Why I’m taking (another) Sociology class this semester

I’ve taken several classes in art history, humanities, psychology, sociology, and ethnic studies, but I managed to skip taking an actual SOC101 class. I’m doing that this semester, in a 10-week accelerated course I started last week. As part of the introductory assignment, I was asked:

Please write a few paragraphs describing what you think this class will be about.  What is sociology?  Why is it important to study sociology?

I thought you might be interested in my answer, so I copied it below for you:

Sociology is the study of the development and structure of a society, but is not limited to seeking to understand large-scale cultures or countries. Sociology can also be used to explore an organization, clique, or family, and the way those smaller units reflect and interact with the larger societies they are a part of. By applying scientific methods to these investigations, we can reduce the amount of bias inherent in the ones who gather and interpret that data. By comparing both information and methods – analyzing and critiquing past sociological studies – we can expand our understanding of societies as we evolve ourselves. This class should provide us with a basic understanding of these methods and a brief history of sociology as a study.

I’m interested in both views of the world: the macro and the micro. On a grand scale, I’m interested in the way that societies are formed, grow, and die, like a current moving through the ocean of time. I’m also interested in how to understand individual people by understanding their place in their societies, where the venn diagram of their interests and relationships overlap, and how a society exerts pressure on an individual to deviate from their own desires. No person, no group, exists in a vacuum, and by better understanding the influences we exist under, I can better project the future of those societies, whether in the real world, or in my own fiction.

I left out the part where I’m basically a squeaky fangirl whenever it comes to learning new things, and how much I love the way studying sociology feels like discovering new pieces in the puzzle of the human experience. I’m a sucker for cleverness and insight, not just labeling a new find but truly exploring it, seeing it from all sides, and beginning, a little, to understand its importance.

More from Folklore: Aesop’s Fables

We’re moving on to The Conference of the Birds (link goes to Wiki) in tomorrow’s class. Before I switch gears, I wanted to share some facts and thoughts on a misunderstood genre of writing: Aesopic fables.

The word “fable” comes from the Latin “fabula” (a “story”), itself derived from “fari” (“to speak”) with the -ula suffix that signifies “little”: hence, a “little story”.

Aesop’s fables have grown from an early group of Greek stories – attributed to a single source – into a genre, describing a type of stories, regardless of author. We now refer to this body of stories as the “Aesopic tradition”. Fables are generally short, insightful, tales, meant to convey a message in only a few sentences. There are several parts to a fable, not all of which are required but most of which appear over and over again. These include:

  • the moral, with or without an explanatory promythium or epimythium
  • using animals or gods as main characters
  • often explains acts of nature, such as why an animal is of a certain color
  • not (originally) meant for children

promythium is an explanation of the fable’s moral placed before the story, just as an epimythium comes after the tale. It became very common to add these notes to fables, particularly in the middle ages, in case the reader didn’t get quite the same message that the author intended. When a fable doesn’t have these notes, it’s said to have an endomythium – the moral of the tale is inside the story, and we’re supposed to know what it is.

These moral messages go back to the beginning of fables and speak to the point of having a fable in the first place. Early scholars talk about the original Aesop, who cannot be proven to have existed at all but who may have lived in the 6th century BC, as an angry, sarcastic, stumpy, misshapen, dwarf of a slave*. He was born deaf and mute, but – after helping a priestess – was granted speech as a gift by her goddess. He promptly used his new gifts to denounce his master, the slave system, and pretty much everyone and everything he ran into. He told allegorical stories in order to explain his meaning to people he assumed weren’t as smart as he was, and eventually so angered the people of Delphi that they framed him for stealing in order to have an excuse to shove him off of a cliff. Moral of that story: being smart and clever won’t help you if you’re still an ass to everyone around you.

His stories lived on long after he did, through the oral tradition. Socrates and Aristotle wrote about him; Babrius wrote his fables down for (possibly) the first time; and Pheadrus, Hesiod, Epicharmus of Kos and Phormis all wrote their own fables. The tradition carried on through the middle ages (the Church had several of its own fable writers), found popularity again in 17th century France, and into modern day. There’s significant evidence that the fables didn’t originate with Aesop but that he was himself carrying on an earlier Sumerian tradition of story telling using animals**, but it’s Aesop who gets the fame.

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Folklore: Great Story Collections

Last week I started back at the University of Pennsylvania, after a year off. I’ll be finishing my last semester this Spring, and graduating with a BA in History of Art in May.

In addition to the math and biology lecture class and bio lab I must take to graduate, I also got to pick two others to round out my semester. I went with World Music (I’m writing a paper for that class that I’ll probably post here when it’s done) and Folklore: Great Story Collections. With my work in anthologies it seems like a perfect fit, and I love classes that have interesting reading lists.

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