Sociology is the science or study of the origin, development, organization, and functioning of human society; the science of the fundamental laws of social relationships, institutions, etc. It generally concerns itself with the social rules and processes that bind and separate people not only as individuals, but as members of associations, groups, and institutions, and includes the examination of the organization and development of human social life. The sociological field of interest ranges from the analysis of short contacts between anonymous individuals on the street to the study of global social processes. Most sociologists work in one or more specialties or subfields.
The meaning of the word comes from the suffix "-logy" which means "study of," derived from Greek, and the stem "socio-" which is from the Latin word socius, meaning member, friend, or ally, thus referring to people in general. It is a social science involving the study of the social lives of people, groups, and societies, sometimes defined as the study of social interactions. It is a relatively new academic discipline which evolved in the early 19th century.
Because sociology is such a broad discipline, it can be difficult to define, even for professional sociologists. One useful way to describe the discipline is as a cluster of sub-fields that examine different dimensions of society. For example, social stratification studies inequality and class structure; demography studies changes in a population size or type; criminology examines criminal behavior and deviance; political sociology studies government and laws; and the sociology of race and sociology of gender examine society's racial and gender cleavages.
New sociological sub-fields continue to appear - such as economic sociology and network analysis - many of which are cross-disciplanary in nature.
Since the late 1970s, many sociologists have tried to make the discipline useful for non-academic purposes. The results of sociological research aid educators, lawmakers, administrators, developers, and others interested in resolving social problems and formulating public policy, through subdisciplinary areas such as survey research, evaluation research, methodological assessment, and public sociology.
Sociological methods, theories, and concepts compel the sociologist to explore the origins of commonly accepted rules governing human behavior. This specific approach to reality is known as the sociological perspective. Sociology is methodologically diverse using both qualitative and quantitative methods, including case studies, survey research, statistical analysis, and model building among others.
Sociology is a relatively new academic discipline among other social sciences including economics, political science, anthropology, history, and psychology. The ideas behind it, however, have a long history and can trace their origins to a mixture of common human knowledge and philosophy. Sociology as a scientific discipline emerged in the early 19th century as an academic response to the challenge of modernity: as the world was becoming smaller and more integrated, people's experience of the world was increasingly atomized and dispersed. Sociologists hoped not only to understand what held social groups together, but also to develop an antidote to social disintegration.
The term was coined by Auguste Comte in 1838 from Latin Socius (companion, associate) and Greek logos (speech). Comte hoped to unify all studies of humankind--including history, psychology and economics. His own sociological scheme was typical of the 19th century; he believed all human life had passed through the same distinct historical stages (theology, metaphysics, positive science) and that, if one could grasp this progress, one could prescribe the remedies for social ills. Sociology was to be the 'queen of sciences'.
The first book with the term 'sociology' in its title was The Study of Sociology (1874) by the English philosopher Herbert Spencer. In the United States, Lester Frank Ward, described by some as the father of American sociology, published Dynamic Sociology in 1883 and the discipline was taught by its own name for the first time at the University of Kansas, Lawrence in 1890 under the course title Elements of Sociology (the oldest continuing sociology course in America).
The Department of History and Sociology at the University of Kansas was established in 1891 and the first full fledged independent university department of sociology was established in 1892 at the University of Chicago by Albion W. Small, who in 1895 founded the American Journal of Sociology. The first European department of sociology was founded in 1895 at the University of Bordeaux by Emile Durkheim, founder of L'Annee Sociologique (1896). The first sociology department to be established in the United Kingdom was at the London School of Economics and Political Science (home of the British Journal of Sociology) in 1904. In 1919 a sociology department was established in Germany at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich by Max Weber and in 1920 in Poland by Florian Znaniecki.
International cooperation in sociology began in 1893 when Rene Worms founded the small Institut International de Sociologie that was eclipsed by the much larger International Sociological Association starting in 1949 (ISA). In 1905 the American Sociological Association, the world's largest association of professional sociologists, was founded.
Other "classical" theorists of sociology from the late 19th and early 20th centuries include Karl Marx, Ferdinand Tonnies, Emile Durkheim, Vilfredo Pareto, and Max Weber. Like Comte, these figures did not consider themselves only "sociologists". Their works addressed religion, education, economics, law, psychology, ethics, philosophy, and theology, and their theories have been applied in a variety of academic disciplines. Their most enduring influence, however, has been on sociology, (with the exception of Marx, who is a central figure in the field of economics as well) and it is in this field that their theories are still considered most applicable.
One shift in the discipline away from scientific explanation had philosophical roots. Early theorists' approach to sociology, led by Comte, was to treat it in the same manner as natural science, applying the same methods and methodology used in the natural sciences to study social phenomena. The emphasis on empiricism and the scientific method sought to provide an incontestable foundation for any sociological claims or findings, and to distinguish sociology from less empirical fields like philosophy.
This methodological approach, called positivism, became a source of contention between sociologists and other scientists, and eventually a point of divergence within the field itself. Thus, while most sciences evolved from deterministic, Newtonian models to probabilistic models which accept and even incorporate uncertainty, sociology began to cleave into those who believed in a deterministic approach (attributing variation to structure, interactions, or other forces) and those who rejected the very possibility of explanation and prediction.
A second push away from scientific explanation was cultural, even sociological, itself. As early as the 19th century, positivist and naturalist approaches to studying social life were questioned by scientists like Wilhelm Dilthey and Heinrich Rickert, who argued that the natural world differs from the social world due to unique aspects of human society such as meanings, symbols, rules, norms, and values.
These elements of society both result in and generate human cultures. This view was further developed by Max Weber, who introduced antipositivism (humanistic sociology). According to this view, which is closely related to antinaturalism, sociological research must concentrate on humans' cultural values. This has led to some controversy on how one can draw the line between subjective and objective research and has also influenced hermeneutical studies. Similar disputes, especially in the era of the Internet, have led to variations in sociology such as public sociology, which emphasizes the usefulness of sociological expertise to abstracted audiences.
Social theory refers to the use of abstract and often complex theoretical frameworks to explain and analyze social patterns and macro social structures in social life, rather than explaining patterns of social life. Social theory always had an uneasy relationship to the more classic academic disciplines; many of its key thinkers never held a university position. While social theory is sometimes considered a branch of sociology, it is inherently interdisciplinary, as it deals with multiple fields including anthropology, economics, theology, history, philosophy, and many others.
First social theories developed almost simultaneously with the birth of the sociology science itself. Auguste Comte, known as 'father of sociology', also laid the groundwork for one of the first social theories - social evolutionism. In the 19th century three great, classical theories of social and historical change were created: the social evolutionism theory (of which social darwinism is a part of), the social cycle theory and the Marxist historical materialism theory. Although the majority of 19th century social theories are now considered obsolete they have spawned new, modern social theories. Modern social theories represent some advanced version of the classical theories, like Multilineal theories of evolution (neoevolutionism, sociobiology, theory of modernization, theory of post-industrial society) or the general historical sociology and the theory of subjectivity and creation of the society.
