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Sociology is the scientific study of human societies. It is a branch of social science (often synonymous) that uses systematic methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop and refine a body of knowledge about human social structure and activity, often with the goal of applying such knowledge to the pursuit of social welfare. Its subject matter ranges from the micro level of face-to-face interaction to the macro level of societies at large.


Sociology is a broad discipline in terms of both methodology and subject matter. Its traditional focuses have included social stratification (or "class"); social relations, social interaction, religion, culture and deviance, and its approaches have included both qualitative and quantitative research techniques. As much of what humans do fits under the category of social structure or social activity, sociology has gradually expanded its focus to further subjects, such as the study of the media, health disparities, the internet, and even the role of social activity in the creation of scientific knowledge. The range of social scientific methods has also been broadly expanded. The linguistic and cultural turns of the mid-20th century brought increasingly hermeneutic and interpretative approaches to the study of society. Conversely, recent decades have seen the rise of new mathematically rigorous approaches, such as social network analysis.





Sociological reasoning predates the origin of the term. Sociology, including economic, political, and cultural systems, has proto-sociological origins in the common stock of Western knowledge and philosophy. Social analysis has been carried out from at least as early as the time of Plato. It may be said that the first sociologist was Ibn Khaldun, an Arab scholar from North Africa who wrote in the 14th century, whose Muqaddimah was the first work to advance social-scientific theories of social cohesion and social conflict.


Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte


The word "sociologie" was first used in 1780 by the French essayist Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès (1748-1836) in an unpublished manuscript.  It was later established in 1838 by Auguste Comte (1798-1857).  Comte had earlier used the term "social physics", but that had subsequently been appropriated by others, most notably the Belgian statistician Adolphe Quetelet. Comte endeavored to unify history, psychology and economics through the scientific understanding of the social realm. Writing shortly after the malaise of the French Revolution, he proposed that social ills could be remedied through sociological positivism, an epistemological approach outlined in The Course in Positive Philosophy [1830-1842] and A General View of Positivism [1844]. Comte believed a 'positivist stage' would mark the final era, after conjectural theological and metaphysical phases, in the progression of human understanding. Though Comte is often regarded as the "Father of Sociology", the discipline was formally established by the functionalist theorist, Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), who founded the first European academic department and developed positivism further. Since the turn of the 20th century, sociological epistemologies, methodologies, and frames of enquiry, have significantly expanded and diverged.


Key figures


Emile Durkheim

Émile Durkheim


Sociology evolved as an academic response to the challenges of modernity, such as industrialization, urbanization, and rationalization, which emerged in the 19th century. Classical theorists of sociology from the late 19th and early 20th centuries include Alexis de Tocqueville, Vilfredo Pareto, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Gumplowicz, Ferdinand Tönnies, Thorstein Veblen, Herbert Spencer, Georg Simmel, George Herbert Mead, Werner Sombart, Max Weber, György Lukács, Antonio Gramsci, W. E. B. Du Bois, Walter Benjamin, Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and C. Wright Mills. Their works interact with economics, education, ethics, law, religion, philosophy and psychology, with theories having been appropriated in a variety of academic disciplines. Each key figure is typically associated with a particular theoretical perspective and orientation used to interpret and understand human behavior. Durkheim, Marx and Weber are typically cited as the three principle social theorists; their works associated with discourses of functionalism, conflict theory and anti-positivism respectively. Simmel is sometimes included on academic curricula as "the fourth" major figure.


Latter-20th century and contemporary figures include Talcott Parsons, Pierre Bourdieu, Zygmunt Bauman, Ulrich Beck, Howard Becker, Jurgen Habermas, Daniel Bell, Louis Althusser, Nicos Poulantzas, Ralph Miliband, Simone de Beauvoir, Peter Berger, Herbert Marcuse, Michel Foucault, Alfred Schütz, Marcel Mauss, George Ritzer, Guy Debord, Jean Baudrillard, Erving Goffman, Julia Kristeva, Ralf Dahrendorf, Peter Blau, Michael Burawoy, Niklas Luhmann, Luce Irigaray, Ernest Gellner, Richard Hoggart, Stuart Hall, Raymond Williams, Fredric Jameson, Antonio Negri, Ernest Burgess, Herbert Gans, Robert Bellah, Paul Gilroy, John Rex, Edward Said, Judith Butler, Terry Eagleton, Steve Fuller, Barry Wellman, John Thompson, Herbert Blumer and Anthony Giddens.


