Introduction to Sociology

Sociology may be defined as the scientific study of human social relations or group life. See more definitions of Sociology in the Legal Dictionary. Other disciplines within the social sciences-including economics, political science, anthropology, and psychology-are also concerned with topics that fall within the scope of human society. Sociologists examine the ways in which social structures and institutions-such as class, family, community, and power-and social problems-such as crime and abuse-influence society.

Social interaction, or the responses of individuals to each other, is perhaps the basic sociological concept, because such interaction is the elementary component of all relationships and groups that make up human society. Sociologists who concentrate on the details of particular interactions as they occur in everyday life are sometimes called microsociologists; those concerned with the larger patterns of relations among major social sectors, such as the state and the economy, and even with international relations, are called macrosociologists.

History of the Discipline

As a discipline, or body of systematized knowledge, sociology is of relatively recent origin. The concept of civil society as a realm distinct from the state was expressed in the writings of the 17th century English philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke and of the later thinkers of the French and Scottish enlightenments. For more information about the History of Sociology, click here.

Fields of Sociology

Sociology was long identified primarily with broad evolutionary reconstructions of historical change in Western societies, as well as with the exploration of relationships and interdependencies among their more specialized institutions and aspects of social life, such as the economy, the state, the family, and religion. Sociology, therefore, was thought of as a synthesizing field that attempted to integrate the findings acquired from other social sciences. Although such concepts concerning the scope and task of sociology are still prevalent, they now tend to be regarded as the province of sociological theory, which is only a part of the entire discipline.

Sociological theory also includes the discussion and analysis of basic concepts that are common to all the different spheres of social life studied by sociologists. An emphasis on empirical investigations carried out by standardized and often statistical research methods directed the attention of sociologists away from the abstract visions of 19th-century scholars toward more focused and concrete areas of social reality. These areas became the subfields and specialties of sociology that are today the subjects of college courses, textbooks, and specialized journals.

Much of the scholarly and scientific work of sociologists falls clearly within one of the many subfields into which the discipline is divided. In addition to basic concepts, research techniques are shared by most subfields; thus, sociological theory and research methods are both usually required subjects for all who study sociology.


The oldest subfields in the discipline are those that concentrate on social phenomena that have not previously been adopted as objects of study by other social science disciplines. These include marriage and the family, social inequality and social stratification, ethnic relations, deviant behavior, urban communities, and complex or formal organizations. Subfields of more recent origin examine the social aspects of gerontology and the sociology of sex and gender roles.

Because nearly all human activities involve social relations, another major source of specialization within sociology is the study of the social structure of areas of human activity. These areas of teaching and research include sociologies of politics, law, religion, education, the military, occupations and professions, governmental bureaucracies, industry, the arts, science, language (or sociolinguistics), medicine, mass communications, and sports.

These subfields differ widely in the extent to which they have accumulated a substantial body of research and attracted large numbers of practitioners. Some, such as the sociology of sports, are recent fields, whereas others, such as the sociologies of religion and of law, have their roots in the earliest studies of sociologists. Certain subfields have achieved brief popularity, only to be later incorporated into a more comprehensive area.

Industrial sociology, for example, was a flourishing field in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s, but later it was largely absorbed into the study of complex organizations; in Britain, however, industrial sociology has remained a separate area of research. A more common sociological phenomenon is the splitting of a recognized subfield into narrower subdivisions; the sociology of knowledge, for instance, has increasingly been divided into individual sociologies of science, art, literature, popular culture, and language.

At least two subfields, demography and criminology, were distinct areas of study long before the formal field of sociology existed. In the past, they were associated primarily with other disciplines. Demography (the study of the size, growth, and distribution of human populations) retains close links to economics in some countries, but in most of the Western world, and particularly in the United States, it is considered a subdivision of sociology. Criminology has in recent decades been affected by general sociological concepts and perspectives, becoming more and more linked with the study of deviant behavior, including those forms that do not involve violations of the law.

Interdisciplinary Fields

The oldest and most important interdisciplinary subfield of sociology is social psychology. It has often been considered virtually a separate discipline, drawing practitioners from both sociology and psychology. Sociologists primarily concern themselves with social norms, roles, institutions, and the structure of groups, while social psychologists concentrate on the impact of these various areas on individual personality.

Social psychologists trained in sociology have pioneered studies of interaction in small informal groups; the distribution of beliefs and attitudes in a population (see Public Opinion); the formation of character and outlook under the influence of the family, the school, the peer group, and other socializing agencies. Psychoanalytic ideas derived from the work of Sigmund Freud and later psychoanalysts have been particularly important in this last area of social psychology.

Comparative historical sociology, often strongly influenced by the ideas of both Marx and Weber, has shown much growth in recent years. Many historians have been guided by concepts borrowed from sociology; at the same time, some sociologists have carried out large-scale historical-comparative studies. The once firm barriers between history and sociology have crumbled, especially in such areas as social history, demographic change, economic and political development, and the sociology of revolutions and protest movements.

Research Methods

Sociologists use nearly all the methods of acquiring information that are used in the other social sciences and the humanities, from advanced mathematical statistics to the interpretation of texts. They also rely heavily on primary statistical information regularly collected by governments, such as censuses and vital statistics reports, and records of unemployment, immigration, the frequency of crime, and other phenomena. See more about research methods employed by sociologists here.

Emerging Trends

Since the 1960s sociology has ceased to be primarily an American subject. In sociological theory, in particular, a partial reversal has occurred, with European theories influencing American sociologists. The revival and absorption into the academy of Marxist thought, always more influential in Europe, has been central to this trend. Yet the separation of Marxist theory from direct involvement with political movements has resulted in almost as many varieties of scholarly Marxism as there are of sociological theory in general.

