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Modernity and Social Changes in Europe and Emergence of Sociology

Updated on November 2, 2016

Social thought is as old as society itself, yet the origin of sociology is traced back to 19th century Western Europe. Sociology is also called the child of the ‘age of revolution’. The revolutionary changes in the preceding three centuries had decisively changed the way people lived thereby paving the way for the emergence of Sociology as we have today. Sociology took birth in such a climate of social upheaval. The roots of the ideas developed by the early sociologists lie in the then social conditions that prevailed in Europe.

The modern era in Europe and the conditions of modernity were brought about by three major processes. They are:

  1. The Enlightenment - (dawning of the ‘age of reason’).
  2. The French Revolution - (the quest for political sovereignty).
  3. The Industrial Revolution - (the system of mass manufacture).

These revolutions completely transformed not only European society but also the rest of the world as it came into contact with Europe. The revolutions initiated a process of thinking about society particularly the consequences of revolutionary happenings.

Industrial Revolution accelerated the process of urbanization. Urbanization, in its turn, created many social problems. French Revolution led to rethinking about the form of government and practice of democracy. Thus changes were all around in economy, polity and social spheres of living. The industrialization, urbanization and capitalism and the attendant consequences began transforming the societies of Europe.

The Enlightenment

It refers to that period in European history (late 17th and 18th centuries) which put human being at the centre of the universe and rational thought as the central feature of the human being. The ability to think rationally and critically transformed the individual human being into both the producer and user of all knowledge. For reason to become the defining feature, it was necessary to displace nature, religion and divine acts from the central position they earlier occupied. Thus the attitudes of mind that we refer today as secular, scientific, progressive and humanistic developed.

During the 18th century, European had entered the age of reason and rationalism. Some of the major philosophers whose ideas influenced the people of the time were, Montesquieu, Locke, Voltaire and Rousseau.

Montesquieu in his book ‘The Spirit of the Law’, held that there should not be concentration of authority, such as executive, legislative and judicial, at one place. He believed in the theory of the separation of powers and the liberty of the individual.

Locke, an Englishman, advocated that every individual has certain rights which cannot be taken by any authority. These rights were, right to life, right to property, and the right to personal freedom. He also believed that any ruler who took away these rights from his people should be removed from the seat of power and replaced by another ruler who is able to protect these rights.

Voltaire, a French philosopher, advocated religious toleration and freedom of speech. He also stood for the rights of individuals, for freedom of speech and expression.

Rousseau wrote in his book ‘The Social Contract’ that the people of a country have the right to choose their sovereign. He believed that people can develop their personality best only under a government which is of their own choice.

This period witnessed a dramatic change in the mental status of people. Society started thinking more pragmatically.

The French Revolution

The French Revolution which erupted in 1789 marked a turning point in the history of human struggle for freedom and equality. It changed the political structure of European society. It put an end to the age of feudalism and ushered in a new order of society. It replaced the age of feudalism by heralding the arrival of democracy.

The French society at this time was divided into three estates:

(i) The first estate – Clergy – Religious priests who lived a luxurious life. No taxation on church’s property.

(ii) The second estate – Nobility – Nobles of swords and Nobles of Robes. Nobles of swords were big landlords who lived as parasite life on the hard working peasants.

(iii) The third estate – Commoners – Rest of society including peasants, artisans, merchants etc. The condition of peasants were miserable.

The Revolution announced the arrival of political sovereignty at the level of individuals as well as nation-states. It signaled the emancipation of individuals from the oppressive rule of the religious and feudal institutions that dominated French before the Revolution. The nation-state itself was redefined as a sovereign entity with a centralized government. The ideals of the French Revolution- liberty, equality and fraternity- became the watchwords of modern state.

This Revolution brought about far reaching changes in not only French society but also in societies throughout Europe. Even societies in other continents were influenced by ideas generated during the Revolution. There were many significant themes which arose due to the impact of this Revolution which have been the focus of interest of the early sociologists. These significant themes include the transformation of property, new social class etc.

The Industrial Revolution

The foundation of modern industry was laid by the Industrial Revolution, which began in England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It brought about great changes in the social and economic life of the people first in England, then in other countries of Europe and later in other continents.