Institutionalizing sociology as an academic discipline


The discipline was in the United States taught under its own name for the first time in 1890, at the University of Kansas, Lawrence. The course, whose title was Elements of Sociology, was first taught by Frank Blackmar. It is the oldest continuing sociology course in the United States. The Department of History and Sociology at the University of Kansas, the first fully fledged independent university in the United States, was established in 1891.  The department of sociology at the University of Chicago was established in 1892 by Albion W. Small, who, in 1895, founded the American Journal of Sociology.


Georg Simmel

Georg Simmel


The first European department of sociology was founded in 1895, at the University of Bordeaux by Émile Durkheim, founder of L'Année 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 co-operation in sociology began in 1893, when René Worms founded the Institut International de Sociologie, which was later eclipsed by the much larger International Sociological Association (ISA), founded in 1949.  In 1905, the American Sociological Association, the world's largest association of professional sociologists, was founded, and in 1909 the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie (German Society for Sociology) was founded by Ferdinand Tönnies, Georg Simmel, and Max Weber, among others.


Positivism and anti-positivism


The methodological approach toward sociology by early theorists was to treat the discipline in broadly the same manner as natural science. 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 such as philosophy. This perspective, called positivism, is based on the assumption that the only authentic knowledge is scientific knowledge, and that such knowledge can come only from positive affirmation of theories through strict scientific and quantitative methods. Émile Durkheim was a major proponent of theoretically grounded empirical research, seeking correlations between "social facts" to reveal structural laws. His position was informed by an interest in applying sociological findings in the pursuit of social reform and the negation of social "anomie". Today, scholarly accounts of Durkheim's positivism may be vulnerable to exaggeration and oversimplification: Comte was the only major sociological thinker to postulate that the social realm may be subject to scientific analysis in the same way as noble science, whereas Durkheim acknowledged in greater detail the fundamental epistemological limitations.


Karl Marx

Karl Marx


Reactions against positivism began when German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel voiced opposition to both empiricism, which he rejected as uncritical, and determinism, which he viewed as overly mechanistic.  Karl Marx's methodology borrowed from Hegel a rejection of positivism in favor of critical analysis, which seeks to supplement the empirical acquisition of "facts" with the elimination of illusions.  He maintained that appearances need to be critiqued, not simply documented. Marx nonetheless endeavored, however, to produce a science of society grounded in the economic determinism of historical materialism.  Other philosophers, including Heinrich Rickert and Wilhelm Dilthey, argued that the natural world differs from the social world because of those unique aspects of human society (meanings, signs, and so on) which inform human cultures.


At the turn of the 20th century Max Weber formally introduced, and extensively theorized on, the position of methodological antipositivism. According to his view, sociological research should concentrate on human cultural norms, values, symbols, and social processes viewed from a subjective perspective. Weber felt that sociology may be loosely described as a 'science' as it is able to identify causal relationships—especially among ideal types, or hypothetical simplifications of complex social phenomena.  As a nonpositivist, however, Weber sought relationships that were not as "ahistorical, invariant, or generalizable" as those pursued by natural scientists. Both Weber and Georg Simmel pioneered the interpretative (or "Verstehen") approach toward social science; a systematic process in which an outside observer attempts to relate to a particular cultural group, or indigenous people, on their own terms and from their own point-of-view.


