Posted: May 28th, 2021

What is Sociology?

We as human beings have always been curious about the sources of our own behaviour. Attempts to understand this relied on ways of thinking that were passed down from generation to generation. These ideas were often expressed in religious terms or drew from well-known myths, superstition and traditional beliefs. The objective and systematic study of human behaviour and society is a recent development dating from the 1700’s. A key development was the use of science to understand the world and this approach brought about a radical change in outlook and understanding.
Just like physics, biology, chemistry and other disciplines, sociology emerged as part of this important intellectual process. The origins of sociology were the series of sweeping changes ushered in by the ‘two great revolutions’ of the 18th and 19th century Europe. These events transformed the way of life humans had maintained for thousands of years. The French Revolution, 1789 marked the ideas and values, such as liberty and equality, over traditional social order.
This was the Industrial Revolution, the broad spectrum of social and economic transformation that surrounded the development of new technical innovation. This caused an influx of migrants causing a rapid expansion of urban areas, forming new social relationships dramatically changing the face of the social world. There were a few individuals who contributed to early sociological thinking; one in particular was a French author, Auguste Comte (1798-1857) who actually coined the word ‘sociology’.

He argued that sociology can and should study society and social phenomena following the patterns and procedures of natural sciences. Another contributor was Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) and he had a more lasting impact on modern sociology than that of Comte. Some regard Durkheim as the first sociologist to apply statistical methods to the study of social phenomena. Throughout his career, Durkheim was primarily concerned with how society would maintain integrity and coherence in the modern era, when things like religion could no longer be assumed.
His book Suicide (1897) is a very well-known piece of literature. These sociologist developed ideas into how we could study humans and the world in which we live. Sociology is seen as being the study of human social behaviour and its origins, development, organizations and institutions. It is a social science which uses various methods of investigation and is to develop a body of knowledge about human social actions, social structures and functions. The traditional focuses of sociology include social stratification, social class, social mobility, religion, law and deviance.
With all aspects of human activity it is affected by interplay between social structure and individual agency, which means sociology, has gradually expanded its focus to further subjects such as health, internet and political economy. There are two non-sociological explanations of human behaviour, naturalistic and individual explanations. The naturalistic approach suggest that humans behave as a product of inherited disposition; programmed by nature, e. g. / race, motherhood, gender (etc.)
We take for granted that all women are maternal and want to become mothers and be just like their own mothers but this is not always the case. The individual approach is on that sees human behaviour as a result of psychological make-up of the individual person, eg/ people who commit suicide have their own personal reason for doing so. This persons suicide may not solely be a personal choice but may have other social factors associated like religion. This is what sociology is all about, challenging the unknown and looking at things from a different perspective, “Sociology defamiliarises the familiar” (Z.Baumen 1990 Thinking Sociologically p15)
Sociologist look at these behaviours from all different perspectives and challenges what we believe to common sense theories. To make sense of human reality sociology attempts to make sense of the human condition through analysing the manifold webs of human interdependency as opposed to the naturalistic or individualistic approach. It disturbs the comforting quiet way of life by questioning what we usually take for granted. “It can be said that the first wisdom of sociology is this: things are not what they seem” (P Berger 1963 Invitation to Sociology p34)
To gather information we use sociological methods called quantative and qualitative data. Quantative data is presented in the form of numbers and statistics; macro-sociological perspective. This helps to go beyond personal impressions and opinions and is done in the form of social surveys, questionnaires and structured interviews, e. g. / The Kinsey report on the sexuality of Americans (1948-1953) Qualitative data however is to tell us why and methods used are usually interviewing people to build up an understanding of a respondents point of view rather than a generalized opinion on their behaviour.
There is also participant observation and this is observing someone in their own environment and learning what life is like for them, e. g. / The Paulo Case. “Sociology deals with a factually observable subject matter, depends upon empirical research, and involves attempts to formulate theories and generalizations that will make sense of facts” (Giddens Scope of Sociology p6) The use of concepts are needed to describe things accurately and precisely and to describe and address abstract and immaterial social phenomena such as individualism, social class and globalization, etc.
As you can see from this essay sociology is a very important study and without it we wouldn’t question human behaviours or the society surrounding us. It helps us to gain a better insight into who we are and why we are the way we are and how others can have an effect on each and every one of us.

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