Sociology

Sociology studies human social behavior as well as its origins and development. It is not limited to individual human behavior; it also examines social units like families, classes, states, organizations, and other institutions. As a social science it uses a combination of methods from empirical investigation to critical analysis in order to develop a body of knowledge about human social actions, social structure and functions. Sociological insights can be applied to the creation of social policies and the advancement of social welfare. Its goal is to refine the theoretical understanding of social processes, from the micro level of individual agency and interaction to the macro level of systems and the social structure.

Traditionally, sociology focuses on the dynamics that create and maintain social classes, issues of social mobility, or social institutions like religions, law enforcement, and social deviance. Today, everything social is fair game for sociologists: the health care system, diseases, medical, educational, military or penal institutions, the Internet and everything that is related to it, environmental sociology, political economy, or the role of social organization in the development of scientific knowledge.

Accordingly, the methods are rich. Sociologists use qualitative and quantitative techniques; they employ interpretative, hermeneutic, or philosophical approaches to the analysis of society. new technologies create new opportunities for the discipline. Computers and the increasing availability of data allows new analytic and computational techniques, such as agent-based modelling or social network analysis.

Quotes about Sociology:

  • “Our main goal is to extend scientific rationalism to human conduct… What has been called our positivism is but a consequence of this rationalism.”    — Émile Durkheim, The Rules of Sociological Method (1895)
  • The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
  • Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.   — Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels The Communist Manifesto 1848,
  • [Sociology is ] … the science whose object is to interpret the meaning of social action and thereby give a causal explanation of the way in which the action proceeds and the effects which it produces. By ‘action’ in this definition is meant the human behavior when and to the extent that the agent or agents see it as subjectively meaningful … the meaning to which we refer may be either (a) the meaning actually intended either by an individual agent on a particular historical occasion or by a number of agents on an approximate average in a given set of cases, or (b) the meaning attributed to the agent or agents, as types, in a pure type constructed in the abstract. In neither case is the ‘meaning’ to be thought of as somehow objectively ‘correct’ or ‘true’ by some metaphysical criterion. This is the difference between the empirical sciences of action, such as sociology and history, and any kind of prior discipline, such as jurisprudence, logic, ethics, or aesthetics whose aim is to extract from their subject-matter ‘correct’ or ‘valid’ meaning.       — Max Weber The Nature of Social Action 1922
  • The deepest problems of modern life flow from the attempt of the individual to maintain the independence and individuality of his existence against the sovereign powers of society, against the weight of the historical heritage and the external culture and technique of life. The antagonism represents the most modern form of the conflict which primitive man must carry on with nature for his own bodily existence. The eighteenth century may have called for liberation from all the ties which grew up historically in politics, in religion, in morality and in economics in order to permit the original natural virtue of man, which is equal in everyone, to develop without inhibition; the nineteenth century may have sought to promote, in addition to man’s freedom, his individuality (which is connected with the division of labor) and his achievements which make him unique and indispensable but which at the same time make him so much the more dependent on the complementary activity of others; Nietzsche may have seen the relentless struggle of the individual as the prerequisite for his full development, while socialism found the same thing in the suppression of all competition – but in each of these the same fundamental motive was at work, namely the resistance of the individual to being leveled, swallowed up in the social-technological mechanism.   — Georg Simmel The Metropolis and Mental Life 1903,
  • Marx and Engels associated the emergence of modern society above all with the development of capitalism; for Durkheim it was connected in particular with industrialization and the new social division of labor which this brought about; for Weber it had to do with the emergence of a distinctive way of thinking, the rational calculation which he associated with the Protestant Ethic (more or less what Marx and Engels speak of in terms of those ‘icy waves of egotistical calculation’). Together the works of these great classical sociologists suggest what Giddens has recently described as ‘a multidimensional view of institutions of modernity’ and which emphasizes not only capitalism and industrialism as key institutions of modernity, but also ‘surveillance’ (meaning ‘control of information and social supervision’) and ‘military power’ (control of the means of violence in the context of the industrialization of war).  — John Harriss: The Second Great Transformation? Capitalism at the End of the Twentieth Century 1992.
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