Sociology is a social science that deals with the study of society. It is a broad discipline that explores human social behavior and social relationships. At its core, sociology promotes critical thinking, poses analytical questions, and pursues solutions. The word sociology is derived from the Latin word socius (companion) and the Greek word logos (study of), which means the study of companionship.
The discipline examines human behavior influenced by social structures (groups, communities, organizations), social categories (age, sex, class, race, etc.), and social institutions (politics, religion, education, etc.). The traditional focus of sociology includes social class, social mobility, religion, gender, law, and sexuality. It has now extended its focus to other subjects and institutions like the military, education, social capital, and health.
Sociology is a relatively new discipline, with roots in the works of ancient philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Confucius. It formally originated in the early 19th century during the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution was one of the main factors in the emergence of sociology. The industrial revolution had immense effects creating an unprecedented amount of change as well great implications on modern society. Where the once meticulous art of making goods and items by hand was the norm, this was quickly replaced with engine manufacturing allowing goods to be produced in large quantities and bringing about the development of factory organization. The emergence of the nuclear family as well as work force diversifications, are all but some of the implications of the industrial revolution.
Auguste Comte, a French philosopher, coined the term sociology in 1838 and is thus known as the “Father of Sociology.” Comte became interested in studying society because of the changes that took place as a result of the Industrial Revolution. He believed that science could help study and understand the social world, and scientific analyses could aid the discovery of laws governing social lives. He then introduced the concept of positivism to sociology — a way to understand the social world based on scientific facts. From his observations of the numerous changes taking place on the societal front, he believed that society should be understood and studied as it was, rather than what it should be.
The founding fathers of sociology are Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Karl Marx, and Herbert Spencer. They helped define and develop sociology as a science and discipline, each contributing theories and concepts still used and understood in the field. Some of the other prominent contributors to this discipline were – W.E.B Du Bois, Harriet Martineau.
The two main approaches of sociology include micro-sociology and macro-sociology. These two sociological approaches are conceptually different from each other but are interrelated and essential in the study of society.
Microsociology is the study of an individual. It refers to approaches and methods that focus on the nature of everyday human behavior at the community level. At this level, Social status and social roles are the main components of social structure.
Macrosociology is the study of society as a whole. It refers to approaches and methods that study large-scale patterns and trends within the overall social structure and population. At this level, the main focus is on the social system of a higher level.
Areas of Sociology:
Sociology is a broad discipline with many branches of study. The following are a few areas of sociology –
Criminology: This branch of sociology studies the criminal behavior of individuals or groups.
Religion: The sociology of religion examines the practices, history, development, and roles of religion in society.
Family: The sociology of family focuses on marriage, divorce, child-rearing, and domestic abuse.
Education: The sociology of education studies how educational institutions influence social structures and experiences.
Globalization: The sociology of globalization focuses on the economic, political, and cultural aspects and implications of a globally connected society.
Consumption: The sociology of consumption places consumption at the center of research questions, studies, and social theory.
Race and Ethnicity: The sociology of race and ethnicity examines the social, political, and economic relations between races and ethnicities.
Social Inequality: The sociology of social inequality studies the unequal distribution of power, privilege, and prestige in society.
Work and Industry: The sociology of work examines the implications of technological change, globalization, labor markets, work organization, and employment relations.
Health and Illness: The sociology of health focuses on the social effects and society’s attitudes towards diseases and disabilities.
Theories of Sociology:
Symbolic Interaction Theory:
The symbolic interaction perspective is also called symbolic interactionism. George Herbert Mead, an American philosopher, introduced this theory in the 1920s. This perspective relies on the symbolic meaning that people develop in the process of social interaction. This theory studies society, focusing on the symbolic meanings given by people to objects and behaviors. Importance is given to symbolic meanings because people act based on what they choose to believe. People comprehend each other’s behavior, and these comprehensions help form social bonds.
Conflict theory explains that conflicts arise when resources and power are not distributed equally between groups in a society. Karl Marx, a German philosopher, introduced this theory focused on the causes and consequences of class conflict between the bourgeoisie (owners of the means of production) and the proletariat (the laborers). The basic idea of conflict theory is that individuals and groups within society will work to maximize their wealth and power. The conflict theory, premised on class conflicts, is now used to study how other conflicts on race, gender, sexuality, religion, culture, and nationality can affect our lives.
The functionalist perspective is also called functionalism. This theory has its origins in the works of Emile Durkheim, who was interested in how social order is possible or how society remains relatively stable. The functionalist perspective perceives society as an elaborate system whose individual aspects work together to promote the stability of the whole. According to the functionalist theory, the different parts of society are composed of social institutions, each designed to fulfill different needs. An institution only exists because it serves a vital purpose in the functioning of society. He considered society as an organism since each component plays an important role but can’t function alone. When one part experiences a problem, others must adjust to fill the void.
Some other notable theories include – Feminist Theory, Game Theory, Critical Theory, Social Learning Theory, Rational Choice Theory and Chaos Theory.
Sociology prepares people for a range of careers. A degree in sociology can lead to work opportunities with government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and corporations in fields like social service, counseling, designing policies, and market research. Knowledge in sociology serves as an advantage in sales, public relations, journalism, teaching, law, and criminal justice.
Sociology will help gain a better understanding of the social forces that shape our life. It can provide foundational knowledge about social interactions, organizations and society helpful in the pursuit of careers and a good life for ourselves and our families. Sociology helps enhance one’s ability to be an active and informed citizen, and be able to influence societal choices and policies.