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What Is Sociology?

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  • Written By: Lori Kilchermann
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2016
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Focusing on the study of society, sociology is one of the social sciences that attempts to study human interaction of both the individual and populations. As a social science, sociology studies the stratification of society, social class and religion and the ramifications that these elements have on society as a whole. Unlike social studies, which examines events and happenings, sociology attempts to delve into why society functions as it does, as well as how certain views socially alienate different groups of people and different beliefs.

While Auguste Compte may have been the first commonly agreed upon philosopher of science, Karl Marx is typically seen as the father of modern sociology by many scholars and students. Marx became known as the creator of a belief system known as Marxism that focused on the study and understanding of sociology. Later scholars, such as the 19th century's Herbert Spencer and Emile Durkheim, would sell millions of books that coined phrases such as Spencer's "survival of the fittest" when attempting to explain the advancement of society through the ages. The first college course titled sociology was offered at the American institution of Yale in 1875.

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Positivism is one aspect of sociology that attempted to anchor the study of the subject with a scientific base in an attempt to give it credence. Science was the only credible field in the early years of sociological study, and linking the study to a science-based methodology gave sociology the credibility it needed to become a relevant college course of study. Sub-fields in the social sciences consist of such courses as criminality, law and punishment as well as economic social studies and family, sexuality and gender. Offering insight into all aspects of the human social condition, these college courses open up areas to discussion where the mere mention of the subject would have been grounds for dismissal in earlier years.

Examining the matters that make society a working, breathing life source requires deep insight into both the past as well as current and popular beliefs. Many functions of a society that might appear normal and not at all out of the ordinary may be seen as completely inappropriate in other social settings. The basic glue that holds any society together, such as the legal system, educational requirements and even marital relationships, are created and defined by the rules imposed by the ruling members of any society. At times, a society may form a different mindset following a war or social uprising as the new leaders begin to impose their ideals of society upon the citizens of the land.

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cardsfan27
Post 7

@jcraig - That is very interesting, but one thing I would like to know about sociology is whether or not there are a lot of misconceptions about the field in general and I feel like someone may need to state the basics about it and answer a few question.

One question for example is can sociology transcend various other fields, or is it something that is on its own and should not be looked too much into to answer larger questions in society?

Also, is Sociology a study of relationships between people in a society and every type of custom and social law that goes with it or is it simply a study of how people act in their surroundings in

regards their race, class, or gender?

I think that this is what a lot of people feel the study of Sociology is and a lot of misconceptions can be created by such thinking and I was wondering if someone could shed some more light on this field in this regard?

jcraig
Post 6

I study history for a living and I can really say that when one studies the turn of the century in a modernist historical perspective one begins to see that the beginnings of the field of sociology had quite an impact on society at the time.

Around 1900 pseudo sciences reigned supreme and fields like sociology, in the infancy, led to a lot of quackery and a lot of false addressing of social issues that led to some really unbelievable conclusions that could be considered downright ludicrous.

A lot of these revolved around race and gender and led to some very unscientific conclusions when one looks at it from the perspective of where the field is today.

Unfortunately, due to

the roots of Sociology that is why the field is looked down a little bit today and is continued to be classified by some people as a pseudo science even though great advances have been made that has legitimized the field for decades.
jmc88
Post 5

@JimmyT - I am so glad that you liked the subject so much and that you enjoyed your introduction to the field.

Besides those cases that are in the grey area the field of Sociology is an ever evolving study that can change with the changes in society over time.

I really feel like this is a field that people seem to have a lot of interest in, but do not really know the history behind the field or the certain components that are vital to understanding how to study this subject.

It seems to me like people tend to like this subject, but just know a very little amount to the point that it just becomes something of interest. I really feel like people need to continue in their interest and study more into the field as it is one that can really make someone look at life differently.

JimmyT
Post 4

I have to say that when I was a senior in college I took a sociology class, which was something completely out of my major and it was one of the best classes I have ever taken.

I have always found the patterns that people exhibit interesting and the reasons why people may act the way the do in a social setting fascinating.

What I remember most from my class is that we would look at interesting cases that focused on the grey areas of the subject and how things became socially acceptable in certain settings that would not usually be socially acceptable in normal circumstances.

This class fascinated me, as well as the field itself and I am really glad I was able to take a class focusing on this field, even if it was only and introduction level class.

Ted41
Post 3

I had no idea that Karl Marx was the father of both sociology and communism. I guess the name Marx is so associated with communism that no one really talks about anything else he did!

Anyway, my favorite part of the sociology class I took in college was the part about gender. I actually went on to take several women's studies classes after that because I found it so interesting. I think it's especially interesting how different societies around the world deal with gender and gender issues.

starrynight
Post 2
@Azuza - Most college have their students take at least one, if not two classes from their sociology department as part of their general education credits. First of all, as you said, it definitely expands your worldview, which is especially good for a sheltered young person.

Second of all, it gives students an introduction to something they might want to major in later. Which I guess is one of the reasons for general education classes: it exposes students to classes in all departments and helps them pick a major.

In fact, I actually have a friend who decided to major in sociology after taking an introductory class her freshman year of college.

Azuza
Post 1

I grew up in the suburbs in a very middle class family. I didn't have a lot of interaction with anyone who was of a different social class than I was. You might say I grew up pretty sheltered!

However, I had to take university sociology my freshman year of college, and I'm glad I did. It definitely opened up my eyes to a lot of things. And I got really lucky, because the people who were in my class were actually interested in the subject matter, so we had a lot of very spirited discussions.

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