What is Sociology?

Abel defines sociology as, ‘the science which studies resultants of activities the intention of which is the adjustment of individuals to each other’. Sociology, according to Abel, can be further defined as, ‘the theory of social positions, relationships and groups.’

However, Stuart A. Rice defends his position that it is impossible to derive at a single unified answer since sociology in its current form is an integrated field of many types of sociology. Rice believes it is both science and philosophy and additionally it is a social philosophy based at some level upon science. He characterizes three types of scientific sociology,

  • General Sociology: according to Sorokin, sociology could be like all other general sciences be defined as a study of traits and relationships that are common to all phenomena (social). Such traits and relationships could also be found in other more limited domain such as economics and politics
  • Specialized Science: In case of traits and relationships that are not common to all phenomena, there exists a special sociology that has for its subject matter the study of repeated uniformities and relationships between two or more types of social phenomena or between social and non-social phenomena
  • Embryonic sociology: Which aren’t as developed as the specialized sociology such as those related to political science or economics but have the characteristics that could potentially be raised to such specializations and have the same weightage of justification to regard them as sociology as any other specialized sociology

Nature and Scope of Sociology

To truly understand the scope of sociology it is necessary to first understand its nature. We must establish, above all else, that sociology is a science. Science is different from any philosophical fields and could be defined by two characteristics: a) Existence of a body of knowledge that includes facts & theories but more importantly the establishment of an organized system of categories and laws on a particular class of phenomena b) Establishment of specific approaches to interpret concrete situations and occurrences (methodology). 

However, much of the debate regarding nature and scope of sociology has been about the type of science it could be classified under. The most prominent types of classification are:

  • General Science
  • Specialized Science

According to Pitrim A Sorokin, Sociology should be treated as a generalizing science as it does not deal with traits and relationships between individuals or groups as a unique phenomenon rather a repeated and uniformly observed phenomena in time or space. Specialized social sciences like economics, political science etc. have a specialized subject matter that belong to the same social phenomenon; hence they are the subclass of same social phenomenon. However, there is a need to have a generalizing science under which these specialized sciences could be classified, and sociology plays this role by analyzing those traits that are found to be common across such specialized social sciences. However, this characteristic that considers only those traits that are common and uniform in time and space leads to a specialized aspect of sociology as a science. Sociology as a specialized science can be viewed similar to how economics have specializations such as agricultural economics, industrial economics etc. Sociology as specialized science deals with those aspects of other specialized sciences that are interstitial, for example: Criminality and economic conditions, climate and civilization etc. The diagram given below represents the ideas of Sorokin in a clear and concise manner. A picture containing text, device

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Theodore Abel makes his case that sociology cannot be called a general science because it would overlap with other established social sciences such as political science, economics, psychology etc. We could, however, consider sociology as a special science because of the special field of inquiry into the cultural reality that consist of human activities and of resultants of these activities. These resultants could be divided into many specialized fields of inquiry or classes. In this logic, sociology is interested in the inte3r human behavior that are not dealt with specifically in other social sciences. The resultants of these activities have directions and intentions that necessitates adjustment of individuals with respect to others in a society as dictated by the need to survive by living together.

Abel defines sociology as, ‘the science which studies resultants of activities the intention of which is the adjustment of individuals to each other’.

According to Abel, the main resultants of such activities are,

  • Social Positions: these are the assumed positions by an individual with regards to each other, rationally, traditionally and emotionally. These positions lead to social differentiations.
  • Social Relationships: The adjustments between individuals such as marriages, alliance etc., are the social relationships. In other words, these are the mutual recognition of rights and obligation.
  • Social Groups: It is also a form of adjustment in which individuals unite with a common bond. It also creates identities that individuals adopt to recognize themselves. 

Sociology, according to Abel, can be further defined as, ‘the theory of social positions, relationships and groups.’

The scope of sociology can now be derived from an understanding of its nature. According to Abel, the scope of sociological theory comprises tasks of formal, historical and interpretative nature. 

  • Formal Analysis: it is the analysis of the classification of types of relationships and groupsDetermining the phenomena that gives rise to relationships and groupsIt is the analysis of the way in which relationships and groups manifest themselvesThe study of processes and conditions that are involved in a relationship’s or group’s origin, maintenance, change or dissolution
  • Historical Analysis:The study of evolution of typical relationships and groupsUnderstanding the roles and functions of relationships and groups in different situations and historical settingDetermining the different ways by which relationships and groups are condition or get conditioned by other aspects such as religion, economy, politics etc.
  • Interpretative Nature:Formal and historical analysis results in the creation of a body of knowledge, which serves as the basis for interpreting the common occurrences (events or phenomenon) of social lifePosition, relationships and groups creates the conditions and influences which partly determines events, situations and problems of social life.These conditions and influences must be interpreted in terms of position-relationships-groups factors and processes to gain a complete understanding of the social life.

Hence, we could conclude that sociology is not concerned with the investigation of social conditions and social problems but focuses on relationships and group aspects derived from concrete occurrences and situations which it scrutinizes scientifically.

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