Introduction

It is now banal in the extreme to say that we are living in a rapidly changing world, and it can be misleading, too. The challenge is to understand how the world is changing, not how fast it is changing.

– Adam Garfinkle, Editor, The American Interest, 2014

Welcome to HSB4U: Challenge and Change in Society. You have chosen a course that will challenge – and perhaps even change – your existing worldview and opinions. Enjoy this course! It makes the most of technology and current information to better inform you of the sociological world around you.

VUCA times

It is often said that we live in VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) times. In our global reality, though we may see inequity, conflict and cultural clashes, we also see progress in many ways from global health and literacy rates to infant mortality and expected life span. To learn more about this view, read “Why I want to stop talking about the developing world (Opens in new window)” by Bill Gates. Throughout this course, you will be asked to examine yourself and your community, but also the broader world, as we make our way through inquiry and change.

Optional: Listen to the Tears for Fears’ song “Mad World,” as interpreted by Gary Jules. You can hear it on most streaming services.

Now take a moment to answer this question: In what ways are we living in VUCA times?

Acknowledgements (Opens in new window)

Did you come up with a few ideas?

If you were able to listen to the song, you may have noticed that the singer describes how mad the world has become. How can we understand the issues and problems in the world around us?

Sociology can help you answer this question. However, before you can even address this question, you need to know what sociology is.

What is sociology?

Sociology allows us to grasp how society functions and define its structures. It is also the study of the connections between the structures of society and the patterns of human behaviour. Sociology examines individuals within groups, organizations, communities, and social classes of race, sex, and age. Sociology explains how politics, religion, families, and the environment affect human behaviours, attitudes, and actions. Sociology also identifies and analyzes the problems and challenges brought about by social change.

Concepts within the course

This course deals with many different topics within the discipline of sociology. Here are some of the areas that this course will explore with examples of subtopics.

Sociology concept Example
Culture Being a Torontonian
Values I value the role of family in my life.
Socialization Transitioning into Grade 9
Cooperation Political parties working together for the good of a country
Conflict The issues within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Power The roles and responsibilities of the Prime Minister of Canada
Inequality Men are paid more than women in many jobs.
Deviance Committing murder in cold blood
Social control The use of the media to establish norms and expectations
Violence The Arab Spring uprisings for democracy in the Arab world
Order The division of society into separate social classes with different roles
Social change The women’s rights movement

What you will learn

After completing this lesson, you will be able to

  • explain why it is important to research sociology
  • identify different schools of thought in sociology
  • identify examples of social change
  • distinguish between facts and opinions
  • define bias and identify how it appears in the media and in writing

Why research sociology and schools of thought?

Old illustration of a brain with labels

You probably have heard the term “social scientist” before. A social scientist studies sociology, psychology, and anthropology by looking at the properties that make us “social” creatures by habit. Let’s look at each area of study more closely.

Psychology is the study of the mind and its functions in terms of affecting behaviour.

Anthropology is the study of human beings, their cultures, and their customs, and it examines the past to make conclusions about cultures.

Neanderthal to walking to sitting in front of TV

Sociology is the study of group behaviour, of the patterns of people’s behaviour in society, and the functioning of human society.

Group of coloured figurines

Whether you study psychology, anthropology, or sociology, there are theories and ideas relative to each discipline. These theories and ideas are the principles on which each subject of study is based.

You will be introduced to the different theoretical perspectives that form the basis of the discipline of sociology, and this will enable you to begin to understand the world from a sociological point of view.

Why study theory?

So why do we research sociology? To learn more about the world around us! Read through the following questions and ask yourself where your opinion lies.

  • How do you think technology has affected you, your family, your friends, your school, and your world? Has the addition of smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, and “Apple everything” changed anything about how society functions?
  • How does fast food affect family life? Has convenience food replaced the way your family interacts today?
  • Does violence portrayed in the media increase violence at home or in school? Do you think that seeing guns on television means more guns in “real life”?
  • Does society expect more from someone from an upper-class family compared to someone born into poverty? And if so, why?
  • Does social class and birthplace impact people’s choices about premarital sex, alcohol, or drugs?

Watch the following short video by Stephen Steele from The Three Minute Sociologist. The segment explains what sociology is, and why it is important to understand the theories that illustrate it.

Schools of thought in sociology

There are different schools of thought or theories found within sociology. Understanding these theories will allow you to understand the perspective, or worldview, of a sociologist.