Sociology is the science whose object is to interpret the meaning of social action and thereby give a causal explanation of the way in which the action proceeds and the effects which it produces. By 'action' in this definition is meant the human behavior when and to the extent that the agent or agents see it as subjectively meaningful ... the meaning to which we refer may be either (a) the meaning actually intended either by an individual agent on a particular historical occasion or by a number of agents on an approximate average in a given set of cases, or (b) the meaning attributed to the agent or agents, as types, in a pure type constructed in the abstract. In neither case is the 'meaning' to be thought of as somehow objectively 'correct' or 'true' by some metaphysical criterion. This is the difference between the empirical sciences of action, such as sociology and history, and any kind of priori discipline, such as jurisprudence, logic, ethics, or aesthetics whose aim is to extract from their subject-matter 'correct' or 'valid' meaning.

– Max Weber The Nature of Social Action 1922,


Max Weber


Twentieth-century developments


Sna Large

A social network diagram consisting of individuals (or organizations), called 'nodes', which are connected by one or more specific types of interdependency


In the early 20th century, sociology expanded in the U.S., including developments in both macrosociology, concerned with the evolution of societies, and micro sociology, concerned with everyday human social interactions. Based on the pragmatic social psychology of George Herbert Mead, Herbert Blumer and, later, the Chicago school, sociologists developed symbolic interactionism.  In Austria and later the U.S., Alfred Schütz developed social phenomenology, which would later inform social constructionism. During the same period members of the Frankfurt school developed critical theory, integrating the historical materialistic elements of Marxism with the insights of Weber, Freud, Gramsci, Lukács, —in theory, if not always in name— often characterizing capitalist modernity as a move away from the central tenets of enlightenment. In the 1930s in the U.S., Talcott Parsons developed action theory, integrating the study of social order with the structural and voluntaristic aspects of macro and micro factors, while placing the discussion within a higher explanatory context of system theory and cybernetics.


In Europe, particularly during the Interwar period, sociology was undermined by totalitarian governments for reasons of ostensible political control, but also by conservative universities in the West. This was due, in part, to perceptions of the subject as possessing an inherent tendency, through its own aims and remit, toward liberal or left wing thought. Given that the discipline was founded by structural functionalists; concerned with organic cohesion and social solidarity, this view was somewhat groundless (though it was Parsons who had introduced Durkheimian theory to American audiences, and his interpretation has been criticized for a latent conservatism beyond that which was intended).  In the mid-20th century there was a general—but not universal—trend for U.S.-American sociology to be more scientific in nature, due to the prominence at that time of action theory and other system-theoretical approaches. In the second half of the 20th century, sociological research became increasingly employed as a tool by governments and businesses. Sociologists developed new types of quantitative and qualitative research methods. Parallel with the rise of various social movements in the 1960s, conflict theories emphasizing social struggle (such as Neo-Marxism, Second-Wave Feminism and race theory) sought to counter functionalist perspectives. The sociology of religion also saw a renaissance in the decade with new debates on secularization thesis and the very definition of religious practice.


In the 1960s and 1970s so-called post-structuralist and postmodernist theory, drawing upon Nietzsche and the phenomenologists as much as the classical social scientists, made a considerable impact on frames of sociological enquiry. Often understood simply as a cultural style 'after-Modernism' marked by intertextuality, pastiche and irony, sociological analyses of postmodernity have presented a distinct era relating to (1) the dissolution of metanarratives (particularly in the work of Lyotard), and (2) commodity fetishism and the 'mirroring' of identity with consumption in late capitalist society (Debord; Baudrillard; Jameson).  Postmodernism has also been associated with the rejection of enlightenment conceptions of the human subject by thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Claude Lévi-Strauss and, to a lesser extent, in Louis Althusser's attempt to reconcile Marxism with anti-humanism. Most theorists associated with the movement actively refused the label, preferring to accept postmodernity as a historical phenomenon rather than a method of analysis, if at all. Nevertheless, self-consciously postmodern pieces continue to emerge within the social and political sciences in general. Sociologists working in the Anglo-Saxon world, such as Anthony Giddens and Zygmunt Bauman, have tended to focus on theories of globalization, communication, and agential reflexivity in terms of a 'high phase' of modernity, rather than propose a distinct "new" era per se.


