Sociology as a science concentrates on studying social structure and activity to pursue a possible improvement in social welfare. The important aspects it deals with are, inter alia, social institutions and the ways society develops and changes throughout time. This set of video recordings focuses on such social institutions as politics, education, healthcare, communications media and technology, as well as highlights the key roles of population and urbanization in the development of society and analyzes the significance of social change and social action.
Social Institutions: Politics and Education
People interact with social institutions (SI) on a daily basis, even without noticing it: economics, law, education, military, politics, medicine and health, science, technology, family, religion, communication media are only a few examples of SI that influence people’s actions and relationships with others and provide the structure within which they spend their lives. Particularly, the SI of education possesses a hierarchy of roles and responsibilities and performs the functions of passing on essential knowledge, skills and information from generation to generation, teaching the social norms of daily life and satisfying the individuals’ need for lifelong learning and retraining. The SI of politics represents a social structure of power and authority, the main purpose of which is counteracting disorder and chaos, as well as ensuring the right of every citizen to participate in the political life of the country.
Medicine and Health
The SI of medicine and health can be viewed from different perspectives. From the functionalist point of view, its main task is maintaining healthy people so that they would be capable of performing their roles in society and thus keep it going. Within this SI, two main social roles are traced: the sick role and the physician’s role. The conflict perspective observes an issue of accessibility of healthcare, depending on financial status of a person, as well as points out the difference between the treatment of different sexes representatives. The interactionist perspective focuses on the meanings people ascribe to a medical problem: the perception of it and the reaction to it depends on one’s social background and experience. Specialists in social epidemiology study the distribution of illnesses in population groups according to social status of people, with the main objective to improve public health by predicting the possible risks factors. Due to cultural diversity of the US population, the medical system is largely enriched by alternative healthcare methods, which may seem quite exotic. Despite the fact that compared to the past, modern healthcare system has developed and progressed, it still suffers a host of problems — such as soaring costs of healthcare; budgetary shortages in social healthcare programs; the balance between the cost and quality of medical care; ethical issues concerning accessibility of healthcare to population — which raises the question of efficiency of American health care system.
Communications Media and Technology
Perhaps the SI mostly shaping public opinion and ideas is the communications media, in its turn influenced by development in technology which can bear both positive and negative effects on society. The social role of mass media cannot be overestimated, as they shape people’s beliefs, color perceptions and become memories of whole generations. The media informs, instructs, entertains; it plays a key role when informing of global events of worldwide importance, such as wars — shaping people’s views and attitudes to what is going on. On the one hand, mass media secures an easier life to people in terms of obtaining and analyzing information, as it brings the most recent events directly into one’s living room via TV set; on the other hand, the negative consequences of communication media transformation due to technological progress must not be ignored: technological dualism brings about environmental stress and reduces private space of people. In addition, the choices of information people obtain are not always their own: the extent of news coverage is controlled by journalists and large corporations that often impose dominant beliefs and present a tailored image of the world.
Population and Urbanization
Society grows and changes with the rapid increase in the world population. The spheres most intriguing for sociologic study are the growth, the characteristics and the distribution of the population. As the number of people grows, the patterns of their settlement change: from those growing around temples to industrial areas which are based on certain models. Initially, the concentric zones model predominated the cities; however, with the development of economic activity, the peripheral zones model appeared a more efficient one to describe urban areas, as it most successfully reflected the change in the character of downtown, the establishment of efficient transportation systems of circumferential and radial highways, the appearance of airport complexes at the periphery which boosted the city economy, and last but not least, the expansion of suburban residential areas. Flourishing as they were after the end of World War II, suburbs went through the criticism of being too homogeneous and dull to the acknowledgment of their utmost diversity. Modern suburbs appear as ever-growing highly developed social zones, which face a number of issues familiar to the inner city as well, inter alia, social (delinquency, vandalism, drug abuse, hidden segregation due to development of “gated community”, housing problem resulting from gentrification of suburbs) and environmental ones (lack of green belts, industrial waste left unattended).
Each generation differs from the previous one, as it is affected by inevitable social change in every aspect of life. Sociologists view social change as any change in the culture of society, in the social institutions of society, a transition to a different type of society, etc. Social change can be that of small or large scale, and can occur on three levels: a) macro (involving the entire society); b) middle (happening within a social system but not affecting society as a whole); and c) micro (concerning an individual or a small group). Technology, war and modernization are viewed as powerful mechanisms of social change: personal computer revolution has led to a better sense of community on micro level, increased work efficiency on middle level, and has shaped the way society learns on macro-level; World War II has led to changing of social roles, transforming social institutions, changing population patterns, and improving the US economy; and the consequences of modernization, as a result of industrialization, urbanization and development of the nation, can be observed at any level of American society.
As current events may seem unfair, unacceptable, unendurable or otherwise to people, they tend to find a solution to the situation through collective behavior, which is viewed as a continuum of non-routine unusual behaviors that are engaged in by a large number of people. Those actions can be spontaneous or planned and may develop into a whole social movement, a bright example of which is the social rights movement. According to John Lofland’s typology of spontaneous collective behavior, the main feelings that are driven by the crowd or mass participating in that behavior are fear, hostility, or joy, which define the character and type of the action. Spontaneous actions are often viewed as catalysts for social movements that are initiated by individuals driven by desire to take actions and change the society they live in.
As it appears, human society is characterized by a variety of behavioral patterns and shapes its relations into various social institutions which provide guidelines for conduct and structure human relations into a comprehensible unity.