DEFINITION OF SOCIOLOGY
It is often said that sociology is the science of the society This has raised many questions for instance; one may ask whether Biology, Chemistry, Philosophy, History or Geography do not study the society. The societal discipline called Sociology was established in the 19th century, while such people that establish it (Auguste Comte. Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim. Vilfredo Pareto) take the subject to mean the study of interaction between human institutions such as the family, education and the manner of transforming the societies.
Herbert Spencer argued that society should be seen as a whole by considering the relationship among its parts: According to him, Sociology should study such areas as social control. politics, religion, the family, individuals, the understanding of communities, and sociology of knowledge.
Other areas emphasized by Emile Durkheim include sociology of law, sociology of organization (industrial sociology), sociology of crime, economy and society. There is one agreement among the founding fathers of sociology, that is, Sociology is an attempt to understand the ever changing super structure (human society) as a whole by examining the relationship among its various parts.
According to Max Weber, Sociology is a science, which attempts “the interpretative understanding of social action in order to arrive at a casual explanation of its causes and effects” Things to know about Weber’s definitions:
1. He classified Sociology as a science, meaning it employs the method of science to understand the society social actions.
2. He believes that Sociology should interpret social actions.
3. Weber specifically focuses on social actions
In a book of Horton and Hunt, they quoted an anonymous definition that “sociology is the taking of what everybody knows and putting it into words that nobody can understand”. This however, is a simplistic view. Sociology is not just a jargon compiling discipline; it is the analysis and understanding of human behaviour in a scientific way.
Sociology derives its name from a combination of two words which are of Latin and Greek origins. Socio (Greck) meaning society while Logy (Latin) connotes study at high level. Thus sociology means ‘a high level study of society. High level study means scientific study because it enables us to perceive society from the abstract and therefore from an objective point of view. In effect, Sociology is the study of society on a highly generalized or abstract level.
The subject-matter of Sociology is the relationship among human beings. It involves the study of what happens when man meets man, when human beings form masses or groups, when they cooperate, fight or dominate one another, persuade or imitate others, develop or destroy a culture.
The unit of sociological study is never an individual, but always at least two individuals (dyad) somehow related to one another. The most exciting aspect of sociology is that it tells us more about ourselves and our ways of life. Most invariably, sociological findings are mistaken for commonsense knowledge: being a systematic study of what may be regarded as everyday occurrences.
Even though the sociologist starts his study with what is common, he employs a degree of academics paradigms such as precision and objectivity, and thereby able to disprove what is widely believed to be the corre idea about society.
The sociologist is armed with tools that enable him to sieve out commonsense from the scientific explanation, for instance, it is commonsense knowledge that when a man and a woman are married, they become husband and wife; but the relationships that are involve in the marriage such as the independence of the spouses, the perpetuity of the union are all sociological issues.
These are permanent features and connote a social organism that has its own existence and life span. Commonsense knowledge has no place for all the rubrics of the relationship. The social organism can be studied from an objective point of view and be analyzed for purposes of comparison.
As earlier mentioned, it is not only sociology that is concerned with the study of man in interdependence: history is the study of the interdependence of man in past configurations. Usually, historical materials can also be used sociologically, but essentially, the methods of the two disciplines are not the same.
Both disciplines do occasionally overlap or invade each other’s territory, so also in the relationship between sociology and philosophy. Sociology must also be discerned from economics or governments which are also studies of men in interdependence. These disciplines study concrete and unique phenomena such as the constitution or the organization of foreign trades etc.
Sociology cannot but be interested in these subjects as they affect human collectivity. All the data used by these disciplines are useful sociological materials, for instance, the constitution is meant for human beings and to mold a particular type of social relations.
Sociology is interested in this interdependence and will analyze them as they reveal themselves to it. According to George Simmel. a German sociologist, economics studies actions aiming at the acquisition and distribution of power while sociology studies the form of human actions in society such as the formation or dissolution of human groups, competition, conflict etc. One other problem of sociology is how to adapt vocabulary
in everyday usage to scientific expressions. As the sociologist is mostly concerned with abstract social phenomena, he must be careful to make clear what he means by the use of a particular word which he calls concepts’. As the sociologist’s main objective is being scientific, the words used by him must be defined so that people can be sure what he meant, and the concepts themselves must have universal acceptability.
In other words, although the need for separate vocabularies is appreciated, sociology is greatly handicapped because it relies largely on words borrowed from everyday language and this is the basis for thinking, it is commonsense knowledge.
However, the sociologist tends to borrow these words and adapt them to suit particular sociological usage. The borrowing system’ is not limited to sociology, physical sciences often borrow from common speech, the only difference is that while the physical sciences impose arbitrary definitions thereby ensuring precision, sociology takes on operational definitions; and there are dictionaries of sociology by people like Albion Small (1905) and Eubank (1931) to salvage the situation. At the end of the exercise, the list so produced has been defined in the following language:
“The very extent of such a list as this is confusing; but it is indicative of an underlying confusion that is still more significant. It reveals strikingly how far the sociologists are from agreement upon the very terminology itself. The youth of this science is nowhere more clearly shown than in the indefiniteness and lack of uniformity of its vocabulary”
To further compound the problem, sociologists have invented a few words of their own. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of sociology is the art of coining words. The lack of definiteness is concepts and the art of creating words have exposed sociology to some suspicion and perhaps ridicule. People tend see this as evidence of weakness; in fact this has brought the argument that it is no use striving after scientific precision.
It is therefore true that sociology by its nature, the nature of its methods, the nature of its subject-matter and the genera perception of it, fraught with problems from its birth, has grown in the crisis over the years and will survive through the crisis.