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Sociology Notes and Topics on Sociology

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Sociology

Sociology is the study of society and human social interaction. Sociological research ranges from the analysis of short contacts between anonymous individuals on the street to the study of global social processes. The field focuses on how and why people are organized in society, either as individuals or as members of associations, groups, and institutions.

Someone working in the field of sociology is often called a sociologist. As an academic discipline, sociology is considered a social science and is relatively young compared to other disciplines, having evolved in the early 19th century. Most sociologists work in one or more specialties or subfields.

The word sociology comes from the suffix "-logy" which means "study of," derived from Greek, and the stem "socio-" which is from the Latin word socius, meaning member, friend, or ally, thus referring to people in general.

Because sociology is such a broad discipline, it can be difficult to define, even for professional sociologists. One useful way to describe the discipline is as a cluster of sub-fields that examine different dimensions of society. For example, social stratification studies inequality and class structure; demography studies changes in a population size or type; criminology examines criminal behavior and deviance; political sociology studies government and laws; and the sociology of race and sociology of gender examine the social construction of race and gender as well as race and gender inequality. New sociological sub-fields continue to appear—such as network analysis—many of which are cross-disciplinary in nature.

Many sociologists perform research useful outside the academy. Their findings aid educators, lawmakers, administrators, developers, business leaders and people interested in resolving social problems and formulating public policy.

Historical Perspective

Sociology is a relatively new academic discipline among other social sciences including economics, political science, anthropology, history, and psychology. The ideas behind it, however, have a long history and can trace their origins to a mixture of common human knowledge and philosophy.

Sociology emerged as a scientific discipline in the early 19th century as an academic response to the challenge of modernity: as the world was becoming smaller and more integrated, people's experience of the world was increasingly atomized and dispersed. Sociologists hoped not only to understand what held social groups together, but also to develop an antidote to social disintegration.

The word sociology was coined by Auguste Comte in 1838 from Latin Socius (companion, associate) and Greek lógos (study). Comte hoped to unify all studies of humankind--including history, psychology and economics. His own sociological scheme was typical of the 19th century; he believed all human life had passed through the same distinct historical stages (theology, metaphysics, positive science) and that, if one could grasp this progress, one could prescribe the remedies for social ills. Sociology was to be the 'queen of sciences'.

Herbert SpencerThe first book with the term 'sociology' in its title was The Study of Sociology (1874) by the English philosopher Herbert Spencer. In the United States, Lester Frank Ward, described by some as the father of American sociology, published Dynamic Sociology in 1883 and the discipline was taught by its own name for the first time at the University of Kansas, Lawrence in 1890 under the course title Elements of Sociology (the oldest continuing sociology course in America). The Department of History and Sociology at the University of Kansas was established in 1891, and the first full fledged independent university department of sociology was established in 1892 at the University of Chicago by Albion W. Small, who in 1895 founded the American Journal of Sociology. The first European department of sociology was founded in 1895 at the University of Bordeaux by Émile Durkheim, founder of L'Année Sociologique (1896). The first sociology department to be established in the United Kingdom was at the London School of Economics and Political Science (home of the British Journal of Sociology) in 1904. In 1919 a sociology department was established in Germany at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich by Max Weber and in 1920 in Poland by Florian Znaniecki.


Karl MarxInternational cooperation in sociology began in 1893 when René Worms founded the small Institut International de Sociologie that was eclipsed by the much larger International Sociological Association starting in 1949 (ISA). In 1905 the American Sociological Association, the world's largest association of professional sociologists, was founded.

Other "classical" theorists of sociology from the late 19th and early 20th centuries include Karl Marx, Ferdinand Tönnies, Émile Durkheim, Vilfredo Pareto, and Max Weber. Like Comte, these figures did not consider themselves only "sociologists". Their works addressed religion, education, economics, law, psychology, ethics, philosophy, and theology, and their theories have been applied in a variety of academic disciplines. Their most enduring influence, however, has been on sociology, (with the exception of Marx, who is a central figure in the field of economics as well) and it is in this field that their theories are still considered most applicable.

