In this article we will discuss about Sociology:- 1. Meaning of Sociology 2. Scope of Sociology 3. Nature and Characteristics 4. Methodological Issue Regarding the Use of Language.
Meaning of Sociology:
Sociology studies the behaviour of human beings in society. It may, however, be rightly pointed out that other social sciences, such as Political Science, Economics, History, etc., do the same.
How is Sociology different from these disciplines?
This point can be explained very simply with the help of the following illustration:
“Eating a slice of buttered toast for breakfast can be analyzed in terms of the nutritive value of the food consumed, the eating habits of individuals, the economics of the bread, dairy, and home-appliance industries, a conventional or customary dietary pattern, or even as a possible source of social friction because the wife does not make the toast dark enough to suit her husband’s taste.”
The key words in this statement — ‘nutritive value’, ‘individual habits’, ‘economics of industries’, ‘conventional customary patterns’ and ‘social friction’ — are drawn from the following disciplines : nutrition, psychology, economics, and sociology.
This illustration makes two things clear:
(i) That it is always the focus of interest which distinguishes one social science from another, and
(ii) That sociology is concerned with social relationships, with relationship of man to man, with human interactions.
The life of man is many-sided. For instance, he is an economic man, a political being, a social man, or a man devoted mainly to religious pursuits. But whatever he does in these various capacities, man relates himself to man. Thus, “if two people meet in the market place, they are not just two ‘economic men’, but two human beings, and they enter into relationships that are not simply economic”.
Sociology studies this social aspect of man. Sociology differs from other social sciences in this particular respect. No other social science takes the study of social relationship as it? central theme. The focus of interest of all other social sciences is different.
Economics for instance, is concerned with a man in his capacity as a manufacturer or a trader, a buyer or a seller, and the relationships he enters into in these capacities. Similarly, political science is concerned with a man in his capacity as a citizen, a voter, a candidate in an election for a political office, or a campaigner for a political cause.
Sociology does not, however, study everything that happens in society or under social conditions. For example, sociologists study religion only in so far as it affects social relationships, i.e., the relationship of man to man, of one group to another, or of one group to the whole society.
They do not study religion as such, i.e., its theology, beliefs, rituals, etc. Likewise, sociologists are interested in political organizations or in economic institutions only in so far as they have a bearing on the social life of man. They will study, for example, economic division of labour only to the extent that it affects human relationships.
While dealing with the elements of ‘human relationship’ in diverse fields covered by various social sciences, sociology seeks to discover the interrelationships of human activities in these fields — familial, educational, economic, political or religious.
The basic assumption on which the sociologists proceed is that what happens in any of these fields affects others. In other words, sociology is concerned with the ‘whole’ of human society, and not with the ‘parts’ which make up the ‘whole’. Seen thus, sociology is not “the great residual category of the social sciences”.
The purpose of sociological study is not, however, simply to describe social relationships, but also to analyses them and to discriminate between their specific forms, varieties and patterns. The sociologists are expected to look ahead and to suggest guideposts for social action in response to the changes which give rise to social problems.
In the 19th century a French philosopher named Auguste Comte (1798 – 1857) gave the name ‘Sociology’ to this new social science. ‘Sociology’ is composed of two words: Socius meaning companion or associate, and logos meaning word.
Thus, the term formed from these two words means talking about society, as Geology (geos meaning earth) means talking about the earth, Biology (bios meaning life) means talking about life and Anthropology (anthropos meaning man) means talking about man. Socius is a Latin word and Logos is a Greek word, and the name of our discipline is thus a hybrid offspring of two languages.
Since the dawn of civilization man has been concerned with his life among his associates. Both the problems and promises of common living excited him and agitated his restless and inquisitive mind. Various social sciences gradually evolved in response to the varied needs of common having. All such enquiries were once a part of philosophy. Philosophy embraced all fields in an undifferentiated and amorphous fashion.
With the passage of time, however, one by one the various social sciences “cut the apron strings”, as it were, and began to pursue separate and independent paths of their own. The name ‘political philosophy’ bears witness to this development.
Political philosophers inquired into the evolution of the state, the growth and nature of state authority, the relationship between the citizens on the one hand and the state authority on the other and various other problems and concerns of a political nature.
Likewise, economics, as a separate and independent social science, inquired into the problems concerning production and distribution of commodities as well as the larger questions of economic growth.
In this manner, various other social sciences, such as anthropology, psychology or the science of the behaviour of men, gradually evolved. Sociology is the youngest of these social sciences. The evolution of this youngest social science is a fascinating story. Auguste Comte coined the term ‘sociology’ to designate this youngest social science during the first half of the eighteenth century.
But we have to look back to the preceding one hundred years (1750 -1850) in order to identify properly the forces which were primarily responsible for the growth of sociology as an independent discipline.
During the second half of the eighteenth century a few far-reaching changes had occurred in Western Europe. These changes agitated the minds of the people and made them keenly conscious of what had happened around them.
To begin with, the industrial revolution of England was one such event of tremendous social significance. It not only revolutionized the method of production; it also brought about far- reaching social changes.
For instance, industrial revolution brought in its wake labour-capital dispute, the problems of ensuring social and economic security to industrial workers, the problems of housing, the gradual disappearance of once peaceful and stable rural communities and increasing concentration of people in urban areas.
All on a sudden the people were brought face to face with problems which they or their forefathers had never experienced before.
These challenges stirred deeply the minds of men. And they began to ponder over ways of combating social evils which emerged as an off-shoot of industrial revolution. New philosophies were propagated and hotly debated. New ideals and ideologies were born. These captured the imagination of the people which provided a spur to social action.
The cumulative effect of such stirrings in the minds of men found expression in the clarion call for liberty, equality and fraternity in the mouths of the votaries of the French Revolution. There was a radical transformation in the attitude of the people to the problems which beset them.
For instance, poverty was once looked upon as a case of ill luck for an individual or a family for which there was no remedy except to pray for Divine grace. Sometimes poverty was looked upon as an act of individual failure and the responsibility for being poor rested squarely upon the concerned individual. But the industrial revolution shattered such ideas to pieces.
The people could see before their eyes the increasing concentration of wealth on the one hand and increasing constitution of large sections of people on the other. They realised for the first time that poverty was basically a social evil to be combated as such.
Social surveys were undertaken with a view to assessing the nature of the problem and exploring ways of meeting the same. The first step towards the scientific study of society was thus taken.We may also note, in this connection, another equally important development which had taken place during this period. Since the second half of the seventeenth century European sailors travelled to far-off lands braving the high seas.
They brought back to their native lands, in addition to merchandise, rich experiences of a varied nature. Through them the scholars as well as ordinary men and women became acquainted with the ways of behaviour of people in those strange and far-off places.
Such exposure to alien cultures made them conscious of cultural, differences among peoples. They began exploring the possible ways in which societies must have evolved from a barbaric stage to a comparatively more advanced stage in course of centuries. The study of history proceeded on new lines altogether.
Whenever they failed to connect the missing links in their exposition of the evolution of societies, they relied on conjectures on the basis of their understanding of normal human behaviour. They asked themselves a simple question: how would a normal human being actor react under certain circumstances?
They prepared a connected story of social evolution on the basis of their perception of the normal behaviour of an individual or a group. This kind of Conjectural History paved the way towards the growth of sociological thinking on certain lines.
In the first place, their conceptions of the evolution of society and of human progress deeply influenced sociological thinking in the years to come. This aspect will be exhaustively dealt with in a subsequent articles. Secondly, the new approach to historical studies and investigations led people to look at society as a ‘whole’.
The idea steadily gained ground that the state and society were two distinct entities and that the latter embraced the whole life of man. This conception of society helped considerably towards the growth of sociological thinking.
