In this article, we’ll be discussing ” An Introduction to Sociology. We begin by defining and explaining why we think that you should study sociology, and by telling you what you can get out of it and what you can use it for. We go on to tackle two fundamental questions. Sociologists study society but what do we mean by this term? how do sociologists study society-is Sociology a science?
Table of Contents:
- What is Sociology
- Why Study Sociology
- Brief History of Sociology
- Is Sociology Common Sense
- Is Sociology a Science
- Sociology as a Social Science
- The Sociological Imagination
What is Sociology?
Sociology is the scientific study of human society and social interactions. As sociologists, our main goal is to understand social situations and look for repeating patterns in society. We do not use facts selectively to create a lively talk show, sell newspapers, or support one particular point of view. Instead, sociologists are engaged in a rigorous scientific endeavor, which requires objectivity and detachment.
The main focus of sociology is the group, not the individual. Sociologists attempt to understand the forces that operate throughout society—forces that mold individuals, shape their behavior, and, thus, determine social events.
Sociology is an exciting and illuminating field of study that analyzes and explains important matters in our personal lives, our communities, and the world. At the personal level, sociology investigates the social causes and consequences of such things as romantic love, racial and gender identity, family conflict, deviant behavior, aging, and religious faith.
At the societal level, sociology examines and explains matters like crime and law, poverty and wealth, prejudice and discrimination, schools and education, business firms, urban community, and social movements. At the global level, sociology studies such phenomena as population growth and migration, war and peace, and economic development.
Why Study Sociology?
Sociology enables us to understand the world we live in but also to understand ourselves, for we are the products of the world. This understanding can help us to gain more control over our lives but it can also be put to more practical uses as well.
We live in a world of extraordinary choice. Our choice of food to eat, holiday destinations to visit, and television channels to watch seem almost limitless. We can to some extent choose our own identity, by constructing a lifestyle that suits us or creating a new persona in a virtual community on the Net.
We can select the body shape that we want and through a combination of diet, exercise, and cosmetic surgery at least try to change our body accordingly. The provision of greater choice, whether in education or health care, has become one of the main priorities of government policy.
Although we have a strong sense of choice, we are also subject to social pressure that seem often to make these choices for us. We are under pressure to conform to other people’s ideas of who we should look and who we should live.
Sociology enables us not only to understand the world around us also our place within it. This is not just a matter of where we live, important as this is, but of where we are located with social structures and the changes taking place in these structures.
By describing such structures, sociology provides us with a map of society within which we can locate ourselves so that we can begin to understand the social forces that act upon us.
These structures are, however, constantly changing and one of the main tasks of sociology is to understand and explain social change and the impact that it has on people.
Above all, sociology enables us to understand ourselves. The way that will think, behave, and feel, indeed our identity, is socially produced.
Brief History of Sociology
It is hardly an accident that sociology emerged as a separate fi eld of study in Europe during the nineteenth century. Th at was a time of turmoil, a period in which the existing social order was shaken by the growing industrial revolution and violent uprisings against established rulers (the American and French revolutions).
People were also discovering, through world exploration, how other people lived. At the same time, the church’s power to impose its views of right and wrong was also declining. New social classes of industrialists and businesspeople emerged to challenge the rule of the feudal aristocracies.
Tightly knit communities, held together by centuries of tradition and well-defined social relationships, were strained by dramatic changes in society. Factory cities began to replace the rural estates of nobles as the centers for society at large.
People with different backgrounds were brought together under the same factory roof to work for wages instead of exchanging their services for land and protection. Families now had to protect themselves, to buy food rather than grow it, and to pay rent for their homes.
These new living and working conditions led to the development of an industrial, urban lifestyle, which, in turn, produced new social problems. Many people were frightened by these changes and wanted to find some way of coping with the new society.
The need for a new understanding of society, together with the growing acceptance of the scientific method, led to the emergence of sociology.
Auguste Comte coined the term sociology. He wanted to develop a “science of man” that would reveal the underlying principles of society, much as the sciences of physics and chemistry explained nature and guided industrial progress.
Is Sociology Common Sense?
Common sense is what people develop through everyday life experiences. In a very real sense, it is the set of expectations about society and people’s behavior that guides our own behavior.
Unfortunately, these expectations are not always reliable or accurate because without further investigation, we tend to believe what we want to believe, to see what we want to see, and to accept as fact whatever appears to be logical.