Unlike disciplines within the natural sciences -- such as physics or chemistry -- social theorists may be less committed to use the scientific method to vindicate their theories. Instead, they tackle very large-scale social trends and structures using hypotheses that cannot be easily proved, except by historical and psychological interpretation, which is often the basis of criticism from opponents of social theories. Extremely critical theorists, such as deconstructionists or postmodernists, may argue that any systematic type of research or method is inherently flawed. Many times, however, "social theory" is defined without reference to science because the social reality it describes is so overarching as to be unprovable. The social theories of modernity or anarchy might be two examples of this.
However, social theories are a major part of the science of sociology. Objective science-based research can often provide support for explanations given by social theorists. Statistical research grounded in the scientific method, for instance, that finds a severe income disparity between women and men performing the same occupation can complement the underlying premise of the complex social theories of feminism or patriarchy. In general, and particularly among adherents to pure sociology, social theory has an appeal because it takes the focus away from the individual (which is how most humans look at the world) and focuses it on the society itself and the social forces which control our lives.
This sociological insight (or sociological imagination) has through the years appealed to students and others dissatisfied with the status quo because it carries the assumption that societal structures and patterns are either random, arbitrary or controlled by specific powerful groups -- thus implying the possibility of change. This has a particular appeal to champions of the underdog, the dispossessed, and/or those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder because it implies that their position in society is undeserved and/or the result of oppression.
Sociologists study society and social behavior by examining the groups and social institutions people form, as well as various social, religious, political, and business organizations. They also study the behavior of, and social interaction among, groups, trace their origin and growth, and analyze the influence of group activities on individual members. Sociologists are concerned with the characteristics of social groups, organizations, and institutions; the ways individuals are affected by each other and by the groups to which they belong; and the effect of social traits such as sex, age, or race on a person's daily life.
The results of sociological research aid educators, lawmakers, administrators, and others interested in resolving social problems and formulating public policy. Most sociologists work in one or more specialties, such as social organization, social stratification, and social mobility; racial and ethnic relations; education; family; social psychology; urban, rural, political, and comparative sociology; sex roles and relationships; demography; gerontology; criminology; and sociological practice.
Although sociology emerged in large part from Comte's conviction that sociology eventually would subsume all other areas of scientific inquiry, in the end, sociology did not replace the other sciences. Instead, sociology came to be identified with the other social sciences (psychology, economics, etc.). Today, sociology studies humankind's organizations, social institutions and their social interactions, largely employing a comparative method. The discipline has concentrated particularly on the organization of complex industrial societies. Recent sociologists, taking cues from anthropologists, have noted the "Western emphasis" of the field. In response, many sociology departments around the world are encouraging multi-cultural and multi-national studies.
Today, sociologists research micro-structures that organize society, such as race or ethnicity, social class, gender roles, and institutions such as the family; social processes that represent deviation from, or the breakdown of, these structures, including crime and divorce; and micro-processes such as interpersonal interactions and the socialization of individuals.
Sociologists often rely on quantitative methods of social research to describe large patterns in social relationships and in order to develop models that can help predict social change. Other branches of sociology believe that qualitative methods - such as focused interviews, group discussions and ethnographic methods - allow for a better understanding of social processes. Some sociologists argue for a middle ground that sees quantitative and qualitative approaches as complementary. Results from one approach can fill gaps in the other approach. For example, quantitative methods could describe large or general patterns while qualitative approaches could help to understand how individuals understand those patterns.
There are several main methods that sociologists use to gather empirical evidence, which include questionnaires, interviews, participant observation, and statistical research.
The problem with all of these approaches is that they are all based on what theoretical position the researcher adopts to explain and understand the society the researcher sees in front of themselves. If one is a functionalist like Emile Durkheim, one is likely to interpret everything in terms of large-scale social structures. A symbolic interactionist is likely to concentrate on the way people understand one another.
A researcher who is a Marxist or a neo-Marxist is likely to interpret everything through the grid of class struggle and economics. Phenomenologists tend to think that there is only the way in which people construct their meanings of reality, and nothing else. One of the real problems is that many sociologists argue that only one theoretical approach is the "right" one, and it is theirs. In practice, sociologists often tend to mix and match different approaches and methods, since each method produces particular types of data.
The Internet is of interest for sociologists in three ways: as a tool for research, for example, in using online questionnaires instead of paper ones, as a discussion platform, and as a research topic. Sociology of the Internet in the last sense includes analysis of online communities (e.g. as found in newsgroups), virtual communities and virtual worlds, organisational change catalysed through new media like the Internet, and societal change at-large in the transformation from industrial to informational society (or to information society).
In the early 20th century, sociologists and psychologists who conducted research in industrial societies contributed to the development of anthropology. Anthropologists also conducted research in industrial societies. Today sociology and anthropology are better contrasted according to different theoretical concerns and methods rather than objects of study.
Sociobiology is a relatively new field to branch from both the sociology and biology disciplines. Although the field once rapidly gained acceptance, it has remained highly controversial as it attempts to find ways in which social behavior and structures can be explained by evolutionary and biological processes. Sociobiologists are often criticized by Ashwin N.Ramani for depending too greatly on the effects of genes in defining behavior. Sociobiologists often respond, however, by citing a complex relationship between nature and nurture. In this regard, sociobiology is closely related to physical anthropology, zoology, evolutionary psychology, human behavioral ecology, and dual inheritance theory. Nonetheless, for most in the discipline, its ideas are unacceptable. Some sociobiologists, such as Richard Machalek, call for the field of sociology to encompass the study of non-human societies along with human beings.
Sociology has some links with social psychology, but the former is more interested in social structures and the latter in social behaviors. A distinction should be made between these and forensic studies within these disciplines, particularly where anatomy is involved. These latter studies might be better named as Forensic psychology. As shown by the work of Marx and others, economics has influenced sociological theories.
To the smallest degree there is an abstract relationship to society's current concept of metaphysical ideas. Sociology is a branch of the science of human behavior that seeks to discover the causes and effects that arise in social relations among persons and in the intercommunication and interaction among persons and groups. It includes the study of the customs, structures, and institutions that emerge from interaction, of the forces that hold together and weaken them, and of the effects that participation in groups and organizations have on the behaviour and character of persons. Sociology is also concerned with the basic nature of human society, locally and universally, and with the various processes that preserve continuity and produce change.
It is social life that is distinctive in the regulation of behavior in human beings; the human animal does not have such instincts as serve to guide the behavior of lower animals, and he is therefore more dependent on social organization than is any other species. Institutionalized social forms therefore are assumed to play the major part in influencing human actions, and it is the task of sociology to discover how these forms operate on the person, as well as how they are established, develop, elaborate, interact with one another, and decay and disappear.