It had two important aspects:

  1. Systematic application of science and technology to industrial production, particularly invention of new machines and harnessing of new sources of power. These facilitated the production process and gave rise to the factory system and mass manufacture of goods.
  2. Evolved new ways of organizing labour and markets on a scale larger than anything in the past. The goods were produced on a gigantic scale for distant markets across the world. The raw materials used in their production were also obtained from all over the world.

Industrialization threw into turmoil societies that have been relatively stable for centuries. New industries and technologies changed the face of social and physical environment. Peasants left rural areas and flocked to the towns, where they worked under appalling conditions. Cities grew at an unprecedented rate. Social problems become rampant in the teeming cities. The direction of change was unclear and the stability of social order seemed threatened.

The significant themes of this Revolution which concerned the early sociologists were the condition of labour, transformation of property, industrial city/ urbanism and technology and the factory system.

Against such background, some thinkers of that time were concerned about building their society anew. Those who dealt with these problems are considered as the founding fathers of Sociology because they were seriously concerned with these problems in a systematic way. Most notable among the thinkers have been Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx and Max Weber. All these pioneers came from different disciplines.

Auguste Comte, who is also known as, the 'father of sociology’, argued that the methods used in physics should be used for the study of society. Such a study would reveal the laws of evolution and the laws of the functioning of society. Once this knowledge was available, we would be able to build society. Auguste Comte, who gave sociology its name, identified three stages of human society: Theological (various phenomena were explained in religious terms), Metaphysical (explanations were philosophical) and Positivism (phenomena were explained in terms of the scientific approach to the social world).

Herbert Spencer argued for the universality of the principle of evolution. His view of the evolution of societies is known as Social Darwinism. According to him growth of society was from simple (homogeneous) to complex (heterogeneous); as it takes place in organism. He says, as society tends to evolve it becomes more and more differentiated i.e. more division of labour takes place.

The credit for developing sociology as an independent discipline and science goes to Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), a French sociologist. Durkheim said that sociologists study 'social facts', which are objective and exist in the consciousness of the collectivity. Thus, social fact is exterior to human mind and it constraints on human behaviour. Hence, social facts do not have their origin in the individual.

In Germany, the most influential work was of Max Weber (1864-1920).In comparison to Durkheim, Weber said that the sociologist studies 'social action', which is an act an individual performs and assigns meaning. The task of sociologists is to understand the subjective meaning of an act.

German social thinker Karl Marx’s ideas (1818-1883) were influential in Sociology. He argued that every society was divided into two classes, viz. ‘Haves’ and ‘Have-nots”. He believed that conflict was initiator of change in history. He, therefore, gave central importance to class and class-conflict.

Thus the development of Sociology in France (Comte, Durkheim), Germany (Marx, Weber) and England (Spencer) have been outlined as in above. Their contributions have profound influence in Sociology everywhere in the world.

Sociology thus flowered in precisely those societies that had experienced the most pronounced or greatest social changes. France, Germany and England underwent a truly revolutionary social transformation; and in all these countries, the study of Sociology had emerged by the end of the 19th century.

Scope of the Subject and Comparison with Other Social Sciences.

Scope of Sociology

The term ‘Sociology’ was coined by Auguste Comte, a French philosopher in 1839. It is the youngest of all social sciences. Sociology is the outcome of man’s search for a more valid, and precise knowledge about the nature of man and the society.

The word ‘Sociology’ is derived from the Latin word ‘Societus’ meaning ‘society’ and the Greek word ‘logos’ meaning ‘study or science’. Thus, the etymological meaning of Sociology is the ‘science of society’.

Scope means the subject-matter or the areas of study. Every sciences has its own field of inquiry. It becomes difficult to study a science systematically unless its boundary or scope is determined precisely. Sociology as a social science has its own scope or boundaries. But there is no one opinion about the scope of Sociology.

There are two schools of thought with different viewpoints regarding scope and subject matter of sociology: (i) Formalistic or Specialistic school and (2) Synthetic school.

The supporters of first school believe that Sociology is a specific science and the scope should be limited whereas advocates of second school believe that it should have a synthesis in form of coordination with other social sciences. Apart of these two points of view, some other scholars want scope of Sociology to be encyclopedic.

