Introduction To Sociology

By Notes Vandar

Sociology is a discipline that belongs to what conventionally is called social science. The discipline plays a leading role in the social sciences. The term sociology literally means the science of society; for the term itself in its direct sense denotes that.

The word sociology is derived from Latin and Greek words, socio which means socius or soccietus and logos mean study respectively. It’s a systematic and scientific study of human social life.

Sociologists study people as they form groups and interact with one another. The groups they study may be small, such as married couples, or large, such as a subculture of suburban teenagers. Sociology places special emphasis on studying societies, both as individual entities and as elements of a global perspective.

Sociology has been defined in a number of ways by different sociologists. No single definition has yet been accepted as completely satisfactory. In fact, there are lots of definitions of sociology as there are sociologists. However in a simple terms,

  • According to Mex Weber, Sociology is the science which attempts the interpretive understanding of social action.
  • Whereas, Emile Durkheim defines sociology as the systematic description and explanation of society as a whole.
  • Sociology is the study of collective behavior. (Park & Burgess)
  • Sociology is the scientific study of social aspects of human life. (Mark Young)
  • Sociology is the study of social groups on the basis of social interaction. (Simmel)
  • Sociology is the study of social aspects of humans living together. (Tonnies)

Hence the above described definition makes clear that sociology can be understood as a science of society study on social relations, social occurrence, social behavior, action and interaction.

Contribution of Auguste Comte in Development of Sociology

Auguste Comte was the first social philosopher to coin and use the term sociology. Auguste Comte born in Montellier of Southern France in January 1, 1798 and died in 1857 was first to regard himself as a sociologist. 

He defined sociology as the scientific study of social dynamics and social static. He argued that sociology can and should study society and social phenomena following the pattern and procedures of the natural science. Comte believed that a theoretical science of society and the systematic investigation of human behavior were needed to improve society. He argued that the new science of society could and should make a critical contribution towards a new and improved human society.

Comte defined sociology as the study of social dynamic and social static, the former signifying the changing, progressing and developmental dimensions of society, while the latter refers to the social order and those elements of society and social phenomena which tend to persist and relatively permanent, defying change.

Contribution of Comte in development of Sociology

Significant contribution made by Augste Comte known as father of sociology have described as follows:

  • Positivism 

Comte defined sociology as a positive science. Positivism in simple term is scientific, he define positivism as the philosophical view that the only or true form of human knowledge is that discovered by empirical science. Comte says that every social cause have some scientific fact behind that e.g. the revolution, rotation of earth and moon, occurring of day and night, natural disaster such as drought, flood and earthquake has some scientific reason. Like this social problem like divorce, prostitution, poverty human trafficking has some scientific facts. Comte identified three basic methods for discovering these invariant laws, observation, experimentation, and comparison. 

Positivism doesn’t include religious beliefs and metaphysical beliefs. Positivism is the belief that human knowledge is produced by the scientific interpretation of observational data.

  • Evolutionary Theory of Conte

Comte’s evolutionary theory or the law of three stages represents that there are three intellectual stages through which the world has gone throughout its history. According to him, not only does the world go through this process but groups, societies, sciences, individuals and even minds go through the same three stages. As there has been an evolution in the human thinking so that each succeeding stage is superior to and more evolved than the preceding stage. However, these three stages are as follows:-

  • Theological or Fictitious Stage:

This stage was the first stage of law of three stages. It characterized the world prior to 1300 A.D. According to Comte in this stage “All theoretical conceptions whether general or special bear a super natural impress”. It was believed that all the activities of men were guided and governed by supernatural power. In this stage the social and the physical world was produced by God. At this stage man’s thinking was guided by theological dogmas. It was marked by lack of logical and orderly thinking. Theological thinking is characterized by unscientific outlook

  • Metaphysical or Abstract Stage:

This is the second stage which occurred roughly between 1300 and 1800 A.D. This is an improved form of theological stage. Under this stage it was believed that an abstract power or force guided and determined all the events of the world. It was against the belief in concrete God. There was development of reason in human thinking. By this man ceased to think that it was the supernatural being that controlled and guided all the activities.

