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History of Sociology

By dollin0000 Aug 26, 2010 1695 Words
“We live in a complex social environment” (Anderson & Thomas, 1982). We relate, communicate and socialize with our fellow human beings. It is our nature to do so. In the same manner, we ourselves are influenced by others. These human interactions and relationships are what sociologists deal and study with. What an average person such as I would not know is that sociology is unlike any natural science. And ‘that’ I just learned while making this essay. Unlike a Natural Science, which is the systemized study of nature and the physical world, the Social Sciences are disciplines that apply the scientific method to the study of society and human behaviour (Kassop & Popenoe ,1991). Aside from that, Sociology can be described as to having a quite interesting background. For here we observe the reasons why man has decided to study it when it can possibly just be ignored and let alone for nature to work on. Ever since man began to interact and move in pacts, the need of a social life has long been noticed. But never yet did they think of having to study their social environment. Alex Thio (1986), in his book Sociology: An Introduction, has said that long before Christ was born, people such as Plato and Socrates had already thought and argued about social behaviour. But according to him, Plato and Socrates were only social philosophers who did not make any systematic observations to test their speculations against reality (Thio,1986). That is why he proclaimed sociology to have a short background. So basically, we can also say that the study of sociology began not too long ago from the age we live in today. The emergence of sociology as a field of study primarily resulted from a combination of circumstances in Western Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries (Brinkerhoff & White, 1985). According to Giddens & Sutton (2010), these circumstances have been described as the “two great revolutions”. That is because two major transformations in the society were being made. Andersen & Taylor (2006) did mention that “In this period, the political and economic systems of Europe were rapidly changing”. First to mention is what we call the “French Revolution” of 1789. According to Thio (1986), it was in this time when “many people began to question their monarchies and the authority of their churches, demanding greater freedom for the individual”. During the course of this revolution, France was temporarily transformed from an absolute monarchy to a republic of theoretically free and equal citizens (Kaiser, 2008). New policies, new constitutions, new laws.... new everything! France then turned out to be very influential. Not for long, other places in Europe began adopting these changes as well. The second “great revolution” is the Industrial Revolution which is said to have begun in Britain during the late eighteenth century. Then in the nineteenth century, it spread throughout western Europe and the United Sates. According to Brinkerhoff & White (1985), “the revolution was a major turning point in history”. Why? It was a period where machinery and factories replaced manual labor and small country houses. Instead of living with the agricultural and rural settings, the people rather chose to live in cities and urbanized areas. As Brinkerhoff & White (1985) has stated, “the social, economic, and political conditions of the society were revolutionized”. But as this happened, too many people had compressed themselves in the urban areas. This brought forth housing shortages, sanitation problems, and harsh working environment (Brinkerhoff & White, 1985). And so, it is not difficult to see that despite the many advancements being made, certain problems still occurred. And those problems resulted to what we call poverty. Brinkerhoff & White (1985) explained, “The changes given by industrialization created stress by producing situations for which there were no preset patterns.” Like what any other person would do when faced with problems, the people of those times looked for any possible answers to those social upheavals. Just as what Thio (1986) said, “Many social philosophers felt challenged to find solutions to their societies’ new problems and to understand how and why such radical change could occur.” So, how exactly did they do this? By the time of the Industrial Revolution, science has had a great deal of contribution to its development. Many discoveries and inventions, such as the telegraph and x-ray, have been made with the help of science. Hence, many thought of studying society with a scientific approach. Just as what Brinkerhoff & White (1985) said, “Who was to say that science could not discover how to turn stones to gold or how to eliminate poverty or war?” With this idea, many had hoped that the “tools of science could help in understanding and controlling a rapidly changing society” (Brinkerhoff & White, 1985). This era was chiefly called the Enlightenment era or the Age of Reason. Because it was characterized by the faith in the ability of human reason to solve society’s problems (Andersen & Taylor, 2006). And of course, it was with the help of scientific methods. It is quite unlikely to think that the men who built the foundations of sociology were not themselves sociologists. Brinkerhoff & White (1985) said that they were actually philosophers, economists and preachers who just provided the basis for the new disciplines. One of which is Henri De Saint-Simon who was said to be the first to treat society as a district and separate unit of analysis (Kassop & Popenoe ,1991). But even so, it is August Comte who is recognized as the ”Father of Sociology” for he was the one who coined the term sociology. And according to Konig (1968), “he was among the first to suggest that the scientific method could be turned into social events” (as cited in Brinkerhoff & White, 1985, p.8). And with this, he developed the philosophy of positivism. Next in line was Herbert Spencer , a British philosopher-scientist who applied the principle of “survival of the fittest” to social classes. He believed that those who best adapted to society occupied the top ranks, and those who didn’t were less fit (Brinkerhoff & White, 1985). The Founders of modern theory, according to Brinkerhoff & White (1985), were Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber. Marx, who believed differently as Spencer because of his poor living, proposed “the economic determinism” and “the dialect” and proclaimed that the primary feature of society is class conflict (Thio, 1986). Spencer and Marx, although they knew the value of science in the study of sociology, were said to not have applied the scientific methods in their speculations (Thio,1986). According to Thio (1986), “It was Durkheim who pioneered the systematic application of scientific methods is sociology”. Weber, on the other hand, is best known for his studies of bureaucracy and capitalism. Popenoe (1991) has said that Weber’s thoughts contradict Marx’s for he believed that “social scientists can find objective solutions to problems only if the suspend their own value judgments” (Thio,1986). Development of sociology in the United States was somewhat different in Europe. Although both rooted from social problems, the approach was different in the United States. Rather than radically approaching those social concerns as a whole, Americans were more inclined on the specific problems and decided to treat each problem individually (Thio,1968). According to Thio (1986), Kassop & Popenoe (1991) and Brinkerhoff & White (1985), some early pioneers of American sociology were William Sumner, Robert Park, W.E.B DuBios and George Herbert. But there are even much more. Schools as well have given major contributions. Most renowned of them all is the University of Chicago who remained the most influential center of sociological work until the coming of the World War II (Kassop & Popenoe, 1991). Today, sociology has developed into a diverse discipline (Thio,1986). There have already been many additions to the previous laws and theories. And therefore, several theoretical perspectives are already being employed by the sociologists of the present days. According to Giddens & Sutton (2010), “We are living in an age of massive social transformation”. With that, they suggest that we study the development of sociology, and its current form, by having to grasp them in context of changes that have created the modern world (Giddens & Sutton, 2010). These changes pertain to circumstances which can bring massive effects on the progress of a society and behaviour of an individual. “The basic assumption that is made by sociologists is that all human behaviour is shaped by society and social circumstances” (Kassop & Popenoe, 1991). This is easily observed through the development of sociology itself. We notice that through the occurrences during the Enlightenment Era, such as the problems which arose in the Industrial Revolution, people were led to question why such human behaviour turned out to be like they were. And with that, they were persuaded to look for ways to improve the world. Just as what Giddens (2006) said, “The shattering of traditional ways of life wrought by these changes resulted in the attempts of thinkers to develop a new understanding of both the social and natural worlds”. It was as if the people were molded and motivated by these experiences to study man’s social behaviours. If ever those instances had not occurred, then maybe by this time we wouldn’t need to take any sociology courses because they won’t exist at all. And most probably, nobody would even dare investigate the wonders of the human being and his own social environment.

Reference List

Andersen, M.L., & Taylor, H.F. (2006). Sociology: Understanding a diverse society. (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.
Anderson, R., & Thomas, W.L. (1982). Sociology: The study of human relationships. (3rd ed.). NY:Harcourt Brace Janovich, Inc.
Brinkerhoff, D.B., & White, L.K. (1985). Sociology. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Company Giddens, A. (2006). Sociology.(5th ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press. Giddens, A., & Sutton, P.W. (2010). Sociology: Introductory readings.(3rd ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press Kaiser, T. E. (2008). "French Revolution". Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation.

Kassop, M., & Popenoe, D. (1991).Sociology: Study Guide. (8th ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Inc. Thio, A. (1986). Sociology: An introduction. NY: Harper and Row, Publishers.


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