George Simmel in Germany, propounded a formalistic school of sociology, which attempted to define and limit sociology as an abstract science of the ‘forms’ of social life. Thus the basis of sociology was to separate, by scientific abstraction, the two factors of form and content which are in reality, inseparably united, to detach by analysis the forms of interaction or sociation from its content, and to bring them together systematically under a consistent scientific viewpoint.

His viewpoint was further supported by Von Wiese, Alfred Vierkandt and Ferdinand Tonnies thus suggesting to limit sociology as a specialist science of forms.

[According to Simmel, sociology is a specific social science which describes, classifies, analyses and delineates the forms of social relationships or in other words social interactions should be classified into various forms or types and analyzed. Simmel argued that social interactions have various forms. He carried out studies of such formal relationships as cooperation, competition, subordinate and superordinate relationships and so forth. He said however diverse the interests are that give rise to these sociations; the forms in which the interests are realized may yet be identical. He emphasized on the process of abstraction of these forms from human relationship which are common to diverse situations.

Meanwhile Hobhouse and Durkheim, though rejecting the encyclopedic view of sociology, resorted to a synthetic view rather than a specialistic view.

Thus, Hobhouse viewed sociology as a science which has the whole social life of man as its sphere and not as another specialism, but he viewed its relationship with other social sciences as one of mutual exchange and mutual simulation.

Similarly, Durkheim viewed sociology as a coordinating science which was a synthesis of the special sciences and encouraged a sociological diffusion into other social sciences as well.

The scope of the subject which was limited by these discourses, was given an encyclopedic view once again by Talcott Parsons in the 1950s through his elaborate conceptual schemes of social system theory. On the other hand, sociological research was being inquired into localized and small problems. At the same time sociologists started taking up residual subjects like family and kinship, and urban and community studies which did not belong to any other field to establish ‘autonomy’ and a professional standing.

The next major factor deciding the scope and nature of sociology was the book ‘sociological imagination’ by C.W. Mills, which criticized the then trend in sociology and advocated a more adventurous more imaginative studies of the momentous problems of the modern society. Thus once again has revived the sociological research of impact.

To conclude, sociology was the foremost science to concern itself explicitly with social life as a totality, with the whole intricate network of social institutions and groups which constitute a society and as such it is yet to form an objective boundary for its subject matter and the relationships with other sciences being one of mutual exchange.

Sociology and Other Social Sciences

Sociology is defined as a science of society. It endevours to study the social life as a whole. But the social life is so complex that it is impossible to isolate social problems from the whole range of human experience. The life of man is many-sided. There is an economic aspect, legal aspect, an aesthetic aspect, a religious aspect, a political aspect and so forth. Sociology, therefore, can understand social life as a whole by taking half from other social sciences which study inclusively one or the other aspects of human activity. Sociology, for example, in order to understand a particular society has to take stock of its economic, political and cultural factors, its geographical, environments, its language, its religion, its morals, its laws and finally its interaction with the rest of the world.

The fact is that various social sciences are very much dependent on sociology for the simple reason that no aspect of human life can be detached from its social aspect. Furthermore, the various social sciences devote themselves to the study of one aspect of human life and therefore are not in a position to give us a complete survey of the social life. For instance, Anthropology studies the primitive man and his culture only as they existed in times long past. Economics studies man as a consumer, distributor and producer. History studies the record of man following only chronological knowledge of the significant events. Psychology studies man only as a behaving individual. Social psychology is concerned only with the ways in which the individual reacts to his social conditions and so on. But it is left to sociology to study interrelations between these elements of social life, and by utilizing the results arrived at by special social sciences to give an interpretation of social life as a whole.

In this sense sociology is a more comprehensive science and includes the special social sciences. It is therefore quite apt to remark that sociology is the mother of all social sciences. Thus, it is not inappropriate to summarize the meaning of sociology in the following words: “The various sciences dealing with man as social entity called the social sciences, and most fundamental of them all is sociology. Sociology is the general social science, it deals with the fundamental facts of social life.

Sociology and Political Science

Political Science is a branch of social science dealing with the principles of organization and government of human society. It deals with social groups organized under the sovereign of the state. Since the forms of government, the nature of government organs, the laws and sphere of the state activity are determined by the social processes. It shall therefore be quite correct to say that without sociological background, the study of political science will be incomplete. In the words of Giddings, “To teach the theory of the state to men who have not learnt the first principles of sociology is like teaching Astronomy or Thermodynamics to men who have not learnt Newton’s laws of motion. However, sociology also is in turn depended on political science for its conclusions. The study of political life of the society is indispensable for the complete study of the society as a whole.