  • Positive Stage:

The last and the final stage of human thinking or human mind was the positive stage or the scientific stage which entered into the world in 1800. This stage was characterized by belief in Science. People now tended to give up the search for absolute causes (God or Nature) and concentrated instead on observation of the social and physical world in the search for the laws governing them.


Emile Durkheim was a French philosopher and sociologist who used scientific methods to study society. He applied scientific methodology to sociology discipline. He is also known as father of French sociology, functional theory and modern sociology. Emile Durkheim was born on April 15, 1858, Epinal, France—died November 15, 1917, Paris. He is widely regarded as the founder of the French school of sociology along with other sociologist. He presented numerous lectures and published works on a variety of topics, including the sociology of knowledge, morality, religion, law, education and deviance.

 Some of the important works of Durkheim’s are the following.

  1. Le Suicide (The Suicide)-1897
  2. (ii) De La Division du Travill Sociale (The Social Division of Labour)-1893


  • Empirical study of social facts 


Emile Durkheim was a well-known sociologist famous for his views on the structure of society. He argued that the sociology discipline should be understood as the empirical scientific study of social facts i.e. social values, cultural norms, social structure, behavioral patter and characteristics of particular group. Social facts should be study through observation and experiment. 


  • Functionalism  


Functionalism emphasizes a societal equilibrium. If something happens to disrupt the order and the flow of the system, society must adjust to achieve a stable state. According to Durkheim, society should be analyzed and described in terms of functions. Society is a system of interrelated parts where no one part can function without the other. These parts make up the whole of society. If one part changes, it has an impact on society as a whole.


For example, the state provides public education for children. The family of the children pays taxes, which the state uses for public education. The children who learn from public education go on to become law-abiding and working citizens, who pay taxes to support the state.


  • Collective conscience 


Durkheim believed that individual is bind together through a shared culture as “solidarity.” Through his research, he found that this was achieved through a combination of rules, norms, and roles; the existence of a “collective conscience,” which refers to how we think in common given our shared culture; and through the collective engagement in rituals that remind us of the values we share in common, of our group affiliation, and our shared interests.


  • Durkheim book:  Le Suicide (1897)


In his book “Le Suicide” he claimed that suicide is linked with social integration of an individual. 

Durkheim’s most important reason for studying suicide was to prove the power of the new science of Sociology. Suicide is generally considered to be one of the most private and personal acts. Durkheim believed that if he could show that Sociology had a role to play in explaining such an individualistic act as suicide, it would be relatively easy to extend Sociology’s domain to phenomena. 


According to Durkheim, people have a certain level of attachment to their groups, which he calls social integration. Abnormally high or low levels of social integration may result in increased suicide rates; low levels have this effect because low social integration results in disorganized society, causing people to turn to suicide as a last resort, while high levels cause people to kill themselves to avoid becoming burdens on society. Those lacking social identification are more vulnerable to suicide; hence social forces play their role in individual decision.



Karl mark (1818-1883)

  • The German political philosopher and economist, Karl Marx presented the theories about society, politics and economics, collectively understood as Marxism 
  • Marx believed that social interdependence, and stability is an illusion, it’s a class conflict, struggle and competition which mark all the societies
  • His key concepts were about the social class structure, his criticisms of capitalism and communism as an alternative
  • Marx travelled through Europe during the mid and later half of the 19th century where he saw much poverty and inequality.  The more he travelled the more he explained what he saw through unequal access to resources and ownership of property, wealth.
  • Some of his books are Das Capital (1897) and Communist Manifesto (1848)



A. Capitalist society is divided into two classes 

* The bourgeoisie (capitalist/haves/elite/ruling class) 

  • Who own and control the wealth of a country. 
  • These control the productive forces
  • Consisted of land, factories and machines that could be used to produce goods that could then be sold for a profit. 

* Proletariat (haves not/working class)

  • The majority, or the masses, can only gain a living by selling their labor power to the bourgeoisie for a price.

B. The bourgeoisie increase their wealth by exploiting the proletariat 

C. Those who have economic power control all other institutions in society 

D. Revolution and communism

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles 




Emile Durkheim, Talcottt Parsons and Herber Spencher developed Functionalism in the 1940s and 50s. It’s also known as structural functionalism or simply functionalism. 

