Read this article to learn about definitions, development and scope of Sociology!
The term Sociology was coined by Auguste Comte, a French philosopher, in 1839. The teaching of sociology as a separate discipline started in 1876 in the United States, in 1889 in France, in 1907 in Great Britain, after World War I in Poland and India, in 1925 in Egypt and Mexico, and in 1947 in Sweden.
I. What is Sociology?
Sociology is the youngest of all the Social Sciences. The word Sociology is derived from the Latin word ‘societies’ meaning ‘society’ and the Greek word ‘logos’ are meaning ‘study or science’. The etymological meaning of ‘sociology’ is thus the ‘science of society’.
Prof. Ginsberg accordingly defines it “as the study of society, which is of the web or tissue of human inter-actions and inter-relations.” In other words, Sociology is the study of man’s behaviour in groups or of the inter-action among human beings, of social relationships and the processes by which human group activity takes place.
Need for a Science of Sociology:
The most distinctive feature of human life is its social character. All human beings have to interact with other human beings in order to survive. Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, remarked that ‘Man is a social animal.’ Both nature and necessity impel man to live in society.
Man’s behaviour in society is determined mainly by two forces—physical and social which he has been trying to understand and control from time immemorial. It was quite natural that his attempts to comprehend and control the natural phenomena had started earlier and met with greater success than his attempts to understand the social phenomena because it was easier for him to understand the physical phenomena by virtue of the fact that they were more concrete and hence more observable with a greater degree of detachment.
Nevertheless man has been trying since ancient times to take stock of his social environment and to attempt to understand the problems created by it. But in these early stages man carried on the study not of society but of the different aspects of society and that gave rise to different social sciences, like History, Economics, and Political Science. Anthropology, Psychology, etc.
While, broadly speaking, all these social sciences deal with social phenomena and are, therefore, interrelated and inter-dependent, each concentrates upon a particular phase of human conduct and specialises in studying it.
Thus, History is the record of unique events relating to man; Economics is concerned with his activities relating to production and consumption of wealth; Political Science deals with his political activities and institutions; Anthropology studies his activities and institutions as they existed in times long past; Psychology is interested in the springs of human action, the impulses and motives that sustain mental and bodily activity and regulate human conduct.
These social sciences do not give us a complete picture of society. They may give a snapshot view of society from various angles of vision but never a view of society in its comprehensive totality and utility. The need was, therefore, felt for a general science which should purview the society as a whole and ‘sociology’ was designed to achieve this end.
Thus Sociology appeared when it was felt that other fields of human knowledge do not fully explain man’s social behaviour. Sociology is, on the one hand, a synthetic discipline, trying to unify from a central point of view the results of separate disciplines; and on the other, an analytic and specialised science with its own field of research.
Sociology essentially and fundamentally deals with that network of social relationships we call society. No other science takes that subject for its central concern.
As sociologists, we are interested in social relationships not because they are economic, political, or religious, but because they are social. The focus of Sociology is on Socialness.
We should at the same time, recognise that in studying society we are not attempting to study everything that happens ‘in society’ or under social conditions, for that includes all human activity and human learning. We shall not, for example, study religion as religion, art as art, or government as government, but as the forces that maintain and control social relations.
Sociology may thus be interested in all these problems but not primarily. It is primarily interested in man’s behaviour in relation to other men, I.e., it focuses its attention on relationships which are definitely ‘social’ and that is what makes it a distinctive field, however, closely allied to others it may be. The study of social relationship themselves is the main interest of Sociology.
Definition of Sociology:
To understand more fully what Sociology is about it shall be in the fitness of things to study some of the definitions given by some important sociologists, and then to conclude about the subject matter of this science, as agreed upon by most of them.
Some of the definitions of Sociology are as follows:
1. ‘Sociology is the science of society or of social phenomena -L.F. Ward
2. The subject-matter of sociology is the inter-action of human minds’. -L.T. Hobhouse
3 ‘Sociology is the study of human inter-action and interrelation their conditions and consequences’. -M. Ginsberg
4. Sociology is the science that deals with social groups; their internal forms or modes of organisation, the processes that tend to maintain or change these forms of organisation and relations between groups’. -H.M. Johnson
5. ‘Sociology is a special social science concentrating on inter-human behaviour, on processes of sociation, on association and dissociation as such.’ -Von Wiese
6. ‘Sociology is the study of the relationships between man and his human environment.’ -H.P. Fairchild
7. ‘Sociology may be defined as a body of scientific knowledge about human relationships.’ -J. F. Cuber
8. ‘Sociology is a body of learning about society. It is a description of ways to make society better. It is social ethics, a social philosophy. Generally, however, it is defined as a science of society.’ -W. F. Ogbum
9. ‘Sociology asks what happens to men and by what rules they behave, not in so far as they unfold their understandable individual existences in their totalities, but in so far as they form groups and are determined by their group existence because of inter-action.’ -Simmel
10. ‘Sociology is the science of collective behaviour’. -R. E. Park and F. W. Burgess
11. ‘General sociology is on the whole the theory of human living together.’ -Ferdinand Tonnies
12. ‘Sociology is a body of related generalizations about human social behaviour arrived at by scientific method.’ -Lundberg, G. A.
13. ‘Sociology in its broadest sense may be said to be the study of interactions arising from the association of living beings.’
14. ‘Sociology deals with the behaviour of men in groups.’ – Kimball Young
15. The chief interest of sociology is the people, the ideas, the customs, the other distinctively human phenomena which surround man and influence him, and which are, therefore, part of his environment.
Sociology also devotes some attention to certain aspects of the geographical environment and to some natural as contrasted with human phenomena, but this interest is secondary to its preoccupation with human beings and the products of human life in association. Our general field of study is man as he is related to other men and to the creation of other men which surround him.’ -М. E. Jones.
16. ‘Sociology seeks to discover the principles of cohesion and of order within the social structure, the ways in which it roots and grows within an environment, the moving equilibrium of changing structure and changing environment, the main trends of the incessant change, the forces which determine its direction at any Lime, the harmonies and conflicts, the adjustments and maladjustments within the structure as they are revealed in the light of human desires, and thus the practical application of means to ends in the creative activities of social man.’ – MacIver.
17. ‘Sociology is the science which attempts the interpretive understanding of social action.’ -Max Weber.
18. ‘Sociology may be defined as the study of the ways in which social experiences function in developing, maturing and repressing human beings through inter-personal stimulation.’ – E. S. Bogardus.
19. ‘Sociology is the scientific study of the structure of social life.’ -Young and Mack.
20. Sociology is the name applied to somewhat inchoate mass of materials which embodies our knowledge of society.’ -Arthur Fairbanks.
21. ‘Sociology is the synthesizing and generalising science of man in all his social relationships.’ -Arnold Green
22. ‘Sociology is a science for scientific social development. -G. Duncan Mitchell
23. ‘Sociology is the scientific study of social relationships, their variety, and their forms, whatever affects them and whatever they affect.’ -T. Abel
24. ‘Sociology is the science of the structure and functions of social life.’ -John W. Bennel
25. ‘Sociology is a generalizing science of socio-cultural phenomena viewed in their generic form, types and manifold interconnections.’ -P. A. Sorokin
26. ‘Sociology is an attempt to account for the origin, growth, structure and activities of society by the operation of physical causes working together in the process of evolution.’ -Giddings
27. The purpose of Sociology is to establish a body of valid principles a fund of objective knowledge that will make possible the direction and control of social and human reality.’ -Reuter
A perusal of the above definitions shows that sociologists differ in their opinions about the subject-matter of Sociology.
We find the following views:
(a) Sociology is a science of society.
(b) Sociology is a science of social relationships.
(c) Sociology is the study of social life.
(d) Sociology is the study of human behaviour in groups.
(e) Sociology is the study of social action.
(f) Sociology is the study of forms of social relationships.
(g) Sociology is the study of social groups or social systems.
However, the common idea underlying them all is that Sociology is concerned with human relationships. Its emphasis is on the ‘social’ aspect of these relationships. Maclver has clarified that whatever topic may be included in the subject-matter of sociology, its real subject-matter is social relationships.
The basis of social inter-action or social processes is social relationships. It is on account of such relationships that there is human inter-action. Therefore, if we include social processes or any other matter within the subject-matter of sociology, their study can be carried only in the context of social relationships.
Man becomes a social animal only when he enters into social relationships. The different aspects of social life, viz., political or economic are but the expressions of social relationships.
Therefore in studying sociology we are in fact studying social relationships in one form or the other. Its subject-matter is society rather than the individual though the individual cannot be left utterly out of account.
