Sociology Overview

Definition of Sociology

Sociology is the science about social action among humans or human groups. It learns about social and group interaction. A Group is not the only sum of persons or people. Any collection of people become a group if they interact with each other. Then, they share the same identity. They share common ideas and patterns of behavior. Sociology perhaps best illustrated by a selection of these definitions.
Durkheim distinguished sociology from philosophy, psychology, economics, and other social science disciplines by arguing that society was an entity of its own.  Durkheim argued that sociologists should study particular features of collective or group life and sociology is the study of social facts, things which are external to, and coercive of, individuals.  These social facts are features of the group, and cannot be studied apart from the collective, nor can they be derived from the study of individuals.  Some examples are religion, urban structures, legal systems, and moral values such as family values.  Durkheim argued that these are “features of collective existence … which are not reducible to features of the atoms, individuals, which make it up” Hadden, Richard W., Sociological Theory: An Introduction to the Classical Tradition, Peterborough, Ontario, Broadview Press, 1997.
Sociology (in the sense in which this highly ambiguous word is used here) is a science which attempts the interpretive understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at a causal explanation of its course and effects. In “action” is included all human behaviour when and insofar as the acting individual attaches a subjective meaning to it. Action in this sense may be either overt or purely inward or subjective; it may consist of positive intervention in a situation, or of deliberately refraining from such intervention or passively acquiescing in the situation. Action is social insofar as, by virtue of the subjective meaning attached to it by the acting individual (or individuals), it takes account of the behaviour of others and is thereby oriented in its course. (Weber, 1994)
Sociology  is  a  social  science, having as  its main focus  the study of the social institutions brought into being by the industrial transformations of the past two  or three  centuries. Institutions are  patterns  of  social  activity  reproduced  across  time  and  space . (Giddens, 1986:10-11)
Sociology is  the scientific study of society, including patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture.  The term sociology was first used by Frenchman Auguste Compte  in the 1830s when he proposed a synthetic science uniting all knowledge about human activity. Dictionary of the Social Sciences, Article: Sociology. Edited by Craig Calhoun. 2002. New York : Oxford University Press

Society and Culture

Society is also an example of a human group. It is a group of people that live in a specific area. Society is a group of people who live in a defined geographic area, who interact with one another, and who share a common culture. Culture refers to the group’s shared practices, values, and beliefs. Shared practices include common routines and social rules. That is social consciousness.
There exists a social consciousness of which individual consciousnesses are, at least in part, only an emanation. How many ideas or sentiments are there which we obtain completely on our own? Very few. Each of us speaks a language which he has not himself created: we find it ready-made. Émile Durkheim on Institutional Analysis, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1978, p. 102

How Sociology Sees Human Action

Human Action is Social Action

Most human actions are not in a vacuum. In fact, actions that are not for others are often based on memories of interactions with other people. Most of the human action is social action. Individual experiences are shaped by interaction with social groups and society. Cultural and institutional rule forces put pressure on the decision-making of individuals. That is beyond the individual. An individual can not refuse that. Emile Durkheim call these social facts. Sociology study about the pattern of human groups and their interaction. Durkheim said the man is not a moral being but because he lives in society since morality consists of being solidary with a group and varies with this solidarity.

Relation Individual Trouble and Social Issues

Individual and society are inseparable. Emile Durkheim sees that individual motivation is not the only cause of suicide. He also sees social groups where individuals positions. So, he research relationships about social groups characteristics and suicides cases. C Wright Mills in Sociological Imagination offers “the vivid awareness of the relationship between experience and the wider society”. The relationship gives us a new perspective beyond the routine of our daily lives. Durkheim sees the correlation between individual trouble and its social groups. Suicides cases in anomie groups more frequent than in groups that have solidarity. man is not a moral being but because he lives in society since morality consists of being solidary with a group and varies with this solidarity”

Why Sociology does matter?

Usually, we see decision-making as our decision without interfering with others. That is not a sociological perspective. We need to learn about connecting our personal decision with collective ideas and shared behaviors that shape our lives. If we think critically about our decision and our collective ideas and behavior, we can improve our lives. Durkheim thinks critically about the anomie of the groups. Marx has critics about the oppression of industrial society. Weber identifies freedom repression as an iron cage of bureaucracy. Sociology offer improvement of individual, groups, and society’s well-being.
  • It helps us to identify important factors in our lives as individuals, groups, and society
  • sociology helps us to understand powerful institution that affects us
  • sociology make us more objectives, scientific, rational, and critical
  • it helps to solve a social problem in society.
  • Sociology helps us to shape social forces because it makes us aware of the institutional force that influence the way humans think, feel, and act. Individuals still have room for choice, even though they have pattern of ideas and actions.

Historical Context of Sociology Origin

The historical context by which sociology begins is the age of exploration,  search for order of society, and rapid change of European society.

Society Comparison in the Age of Exploration

In the beginning, the worldview of the European middle age believes in the natural order of god.  In the age of exploration (16-17 Century), conquistadors, sailors, and other explorers have expanded the limits of human knowledge.  That includes society in several places from Asia, the Americas, Africa, and the South Seas. They have different and exotic stories of other societies and civilizations. That also challenges the middle ages’ worldview about the natural order of god. So, they search for knowledge about the order of society based on scientific manner. That is sociology.

Search for Natural Order of Society

Another background of sociology origin is a rapid change of European society. Technology, economy, and common ideas change the social order. James Watt invented the steam engine in 1769.   Joseph Lister in  1865 discovered that an antiseptic barrier can inhibit infection.  The inventions mean that there is natural order besides the natural order of god.  Then, August Compte search natural order of society.

Rapid Change of European Society

Technological and economic change has impacts on social change. Impersonal factories and city lives replace the authority of churches.  There are many consequences of the change in society level: anomie and class exploitation.

Sociological Debates

  • Which important factor of human behavior? The personal decision or societal constraints.
  • What is societal constrain? Is it a cultural element such as patterned of meaning, values, morals, norms, etiquette? Or is it structural elements such as class, roles, status, groups?
  • How society creates social order? By consensus or conflict.
  • What are the patterns of society? Stability or change.  What are the stability aspects?