What is Sociology

“Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.” is what sociologist C. Wright Mills said in his book The Sociological Imagination (2000; 3). Mills maintains how a personal account connects to a historical event by several factors, which is why he coins sociological imagination to explain how we findthe connection.

Sociology is part of my life; the irony is that I wonder what Sociology means precisely. Socio- means people, and -logy refers to the study of people. However, we must understand the context of sociology to understand its definition. Sociology grew into a significant field. Sociology is a significant field by the way we use sociology. We treat sociology by acknowledging its significances, such as giving sociologists awards, colleges offering sociology courses, and even YouTube channels focusing on them. As sociology keeps growing in popularity, the field allows us to examine how we teach people to have a sociological imagination. The question comes to realizing why sociology is critical.

Sociologist Steven Buechler’s What is Critical about Sociology (2008) helps us to understand the critical elements of sociology: sociology helps us to understand the complex issues from both an individual and social perspective, we are able to debunk misleading ideas, and how we find out a hegemonic perspective in society (318). Buechler explains the two aspects of sociology: the audience and how knowledge is produced comes with four types of sociology: professional sociology, policy sociology, critical sociology, and public sociology (319). Professional sociology focuses on instrumental knowledge for an academic audience, such as publishing peer-reviewed articles for an academic journal. Policy sociology helps people within and outside of academia use instrumental knowledge, such as advocating changes in social policy. Critical sociology pursues academics to use reflexive knowledge, such as explaining how a concept explains a social phenomenon. Lastly, public sociology helps people within and outside academia use reflexive knowledge, such as teaching sociological theories on YouTube through a series of video essays. The four types of sociology help me reflect on how I can disburse sociological knowledge into a course as I can help people within and outside of academia enhance their career paths and interests. However, I must consider the limitations in sociological knowledge in order to understand a broader perspective.

In Julian Go’s Decolonizing Sociology: Epistemic Inequality and Sociological Thought (2017), he points out the two issues of sociology as a discipline: its epistemic inequality and marginalization and the spatial scale of inequality and marginalization (194). Go notes how sociological knowledge is situated by perceiving the world from a cisgender white man’s standpoint (195). The issues with the sociological discipline come back to what I fear in sociology, missing out on crucial details in researching sociological occurrences. As sociology grows as a discipline, more knowledge is uncovering by asking newer questions and gathering broader perspectives. Go’s argument reminds me of philosopher Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s Can the Subaltern Speaks. Spivak focuses on how we can interpret the world through the colonizer’s interpretations and a marginalized person but never the Subaltern’s interpretation. We do not know that the Subalterns even exist as they must not be colonized before they can tell us (de Kock, 1992; 29-47). The problem in finding knowledge to share comes down to what I am seeking and consider its significance.

In Patricia Hill Collin’s on Book Exhibits and New Complexities: Reflections on Sociology as Science (1998), Hill explains that as sociology grows as a discipline, we struggle to find books as the fields keep extending. We get to see the humanistic side of sociology as the discipline grows, as sociology shows the human comedy of everyday life (Selznick and Berger, 1964; 165). The social reality we live in requires noticing the human side of sociology: the art of listening and our awareness of our freedom. Sociology is getting us to ask how our lives differ from someone else’s and why so. An example includes a person’s socioeconomic status relating to their race and ethnicity. We learn how racism affects people through some people having limited opportunities by their culture and social capital. Sociologists must ask why people struggle to increase their social mobility, getting out of poverty, and why it is more common for Black Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). We must consider the impact of racism in history, such as slavery or discrimination practices, and current color-blind logic. The impact of racism comes back to how we interpret and respond to our social realities. 

Scholar Kai Erikson explains in Prologue: Sociology as a Perspective (1997) focuses on how we study sociology as more than an approach to social reality or society; it is a body of knowledge and how we are seeing. We are collecting information to put the pieces of social life together to see a more comprehensive image. Through several forms of methods and theories, we understand how social life is structured with a collection of documents and recordings. We use sociology through scientific, humanistic, and artistic orientations to answer questions, such as finding answers through ethnographies and statistical studies in urban lives, allowing us to reconsider changes in institutions or regulating more effective social policies (10-11). We learn how people struggle to adapt to current lives by finding out the core elements in our studies.