In studying social relationships, the sociologists attempt to discover the evolution of society, its systems and structures, the development of social institutions and their functions, the customs and rules regulating social relationships, the groups and communities formed by man throughout history, the nature and interdependence of these groups lice family, case, economic groups, religious groups etc., and the phenomenon of social change.
II. Development of the Science of Sociology —A Historical Sketch:
Sociology – a science of recent origin. Sociology as a science and particularly as a separate field of study is of recent origin. According to Prof. MacIver ‘Sociology as a more or less definite body of systematic knowledge with a distinct place and name among the family of sciences must be dated by decades rather than by centuries.’
To be more exact it was in 1839 that Auguste Comte, the French philosopher and sociologist, had coined the term ‘Sociology’ and defined the scope of this social science and the methods which it should employ. Auguste Comte is, for this reason, traditionally considered to be the ‘Father of Sociology.’ He had directed his labours towards determining the nature of human society and the laws and principles underlying its growth and development.
In his chief work Course de philosophic (positive Philosophy) he had clearly pointed out the need for the creation of a distinct science of society which he first railed ‘social physics’ and later ‘sociology’ that should concern itself with an analysis and explanation of social phenomena.
To Comte and to other social thinkers of his day, ignorance about society was the root of all social evil; and he believed that knowledge about society obtained by scientific method then proving so useful in the natural sciences would make possible the development of the good society. He predicted that man would become the master of his social destiny as soon as he had developed a science of society.
It is true that science of Sociology as we understand it today definitely emerged very late but it does not mean that no attempts were made to explain human relations and behaviour earlier than 1839. As has already been mentioned, attempts to understand social phenomena have been made since earliest times, though they were more of a speculative rather than of scientific nature.
The earliest attempts at systematic thought regarding social life in the West may be said to have begun with the ancient Greek philosophers Plato (427-347 B.C.) and his disciple Aristotle (384-322 B.C.).
Plato’s Republic is an analysis of i he city community in all its aspects, and in Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics we find the first major attempts to deal systematically with the law, the society and the state. But one defect of Greek approach was that it lacked the concepts of community as distinct from the state, that is, the study of social relationships was dominated by political aspects.
Furthermore, though Aristotle showed more realistic approach to social phenomena than did Plato, who was his teacher, yet their investigations resulted in depicting the character of an ideal social order.
They used their wisdom in bolstering up a cause, never to find “the cause” of social life itself. Since they were either attacking or defending their own social systems, their interpretation of the facts of social life was prejudiced. Plato vastly underestimated the complexity of social organisation.
In his plan, everything was to go on according to plan, but in social life nothing ever goes quite according to plan. Aristotle’s philosophy, since it supported the ‘status quo was highly conservative in character. The only evidence that Aristotle advanced to prove the natural basis for society, was existence of society, he explained society in terms of itself.
Among the Romans, the most outstanding author is Cicero who in his book De Officus (On Justice) transmitted to the western world the treasures of Greek learning in philosophy, politics, law and sociology. But the Romans were mainly occupied with giving Europe “The Law and Hence they did not think in terms of non-legalistic aspect of society. They have produced few original social philosophies.
The period thereafter was overshadowed and overwhelmed by scholastic thinking. The scholastics propounded the Biblical thesis that man is a special creation of God. He is subject to no laws but those of God. The church men are God’s earthly representatives empowered by Him to interpret His decree:’ and enforce His will.
The social system existing at the time was the divinely sanctioned one. Anyone who thought of changing it was a heretic. The scholastic philosophy was a conservative philosophy. It gave theological interpretation to social attitudes. The scholastics have been proved false in their thesis that nothing social can be changed since men have been constantly changing their societies.
It was not until the sixteenth century that clear cut distinction was made between state and society and there appeared writers who treated life’s problems on a more realistic level. The most notable among these were Hobbes and Machiavelli. ‘The Prince’ of Machiavelli is an objective discussion of the state and statecraft and is devoted chiefly to an exposition of the principles governing the successful state, which he had been able to formulate on the basis of historical data.
Sir Thomas More was another notable author of this period who had in his book ‘Utopia’, published in 1515, tried to deal with every day social problems albeit by means of depicting an ideal social order, which presumably was meant for emulation. More’s technique of presenting a picture of the ideal life as a way of pointing out what real life ought to be was utilised by several other writers in their works for example by Thomas Campanella in his City of the sun. Sir Francis Bacon in his New Atlantis and James Harrington in the Commonwealth of Nations.
Italian writer Vico and the French writer Montesquieu deserve special mention for their notable contribution towards the scientific investigation of social phenomenon. Vico, in his book The New Science contended that society was subject to definite laws which can be observed through objective observation and study.
Montesquieu in his celebrated work The Spirit of Laws had analysed the role that external factors, especially climate, play in life of human societies. According to Montesquieu “Laws were an expression of national character and the spirit which they exhibited was to be explained in the light of the social and geographical conditions under which men lived.”
Climate is the principal determinant of social life. Montesquieu conclusions were little better than those of the speculative philosophers. His fault was that he tried to know the whole truth about social life on the basis of one element alone. Like Aristotle he arrived at the very conservative conclusion that what is, it must be.
Then came the age of Auguste Comte who is rightly called the founder of Sociology because it was he who sought to establish a science which would embrace the totality of human life and activities. He was the first thinker of the modern world clearly to set the fact that all the aspects of social life are bound in a unity and to show that this unity has an evolutionary character.
According to him, mangoes progressively through three stages of social development theological, metaphysical and scientific. Man has now reached the scientific stage so far as his thinking about natural phenomenon is concerned but his thinking about society was-still in the metaphysical stage. Fortunately, the metaphysical stage had almost run its course; and mankind was on the threshold of the scientific stage. Comte was, However, overtly optimistic.
With the publication of Origin of Species by Darwin, considerable studies were made towards the development of Sociology. Darwin’s theory is that all complete forms of life have evolved from the simple, and through the process of the ‘survival of the fittest.’
It was left to Herbert Spencer, one of the most brilliant Englishmen of modern times, to take these principles of the survival of the fittest and natural selection and apply them to the field of Sociology. Sociology can be said to have come into its own as an autonomous discipline with his sociological writings.
Spencer attempted to integrate all the sciences into one system and to find one fundamental law that would explain all phenomena, natural and social. One of his most noteworthy theories was that the social phenomena like the organic, undergo an evolutionary process of growth from the simple and homogeneous to the complex and heterogeneous.
Primitive man to him represented the simple human type from which civilized man evolved Another significant contribution of his is the so called organic analogy, in which society is compared with the human organism.
Spencer, because of such contributions, occupies the foremost place in the biological school of Sociology. His treatment of society as a natural phenomenon, subject to the same kind of study as the other natural phenomena anticipated by many decades the scientific treatment of social data.
Herbert Spencer had many followers and his theory of organic evolution remained in vogue till the end of the 19th century. But by the beginning of the 20th century his biological interpretation of the social phenomena was displaced by psychological interpretation.
Attempts were made to show how the evolution of society is dependent upon the evolution of human mind. Graham Wallace, Me Dougall and Hobhouse in England and Ward, Giddings, Cooley, Mead and Dewey in America all tried to interpret social evolution in psychological terms in their own ways and fields.
Durkheim—a French philosopher (1858-1917) was the first modern thinker who emphasised on the reality of society. He laid emphasis on social facts and provided a separate ground to sociology from that of psychology. According to him social facts are exterior and can be the subject of a general science because they can be arranged in categories.
He studied division of labour as a social institution – a collectivity wherein the multiplicity о individuals secure social coherence. He introduced the concept of ‘anomie’ which is the product of (i) Separation of management о industry from labour; (ii) disregard to individual natural talent, and (iii) improper coordination of functional activities.
Durkheim also held that traditional religion has not been able to fulfill the exigencies of scientific spirit and failed to serve any common purpose. He rejected the moral authority of the church as a necessity to the betterment of common life. According to him, “Divinity is merely society transfigured and symbolically conceived.” He even said, “We must choose between God and Society.”
His main works are: De La Division du Travail Social and Les Formes Elementaries de lavie Religieves.
The German Sociologists – Von Wiese. Tonnies, Vier Kandt, Simmel and Max Weber have also greatly influenced the development of sociology.
The pioneering contributions of Max Weber are his theory of Social Action, concept of Authority, concept of Bureaucracy and concept of Ideal Type. Max Weber regarded sociology as a comprehensive science of social action.
He classified social action into four types according to its mode of orientation, i.e., (i) in terms of rational orientation to a system of discrete individual ends; (ii) in terms of rational orientation to an absolute value; (iii) in terms of affectional orientation and (iv) in terms of tradition.
