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20.5 End-of-Chapter Material

Summary

  1. Social change involves the transformation of cultural norms and values, behavior, social institutions, and social structure. As societies become more modern, they become larger, more heterogeneous, and more impersonal, and their sense of community declines. Traditions decline as well, while individual freedom of thought and behavior increases. Some sociologists view modernization positively, while others view it negatively. Tönnies in particular lamented the shift from the Gemeinschaft of premodern societies to the Gesellschaft of modern societies. Durkheim also recognized the negative aspects of modernization but at the same time valued the freedom of modern societies and thought they retain a good amount of social solidarity from their division of labor.
  2. A functionalist understanding of social change emphasizes that it is both natural and inevitable. Talcott Parsons’s equilibrium model recognized that gradual change is desirable and ordinarily stems from such things as population growth and technological advances, but that any sudden social change disrupts society’s equilibrium. Taking a very different view, conflict theory stresses that sudden social change is often both necessary and desirable to reduce inequality and to address other problems in society. Such social change often stems from intentional efforts by social movements to correct perceived deficiencies in the social, economic, and political systems.
  3. Several sources of social change exist. These include population growth and changes in population composition, changes in culture and technology, changes in the natural environment, and social and ethnic conflict.
  4. Environmental sociology is the sociological study of the environment. One major emphasis of environmental sociology is that environmental problems are largely the result of human activity and human decision making.
  5. A second major emphasis of environmental sociology is that environmental problems disproportionately affect low-income people and people of color. These effects are called environmental inequality and environmental racism, respectively.

Using Sociology

You are in your second year in the public relations department of a medium-sized company that owns and operates three factories along the Mississippi River. Each of the factories is discharging toxic chemicals into the river in violation of federal safety standards, and each of the factories is located near a small town populated mostly by low-income residents. The percentage of African Americans in the three towns ranges from 33% to 55%. Having had an environmental sociology course in college, you are very concerned about the factories’ pollution, but you also do not want to lose your job. Do you take any action to try to address this form of pollution, or do you remain silent? Explain your answer.