Sociology overview

There are two “types” of sociology:

  • Sociology: the scientific study of people in groups
  • Social psychology: the study of individuals within their social and cultural settings

The goal of sociology is to understand and explain patterns of social behaviour, how people interact, and social issues.

There are different theories or approaches to sociology. These are known as “schools of thought.”

Structural functionalism

Structural functionalism states that various segments of society serve a larger purpose for society as a whole. Like organs of a body, each segment has individual work to do for the body to function.

Examples:

  • Providing emotional bands is one segment to raising children in families.
  • Teaching children knowledge and skills is one segment to learning in school.

In this school of thought, social problems (such as illness) are considered temporary.

Conflict theory

In sociology, conflict theory argues that:

  • Power, not function, holds society together.
  • People within society are naturally competitive.

For example, social classes have different problems and demands – they are always competing to have their demands heard and met.

Symbolic interactionism

Symbolic interactionism explains how individuals learn about their culture; how they interpret and then act upon their social worlds. People are internally motivated by what they have learned; not by external motivations.

Feminism

Feminism in sociology emphasizes the understanding of the social roles of men and women in different cultures. It strives to bring about change, both socially and politically. Examples include discrimination, spousal violence, date rape, and stalking.

Based on what you know at this point, explain each of the four schools of thought in your own words.

Structural functionalism
Conflict theory
Symbolic interactionism
Feminism

Thinking about social change

In this course, you are going to spend a substantial amount of time thinking about social change. This topic is an introduction to the concept of social change.

One of the reasons why this world has become so VUCA is that change happens very rapidly in our world, and in very strange and unpredictable ways.

A social change is a change in social nature, in a social group, or in society as a whole. You will now watch two short videos that give examples of social changes. Watch each video. When you are done, answer the questions that follow each clip.

Watch “Locked In Not Locked Out (A Father-Daughter Dance in Prison)” by Camp Diva.

What is the name and purpose of the organization mentioned in the video?

Why has this program become necessary at this point in our world?

How might fatherhood affect a man’s life?

Watch “What happens to your social media profile after you die?”

What can happen to your online “person” after you die?

What does your current online “person” say about who you are or what group you belong to?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of having an online “person”?

Social change and the media

Social change happens daily and all around you. As you go through this course and study social change, you will start noticing that life is changing all around you. To get you started on thinking about social change, you are going to complete the following activity and reflection.

Portfolio

During the course, you will be completing assignments that you will save in a folder on your computer called My Challenge and Change in Society Portfolio. Create this folder now.

It will be easy for you to know whether it is a Portfolio assignment because you will see the above icon when you must complete a task and save it to your Portfolio.

In the end you will have built a very valuable tool for moving on in this field to further education or employment.

You will submit your Portfolio for marking at the end of Lesson 20. While all Portfolio assignments must be completed and submitted, three of them will be thoroughly assessed by the teacher.

For a list of Portfolio assignments and the criteria that will be used to assess them, download the “List of Portfolio items (Opens in new window)” to your computer now, and save it in the folder you have created: My Challenge and Change in Society Portfolio.

Portfolio item

For this activity, you must watch a minimum of 30 minutes of online or TV news. Choose your favourite channel. While watching, look for examples of social change. How many stories reflect examples of social change?

Social change occurs constantly in our society, and watching it in a local, national, and international context will allow you to begin to understand it better. This is important for you to grasp, as it is a major theme of this course.

After you have watched the program, create a reflection piece based on what you have seen. You may choose various media to create your reflection piece. If you like to write, you may write your thoughts down. If you like to take pictures or use images, you may create a series of pictures to describe what stories you have seen.

Save your reflection piece as “Social change in the news” and add it to your Portfolio.

Facts and opinions

You probably know that there is a big difference between a fact and an opinion.

A fact refers to something that is observable or scientifically proven.

An opinion is someone’s interpretation of a fact or idea.

Within the various areas of social science, opinions often come into play. Everybody’s got one and everybody thinks theirs is the right one. As a sociologist, your job is to analyze those opinions, compare them with actual facts and data, and then, using that data, form the most logical conclusion that you can.

In social science, there are five different factors that can confuse or distract social scientists from looking at data objectively. Read through the five different factors and provide an example for each one in the text entry box.

Paradigm

A paradigm refers to an overall worldview or framework that knowledge claims are based on. It makes up the rules and conditions that we use to understand the things we perceive. A paradigm shift occurs when there is a change in a paradigm (you will explore this in more detail later in the course). An example of a paradigm shift would be if a Christian man or woman were to convert to Buddhism – there would be a major shift in his or her entire worldview.