According to Max Weber, state is the most prominent form of Authority which claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. He classified authority into three types – traditional, rational legal and charismatic.
In his study of Bureaucracy, Max Weber though conscious of its advantages, feels, however, doubtful of its future. He apprehended that in future bureaucracy might become a hard core of Iron Gate.
The Ideal Type, according to Max Weber, is not related to any type of perfection and has no connection at all with value judgments. It is purely a logical one, a methodical device which tries to render subject matter intelligible by revealing or constructing its internal rationality
The function of ideal “type is the comparison with empirical reality in order to establish its divergences or similarities, to describe them with the most unambiguously intelligible concepts and to understand and explain them causally.”
Karl Marx (1818-1883) has exerted remarkable impact not only on human thinking but on social structure as well. His main thought is found in the ‘Communist Manifesto’ and ‘Das Kapital.’ His main sociological contributions are (i) Historical Materialism, (ii) Theory of private property (iii) Class struggle and (iv) Stateless society.
(i) Historical Materialism:
Briefly put, Marx holds “All the social, political and intellectual relations, and religious and legal systems, all the theoretical outlooks which emerge in the course of history, are derived from the material conditions of life.” In other words, the super structure of society is erected on the foundations of productive forces.
In order to understand, a society, we must understand its mode of production and distribution. According to the theory of historical materialism, “the ultimate causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought not in the minds of men, in their increasing insight into external truth and justice, hut in changes in the mode of production and exchange, they are to be sought not in the philosophy but in the economics of the period concerned.” Through his theory of historical materialism, Marx has given the economic factor a pivotal role in the causation of social change.
(ii) Theory of Private Property:
Private property is the basis of capitalism which makes it exploitative. According to Mane, private property is derived from alienated man, alienated labour, alienated life and estranged man.”
The worker gets alienated from his job. For him job is a means of physical subsistence and he himself is a commodity. Alienation is acute in capitalist society. Man has become alienated from himself, from each other and from nature. In order to remove alienation, the system of private property is to be abolished.
(iii) Class Struggle:
According to Karl Marx, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.” Marx holds that in every age, society becomes divided into two major classes—the oppressor and the oppressed that are always in conflict because their interests collide.
The present class struggle between the workers and employers will ultimately lead to the victory of the proletariat. As a result of this victory, class distinctions will disappear from society, and with that disappearance, class struggle too would come to an end and a classless society would be born.
(iv) Stateless Society:
According to Karl Marx, the state will ultimately wither away. Before the state finally withers away, it will be preceded by a transitional phase of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The proletarian state will only prepare the way for the ushering in of a stateless society in place of the bourgeois society, state as an agency of force will no longer be required because people in the communistic society will gradually become accustomed to the observance of the elementary rules of social life without compulsion and without subordination. Mankind will make an ascent from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.”
The two major contributions of Talcott Parsons are:
(i) Action frame of Reference and its components, and (ii) The Structural Functional Analysis. Parsons’ book, ‘The Structure of Social Action’ (1937) is considered as the “watershed in the development of American sociology in general and sociological theory in particular. It was a landmark in that it set a new course – the course of functional analysis.” Another book, ‘Social System’ emphasised the “importance of institutionalised values and norms and differentiated social roles corresponding to different status position.”
According to Talcott Parsons, there are four elements of action:
(i) An actor (may be an individual or collectivity)
(ii) An end,
(iii) A situation
As such, any action is determined by three systems:
(i) Personality System, (ii) Social System and (iii) Cultural System. Of these three, the cultural system consisting of values, norms and symbols is the most important. These three are not interchangeable, though they inter-penetrate each other and are essential for each other. Thus they are separate yet related aspects of reality.
From his action frame of reference, Parson derived his concept of pattern variables. According to him,
There are five basic pattern variables:
(i) Affectivity—Affective neutrality (The Gratification Discipline Dilemma),
(ii) Self-orientation collectivity orientation (The Private vs. Collective interest Dilemma),
(iii) Universalism—Particularism (The Choice between the types of value orientation standard)
(iv) Ascription-Achievement (The Choice between Modalities of social object)
(v) Specificity—Diffuseness (The Definition and Scope of interest in the subject)
(ii) The Structural-Functional Analysis: Parsons used the structural functional method in the study of social phenomena. The structural-functional analysis revolves round the two concepts of functions and structures.
The basic questions involved are:
(a) What basic functions are fulfilled in any given system, (b) by what structures, and (c) under what conditions, while functions deal with the consequences—involving objectives as well as processes-of patterns of actions, structures refer to those arrangements within the system which perform the functions?
Talcott Parsons has mentioned four types of functional requisites as essential for the survival of a social system. These are (i) pattern maintenance and tension-management, (ii) goal attainment, (iii) Adaptation, and (iv) Integration.
Sociology—a distinct science:
Sociology has by now been able to establish itself as a distinct science concerned with the scientific study of social phenomena. It has accumulated around itself an impressive array of positive knowledge about social life. The ultimate purpose of Sociology is the deliberate modification of social life.
It is hoped that men armed with knowledge of underlying principles and processes of social life would be better able I о mould their societies more nearly to their own desires. Such knowledge would be useful in shaping human affairs. Sociology is sure to progress and develop like other social sciences in due course.
Sociology in India:
The study of Sociology in India started in 1919 at the University of Bombay, but it was in 1930 that its study as a separate discipline was started. Now it is being taught at a number of universities and it is getting popular among the students.
Some Indian writers like G. S. Ghurye, R. K. Mukerjee, H. T. Mazumdar have also made original contribution to sociological studies. These studies pertain to Indian villages, caste system, marriage, kinship, family and social disorganisation.
III. Sociology—a Science with Its Own Subject Matter:
Sociology is not only a science with its own subject-matter but the mother of all social sciences. It has been said surprisingly enough by some critics that Sociology does not have a subject-matter of its own and that it is hotchpotch of different social sciences. It is argued that social sciences like Economics, History, Political Science etc. are specialisations and that Sociology is a mere collection of the observation and hypothesis which are to be found in the work of the specialists in these fields.
It may be stated that this view is totally incorrect and today Sociology is not only a separate science with subject-matter of its own but it has also acquired that high status which entitles it to be called the mother of all social sciences. While discussing the position of Sociology among other social sciences, MacIver has rightly remarked that the social sciences have the sphere within Sociology just as associations have the spheres within community.
The specific social sciences are sciences of associational forms of life and therefore can never ascend the throne reserved for Sociology, a throne tenantless until she enters into her kingdom.
Criticism against Sociology Having Subject Matter of Its Own:
(i) Sociology is merely an assemblage of miscellaneous studies having social content:
The place of Sociology as a science with its own subject-matter has been criticised on three grounds. Firstly, it is said that Sociology is merely an assemblage of miscellaneous studies having a social content.
The answer to this criticism is that if the miscellaneous studies Sociology is supposed to comprise have not been considered or treated by any other social science, Sociology is certainly performing a useful function in sailing unchartered seas.
It is impossible to deny that Sociology has produced a great deal of valuable information about social institutions such as the family, property, church and state, about social traditions, about social processes, about social classes and national and racial groups, about migration and population changes, about changes in social habits, customs and fashions, about factors of social control, about poverty, crime and suicide.
None of these topics is adequately treated elsewhere. The claims of sociology to be a science with its own subject-matter is further strengthened from the fact that it studies man’s history and attainments as well as his biology, not themselves but only as these phenomena affect human inter- relations or are affected by human inter-actions.
(ii) The subject of Sociology parceled out to a number of social sciences:
The second criticism against Sociology having no subject-matter of its own is that there is no special field of Sociology since its subject-matter has been parceled out to a number of social sciences like Economics, Political Science, Psychology, Anthropology, History, Jurisprudence etc.
This criticism is not quite justified, as far as the above-mentioned subjects are concerned. But even if it were, the existence of such separate sciences does not preclude the existence of a more general science whose task it would be to relate their separate conclusions and deal with the more general conditions of social life.
Just as the existence of Botany, Physiology, and Bio Chemistry has not nullified the utility of Biology, similarly the existence of separate social sciences does not preclude the existence of Sociology which aims to develop a body of knowledge about human relationship or social life as a whole. As a matter of fact, social sciences are so numerous and detailed today that the need for a general science is not superficial, it is increasingly urgent.
(iii) Sociology borrows from other social sciences:
The third criticism against Sociology being not a subject with its own matter is that it borrows from other sciences and that it is a labour-saving device for knowing everything without learning anything. But this criticism is also not valid.
The essential nature of science is that it can grow only by borrowing. Biology develops by utilising the conclusions of chemistry and physics, so does Sociology. But in borrowing Biology and Sociology return far more by enriching the science from which they’ borrow with concepts and ideas which make the accumulation of facts meaningful.