Thus, the conditions which gave rise to sociology as an independent discipline were both intellectual and social. These two were obviously interwoven, so that one could not be disentangled from the other.
Morris Ginsberg has identified the chief intellectual antecedents of sociology thus:
“Broadly it may be said that sociology has had a fourfold origin in political philosophy, the philosophy of history, biological theories of evolution, and the movements for social and political reforms which found it necessary to undertake surveys of social conditions”.
In addition to the European traditions of social and political philosophy, another important root of sociology has been the American traditions of social concern with pressing social problems, such as crime, slum life, divorce and the assimilation of immigrants. As a matter of fact, an interest in social welfare and social reform was mainly responsible for a rapid development of the discipline in the twentieth century.
Scope of Sociology:
In the first place, sociology was assumed to be encyclopedic in scope. All types of social relationships were conceived to be the concerns of sociology.
Secondly, the entire sociological approach was evolutionary in character. The two dominant influences in this regard were the philosophy of history and the biological theory of evolution.
Thirdly, sociology was conceived to be a positive science. In the eighteenth century sociology was modeled on physics and in the nineteenth century on biology. The writings of Comte and Spencer illustrate the influences of these two natural sciences on sociological approaches.
Fourthly, though sociology claimed to be a general science, it was particularly concerned with problems which disturbed society in the wake of sweeping changes brought about by industrial revolution.As Bottomore has pointed out, “it was above all a science of the new industrial society”.
Finally, in addition to its scientific character, sociology had also an ideological dimension. Various kinds of ideologies, both conservative and radical, crept into sociological discussions. Ideological debate is still continuing among present-day sociologists.
The delineation of sociology as encyclopedic in scope raised opposition from many quarters, particularly from those who were working in narrower and more specialised fields. It was argued that the definition of the scope of sociology as an all-embracing science of society did not permit subtle analysis in most cases. It was, therefore, held that sociology would forfeit its claim to be treated as a distinct social science.
In view of these criticisms, attempts were made to define the scope of sociology on two distinct lines. First, sociology was conceived to be a social science concerned with a specially defined field. It was held that rigorous analysis of chosen fields of social living would be more rewarding and purposeful.
Second, sociology was viewed as a synthesis of all social sciences. That is, there should been attempt not at absorbing but at coordinating other special sciences, such as political science, economics, social philosophy, etc.
Among those who conceived of sociology ‘as a clearly defined specialism’, particular mention may be made of Ferdinand Tonnies, Georg Simmel, Alfred Vierkandt and Leopold Von Wiese. Their work was analytical and conceptual in character.
Tonnies classified societies into two categories:
Namely, Gemeinschaft (or community) and Gesellschaft (or association) — on the basis of the degree of closeness or intimacy among the members of the society. His analysis of social bond followed this categorisation. Like Hobbes, Tonnies was also concerned with the problem of how order is maintained in society.
His investigations into the nature of the tie which binds people to one another sprang from this basic concern about the problem of social order. “His was the first successful attempt in analytical sociology and it prepared the way for the development of the formalists to whom we now turn — Simmel, Vierkandt and von Wiese”.
According to Simmel, social interactions among people should be analysed and classified into various forms or types. The description of the forms of this interaction is the task of formal sociology. He explained his point of view with the help of an analogy. We express our thoughts through language.
A grammarian is not concerned with the contents of the language, but with the structural forms of the language through which the contents come to life and become meaningful. Similarly, argued Simmel, social interactions assume various forms.
But some forms of behaviour amongst the members of a society toward one another may be identified — such as, superiority and subordination, competition and co-operation, division of labour, etc.
“However diverse the interests are that give rise to these associations, the forms in which the interests are realised may yet be identical”.
Simmel argued that we should abstract from human relationships those forms of interaction which are common to diverse situations. “It was a cardinal principle in Simmel’s view of sociology that it should not be encyclopedic, but rather be strictly limited in its scope. Hence, he defined it in terms of the study of the forms of interaction.”
