Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sociology: An Introduction



Sociology is the scientific study of human society and social behavior.


Sociology is built on the premise that we are all born into human groups and derive our identities, hopes, fears, troubles and satisfaction from them. The basic insight of sociology is: “Human behavior is largely shaped by the groups to which people belong and by the social interaction that takes place within those groups.”


Sociology began to emerge as a separate discipline only around the middle of the nineteenth century. The subject assumed the scientific character after fifty years. Before the mid-1800s social philosophers exerted their efforts on social issues. But they were more concerned with what society ought to be rather than with what society actually is.



Early Sociologists


The title of “father of sociology” goes to August Comte (1798-1857). He was a Frenchman and he coined the word “Sociology”. He advocated the use of scientific method in Sociology. He identified social statics and social dynamics as areas for Sociological investigation and study. Social statics is concerned with issues of order and stability. How and why societies hold together today and endure for long period of time. Social dynamics examines social change. What makes societies change and what determines the nature and direction of change?


Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) contributed his thinking to both social statics and social dynamics.  Spencer used the analogy of living organism to society. The organs of an animal are interdependent and contribute to the survival of the total organism. Similarly various parts of society such as the state, family, and various other groups are interdependent and work to ensure the stability and survival of the entire system.


In the area of dynamics, Spencer argued that societies are changing in the direction of progress.


Karl Marx (1818-1883) also contributed to sociological thought. Whereas Spencer saw progress in social change, Marx saw class conflict as responsible for social change. There are people for the stability of current society and there are people for change in the current society. Marx argued that all social arrangements of a time are determined by the people who live off the production of others. The existing social arrangements are chains for the people who are toiling and producing.


Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) made number of contributions to the science of sociology. He argued that societies are held together by the shared beliefs and values of their members especially as these are expressed in religious doctrine and ritual.  He also pioneered the functional approach of investigating how each part of the society contributed to the maintenance of the whole.  He investigated suicide among various societies using methods of science and came to the conclusion that suicides are influenced by social forces and beliefs of the societies rather than individual thinking.


Max Weber (1964-1920) admired Marx and differed with him on primacy of the economic system in a society. He suggested that other factors, such as religious ideas could also play a role in determining social arrangements.


Modern sociologists of United States focused on social progress guided by sociological knowledge, an idea of August Comte. Hence American sociologists concentrated on smaller and specific problems of society. George Herbert Mead developed the new discipline of Social Psychology.  Robert E. Park and Ernest Burgess studied social problems like the lives of criminals, drug addicts, prostitutes and juvenile delinquents.


From this brief introduction to the subject, the next article will describe the three perspectives – functionalist perspective, conflict perspective, and interaction perspective.




Ian Robertson, Sociology, Worth Publishers, Inc., New York, 1977


Francis Abraham and John Henry Morgan, Sociological Thought: From Comte to Sorokin, Macmillan India, Delhi, 1985.

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