Sociology, no doubt, does borrow its subject-matter from other social sciences, but it does not add to it; instead, it gives this subject-matter a completely new form. To construct a building we collect materials like cement, bricks, lime, iron, steel, sand, wood etc. at a particular place, but the mere collection of material does not make a building.
A technique is applied and the material is given a definite and fixed form. After the application of the technique, it is called a building and it is no longer a heap of wood, bricks, cement etc. Similarly, Sociology borrows raw materials, applies a technique and creates what is called ‘Society’, and a separate discipline to study its structure and processes.
In the words of Motwani, “Sociology like an edifice is both the principle of coordination of facts of social life into an organic whole and also an independent science the end result of such integration.” The departmentalisation of knowledge is only made for our convenience. There are no watertight compartments of knowledge in reality.
Again, the reason why Sociology is so much more dependent than any other science on other sciences lies in its magnitude and complexity. The field of study of Sociology, the totality of human relations, is so vast that no single person could cultivate all of it by himself. He must draw help from others.
For example, to understand a particular society, a sociologist must know something of its people and their innate and acquired characters, its geographical environment, social institutions, language, religion, moral law, its economic structure and finally its relations to other peoples and its inter-action with the rest of the world.
To do this satisfactorily Sociology must co-operate with a number of other sciences, which are as dependent upon the data and conclusions of sociology as sociology is upon them. As remarked by Earners and Backer, “Sociology is regarded neither as the mistress nor as the handmaid of the social sciences, but, as their sister.”
The subject-matter of Sociology is social life as a whole. It is thus proved beyond any shadow of doubt that Sociology is a science with its own subject-matter, social life as a whole; and it deals with the more general principles underlying all social phenomena.
In studying social life it studies inter-actions, not just as psychological behaviour but as social organisation. Social life is so complex that division of labour is needed to study it. So we have Economics, Political Science, Law, etc. which study social life from different points of view. Sociology studies the same phenomena from sociological point of view.
It studies every phenomenon with reference to its sociables. The sociological point of view is empirical and objective. Even at the risk of repetition it may be stressed again that Sociology is not a mere synthesis of the studies undertaken by Economics, History, Political Science, etc. but as remarked by Sprott.
(i) It is the very discipline which attempts to consider societies as organic unities and to understand the relation between the various institutional complexes (economic, political and ideological) which pervade them.
(ii) It is the very science which deals with human social groups as such, classifying them and analysing the nature of their structure.
(iii) There are topics such as social stratification (class, caste, etc.), changes in population rates, and changes in the functions of the family which are not the subject-matter of any other science. Sociology is a general science and studies many widely different social institutions.
As a general science it is especially fitted to deal with characteristics that are common to all groups, all societies. Its object is not so much to describe as to search for causes and explanations. Why do men behave in such and such a way, is & common question in Sociology.
IV. Scope of Sociology:
Two different views about the scope of Sociology:
There is no one opinion about the scope of Sociology. V. F. Calberton writes, “Since Sociology is so elastic a science, it is difficult to determine just where its boundaries begin and end, where sociology becomes social psychology and where social psychology becomes sociology, or where economic theory becomes sociological doctrine or biological theory becomes sociological theory, something, which is impossible to decide.”
It is maintained by some that Sociology studies everything and anything under the sun. This is rather too vague a view about the scope of Sociology. As a matter of fact, Sociology has a limited field of enquiry and deals with those problems which are not dealt with by other social sciences.
In the broadest sense, Sociology is the study of human interactions and inter-relations, their conditions and consequences. Thus ideally Sociology has for its field the whole life of man in society, all the activities whereby men maintained ‘ themselves in the struggle for existence, the rules and regulations which define their relations to each other, the systems of knowledge and belief, art and morals and any other capacities and habits acquired and developed in the course of their activities as members of society.
But this is too wide a scope for any science to deal with properly. An attempt has, therefore, been made to limit and demarcate the field of Sociology. There are two main schools of thought among sociologists on this issue.
One group of writers headed by German sociologist, Simmel, demarcates Sociology clearly from other branches of social study and confines it to the enquiry into certain defined aspects of human relationship. They regard sociology as pure and independent.
The other group maintains that the field of social investigation is too wide for any one science and that if any progress is to be made there must be specialisation and division and insists that in addition to special social sciences such as Economics, Anthropology, History etc. there is need also of a general social science, i.e. Sociology whose function it would be to inter-relate the results of the special social sciences and to deal with the general conditions of social life. In the opinion of this group Sociology is a general science. Let us discuss these two different views about the scope of Sociology in details.
Specialistic or Formalistic School:
According to Simmel, the distinction between Sociology and other special sciences is that it deals with the same topics as they from a different angle—from the angle of different modes of social relationships.
Social relationships, such as competition, subordination, division of labour etc. are exemplified in different spheres of social life such as economic, the political and even the religious, moral or artistic but the business of Sociology is to disentangle these forms of social relationships and to study them in abstraction. Thus according to Simmel, Sociology is a specific social science which describes, classifies, analyses and delineates the forms of social relationships.
According to Small, sociology does not undertake to study all the activities of society. Every science has a delimited scope. The scope of sociology is the study of the generic forms of social relationships, behaviours and activities, etc.
Similarly, Vierkandt, another leading sociologist maintains that Sociology is a special branch of knowledge concerned with the ultimate forms of mental or psychic relationships which link men to one another in society.
According to him, the actual historical societies, for example, the French society of the eighteenth century, or the Chinese family are of interest to a sociologist only as illustration of particular types of relationships.
He further maintains that similarly in dealing with culture sociology should not concern itself with the actual contents of cultural evolution but it should confine itself to only the discovery of the fundamental forces of change and persistence. It should abstain from a historical study of concrete societies.
Max Weber’s view:
Max Weber also makes out a definite field for Sociology. According to him, the aim of Sociology is to interpret or understand social behaviour. But social behaviour does not cover the whole field of human relations. Indeed not all human inter-actions are social.
For instance, a collision between two cyclists is in itself merely a natural phenomenon, but their efforts to avoid each other or the language they use after the event constitute true social behaviour. Sociology is thus, according to him, concerned with the analysis and classification of types of social relationships.
Von Wiese’s view:
According to Von Wiese, the scope of Sociology is the study of forms of social relationships. He has divided these social relationships into many kinds.
Tonnie also has supported the formalistic school. He has differentiated between society and community on the basis of forms of relationships.
He interpreted social processes quantitatively and gave a mathematical formula. According to him:—
P = A x S
P = Social Processes
A = Attitude
S = Situation
Attitude is made up of
A = N x E (N = Basic social nature (E = Previous experience)
S = B x A (B = Geographical conditions) = (A = attitude of the participants)
Thus, according to the formalistic school, sociology studies one specific aspect of social relationships, i.e., their forms in their abstract nature, and not in any concrete situation. A comparison is drawn between the forms of social relationships and a bottle. A bottle may be either of plastic or any other material.
It may contain milk; water etc. but the contents of the bottle do not change the form of bottle. Similarly, the forms of social relationships do not change with the change in the content of social relationships, for example, the study of competition—a form of social relationship will not make any difference whether we study it in the political field or economic field.
Sociology has been compared with Geometry. Just as Geometry studies about the forms of physical things triangular, rectangular, square or circular etc., similarly Sociology studies about the forms of social relationships.
The relation of Sociology to other social sciences is similar to the relation of Geometry with other natural sciences. The formalistic school has limited the scope of Sociology to the abstract study of the forms of social relationships.
Criticism of formalistic school:
The formalistic school can be criticised on the following grounds:
(i) It has narrowed the scope of sociology:
The formalistic school has limited the field of sociology to merely abstract forms. Sociology besides studying the general forms of social relationships should also study the concrete contents of social life.
(ii) Abstract forms separated from concrete relations cannot be studied:
Ginsberg is of view that Simmel’s thesis that function of Sociology is to study the social relationships in abstraction is not correct. He maintains that a study of social relationships would remain barren if it is conducted in the abstract without full knowledge of the terms to which in concrete life they relate.
The study of competition, for example, will be hardly of any use unless it is studied in concrete form in economic life or in the world of art and knowledge. He is of the opinion that the scope of Sociology should not be limited to the study of social relationships in genera but it should be widened by the addition of the study of these relationships as embodied in the different spheres of culture under special sociologies like the Sociology of Religion, of Art, of Law and of Knowledge etc.
Actually social forms cannot be abstracts from the content at all, since social forms keep on changing as the content change. In the words of Sorokin, “We may fill a glass with wine, water or sugar without changing its form, but I cannot conceive of a social institution whose form would not change when its members change.”