Vierkandt took an even more restricted view of sociology than Simmel himself. He held that sociology should be concerned, not with actual societies, but with forces -which knit the people together in a society. A particular society — says, an Indian society or a Chinese society — is of interest to sociologists only as illustrations of particular types of social relationships.
What is of deeper interest to them is to try to understand and analyse the mental processes which shape particular types of social relationships. His purpose, according to Mitchell, was to arrive at basic elements of a social kind. He held that these are found in such social entities as liking, obeying, submitting, etc.
Like Simmel, Dr. von Wiese tried to establish sociology as an independent science. According to him, there are two fundamental social processes in human society, namely, associative and dissociative. The examples of the former are contact approach, adaptation, combination, and union, and those of the latter are competition, opposition, and conflict.
There is yet a third category — a mixed form — sharing both associative and dissociative social processes. He applied this classification not only to groups and collectivities but also to individuals. Each of these social processes, in its turn, is subdivided into many sub-classes which, in their totality, give about 650 forms of human relationship.
The views of Analytical and Formalistic school, have been subjected to various criticisms. In the first place, the Formalistic school has restricted the scope of sociology to abstract forms without reference to the concrete expressions of these forms of social relationship in actual social situations.
It is held that such a study would prove to be absolutely barren. Thus, for example, a study of competition would be meaningless unless the actual social situation is considered. Economic competition does not mean the same thing as competition, say, in the field of art. Secondly, Sorokin has raised a more, fundamental question.
Is it not fallacious, he argued, “to isolate the ‘social form’ from its content and then to state that social forms can remain identical while their members change”
He elaborated his point thus:
“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, for instance, Americans, were superseded by quite a new and heterogeneous people, e.g., by Chinese of Bushmen”, Thirdly, the analytical and formal sociology developed as a reaction to the ‘encyclopedic’ character of sociology.
But Sorokin rightly pointed out, is a worthwhile sociological analysis possible without borrowing or using data of biology, anthropology, history, psychology, political science, economics, and literature? “In brief, ‘the sin of encyclopedism’ is as common within the formal sociology as within the ‘non-formal’ sociology it criticizes”.
It follows, therefore, that the advocates of the analytical and formalistic school have failed to build sociology as an independent and autonomous discipline. The “pretension of formal sociology to play the same role for other social sciences which is played by mathematics or physical mechanics in regard to other physical and technical sciences” is not justified in any way.’
One must concede, however, that the analytical and formal school “has contributed something valuable to a definite part of sociology in systematizing human relations and social processes.”
Sorokin has underscored the value of the contribution of this school in this regard thus:
“The multitude of concrete human relationships and the complexity of social processes make it necessary to classify them into a few large classes, with further sub-division; in this way preventing us from becoming lost in a wild forest of interrelations.”
There is yet another school of sociologists who are in favour of adopting a synthetic approach to sociology. They argue that the different parts as well as the various activities of society are inter-related and inter-dependent. The society is not certainly organic in nature. But it is also not entirely mechanical.
There are certain ties, both psychological and social, which bind the people together in a society. Different social sciences concern themselves with different aspects of social living. For example, political science deals with political activities of social men. Economics with activities of a purely economic nature.
All other social sciences likewise confine themselves to their respective fields. Since the society is an indivisible whole, one type of activity cannot be isolated from the rest. On the contrary, one type of activity will impinge on other fields of activity.
There is, therefore, the need for a discipline which would focus attention on the ‘whole’ of society. “Its purpose then would be to discover how the institutions which make up a society are related to one another in different social systems”. Prominent among those who subscribe to this line of thinking are Emile Durkheim and Hobhouse.
Durkheim divides Sociology into three broad divisions, namely, Social Morphology, Social Physiology and General Sociology. Social Morphology is concerned with the nature and extent of influence exercised by such factors as geographical location, size and density of population, etc. on the organization of social life. Social physiology deals with the genesis and nature of various social institutions.
