Sociology is the study of human social life, groups, and societies and its subject is our own behaviour as social beings. The Scope of Sociology: Everybody these days wants to be ‘in love’ but the reality is that ‘love’ is a relatively new concept to modern society and non-existent in some cultures. Up until recently love and marriage were not really connected. In some cultures, marriage is for property or wealth accumulation and love may or may not follow for such ‘relationships’ in time to follow. Marriage (if at all.) Modern society is seen in terms of familiar features of our own lives but there is a much broader view as to who we are and what or why we do as we do and thus is the essence of sociology.
Learning to think sociologically means cultivating the imagination. A sociologist is somebody who can break free from the immediacy of personal circumstances and put things in a wider context. The sociological imagination requires us to think away from familiar routines and look at them anew. The simple act of having a cup of coffee becomes more than routine when viewed from a sociological point of view. Rituals associated with drinking coffee, it is a drug, the chat that goes with it, and where we go and so on are all of sociological significance.
Sociological imagination allows us to consider something as an individual as Divorce as reflective of larger issues. Unemployment also has significant sociological consequences even though it is an individual problem. Ones private position may be reflective of a wider position in wider society. It is the business of sociology to investigate the connections between what society makes of us and what we make of ourselves. Out activities give shape to the social world and are also structured by that social world. Thus, the concept of social structure is important in sociology. There are regularities in the way we behave and our behaviour is not only structured by society but we as ‘building blocks’ of this structure can and will reconstruct as we go along.
This process of construction and reconstruction brings about actions with different results than we desire. Sociologists refer to this as intended and unintended consequences. It is sociology’s task to study the resulting balance between social reproduction, the continuity of society, and social transformation, and the changes that occur.
Sociology finds its beginnings in the early 1800s with the emergence of the Industrial Revolution in Europe. A key development was the enlightenments struggle to apply science instead of religion to understand the world. No individual founded sociology and there were many contributors to sociological thinking and some were more significant than others.
Auguste Comte invented the word ‘sociology’ and believed that this new field could produce knowledge of society based on scientific evidence. Sociology, he argued, should contribute to the welfare of humanity by understanding, predicting and controlling behaviour.
Emile Durkheim saw his peers as too speculative and vague and sought to establish sociology on a scientific basis. He argued that sociology should study social facts, aspects of social life such as economic and religious influences; ‘study social facts as things’ and thus they can be studied more rigorously. He believed that what held society together was shared values and customs. In his theory on the ‘division of labor’ he argued that people became more and more dependent on each other because they needed goods and services supplied by others. In the analysis of suicide he showed that it was not a ‘selfish act’ but social factors exert a fundamental influence on suicidal behaviour.
Karl Marx in his view social change is prompted by economic influences. Conflicts between classes, the rich versus the poor, provide the motivation for historical development. The class struggle was the key element of social change. He envisioned a forthcoming society where there would be no division of class (Communism) and thus equality in society would eliminate conflict.
Max Weber in his interpretation (contradictory to Marx) economic factors are important but ideas and values have just as much impact on social change. He argued that Christian influences contributed to the rise of capitalism and thus cultural values help shape society and individual actions. The development of science, technology, and bureaucracy (rationalisation) was in fact the organisation of social and economic life according to principles of efficiency and knowledge.
Later thinkers, Foucault & Habermas works concerned bureaucracy (hospitals, prisons, institutions) and sexuality all of which had not existed by created by social change and development and ‘sexuality’ is a property of the self (something we have). The study of knowledge as a source of power was a means of keeping tabs on people and controlling them. Habermas argues that capitalist societies destroy moral order on which it depends.
But is sociology a science? Science is a means of using evidence to develop a body of knowledge about a subject matter. Therefor sociology, by these standards is a science. However, human beings are not objects and all behave differently and when they are under scrutiny they may behave differently.
How Can Sociology Help Us In Our Lives? It allows us to see the social world from a different perspective? If we understand how people live we can acquire a better knowledge of what their problems are. Sociological research helps us assess the results of policy initiatives. Sociology can provide us with self-enlightenment and thus influence our own future and finally, sociologists can find themselves in practical situations such as urban planning, industrial consultancy, social workers and personnel managers.