Introduction – core themes

Sociology is the systamtic study of human groups and how these groups interact, the purpose of the group and their methods of action and communication. Sociology looks at how the groups and membership to social groups shapes the behaviour and the attitudes we employ through experience of society to understand the world around us.
Social groups in sociology are referred to as ‘social institutions’. Examples of social institutions are schools, the law, family and religion. Sociology studies the interaction of social institutions both inward and outward, that is, how one impacts and influences the other which in turn shapes our behaviours and gives us our identities within society.


When looking at social institutions and the interaction between social institutions Sociology considers features of society such as inequality, deprivation and conflict.

Sociology aims to re-examine ‘common sense’ ideas and explanations about society  striving to maintain objectivity and remain value free. This involves keeping an open mind, researching and grounding ideas and assumptions in theories, time and place.

F5A05D81-F376-4A56-9687-D0013751A7B7In the nature nurture debate of understanding behaviour, sociologists support the importance of nurture. Socialisation via institutions and culture determine behaviour and the workings of society. It is socialisation, nurture, that accounts for the wide cultural differences in how societies work and how people view themselves. Sociology believes in free will, this is the idea that people choose their path and identity in society. This identity can change depending on the institution they identify with at any point, this means people may be seen differently by different people.

Roles are the expected behaviours that institutions, groups and society lay down as general rules of normal behaviour. We learn are roles in institutions through social learning. Social learning occurs when we identify with a role model, observe their behaviour and learn vicariously through their action was is right and wrong. We then associate role ideals and expectations with the institutions we belong to in society. Role conflict occurs when the demands of different expectations from the institutions we belong become to much to manage. For example being a mother, a member of the education system and working have both role demand and role expectations which can over stretch a person in society.

Each institution we belong to has values, these are general beliefs about what is right and wrong. Values tend to be implicit rules and expectations of social institutions however we also have explicit values in the form of the law. The law is the official legal rules, I forced by the police force and courts and involve punishment.

The following crash course video helps to understand deviance and social control in society.

Class and social mobility

Social class and the class system is often people’s first reference point when you ask them what sociology is, and yes it is an important aspect which we will spend a lot of time referring back to. Below is a diagram of the class structure, there are four main classes, upper, middle, working and underclass however these are furthermore subdivided dependent on occupation level and skill. People belong to a class due to their economic status, such as wealth, income and occupation. You often in the news hear about universities positively discriminating to unsure they make availble Higher Education to the working class. This is to increase the life chances, such as owning houses and having a long and healthy life. This overt positive discrimination encourages social mobility, that is movement of people up and down the class system.



Our class gives us status in society, that is the roles we play in society, such as teacher, student. Ascribed status is associated with family background. Achieved status is that which one achieves.

This is the end to the introduction to sociology, ensure that you have the key terms listed below, with definitions, in your folders. This part of the course is AO1, it’s essential knowledge and terminology required for the rest of the course. The video below is a short crash course outlining what sociology is – it may be helpful in clearing up any misunderstanding or non understanding of any of the terms used so far.

Key terminology

Social institutions,      Social structures,      Objectivity,      Value freedom,     Innate,     Socialisation,     Culture,     Identity,     Roles,     Role model,     Role conflict,     Values,     Laws,     Norms,     Customs,     Social control,      Deviance,     Sanctions,     Social Class,     Life chance,     Social mobility,     Upper class,     Middle class,     Working class,     Underclass,     Status,     Ascribed status,     Achieved status,     Ethnicity,     Gender