Among the most important of such structures is the family, the subject of an important field of sociology. The peer group, the community, the economic and political orders, various voluntary associations, and special organizations such as the church and the military are of particular importance in this inquiry.
Though sociology can be considered as a part of the Western tradition of rational inquiry inaugurated by the ancient Greeks, it is specifically the offspring of 18th- and 19th-century philosophy and has been viewed as a reaction against the frequently nonscientific approaches of classical philosophy and folklore to social phenomena. It was for a time presented as a part of moral philosophy, which covered the subject matter that eventually also became the concern of the various social sciences that are now separate from moral philosophy.
Some aspects of other fields remain of interest to the sociologist. Although psychology has traditionally centered its interest on the individual and his internal mental mechanisms, and although sociology has given its major attention to collective aspects of human behaviour, the two disciplines share the subfield of social psychology.
The relation of sociology to social anthropology is even closer, and until about the first quarter of the 20th century the two subjects were usually combined in one department, differentiated mainly by the emphasis of the anthropologists on the sociology of preliterate peoples. Recently even this distinction has been fading, as social anthropologists have increasingly added studies of various aspects of modern society to their field of interest.
Political science and economics had much of their early development in the practical interests of nations and for a time evolved separately from basic sociology; but recently in both fields an awareness of the potential utility of some infusion of sociological concepts and methods has brought relations closer. A somewhat similar situation has also been developing in respect to law, education, and religion and to a lesser extent in such contrasting fields as engineering and architecture.
Nineteenth-century sociology, influenced by the successes of biology and evolutionary theory, took an interest in resemblances between men and lower animals--in their having, for example, similar instincts--and also in the parallels between biological and social evolution. These interests have declined, but sociology continues to share with the other sciences some interest in ecology, behavioral genetics, and questions of fertility and mortality as they relate to population studies. There is also a conviction among sociologists that contact between physiology and sociology is necessary to avoid errors of ignorance in both fields.
Early Major Schools of Thought
The founders of sociology spent decades almost exclusively in the process of finding a direction for their new discipline. In the course of this groping effort they tried several highly divergent pathways, some suggested by methods and contents of other sciences, others invented outright by the imagination of the scholar.
Darwinian evolutionary theory doubtlessly suggested a way in which a science of human behaviour could become academically respectable, and a line of creative thinkers, including Herbert Spencer, Benjamin Kidd, Lewis H. Morgan, E.B. Tylor, L.T. Hobhouse, and others, developed analogies between human society and the biological organism and introduced into sociological theory such biological concepts as variation, natural selection, and inheritance--evolutionary factors resulting in the progress of societies through stages of savagery and barbarism to civilization, by virtue of the survival of the fittest.
Some writers also perceived in the growth stages of each individual a recapitulation of these stages of society. Strange customs were thus accounted for on the assumption that they were throwbacks to an earlier useful practice; an example offered was the make-believe struggle sometimes enacted at marriage ceremonies between the bridegroom and the relatives of the bride, reflecting an earlier bride-capture custom.
Social Darwinism waned in the 20th century, but in its popular period it was used to justify unrestricted competition and a laissez-faire doctrine in order that the "fittest" would survive and that civilization would continue to advance.
Except in the philosophy of Karl Marx (whose writings ranged over all the social science fields rather than specifically in sociology), the doctrine of economic determinism never gained a strong foothold in sociology. This was not a consequence of scholarly ignorance; sociologists of all periods have read Marx and have usually read such writers as the historian Charles A. Beard, who emphasized economic self-interest, and Werner Sombart, the German sociologist who had been a convinced Marxist in his early career.
But there have been only some adapted reflections of these economic views in the writings of such sociologists as Franklin H. Giddings or Frank H. Hankins who viewed some political and religious doctrines as rationalizations of economic and social interests.
The human geographers--Ellsworth Huntington, Ellen Semple, Friedrich Ratzel, Paul Vidal de La Blache, Jean Brunhes, and others--were also read critically by sociologists but did not make a lasting major contribution to the mainstream of sociological thought, even though there are some who believe that the social morphology of Emile Durkheim, Maurice Halbwachs, and others--that is, their theories about the roles of individuals interacting in a social system--grew in part from this interest.
Aside from the interest in evolution, organismic analogies, and the instinct concept, sociologists have not found biological determination of value to them and have spent more energy in refuting it than in making use of it.
Following the achievement of a consensus that there should be a place for a science of sociology, there emerged an international effort to define the distinctive character of the subject and especially to clarify its differences from psychology and biology, fields that had also begun to generalize about human behaviour.
A Frenchman, Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), was prominent among scholars who considered this question; he argued that there can arise from various kinds of interaction among individuals certain new properties (sui generis) not found in separate individuals.
These "social facts" as he called them--collective sentiments, customs, institutions, nations--call for study and explanation on a distinctly sociological level rather than on the level of individual psychology. Furthermore, the interrelations of the parts of a society were perceived as cohering into a unity, an integrated system with a life character of its own, exterior to the individual, and exercising constraint over his behaviour.
This direction of causation, from group to individual (rather than the reverse as conceived by most biologists of the time) gave encouragement to the scholar of the new science. Some writers have designated such a view "functionalism," although the term has in recent years acquired some broader variations of meaning.
Durkheim also pointed out that groups could be held together on two contrasting bases: the sentimental attraction of similarities (mechanical solidarity), such as occurs in friendship groups and among relatives and neighbours, and the organization of complementary differences (organic solidarity), such as occurs in industrial, military, governmental, and other organizations that exist because they have tasks to perform.
Other theorists of Durkheim's period, notably Henry Maine and Ferdinand Tonnies, made similar distinctions in different terms--status and contract (Maine) and Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (Tonnies)--and conceived of the major trend of civilization as an expansion of the latter and a relative decline of the former.
Some later anthropologists, especially Bronislaw Malinowski and A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, developed a doctrine also called functionalism, based on the recognition of the interrelatedness of the parts of a society, in bonds so thoroughly interpenetrating that a change in any single element would tend to produce a general disturbance in the whole. This concept gained a following for a time among many social anthropologists, leading some to advocate a policy of complete noninterference with even the most objectionable practices in a preliterate society (such as headhunting) for fear that control might produce far-reaching disorganization.
William G. Sumner, in his Folkways, defined an institution as a "concept and a structure," meaning a purpose or function that is carried out by some systematic organization of persons. Much of the sociology of Max Weber consists of the analysis of societies in such terms. Georg Simmel, sometimes called the founder of the "formal school" of sociology, viewed society as a process ("something functional") that is real and not merely an abstraction, and he built on this idea a statement of sociology consisting of a systematic analysis of social forms.
The early schools of thought--each presenting a systematic formulation of sociology that implied possession of exclusive truth and that involved a conviction of the need to destroy rival systems--in time gave way to distinguishable directions of interest and emphasis that did not have to be considered inharmonious. These new directions have no dominant leaders and no clearly defined borderlines.
