One way of introducing sociology is to introduce some of the ‘big questions’ that sociologists asks. These questions get students thinking sociologically before they even start studying sociology!
Big Sociology Questions
- To what extent is the individual shaped by society?
- Is there such a thing as a social structure that constrains individual action, or is society nothing more than a figment of our imaginations?
- To what extent does our social class background affect our life chances?
- To what extent does our gender affect our life chances?
- To what extent does our ethnicity affect our life chances?
- What is the role of institutions in society – do they perform positive functions, or simply work in the interests of the powerful and against the powerless? (a related question here is why do our life chances vary by class, gender and ethnicity)
- How and why has British society changed over the last 50 years?
- What are the strengths and Limitations of macro-scale research in helping us to understand human action?
- What are the strengths and limitations of micro-scale research in helping us to understand human action?
- Is it possible to do value free social research and find out the ‘objective’ knowledge about society and the motives that lie behind social action?
- Is British Society today better than it was 400 years ago?
OK there are 11 questions in fairness, but top ten makes for a more classic title!
Getting Students thinking about Social Theory
The questions above get students thinking critically about social theory, social inequalities, research methods, social change and social progress.
Questions one to six introduce students to the main sociological theories: Functionalism, Marxism, Interactionism and Feminism, and to the basic stratifications in society: class, gender and ethnicity.
Depending on how they answer (even before they start studying sociology) you can explain to them either ‘this is what Functionalists think’ you clearly disagree and get them involved in some early days critical dialogue.
The later questions move on to social change and progress (questions 7 and 11) and this brings up the topic of postmodernism.
Finally there are some questions on research methods – and yes, these are a little dry, but I think it’s good to be up front about the centrality of social research in sociology!
When to ask these questions…?
I used to use these at Open Evening events for prospective A-level sociology students.
Typically at these events there’d be too many students for staff so these questions (among other things) could be something for them to ponder while waiting to chat with a staff member – and then you’ve got something to ask them about when you have a discussion.
You can basically use the questions to introduce the main themes of sociology.
And of course you can return to these questions at the end of the course too, to see what students think about them after almost two years of studying!
Hopefully their responses would be more critical and nuanced than two years earlier!
These questions run all the way through the AS and A-level sociology AQA specification – the idea of sociology is to develop a position on each of these questions, using a range of research-evidence, and be able to critically evaluate the validity etc. of the research evidence you have used to support your ‘position.
I use these questions at the end of the very first lesson of my Introduction to Sociology, and return to them frequently during the two years of study. They’re quite a good place to start and end!
Please click here to return to the homepage – ReviseSociology.com
And so it goes on….
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