Sociology is ‘the study of the development, structure and functioning of human society’ and therefore is pertinent to our very existence as human beings. Sociology shines a revealing light on our everyday practices and examines the question 'why do people do that?' Sociology today has emerged as an attempt to understand why our past behaviour and our past beliefs are part of the times we live in. The emergence of sociology began as an attempt to understand what are the determining factors of the world changing.
As has been pointed out by Rocher, G. Introduction to Sociology pg. 210 Macmillan Co. of Canada 1972), "the advancement of the study of sociology, and its principal support, is its desire to understand modern society much better. Sociology research was developed to try and describe these changes and to predict future events."
To understand modernity and why it is impressionable, it is important to compare current society with that of the past. When we examine the changes in social behavior we see that these changes result from the adjustments in industrial development and religious beliefs. Society shifts with the introduction of new technologies and the availability of education throughout and thus allows us to understand what developments have occurred and why they have come about.
Sociologists such as Marx, Comte and Durkheim explore the development of sociology today and examine what has brought about the shifts in society. These founders of sociology look to understand why these changes came about. Comte, Marx and Durkheim became aware of the need to study society in its current form as opposed to the tendency of past philosophers on "imagining the ideal society" (Macionis, Plummer, 1997, p.15).
One factor, which has had an immense impact on the change and development of society, was the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution began in England during the second half of the 18th century. The industrial revolution involved a transition from heavy reliance on agricultural production to reliance on the manufacture of goods. According to (A. Gliddens and P.W Sutton, Sociology seventh edition, page 72 Polity Press 2013) "The industrial revolution radically transformed material conditions of life and ways of making a living forever, initially bringing with it many new social problems such as urban overcrowding, poor sanitation, disease and industrial pollution on an unprecedented scale. Social reformers looked for ways to mitigate and solve these problems, which led them to gather evidence on their extent and nature to reinforce the case for change." It also created new profound changes in the economics of society. Many peasant workers left their agricultural work to go and seek work in industrial factories in the overgrowing cities.
The developments during the industrial revolution resulted in a shift in transportation, the introduction of the steam engine and as a direct result the availability of information. Industrialisation bought about great wealth and improved living conditions for some but it left the large majority of workers with poor living and employment conditions. The working class was devoid of any industrial rights and the use of children in factories provided cheap labour. The system proved that only some people were profiting whilst the greater number of people worked for longer hours and received lower wages. This led to dissatisfaction and as a result led to the labour movement and other radical movements dedicated to overthrowing the capitalist system.
The industrial revolution forced many people to move into urban areas and the expansion of cities led to an increase in social problems, which attracted the attention of sociologists. Sociologist, Karl Marx was very critical of the capitalist society in his writings and was actively political to encourage its failure. Since the early 19th century it is clear that the industrial revolution transformed mans living conditions and his social organisation. The industrial revolution saw massive changes in society by the destruction of the feudal system and the establishment of capitalism, which is a key area of discussion within sociology. The industrial revolution provides us with answers as to how things have changed and the influence it has had on our modern society therefore it can certainly be noted as a factor contributing to the emergence of sociology.
Sociology explores topics, which help us to understand the reasons for how our modern society is today. As pointed out by A. Giddens and P.W Sutton (Sociology seventh edition, introduction, Polity Press 2013) "the task of sociology is to understand and explain an ever- changing social world. As discussed in the previous paragraph, "Sociology emerged in the wake of the major transformations wrought by the industrial Revolution which had disrupted the previous type of social order and changed the human world forever." Although social change did not simply stop in the 19th century and we can see how our society is still developing and changing as a result of the ever-changing technological developments and industrial inventions still affecting our lives today.
Another effect on our changing view is the effect religion has had on society. Many sociologists came from religious backgrounds and sought to understand the place of religion and morality in modern society. Today religion does not play as much of a prominent role in society as it did in the past. In Ireland, for example, Catholicism has suffered an enormous loss of faith in the last 20 years as a direct result of the sexual and physical abuses carried out by people in the religious orders. These abuses opened the door for open dialogue on the morality of the religious and standards and hold they have had on society. There has been a shift in values as to the importance of practicing ones religion in the developed world as opposed to the continued stranglehold religion still has on the countries of the developed world. It remains debatable how benefiticial the process of secularisation will have long term on society. Sociologists question the reasons why the changes of beliefs and the importance of religion have come about. Sociological approaches to religion have been influenced by the ideas of Marx, Durkheim and Weber. Marx himself writes about religion: religion, he says is the "heart of a heartless world" - a heaven from the harshness of the daily realities of capitalism. (A. Giddens and P.W Sutton Sociology seventh edition, page 723,Polity Press 2013). Although it may not be widely agreed with, Marx believes that religion 'should and will disappear'. This view can be said to be shared by the writings of Richard Dawkins in his book “The God Delusion”, where is argues that “Religion is not only irrational but potentially deadly”. Durkheim had quite different views towards religion as that of Marx, it is said that Durkheim did not focus on the significance of religion until later on in his career, this proves that religion can not be avoided as a factor of the development of sociology.
There have been so many factors which have influenced the many changes in our society, each century has seen the development or discovery of an idea, an invention, a new thinking process and these changes have effected the way society views itself. With the advent of new ideas and technologies we bring the world closer together and sociology helps us understand the world as a whole.
Anthony Giddens - Sociology Introductory readings, published in 1997 by Polity Press
Rocher, G. Introduction to Sociology pg. 210 Macmillan Co. of Canada 1972
Sociology: A Global Introduction, Macionis, J. and Plummer, K. Prentice- Hall, Feb 2012
The God Delusion, Dawkins, R. First Mariner Books, 2008
A. Giddens and P.W Sutton, Sociology seventh edition, Polity Press 2013
World Societies - Evolution of human social life, Stephen k. Sanderson and Arthur S. Alderson 2005 pearson education, inc.
www.history.com/topics/industrial-revolution - 10/10/13
Social Change and human purpose: toward understanding and action, Warren, R. Rand McNally publishing company, 1977
http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0072817186/student_view0/chapter1/chapter_summary.html : 10/10/13