What are the key features of sociological thinking, according to Bauman?
Zygmunt Bauman is a leading sociologist who has studied and written dozens of books on a host of subjects for decades. In his 2001 book entitled Thinking Sociologically, Bauman describes sociological thinking in this way:
...sociology is distinguished through viewing human actions as part of wider figurations: that is, of a non-random assembly of actors locked together in a web of mutual dependency...Sociologists ask what consequences this has for human actors, the relations into which we enter, and the societies of which we are a part.
These questions are, according to Bauman, unique to sociology. What Bauman means, in layman's terms, is that sociologists think about people and how they relate to each other. People's actions and their lives do not exist in a vacuum, and to think sociologically is to ask how the actions of people are affected by the actions of other people. On a personal level, it would mean thinking beyond one's own experiences to imagine how one's life is influenced by the place they grew up, by the city they live in, their day to day interactions with others, and so on. Your actions, whatever they are, are shaped by the society in which you live, but they also help shape that society. Thinking this way allows people to compare their lives to those in other societies, to perhaps be a bit more understanding of the actions of others, and ultimately to achieve a deeper understanding of why people do the things they do.
Zygmunt Bauman (19 November 1925 – 9 January 2017) was a Polish sociologist who taught in England from 1971 through the end of his career. Among his major interests have been the nature of modernity and postmodernity, consumerism, and Judaism. He was particularly concerned with reforming what he considered imprecise understandings of modernity and postmodernity, leading him to focus on distinctions between "liquid" and "solid" modernity.
For Bauman, sociology is concerned with social actions. In other words, my spending an hour running alone in the wilderness would not be a subject of sociology, but a running group or how runners interact on a crowded jogging trail would be a concern of sociology. As well as having a distinct subject matter, sociology also has distinctive methods.
Most of us have common sense opinions and knowledge about social actions and circumstances. Sociologists, though, attempt to create knowledge that is systematic and rigorous, subjecting its claims to scrutiny rather than simply taking for granted traditional beliefs, intuitions, anecdotal evidence, and other unsystematic modes of knowledge.
Bauman and May state that, "Sociology is distinguished through viewing human actions as elements of wider figurations..." ( Bauman and May 2001, p. 5)