Soc Test

What is a social institution?  Why is this concept often useful for sociological analysis?  Please answer as comprehensively as you can in 500 words and provide examples.A social institution is defined in our textbooks as “a complex group of interdependent positions that, together, perform a social role and reproduce themselves over time; also defined as a narrow sense as any institution in a society that works to shape the behavior of the groups or people within it.” With this definition in mind, we can paint a picture of a social institution and most likely find some examples in our own lives. For example, if we look at a typical University it will fit the description of a social institution. It itself is a group of people, each with their own diverse positions, whether it be a professor, a student, a dean, a coach, etc. Each of these positions is connected via social ties, in one way or another, and are interdependent on each other. These ties are all a part of a social structure, student relies on the professor to grade their papers and impart knowledge unto them in order to receive a degree. As well as how a professor relies on the students for a job, as a means to provide income, and a coach relies on students to be a part of the universities teams, and perhaps carry on a winning reputation. In turn, this University is a network of ties, through social relationships, that are connected with a name, in this case, the name of the University. However, a social institution is more than just a name, or a place, it is the idea of the place, the history it has created, and the stories that come together to bring it into existence. The people who help establish a social institution change over time. As time goes on more stories are added to the “grand narrative” that constitutes a social institution. In the case of a University, new students roll in, as others graduate, new professors are hired as old ones retire, new coaches are given a contract when the old ones have reached their end. Yet the social institution carries on and continues fulfilling its role in society. Another example of a social institution may be a sports team. Over time, the players and coaches may come and go, but the fans will most likely continue to support the team despite it. If your favorite player on a team retires, the team does not cease to exist it, it carries on. The team is not defined by the players it has on it, it is comprised of its history, the stories that make it so.  If we were to try and change the name of a college or a popular sports team, we would be interfering with that social institution. We can compare this name changing scenario to changing your own identity. There would be an incredible amount of work that would go into officially changing it. In order to change your identity, you must go through a set of social structures. You would have to get everyone to call you your new name, which is a social aspect, you would have to submit paperwork to legally change your name, which is in accordance with the law, etc. This is all just to essentially change an idea, your name is not you, it is just a name, but it contains the idea of you, all that you are, memories others associate with you, and so on.  Question 2What does it mean to “make the familiar strange”?  Why would we want to do it?  Please use examples from class (lecture, section, or the textbook) to show what you mean.  Sociologists believe in making the familiar strange, this means taking what we know as normal and looking at it from a new perspective. It tries to take what we take for granted in certain situations, and examine it in ways we had not thought of in order to understand it from a social perspective. When we make the familiar strange, we reveal connections that are usually underlying and contain information that may be useful when trying to fully grasp an idea, or when trying to determine a solution to a problem. We are essentially “thinking like a sociologist” by using this way of thinking, we are applying analytical tools to something we have always done without much conscious thought, to better understand the world around us. Another way we would classify this way of thinking is by calling it the sociological imagination. It is a sociologist’s go-to way of thinking, their way of analyzing social phenomenon, making what is “normal” and looking at it as if it were something strange. The sociological imagination was once described as a sort of tapestry, all the threads are individual, however, they come together, weave, overlap, and twist in and out of other threads to form an elaborate bigger picture. Without every thread, the bigger picture would not exist, that is what the sociological imagination strives to explain. Yes, there is a bigger picture, we can all see it, but what is it made out of? If we look from a new perspective we can answer questions like these. The sociological imagination is defined in our textbooks as “the ability to connect the most basic. Intimate aspects of an individual’s life to seemingly impersonal and remote historical forces.” Sociologists want to make the familiar strange in order to analyze social situations to discover new ways to solve issues that society may have. For example, the textbook brought up the seemingly strange practices of cultures other than our own. The textbook referenced a scene from Pulp Fiction which brought up the differences in what France versus Americans called certain burgers. In America, we are used to burgers being called “quarter pounders”, while in France they call their burgers things like “royale burgers”. People in France would not be likely to name their burgers “quarter-pounders” because they do not, in everyday life, encounter the unit of weight as the pound, to them it is rather odd to use “pound”, which is the currency in Britain, to name a burgers weight. In this situation, we can make the familiar strange by looking the name “quarter-pounder”. “Quarter-pounder” is familiar to us, but why? If we look at it from another perspective, you can start to see why others would see this as strange and may even see it as strange yourself. On a much more serious note, the maternal mortality topic we covered in class put this way of thinking into motion. What was seemingly “normal” of maternal mortality was examined in a new perspective, taking into account the rates of maternal mortality for African American women. The analysis from this perspective made available, new explanations and possibilities to save lives. By making the familiar strange we reveal the underlying social structures and institutions that shape society, and therefore our history, so it is important to examine them in that way. It helps us produce new and possibly more effective ways of solving issues and understanding society, and in turn ourselves.  Question 3How might taking an individualistic view of the issue of opioid addiction lead us to different ideas about resolving the opioid addiction and overdose crisis than a view that puts addiction into its social context?  How might a view that puts it into its social context provide support for some approaches to reducing the harm of opioid overdose and addiction?When you think of addiction and overdose, what comes to mind? The choices an individual makes to get to that state, and the effects of addiction. On the other hand, if we look outside of the individual, we see the many outside forces that seem to drive addiction, such as drug availability, prescriptions given, availability and affordability of treatment programs, pill mills, etc.   Being addicted to a drug is a very personal experience, this is why one might take the course of action of taking an individualistic view when trying to determine solutions to the opioid addiction crisis. However, what one might discover as a solution to the opioid crisis from a individual perspective may not be as effective as a solution derived from looking at the crisis by putting the individuals perspective into its social context. As C. Wright Mills stated, “Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.” In the same light, without pairing the individual with the social systems they are surrounded by, the solutions determined from an analysis, cannot be as comprehensive or effective.  In the case of the opioid addiction crisis, public health interventions would be a method that may be more useful because they address the whole society, it takes into account how the whole society is disrupted, as well as the individual.  It is not as likely that one can solve the opioid addiction crisis by prescribing individual solutions, once again the society also has to be taken into account. For instance, abstinence education would not work as well as if you would have addressed it in a bigger, more social type of way. Something exists larger than just individual thoughts. Individuals are influenced by those around them, and vice versa, that is why the addiction crisis is such a pressing matter. Many people outside of the addicted individual are affected by the effects produced by the addiction itself. Therefore, the need for an analysis greater than the individual, but still including the individual, is essential. The many social ties of individuals forms the invisible but very powerful thing called society. So using something like social policy gets to the individual and others as well, so more, and all affected are influenced. A non-social response would be the government or authorities, putting out campaigns and statements saying things like, “just say no” or “stay away from drug dealers”. These efforts do not get to the individual at a level that will change what they will do. In order to produce avenues of approaches that will effectively address opioid overdose and addiction, there needs to be a focus on the social context the surrounds it. There are many reasons people get addicted to drugs like opioids, and it is impossible not to include the social context when thinking of those reasons. For that fact, it is essential we include social context in our examination when determining possible solutions that will take into account those many reasons, within and without the individual. 

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