Scholar Randall Collins’ The Sociological Eye and Its Blinders (1998) explains how we can find sociology’s core elements, as he states that every type of examiner has the same type of sociological eye, is that we must actively wonder about the world we live relating to our intellectual interest (3). I like that Collins mentions Mill’s grand theorists and abstracted empiricists. Both groups lose focus on what Mill highlights as a critical element for sociologists: commitment to making society progress (4). Collins’ article relates to another called Does the Center Hold? Reflections on a Sociological Core (2016) which the authors also focus on the core of sociological knowledge. The authors argue that we find the core, the central elements by our habit of mind and patterning in our sociological knowledge. The beauty of sociology growing as a discipline is that we are able to find information that helps us to understand patterns in culture and politics. The patterning in sociology includes the way people live their lives, how they react, and how they think, such as how they react to an illness to how they form their political opinions. Patterning comes back to Mill’s Sociological imagination, in which Mill notes how we format thoughts by asking questions about how the economy, culture, and history impact our current lives through their connections to each other. The sociological core is found in what reading materials we most value, regardless of the length of the reading list. An example is masculinities, I have a collection of articles and books relating to the topic, yet I find myself going back to certain articles and books, such as Connell’s Masculinities or articles relating to anti-feminism or how hegemonic masculinity is part of Westernism.    

In conclusion, sociology is not a mere social science discipline, as the areas of sociology include various aspects of social life and other areas. We should teach sociology by understanding its purposes, such as Buechler’s four types of sociology or the patterning and habit of our mind. How we teach sociology requires us to exercise our sociological imagination. We can teach sociological theories, ranging from Karl Marx to Judith Butler, just as we can sociological methods like qualitative and quantitative methods, including even more approaches in using sociological methods. An example is teaching undergraduate students how to do interviews, and I may require students to interview one person and require them to analyze the aspects of the interview through a series of questions. I may ask students to do tasks that will activate them to ask questions on their own. I may ask students to ask the people they are interviewing questions, such as where they come from and their passions. I want to lead students to ask their questions for the interviews, leading them into intellectual curiosity. The sociological theories will also them to interpret their social reality in ways they will comprehend. For instance, the theory of alienation helps us to understand how we feel alienated in several factors. How sociological theories help us understand how macro-level issues relate to micro-level issues is how sociological elements affect how people live and interpret reality. An example is neoliberalism relating to mental health, we live in a culture that values work ethics, but a mass number of people struggles to live a more sustainable life under capitalism, which includes having long work hours, lack of access to resources in treating mental health, and normalization of having high-stress level. The misconception and vague idea that a person must work hard helps us analyze and debunk the misconception. Through their studies and theories, we have scholars who discover how neoliberalism impacts mental health, such as the U.S. government defunded programs for the self-care movement to cultural acceptance to undermine depression and stress. The sociological eye is a tool that every sociologist has, just as every person has a desire in life.  

Resources

Ballantine, Jeanne, et al. “Does the Center Hold? Reflections on a SOCIOLOGICAL CORE.” Teaching Sociology, vol. 44, no. 3, 2016, pp. 151–162., doi:10.1177/0092055×16647432.

Buechler, Steven. “What Is Critical about Sociology?” Teaching Sociology, vol. 36, no. 4, 2008, pp. 318–330., doi:10.1177/0092055×0803600402.

Collins, Patricia Hill. “On Book Exhibits and New Complexities: Reflections on Sociology as Science.” Contemporary Sociology, vol. 27, no. 1, 1998, p. 7., doi:10.2307/2654698.

Collins, Randall. “The Sociological Eye and Its Blinders.” Contemporary Sociology, vol. 27, no. 1, 1998, p. 2., doi:10.2307/2654697.

de Kock, Leon. “Interview with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: New Nation Writers Conference in

South Africa.” Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 23:3 (July 1992): 29-47

Erickson, Kai. “Preface.” Sociological Visions, pp. 1–11., doi:10.2307/j.ctt1xp3v27.3.

Go, Julian. “Decolonizing Sociology: EPISTEMIC Inequality and Sociological Thought.” Social Problems, vol. 64, no. 2, 2017, pp. 194–199., doi:10.1093/socpro/spx002.

Mills, Charles Wright. The Sociological Imagination. Oxford University Press, 2000.