Likewise its comparison with Geometry i misconceived because whereas in Geometry the forms of physical things are definite, in Sociology the forms of social relationship are not definite.
(iii) The conception of pure sociology is impractical:
The formalistic school has conceived of pure sociology but none of the sociologists has so far been able to construct a pure sociology. As a matter of fact, no social science can be studied in isolation from other social sciences.
(iv) Sociology alone does not study social relationship:
Sociology is not the only science which studies social relationships. Political Science, Economics and International La also study social relationships.
Thus the formalistic school has extremely narrowed an confined the fields of sociology.
The synthetic school wants to make sociology a synthesis of the social sciences or a general science, Durkheim, Hob-house and Sorokin subscribe to this view.
According to Durkheim, Sociology has three principal divisions, viz., (i) Social Physiology and (iii) General Sociology. Social Morphology is concerned with geographical or territorial basis of the life of people and its relation to types of social organisations and the problems of populations such as its volume and density, local distribution and the like.
Social physiology is divided into a number of branches such as Sociology of Religion, of Morals, of Laws, of Economic life, of Language etc. Every one of these branches of Sociology deals with a set of social facts, that is activities related to the various social groups.
The function of the General Sociology is to discover the general character of these social facts and to determine whether there are any general social laws of which the different laws established by the special social sciences are particular expressions.
Hob-house also holds a view similar to that of Durkheim regarding the functions of Sociology. Ideally, for him Sociology is a synthesis of numerous social studies but the immediate task of the sociologist is threefold.
Firstly, as a sociologist, he must pursue his studies in his particular part of the social field. But secondly, bearing in mind the interconnections of social relations he should try to interconnect the results arrived at by the different social sciences and, thirdly, he should interpret social life as a whole.
According to Sorokin, the subject matter of Sociology includes:
(i) The study of relationship between the different aspects of social phenomena;
(ii) The study of relationship between the social and non-social;
(iii) The study of general features of social phenomena.
Karl Mannheim’s view:
Karl Mannheim divides Sociology into two main sections:
(i) Systematic and General Sociology, and (ii) Historical Sociology. Systematic and General Sociology describes one by one the main factors of living together as far as they may be found in every kind of society.
The historical sociology deals with the historical variety and actuality of the general forms of society. Historical Sociology falls into two main sections: firstly comparative sociology and secondly, social dynamics.
Comparative Sociology deals mainly with the historical variations of the same phenomenon and tries to find by comparison general features as separated from industrial features. Social dynamics deals with the interrelations between the various social factors and institutions in a certain given society, for instance, in a primitive society.
Ginsberg has summed up the chief functions of sociology as follows.
Firstly, Sociology seeks to provide a classification of types and forms of social relationships especially of those which have come to be defined institutions and associations.
Secondly, it tries to determine the relation between different parts of factors of social life, for example, the economic and political, the moral and the religious, the moral and the legal, the intellectual and the social elements.
Thirdly, it endeavours to disentangle the fundamental conditions of social change and persistence and to discover sociological principles governing social life.
Recently, a Sociological Seminar was held in America which gave a general outline of the scope of the sociology.
Alex Inkeles has put it as follows:
(i) Social Analysis;
(ii) Primary Concepts of Social life;
(iii) Basic social institutions; and
J. B. Mckee holds that Social Action, Social Structure, Social Processes and Social Institutions are included in the scope of sociology.
Thus, the scope of Sociology is very wide. It is a general science but it is also a special science. As a matter of fact, the subject matter of all social sciences is society. What distinguishes them from one another is their viewpoint.
Thus economics studies society from an economic viewpoint; political science studies it from political viewpoint while history is a study of society from a historical point of view Sociology alone studies social relationships and society itself. MacIver correctly remarks, What distinguishes each from each is the selective interest.
Green also remarks, “The focus of attention upon relationships makes Sociology a distinctive field, however closely allied to certain others it may be.” Sociology studies all the various aspects of society such as social traditions, social processes, social morphology, social control, social pathology, effect of extra-social elements upon social relationships etc.
Actually, it is neither possible nor essential to delimit the scope of sociology because, this would be, as Sprott put it, “A brave attempt to confine an enormous mass of slippery material into a relatively simple system of pigeon holes.”
V. Branches of Sociology:
Society is vast and complex phenomenon and, therefore, it is generally debatable that which part of society should be studied by Sociology. There is a great degree of difference of opinion regarding the definitions, scope and subject matter of Sociology.
According to Durkheim, Sociology has broadly three principal divisions which he terms as:
(a) Social morphology, (b) Social physiology, and (c) General Sociology. Social morphology covers the geographical settings, the density of population and other preliminary data which is likely to influence the social aspects.
Social physiology is concerned with such dynamic processes as religion, morals, law, economic and political aspects, etc., each of which may be the subject matter of a special discipline. General Sociology is an attempt to discover the general social laws which may be derived from the specialized social processes. This is considered by Durkheim as the philosophical part of Sociology.
Max Weber combines two schools of thought, i.e., historical and systematic and he adds something more. His analysis with regard to relations between Economics and Religion enables him to use both historical as well as systematic method. The sociologies of law, economics and religion are the special Sociologies which are the part of both systematic and historical methods of study.
According to Sorokin, Sociology can be divided into two branches:
(a) General Sociology and (b) Special Sociology. General Sociology studies (i) the properties and uniformities common to all social and cultural phenomena in their structural and dynamic aspects and (ii) the inter-relationships between the socio-cultural and biological phenomena.
In the structural aspect Sociology studies various types of groups and institutions as well as their inter-relations to one another. In the dynamic aspect, Sociology studies various social processes like social contact, interaction, socialization, conflict, domination, subordination, etc.
The special sociologies study a specific socio-cultural phenomenon which is selected for detailed study. According to Sorokin, some of the most developed sociologies are: Sociology of population,- rural Sociology, urban Sociology, Sociology of family; Sociology of law, Sociology of religion, Sociology of knowledge, Sociology of war, Sociology of revolution, Sociology of disorganization, Sociology of fine arts, Sociology of economic phenomena and many others.
According to Sorokin, ’Though Sociology is a generalizing science dealing with the socio-cultural universe as a whole, this does not mean that it is an encyclopedic survey of the social sciences or that it is a vague philosophical synthesis.
The study of the common and current properties, relationship and uniformities of socio-cultural phenomenon involves as much specialization as does a study of the unique or segmentary traits and relationships. Inspite of its generalizing nature, Sociology remains a strictly special science”.
Ginsberg has listed the problems of Sociology under four aspects:
(i) Social morphology, (ii) social control, (iii) social processes and (iv) social pathology. Social morphology includes investigation of the quantity and quality of population, the study of social structure or the description and classification of the principal types of social groups and institutions.
Social control includes the study of law, morals, religion, conventions, fashions and other sustaining and regulating agencies. Social processes refer to the study of various modes of interactions between individuals or groups including cooperation and conflict, social differentiation and integration, development and decay.
Social pathology refers to the study social maladjustments and disturbances. In a latter article, Ginsberg refers to the major problems of Sociology in three categories, i.e., (i) social structure, (ii) social functions and control and (iii) social change, which are discussed below:
(i) Social structure is concerned with the principal forms of social organization, i.e., types of groups, associations and institutions and the complexes of these which constitute societies. The study of social structure should include demography, that is, the branch of study concerned with various aspects of human population and how they affect or are affected by the social relations.
(ii) The category of social functions and social control refers to the working of the social structures which also analyzes that how social structures are regulated and sustained. This includes a study of law, morals, religion, convention and various other forms of social control.
(iii) The sub-division of the social change refers to the study of short term and long term trends in the life of societies including the problems of development and decay of societies and finally development of mankind as a whole.
There are a number of perspectives in Sociology for the study of human society. It is difficult to classify them under a few categories. Sorokin refers to nine major schools of thought in Sociology, which are further divided into various sub-categories.
The major schools of thoughts in Sociology mentioned by Sorokin are as follows:
1. Mechanistic school
2. Synthetic school
3. Geographical school
4. Biological school
5. Bio-social school
6. Bio-psychological school
7. Sociologistic school
8. Psychological school
9. Psycho-sociologistic school
Don Martindale has mentioned five main schools of thought in Sociology which are further divided into sub-schools. These are: (i) positivistic organicism, (ii) conflict theory, (iii) formal school, (iv) social behaviorism, (v) sociological functionalism.
N.S. Timasheff refers to six major schools of thought in Sociology which are as follows:
(i) Neo-positivistic, (ii) human ecology and socio-metry, (iii) the functional approach, (iv) analytical Sociology, (v) philosophical school, (vi) historical Sociology.