Discussions on Social Physiology are so directed as to throw light on the social background of, say, religion, morals, law, economic institutions, etc. In General Sociology attempt is made to find out if there are links among various institutions which would be treated independently in Social Physiology, and in that event to discover general social laws.
Durkheim lays particular stress on this type of analysis. In his view, whatever happens in society has one or more social causes which he calls ‘social facts’. For example, in his analysis of suicide he shows that suicide, though an individual act, may by ascribed to social causes.
Hobhouse represents the philosophical side of sociology, speculative and evolutionary. He conceives sociology as “a science which has the whole social life of man as its sphere”. Its relation with the other social sciences is considered to be “one of mutual exchange and mutual stimulation”. In his view there are some central conceptions that pervade the entire society and inform all its parts.
It is possible to have a fuller comprehension of the whole from the study of the parts. General Sociology is thus a synthesis of the various social sciences. Such a synthesis does not, however, consist “in a mechanical juxtaposition” of the findings of various social sciences. Since central conceptions pervade the whole, including its parts, a mutual relationship of give-and-take exists between the whole and its parts.
While studying the parts, a sociologist is to correlate the results of the study with an eye to the whole of society. The study of the parts then contributes to a fuller comprehension of the whole.
There is no conflict between an analytical study of the parts which make up the society and a synthetic approach to the study of the whole society. The parts of society are so closely interwoven that it is not possible to study a particular part in isolation from the rest. At the same time, the study of the whole society is not possible without studying the parts which make up the whole.
We may construct a general outline of the scope of sociology. In the first place, the analysis of various institutions, associations or social groups which are the outward expressions of social relationships of man, should be the concern of sociology. Secondly, the links among the different parts or elements of society should be unraveled and analysed.
For example the way economic, political or legal institutions are interconnected, each having a bearing on the other, should be a matter of investigation in sociology.
“The basic conception, or directing idea, of sociology is, therefore, that of social structure: the systematic interrelation of forms of behaviour or action in particular societies. From this follows the sociologist’s interest in those aspects of social life which has previously been studied only in a desultory manner, or which had been the object of philosophical reflection rather than empirical inquiry: the family and kinship, religion and morals, social stratification, urban life.”
Thirdly, sociology addresses itself to an analysis of the factors which contribute to social stability as well as to social dynamism. Every society exhibits these two characteristics.
There is order in society; but it is not an unchanging order. Sociology seeks to identify, describe and explain the factors which contribute to or impede the continuity of social systems through time. Fourthly, it is the task of a sociologist not simply to identify, describe and explain the changing pattern of society but also to indicate the trend of the changing pattern and the aftermath of the changes overtaking the society.
Though it is not within his legitimate domain for a sociologist to decide on matters of policy or to prescribe remedies for the resultant social problems, he makes available to the policy-maker the findings of his study which would be one among many other factors to be considered in social planning.
Seen in this perspective, a sociologist is not an academic recluse, spinning speculative theories which may or may not be relevant to real life-situation.
Nature and Characteristics of Sociology:
To begin with, sociology has developed as a value-free discipline. It is concerned with what is, not with what ought to be. The values which a society upholds and which influence the social behaviour of men are accepted by sociologists as facts’ and analysed objectively.
They do not analyse values themselves. It is thus not a normative discipline like Ethics or Religion. Further, the sociologists simply indicate the directions towards which the society is moving and refrain from expressing views on the directions in which society should, go. In this respect it is to be distinguished from Social and Political Philosophy.
Secondly, Sociology is an empirical discipline. It is guided by rational considerations in its analysis of social phenomena, and not in terms of ideology.
Thirdly, Sociology has developed as an abstract discipline like Physics, Chemistry or Mathematics, and not as an applied science like Engineering or Computer Science. A sociologist analyses society from different angles and acquires knowledge about society and patterns of social interactions.