The two distinct disciplines of social science sociology and political sciences do converge often as the subject matter is men and the convergence is on the increase. A beginning was made with the works of Marx. According to him political institutions and behavior are closely linked with the economic system and social classes. Provoked by this thinking some thinkers by the end of the 19th century pursued the matter in more detail like studies of political parties, elite, voting behavior, bureaucracy and political ideologies as in the political sociology of Michels, Weber and Pareto. By then another development occurred in America known as behavioral approach to political phenomena. This was initiated by the University of Chicago. In the 30s attempts were made by various scholars to create a scientific discipline of behavioral politics.

In another area there is c lose relationship between the two. Both functionalism and social system have been adopted into politics. It is interesting to note that there is a renewal of Marxist sociological ideas because of revolutions in developing countries, as studied by political scientists, sociologists and even anthropologists. The forces at work and the changes that are taking place in peasant, tribal or caste societies belong more to the sphere of sociologists and anthropologists rather than to that of the political scientist.

Moreover, the fields into which Michaels, Max Weber and Pareto led sociology by the end of the 19th century are still being pursued. A new feature of these studies is that they are comparative. It is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish political science from political sociology. There are a number of Marxist studies having Marxist socialist ideas as their hypothesis. Also, as modern State is increasingly getting involved in providing welfare amenities, sociological slant to political activity and political thinking is gaining more and more of acceptance.

Sociology and political science have been very closely related to each other. According to Morris Ginsberg. Historically, sociology has its main roots in politics and philosophy of history. Barner writes, “The most significant thing about sociology and Modern political theory is that most of the changes which have taken place in the political theory in the last thirty years have been alone the line of development suggested and marked out by sociology.” The main works on social subjects such as Plato’s ‘Republic’, ‘The Politics’ of Aristotle and other classical works were meant to be complete treaties on political science. The two subjects have even now much in common.

Distinction between the two:

According to Prof. Gilchrist there is clear general distinction between sociology and political science. Political Science is the science of state or political society. Sociology studies man as a social being, and as political organization is the special kind of social organization. Political Science is a more specialized science than sociology. The two subjects are however, different from each other. The scope of sociology is much wider than that of political science. Political science studies the state and government only, whereas sociology studies all the social institutions.

Secondly, sociology being the science of society, deals with man in all his associated processes, while political science being the science of the political society is concerned only with one form of human association. Thirdly, political organization is a special kind of social organization and that is why political science is a special science while sociology is a general science. Fifthly, unlike political science which treats only conscious activities of man, sociology treats unconscious activities of man also.

Sixthly, political science starts with the assumption that man is a political being, sociology goes behind this assumption and tries to explain how and why man became a political being.

Sociology and Economics

The battle as to which should be given precedence, sociology or economics, is present in these two disciplines also. However attempts have been made to link the two disciplines

.One extreme position has been adopted by Marxists. According to them the understanding of the super structure consisting of various social institutions can never be complete unless seen in the context of economic substructure. Thus economic behavior of man is viewed as a key to understand social behavior of man or economics is given precedence over sociology. On the other hand sociologists have criticized the economic theory as being reductionist in nature and according to them the economist's conception of man ignores the role of various social factors which influence the economic behavior. Thus various sociologists have tried to show that economics cannot be an entirely autonomous science.

A. Lowie considers that two sociological principles underlie the classical laws of the market: the economic man and the competition or mobility of the factors of production. A contemporary of Durkheim argues that since the first principles of economics are hypothesis they can be tested only by a sociological enquiry. In recent times Parsons and Smelser attempted to show that economic theory is a part of the general sociological theory. In actual practice there are a number of sociological studies which are concerned with problems of economic theory. Of late, the interaction between two disciplines has been on the increase. Barbara Cotton analyses the classical economic theory of Wages and presents a sociological analysis of the determinations of wages and salary differences based on British data. Sociologists have explored the aspects of economic behavior neglected or treated in a hurried manner by economists such as Marx, Max Weber and Hobson.

