Have you ever wondered why individuals and societies are so varied? Questions what social forces have shaped different stocks? The search to understand society is urgent and important, because if we can not understand the social world, we are more likely to be overwhelmed. We also need to understand social processes if we want to influence them. Sociology can help us understand ourselves better, because it examines how the social world influences the way we think, feel and act. It can also help with decision making, both ours and that of larger organizations. Sociologists can gather systematic information to make a decision, provide information about what is happening in a situation and present alternatives.
What is Sociology?
Sociology is the scientific study of society, which includes patterns of social relations, social interaction and culture. The term sociology was used for the first time by the Frenchman Auguste Compte in the 1830s when he proposed a synthetic science that united all knowledge about human activity. In the academic world, sociology is considered one of the social sciences.
What Do Sociologists Study?
Sociologists study everything human, from the interactions between two people to the complex relationships between nations or multinational corporations. While sociology assumes that human actions are modeled, individuals still have room to choose. Being aware of the social processes that influence the way humans think, feel and behave, and being willing to act can help people mold the social forces they face.
The Origins of Sociology
Sociologists believe that our social environment influences thinking and action. For example, the rise of the social sciences developed in response to social changes. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Europeans explored the world and travelers returned from Asia, America, Africa and the southern seas with amazing stories of other societies and civilizations. Very different social practices challenged the view that European life reflected the natural order of God.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Western Europe was shaken by technical, economic and social changes that forever changed the social order. Science and technology were developing rapidly. James Watt invented the steam engine in 1769, and in 1865, Joseph Lister discovered that an antiseptic barrier could be placed between a wound and germs in the atmosphere to inhibit infection. These and other scientific developments stimulated social changes and offered hope that scientific methods could help explain the social world and the natural world. This trend was part of a more general growth in rationalism.
The industrial revolution began in Britain at the end of the 18th century. At the end of the 19th century, the old order collapsed “under the blows of industrialism and revolutionary democracy” (Nisbet, 1966: 21). The mechanical industry was growing and thousands of people were migrating to the cities to work in the new factories. People who were once rooted in the land and in the social communities where they grew up were crowded into cities. The traditional authority of the church, the village and the family were being undermined by the impersonal factory and the life of the city.
Capitalism also grew in Western Europe in the 19th century. This meant that relatively few people owned the means of production, such as factories, while many others had to sell their labor to those owners. At the same time, relatively impersonal financial markets began to expand. The modern era was also marked by the development of administrative state power, which involved increasing concentrations of information and armed power (Giddens, 1987: 27).
Finally, there was a huge population growth throughout the world in this period, due to a longer life expectancy and greater decreases in infant mortality rates. These massive social changes gave new urgency to the development of the social sciences, since the early sociological thinkers struggled with the vast implications of economic, social and political revolutions. All the main figures in the early years of sociology thought of the “great transformation” of simple and preliterary societies to massive, complex and industrial societies.
The Institutionalization of Sociology
Sociology was taught by that name for the first time at the University of Kansas in 1890 by Frank Blackmar, under the title of Elements of Sociology, where it remains the oldest continuing sociology course in the United States. The first academic department of sociology was established in 1892 at the University of Chicago by Albion W. Small, who in 1895 founded the American Journal of Sociology.
The first European Department of Sociology was founded in 1895 at the University of Bordeaux by Émile Durkheim, founder of L’Année Sociologique (1896). The first sociology department to be established in the United Kingdom was the London School of Economics and Political Science (home of the British Journal of Sociology) in 1904.
In 1919, a sociology department was established in Germany at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich by Max Weber, and in 1920 by Florian Znaniecki.
International cooperation in sociology began in 1893 when René Worms founded the International Institute of Sociology, which was later eclipsed by the much larger International Sociological Association (ISA), founded in 1949. In 1905, the Association American Sociology, the largest professional association in the world Sociologists were founded and, in 1909, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie (German Society of Sociology) was founded by Ferdinand Tönnies and Max Weber, among others.