A physicist or a mathematician does not build bridges. An engineer, however, utilizes the knowledge of Physics or Mathematics in building bridges. In the same manner, it is for administrators and social workers to utilise the fund of knowledge acquired by sociologists in the field of social planning.
Fourthly, Sociology is a general and not a -special social science. It is concerned with human relationships and patterns of social interactions in general, and not any particular aspects of the same. An economist confines his attention to interactions in the economic sphere only.
Likewise, a political scientist is primarily concerned only with interactions in the political field. A sociologist, however, focuses his attention on human or social relationships which are common to all these specialised fields.
Sociology is thus an objective, a pure, an abstract, an empirical and a general social science. Two questions, however, remain to be explored further. To what extent can sociology fulfill the criterion of objectivity? In what sense is sociology treated as a science?
The examination of these questions is discussed below:
The Problem of Objectivity:
We know that the guiding principles of sociology are objectivity and ethical neutrality. According to this yardstick, the sociologists are to approach the problems of, say, social change dispassionately without bringing to bear upon their discussion ethical considerations. Even an emotive theme like family disorganization should not excite the feelings of a sociologist in any manner.
His personal likes or dislikes should not be allowed to influence his judgment. The principles of objectivity and ethical neutrality were the outcome of positivism and evolutionism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which influenced sociological thinking during its formative stages.
Comte, for example, was very much influenced by the method of investigation of Physics, and he laid down, as a sociological rule, the need for establishing causal relations between social phenomena through direct, empirical observation of these phenomena.
Likewise, Spencer approached Sociology strictly on the lines of the theory of organic evolution. In his view also direct, empirical observation of social phenomena was the appropriate sociological method. Subjective perceptions of what is good or bad, desirable or undesirable have therefore no place in sociological analysis.
Ideally speaking, this approach is commendable. In actual practice, however, it may not be easy to follow strictly this ideal. To begin with, sociology is not an exact science like physics or chemistry. The subject matter of the physical sciences is external to the investigator. He can afford to be neutral and unbiased in his approach.
It has been very aptly said that – “The stars have no sentiments, the atoms no anxieties that have to be taken into account, observation is objective with little effort on the part of the scientist to make it so.” Those who are concerned with the social universe are thus at a disadvantage in comparison with those who are concerned with the physical universe.
In the former case, the investigators and researchers are themselves immersed, as it were, in the objects of their study. They are, so to say, participant-observers. Their own emotions and sentiments, human as they are, cannot fail to sway their judgment this way or that. There is a second reason for their failure to be truly objective in their approach. Like all others, sociologists live in a normative society.
Since their childhood, they have been exposed to the values which the society upholds, to the ways of behaviour which the society considers to be appropriate. They assimilate most of these values and ways of behaviour and follow them almost unconsciously all throughout their lives.
Apart from human qualities of passion, sentiments, emotions and attachments, their thinking processes are conditioned by the society in which they are born and brought up.
Is it not too much to expect that they will be able to dislodge these completely from their minds after having imbibed all these since early childhood? A sociologist can, therefore, never be objective to the same extent and in the same manner as a natural scientist can. The sociological ideals of objectivity and ethical neutrality should be understood, subject to these qualifications.
It is necessary to point out, however, that there is disagreement among sociologists about the methodological norm of objectivity and ethical neutrality. There are sociologists who are prompted by the zeal of social reformers and argue that sociological investigations should be directed towards social reform and adoption of ameliorative measures.
In their view sociologists cannot, and should not, sit in ‘ivory tower’ in utter disregard of what they consider to be undesirable and detrimental to the larger interests of society.
The debate is still continuing among sociologists about the goal of sociological investigation. “It is desirable to recognise, however, that social action and sociological enquiry are two different enterprises. One can indulge in both, but not at the same time. Social and political action require commitment, but scholarship requires detachment.”
