The answer to the question of ‘What is sociology?’ is quite complex and I will start by saying that sociology is a human science, a study of humanity. However this description of sociology is partial, because it does not distinguish sociology from psychology, economics, history and other human sciences. It is important to mention that sociology studies society, as well as that it is concerned with human culture. Furthermore, many sociologists have suggested that we can define sociology as the subject that deals with and explains social interaction, which means that it examines the informal and formal social relationships engaged in by social groups. This means that sociology places individuals in a social context as members of social groups, organizations and institutions (like the place where they work or their place within a family).
However, if we look at the objectives of sociology dating back to the 19th century, we realize that sociology is also a study of social order. Sociology is made up of a number of competing theories (such as Positivism, Marxism, etc) which all try to understand how the components of society - the social relationships and institutions, contribute to the existence of 'society', which in turn includes social conflict, social change and many other aspects.
A sociologist is a person who wants to see the world in a new light and who wants to understand society in a disciplined way. The sociologist realizes that things are not what they seem, and that social reality has many levels of meaning, of which each level gives us a new picture of the whole. Sociologists are not afraid to make shocking discoveries and do not take the world for granted – they feel curious about how society and it’s members function. Sociologists understand social inequality, patterns of behavior, forces for social change and resistance, and how social systems work. As Anthony Giddens stated, sociologists view sociology as a way of using the imagination in gaining knowledge and understanding into what is deemed as truth.
It is very important to be conscious of what sociology can tell or teach us, as the answers to this are numerous. First of all, it teaches us a new rational, critical way of observing and thinking about ourselves and the world in which we live. It shows us how to apply and use sociological concepts, ideas, and principles, wakens our awareness and gives form to things we were not able to understand before. Furthermore, sociology shows us that we are determined by culture – in which we are taught what to think and the way to do so. As an answer, sociology opens our eyes, and takes us out of Plato’s ‘cave of shadows’, whree it teaches us sociological consciousness and the difference between belief and reality.
Through sociology we develop the ability to locate, evaluate and use new information instead of just accepting it as facts. We learn to ask questions, and begin to perceive thinking as something that is a physical action, a process. Sociology shows us that we should take historical tendencies into account, and not the present as the only perspective, as well as teaching us to recognize our own values and how to hold them aside so we can do investigation and analysis. Sociology helps us discover what we believe in and why – it helps us develop self-consciousness about ourselves and society.
We also learn that there are a number of different of sociological theories. Some are more oriented towards describing society – and of what ought to be, where as some are more analytical, which deal with what is and see that society depends on perception. Finally, some theories are critical – and deal with what is and what should be altered.
Sociology is a very young science, and it’s beginning is associated with a number of very important historic events, occurring in the 18th century, of which the two most influential were the so-called ‘Enlightenment’ and the French Revolution.
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