Following the main contributions in the earlier theoretical formulations of Charles H. Cooley, such later authors as Pitirim A. Sorokin, Talcott Parsons, Robert Merton, Everett C. Hughes, and others have elaborated on the nature of organizations and their relation to the behavior of persons and have attempted to build workable conceptualizations of very large social systems, nations, and societies. Sorokin designated his viewpoint as "integralist" and wrote at length about the civilization-cultures that in their balance of values and conditions could be viewed as entities that had distinguishable life cycles, with "ideational," "idealistic," and "sensate" stages marking their growth and decline, thus following a philosophy-of-history tradition shared by Edward Gibbon, Oswald Spengler, and Arnold Toynbee.
Talcott Parsons has given attention to social systems in a more analytical way, inquiring into the conditions that each system must meet in order to survive (the "functional prerequisites"), the character of the standardized and stable interpersonal arrangements (structures) needed to make each system work, the relations to environmental conditions, problems of boundaries, the recruitment and control of members, and the like. Along with Robert Merton and others, he also worked on the classifications of such structures and on distinctions of function.
The subject matter and methods involved in such structural-functional analysis have indeed become so broad that some authors (such as Marion Levy) have held that it becomes synonymous with scientific analysis in general, or at least with scientific study of the nature of organization.
On a smaller scale, Kurt Lewin and his co-workers pursued somewhat parallel questions, investigating the nature of small groups, families, professional and military units, looking for arrangements and relationships of the parts of each person's "psychological life space" and of the interrelations of these to a "social space" or society's total range of action. The choice of such relatively small units for research made fruitful experimentation possible, and from Lewin's leadership grew the influential research movement that became known as group dynamics. Some writers have also applied the descriptive term microfunctionalist to this tradition.
Sociologists did not for long find the 19th-century instinctivist psychology congenial, and most of them also failed to appreciate the doctrines of classical or Watsonian behaviorism, which sought to be totally objective and experimental. One influential movement in social psychology, however, did take early root and eventually became the largest and most influential field in modern American sociology. In recent years it has become known as "symbolic interactionism," but it was under development for decades before it acquired a name.
Out of early ideas expressed by J. Mark Baldwin and William James, a group of three scholars, John Dewey, George H. Mead, and Charles H. Cooley, built the foundations of a psychology that was to become most useful to sociology. In brief, their contribution was to advance the theory that mind and self are not part of the innate equipment of the human organism but arise in experience and are constructed in a social process--that is, in a process of interaction among persons in intimate, personal communication with one another.
The self, or self-concept, as developed by Mead and others, is thus essentially an internalization of aspects of an interpersonal or social process. It exists in imagery and symbolization and is internalized and organized for each person out of his perception of how other persons conceive him. This self-concept, however inexact, fluctuating, and uncertain, nevertheless functions as a guide in social behaviour--that is, persons tend to act in order to preserve the existing or desired image of their self.
William I. Thomas, a sociologist and colleague of the philosopher Mead at the University of Chicago in the early years of the 20th century, regularly taught a course in social psychology based on Mead's conceptions. Thomas was succeeded in 1919 by Ellsworth Faris, himself a psychologist but later a member of the department of sociology, and through his work the tradition was further developed and brought into closer relation to the sociological tradition of Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess, also at Chicago.
In this tradition an interest in an appropriate methodology accompanied the growth of substantive knowledge; Thomas particularly emphasized the value of extensive use of personal documents, life histories, and autobiographies. In recent years interest in research on the self and self-conscious behavior has spread widely, and is now participated in by psychologists, philosophers, and essayists, as well as by a movement within sociology called "ethnomethodology," which investigates areas of symbolic interaction by informal observation, reflection, and skilled interpretation, methods sometimes called Verstehen (understanding).
Economic determinism reflects the interest that a few early sociologists took in views of Karl Marx, such as the idea that differentiation into social classes and conflict between these classes derive from economic factors and the belief that the political system is in large part a product of such social stratification. A residue of this kind of determinism is found among the self-proclaimed "Marxian sociologists."
Perhaps the most widely read of these was C. Wright Mills, whose concept of a "power elite" has been extensively and critically examined, with varying resulting judgments on its utility.
As Mills saw it, this elite constitutes an integrated ruling group of a capitalistic economic and military system, sometimes called the military-industrial complex, exercising arbitrary power in its own interests. This particular determinism is not supported by most existing objective research, which generally finds a far more pluralistic distribution of political power.
A contrasting view of class conflicts was advocated by Karl Mannheim, who saw the cleavages as ideologically produced, as divergences in modes of thought rather than as rational perception of economic interests. Since Mannheim hoped that such conflicts could be resolved, his doctrine should not be considered fully deterministic, but it did stimulate an effort to interpret the relations between ideas and actions that came to be known as the "sociology of knowledge."
A variety of efforts has been made to describe and investigate behaviour mathematically, through measurement and counting and the use of mathematical models. This approach in part characterized the early "sociometry" of J.L. Moreno (although its meaning has greatly drifted and broadened in recent years), the "field theory" of Kurt Lewin, and the investigations by George K. Zipf, John Q. Stewart, and others into the relations of rank and size of political units, the frequency of word use in language, and other simple arithmetic relations.
Some of the concepts of game theory, first introduced into economics by its inventors, John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern, have also penetrated into sociology.
Also the rapidly expanding use of computers has in recent times encouraged the development of various kinds of simulation of behaviour. Some investigations of complex interaction patterns have been carried out by devising games with rules to fit the problem and persons to execute the roles.
When specified rules become highly detailed and complex, the outcome may be sought through the use of a computer; thus the game is converted into a simulation. Sociologists have participated, along with other social scientists, in the creation of such simulations of various political and military processes. Extension of these techniques into a variety of interaction processes is to be expected.
Much of 19th-century sociology was devoid of systematic method, but late in the period the proliferation of schools of thought, based on speculative sociologies, made evident the need for ways of obtaining verifiable knowledge.
Early attempts were crude and unfruitful; such broad surveyors as Charles Booth, who produced a monumental series on London, relied mainly on the gathering of masses of facts. Frederic Le Play in France made extensive studies of family budgets. Herbert Spencer and others assembled vast stores of observations made by other persons, using these to illustrate and support generalizations already formulated.
Early exploitation of statistical materials, such as officially recorded rates of births, deaths, crimes, and suicides, provided only a moderate advance in knowledge, because this approach was too capable of supporting preconceived ideas. Among the most successful of this type of study was research on suicide by Emile Durkheim, whose successors in France and elsewhere developed the methodology a considerable way toward scientific adequacy.
After the turn of the century, interest in, and the determination to achieve, a sociological methodology grew steadily. The Methodological Note, constituting the greater part of a volume in W.I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki's Polish Peasant in Europe and America (5 vol., 1918-20), has been recognized as an important advance, not so much in methodology as in committing sociologists to the task of achieving it.