Can you think of another example of a paradigm shift?

Facts vs. opinions

Facts are unbiased pieces of information about reality, which are objective and unarguable. An example of a fact is that water is made up of one hydrogen and two oxygen molecules.

Opinions are judgements and views of reality that are subjective and arguable. For example: “This water tastes like it has metal in it.”

Can you think of other examples of a fact and an opinion?

Bias

Bias is the presentation of an issue from a single point of view. Biased statements have the power to persuade the unwary of opinions they may not otherwise hold, and that can be quite dangerous!

Whatever you may be reading, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who wrote the document and why?
  • Was the author or organization closely involved in the event being described? Could that have affected what was written?
  • What credentials does the author have to indicate that he or she is a reliable source?

The following question is an example of a biased statement: “I really think choosing to end someone’s life when they are suffering from a terrible disease like ALS is okay, don’t you agree?”

Can you think of another example of bias?

Doublespeak

Doublespeak is a type of language that clouds people’s understanding of public issues in order to protect them or prevent them from emotionally investing in what is really going on. Doublespeak is deliberately ambiguous in order to deceive and confuse us. It puts a restriction on our personal thoughts and creates its own truths. Doublespeak turns very unpleasant truths into bearable ones.

An example would be the use of the expression “taking out enemy targets” instead of “killing the enemy” when describing the events taking place during a war.

Can you think of another example of doublespeak?

Developing a perspective

To develop a perspective is to become aware of something, or to form an understanding through one’s own senses. Your perspective of an event or experience will be much different if you have had first-hand experience compared to someone who has not personally gone through it.

An example would be that of a Syrian refugee’s experience of the conflict in Syria versus the experience of someone in North America seeing images of the conflict in a news program.

Can you think of an example of something you may have gone through in your life that has given you a different perspective than someone who would not have gone through the same experience?

Bias

Bias is something that all social scientists must be careful about when conducting research. Bias can inherently destroy logical conclusions, nullify data, and confuse people.

Bias occurs when a point of view excludes an idea or thought, or shows prejudice toward a particular group. It can also occur when you may not understand or be fully aware of the circumstances surrounding a situation, and still form an opinion or draw a conclusion about that situation. You may not be aware of it, but your opinion can then be biased.

Illustration of bias within the media: Left-wing paper says 'One Million Civilians Killed'; right-wing newspaper says 'One Million Bad Guys Killed'

Bias in images

The following exercise will demonstrate how this can happen.

Look at the images on the next page and make some judgements about what is going on. Jot down the first few things that come to mind (maybe the ethnicity of the person in the photo, the time period, what the person might be doing, or why the photo was taken).

Press each image to find out what the background of the situation surrounding the photo really was.

As you looked through those photos, I hope you came to certain conclusions about what you thought was going on. Were those conclusions accurate? In how many of those photos did you know exactly what was going on? Did you understand the circumstances every time, and did you always make the correct assumptions?

Obviously not; it would be impossible. Keep this in mind as you work through this course. Your goal is to educate yourself in order to minimize your bias as much as possible so you can gain a more accurate and impartial perspective.

Bias in writing

Bias is around us every day. In fact, it is impossible to operate in this world without some form of bias, but minimizing that bias is essential. Bias in writing is a type of writing that conveys an opinion for (positive) or against (negative) a particular event, group, idea, concept, plan, or person.

Seven ways to reveal the author’s bias

There are seven ways through which an author can reveal bias in their writing. /Press the following links to learn how to identify this type of bias.

Slanted language and evidence

This form of written bias occurs when words, images and/or information are used to show only the positive or negative side of an argument or discussion.

This distorts reality, ignores differing points of view, and thus leaves the reader with the assumption that there was only one perspective to begin with.

For example, if I were trying to explain the debate surrounding the Keystone Pipeline proposal (the pipeline that would bring oil from Alberta, Canada, to the United States) and only focused on the negative environmental effects instead of also including information on why some feel it is a positive economic contribution to the Canadian and American economies, I would be using slanted evidence.

Exaggeration or highly emotional statements

This form of bias consists of using language that appeals to strong emotions rather than logic. This form of writing uses tone words indicating mood and feeling in order to convey a negative or positive opinion.

For example, if I were introducing the topic of climate change to you and said: "You must act immediately to end climate change. We humans are killing our environment and causing the mass degradation of plants and animal species," I would be making an emotional statement in order to convey my opinion.

