Why is understanding human behaviour a problem for sociologists? Essay

In order to answer this question I will have to look into what factors promote change in human behavior and what sociologists have to say about understanding human behavior.

What affects human behavior?

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First of all human behavior is affected by culture. When we think of the word Culture in ordinary daily conversation, we often see it as equivalent to ‘higher thing of the mind – arts, literature, music and painting. As sociologist use the term, it includes such activities, but far more. Culture refers to the way of life of the members of a society, or of groups within a society. It includes how they dress their marriage customs and family life, their patterns of work, religious ceremonies and leisure pursuitsi.

Second, humans are also affected by social interactions. This is the process by which we act and react in relation to those around us.

Third, human behaviour is also affected by one’s ‘Race’. Race can be understood as a set of social relationships which allow individuals and groups to be located and various attributes or competencies assigned, on the basis of biologically grounded featuresii. In the early 19th century Count Joseph Arthur de Gabineau proposed the existence of 3 races, white, (Caucasian), black, (Negroid) and yellow, (Mongoloid). According to de Gabineau, the white race was far superior than black and yellow; these ideas influenced the formation of groups such as the Nazi party lead by Adolf Hitler, and other white supremacist groups such as the Ku-Klux-Klan in the United Statesiii, these movements up to date affect how we behave towards society.

Forth, religion affects how one behaves within society; Sociological approaches to religion are still strongly influenced by the three classical sociological theorists: Marx, Durkheim, and Weber. None of the three was himself religious, and all thought that the significance of religion would decrease in modern times. Each believed that religion is a fundamental sense of illusion, for example, an individual born in to an Australian society of hunters and gatherers would plainly have different religious beliefs from someone born into the caste system of India or the catholic church of medieval Europeiv.

Fifth, Politics also has a huge impact on human behaviour, for example International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGO’s) such as Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Red Cross, and Amnesty International, all are involved in environmental protection and humanitarian relief efforts. But the activities of thousands of lesser known groups also link together countries and communitiesv. These people have a totally different view to someone who supports an organisation such as BNFL. Human behaviour is also affected by political parties’ pledges which cause segregation within communities which can result in terrible backlashes, such as the 2001 riots in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham, for which the British Nationalist Party (BNP), and National Front (NF) are partly to blame.

What do sociologists have to say about human behaviour?

Durkheim was highly involved with groups and structures and the characteristics that make them up. He did not want to focus on individual attributes. When studying groups, Durkheim focused on the rates that certain things occurred. This allowed him to compare separate groups and structures more effectively. One of the main things that he studied was suicide rates in groups. Through these types of studies, Durkheim was able to see how different groups were integrated. Integration shows that some groups have strong control over it’s members and others allow their members to have more control over their own actions.

He spent most of his academic career in Germany; he was an individual of wide learning. His writings covered the fields of economics, law, philosophy and comparative history as well as sociology.

He argued that human motivation and ideas were the forces behind change – ideas, values and beliefs had the power to bring about transformations. According to Weber, individuals have the ability to act freely and to shape the future. He did not believe, as Durkheim and Marx did, that structures existed external to or independent of individuals. Rather, structures in society were formed by a complex interplay of actions. It was the job of sociology to understand the meanings behind those actions.

He studied the religions of China, India and the Near East, and in the course of these researches made major contributions to the sociology of religion. Comparing the leading religious systems in china and India with those of the west, Weber concluded that certain aspects of Christian beliefs strongly influenced the rise of capitalism. In Weber’s view cultural ideas and values affected how human beings behaved towards society and their individual selvesvi.

Harriet Martineau argued that when one studies a society, one must focus on all its aspects, including key political, religious and social institutions. She insisted that an analysis of a society must include an understanding of women’s lives. She was the first to look at previously ignored issues which affect the behaviour of a human being such as, marriage, children, domestic life, religious life and race relationsvii.

Karl Marx believed that social change is what was needed for a better society, and to get social change there must be class conflict. Marx’s major concern of social change was economic change. Marx’s most well known work dealt with class conflict, the opposition between the capitalists and the working class. The capitalists are also known as the bourgeoisie. They are the ones that are responsible for controlling the land, factories, etc.

The working class, which is also known as the proletariat, are the workers that are being exploited by the bourgeoisie. Marx believed a workers revolution would be unavoidable; this would cause the downfall of the capitalist system and bring in a new society in which there would be no classes and no large scale divisions between the rich and the poor. He believed that in the society of the future, production would be far more advanced and efficient than production under capitalism. Many countries throughout the world whose government claimed to derive their inspiration from Karl Marx’s ideasviii.

Quite clearly it is impossible for any sociologists to fully understand human behaviour, due to the many factors involved, such as religious beliefs, political beliefs, culture, tradition, location and many more. You also have to look at the sociologists background, for example when one looks into a certain population, they will not be looking at the populations background, but they will look at the population from their own background as they will have developed an ‘auto-bias’, in that they will have a certain perception on religion, they will have certain perception on politics, they will have certain perception on how society should go about their everyday life, or how weddings should be conducted, how a school should be run, how a welfare system should be managed, these are to name a few.

When one looks at society they will be critical at different levels, for example someone who is used to going to a funeral in black suit, they will find it unusual seeing a society wearing black suit on a joyous occasion. Where as in some society white is worn on a joyous occasion, such as a wedding, would find it astonishing that other people are grieving in white, such as in funerals.

The background, beliefs, political and cultural orientation of sociologists makes them biased.

A sociologist would never be able to understand the behaviour of a human being as not everyone in this world is the same and in the time it took for me to write this essay many changes have occurred throughout the worlds different societies which will intern change the behaviour of a human being.

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