In recent times there are many studies in the same field like those of Schimpeter, Strachey, Galbraith, Gunnar Myrdal and Raymond Aron. Apart from this contribution; sociologists have also studied particular aspects of economic organization like the property system, the division of labor and the industrial organization. A branch of sociology called economic sociology deals with the social aspects of economic life. Economics would lay emphasis on relations of purely economic variables- relations of price and supply, money flows, input-output, etc. Whereas sociology would study the productive enterprises as a social organization the supply of labor as affected by values and preferences, influences of education on economic behavior; role of caste system in economic development and so on. Thus sociology and economics meet in a number of areas of knowledge. The factors that contributed for this convergence are two. Economists are no longer interested only in market mechanism but also in economic growth, national product and national income and also development in underdeveloped regions. In all these areas the economist has either to necessarily collaborate with the sociologist or he himself has to become a sociologist.

There is no doubt that Society is influenced by economic factors while economic processes are largely determined by the social environments. Economics is defined as a study of mankind in ordinary business of life or to be more exact. It is a Science on wealth is its three phases of production, distribution and consumption. It is thus concerned with that part of individual and social action which are most closely connected with the attainment and with use of material requisites of well being. Economics in other words, it concerned with material welfare of the human beings. But economic welfare is only a part of human welfare and it can be sought only with the proper knowledge of social laws. Economics cannot go far ahead without the help of sociology and other social sciences. In order to solve economic problems of unemployment, business cycle or inflation an economist has to take into consideration the social phenomena twisting at the particular times. Sociology is thus of considerable help to economics in providing specific data into which economic generalizations may be fitted. Unemployment cannot be eliminated without making improvement in the social sphere. One major cause of unemployment is fast rate of population growth which comes within the scope of sociology. Economic relationships bear a close relation to social activities.

Difference between the two:

Firstly, the field of Economics is restricted only to the economic activities of man, whereas sociology is concerned with all the relationships which are not simply economic but social. The scope of sociology is thus much wider than that of economic.

Secondly, an economist’s primary concern is with all that is directly or indirectly related to the increase of material happiness of man, with the methods, and techniques of production, distribution and consumption. But a sociologist on the other hand, is primarily interested in the social aspects of economic activities rather than in the mechanism of production and distribution.

Thirdly, economics is much older a science than sociology. Though philosophers like Comte would subordinate Economics to, and include it in sociology, yet the latter is a science of only recent growth, whereas economics has attained an advance degree of maturity.

Sociology and History

Both sociology and modern historiography had their origin in 19th century. The latter established the concept of historical periods and thus bequeathed to historiography theoretical ideas and concerns which were entirely absent from the work of earlier narrative historians and chroniclers. It bequeathed to modern sociology the notion of historical types of society and thus enabled the socialists to build classification of societies. The interaction between two disciplines can be found in their subject matter. Subject matter of sociology and history overlap to a considerable extent. The historian frequently provides the material which sociologist uses. In fact historical sociology depends upon the data which only a historian can supply. Even comparative method often requires historical data. But the dependence is twofold. Sociological research also provides the information which the historian's need. In fact the subject matter of social history overlaps to a very great extent with sociology in general and historical sociology in particular. There is evidence of cooperation by sociologists and social historians. Historian's account of social structure of 19th century towns and of the characteristics of the medieval peasantry or the 18th century nobility and sociologist's study of social history of a variety of professions. There is a point of difference between the two. Radcliffe- Brown provided a clear-cut though simplistic answer. According to him 'Sociology is nomothetic, while history is idiographic'. The historian describes unique events, while the sociologist derives generalizations.

Indeed, there are generalizations in history too, but a sociologist analyses sociological data with the help of generalizations. In other words, the historian examines particular sequences of events; whereas a sociologist tests a generalization by examining the sequence of events. To word this particular difference between history and sociology in a very simple language: the historian is concerned with the inter-play between personality and social forces; whereas, the sociologist is largely concerned with the social forces themselves. History is primarily concerned with the past and essentially tries to account for the change over time while the main focus of sociology continues to be to search for recruitment patterns and to build generalizations. However given such works like Weber's Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism and Pitrin Sorokin's Social and Cultural Dynamics, the line for demarcation between history and sociology is becoming increasingly blurred. Yet H.R Trevor-Roper has tried to make a weak distinction by stating that historian is concerned with the interplay between personality and massive social forces and that the sociologist is largely concerned with these social forces themselves. However it is becoming increasingly clear that historiography and sociology cannot be radically separated. They deal with the same subject -matter viz. men living in societies sometimes from the same point of view and the trends that the two shall continue to borrow from each other extensively.