Lester WardOne shift in the discipline away from scientific explanation had philosophical roots. Early theorists' approach to sociology, led by Comte, was to treat it in the same manner as natural science, applying the same methods and methodology used in the natural sciences to study social phenomena. The emphasis on empiricism and the scientific method sought to provide an incontestable foundation for any sociological claims or findings, and to distinguish sociology from less empirical fields like philosophy. This methodological approach, called positivism, became a source of contention between sociologists and other scientists, and eventually a point of divergence within the field itself. Thus, while most sciences evolved from deterministic, Newtonian models to probabilistic models which accept and even incorporate uncertainty, sociology began to cleave into those who believed in a deterministic approach (attributing variation to structure, interactions, or other forces) and those who rejected the very possibility of explanation and prediction.

Max WeberA second push away from scientific explanation was cultural, even sociological, itself. As early as the 19th century, positivist and naturalist approaches to studying social life were questioned by scientists like Wilhelm Dilthey and Heinrich Rickert, who argued that the natural world differs from the social world because of unique aspects of human society such as meanings, symbols, rules, norms, and values. These elements of society both result in and generate human cultures. This view was further developed by Max Weber, who introduced antipositivism (humanistic sociology). According to this view, which is closely related to antinaturalism, sociological research must concentrate on humans' cultural values. This has led to some controversy on how one can draw the line between subjective and objective research and has also influenced hermeneutical studies. Similar disputes, especially in the era of the Internet, have led to variations in sociology such as public sociology, which emphasizes the usefulness of sociological expertise to abstracted audiences.

Social Theory

Social theory refers to the use of abstract and often complex theoretical frameworks to explain and analyze social patterns and macro social structures in social life, rather than explaining patterns of social life. Social theory always had an uneasy relationship to the more classic academic disciplines; many of its key thinkers never held a university position. While social theory is sometimes considered a branch of sociology, it is inherently interdisciplinary, as it deals with multiple fields including anthropology, economics, theology, history, philosophy, and many others. First social theories developed almost simultaneously with the birth of the sociology science itself. Auguste Comte, known as 'father of sociology', also laid the groundwork for one of the first social theories - social evolutionism. In the 19th century three great, classical theories of social and historical change were created: the social evolutionism theory (of which social darwinism is a part of), the social cycle theory and the Marxist historical materialism theory. Although the majority of 19th century social theories are now considered obsolete they have spawned new, modern social theories. Modern social theories represent some advanced version of the classical theories, like Multilineal theories of evolution (neoevolutionism, sociobiology, theory of modernisation, theory of post-industrial society) or the general historical sociology and the theory of subjectivity and creation of the society.

Unlike disciplines within the natural sciences -- such as physics or chemistry -- social theorists may be less committed to use the scientific method to vindicate their theories. Instead, they tackle very large-scale social trends and structures using hypotheses that cannot be easily proved, except by historical and psychological interpretation, which is often the basis of criticism from opponents of social theories. Extremely critical theorists, such as deconstructionists or postmodernists, may argue that any systematic type of research or method is inherently flawed. Many times, however, "social theory" is defined without reference to science because the social reality it describes is so overarching as to be unprovable. The social theories of modernity or anarchy might be two examples of this.

However, social theories are a major part of the science of sociology. Objective science-based research can often provide support for explanations given by social theorists. Statistical research grounded in the scientific method, for instance, that finds a severe income disparity between women and men performing the same occupation can complement the underlying premise of the complex social theories of feminism or patriarchy. In general, and particularly among adherents to pure sociology, social theory has an appeal because it takes the focus away from the individual (which is how most humans look at the world) and focuses it on the society itself and the social forces which control our lives. This sociological insight (or sociological imagination) has through the years appealed to students and others dissatisfied with the status quo because it carries the assumption that societal structures and patterns are either random, arbitrary or controlled by specific powerful groups -- thus implying the possibility of change. This has a particular appeal to champions of the underdog, the dispossessed, and/or those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder because it implies that their position in society is undeserved and/or the result of oppression.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociology
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