Because of its avowed methodological norm of objectivity and ethical neutrality, sociology is sometimes given the label of ‘science’ ranking it with physical sciences. This is obviously wrong. Sociology is not an exact science. The objects of its investigation very often defy exact, or even nearly exact, measurement.
Quantification is not possible in cases where human emotions or sentiments are involved. Human responses to the same stimulus vary from person to person, from group to group, and also over time. Generalization in such cases will naturally be approximate! Conclusions may have to be hedged in by a number of qualifications.
The errors which creep into the generalized conclusions because of the nature of variables one deals with in social science cannot always be identified and their effects measured. In physical sciences, on the other hand, the variables one has to consider in observations and experiments can be limited and controlled.
The errors which enter into measurement because of the nature of variables are fairly known. Their effects can also be measured. The result may be subtracted from the total score. Unlike social sciences, finding in physical sciences is thus more or less exact, the margin of error being reduced to the minimum. The label of ‘science’ cannot, therefore, be, tagged on to sociology.
If, however, we mean by “science” an attitude of mind, an attitude or approach distinguished by objectivity, rationality, and readiness to subject every hypothesis to rigorous test, then sociological investigations partake of the nature of scientific investigation. A sociologist tries his utmost to be as objective as is humanly possible for a member of society.
He refuses to accept any statement or hypothesis unless he finds convincing evidence to corroborate the same. He examines all social phenomena rationally and logically and tries to find causal explanation for the same. Sociology may be described as a “science” in so far as it follows scientific methodology and tries to exclude all subjective perceptions which are not supported by evidence.
The Methodological Issue Regarding the Use of Language in Sociology:
In physical as well as in social universe, we observe a bewildering variety of ‘things’ and bewildering variety of relationships among those ‘things ‘. Mere observation of these ‘realities’ does not give us any coherent image of the nature and relationships of what we observe.
Every discipline, therefore, selects particular attributes from a complex reality according to its own focus of interest and groups them under different names in order to discern similarities and differences.
These groups bearing different names are called concepts. A concept is a logical ordering device in the midst of bewildering variety. The reality becomes meaningful to us only through concepts. To name is to know is an ancient maxim.
“If we accept the distinction between matters of, fact and matters of relation, then knowledge, as a combination of the two, depends on the correct sequence between factual order and logical order. For experience, the factual order is primary; for meaning, the logical order. Mind knows nature by finding some language in which to express an underlying pattern. Knowledge, thus, is a function of the categories we use to establish relationships; just as perception, as in art, is a function of the conventions we have accepted in order to see things ‘correctly”.
The physical and-natural sciences generally borrow words from Greek and Latin in order to name the concepts. The language in which the concepts in these disciplines are used is thus very specific and carries only one meaning. There is little or no scope for ambiguity or confusion. Sociology has, however, used words from everyday use and ascribed specific technical meanings to these in order to describe concepts.
The words like ‘culture’, ‘society’, ‘community’, ‘status’, ‘role’, ‘association’, etc. stand for certain concepts in sociology which differ in meaning from what is conveyed in everyday use of these words. For example, the word ‘culture’ in everyday use means something refined, something cultivated and matters of mind and spirit as distinguished from gross material things.
A ‘cultured’ man stands for someone who is refined in his tastes, urbane and polished in manners, and appreciative of fine arts like painting, music, dance, etc. In sociology, however, the word ‘culture’ has a wider meaning and implies a way of life, embracing all aspects of social life.
Similarly, many words of everyday use are used in sociology to convey some technical meaning different from what it means in general use. There is, therefore, some scope for confusion among those who are initiated into sociology for the first time.
This is an important point which should be borne in mind by an introductory student of sociology.
The problem of language is, unfortunately, further complicated by the fact that the sociologists themselves do not always use the same words in the same technical senses. “Sociologists earnestly desire a well-ordered, systematic set of concepts, and have made much progress toward that end. But the goal is not yet achieved.”