Introduction to Sociology
Seoul, South Korea
Area of Study
Taught In English
Course Level Recommendations
ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.
Recommended U.S. Semester Credits3
Recommended U.S. Quarter Units4
Hours & Credits
This course offers a general and practical introduction to sociology. It is designed for students at KU with no previous course in sociology and wishing to learn something about this field: What is sociology? How does it differ from other social sciences? How can we apply sociological knowledge to our work and lives in a global world? What career opportunities are opened to sociologists, and how can sociological knowledge help your professional and private success? With these goals in mind, the course covers 1) definitions and subdivisions of sociology; the differences between sociology and other social sciences; 2) the main functions and institutions of societies; 3) main theories in sociology: why do people do what they do, and why are societies organized the way they are? 4) key methods of sociological analysis.
What is Sociology
Looking around the world, we can see many differences across societies/countries. These differences appear in matters that are important (poverty and inequality levels, birth rates, forms of government, laws, gender relations, family life, ..) as well some that seem less important (forms of entertainment, body language, dress codes, ..). Furthermore, societies are not static or homogeneous. They change rapidly and they often comprise a diversity of sub-populations. Why are societies so different? Why are families and people within the same country often so different? Can we understand human behavior in ways that make it possible to change the world for the better?
Sociology helps answer these and many other questions about human behavior and social institutions. Broadly speaking, it is the systematic study of human societies, institutions, and groups, and how these institutions shape people’s lives.
The broad discipline of sociology can be divided into subfields depending on level of analysis, method of analysis, or institution studied. Depending on level of analysis, one can distinguish micro versus macro-sociology. Microsociology takes individuals as the unit of analysis and seeks to understand the causes and consequences of personal outcomes regarding work, family, recreation, health, social mobility, well-being, education, friendships, or deviant behavior for instance. Macrosociology is more interested in broader institutions and social issues such as poverty levels, economic development, inequality, discrimination, crime, social conflicts, population change, etc…
Across all these subfields, sociologists are interested in the interactions between individuals and larger groups, i.e., how individuals function within large societies. Although other disciplines (e.g., anthropology, history, or economics) are also interested in human behavior and human societies, sociology stands out in its emphasis on individual-group interactions and its critical approach to understanding societies. Sociologists work in a variety of careers in teaching, research, management, community development, or policy for instance.
Because it studies institutions and problems we face on a daily basis (families, schools, religion, politics) sociology may at first seem familiar. Yet we soon realize that these institutions vary across countries or over time. We may also realize that our initial understandings of these institutions are incomplete or wrong (e.g., the police does not treat everyone the same; not everyone yearns to go to college). To gain a fuller understanding of the range, diversity and complexity of social institutions and human behavior, we begin with an overview of the basic functions that societies must fulfill in order to survive. These include (1) replacing the population, (2) meeting the basic needs of this population, (3) directing people to fill important jobs (4) transmitting the culture to new generations, (5) maintaining peace and order, (6) integrating individuals into the larger society, (7) changing and adapting to new circumstances, (8) maintaining equitable access to resources, (9) legitimizing inequality where it exists.
Moving beyond this macro-level study of institutions, we then turn our attention to individual behavior. Why do some people smoke and others not? Why do some want to have many children and some none at all? The list of questions is virtually infinite, and it includes behavior that might seem trivial (one’s shirt color, hair style, and preference in music, e.g., why, five years ago, did PSY’s Gangnam Style become so popular on a global scale?) to questions that are more serious (people’s views on the death penalty, marriage, career, parenting, voting, crime, investing and saving money… ). Social science theories offer possible explanations for these differences in behavior. Throughout, we will compare theories from sociology versus other disciplines such as anthropology, biology, economics, or demography.
However, theories are only possible explanations. Therefore, we also discuss the methods that sociologists use to determine which explanations (theories) are closest to matching reality. In their research, sociologists collect and analyze information about social life to advance our understanding of how societies work. Their methods vary, from observing everyday life, to conducting large-scale surveys, conducting focus group discussions, analyzing secondary data, interviewing key informants, or even conducting experiments. We will examine the strengths and weaknesses of these methods, and how several of these methods have been used to answer questions about humans and societies.
This course is designed to foster a practical appreciation of how sociology can help you understand the social world and human behavior. We stay away from unnecessary jargon and figure worship. While I introduce central concepts, ideas, theories, and research approaches, the emphasis is on practical insights and illustrations. With this in mind, I organize some of the lectures around thought-provoking (and sometimes unsettling) readings from Henslin’s volume (Down to Earth Sociology). The readings then serve as a basis for reviewing key ideas/concepts within each section of the course. For the same reason, I will give notes about definitions of concepts so we can spend most of the class time on discussions, illustrations, and counter-arguments. Students will be encouraged to draw illustrations from their own experiences and from comparison of Korean versus other societies. One key element in applying the concepts, theories and methods learned in the course will be for students to devise a personal project in which they attempt to understand some of the crucial choices they have made in life so far, and possible implications of choices they are likely to make in the near future.
Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.