Michel Foucault

The sociologist-historian Michel Foucault


The positivist tradition remains ubiquitous in sociology, particularly in the United States.  The discipline's two most widely cited American journals, the American Journal of Sociology and the American Sociological Review, primarily publish research in the positivist tradition, with ASR exhibiting greater diversity (the British Journal of Sociology, on the other hand, publishes primarily non-positivist articles).  The twentieth century saw improvements to the quantitative methodologies employed in sociology. The development of longitudinal studies that follow the same population over the course of years or decades enabled researchers to study long-term phenomena and increased the researchers' ability to infer causality. The increase in the size of data sets produced by the new survey methods was followed by the invention of new statistical techniques for analyzing this data. Analysis of this sort is usually performed with statistical software packages such as SAS, Stata, or SPSS. Social network analysis is an example of a new paradigm in the positivist tradition. The influence of social network analysis is pervasive in many sociological sub fields such as economic sociology, organizational behavior, historical sociology, political sociology, or the sociology of education. There is also a minor revival of a more independent, empirical sociology in the spirit of C. Wright Mills, and his studies of the Power Elite in the United States of America, according to Stanley Aronowitz.



Epistemology and ontology


The extent to which the discipline may be characterized as a science remains a salient issue with respect to basic ontological and epistemological questions. Controversies continue to rage on how to emphasize or integrate subjectivity, objectivity, intersubjectivity and practicality in sociological theory and research. Though essentially all major theorists since the late 19th century have accepted that sociology is not a science in the traditional sense of the word, its ability to identify causal relationships invokes the same fundamental philosophical discussions held in science meta-theory. Whereas positivism has sometimes met with caricature as a breed of naive empiricism, the word has a rich history of applications stretching from Comte to the work of the Vienna Circle and beyond. One notable defense in the cannon of literature on the philosophy of social science is found in Peter Winch's The Idea of Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy (1958). By the same token, positivism is open to the same critical rationalist non-justificationism presented by Karl Popper, which is itself disputed through Thomas Kuhn's conception of epistemic paradigm shift. The linguistic and cultural turns of the mid-20th century marked a rise in increasingly abstract philosophical and hermeneutic material in sociology, as well as so-called "postmodern" perspectives on the social acquisition of knowledge. In recent years sociologists have frequently engaged with figures such as Wittgenstein and Richard Rorty, just as social philosophy has often met with social theory.


Structure and agency forms an enduring debate in social theory: "Do social structures determine an individual's behavior or does human agency?" In this context 'agency' refers to the capacity of individuals to act independently and make free choices, whereas 'structure' refers to factors which limit or affect the choices and actions of individuals (such as social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, and so on). Discussions over the primacy of structure or agency relate to the very core of social ontology ("What is the social world made of?", "What is a cause in the social world, and what is an effect?"). One attempt to reconcile postmodern critiques with the overarching project of social science has been the development, particularly in Britain, of critical realism. For critical realists such as Roy Bhaskar, traditional positivism commits an 'epistemic fallacy' by failing to address the ontological conditions which make science possible: that is, structure and agency itself. Another general outcome of incredulity toward overly structural or agential thought has been the development of multidimensional theories, such as Anthony Giddens's Theory of structuration and Pierre Bourdieu's concept of habitus. Despite meta-theoretical criticisms of sociological positivism, statistical quantitative methods remain extremely common in practice. Michael Burawoy has contrasted public sociology, emphasizing strict practical applications, with academic or professional sociology, which largely concerns dialogue amongst other social/political scientists and philosophers.



Scope and topics of sociology




Anthony Giddes

Leading British sociologist, Anthony Giddens


Cultural sociology involves a methodological analysis of the words, artifacts and symbols which interact with forms of social life, whether within subcultures or societies at large. Loosely distinct to culture as a general object of sociological enquiry is the discipline of Cultural Studies, which began at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS), a research centre founded in 1964 by Richard Hoggart at the University of Birmingham, England. Birmingham School theorists such as Stuart Hall and Raymond Williams emphasized the reciprocity in how cultural texts and mass-produced products are used, questioning the valorized division between 'producers' and 'consumers' that was evident in earlier neo-Marxist theory, such as that of Theodor Adorno and the Frankfurt School. Cultural Studies aims to examine its subject matter in terms of cultural practices and their relation to power. For example, a study of a subculture (such as white working class youth in London) would consider the social practices of the youth as they relate to the dominant classes.


