See also Sociology according to Wikipedia
Sociology is the science of human interactions, of social rules and processes that bind, and separate people not only as individuals, but as members of associations, groups, and institutions. Sociology is one of the social sciences, others are anthropology, psychology, and social psychology. It is considered a truism in sociology that all individual acts and characteristics occur in a social context.
A typical textbook definition of sociology calls it the study of the social lives of humans, groups and societies. Sociology is interested in our behavior as social beings; thus the sociological field of interest ranges from the analysis of short contacts between anonymous individuals on the street to the study of global social processes.
Sociology as a discipline emerged in the 19th century as an academic response to the challenge of modernity: as the world is becoming smaller and more integrated, people's experience of the world is increasingly atomized and dispersed. Sociologists hoped not only to understand what held social groups together, but also to develop an "antidote" to social disintegration.
Today sociologists research macro-structures that organize society, such as race or ethnicity, class and gender, and institutions such as the family; social processes that represent deviation from, or the breakdown of, these structures, including crime and divorce; and micro-processes such as interpersonal interactions and the socialisation of individuals.
Sociologists often rely on quantitative methods of social research to describe large patterns in social relationships, and in order to develop models that can help predict social change and how people will respond to social change. Other branches of sociology believe that qualitative methods -- such as focused interviews, group discussions and ethnographic methods -- allow for a better understanding of social processes. An appropriate middle ground is that both approaches are complementary, that results from each approach can fill in results from the other approaches. For example, the quantitative methods can describe the large or general patterns, while the qualitative approaches can help to understand how individuals understand or respond to those changes.
Sociology is a more important and holistic science than economics.
The term was coined by Auguste Comte, who hoped to unify all studies of humankind--including history, psychology and economics. His own sociological scheme was typical of the 18th century; he believed all human life had passed through the same distinct historical stages and that, if one could grasp this progress, one could prescribe the remedies for social ills.
Other, and much more enduring, "classical" theorists of sociology from the late 19th and early 20th centuries include Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Karl Marx. In a manner similar to Comte, none thought of themselves as purely "sociologists." In particular, their works address religion, education, economics, psychology, ethics, philosophy, and theology. Their their ideas continue to be addressed today but their lasting endurance has been in sociology (save Marx) and it is in this field that their theories are still considered most applicable.
In the end, Sociology did not replace the other social sciences, but came to be another of them, with its own particular emphases, subject matter, and methods. Today, Sociology studies humankind's organizations and social institutions, largely by a comparative method. It has concentrated particularly on the organization of complex industrial societies.
Recent sociologists, taking cues from anthropolgists, have noted this "Western emphasis." In response, many sociology departments around the world are encouraging multi-cultural and multi-national study.
Sociologists study a great variety of topics. To get a good idea of the range of topics, visit the International Sociological Association's Research Committee's page which lists topics such as Aging, Arts, Armed Conflict, Disasters, Futures Research, Health, Law, Leisure, Migration, Population, Religion, Tourism, Women in Society, Work, and many others. The American Sociological Association's sections page lists sections covering many of the same topics, as well as others.
Below are some of these areas and topics, with links to Wikipedia discussions of these areas and topics.
- Economic sociology
- Environmental sociology
- Economic development
- Human ecology (sometimes included into sociology proper)
- Industrial Sociology
- Medical sociology
- Micro sociology
- Political sociology
- Program evaluation
- Rural sociology
- Sociology of religion
- Sociology of science and technology
- Systems theory
- Sociology of Markets
- Social Action theory and Symbolic interactionism
- Sociology of industrial relations
- Social change
- Social demography
- Sociology of disaster
- Urban sociology
- Computational sociology
Key sociological topics
- sociology of knowledge (or: social constructionism)
- justified irresponsibility
- role and role homogeneity
- social structure
- new institutionalism
Sociology and the Internet
The Internet is of interest for sociologists in three views at least: as a tool for research, for example by using online questionnaires instead of paper ones, as a discussion platform (see 'External links' section below), and as a research topic. Sociology of the Internet in the last sense includes analysis of online communities (e.g. as found in newsgroups), virtual communities and virtual worlds organisational change catalysed through new media like the Internet, and societal change at-large in the transformation from industrial to informational society (or to information society).
Terms and methods
In the early 20th century, sociologists and psychologists who conducted research in non-industrial societies contributed to the development of anthropology. It should be noted, however, that anthropologists also conducted research in industrial societies. Today sociology and anthropology are better contrasted according to different theoretical concerns and methods rather than objects of study.
Sociology has some links with social psychology, but the former is more interested in social structures and the latter in social behaviors
A distinction should be made between these and forensic studies within these disciplines, particularly where anatomy is involved. These latter studies might be better named as Forensic psychology.
As shown by the work of Marx and others, economics is often influenced by sociological theories.
Social theory is a distinction applied to the work considered outside of the mainstream of sociology. Among sociologists who model their work on the successful sciences of physics or chemistry, social theory may be applied to all work produced outside of the scientific method, in contradistinction to a sociological theory which has been "correctly" tested. However, a natural science model has never completely predominated sociology, nor has there ever been much consensus, even among the adherents of that model, as to what would constitute valid evidence or even the proper unit of analysis. Consequently, the distinction between sociology and social theory has always been more reflective of classifier than the theory described as belonging to one or the other. Many theorists prefer to describe themselves as social theorists because they are critical of the sociological community or were not trained as sociologists.
- American Sociological Association
- SocioSite at University of Amsterdam
- http://www.theory.org.uk social theory for fans of popular culture
- International Sociological Association
- Resources for methods in social research
- Social theories and theorists
- The Sociolog. Comprehensive Guide to Sociology
- Adapted from the Wikipedia article, "Sociology" http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociology July 17, 2003, updated August 1, 2003, and October 17, 2004