Raymond Aron has mentioned six schools in Sociology.
(i) Historical, (ii) formal, (iii) society and community (iv) Phenomenological, (v) universalistic and (vi) general.
Francis Abraham mentions six schools of thought which are as follows: (i) geographical and environmental school, (ii) organic and evolutionary school, (iii) formal school, (iv) psychological school, (v) economic school, (vi) anthropological school.
Sorokin has referred to the main currents of recent sociological thoughts in the following four branches of Sociology: (i) cosmo-Sociology, (ii) bio-Sociology, (iii) general sociology and (iv) special sociologies.
This division of Sociology discusses the relationships between various types of geographic conditions and the socio-cultural phenomena, e.g., the relationship between climate, topography, etc., on various social aspects of human population.
This division deals with three major aspects—(a) it tries to analyze various aspects in which the social organism can be considered as similar or dissimilar from the biological organism, (b) it focuses on the role of biological factors like race and heredity upon the socio-cultural life, and (c) the demographic school deals with the influence of various aspects of human populations on various socio-cultural phenomena.
(iii) General Sociology:
In this branch there are three main sub-divisions, i.e., mechanistic, psychological and sociologistic or socio-cultural. Mechanistic school applies the laws of physical sciences to the social sciences. The psychological school attempts to analyze the psychological aspects of socio-cultural phenomena. The socio-cultural school focuses attention on the socio-cultural aspect.
As such the major task of this sub-division refers to three main areas of enquiry: (a) analysis of basic characteristics of socio-cultural phenomena in its structural aspect, (b) a study of the major and repetitive forms of social processes and their dynamic aspects and (c) description of the uniform social relationship and interdependence between various aspects of socio-cultural phenomena. According to Sorokin, this school, that is, general Sociology is concerned with real Sociology.
VI. Nature of Sociology, is it a Science or Not?
Two opposite views about the nature of science. There is a great controversy about the nature of Sociology as a science. There are some critics who deny Sociology the claim to be regarded as a science. But there are others who assert that Sociology is as much a science as other social sciences like Political Science, History, Economics, etc.
Before we form any opinion on the subject, we must enquire into what constitutes a “science”.
The Meaning of Science:
A science is “a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws”. It gathers facts and links them together in their causal sequence with a view to draw valid inferences.
Scientific knowledge is based on reason and evidences. It is therefore variable and communicable. The chief characteristics of a science are (i) the possibility of a concise, consistent and concrete formulation, (ii) the capacity to form generalizations and make predictions, and (iii) the possibility of verification of the data as well as of the generalizations. The various steps used in the scientific method are observation, recording, classification, hypothesis, verification and prediction.
According to William Esslinger, however what distinguishes a science is that “it is exclusively and methodically based on reason”. Experimentation and prediction are not its requirements. It only signifies the existence of systematic methods of enquiry. According to Huxley also, science is a systematic body of knowledge based on reason and evidence.
Sociology cannot be regarded as a Science:
Those who deny the claim of sociology to be designated as a science advance the following objections:
(i) Lack of experimentation:
If science is used in the same sense in which it is used for physical sciences, then sociology cannot claim to be a science. The term science as used for physical sciences includes the twin processes of experiment and prediction. Sociology in this sense is not a science because its subject-matter, the human relationships, we can neither catch nor see; neither weigh nor analyse in the test-tube of the laboratory.
It does not possess the instruments like the microscope and the thermometer to measure the human behaviour. Sprott has remarked, “If you cannot experiment, if you cannot measure, if you cannot establish broad unifying hypotheses and if you cannot be confident in your social engineering, you cannot be said to be engaged in scientific study at all”.
There is no denying the fact that sociology cannot experiment and predict in the same way in which physical sciences do, because the materials with which society deals i.e., human behaviour and relationships are so peculiar and uncertain. There are sentiments not to be questioned. They are not even to be studied dispassionately; for instance, subjects like sex life and religion evoke great controversies.
An investigator dealing with a controversial subject becomes the victim of censure by those who hold different views. If it is prohibition, cow-slaughter, abortion, birth control or untouchability he must be either for or against them. Any dispassionate analysis by him is likely two antagonise both the sides.
Furthermore, Society is so complex and variable that it is not possible to separate and analyse its different elements as can be done in physical sciences. We can analyse the composition of water as two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen and illustrate by means of experiment in any laboratory of the world. But such experimentations in the laboratory sense in sociology is often difficult and impossible.
(ii) Lack of objectivity:
The second difficulty of sociology in employing the scientific method is that he cannot maintain complete objectivity with the objects of his experiment as does a physicist. Man has his own prejudice and bias. It is, therefore, not possible for him to observe his subject with complete detachment.
It is really difficult to dissociate ourselves from the assumptions which we have absorbed from childhood with regard to any objects. Our valuations are consequently bound to be prejudicial. Moreover, if a person tries to maintain objectivity in the study of human behaviour, he is quickly branded as an agnostic, traitor or worse.
Instead of public support for his work, he may be faced with public hostility. To protect himself then he accepts certain social values and eliminate from his study the phenomenon that form a sociological point of view and are the most fundamental basis of social existence.
Thirdly, social relationships cannot be studied through physical senses. What we see in social relationships is only an outward expression of our inner life. A sociologist has, therefore, to concern himself also with the working of the inner mind of his subject in order to understand his external actions properly. A physicist is not confronted with such a complex phenomenon.
(iii) Lack of exactivity:
Another characteristic of science is that it should be able to frame certain laws on the basis of observation and hypothesis and such laws should also enable us to predict accurately. From this point of view also Sociology cannot be called a real science because firstly its laws and conclusions cannot be expressed in precise terms and secondly its prediction might not come true.
Its findings are often limited in time and space. Owing to the fact that social phenomenon is too vast, human motivations are complex; it is difficult to make predictions about human behaviour.
In view of the above obstacles confronting social science it is said that there is no such thing, at best there are merely ‘social studies’. Others believe that dispassionate study of social phenomena is not possible, the investigator cannot be neutral, he must take sides. Without neutral analysis science is impossible.
(iv) Terminological Inefficiency:
It has also been argued that Sociology suffers from inexact and clear terminology. Same words convey different meaning to different persons, for example, the terms ‘caste’ and ‘class’ have not yet acquired exact meaning. The recent judgment of the Supreme Court in the Mandal case has held that the concept of class cannot be separated from caste.
Is caste a class? The confusion has not yet been removed. Words are essential tools of thought, scientific or otherwise. Sociology has not yet developed an adequate set of scientific terms.
Many of our terms like religion, caste, class, and group are words found in everyday use. Until we cease to employ terms with vague meanings, our terminological inefficiency will remain an obstacle in the way of sociology developing into a science.
Sociology is a Science:
There is an element of truth in what the critics say. Indeed, a scientific study of social phenomena is not free from difficulties. Social studies, by their very nature, cannot perhaps be as exact or natural as physical sciences. But the critics overlook their case when they deny any possibility of Sociology becoming scientific.
Perhaps they assume that exactness of conclusions and capacity to predict alone makes a study scientific. This betrays a rather inadequate comprehension of the nature of science. Meteorology fails to make accurate prediction. Shall we deny it the designation of science?
In other words, universal validity of conclusions and a complete accuracy of prediction are not the criteria of science, what determines the scientific character of a discipline, is its methodology. If the methods of a study are scientific, the subject deserves the rank of a science. Sociology does make use of scientific methods in the study of its subject-matter and it is therefore, entitled to be called a science.
Firstly, though Sociology cannot experiment with men directly in a laboratory, its social behaviour is amenable to scientific investigation as any other natural phenomenon. It is conducting many experiments indirectly with their consent in certain specific fields, particularly, in the fields of industry.
Moreover, Sociology does employ scientific methods as scales of Sociometic, Schedule Questionnaire, Interview and Case History which apply quantitative measurements to social phenomenon and which are, therefore, comparable to the method of experimentation, for instance, if we want to know whether families with low incomes have more infant deaths, we collect statistics. Sociology has quite adequate methods. The difficulty lies in getting the data for the process is very costly.
Secondly, two other basic methods of scientific investigation, observation and comparison, are readily available to the sociologist and he uses them all the time.
Thirdly, all the physical sciences do not employ laboratory experimentation. Astronomy, for example, cannot experiment with its materials. The heavenly bodies cannot be induced to put in an appearance in the laboratory.
If astronomy, inspite of its inability to experiment with its material in laboratory, could be termed as a science, there is no justification to deny the title of science to Sociology. Newton and Archimides did not invent their laws in the laboratories. The obstacles placed in the way of sociologist come not from the subject-matter itself but from the limitations placed on him by his own society.