Crime and deviance


'Deviance' describes actions or behaviors that violate cultural norms including formally-enacted rules (e.g., crime) as well as informal violations of social norms. It is the remit of sociologists to study how these norms are created; how they change over time; and how they are enforced. The sociology of deviance involves a number of theorems that seek to accurately describe trends and patterns that lie within social deviance, to help better understand societal behavior. There are three broad sociological classes describing deviant behavior: structural functionalism; symbolic interactionism; and conflict theory.




Economic sociology is the sociological analysis of economic phenomena; the role economic structures and institutions play upon society, and the influence a society holds over the nature of economic structures and institutions. The relationship between capitalism and modernity is a salient issue. Marx's historical materialism attempted to demonstrate how economic forces have a fundamental influence on the structure of society. Max Weber also, though less deterministically, regarded economic processes as key to social understanding. Georg Simmel, particularly in his Philosophy of Money, was important in the early development of economic sociology, as was Emile Durkheim with works such as The Division of Labor in Society. Economic sociology is often synonymous with socioeconomics. In many cases, however, socioeconomists focus on the social impact of specific economic changes, such as the closing of a factory, market manipulation, the signing of international trade treaties, new natural gas regulation, etc.


The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism




The sociology of education is the study of how public institutions and individual experiences affect education and its outcome. It is particularly concerned with the schooling systems of modern industrial societies, including the expansion of higher, further, adult, and continuing education.


The Internet


The Internet is of interest to sociologists in various ways. The Internet can be used as a tool for research (for example, conducting online questionnaires), a discussion platform, and as a research topic. Sociology of the Internet in the broad sense includes analysis of online communities (e.g. newsgroups, social networking sites) and virtual worlds. Organizational change is catalyzed through new media like the Internet, thereby influencing social change at-large. This creates the framework for a transformation from an industrial to an informational society (see Manuel Castells and, in particular his turn of the century account of "The Internet Galaxy"). Online communities can be studied statistically through network analysis and at the same time interpreted qualitatively through virtual ethnography. Social change can be studied through statistical demographics, or through the interpretation of changing messages and symbols in online media studies.




The sociology of knowledge is the study of the relationship between human thought and the social context within which it arises, and of the effects prevailing ideas have on societies. The term first came into widespread use in the 1920s, when a number of German-speaking theorists, most notably Max Scheler, and Karl Mannheim, wrote extensively on it. With the dominance of functionalism through the middle years of the 20th century, the sociology of knowledge tended to remain on the periphery of mainstream sociological thought. It was largely reinvented and applied much more closely to everyday life in the 1960s, particularly by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann in The Social Construction of Reality (1966) and is still central for methods dealing with qualitative understanding of human society (compare socially constructed reality). The "archaeological" and "genealogical" studies of Michel Foucault are of considerable contemporary influence.




The sociology of law refers to both a sub-discipline of sociology and an approach within the field of legal studies. Sociology of law is a diverse field of study which examines the interaction of law with other aspects of society, such as the effect of legal institutions, doctrines, and practices on other social phenomena and vice versa. Some of its areas of inquiry include the social development of legal institutions, the social construction of legal issues, and the relation of law to social change. Sociology of law also intersects with the fields of jurisprudence, economic analysis of law and more specialized subjects such as criminology.


Political Sociology


Jürgen Habermas

Leading German sociologist and critical theorist, Jürgen Habermas


Political sociology is the study of power and the intersection of personality, social structure and politics. Political sociology is interdisciplinary, where political science and sociology intersect. The discipline uses comparative history to analyze systems of government and economic organization to understand the political climate of societies. By comparing and analyzing history and sociological data, political trends and patterns emerge. The founders of political sociology were Max Weber, Moisey Ostrogorsky, and Robert Michels.