Significant advances toward scientific effectiveness occurred at the University of Chicago in the 1920s. Under the stimulation of Robert E. Park, Burgess, and their colleagues a series of studies of the metropolis was conducted. The spirit was inductive, and hypotheses were discovered in rather than imposed on gathered information. Large numbers of students took part in the effort and contributed to both methods and findings.
A conspicuous part of the effort consisted of mapping locations of various phenomena: land uses, residences of population categories (racial, ethnic, and occupational), residences of persons who commit various types of crimes or suicide, families becoming divorced or broken through desertion, and so forth. But along with such information on spatial distributions, data were sought by other means, including participant observation in groups and communities, gathering of life histories and case studies, assembly of relevant historical information, study of the life cycles of social movements and sects, and the like. Attention was explicitly given to the improvement of methodology in all of these efforts, to an extent approximately equal to the attention given to substantive findings. Here for the first time was developed a large-scale cooperative effort in which theory, methodology, and findings evolved together in an inductive process. The influence of this development at Chicago spread rapidly about the United States and in time influenced sociology almost everywhere it was studied in the world.
Statistical methods were introduced into sociology from other sciences, and virtually from the start, sociologists have found statistical measures of relationship of great value. Karl Pearson's "coefficient of correlation," for example, has been a popular as well as important statistical concept for the measurement of cause-and-effect relationships among continuous variables.
This method reveals the degree of causal connection between two variables, though not necessarily the nature of the connection. In sociology there are types of data that are relevant to causal inquiry but do not have the characteristics that qualify for the Pearsonian coefficient.
Thus, much development work has been done to provide other measures of association involving, for example, rankings of groups or individuals or qualitative comparisons (such as whether males and females differ systematically in specified qualities).
Factor analysis, also based on an elaboration of Pearsonian correlation, performs another valuable service to sociology. If there are a large number of variables causally intertwined in a complex way, it is possible that these variables can be reduced to a small number of factors. Fifty different tests of mental ability, for instance, may be in fact 50 different mixtures of only seven or eight dimensions of mental ability. Factor analysis involves reducing such variables to a more limited number of common factors and determining the relative importance of each factor in the original variables. The process has its imperfections and the computations are laborious, but the availability of computers has overcome the latter disadvantage, and in recent years the technique has increased in use.
These statistical methods and many others are applicable to all branches of sociology and are increasingly fruitful in transforming sociology into science. In general, the growth of statistical methods has been so rapid that the invention of new techniques has outstripped the ability of scholars to find data worthy of the devices. Thus the rate of progress in the near future may depend to a large extent on improvement in satisfactory data gathering and measurement. Methodologies of data gathering are in fact of major interest in sociology. Techniques of observation--of persons, groups, organizations, communities--have been extensively developed.
Important for the same purpose are the various means of quantifying these observations, including scales of various kinds, sociometric techniques that make interrelations subject to statistical analysis, content analysis of written materials, and classification of cross-cultural information.
Experimental methods, once believed to be inapplicable to sociological research, were extensively applied by psychologists, first on individuals and later on groups. By the 1930s some psychologists--notably Kurt Lewin and his colleagues and also Muzafer Sherif--found means of conducting experiments on social interaction.
Sociologists soon followed their example and in time a number of laboratories for such research were established; Robert F. Bales, at Harvard, has made systematic observations on interaction in small, artificial groups and has produced clear and useful results, confirmed in other laboratories. Experiments are also conducted in classrooms, in summer camps, in formal organizations, and elsewhere. In general the success of experimentation has been greatest in simple situations in which the number of variables is limited.
Complex experiments, however, are possible in some circumstances, and the design of complex formal experiments is becoming a developed art in a variety of fields, including sociology.
Within the main categories of research methods there are many special problems for which techniques have been devised. Data collection, for example, is effected in many different ways, from unstructured observation, essentially methodless, to sophisticated measurement through special instruments. Some of the basic problems of data collection concern such matters as the most efficient use of terminology, the definitions of units to be measured, and the classifications to be used. In general it is necessary to consider the nature of a specific problem in order to choose the most appropriate unit.
For example, in a study of the relation of the size of a city to the cost of operating its local government, the proper unit might well be the population residing within its political boundaries. If the research question, however, is the relation of city size to any of a number of forms of social disorganization, it may be more fruitful to recognize that sociologically the significant unit would include much or all of the settled areas outside the city limits.
In the fields of social differentiation and occupational mobility the matter of definition of specific occupations is critical. If persons are asked in a questionnaire to state their occupation, the usual response is to give only one occupation, and this one is sometimes vaguely defined and made obscure by the tendency to give a euphemistic answer. Persons change occupations; some have more than one; some might claim an occupation that they merely aspire to. The art of obtaining useful answers to such important questions involves carefully designed questions adapted to the specific purposes of the study. General classifications, intended for a variety of studies, have limited utility.
In the process of gathering research data for sociology there are occasional obstacles to direct observation. In such cases indirect indicators may provide crude but useful substitutes. For example, alcoholic consumption in a small village in which the beverage is supposed to be prohibited may be estimated by a count of empty bottles in trash receptacles, or perhaps in the town dump. Library book circulation has been used to estimate the use of television in a community in which withdrawals of books of fiction declined, while nonfiction withdrawals remained as before.
Questionnaires are convenient for obtaining information from large numbers of respondents but involve many methodological problems. Wording of questions must of course be intelligible to uneducated and uninterested persons, must have standard meanings to persons of varying backgrounds, must avoid topics that arouse resistance and refusal to complete the questionnaire, and must avoid being too complex or difficult so that returns are insufficient or constitute a biased sample.
Since it is known that slight alterations in the wording of questionnaire items may produce considerable variations in the pattern of responses, the precise wording becomes a matter of some art as well as science. A similar effect occurs in the order of items, since some may suggest or influence responses on later ones.
Similar issues are involved in data gathering through interviewing. It is necessary to control such variables as the appearance, manner, and approach of the interviewer, the specific manner in which questions are asked, ways of avoiding interviewer influence on the responses, and the tendency of some respondents to refuse to answer questions or to discontinue the interview.
To meet the problems of resistance on sensitive subjects and inarticulateness about some feelings, various indirect or projective devices may be employed so that a respondent in answering one question provides information he may not realize he is giving about other questions.
Questionnaires and interviews may be so arranged that the patterns of responses form a scale, converting qualitative variations into measures available for statistical treatment. An early scaling method, devised in the late 1920s by a psychologist, L.L. Thurstone, is still widely used in sociology. It is formed in the following way: a list of questionnaire items is presented to a number of judges who independently relist the items in the order in which they consider them important or of interest. From their decisions are selected items on which there is satisfactory agreement of scale value.
