Summary: What is sociology? In broad terms, sociology is the study of society. However, this answer is often unclear or unsatisfying to an incoming class of Sociology 101 students. This clip illustrates Steven Johnson's theory of where good ideas come from, and can help explicate to students what makes the sociological perspective so unique. Instructors can begin by saying that, while most anything can be studied from a sociological perspective, some sociologists have strategically selected sites of inquiry that, at first glance, appear thoroughly individualistic in nature. This strategy is an effort to illuminate how social forces shape even the most seemingly personal of phenomena. Here, instructors can point to Émile Durkheim's study of suicide as a particularly famous disciplinary example of this (which will likely be covered later in the semester). Using a similar strategy, instructors can use the example of creativity and "good ideas" to show how social forces have a profound impact on innovation, a phenomenon that, like suicide, is often characterized as a quintessentially individual act, largely informed by psychological forces. Although some people approach creativity from a psychological viewpoint (e.g., see here), the sociological perspective can be brought into focus for students by comparing such individualistic accounts to Johnson's concept of liquid networks and his use of historical evidence to show the importance of social connectivity and collaboration for innovation. Johnson stresses the need for interconnected social spaces, organizations, and systems for the cultivation of good ideas. Johnson presents a slightly elaborated version of this argument in his TEDTalk. For other clips on The Sociological Cinema that use illustration techniques to convey theoretical arguments, click here and here.
I would like to thank Open Culture and Brain Pickings for suggesting these clips.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp