SOC 8721: Social Psychology: Micro-Sociological Approaches to Inequalities and Identities

3 Credits

Social psychology is basic to an understanding of contemporary social life. This subfield of sociology focuses on social phenomena at the micro-level. Small group dynamics, social interactions, and individual experiences are importantly structured by the macro-structural context, e.g., by socioeconomic status, race, gender, sexuality, and other dimensions of social inequality. At the same time, these and other micro-sociological processes reflect individual-level identities, perceptions, motivations and cognitions. This seminar examines a wide range of social psychological phenomena linked to inequality (e.g., the effects of class, minority status, and gender on disparities in identity, self-concept, and health; the development of status hierarchies in small group interaction; intergroup relations, prejudice, and discrimination). We begin with a consideration of “personal structure,” emphasizing the cultural and structural variability of self-conceptions and identities, cognitive processes, and motivation, as well as the biosocial bases of action. These may be considered individual-level “building blocks” of social psychological theories (along with emotions, attitudes, values, and ideologies). We then address prominent theoretical perspectives in social psychology that illuminate the linkages between micro-social contexts of inequality and identity, including symbolic interactionism, exchange theory, structural social psychology (“social structure and personality”) and the social psychology of the life course. Social psychological theory and research are foundational to many specialty fields in sociology, including the sociology of the family, education, health, deviance, work, social mobility, social movements, emotions, and the sociology of childhood, youth, and aging. Social psychology is also central to prominent theoretical debates in sociology surrounding the relationship between social structure and agency; individual-level identities, perceptions, motivations, goals, and strategies are both structured by the social context and affect the capacity of individuals to act agentically and to achieve their goals.

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