what is Sociology?

What is Sociology?

What is Sociology?

Sociology, as a branch of knowledge, has its own unique characteristics. It is different from other sciences in certain respects. An analysis of its internal logical characteristics helps one to understand what kind of science it is. The following are the main characteristics of sociology as enlisted by Robert Bierstedt in his book “The Social Order”.

Sociology is an Independent Science

Sociology has now emerged into an independent science. It is not treated and studied as a branch of any other science like philosophy or political philosophy or history. As an independent science it has it own field of study, boundary and method.

Sociology is a Social Science and not a Physical Science

Sociology belongs to the family of social science and not to the family of physical sciences. As a social science it concentrates its attention on man, his social behaviour, social activities and social life. As a member of the family of social sciences it is intimately related to other social sciences like history, political science, economics, psychology, anthropology etc. the fact that sociology deals with the Social universe distinguishes it from astronomy, physics, geology, mathematics and other physical sciences.

Sociology is a Categorical and not a Normative Discipline

Sociology “confines itself to statements about what is, not what should be”. As a science, sociology is necessarily silent about questions of value. It does not make any kind of value-judgments. Its approach is neither moral nor immoral but amoral. It is ethically neutral. It cannot decide the directions in which sociology ought to go. It makes no recommendations on maters of social policy or legislation or programme. But it does not mean that sociological knowledge is useless and serves no purpose. It only means that sociology as a discipline cannot deal with problems of good and evil, right and wrong, and moral or immoral.

Sociology is a Pure Science and not an Applied Science

A distinction is often made between pure sciences and applied sciences. The main aim of pure sciences is the acquisition of knowledge and it is not bothered whether the acquired knowledge is useful or can be put to use. On the other hand, the aim of applied science is to apply the acquired knowledge into life and to put it to use. Each pure science may have its own applied filed. For example, physics is a pure science and engineering is its applied field. Similarly the pure sciences such as economics, political science, history, etc., have their applied fields like business, politics, and journalism respectively. Sociology as pure science has it as applied field such as administration, diplomacy, social work etc. Each pure science may have more than one application.

Sociology is a pure science, because the immediate aim of sociology is the acquisition of knowledge about human society, not the utilization of that knowledge. Sociologists never determine questions of public policy and do not recommend legislators what laws should be passed or repealed. But the knowledge acquired by a sociologist is of great help to the administrator, the legislator, the diplomat, the teacher, the foreman, the supervisor, the social worker and the citizen. But sociologists themselves do not apply the knowledge to life and use, as a matter of their duty and profession.

Sociology is relatively an Abstract Science and not a Concrete Science

This does not mean that sociology is an art and not a science. Nor does it mean, it is unnecessarily complicated and unduly difficult. It only means that sociology is not interested in concrete manifestations of human events. It is more concerned with particular wars and revolutions but with war and revolution in general, as social phenomena, as types of social conflict. Similarly, sociology does not confine itself to the study of society or that particular society or social organization, or marriage, or religion, or group and so on. It is in this simple sense that sociology is an abstract not a concrete science.

Sociology is a Generalizing and not a Particularizing or Individualizing Science

Sociology tries to find out the general laws or principles about human interaction and association,  about   the   nature,  form,  content and  structure of  human  groups  and societies. It does  not  study  each and every  event  that takes  place  in society. It is not possible also It tries to make generalizations on the basis of the study of some selected evens. For example, a sociologist makes generalizations about the nature of secondary groups. He may conclude that secondary groups are comparatively bigger in size, less stable, not necessarily spatially limited; more specialize, and so on. This, he does, not by examining all the secondary groups but by observing and studying a few.

Sociology is a General Science and not Special Social Science

The area of inquiry of sociology is general and not specialized. It is concerned with human interaction and human life in general. Other social sciences like political science, history, economics etc., also study man and human interaction, but not all about human interaction. They concentrate their attention on certain aspects of human interaction and activities and specialize themselves in those fields. Accordingly, economics specializes itself in the study of economic activities, political science concentrates on political activities and so on.

Sociology, of course, does not investigate economic, religious, political, legal, moral, or any other special kind of phenomena in relations to human life and activities as such. It only studies human activities in a general way. This does not; however, mean that sociology is the basic social science nor does it imply sociology is the general social science. Anthropology and social psychology often claim themselves to be general social sciences.

Finally, Sociology is Both a Rational and an Empirical Science

There are two broad ways of approach scientific knowledge. One, known as empiricism, is the approach that emphasizes experience and the facts that result from observation and experimentation. The other, known as rationalism, stresses reason and the theories that result from logical inference.

The empiricist collects facts; rationalist co-ordinates and arranges them. Theories and facts are required in the construction of knowledge. In sociological inquiry both are significant. A theory unsubstantiated by hard, solid facts is nothing more than an opinion fact, by themselves, in their isolated character, are meaningless and useless. As Immanuel Kant said, “theories without facts are empty and facts without theories are blind”. All modern sciences, therefore, avail themselves of both empirical and rational resources. Sociology is not an exception.

It is clear from the above that sociology is an independent, a social, a categorical, a pure, an abstract, a generalizing, both a rational and an empirical and a general social science.