Selznick, Philip, and Peter L. Berger. “Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective.” American Sociological Review, vol. 29, no. 2, 1964, p. 285., doi:10.2307/2092134.

Garfinkel’s What is Ethnomethodology- (Quick) Summary

Garfinkel’s What is Ethnomethodology? explains the concept of ethnomethodology by which it focuses on how people interpret their social reality through their knowledge. People use conversation and gestures or social interactions to retain their sense of reality in each situation. Ethnomethodology refers to how people reflect their activities through errors and examinations of their personal experiences as they become codified; the fragments of social reality become codified through past experiences. The ad hoc becomes part of ethnomethodology since ad hoc means something created for a particular goal that is subjective to change or rejected. Garfinkel mentions that ethnomethodology refers to a study of practical actions that prone to be problematic due to subjective rules given to people. An example to explain ethnomethodology is the jury. The jury determines what decisions to go with on their actions, to determine what may or may not work for desired results. The jury discourses on the evidence of the case and follow the rules they are given by society as a whole. The jury is looking for a rational approach that will function well enough to reach the case’s ultimate decision.

Ethnomethodology seems to focus on what is accountable as a method. This method helps people determine the goals they want to reach by whatever method seems to be accountable enough. The reasoning of the methodology is individualized, which means that it is subjective to each person using to study the social order. The common sense of ethnomethodology is by a person’s common sense of reality and their social reality compared to other people’s social reality. Each person’s social reality differs from personal upbringing and knowledge, by which Garfinkel seems to advocate scholars to recognize how their interpretation is subjective by nature.

Semiotic Analysis Time: A Slice of Sensual Pizza

A Slice of Sensual Pizza

The printed advertisement is for a pizza brand called Daiya, which the name Daiya sounds closer to the word dairy. According to babynamewizard.com, the name Daiya is also a Polish feminine name for “gift” or “present”. The ad is from a website called Adsoftheworld.com and published in July 2016 in the United States. I do not know if the ad exists elsewhere. The advertisement’s audience seems general, except its for those want dairy-free, like vegans and lactose-intolerant consumers. The message suggests that the taste of the pizza is exceptional good, by expressing humor. The socio-historical context of the text is that it is part of contemporary consumerism. Cultures differ from each other in advertisements by its signifiers. The ads may focus more on text rather than the image. Some ads may inform readers about the product by its advantages. Other ads may use aesthetic approaches to attract consumers. Ads can use humor or reflective storytelling to get consumers’ attention. It involves using a discourse with dominant ideas. Researchers can use a visual method as a communication tool as “border crossers” (Liebenberg 2009). We can deconstruct the semiotics by searching for its meanings, such as ironies or casual relations. The metaphors can serve as an analogy while metonymy as an association. The relevance of analyzing the ad is to understand what social groups are represented and hailed and their mythologies. Mythology involves associating a product with cultural meaning, as part of the strategy (Tolson 1996). The people representing in advertisements disclose cultural implications through gestures, traits, and fashion. The messages in advertisements reveal implicitly or explicitly cultural values or mythologies.


Syntagmatic Analysis
The connotation is a romance novel, and the subject is pizza. The important signifiers are the people, location, and text. The ad seems to be a parody of an actual romance novel called The Princess and her Pirate by Lois Creiman. The couple is holding each other in a romantic pose. The man is feeding his partner a slice of pizza. The woman appears astonished as cheese is stretching from her mouth. The woman is holding a man passively while the man is holding the woman more assertively. They are on the cover of a book, hinting they are fictional people. The book appears to be on a marble table. The title of the book said, “A Yearning Supreme” Below, the book states, “CHEESIER THAN EVER” and features the brand logo, Daiya. The book with the title “Supreme” hints what type of pizza Daiya is advertising to the consumer.
The cultural codes refer to romance novels and the medieval era. Romance novels are known to depict covers featuring a heterosexual couple. Romance novels written for and by heterosexual women tend to depict male heroes as hypermasculine, such as expressing dominance in relationships (Allan 2016). The woman appears feminine. Her dressing codes are long hair, white dress, and make-up. The man appears masculine. He has short hair, five-o-clock shadow, muscular, and wears a vest that exposes his chest. He also carries a sword around his waist, indicating protection for the woman. The ad reminds readers of heteronormativity by featuring a heterosexual couple following traditional gender roles. If the roles were switched, such as a muscular woman holding man assertively, the readers might interpret the couple’s gender roles as part of the message, likely humor. The couple appears white and physically fit; it also erases people of color and various body types. Humor is suggested by an ad based on its image and text. The line “CHEESIER THAN EVER” refers to the term cheesy. The term cheesy refers to inadequate quality. Romance novels are often mocked in culture for their book covers and contents. Many romantic covers tend to depict a couple with exaggerated gender expressions. An example is a man having large muscles and the woman expressing passive gestures. The theme of the book is medieval. The clothes and background suggest the book is about a medieval era. The man’s sword symbolizes the era. The castle is shown in the background. The woman’s dress appears medieval due to its sleeves and corset.