Scaling may also be provided by statements to which a respondent is asked whether he "strongly approves," "approves," is "undecided," "disapproves," or "strongly disapproves." Or the quantitative differences may be introduced through a logical sequence of preference answers--for example, whether the respondent would admit a particular category of person (a) to close kinship by marriage, (b) to his club as a personal chum, (c) to employment in his occupation, (d) to citizenship in his country. Here it is assumed that the later answers imply more desired social distance.
A method or class of methods called sociometry has been under development since its introduction in the middle 1930s by J.L. Moreno. The essence of the method is the collection and tabulation of information about various types of interaction among members of groups of small or moderate size. The interaction may be either actual behavior or merely anticipated or desired behavior, and it may consist of preferences for various kinds of association with other persons, such as having them as friends, sitting with them, working with them, and the like.
The information may be collected by observation of real behavior or by interviews or questionnaires with specific items regarding personal choices. After the information is gathered, it is sometimes put in the form of a sociogram, consisting of names of persons enclosed in circles or squares distributed over an area and connected with lines and arrows that indicate both detail of choices and general patterns of relationships.
A person receiving many choices is readily seen as the target end of many lines and is sometimes referred to as a "star." A person completely unchosen has no lines pointing toward his name and is called an isolate. Further investigation of persons typed in this fashion may be made by statistical methods, case studies, or otherwise.
Overall, it can be said that various improvements and elaborations of the basic sociometric approach have been made, and the method is now less distinctively separate from other social psychology research than it was originally.
Ecological methods in sociology were first developed in connection with research on the characteristics of the metropolis, especially in regard to features of a nonsocial character, such as the patterns resulting from the distribution and movements of populations and institutions in the general process of struggling for advantage. A conspicuous part of most early urban studies consisted of mapping such distributions.
The patterns of land values, of locations of various types of businesses and industries, of ethnic categories of the population, and of types of behaviour (delinquency and crime, vice, family disorganization, mental disorders, etc.) were all shown to be interrelated in a general urban ecology. This fact was then shown to be related to many aspects of behavior of city people, and valuable contributions were made to such general sociological topics as social differentiation, migration and vertical mobility, and social disorganization.
In recent years sociological ecology has broadened in meaning and in the elaboration of methods. One modern approach, known as ecosystem theory, consists of tracing general patterns of flow of materials, energy, and information into a system and their transformation during the flow through the system, among other things.
Since most sociological knowledge is based on the study of samples from some larger universe of items, the possibilities of major errors from sampling bias constitute a methodological issue. Where biases cannot be controlled, the direction and extent may sometimes be estimated, but elimination of biases through use of quotas--or, when possible, random methods--yields the best results.
This can be done, for example, by first randomly selecting a number of definable regions and metropolitan areas, then selecting randomly from each such area certain urban blocks and rural segments, then further selecting from these segments certain dwelling units, and finally selecting from the dwelling units the specific persons to constitute the sample.
In every stage of the process of discovery in sociology there are possibilities of error, and recognition of these is a part of the progress of sociological methodology. There is continuous creation of technical devices to reduce such errors and to estimate the amount of error that has not been eliminated.
All the methods described above are widely used, but their relative popularity in various nations is somewhat related to both the nature of the financial support of research and the field of national interest. Where agricultural problems are of major interest, rural sociology and community studies that can be conducted inexpensively by one or a few investigators are popular.
In France, Italy, and several other European nations, industrial sociology is understandably important, much of it based on case studies of industries and the experiences of workers. Sociology in Great Britain, the Scandinavian countries, and Japan covers most of the fields mentioned above.
The broad methodological concepts have varied somewhat according to the country and according to the subfield of sociology. Early in the century there was presumed to be a general difference between the sociologies of European countries and the sociologies of the United States--the former appearing to prefer broad sociological theory based on philosophical methods and the latter showing more inclination toward induction and empiricism. Such differences have declined steadily in recent times, and what differences remain may be in part a result of the differential financing of expensive research.
In the former U.S.S.R. and in nations that were under its influence there was much emphasis on the concepts and methods of Marxist sociology, which had only a small following elsewhere. A more important methodological issue divides basic scientific sociology from applied sociology; scholars interested in applied sociology tend to deprecate the methods and findings of the scientific sociologists as being either irrelevant or supportive of an objectionable status quo. Issues of ethics have also in recent years been raised, particularly in regard to observations and experiments in which the privacy of subjects may be felt to be invaded.
The Greek philosophers and the line of European philosophers in the succeeding centuries throughout Western civilization discussed much of the subject matter of sociology without thinking of it as a distinct subject. In the early 19th century all the subject matter of the social sciences was discussed under the heading of moral philosophy.
Even after Auguste Comte introduced the word sociologie in 1838, the matter was combined with other subjects for some sixty years. Not until the universities undertook a commitment to the subject could a person make a living as a full-time sociologist. This commitment had first to be made by scholars of other fields, of which history was a principal early sponsor.
As early as 1876, at the new Johns Hopkins University, some of the content of sociology was taught in the department of history and politics. In 1889 at the University of Kansas, the word appeared in the title of the department of history and sociology.
In 1890 at Colby College, a historian, Albion Small, taught a course called sociology, as did Franklin H. Giddings in the same year at Bryn Mawr College. But the first real commitment to the creation of a field of sociology took place in 1892 at the new University of Chicago, where newly arrived Albion Small asked for and received permission to create a department called sociology--the first such in the world.
In the following year or two, departments in the subject were founded at Columbia, Kansas, and Michigan and very soon afterward at Yale, Brown, and many other universities. By the late 1890s nearly all of the educational institutions in the United States either had departments of sociology or offered courses in the subject.
In 1895 the American Journal of Sociology began publication at the University of Chicago, in time to be followed by a large number of journals in many other countries. Ten years later the American Sociological Society was organized, also to be followed in time by a large number of national, regional, international, and special sociological organizations.
These quickly institutionalized the subject and have continuously served to guide its directions and to establish, very roughly, its boundaries. Eventually in 1949 the International Sociological Association was established under the sponsorship of UNESCO, and Louis Wirth (1897-1952) of the University of Chicago was elected its first president.
The rapid growth in numbers of full-time sociologists, along with growth of publications, allowed the content of the discipline to expand rapidly. By 1970 there were more than a dozen important sociological journals and an indefinite number of minor journals in the U.S., as well as a considerable number in other nations.
Research grew throughout the 20th century at an accelerated pace, especially since the 1920s, partly because of strong financial support from foundations, government, commercial sources, and private gifts. Along with this came a flourishing of research institutes, some affiliated with university departments and some independent. A small but increasing number of sociologists gain their livelihood through full-time research independent of universities.
Similar developments have occurred in various other parts of the world, with variations resulting from special conditions in each case. In France, where Auguste Comte and later Emile Durkheim gave early impetus to sociology, there was early development in many fields of the subject.
