Overview of Sociology
What is Sociology?
By way of formal definition, sociology is "the study of society". In reality, sociology is much more than a subject of study, it is a perspective that broadens the mind of the sociologist both in the familiar things and the unknown.
Sociology, as a discipline, must not only be learned and studied, but it must be practiced in everyday life. To study society and find out why people do the things that they do, sociologists study a number of factors relating to the individual. Sociologists study the social location, jobs, income, education, gender, age, and ethnicity, and how they affect they way that the individual lives their life. It is through practicing sociology and experiencing culture that enables the sociologist is able to learn and make assumptions about society.
Origin and Founders
It is impossible to place an exact date on the origins of sociology. People have been trying to assess social life even since the most ancient of times. However, sociology did not really become accepted as a science until the mid-1800's, about the time of the Industrial Revolution, when social observers incorporated the scientific method into their observations and ideas. Sociology was founded and gained popularity as a study due to the social upheaval of the time period. Coming into the 1800's both the United States and France had recently accomplished revolutions, and this forced people at large to think about social life. People now understood that they possessed certain unalienable rights as human beings, and thus monarchies became symbolic and archaic and were replaced with democracies in which the voice of the people speaks.
Auguste Comte is credited as the founder of sociology. Comte's work largely consisted of studies and analysis of the bases of social order and structure. Comte became so interested in social order after the success of the French Revolution. He set out understand what creates social order, and what causes social order to change. Comte is credited with the concept of positivism. Positivism is the idea the scientific method should be implemented to the social world when conducting sociological studies. Comte greatly emphasized the usage of the scientific method when studying society, but interestingly never applied it in his work or studies. Comte believed that sociological studies should lead to social reform.
Herbert Spencer is often called the second founder of sociology. However, his thoughts and theories regarding social order and the purpose of sociology lie in sharp contrast to the ideas of Comte. Spencer believed that no one should guide social reform. He submitted that society should simply evolve from lower or barbarian forms to a higher and civilized form. As society evolves in this fashion, the most capable individuals rise to the top and the least capable die out. Spencer termed this idea "survival of the fittest", and thus his theories on social order became known as social Darwinism.
Karl Marx, despite his controversial ideas, is hailed as one of the greatest modern thinkers. Marx's roots lie largely in the field of economics, but Marx took a holistic approach and synthesized the two social sciences of sociology and economics. Marx theorized that the driving force behind social order was class conflict. Class conflict theory states that the capitalists (those who possessed resources fit to creat wealth) were constantly in conflict with the proletariat (workers who do not own the means of production). Marx contested that this conflict can only be resolved by a revolution of workers overthrowing the capitalists, the results of which would create a society free of classes leaving people to work based upon their skills and receive compensation based upon their needs.
Emile Durkheim's main contribution to the field sociology was getting the social science recognized as its own academic discipline. Prior to Durkheim's work, sociology was simply written off as a sub-discipline of economics and history. In addition to his academic pursuits for the good of sociology, Durkheim also did extensive studies on suicide rates in European countries. The purpose of performing these studies was to see how social forces affected the behavior of individuals. Durkheim concluded that social factors are what underlie suicide rates (thus keeping them at a constant and consistent rate in their respective countries from year to year. Durkheim said, "Human behavior cannot be understood simply in individualistic terms; we must always examine the social forces that affect peoples lives. This idea laid the foundation for modern sociological study, and nearly a century later, Durkheim's work is still highly revered and upheld as true.
The final sociologist to help shape the discipline of sociology into what it is today was Max Weber. Weber is perhaps the most cited sociologist other than Durkheim. While Marx believed that economics drive social change, Weber was of the opinion that religion was the driving force of social change. Weber compared and contrasted the Roman Catholics and the Protestants on the issues of tradition and change. Weber argued that the protestant work ethic was the mother of capitalism. The protestants lived frugal lives, saving what money they could and investing what was left over to earn more money. Weber compared the extent of capitalism amongst Roman Catholic and Protestant countries, and in accordance with his theories he found that capitalism was more wide-spread in Protestant countries. Thus Weber concluded that religion was indeed the driving force of social change and capitalism
Synthesis amongst the Social Sciences
Sociology is just one of five different social sciences. Among the others are anthropology, economics, politics, and psychology. One can notice the level of integration that sociology has attained with these other disciplines by looking back at the writings and theories of the founders of sociology. For example, Karl Marx, who was foremost an economist, integrated the social sciences of economics and sociology to bring about a holistic viewpoint which showed that the social sciences should and do affect each other. Durkheim is also an example of social science integration and holistic development with his studies that bridged the gap between sociology and anthropology.
While it is a hard thing to predict, many sociologists believe that the study of sociology will shift to global level as society at large continues on its push for globalization. Regardless, Sociology as a science is still young and is constantly developing. As culture changes across the spectrum of the different social sciences, new methods of gathering data will be implemented and new theories will be formed leaving the future of sociology quite open for new ideas.
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