There are four main areas of research focus in contemporary political sociology:

1.    The socio-political formation of the modern state.

2.    "Who rules"? How social inequality between groups (class, race, gender, etc.) influences politics.

3.    How public personalities, social movements and trends outside of the formal institutions of political power affect politics, and

4.    Power relationships within and between social groups (e.g. families, workplaces, bureaucracy, media, etc).


Race Relations


Race relations are the area of sociology that studies the social, political, and economic relations between races and ethnicities at all different levels of society. This area encompasses the study of racism, and of complex political interactions between members of different groups. At the level of political policy, the issue of race relations is usually discussed in terms of assimilationism, anti-racism, and multiculturalism.




The sociology of religion concerns the practices, social structures, historical backgrounds, developments, universal themes and roles of religion in society. There is particular emphasis on the recurring role of religion in all societies and throughout recorded history. Crucially the sociology of religion does not involve an assessment of the truth-claims particular to a religion, though the process of comparing multiple conflicting dogmas may require what Peter Berger has described as inherent 'methodological atheism'. Sociologists of religion attempt to explain the effects of society on religion and the effects of religion on society; in other words, their dialectical relationship. It may be said that the discipline of sociology began with the analysis of religion in Durkheim's 1897 study of suicide rates amongst Catholic and Protestant populations. Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is another major work in the historical canon of sociological literature.


Scientific knowledge and institutions


The sociology of science involves the study of science as a social activity, especially dealing "with the social conditions and effects of science, and with the social structures and processes of scientific activity."  Theorists include Gaston Bachelard, Karl Popper, Paul Feyerabend, Thomas Kuhn, Martin Kusch, Bruno Latour, Michel Foucault, Anselm Strauss, Lucy Suchman, Barry Barnes, David Bloor, Harry Collins, and Steve Fuller.




Social stratification is the hierarchical arrangement of individuals into social classes, castes, and divisions within a society. In modern Western societies stratification traditionally relates to cultural and economic classes comprising of three main layers: upper class, middle class, and lower class, but each class may be further subdivided into smaller classes (e.g. occupational). Social stratification is interpreted in radically different ways within sociology. Proponents of structural functionalism suggest that, since social stratification exists in most state societies, hierarchy must be beneficial in helping to stabilize their existence. Conflict theorists, by contrast, critique the inaccessibility of resources and lack of social mobility in stratified societies. Karl Marx distinguished social classes by their connection to the means of production in the capitalist system: the bourgeoisie own the means, but this includes the proletariat itself as the workers can only sell their own labor power (forming the base of the material superstructure). Other thinkers, such as Max Weber, have critiqued Marxist economic determinism, noting that social stratification is not based purely on economic inequalities, but also on status and power differentials (e.g. patriarchy). Theorists such as Ralf Dahrendorf have noted the tendency toward an enlarged middle-class in modern Western societies, particularly in relation to the necessity of an educated work force in technological or service-based economies. Perspectives concerning globalization, such as dependency theory, suggest this effect owes to the shift of workers to the third world.


Urban Environments


Urban sociology involves the analysis of social life and human interaction in metropolitan areas. It is a normative discipline, seeking to study the structures, processes, changes and problems of an urban area and by doing so providing inputs for planning and policy making. Like most areas of sociology, urban sociologists use statistical analysis, observation, social theory, interviews, and other methods to study a range of topics, including migration and demographic trends, economics, poverty, race relations, economic trends, and etc. After the industrial revolution theorists such as Georg Simmel in The Metropolis and Mental life (1903) focused on the process of urbanization and the effects it had on social alienation and anonymity. In the 1920s and 1930s The Chicago School produced a major body of works specializing in urban sociology, utilizing symbolic interactionism as a method of field research.



Practical applications


Social research informs economists, politicians, educators, planners, lawmakers, administrators, developers, business magnates, managers, social workers, the formulation of public policy, and people interested in resolving social issues in general.


Michael Burawoy has marked the difference between public sociology, the aspect which relates explicitly to practical applications, and academic sociology, which relates largely to theoretical debates amongst professionals and students.