Whereas common sense is often vague, oversimplified, and often contradictory, sociology as science attempts to be specific, to qualify its statements, and to prove its assertions. Upon closer inspection, we find that the proverbial words of wisdom rooted in common sense are often illogical
Why, for example, should you “look before you leap” if “he who hesitates is lost”? How can “absence make the heart grow fonder” when “out of sight, out of mind”? Why should “opposites attract” when “birds of a feather flock together”? The common-sense approach to sociology is one of the dangers the new student encounters.
Common sense often makes sense after the fact. It is more useful for describing events than for predicting them. It deludes us into thinking we knew the outcome all along (Hawkins and Hastie, 1990).
Although common sense gleaned from personal experience might help us in certain types of interactions, it does not help us understand why and under what conditions these interactions are taking place.
Sociologists as scientists attempt to qualify these statements by specifying, for example, under what conditions opposites tend to attract or birds of a feather flock together.
Sociology as a science is oriented toward gaining knowledge about why and under what conditions events take place to understand human interactions better.
Is Sociology a Science?
Sociology is commonly described as one of the social sciences. Science refers to a body of systematically arranged knowledge that shows the operation of general laws. Sociology also employs the same general methods of investigation that are used in the natural sciences.
Like the natural scientists, sociologists use the scientific method, a process by which a body of scientific knowledge is built through observation, experimentation, generalization, and verification.
The collection of data is an important aspect of the scientific method, but facts alone do not constitute a science. To have any meaning, facts must be ordered in some way, analyzed, generalized, and related to other facts. This is known as theory construction.
Theories help organize and interpret facts and relate them to previous findings of other researchers. Unlike other means of inquiry, science generally limits its investigations to things that can be observed directly or that produce directly observable events.
This is known as empiricism, the view that generalizations are valid only if they rely on evidence that can be observed directly or verified through our senses. For example, theologians might discuss the role of faith in producing true happiness; philosophers might deliberate over what happiness actually encompasses; but sociologists would note, analyze, and predict the consequences of such measurable items as job satisfaction, the relationship between income and education, and the role of social class in the incidence of divorce.
Sociology as a Social Science
The social sciences consist of all those disciplines that apply scientific methods to the study of human behavior. Although there is some overlap, each of the social sciences has its own area of investigation. It is helpful to understand each social science and examine sociology’s relationship to them.
The Sociological Imagination
Although most people interpret social events on the basis of their individual experiences, sociologists step back and view society more as an outsider than as a personally involved and possibly biased participant.
For example, although we assume that most people in the United States marry for love, sociologists remind us that the decision to marry—or not to marry—is influenced by a variety of social values taught to us since early childhood.
That is, we select our mates based on the social values we internalize from family, peers, neighbors, community leaders, and even our movie heroes.
Therefore, we are less likely to marry someone from a different socioeconomic class, from a different race or religion, or from a markedly different educational background. Thus, as we pair off, we follow somewhat predictable patterns. In most cases, the man is older, earns more money, and has a higher occupational status than the woman.
These patterns might not be evident to the two people who are in love with each other; indeed, they might not be aware that anything other than romance played a role in their choice of a mate. As sociologists, however, we begin to discern marriage patterns.
We might note that marriage rates vary in different parts of the country, that the average age of marriage is related to educational level, and that social class is related to marital stability. These patterns show us that forces are at work that influence marriage but might not be evident to the individuals who fall in love and marry.
C. Wright Mills (1959) described the different levels on which social events can be perceived and interpreted. He used the term the sociological imagination to refer to this relationship between individual experiences and forces in the larger society that shapes our actions.
The sociological imagination is the process of looking at all types of human behavior patterns and finding previously unseen connections among them.
We see similarities among individuals with no direct knowledge of one another, and we find that subtle forces mold people’s actions. Like a museum-patron who draws back from a painting in order to see how the separate strokes and colors form subtly shaded images, sociologists stand back from individual events in order to see why and how they occurred.
In so doing, they discover patterns that govern our social existence. The sociological imagination focuses on every aspect of society and every relationship among individuals.
It studies the behavior of crowds at sports events; shifts in styles of dress and popular music; changing patterns of courtship and marriage; the emergence and fading of different lifestyles, political movements, and religious sects; the distribution of income and access to resources and opportunities; decisions made by the Supreme Court, congressional committees, and local zoning boards; and so on.
Every detail of social existence is food for sociological thought and relevant to sociological analysis. The potential for sociology to be used—applied to the solution of real-world problems—is enormous. Proponents of applied sociology believe the work of sociologists can and should be used to help bring about an understanding of, and improvement of modern society.
The demand for applied sociology is growing, and many sociologists work directly with government agencies or private businesses to apply sociological knowledge to real-world problems.