The two world wars slowed the development, but after 1945 a strong revival of interest in sociology took place, during which the French government established a number of institutes in the social sciences at the level of institutes in the natural sciences, including several in Paris for sociological research--notably the Centre d'Etudes Sociologiques, the Institut National d'Etudes Demographiques, and the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme.
These institutes receive government funds and employ many full-time sociologists, some of them among the prominent scholars in the nation. French universities have been somewhat more conservative; the Sorbonne, for example, had in 1970 only one chair officially assigned to sociology.
The new University of Nanterre, however, established a department with four professorships. A rich amount of research publication has been produced in France since World War II, particularly in general sociology, theory, methodology, social psychology, industrial sociology, and the sociology of work.
German sociology had a strong base in the late 19th century and afterward, and the writings of Ferdinand Tonnies, Max Weber, Georg Simmel, and others were influential in all parts of the world.
By the early 1930s, however, official Nazi hostility had impeded its development and by the time of World War II had destroyed it as an academic subject in Germany.
Immediately after the war a new generation of scholars, aided by visiting sociologists, imported the new empirical research methods and began the development of a style of German sociology much different from the earlier theoretical and philosophical traditions. At the University of Frankfurt, Max Horkheimer's Institut fur Sozialforschung (social research), established by private financing before the war, was revived and has stimulated much research production.
West German universities remained conservative for a time, but two newly created universities--the Free University of Berlin and the University of Constance--made sociology one of their major subjects.
By 1970 most West German universities had at least one chair in sociology. National needs received special emphasis, including administrative research of use to planning, studies of unemployment, youth problems, and delinquency. A significant amount of research also is published in such fields as rural sociology, political sociology, and the family.
In Great Britain, despite the early prominence of Herbert Spencer and L.T. Hobhouse, sociology was little regarded by leading universities until the mid-20th century.
Before World War II Britain excelled in anthropology, especially in the study of nonwhite societies of the empire. Sociology concentrated on studies of the poor, and much of it was undertaken by persons whose affiliation was similar to that of social workers in the United States.
The major prewar sociology department, at the London School of Economics, had the objective more of social reform than scientific research. In the postwar period, however, a considerable revival of sociology took place; Oxford and Cambridge recognized the subject by creating positions for sociologists, and various new universities established chairs and departments.
Significant work in Britain has been done in such fields as population and demography, sociology of organization, and general sociology. The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London has become world famous and concentrates on human relations in the family, the work group, and organizations.
A parallel growth took place in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Canada, with some apparent reluctance, allowed itself to be much influenced by American sociology and has built many new departments with sociologists trained in the United States.
The Scandinavian countries have also to a considerable extent adopted the methods and some of the content of American sociology, and the subject has had rapid development in many of the universities and in research institutes, some of which are connected with universities. There is also a considerable amount of interchange between sociologists in these countries.
Japan has a record of much sociological activity dating back to the 1870s. The Japanese Sociological Society (Nippon Shakai Gakkai), headquartered at the University of Tokyo, was founded in 1923; by 1960 there were about 150 universities and colleges with courses in the subject.
In the early period sociology was nearly all imported; Comte and Spencer, and later Giddings and Gabriel Tarde, were their important theorists.
After World War II there were rapid changes in sociology in Japan, with empirical research methods largely replacing the earlier philosophical style. Importations from American sociology became abundant. Popular among these were industrial sociology, educational sociology, public opinion research, and the study of mass communications.
Sociology in the former Soviet Union was long held back by the perceived incompatibility of the subject with Marxist theory. Eventually, however, it was permitted to develop, and sociological institutes and chairs of sociology increased. By 1970 the Soviet Sociological Association had more than a thousand members. Leading research interests included such subjects as labour productivity, education, crime, and alcoholism. Soviet sociology generally displayed an apparent tendency to avoid issues that might have implied conflict with Marxist thought.
Nations under the influence of the Soviet Union were also from time to time inhospitable to sociology, but the strong interest of younger scholars made possible some relaxation of this opposition, and in the second half of the 20th century there was considerable progress of sociology in such countries as Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, with occasional setbacks in some areas.
In Israel the dominant department of sociology is at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where there are also several research institutes. Israeli sociology maintains continuous close contacts with American sociology, and many of the leading Israeli sociologists have had training or teaching experience in the United States. Among the specialties in Israel are research in methodology, communication, criminology, and the collective settlements (kibbutzim) in which new forms of custom and social organization are observed while under development.
The passing of the Fascist regime in Italy and the relative liberalization in Spain opened the door to sociology, and academic chairs and research institutes are gradually increasing in these countries. Of particular interest are studies of industrial efficiency and social mobility. The general conservatism of universities, however, may constitute a retarding influence for some time to come.
In Latin America objective sociology has been much resisted, partly because it has been viewed as a threat to the political and social order but also because of meagre financial support of research and the low salary level of professors, many of whom must supplement their earnings in the practice of law, in civil service, and in other occupations.
In the 1960s, however, the number of full-time chairs increased, and a number of research institutes, some financed by U.S. funds, were established. Political instability in some countries remains a major hindrance, and in such countries able scholars continue to be forced from their university positions from time to time.
Little by little, sociology is penetrating into some of the developing nations. A number of African universities have formed departments, and the subject is gaining in importance in the Philippines, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan.
It is evident that sociology has not achieved triumphs comparable to those of the several older and more heavily supported sciences. A variety of interpretations have been offered to explain the difference--most frequently, that the growth of knowledge in the science of sociology is more random than cumulative.
The true situation appears to be that in some parts of the discipline--such as methodology, ecology, demography, the study of social differentiation and mobility, attitude research, and the study of small-group interaction processes, public opinion, and mass communication--there has in fact taken place a slow but accelerating accumulation of organized and tested knowledge.
In some other fields the expansion of the volume of literature has not appeared to have had this property.
Critics have attributed the slow pace to a variety of factors--the appetite of sociologists for neologisms and jargon, a disposition for pseudoquantification, and excessive concern with imitation of the methods of natural sciences, overdependence on data from interviews, questionnaires, and informal observations.
All these shortcomings can be found in contemporary sociology, but none is characteristic of all areas.
In general there has been progress toward efficient terminology and methods and toward more satisfactory data, and conclusions are increasingly based on the harmonious mixture of research methods applied to varied and repeated studies, and therefore are less dependent on the strength of one particular methodological device.
Bias, in more than one direction, is sometimes presumed to be a chronic affliction of sociology. This may arise in part from the fact that the subject matter of sociology is familiar and important in the daily life of everyone, so that there exist many opportunities for the abundant variations in philosophical outlook and individual preferences to appear as irrational bias.