Research methods


As in any field of research, methods of sociological inquiry vary. The type of methodology used to research topics in sociology is predicated upon the theoretical orientation of the researcher. The basic goal of sociological research is to understand the social world in its many forms. Quantitative methods and qualitative methods are two main types of sociological research. Sociologists often use the quantitative methods, such as social statistics or network analysis to investigate the structure of a social process or describe patterns in social relationships. Sociologists also often use the qualitative methods such as focused interviews, group discussions and ethnographic methods to investigate social processes. Sociologists also use applied research methods such as evaluation research and assessment.


Social Interactions

Social interactions and their consequences are studied in sociology


The following list of research methods is neither exclusive nor exhaustive. Researchers may adopt one or more than one type of research methodology for a research project. Types of research methods include the following:

·        Archival research: sometimes referred to as "Historical Method". This research uses information from a variety of historical records such as biographies, memoirs and news releases.

·        Content analysis: The contents of interviews and questionnaires are analyzed using systematic approaches. An example of this type of research methodology is known as "grounded theory." Books and mass media are also analyzed to study how people communicate and the messages people talk or write about.

·        Experimental research: The researcher isolates a single social process or social phenomena and uses the data to either confirm or construct social theory. Participants (also referred to as "subjects") are randomly assigned to various conditions or "treatments", and then analyzes are made between groups. Randomization allows the researcher to be sure that the treatment is having the effect on group differences and not any extraneous factors.

·        Survey research: The researcher obtains data from interviews, questionnaires, or similar feedback from a set of people chosen (including random selection) to represent a particular population of interest. Survey items from an interview or questionnaire may be open-ended or closed-ended.

·        Life history: This is the study of the personal life trajectories. Through a series of interviews, the researcher can probe into the decisive moments or various influences in their life.

·        Longitudinal study: This is an extensive examination of a specific person or group over a long period of time.

·        Observation: Using data from the senses, one record information about social phenomenon or behavior. Observation techniques can be either participant observation or non-participant observation. In participant observation, the researcher goes into the field (such as a community or a place of work), and participates in the activities of the field for a prolonged period of time in order acquire a deep understanding of it. Data acquired through these techniques may be analyzed either quantitatively or qualitatively.


The choice of a method in part often depends on the researcher's epistemological approach to research as well as the researcher’s theoretical perspective. For example, researchers who are concerned with a statistical generalization to assign to a population will most likely administer structured interviews with a survey questionnaire to a carefully selected sample population. By contrast, sociologists, especially ethnographers, who are more interested in having a full contextual understanding of group members' lives, will choose participant observation, observation, and open-ended interviews. Many studies combine several of these methodologies. Adopting three (3) methodologies is referred to as "triangulation".


As is the case in most disciplines, sociologists are often divided into distinctive camps of support for particular research methodologies. This is based upon the researcher's theoretical orientation. In practice, some sociologists combine different research methods and approaches, since different methods produce different types of findings that correspond to different aspects of societies. For example, quantitative methods may help describe social patterns, while qualitative approaches could help to understand how individuals understand those patterns. This, however, does not mean that a qualitative approach cannot identify or define patterns of behavior. Nonetheless, the method of analysis of the data obtained from a research methodology may be qualitative, quantitative or both.



Sociology and other social sciences


Sociology overlaps with a variety of disciplines that study society; "sociology" and "social science" are, in fact, commonly synonymous. The fields of anthropology, economics, philosophy, political science and psychology have influenced and have-been influenced by sociology, just as these fields share a ground of common history and research interests. The distinct field of social psychology emerged from the many intersections of sociological and psychological interests; the field is further distinguished in terms of sociological or psychological emphasis.


Sociobiology is the study of how social behavior and organization have been influenced by evolution and other biological process. The field blends sociology with a number of other sciences, such as anthropology, biology, zoology, and others. Although sociobiology once rapidly gained acceptance, it has generated controversy within the sociological academy. Sociologists have criticized the discipline for not giving sufficient attention to the effects of society and environment on gene expression and behavior in general.



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