Sociology is the systematic study of human society. At the heart of this discipline is a distinctive point of view called the sociological perspective.
SEEING THE GENERAL IN THE PARTICULAR
Peter Berger (1963) characterized the sociological perspective as seeing the general in the particular. That is, sociology helps us see general patterns in the behavior of particular people. Although every individual is unique, society acts differently on various categories of people (say, children compared to adults, women versus men, the rich as opposed to the poor). We begin to think sociologically by realizing how the general categories into which we fall shape our particular life experiences.
This text explores the power of society to guide our actions, thoughts, and feelings. The Harvard graduates mentioned in the opening to this chapter, for example, come from more privileged social backgrounds than the graduates of Pine Street Inn. In general, the more privileged peoples social background, the more confident and optimistic they are about their own lives; and with good reason, as they are likely to have more opportunities as well as the training and skills to take advantage of them.
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