Thus critics have expressed disapproval of the sociologists' skepticism on various matters of faith, of their amoral relativism concerning customs, of their apparent oversimplifications of some principles, and of their particular fashions in categorization and abstraction. But skepticism toward much of the content of folk knowledge is a characteristic of all science, and relativism can be interpreted as merely an avoidance of antiscientific ethnocentrism. Furthermore, abstraction, categorization, and simplification are necessary to the advancement of knowledge, and no one system satisfies everyone.
The dispute about the main purpose of sociology, whether it works to understand behaviour, or to cause social change, is a dispute found in every pursuit of scientific knowledge, and such polarization is far from absolute. Persons differ in the degree to which they regard the value of science as an intellectual understanding of the cosmos or as an instrument for immediate improvement of the human lot.
Since even the "purest" scientist conceives of his work as benefiting mankind, the issue narrows to a difference in preference between an ad hoc attack on immediate human problems and a long-run trust that basic knowledge, gathered without reference to present urgencies, is even more valuable.
Sociologists differ on this issue; in some countries there is much pressure toward early practicality of results; in others, including the United States, the larger number of scholars and the principal sociological associations have shown preference for "basic science." In very recent times, however, there has emerged a radical movement among students in various countries involving advocacy of complete commitment to action on current political and social problems.
A degree of polarization has also arisen over the proper strategy for research--whether research should take its directions from the needs of society and mankind or from the evolving theoretical corpus of sociology. In nations that allow academic freedom such disputes are usually of low intensity, because each scholar selects his research interests on any basis he prefers, including that of personal taste. In this way presumably the motivation of the investigator is maximized.
Sociologists most interested in action express impatience at the claims of others who prefer to separate their research from personal values. Much of the dispute prevails only because the two sides argue past each other.
There can be wide agreement that no human being is without personal values, that research forced to confirm a particular set of values is not good science, and that there can be scientific issues toward which a particular investigator is value-neutral.
In research that is susceptible to contamination by the values of the worker, it is generally possible to minimize the damage by employing methodological devices that help to insulate the scientist from his wishes for a particular outcome--such devices as objective observational techniques and measurement methods, independent and blind analysis of results, and so forth.
It would appear that the growth of sociology will accelerate in the visible future. Among present trends suggesting this likelihood are the increase in public appreciation of the subject, the expansion of available funds for both teaching and research, the steady reduction of sectarian opposition to inquiry into social institutions, the improvement in research methods and methods for gathering data that qualify for modern statistical treatment, and the growth of acceptance and support from scientists in other fields. There are possible factors that could inhibit such growth, such as some forms of extreme nationalism and internal conflict, but such conditions so far have impeded development only locally and temporarily.
Furthermore, it appears likely that public interest in the development of sociological knowledge will increase as a consequence of rising awareness of its promise for human safety and welfare. As the expansion of civilization, with its advanced science and technology, progressively conquers the natural hazards that afflict preliterate and preindustrial peoples and diminishes such threats as natural catastrophes, famine, and disease, a wide range of new problems emerges. These are not the menaces of an impersonal nature, but dangers that arise from imperfection in human behaviour, particularly in organized human relations. Wars have shown a tendency to become larger and ever more destructive, and the causes, though far from being understood, clearly lie, in large measure, in the complexities of social organization, in the interaction of great corporate national bodies. There appears to be little hope that politics, unaided by social science among other disciplines, could reverse this trend.
Domestic problems within nations, regions, cities, and towns appear also to become increasing sources of human troubles. There is a general rise in the severity of ethnic hostilities, and of internal conflicts between generations, political factions, and other divisions of the populations.
There are also threats to human welfare from various forms of general social disorganization, reflected in the spread of pockets of poverty, crime, vice, political corruption, and family disorganization. In recent times the threats of overpopulation and potential destruction of the ecological environment have added a further reason for public alarm.
Contemporary sociology obviously does not yet provide the solutions, but what prospects of human survival there are depend a great deal on the increase of the applicable knowledge of various social sciences, including sociology.
Because human behavior observes no limits in its directions, it is possible for sociologists to extend their inquiries accordingly. The expansion of sociological interests thus has involved some penetration of adjacent traditional academic fields, such as political science, economics, anthropology, psychology, communications, speech, and to some extent even physiology and zoology.
Fields within traditional sociology have also broadened their content, producing such expanded subjects as ecology and comparative sociology. Not all this extension is new, however, since much of the 19th century sociology was also very broad, especially the cosmic sociology of one worker, Lester F. Ward, who conceived sociology as the science of sciences, properly covering and organizing all knowledge.
Applications of sociology also appear to be spreading in a variety of directions, and here the possibilities seem unlimited. Sociologists aid industries in obtaining more efficient production; they help unions to increase their power; they organize rebellions of young persons, reform disorganized villages, counsel persons and families, and give or sell services to a wide variety of consumers. To what extent these applied activities will continue to spread will doubtless depend on their effectiveness relative to other means of gaining the same effects.
There is also an expansion of sociology into other than practical applications; for example, there is mathematical sociology, in which mathematical models of social behaviour are developed without systematic observations of behaviour. These efforts are not directed toward immediate human use, but may have value as bases for comparison with real behaviour and thus aid explanation of behavioral causes. A mathematical model of a completely just theoretical process of social mobility, for example, could be useful as a standard for comparing actual mobility at different times and in different nations.
After the easiest sociological questions have been answered, the further progress of research requires ever greater effort and cost, and the proportion of discoveries by individual investigators declines as the necessity for larger teamwork research expands. This foreshadows increasing complexity of the organization of research, as has already taken place in older sciences. Large-scale research in sociology is made possible, and perhaps inevitable, by the availability of expensive computers, elaborate techniques of multivariate analysis, and the storage of information in the form of data banks and the like.
The strongest methodological emphasis in the near future is likely to be on the processes of rigorous testing of generalizations that now appear to be of strategic value in the general structure of sociological knowledge. Complete surprises in the field of human behavior are less likely than in other sciences, since most of the possible human situations have been familiar in folk knowledge as well as in academic sociology. But the subject contains many inconsistent principles, and few of these have been put to a definitive test, partly from lack of adequate methodology and to some extent from shortage of funds and scientific manpower.
In general the principal employment of sociologists has been in educational institutions, but recently, in various countries, there has been an increasing penetration into other fields of activity.
Sociologists, particularly in earlier decades, have been involved in various organized agencies devoted to social work.
They also have participated in government work at various levels, from the lower bureaucratic ranks all the way to high administrative responsibility, and in the case of Thomas Masaryk, former president of Czechoslovakia, to the highest office of a nation. In the United States sociologists have been extensively employed in the Bureau of the Census; the Bureau of the Budget; the Institutes of Health; various other sections of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; and the office of the president, where they have made contributions to policy.
Other directions of sociological activity include the roles of consultant, social critic, social activist, and even revolutionary. When the activity diverges far enough from traditional academic sociology, it may cease to be regarded as sociological, but it appears likely that sociologists will continue to spread their activities over the ever-widening region of national or global concern, in the name of their science or otherwise.
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