The functionalist perspective sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability. According to them, each aspect of society is interdependent and contributes to society’s stability and functioning as a whole. For example, the government provides education for the children of the family, which in turn pays taxes on which the state depends to keep itself running. That is, the family is dependent upon the school to help children grow up to have good jobs so that they can raise and support their own families. In the process, the children become law-abiding, taxpaying citizens, who in turn support the state.

If all goes well, the parts of society produce order, stability, and productivity. If all does not go well, the parts of society then must adapt to recapture a new order, stability, and productivity. For example, during a financial recession with its high rates of unemployment and inflation, social programs are trimmed or cut. Schools offer fewer programs. Families tighten their budgets. And a new social order, stability, and productivity occur.

Functionalists believe that society is held together by social consensus, in which members of the society agree upon, and work together to achieve, what is best for society as a whole. 

Functionalists use the terms functional and dysfunctional to describe the effects of social elements on society. Elements of society are functional if they contribute to social stability and dysfunctional if they disrupt social stability. Some aspects of society can be both functional and dysfunctional. For example, crime is dysfunctional in that it is associated with physical violence, loss of property, and fear. But according to Durkheim and other functionalists, crime is also functional for society because it leads to heightened awareness of shared moral bonds and increased social cohesion.


The functionalist perspective views society as composed of different parts working together. In contrast, the conflict perspective views society as composed of different groups and interest competing for power and resources. The conflict perspective explains various aspects of our social world by looking at which groups have power and benefit from a particular social arrangement. 

 The origins of the conflict perspective can be traced to the classic works of Karl Marx. Marx suggested that all societies go through stages of economic development. As societies evolve from agricultural to industrial, concern over meeting survival needs is replaced by concern over making a profit, the hallmark of a capitalist system. Industrialization leads to the development of two classes of people: the bourgeoisie, or the owners of the means of production (e.g., factories, farms, businesses); and the proletariat, or the workers who earn wages. 

The division of society into two broad classes of people—the “haves” and the “have nots”—is beneficial to the owners of the means of production. The workers, who may earn only subsistence wages, are denied access to the many resources available to the wealthy owners. According to Marx, the bourgeoisie use their power to control the institutions of society to their advantage. For example, Marx suggested that religion serves as an “opiate of the masses” in that it soothes the distress and suffering associated with the working-class lifestyle and focuses the workers’ attention on spirituality, God, and the afterlife rather than on such worldly concerns as living conditions. In essence, religion diverts the workers so that they concentrate on being rewarded in heaven for living a moral life rather than on questioning their exploitation.


Symbolic interactionism is a micro-level theory that focuses on the relationships among individuals within a society. Communication—the exchange of meaning through language and symbols—is believed to be the way in which people make sense of their social worlds. 

Symbolic interactionism is an interaction between human beings via symbols such as words, definitions, roles, gestures, rituals etc. Symbolic interactionism focuses on the nature of interaction the dynamic patterns of social action and social relationship. Whatever form of interaction takes place it emerges from a particular situation.

Symbols impose particular meanings on objects and these meanings are constructed and reconstructed in the process of social interaction. Symbolic interaction is necessary since man has no instincts to direct his behavior. He is not genetically programmed to react automatically to particular stimuli. In order to survive he has to find medium of interaction with others and symbols filled the lacuna. Via symbols meaning is imposed on the world of nature and human interaction with that world is there by made possible. 

For example, the word ‘dog’ is just a series of letters. Through your interactions with the letters ‘dog’, you see this as a furry, four-legged canine.

But it doesn’t just stop there. Depending on your experiences with dogs, this arrangement of letters could hold negative or positive meanings. For example, if you were bitten by a dog as a child, then the letters ‘dog’ could make you afraid. However, if a dog was your best friend growing up, then ‘dog’ might hold a positive connotation.

While everyone knows what the letters ‘dog’ means, a canine animal, the meaning the word holds for you is subjective. Therefore, your interactions color the symbolic meanings assigned to words, objects, thoughts, events, and people. Explore some other examples of symbolic interactionism.

Important Questions
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