Paradigmatic Analysis
The central oppositions suggested in the text are the brand and advertisement. Readers can see the logo of the product below the novel. The fonts of the novel appear Edwardian Script, and it is glowing white. The fonts represent the binary of the novel and logo. The font of the novel represents fantasy, while the font below the novel is reality. The couple’s outfits suggest history while outside of the novel is present. History involves the concept of what was then versus now. The realism of the image is subjective to readers. The book cover appears to be a digital drawing rather than a photo and appears hyper-realistic. The logo includes an image of pizza; the image appears to be photo rather than a drawing. Many pizza products feature a photo of pizza as part of the box cover.
The oppositions have importance by its symbolic meanings. The pizza in the novel represents the commercial itself. The readers are aware they are looking at an ad. We are reminded that reading fiction is to escape reality. People enjoy reading fiction to relax and experience emotions by its story. The pizza in the book cover signals to readers that eating pizza can be part of our leisure. The cheese dripping out of the woman’s mouth represents how sensual eating pizza can be for people, like kissing. Readers can see the logo, which is also a box cover for the pizza. The image hints readers what the box cover looks like so that they can remember it when they are shopping.
If the ad presents its product differently, like just an image of the product within the book cover while a fictional couple is reading the book together, it may not get the reader’s attention. It could indicate pizza as part of daily life, and it could tell readers what they can do if they want pizza by showing them a couple reading about Daiya pizza. A book about Daiya pizza could suggest how the product is interesting enough for people to read a book about it.


Reading Against the Grain
The ideological messages endorsed by the advertisement is its simplistic meanings. The ad gives readers simple messages. The image has few lines of words, mainly on humor. Although the pizza states it is dairy-free, with “cheesier than eveR”, implying that its has more cheese than cheese itself, by the brand logo below the novel, the ad lacks further information about the product. I do not know what the exact ingredients nor health benefits of the product presents. The image seems to explicitly encourage readers to only focus more on taste through symbolic messages. The ad also wants readers to associate pizza with romance through a parody of romance novels. Some consumers enjoy romance novels as a form of escapism, as novels allow readers to escape bleak reality by focusing their fantasy. The ad reminds readers how pizza can associate with love life, even it is still fictional. The pizza seems to represent exceptional food by presenting it as a love potion. The woman’s facial and body gestures suggest that she is amazed by its taste. The slice of pizza seems to serve as a kiss from the man. People enjoy reading or watching romantic genres for various reasons. People may desire an ideal partner or sensual moments of stories.
The aspect of the reality is that the novel hides are the relationships of the couple. The reader knows the couple as fictional characters in the novel, but we do not know how they met or what happens exactly in the story afterward. The novel subtly reminds readers that it is fictional. The novel itself is not a real novel to buy. It is a fictional-fictional work of art.
As the reader, I am looking at the novel lying on the table. The text below the book suggests for me to interpret the novel as cheesy. The term cheesy also makes me think about the cheese itself besides its metaphorical meaning. The social implication of the ad is that I am a savvy consumer. My role in the advertisement is that I am someone looking for healthy food and better cultural taste than those reading those sorts of novels. Enjoyment. The psychological implication of the ad is that the humor of the ad will make me curious about the product. The image also suggests that the quality of food, particularly its cheese, will be part of my motivation to buy it.
The camera position I see as a reader is that I am looking at a book. The book is centered, as well as the slice of pizza. The pizza seems to be the main aspect of the image. The pizza appears brighter and seems unusual in a setting like the novel. The pizza appears strange because pizza does not represent the medieval period as caste or sword does. The couples are looking at each other, ignoring the reader. They seem more fixated on each other. The message may be that they are just fictional characters. The reader is focusing on the slice of pizza of the book cover, which is between the couple.

