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What is Sociology?

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Introduction

What is Sociology? It may be that you have an idea that sociology is 'about' people. And you would be right to think so. We might start then by noting that sociology is one of the human sciences and as such it is a subject to be distinguished from the so-called 'physical sciences'. Sociology is the study of humanity. However this description of sociology is only partially correct. To say that sociology is about people and humanity is not enough to distinguish it from the other subjects in the human sciences. For it is equally the case that Psychology, Social Policy, Economics and Social History, amongst others, are all in some sense about people and humanity. Thus the fact that sociology is about people and humanity gets us only part way along the road to a full definition of the subject. We might also suggest that sociology is 'about' society. This helps in so far as it adds another component to our full definition. But again it is not enough to fully define the subject. For all of the aforementioned human sciences are not only about people and humanity but about society too. Sociology is also concerned with human culture. A provisional definition of culture used by sociologists is that of ' a way of life'. Sociology has always concerned itself with the study of culture and this would fit in with what we already know about sociology; namely it the study of people in society. ...read more.

Middle

but it also means that we are left with a distorted understanding of what has been sociology's main objective since it's beginnings in the early years of the 19th century. For it seems to me that sociology is to be defined as the 'study of social order'. Sociology is a subject made up of competing theories on society. All the differing theories within sociology are best described as basically involved in the project of describing and explaining 'social order'. In other words sociology has always sought to understand how the components of society, the social relationships and the social institutions, contribute to, or deflect from the continued existence of 'society'. This is not to suggest that sociology is not concerned with social conflict and social change too. However these concerns are essentially one's which derive from, and supplement, the major objective of understanding social order. When & How did Sociology begin? If we cast an eye back historically to the very beginnings of sociology we can note a number of important features associated with the 'birth' of the subject. Firstly it can be argued that sociology is a development of, as well as a reaction to, two significant events which occurred in 18th century Europe: The first of these events was 'The Enlightenment'. 'The Enlightenment' was a revolution in ideas. Briefly put, it had two centres in the European cities of Edinburgh in Scotland and Paris in France. ...read more.

Conclusion

Karl Marx had earlier in the 19th century developed a rigorous social theory of human society. He had rejected the idea of sociology and rejected the idea of regarding himself as a sociologist. Yet it is testimony to the force and pervasiveness of his arguments that sociology has sought to incorporate his theory as part of the 'sociological tradition' and he is now seen as one of the 'founding fathers' of the subject. Sociology then is co-extensive with modern industrial society. Just when modern societies emerge so too does sociology. We might take time here to note here that this means sociology had very particular beginnings and reflected particular sets of interests. Point 1: We saw that sociology's beginnings were distinctly European. This has led to the criticism that sociology is ethnocentric. There were black writers in the 19th century such as W.B. Du Bois, but they are only now being accepted for their true value. Point 2: Did you notice all the 'founding mothers'? No? Nor did I! Again there is a criticism that sociology is a male enterprise which has for a long time failed to give adequate consideration to women's needs and issues. This has led to charges of it being ethnocentric. Furthermore it is significant that sociology is a male enterprise from its very beginnings. So sociology had its beginnings as a white, male, middle-class and European enterprise. If you are going to study it is up to you to determine the extent to which it has 'mended it w ...read more.

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