Differences between the two:

But in spite of the similarities, the two subject are distinct. Firstly, there is much in History that has no direct relation to sociology, while there is much in sociology which is not of much significance for History.

Secondly, the primary interest of the sociologist is to find the general laws of the society, and that of the historians to narrate the historical events in there chronological order.

The sociologists would try to find out the common aspects of the events recorded by historians and then to generalize. According to Park, ‘In the same sense that history is the concrete, sociology is the abstract science of human experience and human nature.’

Lastly, History would deal with events in all their aspects while sociology would study them from the view-point of social relationship, invalid. For example, the historians would describe a war, all the circumstances accompanied with it, while sociologists would try to understand a war as a social phenomena. They will study its impact on the lives of the people, their social institutions etc.

Sociology and Psychology

Sociology studies the social systems while psychology studies mental systems. The nature of relationship between sociology and psychology still remains controversial and the study of social psychology in relation to both is still unsettled. There are two extreme views: J.S.Mill believed that a general social science could not be considered firmly established until its inductively established generalizations can be shown to be also logically deductible from laws of mind. Thus he clearly sought to establish primacy of psychology over all other social sciences. Durkheim on the other hand made a radical distinction between the phenomena studied by sociology and psychology respectively. Sociology was to study social facts defined as being external to individual mind and exercising the coercive action upon them, the explanation of social facts could only be in terms of other social facts not in terms of psychological facts. Society is not simply an aggregate of individuals; it is a system formed by their association and represents a specific level of reality possessing its own characteristics. Thus sociology and psychology are totally separate disciplines.

Most sociologists however have adopted various intermediate positions. According to Ginsberg many sociological generalizations can be more firmly established by being related to general psychological laws. Similarly Nadel argued that some problems posed by social enquiry can be eliminated by a move to lower levels of analysis viz. psychology and biology. German scholars like Weber came to believe that sociological explanations can be further enriched if an attempt is made to understand social behavior in terms of underlying meanings. Such understanding was conceived in terms of common senses psychology but Weber was not opposed to the development of a scientific psychology in broad sense and Weber was even sympathetic to some of the Freud's ideas. Similarly the interdependence of sociology and psychology for the study of human behavior is given still greater prominence.

The divergence between sociology and psychology can be illustrated from various studies. In the study of conflict and war there have been mutually exclusive sociological and psychological explanations. In the studies of stratification and political behavior the two disciplines have remained divergent. According to Bottomore in almost every field of enquiry it can be shown that psychology and sociology continue for the most part and two separate universes of study. However some attempts have been made to bring them together. One of the most valuable works is of Gerth and Mills. According to them the study of social psychology is an interplay between individual character and social structure and it can be approached either from the side of sociology or from the side of biology. They have even suggested the concept of role to bridge the gap between the two sciences. Social role represents a meeting point of the individual organism and the social structure and it is used as a central concept and social structure in the same terms. Yet in spite of these efforts sociology and psychology continue to offer alternate accounts for behavior and if they are to be brought closer together, it will be necessary to work out more rigorously the conceptual and theoretical links between them.

Differences between the two:

Firstly, sociology is a study of the society as a whole while social psychology is merely the study of individuals in interaction as members of groups and the effect of the interaction on them. Sociology has been aptly compared to the science of mechanic which considers masses of matter and properties of matter in mass, and social psychology to molecular physics which deals with molecules and their invocation. Sociology studies the organization of social groups, central values and the various forms of institutional behavior arising on account of them. But social psychology is concerned with the individuals as members of the group.

Further, sociology and social psychology deal with social life from the different angles. The former studies society from the view-point of the community element while the latter from the view-point of psychological factors involved.

Sociology and Social Anthropology

Sociology and social anthropology had quite different origins. Sociology originated from philosophy of history, political thought and positive sciences while anthropology has descended from biology. In the earlier periods of their growth the two disciplines grew up in close cooperation with each other in terms of the concepts used, areas of interest and their methods of study as can be seen in the works of founders which cannot easily be assigned exclusively to either one of the disciplines. The early convergence was followed by a period of extreme divergence in terms of their universe of study, areas of interest, methods of study and even the concepts employed.