Sociology expanded enormously in both Europe and the United States in the 1960s and thereafter. In addition to theoretical diversification, new subfields came into being, such as the sociology of gender (spurred by feminist movements), which includes analysis of gender-based social roles and inequalities, and the study of emotions, aging, and the life course. Older subfields, such as historical and comparative sociology, were revitalized, as was the broad movement toward sociological practice, which encompasses applied sociology, and policy analysis. Sociological practitioners apply their knowledge through their roles as consultants, planners, educators, researchers, and managers in federal, state, and local government, in nonprofit advocacy organizations, and in business-especially in the field of marketing, advertising, insurance, human resources, and organizational analysis.

Since the 1960s sociologists have made greater use both of traditional research methods associated with other disciplines, such as the analysis of historical source materials, and of more sophisticated statistical and mathematical techniques adapted to the study of social phenomena. Development of increasingly complex computers and other devices for handling and storing information has facilitated the processing of sociological data.

Because of the wide diversity in research methods and theoretical approaches, sociologists working in a particular subfield often have more in common with workers in a complementary discipline than with sociologists specializing in other subfields. A sociologist of art, for example, stands much closer in interests and methods to an art historian or critic than to a sociologist who constructs mathematical models of occupational mobility. In theory, methods, and subject matter, no single school of thought or topic dominates sociology today.

Source: “Sociology,”Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia. Contributed By Dennis Hume Wrong, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology, New York University. Author of Class Fertility Trends in Western Nations and other books.

See Also

Schools of Jurisprudence
Theory of Law
Sociological School
Analytical School
Historical School
Legal topics
Natural-law School
Development of Criminology
Comparative School


Related Work and Conclusions


See Also

  • Social Problem
  • Crime
  • Delinquency
  • Juvenile Delinquency
  • Delinquent
  • Social Issues
  • Crime Prevention


See Also

References (Papers)

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  • Investing In Resiliency: Prioritizing Water Systems And Investing In Green Infrastructure, Caitlin Cutchin, Aug 2017
  • You Probably Shouldn’T Build There: Watershed-Based Land Use Strategies For Mitigating Global Climate Change In New Jersey’S Freshwater Systems, Matthew Knoblauch, Aug 2017
  • About Sdlp, Aug 2017
  • Trending @ Rwu Law: Dean Yelnosky’s Post: Chelsea Manning, Professor David Coombs, And The “Wikileaks Trial” 08-28-2017, Edward Fitzpatrick, Roger Williams University School Of Law, Aug 2017
  • The Earth’s Atmosphere As A Global Trust: Establishing Proportionate State Responsibility To Maintain, Restore And Sustain The Global Atmosphere, Thomas Boudreau Ph.D., Aug 2017
  • Intellectual Property And Competition, Herbert J. Hovenkamp, Aug 2017
  • The Dangers Of Water Privatization: An Exploration Of The Discriminatory Practices Of Private Water Companies, Elana Ramos, Aug 2017
  • Putting The Sun Back Into The Sunshine State: How Florida’s Transition To Solar Power Has Brought The State Out Of The Shadows Cast By Big Oil’s Energy-Monopoly, Christopher Berman, Aug 2017
  • An Overview Of The Zika Virus Epidemic And What America Can Do To Prevent The Spread Of The Virus In The Future, Alexandra Parrish, Aug 2017
  • Clean Power Plan, Janice Chon, Aug 2017
  • It’s All Downhill From Here: How The Nation’s Dispute With Clean Water Act Jurisdiction Is Solved, Spencer H. Newman, Aug 2017
  • Newsroom: Golocalprov: Vargas ’20 On Trump And The Future Of The Ri Gop 08-17-2017, Golocalprov Political Team, Roger Williams University School Of Law, Aug 2017
  • Amending Corporate Charters And Bylaws, Albert H. Choi, Geeyoung Min, Aug 2017
  • Volume 12, Issue 1 (Summer 2017), Aug 2017
  • Tragedy, Outrage & Reform: Crimes That Changed Our World: 1983 – Thurman Beating – Domestic Violence, Paul H. Robinson, Sarah M. Robinson, Aug 2017
  • Newsroom: The Violence In Charlottesville 08-14-2017, Michael J. Yelnosky, Aug 2017
  • Reasonable Patent Exhaustion, Herbert J. Hovenkamp, Aug 2017
  • Trigger Crimes & Social Progress: The Tragedy-Outrage-Reform Dynamic In America, Paul H. Robinson, Sarah M. Robinson, Aug 2017
  • The Triple-C Impact: Responding To Childhood Exposure To Crime And Violence, Michal Gilad, Aug 2017
  • Policing And Procedural Justice: Shaping Citizens’ Identities To Increase Democratic Participation, Tracey Meares, Aug 2017

Hierarchical Display of Sociology

Science > Humanities > Social sciences
Social Questions > Social affairs > Social life
Social Questions > Social framework > Social analysis
Law > Sources and branches of the law > Legal science > Sociology of law


Concept of Sociology

See the dictionary definition of Sociology.

Characteristics of Sociology

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Translation of Sociology

Thesaurus of Sociology

Science > Humanities > Social sciences > Sociology
Social Questions > Social affairs > Social life > Sociology
Social Questions > Social framework > Social analysis > Sociology
Law > Sources and branches of the law > Legal science > Sociology of law > Sociology

See also