Name-calling

This type of written bias consists of using belittling, degrading, or negative names to indicate disapproval.

Examples include terms like evil, lousy, liar, and failure, among others.

Linguistic bias

Linguistic bias is when discriminatory language is used. The following three examples demonstrate this form of written bias.

  1. Indigenous peoples described as “roaming,” “wandering,” or “roving” across the land. This type of language implicitly justifies the seizure of Indigenous lands by “more goal-directed” white Europeans who “travelled” or “settled” their way west.
  2. Words like forefathers, mankind, and businessman serve to deny the contributions (or even the existence) of women.
  3. Immigrant peoples referred to as “swarms” or “hoards.” These terms are used to dehumanize immigrants and ignore diversity within intragroups.

Stereotyping and over-generalizing

This form of bias occurs when authors use statements to indicate that all members of one group are the same as one of its members.

For example, making comments like "Most terrorists originate from the Middle East" is a form of stereotyping.

Obviously, this is an incorrect statement. Stereotypes are sometimes created by the media to imply a positive or negative bias.

Opinions stated as facts

This form of bias occurs when an important point is affirmed as being true, but the proof or information needed to support that argument is left out

When opinions are stated as facts, the author can create the impression that what they believe about a topic is objectively true, when in fact it is just one (potentially false!) perspective on the topic. For example, if an author were to state that "economic problems are more urgent and important than environmental issues," readers may think that this opinion is a fact, when it actually remains an opinion until it is proven or supported by evidence.

Unreality

This last form of written bias consists of ignoring the existence of prejudice, racism, discrimination, exploitation, oppression, sexism, and intergroup conflict.

When controversial topics are glossed over in a news program or article, the unrealistic coverage denies people the information they need to recognize and understand the problems that plague society. This can also hinder the desire and the ability of people to perhaps solve these same problems. Some examples of such coverage include the internment of Japanese Canadians and the Canadian immigration policy towards Jews escaping Hitler’s reach during the Second World War.

Another example would be that of Turkey refusing to officially acknowledge that the Armenian Genocide ever occurred. When referring to that time period, the Turkish government will acknowledge a few thousand deaths, when the total number of people killed has been estimated at one million or more by many historians.

Bias in questions

Let’s test your knowledge to see if you can match the type of author bias in writing with the listed examples.

Select your answers, then click Submit to see if you are right!

All material is shaped by the point of view of its creator, regardless of the form in which it comes (written, visual, etc.).

When a point of view excludes an idea or thought, or expresses prejudice toward a particular group, that viewpoint is considered to be biased – it is slanted in favour of a particular position.

A biased question is a question that subversively pushes the person answering the question to do so in a certain way.

Look at the following table for examples of biased and non-biased questions.

Biased questions Non-biased questions
Do you agree that drinking is OK as long as you are of age and that you don't get drunk? When, in your view, is drinking alcohol appropriate?
Since cigarettes are dangerous and cause cancer, wouldn't you agree that smoking should be controlled to save the lives of many? How do you feel about smoking and human health?
According to the National Student Rights Poll, Heart Lake Secondary School is among one of the safest schools in the GTA. Do you agree or disagree? How can you tell when schools are safe places? What school do you think is the safest in the GTA and why?

Let’s see if you can differentiate a biased question from a non-biased one. Read the following questions and determine if they are biased or not.

Select your answer, then click Submit to see if you are right!

Bias in the media

Although the media claim that they provide their audiences with neutral information on key issues, many media outlets’ news reports are in fact biased. Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky explore this issue in their book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. They argue that the media shape our perception of reality and of society. In accordance with governmental incentives, they spread their ideologies through their programs, and this process begins with the initial selection of what is actually considered to be “news worthy”; that is, what the public gets to be informed about.

Naturally, most audiences, after being repeatedly updated about the same issues, end up perceiving those issues as “more important” than the ones they may only briefly hear about, if at all. Chomsky and Herman refer to “setting the agenda,” where a dominant, educated elite, constituted of about 20 percent of the population, makes the decisions for – and therefore controls – the remaining 80 percent of society. The elite entertains the idea that the “gullible” 80 percent will not develop critical perspectives if their attentions are diverted and constantly entertained.

Conclusion

This lesson has introduced you to the course and the discipline of sociology. You have been introduced to the idea of social change, learned about different schools of thought found within sociology, and about bias within writing.

You now have the primary foundation of knowledge for this course. In the next lesson, you will be looking at research methods in sociology in order to deepen your understanding of the subject.