Social anthropologists tend to closely study small societies which are relatively unchanging and lacking in historical records such as Melanesia; on the other hand, sociologists often study parts of an existing society like family or social mobility. The methods employed by sociologists are loaded with values, and hence their conclusions are tinged with ethical considerations; on the other hand, social anthropologists describe and analyze in clinically neutral terms because they can place themselves as outsiders without being involved in values. For the social anthropologists the field is a small self-contained group of community; whereas, for the sociologists the field could be large-scale and impersonal organizations and processes.

Social anthropologists generally live in the community that they study in order to observe and record what they see. Their analysis is essentially qualitative and clinical. On the other hand, sociologists often rely on statistics and questionnaires and their analysis is often formal and quantitative.

In spite of the obvious differences between the two in the 19th century, as stated above, there has been a good deal of convergence in modern times. The small units of study which the social anthropologists require are fast disappearing because of the influence of Western ideologies and technology. Placed in such a situation, both the social anthropologists and sociologists are concerned with the process of economic growth and social changes. Both the disciplines are equally useful in studying the African and Asian societies which are changing under the impact of the West. It is no longer the prerogative of sociologists to study advanced societies.

There is an increasing number of anthropological studies in advanced societies, like the studies of little community, kinship groups, etc. Some basic concepts such as structure, function, status, role, conflict, change and evaluation are used by both sociologists and social anthropologists. These feature differences indicate the interdependence of sociology and social anthropology in understanding social behavior. The works of Talcott Parsons and R.K Merton are attempts towards an adaptation of functionalist approach to study industrial societies and William White has adopted participant observation for the study of modern industrial society. Thus the disciplines are increasingly merging into each oth

Sociology and Common Sense

Sociology is defined as the scientific study of society and human behaviour. Sociology looks for reasons for things, and answers the social questions. Sociology is a science, and people need to come up with theories, which may be tested to be proven or disproven.

Common sense, is the ideas that people know, just because it is common knowledge. However, common sense and what people think they know is not always true. When we do not know where our ideas come from or what they are based on, we simply call them ‘common sense’. If we call the common sense, we do not have to prove they are true. The term ‘common sense’ puts a respectable front on all sorts of ideas for which there is no systematic body of evidence that can be cited.

The above-mentioned explanation becomes much clearer in the following points:


(i) Sociology is a systematic study of society that uses a body of concept, tools and method to analyse the social content and factors behind a particular event and does not accord ‘natural or inherent cause’ for the same. For example, Sociology talks about ‘gender’ as a social construct that provides a benchmark for allocating different ‘gender role’ and statuses in the social hierarchy to men and women.

(ii) Sociology has a ‘questioning approach’ to all commonly held belief and opinions and uses empirical method to verify them.

Common Sense

(i) Common sense is a widely accepted opinion and views that we generally consider to be the truth. These views are generally based on ‘naturalistic assumptions’ – that suggest that ‘natural causes’ for behaviour can be identified. For example, common sense suggests that behaviour of men and women differs because of natural or biological causes.

(ii) Common sense is unreflective. It does not question its own origins.

The above-mentioned differences between Sociology and Common sense stem from Positivism that stresses the use of scientific methods to study social reality and does away with common sense assumptions. This view was most strongly propounded by August Comte and Emile Durkheim.

However, with the emergence of other approaches to the study of society – such as Phenomenology and Symbolic Interactionism – the use of common sense in the construction of social reality by individual actors became widely accepted.

Alfred Schutz, the founder of phenomenological sociology, spoke of the ‘Lifeworlds’ and the construction of consciousness in which common sense views play a vital role.

Similarly, symbolic interactionists use common sense idea to understand the meaning that individuals attach to their social actions in the process of role taking.

Even structuralists like Claude Levi Strauss held that sociology can be considered a juxtaposition (side by side) of sociological common sense and science.

We can conclude that Sociology and common sense are not two opposite forces, but they complement each other at many points. Sociology uses its scientific methodologies to understand the reality or truth behind the common sense. Thus the relationship between Sociology and Common sense has been dynamic and moulded by the dominant perspective in Sociology.


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