References


Allan, Jonathan A. “The Purity of His Maleness.” The Journal of Men’s Studies, vol. 24,
no. 1, 2016, pp. 24–41., doi:10.1177/1060826515624382.
Liebenberg, Linda. “The Visual Image as Discussion Point: Increasing Validity in
Boundary Crossing Research.” Qualitative Research, vol. 9, no. 4, 2009, pp. 441–467., doi:10.1177/1468794109337877.
Tolson, Andrew. Mediations Text and Discourse in Media Studies. TPB, 1996.

The Invention of Women: Reflections

The Invention of Women

Sociologist Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyèwùmí’s The Invention of Women (1997) discusses the Western notion of gender onto the Yorùbá culture, that presupposes the histories of bodies through the catalog of Other, through body-reasoning (5). The body, a person’s body, is already interpreted by people by our given notions, such as passing. Passing, like passing as cisgender and white, is our collective notion that we accept as natural or universal by suppressing ideas that contradict the hegemonic concept and the concept’s origins. Sex and gender, biology and culture, are one subject rather than opposing forces, as they depend on each other as a comparison, what makes them different from one another. Terms like light and dark, good and evil, men and women are examples of binary hierarchal roles through a Eurocentric perspective. It is what we sense, which differs significantly by methods and knowledge, ranging from biological determinism to postmodernism. Whether they are anti-nativist or nativists, African scholars subconsciously presuppose Western notions onto their African studies (17-27). Their colonized world-sense displays in language, values, identity, and practices.

Oyèwùmí discusses aspects of Yorùbá that are colonized compared to what is not colonized, particularly language since language is a social construction by its functionality, such as reinforcing cultural beliefs. The Yorùbá put strong emphasis on age through their language and kinship, as seniority, is a social ranking, granting the person more authority by their experiences, knowledge, and leadership (40-43). The cognatic marriage in the Yorùbá culture did not affect anyone’s social ranking nor property, as the bride’s partner did not have to be biologically related to their children. Children’s survival was the most important aspect in marriage, as procreation was a crucial part of marriage. Polyamory was accepted for procreation, and postpartum abstinence was encouraged (50-55). The terms obínrin and okùnrin, women and men, do not have the same meaning as the English translation, as there is no social status nor similar cultural components (32-34). Scholars created terms like obínrin and okùnrin to fit the Western notion onto people by assigning gender, a social institution, onto them. A person, a woman of color, becomes colonized twice as the Other by their race and gender. An example is a study on the Yorùbá religion, conducted by researcher Ayodele Ogundipe. Despite being a woman of color, Ogundipe uses inappropriate language, such as portraying the religious followers who are what she describes as females less respectfully than followers who are what she describes as males (168-174). Scholars inventing words that refer to Western terms, like king or daughters, to describe Yorùbá, a genderless culture, for Western translation, creates misinterpretation for the Yorùbá’s culture, along with conscious or subconscious bias. For instance, the gender for Èṣù, a deity, portrays as dualistic and switchable through emotions and personality (173). Worse, the masculine pronouns are ungendered, as default in language, while feminine pronouns are gendered, as part of being the Other (172). The distortion of language recreates the history through collective false memory of the past, enabling colonization by erasing Yorùbá history.

Thus, a marginalized group are more marginalized, subalterns, if they cannot speak, as they are written out in history by those in power, even by intellectuals with good intentions, as they objectify the subalterns through mythicization (de Kock, 1992; 29-47). 

Questions

  1. How does societal acknowledgment and acceptance for non-binary relate to The Invention of Women? Does non-binary decolonize gender in Western countries?
  2. Oyèwùmí discusses how African societies are often subject to generalization and Western interpretation; in what other ways has this affected other studies or even policies, such as an imperialistic or Eurocentric analysis and strategy on immigration or beauty?

Resources

Leon de Kock. “Interview with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: New Nation Writers Conference in

South Africa.” Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 23:3 (July 1992): 29-47

Oyèwùmí, Oyèrónkẹ́. The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender

Discourses. University of Minnesota Press, 1997.