Fourthly, Sociology does frame laws and attempts to predict. It endeavours to discover laws that are generally applicable, regardless of variations-in culture; for instance, the law that the social practices of a community are considered right by the group because they are in the ‘mores’; not that the practices are in the ‘mores’ because they are right; that people always regulate marriage in such a manner as to prevent incest.
These are the principles whose validity can be examined by anyone. They are universal. Moreover, no science can boast of making infallible predictions. Many of the theories established by the other sciences had to be modified with the change of time.
As remarked by Sprott, “The changes in theory which have followed one another so swiftly have made us less certain that what ‘science teaches’ today will be what science will teach tomorrow”. In some areas of social life prediction to a limited extent has been possible.
According to Cuvier, the predictive value of sociology is being improved. There is a good deal of approximate information on family relationships and the personality of children. As sociology matures and comes to understand more fully the principles underlying human behaviour it will be in a better position to make accurate prediction.
Fifthly, Sociology delineates cause-effect relationships. In its study of family it has traced the relationship between family disorganisation and divorce, between urbanisation and family disorganisation as one of the causes of divorce. Thus Sociology traces cause-effect relationship in social disorganisation. It tries to find an answer to ‘how’ as well as ‘why’ of social processes and relationships.
Lastly, if we accept “science” in the sense in which it has been defined by philosophers like Cuvier, Pearson, Giddings and others it will invalidate objections to Sociology being regarded as a science. According to Cuvier, J.F., “The science is the method of discovery of the uniformities in the universe through the process of observation and re-observation, the result of which eventually comes to be stated in principle and arranged and organised into the fields of knowledge”.
According to Pearson, “the classification of facts, the recognition of their sequence and relative significance is the function of science’. According to Giddings, “Science is nothing more or less than the getting at facts, and trying to understand them and what science does for us is nothing more nor less than helping us to face facts”.
One simple definition of science is that it is simply organised commonsense involving objective observation followed by cautious interpretation of the observed facts. Science is further described in a traditional way as a mass of knowledge concerning a particular subject acquired by systematical observation, experience and study and analysed and classified into a unified whole.
It is approach rather than content that is the test of science. According to Lundberg “Science is a procedure for discovering the conditions under which events occur”. According to Weber, “Sociology is a science which attempts the interpretative understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at a causal explanation of its cause and effects”.
Sociology, then, is a scientific discipline which obeys the demands of validity implied by the word science. It studies its subject-matter scientifically. It tries to classify types and forms of social relationships, especially of institutions and associations.
It tries to determine the relations between different parts or factors of social life. It tries to deduce general laws from a systematic study of its material and the conclusions drawn from the study of sociological principles are applied to the solution of social problems.
Sociology is thus as much a science as social psychology, clinical psychology and other sciences concerning man. Though it has not reached perfection, the sociologist is searching for the instruments which will add to the minuteness of the study and exactness of its principles. Come described it as Social Physics.
Robert Bierstedt has in his book ‘The Social Order” mentioned the following characteristics of the nature of sociology:
(i) Sociology is a Social and not a Natural science.
(ii) Sociology is a categorical or Positive and not a Normative Science.
(iii) Sociology is a Pure or theoretical Science and not an Applied Science.
(iv) Sociology is an Abstract science and riot a concrete one.
(v) Sociology is a Generalizing and not Particularising Science.
(vi) Sociology is both a Rational and an Empirical Science.
VII. Can Sociology Be Value Free Science?
Above we have said that Sociology is a science. An important controversy that has developed in this connection is, “Can Sociology is value-free Science?” By Value free’ science we mean that Sociology as a science should keep itself away from the question of social values and study social behaviour in its empirical sense.
It is none of the tasks of Sociology to point out the goodness or badness of social values and determine which values are ultimately good. Polygamy is good or bad, love- marriage is desirable or undesirable, joint family system is useful or non-useful, caste system is harmful or advantageous, Sociology is not concerned. Its purpose is to make an empirical analysis of social institutions and not to lay down the norms regarding them.
Different societies in different ages have believed in different types of institutions. Sociology should isolate and test the empirical aspect of social behaviour without going into the value laden question of whether the empirical propositions are true or false. The question of ‘what ought to be’ is beyond the scope of Sociology.
A correct decision on what is empirically true is not the same as a correct decision on what ought to be. While social facts can be subjected to empirical tests, values cannot. Values and facts are two separate things, and should be kept analytically distinct Scientific enquiry should be value-free.
Auguste Comte, to whom the credit of inventing the term ‘Sociology’ is given, was primarily concerned with developing an empirical science of society, and trying to apply scientific method of social phenomena and along with a theory of scientific and social process. Emile Durkheim was one of the founders of structural functionalism and he analysed society from its structural-functional view point.
Herbert Spencer took an organic view of society and he too was not concerned with the valuation aspect of society. But it was Max Weber (1864-1920), the German sociologist who brought out the importance of keeping social analysis “ethically neutral” or “value-free”.
According to him, only a “value-free” approach could facilitate scientific development. He tried to fence off social science from various irrational influences. The value bias of a scholar should not influence his analysis of social phenomena.
According to Weber, science by its very nature could not make a rationally justified choice between value systems. Preferences in regard to values were largely based on one’s belief and emotions and were not formed on the basis of facts or reason. In a word, the social scientist as an objective investigator must remain neutral about value-systems. It is not the task of social scientist “to offer binding norms and ideals” or “to provide recipes for practice”.
Weber’s “value-free” approach was continued and developed in contemporary neo-positivism. The neo-positivist methodology ruled out all restrictions and “value-free” principle did not mean simply “free from politics” but also ‘free from moral problems” and “free from philosophy”. Hortwitz underlines the fact that the course of events identified social science not only with neutrality but with scholarly aloofness from moral issue).
To cut short, the value free principle treats the natural sciences as a model or pattern for social knowledge which implies that the exact methods of natural sciences should be transferred to Sociology in order to really make a scientific discipline. Secondly, the principle holds that Sociology should be free of any value-orientation.
Sociologist should not make any value judgment. Thirdly, the value-free principle looks upon Sociology as neutral discipline which is not expected to draw any ideological or moral conclusion. It stands above ideology.
There is a certain amount of confusion regarding what Max Weber actually meant by “value-free science”. He did not reject “value-relatedness” of all sciences, as is usually made out. He made it clear that he meant by the term not that all value judgments were to be withdrawn from scientific discussion in general but that science holds only a limited role in the matter of value judgments.
The utmost that the scientific treatment of value judgment could do was to bring them to the level of explicitness. The making of the decision itself. Weber had clearly written “is not the task which science can undertake; it is rather the task of the acting, willing person; he weighs and chooses from among the values of the world”.
“As to whether the person expressing these value judgments ought to adhere to those ultimate standards, is his personal affair, it involves will and conscience, not empirical knowledge”. An empirical science cannot tell anyone what he ought to do, but rather what he can do, and under certain circumstances what he wishes to do”.
“With all his insistence on the limitations of science”, writes Arnold Brecht, “Max Weber never ceased personally to believe in ultimate values, nor did he ever under-rate the importance of such belief for human personality and human dignity”.
As a matter of fact, the study of values cannot be removed from the scope of Sociology, Karl Mannheim and other sociologists now take the view that values are an integral part of personality, and cannot be shed in the way a person removes his coat.
They influence us at all stages of our research—at the time we select our problem of research, in the way in which we interpret our results, and in the suggestions we may have to offer regarding the way in which the results can be useful for the society.
In other words, a social scientist is not only an analyzer of values but also a value-builder. A social scientist cannot cut himself away from the burning social problems of his time. If he carried on his research in an environment which was hermetically sealed from all value inferences, there was always the danger that he might spend his time in dealing with problems which hardly had any relevance for society.
Knowledge is acquired for some purpose. Knowledge for what, is an important question. “The value-free” theorists have flinched from asking this question. Since any enquiry necessarily has a social function, no enquiry, therefore, can be non-evaluative. Sociology cannot consist of purely descriptive judgment.
In one way or the other, a value or evaluator element is inherent in or entered into it. Alvin Gouldner in an article entitled “anti-Minotaur: the Myth of a Value-free Sociology” argued that a person engaging in Sociology is bound to have certain values and ideologies otherwise he is no longer a person and becomes some sort of Minotaur, monster with a human body and head of a bull.
VIII. Importance of Sociology:
It is quite natural to ask about the value of sociology, the purpose that it serves and the gain that is derived by studying it. There are some critics like Pareto who assert that Sociology is hardly of any value because it does not deal with realities of life and it is concerned with ideas only which, devoid of scientific discoveries, are of very little importance in social life. But it is not a correct view about the value of Sociology. A study of the important concepts of Sociology will convince us that this science is of immense value.
