Originally written by myself on September 25,2008
The 1800’s were a changing time for the Western World. The entire societal order seemed to be in upheaval, technological changes were brought about by the Industrial Revolution that rendered some jobs obsolete, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars brought the old European system to an end and also brought on new ideas such as nationalism. Religion which had once played a huge part in Western life was being increasingly de-emphasized, with science taking the role of religion. In this upheaval there began to be new ways of looking into the question of human nature and why do people do things certain ways, it was in this era that sociology was born.
“Sociology is the scientific study of human social life, groups, and societies.” (Giddens, 2007, p.3) Sociology is fairly new compared to the other sciences, since sociology started only in the 1800’s. Sociology came about as thinkers began using science to understand why human nature is the way it is, why society is structured the way it is, and why do societies change. They also wanted to predict human behavior and use these answers to make life better for everyone. In the 1800’s advances in science had already transformed different disciplines like medicine, astronomy, engineering and other fields. Sociologists hoped to use science to also transform the human being. “Science is the use of systematic methods of empirical investigation, the analysis of data, theoretical thinking, and the logical assessment of arguments to develop a body of knowledge about a particular subject matter.” (Giddens, 2007, p.24) Also important in science is the use of theories. “To be effective a theory-the framework of ideas and assumptions used to explain some set of observations and make predictions about the real world-must be continually tested.” (Chaisson McMillan, 2008, p.6) This was something very important for the early sociologists because they wanted to make predictions for the future based on human behavior and how they could hopefully make aspects of human life better. The actual term sociology was invented by French author Auguste Comte. “Comte originally used the term social physics, but some of his intellectual rivals at the time were also making use of that term. Comte wanted to distinguish his own views from theirs, so he introduced sociology to describe the subject he wished to establish.” (Giddens, 2007, p.13)
Emile Durkheim came along after Auguste Comte and built on his work establishing new ideas such as organic solidarity, which states that society depends on cooperation among its members. He also was a proponent of social constraint where it’s said that society puts constraints on the actions of the individual. Durkheim was also one of the first people to write extensively about division of labor. Durkheim felt that division of labor took the place in society that was once held exclusively by religion. Division of labor increased interdependency among people because if one person does only one certain function such as working in a factory, he is highly reliant on a person who’s growing food because the factory worker does not do food production, and the food grower is reliant on the person working in transportation to ship his crops. Durkheim also analyzed suicide rates which he felt were explained by feelings of helplessness many people feel in a modern society where religion no longer had the place that it once did to give people’s lives meaning. Karl Marx was another important early sociologist. “Marx’s viewpoint was founded on what he called the materialist conception of history.”(Giddens, 2007, p. 15) Marx believed that history was based on conflicts between classes. He thought that in the future the proletariat class would rise up and overthrow the dominant class and create a classless society. The teachings of Marx came to be known as Marxism.
In the modern world there is similar upheaval similar to the upheaval experienced at the dawn of sociology. Large numbers of people are immigrating from poor countries to richer ones, new technological advances are rendering certain jobs obsolete and changing the way people live, jobs are leaving communities after years of being in one place to relocate elsewhere. Terrorism and mass shootings have become a fact of life and people are having problems coping with life in the modern world. Just like when sociology was formed there are many questions about human beings that are being asked and sociologists are looking for answers.