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Sociology Today
(Sociology in a Changing World)
Социология сегодня
(Социология в изменяющемся мире)

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Text 3. Sociology Today (Sociology in a Changing World)

Although sociology emerged in Comte's vision of sociology eventually subsuming all other areas of scientific inquiry, sociology did not replace the other sciences. Instead, sociology has developed a particular niche in the study of social life.

In the past, sociological research focused on the organization of complex, industrial societies and their influence on individuals. Today, sociologists study a broad range of topics. For instance, some sociologists research macro-structures that organize society, such as race or ethnicity (этнос, этническая группа, национальность), social class, gender roles, and institutions such as the family. Other sociologists study social processes that represent the breakdown of macro-structures, including deviance, crime, and divorce. Additionally, some sociologists study micro-processes such as interpersonal interactions and the socialization of individuals. It should also be noted that recent sociologists, taking cues from anthropologists, have realized the Western emphasis of the discipline. In response, many sociology departments around the world are now encouraging multi-cultural research.

Changes in our social world have required sociologists to focus attention in new ways. Among these changes are the growth of internationally connected systems and the technologies that increasingly allow our interactions to be conducted in ways other than face to face (e.g., the Internet and e-mail). Although more than 6 billion people now live on Earth, many sociologists and others have argued that the advent of jet airliners, telephones, the Internet, and around-the-clock (круглосуточные) news services beamed by satellite around the world have made the world a smaller place, at least in a social sense.

They often argue that a process of globalization is at work. With globalization, geographical constraints on social and cultural patterns are diminishing, and people are becoming increasingly aware of those changes (M. Waters 2001). Globalization is demonstrated through events as diverse as the growing popularity of soccer in the United States—a sport largely imported from outside—the demand for American movies, blue jeans, and athletic shoes around the world, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and even the attacks of September 11, 2001. Other terms that refer to forms of globalization include the world-economy, world-market, and world-system. These terms are often used to refer to the economic aspects of globalization. Sociologists have been studying these networks at least since the early 1970s (Chase- Dunn and Grimes 1995, 387–88).

Globalization is a controversial issue. The literature on the topic is steadily growing, and a range of diverse perspectives abound. Debates even surround when the process began. The dawn of history? Trade routes centuries ago? When Europeans traveled to the Americas? Colonialism? The post–World War II era? Whether the ultimate impact of globalization is positive, negative, or both is also a matter of contention (e.g., Barber 1996; Guillen 2001; Gros 2003). However, regardless of their position on these issues, globalization requires that sociologists expand their traditional purviews across societies, cultures, and national borders by examining these interrelationships that make the social world increasingly complex (e.g., Giddens 2000). Sociologist Anthony Giddens is well known for his work on globalization.

The ways in which technologies change social interaction has long been an interest for researchers. Communication and information technologies contribute to globalization and increase the complexity (сложность) of our social lives. They also often lead to unanticipated (неожиданные) effects. For example, the telephone started its “social life” as a business tool and only later became a tool for other types of social interaction (Fischer 1992).

In recent years, sociologists have given much attention to the innumerable implications of the Internet to society. From its initial use by a relatively small, computer-literate population of users, the Internet grew rapidly beginning in the 1990s (Abbate 1999; Castells 2001). It is now used for social interaction, business and commerce (legitimate and illegitimate), education, research, news, propaganda, entertainment, and more. There is widespread agreement among sociologists and others that the Internet and other communication technologies are vastly changing society. There is, however, less agreement about whether those changes are positive, negative, or a combination of both (DiMaggio et al. 2001, 308). Sociologists have now expanded their interests to include the myriad online social activities and behaviors to which these technologies have given rise.


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