Emergence of Sociology
During the 19th century, sociology emerged as separate social science in Europe and its objective was the study of society. Auguste Comte, Spencer, and Emile Durkheim besides several other social thinkers sought to establish the idea of society as a matter of study, unique in itself. They examined society as a whole – which is more than the sum of its parts. Society is more than the actions, thoughts, values, beliefs, and wishes of its members. It is a complex and abstract reality, yet all human beings live in a society.
A sociologist is interested in the general study of social behavior as it occurs in groups, large or small, and lays special stress on understanding social life in the contemporary world. The word ‘general’ has been used as other social science disciplines deal with more specific areas. For example, a political scientist studies governmental functions and activities and an economist studies the production and distribution of goods. It is, however, difficult to draw an exact line of difference. Social psychology, social anthropology, political science, and economics, all in a sense, have human social life as their general subject.
As sociology is a relatively young discipline compared with the disciplines of philosophy, economics, and political science, sometimes, people confuse it with social work. Sociology is used in the discipline of social work to analyze and understand social problems. Social work is concerned with the uplift of those socially deprived, physically handicapped, etc. Sociology is not concerned with the reformation of society as such nor is it directly involved in social planning or directed change. The sociological understanding and research can help in better planning and in finding ways and means of acceptance of improved practices, in the formulation of development policies and programs. It is generally accepted that sociologists do not interfere with social processes. They are supposed to be value-neutral, i.e., they are not supposed to have any bias or prejudice in the analysis of social behavior. There are, however, at present, some, who question this and feel that sociologists must take an active role in the development process.
The emergence of sociology is the topic of how sociology as a discipline came into being. Sociology is a social science that studies human societies, their interactions, and the processes that preserve and change them. Sociology emerged in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when social observers began to use scientific methods to test their ideas. The following four factors led to its development:
- The social upheaval in Europe as a result of the Industrial Revolution, led to changes in the way people lived their lives. The Industrial Revolution created new social problems such as urbanization, poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation.
- The French Revolution, challenged the existing political and social order and inspired people to demand more democracy, equality, and human rights. The French Revolution also sparked a wave of revolutions across Europe and the world, which influenced the development of different sociological perspectives.
- The Enlightenment project and its focus on historical change, social injustice, and the possibilities of social reform. The Enlightenment was a cultural movement that emphasized reason, science, and human progress over tradition, religion, and superstition. The Enlightenment thinkers also developed new concepts such as individualism, liberty, and human nature.
- The emergence of new scientific disciplines such as biology, physics, and psychology, which provided new methods and theories for studying the natural and social world. Sociology borrowed and adapted some of these methods and theories to analyze human social life and its wide-ranging characteristics and systems.
These factors contributed to the emergence of sociology as a distinct field of study that aimed to understand the complex and dynamic nature of human society. Sociology also developed in response to the specific historical and cultural contexts of different countries and regions. Some of the early major thinkers who shaped the discipline were Auguste Comte, Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Georg Simmel, W.E.B. Du Bois, Harriet Martineau, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Their work is still relevant today as it provides insights into various aspects of social life such as culture, religion, economy, politics, gender, race, class, and social change.