Subject: A Tourist's Guide to Sociology: Don't Panic

Dear Soc 100 class:

Let me reassure you that confusion among Intro to Soc students at this stage is very common, so you have plenty of company. You're probably telling your family and friends that you don't even know what sociology is, and that's naturally going to worry you. Below are six points that may help:

1. It's early days still. Don't expect to understand something as complex and hazy as sociology after only 3 hours. At the start, almost everyone has the feeling that you now have. And almost everyone 'gets' it within a few weeks, or at worst, a couple of months.

2. It's an intro course. Even after doing the course for 24 weeks, your only guarantee is that you'll have a "rudimentary" (basic) understanding of how to analyze society. That's what the syllabus says. Don't put too much pressure on yourself.

3. Sociology is the 'poor cousin' of the social sciences for a good reason. Most people know what psychology is, but they don't know what sociology is, and there are reasons for that.

Unlike psychology, biology, chemistry, economics, etc. sociology is MORE than one thing, and that makes it a hard sell. Just saying it's "the study of society" doesn't really begin to explain soc because society is SO MANY things at the same time.

4. This one’s important: Sociology is counterintuitive. We're brought up in society without ever having society pointed out to us. So we take it for granted. I'm not going to undo 20, 30 or more years of socialization in only 3 hours.

5. Sociology has no unifying or overarching (umbrella) theories. I can explain soc in part by pointing out that it's an alternative way of looking at common, everyday events. Sociology isn't defined by a single set of boundaries or theories as chemistr y is, for example. There's little agreement among sociologists about what's right and wrong, and which theories are dominant. So sociology's complexity and its diffuse quality (fuzziness) makes it hard to "get" immediately.

6. It's a university course for a good reason. I can be flippant by saying that if sociology were easy it wouldn't be a university_level course. For example, community colleges don't really teach soc (those that do have one or two courses but they're s trictly practical and aimed at nurses, social workers, law enforcement, etc.) and there are reasons for that. Much of sociology requires abstract thinking.

After reviewing your notes of my lecture, re_read Chapter 1 of the textbook and the Mills reading. Chances are you'll read and interpret these differently since hearing the lecture.

Mills is telling you that a 'sociological imagination' requires that you get into someone else's skin to experience life as they do. He also suggests that the 'sociological imagination' requires travelling back in time so we can compare the 'taken for granted' beliefs of today to those of yesterday.


Well, if the explanation for people's behaviour is explained by biology, then changes take eons; but if the explanation for human behaviour is rooted in the social, change comes more quickly. Hence history is important. You don't have to be a historian , but simply curious enough to do the historical research.

What other academic discipline asks its practitioners to "imagine" anything? That's part of the magic of sociology.