1 : Sociology
2 : Introduction
3 : History
4 : Major branches
5 : Specialised areas
6 : Key sociological topics
7 : Sociology and the Internet
8 : Terms and methods
9 : Sociologists
10 : Comparison to other social sciences
11 : Social Theory
12 : See also
13 : External links
Sociology studies the social rules and processes that bind, and separate, people not only as individuals, but as members of associations, groups, and institutions.
A typical textbook definition of sociology calls it the study of the social lives of humans, groups and societies. Sociology is interested in our behavior as social beings; thus 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.
Sociology as a discipline emerged in the 19th century as an academic response to the challenge of modernity: as the world is becoming smaller and more integrated, people's experience of the world is increasingly atomized and dispersed. Sociologists hoped not only to understand what held social groups together, but also to develop an "antidote" to social disintegration.
Today sociologists research macro-structures that organize society, such as race or ethnicity, class and gender, 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.
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 and how people will respond to 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.
Sociology is a relatively new study among other social science disciplines including economics, political science, anthropology, psychology
The term was coined by Auguste Comte, who hoped to unify all studies of humankind--including history, psychology and economics. His own sociological scheme was typical of the 18th century; he believed all human life had passed through the same distinct historical stages and that, if one could grasp this progress, one could prescribe the remedies for social ills.
In the end, Sociology did not replace the other social sciences, but came to be another of them, with its own particular emphases in terms of subject matter and methods. Today, Sociology studies humankind's organizations and social institutions, largely by a comparative method. It has concentrated particularly on the organization of complex industrial societies.
Sociologists study a great variety of topics. To get a good idea of the range of topics, visit the International Sociological Association's Research which lists topics such as Aging, Arts, Armed Conflict, Disasters, Futures Research, Health, Law, Leisure, Migration, Population, Religion, Tourism, Women in Society, Work, and many others. The American Sociological Association's sections lists sections covering many of the same topics, as well as others.
Below are some of these areas and topics, with links to Wikipedia discussions of these areas and topics.
Key sociological topics
Sociology and the Internet
The Internet is of interest for sociologists in three views at least: as a tool for research, for example by using online questionnaires instead of paper ones, as a discussion platform (see 'External links' section below), and as a research topic. Sociology of the Internet in the last sense includes analysis of online communities (e.g. as found in newsgroups) and virtual communities, 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).
Terms and methods
'Methods:''' quantitative method, qualitative method, ethnography
See List of sociologists for sociologists with entries in Wikipedia.
Famous sociologists include Auguste Comte, Emile Durkheim, Ferdinand Toennies (Ferdinand Tönnies), Georg Simmel, Max Weber, Albion Woodbury Small, Charles Horton Cooley, Ibn Khaldun, Pitirim Sorokin, Vilfredo Pareto, Robert E. Park, Karl Mannheim, Talcott Parsons, Robert K. Merton, Peter Blau, Reinhard Bendix, Norbert Elias, Ralf Dahrendorf, John Rex, David Lockwood, Erving Goffman, Harold Garfinkel, and Anthony Giddens. Karl Marx would not have called himself a sociologist, but his thought has had an immense impact on sociological theory.
Comparison to other social sciences
In the early 20th century, sociologists and psychologists who conducted research in non-industrial societies contributed to the development of anthropology. It should be noted, however, that 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.
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.
Social theory is a distinction applied to the work considered outside of the mainstream of sociology. Among sociologists who model their work on the successful sciences of physics or chemistry, social theory may be applied to all work produced outside of the scientific method, in contradistinction to a sociological theory which has been "correctly" tested. However, a natural science model has never completely predominated sociology, nor has there ever been much consensus, even among the adherents of that model, as to what would constitute valid evidence or even the proper unit of analysis. Consequently, the distinction between sociology and social theory has always been more reflective of classifier than the theory described as belonging to one or the other. Many theorists prefer to describe themselves as social theorists because they are critical of the sociological community or were not trained as sociologists.
Marxist theory, critical theory, post-colonial theory, feminist theory, structuralist theory, post-structuralist theory, queer theory, Postmodern theory, and other theories probably unmentioned have all at times been considered outside the mainstream of sociology and been referred to as social theory. However, as all these theories have been adopted to some extent by mainstream sociology, distinctions are made less often.
See also: criminology, disabilities, education, etiquette, Frankfurt School, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, gender & sexuality, Marxism, mass media, media studies, Milgram experiment, revolution, social engineering, sociologist, political economy, race & ethnicity, social change, social control, social movements, tautology, teleology, theory, sociological imagination, socioeconomic systems, racism, social order, social structure, social issue, scale (social sciences)