Recall how the ‘mother of all social sciences’ came to be. Let’s look at its historical roots and the early sociological thinkers that contributed to the development of sociology as a discipline.
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Table of Contents
- Nature and History of Sociology
- The Task of Sociology as Science
- Sociology and Social Science
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Nature and History of Sociology
Emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the field of sociology was an attempt to understand the changes and upheavals brought by three main events at that time: the American and French revolution and the industrial revolution.
These revolutions greatly changed the social order—causing breakdowns in the traditional norms. Early thinkers tried to find a way to understand its implications in the economic, social, and political realms, which then led to the rise of sociology.
It was Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès, a French essayist, who first coined the term sociology, but this was reinvented by August Comte fifty years later.
Known as the ‘Father of Sociology’, Comte (1798-1857) believed that societies can be studied scientifically. He theorized the law of three stages of societies: theological, metaphysical, and positive, which explains how societies are developed and how social progress is related to mental development.
In the theological stage, the approach is to view the world in terms of supernatural powers and deities, while the metaphysical is based on abstract forces in the forms of essences and ideas.
Lastly, the positive stage of society is dominated by a scientific way of thinking where superstition has no place and the main basis are facts that can be observed and gathered. He argued that societies need to reach this stage in order to address their problems.
From this, he also identified two branches of sociology: social statics (looks at how social structures interact with one another to maintain social order) and social dynamics or social change that was founded on the aforementioned law of the three stages.
It was Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) who translated Comte’s writing into English. Considered as the first woman sociologist, she was also the first to introduce feminist sociological theories.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) influenced the idea that social conflicts drive social change. Here, Marx’s talked about two social classes, specifically in a capitalist society – the bourgeoisie (owners and oppressors) and the proletariat (working class and the oppressed).
He explained that the struggles between these two and the exploitation experienced by the working class would then lead to a revolution—eventually replacing capitalism with communism. The former is a type of economic system where the means of production are privately owned whereas the latter is where properties and resources are shared.
He also believed that societies evolve because of the active roles of people in changing them.
Unlike Marx, Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) thought that society will achieve order through a natural process of ‘survival of the fittest.’
He used a living organism as an analogy to explain the stability in a society. Deemed as interdependent parts, all societal structures contribute to the social order. When one structure changes, all the other parts would need to adjust and change as well to preserve society.
A French philosopher and sociologist, Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) paved the way for sociology to be formally established as an academic discipline.
In 1895, he introduced sociology in the school’s curriculum and formed the first European department of sociology at the University of Bordeaux.
He was famous for his works on the phenomenon of suicide, citing social structures (institutionalized social realities rooted from social interactions and historical developments such as social institutions, cultural norms, and values) as causes rather than merely psychological—the very first successful endeavor to study society using social research.
Aside from this, sociological concepts such as anomie (normlessness), social facts (things external to the individual and exert certain control over him), and mechanical and organic solidarity came from him.
Mechanical solidarity means the integration among people which is based on their shared values and beliefs, while organic solidarity is the social cohesion that is a result of work specialization, which then leads to the interdependence of society’s members with one another.
Max Weber (1864-1920) had a different claim from Durkheim in terms of objectivity.
Durkheim was not concerned with the individual’s experiences and interpretation, but Weber thought otherwise. He reasoned that one’s behavior is affected by the person’s own interpretations of their behaviors.
Thus, the concept of verstehen.
In today’s language, this simply means putting oneself in someone’s shoes. When studying society, it is important to take into consideration the intention and context of human actions.
Another notable contribution of Weber is his study on the relationship of economic system and religion in his book, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”. According to Weber, the values and beliefs promoted by many Protestants (Calvinists in particular) created the kind of people needed for capitalist society, and that the ideologies of the two complement one another.
The Task of Sociology as Science
Sociology is the study of society.
It covers all aspects of society (religion, economy, cultures, and arrangements, among others) at all levels.
Just as how the discipline was birthed from the desire to understand the social changes, its task now remains the same: to look and understand how societal patterns and structures emanate from the individual’s actions and in turn, how it now shapes the individual’s behaviors.
There are different levels of analysis in studying society: micro-level and macro-level.
The micro-level of analysis begins from face-to-face interactions between individuals and small groups. At the macro-level, the focus is on the dynamics of large-scale structures, such as institutions or different societies.
Sociology and Social Science
Having a wide scope, sociology turns to other social sciences like psychology, economics, and political science to understand society as a whole.
While it is in fact the mother of all social sciences, it is essential to see human experiences from their many facets while maintaining a sociological perspective.
The study of sociology compared to psychology is oftentimes the most difficult to differentiate, but it is necessary to note that the former is more about external human behavior and that the latter highlights the internal mental and thought processes.
Meanwhile, political science focuses on governance systems while economics’ main concern is wealth production and distribution in society.
But like any other social sciences, sociology employs sociological research based on systematic methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis.
Sociological knowledge is obtained either through inductive or deductive reasoning. Induction is the process of formulating theories from the gathered data. In contrast, deduction works from having a hypothesis to testing its validity on the ground.
Some of the popular sociological research methods are survey, field research, experiment, and secondary data analysis.
These sociological methods are further divided into two categories: quantitative and qualitative research. The quantitative research method will analyze data through numbers and statistics while the qualitative is about the words and meanings.
Little, W. (2014). Introduction to Sociology – 1st Canadian Edition. Victoria, B.C.: BCcampus. Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/i
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