to biological differences while gender refers to socio-cultural differences. This will become clearer by way of examples. Sex and gender have different characteristics. Some features related to sex are – while males have testicles, females have ovaries; while males have penis; females have vagina, females get pregnant while males do not; females can breastfeed their babies, males cannot; at the time of birth, males tend to weigh more than their female counterparts; generally, males have deeper voices than females.

Some features related to gender are – women have long hair and men short; women contribute more to household chores than men do ; some cultures expect their women to cover their heads when they step out of the house while there is no such injunction for men; up till the twentieth century women were not allowed to vote in a number of countries (UK granted female franchise in 1928) ; some professions, like teaching and nursing, are considered to be more suitable for women while others like, climbing the corporate ladders, are more appropriate for men (women are now breaking these barriers); men are regarded as bread earners and protectors of women in the majority of cultures.

This means while sex is a natural or biological feature, gender means a cultural or learned feature – the set of characteristics that a society or culture defines as masculine or feminine. As stated succinctly by the French writer and feminist, “one is not born a woman, but becomes one”. We can extend this to mean that one is not born a man but becomes one, too.

While a person is born with a sex, gender is dictated by socio-cultural norms in which he or she finds himself or herself. Gender is not about being born with a penis or vagina but how we feel about ourselves, or identify with a particular group, men or women. Some people are transgender which means their gender identity is not aligned with their biological sex. A person born with a man’s body might identify more with women and vice-versa. Sexual identity is about our attraction to people of a particular sex. While it is largely true that opposite sexes attract, people of the same sex also experience attraction and hence terms like gay, lesbian, bisexual.

Needless to say, cultural norms vary and so do the gender roles. For example in India, it is normal for Sikh men to have long locks while in some matriarchal societies in Africa, women are supposed to provide for the family while men take care of the kids and household.

Similarly, the sexual differences among people cannot be categorized into two binary opposites. While females have XX sex chromosomes, men have XY chromosomes. There are some babies who are born with XO chromosomes (Tuner Syndrome) or XXY chromosomes (Klienfelter’s Syndrome). They are intersex which may have sex organs that appear to be somewhat female or male or both. A lot of times surgeries are performed on such babies right after their births so as to assign a particular sex to them. However, psychologists advise that such surgeries should be postponed till the babies grow up and can decide for themselves which sex they identify with more, male or female, and accordingly go for sex change procedures. Otherwise, they may experience an identity crisis which may lead to depression or even suicides.

In our culture, gender education is given to kids on the basis of their sex from an early age. While men are told that they need to be aggressive and not emotional (men don’t cry), women are told that they have to be feminine (don’t laugh loudly, learn how to cook, don’t study too much else who will marry you). However, such roles can prove to be a disadvantage for both male and female. What about those men who are fragile? Or those women who do not want to marry and bear children but to make a career? Hence, it is stands to reason that such choices should be granted to different sexes irrespective of the expected gender roles in order to ensure the fullest developments of their personalities in accordance with their innate abilities or desires.

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In a nutshell, sex is what lies beyond your legs. Gender is what lies between your ears.