(i) Sociology makes a scientific study of society:
Prior to the emergence of Sociology, the study of society was carried on in an unscientific manner and society had never been the central concern of any science. It is through the study of Sociology that the truly scientific study of the society has been possible.
Rather, Sociology because of its bearing upon many of the problems of the present world has assumed such a great importance that it is considered to be the best approach to all the social sciences and the key-study for the present situations. Scientific knowledge about society is pre-requisite to any marked improvement in the state of human affairs.
(ii) Sociology studies role of the institutions in the development of the individuals:
Again, it is through Sociology that scientific study of the great social institutions and the relation of the individual to each is being made. The home and family, the school and education, the church and religion, the state and government, industry and work, the community and association, these are the great institutions through which society functions.
Furthermore, they are conditioners of the individual. Sociology studies these institutions and their role in the development of the individual and suggests suitable measures for restrengthening them with a view to enable them to serve the individual better.
(iii) The study of Sociology is indispensable for understanding and planning of society:
Society is a complex phenomenon with a multitude of intricacies. It is well-nigh impossible to understand it and to solve its various problems without study of Sociology. It is rightly said that we cannot understand and mend society without any knowledge of its mechanism and construction just as no man, in his senses, would dream of trying to mend a motor car without knowing anything about its machinery and the way the different parts fit in with one another.
Sociology bears the same relation to the solution of social problems as say. Biology and bacteriology bear to Medicine or Mathematics and Physics to Engineering. Without the research done in the theoretical and experimental sciences modern techniques for curing disease or those for bridge-building would be impossible.
Similarly, without the investigation carried on by Sociology, no real effective social planning would be possible. It helps us to determine the most efficient means for reaching the goals agreed upon. A certain amount of knowledge about the society is necessary before any social policies can be carried out.
Suppose, for example, that a policy of decreasing the birth-rate is considered desirable: the best means for achieving this goal cannot be determined in exclusively economic terms because matters of family organization, customs and traditional values must be taken into account and these require a sociological type of analysis.
(iv) Sociology is of great importance in the solution of social problems:
The present world is suffering from many problems which can be solved only through scientific study of the society. It is obvious that social evils do not just happen and everything has its due cause.
It is task of Sociology to study the social problems through the methods of scientific research and to find out solution for them. The scientific study of human affairs will ultimately provide the body of knowledge and principles that will enable us to control the conditions of social life and improve them.
(v) Sociology has drawn our attention to the intrinsic worth and dignity of man:
Sociology has been instrumental in changing our attitude towards human beings. In a huge specialized society, we are all limited as to the amount of the whole organization and culture that we can experience directly.
We can hardly know the people of other areas intimately. In order to have insight into and appreciation of the motives by which others live and the conditions under which they exist, knowledge of sociology is essential.
Now we have begun to realise the intrinsic worth of man as man and the futility and hollowness of the differences of caste, colour, creed, and other factors. The racial or social differences which once separated man from man are now, with the study of sociology, losing their significance and we are gradually moving to the ideal of common brotherhood of man.
(vi) Sociology has changed our outlook with regard to the problems of crime etc.:
Again, it is through the study of Sociology that our whole outlook on various aspects of crime has changed. The criminals are no longer treated as degenerated beasts. On the contrary, they are regarded as human beings suffering from mental deficiencies and efforts are accordingly made to rehabilitate them as useful members of the society.
The sciences of Criminology and Penology and Social Work and Social Therapy which are rendering commendable service in understanding social situations and solving individual problems are but handmaids of sociology.
(vii) Sociology has made great contribution to enrich human culture:
Human culture has been made richer by the contribution of Sociology. It has removed so many cobwebs from our minds and social phenomenon is now understood in the light of scientific knowledge and enquiry.
According to Lowie, “Most of us harbour the comfortable delusion that our way of doing things is the only sensible if not only possible one”. Sociology has given us training to have rational approach to questions concerning oneself, one’s religion, customs, morals and institutions. It has further taught as to be objective, critical and dispassionate.
It enables man to have a better understanding both of himself and of others. By comparative study of societies and groups other than his existence which would otherwise escape his notice, his life becomes richer and fuller than it would otherwise be.
Sociology also impresses upon us the necessity of overcoming narrow personal prejudices, egoistic ambitions and class hatred. In short, its findings stimulate every person to render a full measure of service to every other person and to the common good.
(viii) Sociology is of great importance in the solution of international problems:
The progress made by physical sciences has brought the nations of the world nearer to each other. But n the social field the world has been left behind by the revolutionary progress of the science. The million dollar question facing the world today is what will be the use of all the technological developments and scientific progress if men continue to be blood thirsty of each other.
The effects of modern war upon society are varied and profound. The social costs of a modern war are many and impressive. While there are various causes of war, the underlying cause is the marked functional disequilibrium between the political organizations of the states and their relationships.
We live in twentieth century world that is politically divided in terms of eighteenth century conditions. The consequence is that stresses within and between political units lead from time to time to war and conflict.
Given the worship of the nation-state, men have failed to bring in peace. The study of sociology of war will help in understanding the underlying causes of war and remove all such causes which promote tensions between nations and ultimately lead to war.
(ix) Sociology is useful as a teaching subject:
In view of its importance Sociology is becoming popular as a teaching subject also. It is being accorded an important place in the curriculum of colleges and universities. It is also developing belatedly in Teachers’ Training Colleges because the teacher need not only know his subject and his pupils as individuals but also understand the group-life for which he is fitting them. By diffusing knowledge about society socialised thinking will emerge, socialised behaviour will develop, social planning will be furthered and a new social order will be evolved.
The importance of Sociology is further proved by the fact that the subject of Sociology is also included in the subjects to be offered by candidates competing for the higher examinations such as I.A.S. and the like.
It is rightly felt that without the study of Sociology the training and knowledge of the candidates aspiring to hold a high post in the administrative set up of their country will be incomplete and imperfect.
(x) Sociology as a Profession:
The students of Sociology can get jobs in the following fields:
(a) In factories and government as labour welfare officer, human relations officer, personnel officer.
(b) In the field of social security like employment exchange, unemployment insurance scheme, social security schemes.
(c) In the field of reformation of criminals as probation officer, superintendents of juvenile homes, reformatory schools etc.
(d) In the field of social welfare as social welfare officer, youth welfare officer, rural welfare officer, child welfare officer, Harijan welfare officer, tribal welfare officer, etc.
(e) In the field of social education and adult education as social education officer or adult education officer.
(f) In the fields concerning widow welfare, as superintendents of Nari Niketan.
(g) In the homes established for the welfare of the old, disabled, and destitute as their superintendents.
(h) In the fields of family planning as social worker or researcher.
To sum up, the value of Sociology lies in the fact that it keeps us up-to-date on modern situations; it contributes to making good citizens; it contributes to the solution of community problems; it adds to the knowledge of the society; it helps the individual find his relation to society; it identifies good government with community and it helps one to understand causes of things and so on.
The study of social phenomena and of the ways and means of promoting what Giddings calls social adequacy’ is one of the most urgent needs of the modern society. As Professor Beach says, “Sociology has a strong appeal to all types of minds through its direct bearing upon many of the initial problems of the present world”.
Prof. Giddings says that just as “Economics tells us how to get things we want to have; Sociology tells us how to become what we want to be”. Clearly, Sociology has both social and individual advantages. The question of the impotence of Sociology is today not a question of whether or not we should have it but a question of how the knowledge acquired by it can be used.
In India, the importance of the study of sociology is still greater The Indian society is undergoing a rapid transformation. Under the impact of the West, its mores are changing. Joint families are dis-integrating. The strength of the bond of marriage is waning. The number of broken homes is increasing.
There are greater feelings of independence among women and children. The necessity for family planning is being experienced. The moves have vastly affected the mode of thinking and living. Linguism, regionalism and casteism are raising their ugly heads. The lust for power is strong enough among the political parties.
There is wide corruption at every level of governmental machinery. The polity is marked by ‘cash and carry’, culture. The problem of unemployment is very serious. Increasing urbanisation has brought in its wake the problems such as homicide, slums, epidemics, crime, juvenile delinquency, group conflicts, pollution etc.
The ‘mandalisation’ of society has led to acute inter-caste war. The people are adopting more and more to agitational methods. There is a major confusion in the system of education, and a crisis of character everywhere.
The first step towards a solution of the various problems besetting the Indian Society is to understand the social background of these problems. Sociology will assist in understanding this background.