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“”Sociology is a cult based around the intellectual pseudoscience of studying society. Originally popular with old bearded men who smoke pipes whilst reclining in arm-chairs, it has now managed to find a younger generation of converts thanks to its curricular introduction into sixth-form colleges and universities. Synonymous with Scientology, Sociology uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop and refine a body of knowledge and theory about human social activity.
Sociology is the academic study of human societies and the effects of human behavior on society or societies. While this definition seems clear cut, the parameters of what ‘society’ is can vary based on which sociological theory/theorist you analyze. Some may claim it is a study of culture, while others may define it in terms of social interaction. Others still may analyze concrete institutions in a society, placing a lack of importance on more intangible things such as expectations. 
Nevertheless, a good way of viewing sociology as an overarching concept is to analyze language and how it forms and manifests between humans, and where communication and learning manifest within the social sphere (which itself is a vague term, if we’re being honest). In particular, a Professor, Basil Bernstein, describes a ‘failure of education’, analyzing the shortcomings of a universal public education due to the variety and limitations of language, and how the specific languages manifest in the form of physical and real world disparities in both ability and social standing (this idea is developed by Pierre Bourdieu as well). Because one analyzes language and communication, they are able to branch off and analyze hot-topic issues such as racism, sexism, the media, work, crime, religion, politics, and many other topics that tend to be very popular in this day and age. As a result, multiple sociological theorists create different frameworks at which things are communicated between people/groups to establish a social life that everyone takes part in.
Sociology, as a social science, can generate some controversy among laymen. Critics might suggest there is something inherently suspect about a discipline in which every question can be answered by asserting the existence of an invisible social structure that defies scientific observation. They also sometimes make an argument about 'armchair analysis', something that W.E.B. Du Bois critiques, where people think that they can 'distance' themselves from the social life in order to understand it, while in reality they themselves are a product of their own social life. W.E.B. Du Bois would go on to study the 'black church' as a response to what he viewed Sociology to be, taking an inside-out approach to understand the social sphere that existed, rather than the previously common attempt of outside-in observation.  Like other scientific fields, sociology attempts to find patterns in the real world and to analyze their causes. In particular, sociologists attempt to construct sociological theories that attempt to explain human behavior in the context of social life, and make accurate predictions of how a society will evolve.
Because of the nature of the conceptual aspects of sociology, combined with the abstract concepts of 'society' itself, it is incredibly difficult to accurately point out what exactly human social life is about. Thus, people use their frameworks that they know of to attempt to explain the things that happen around and to them.
History of sociology
Sociological elements of thought have existed for millennia, traditionally robed in philosophical garb. In Classical Greece, both Plato and Aristotle described society as a type of "organism" or "system". They differed slightly in their explanations, but generally identified the aspect of society in which the different parts of human lives all contributed to the social sphere on a wide scale. However, both philosophers failed to expand past their own subjective viewpoints, presenting their explanations not as a changing, evolving system of human development but as a static, unchanging view of social life, either from a social or from a biological standpoint.
Fast forward a few hundred years, and Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) touches on the concepts of social bonds and how - when multiple people exist in a certain setting - there must be a presupposed set of rules/agreements between some few people, thus resulting in a necessarily repressed society built upon the foundation of laws designed for macro functionality. Subsequently, John Locke (1632-1704), would write about not the pessimism of bridled actions, but about the benevolent nature of humans built on empathy and mutual respect, in regards to creating a functional society built not on repression but on understanding. While both Hobbes and Locke identified secular notions of human society, rather than religiously-based ones, they both made presuppositions about the entirety of human nature, "egoism for Hobbes, [and] sympathy for Locke". While they laid the foundations for sociology as a formal study in the future, their ideas were not completely unflawed. Imagine that!
The writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) raised the question about the dichotomy between nature and nurture, seemingly as an attempt to rectify the views of the previous two mentioned philosophers: Are people benevolent at their core? Or has social life dulled the egalitarian nature of humans and driven them to selfish needs in a (more) modern world where people compete for resources? While all of these philosophers used sociological aspects in attempting to explain humanity as a whole, they all fell into the pitfall of an underlying assumption of individuality: their work was defined by a "weak, not strong concept of the social: society was not defined as an objective structure of secular institutions and processes, but the product of asocial forces and the voluntary acquiescence of pre-social individuals in the formation of modern states and political obligation."
Sociology as a formal study originated in Europe - Auguste Comte (1798-1857) first coined the term. Comte, a staunch positivist, believed that there was an objective truth out there, and posited that scientific ideas and facts should be controlled by the government, and "indoctrinated" into the people of their state, in order to quell any notion of conflating opinions with fact. This idea, of course, was quite controversial, and remains so even today, but the matter stands that Comte himself combined his views about objective reality with his studies of the world around him. Despite the fact that sociological thought existed long before Comte came along and declared it "sociology", nevertheless he formalized the study and attempted to define its structure, rather than making assertions and arguments without specifying the framework of the field of study.
Because Great Britain was the first country to do industrialization, British folks could acquire resources beyond the traditional agricultural and artisan material goods that people were used to at the time (18th century onwards, approximately). Instead, machinery, industry, and factories
createfostered an economy that allowed more wiggle room for the lower classes - in contrast to a feudalistic structure. In the 19th century, Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) would develop their ideas in the light of the rise of bourgeoisie ownership in a sea of proletariat wage-earners, and an increased understanding of the recently developed evolutionary theory, respectively. Marx, with his works derived from Bruno Bauer (1809-1882) , rejected the ideas of spiritualism and religion as a whole, stating that they were in fact a conflation of "real humanity", where the "spirit" was being replaced by a human's self-worth. Herbert Spencer, in contrast, used Charles Darwin's works for the purpose of applying Darwin's ideas of evolution/speciation to human social life, classifying things anthropologically, and in general viewing society not in a static way (as Plato or Aristotle would suggest), but rather as a constantly changing, "evolving" organism that permeates and shifts through time. Even though Spencer used these ideas to justify his bigotry and racism, he and Marx nevertheless paved the way for future sociological thought.
These ideas would further influence theorists like Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), Max Weber (1864-1920), Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002), Theodor Adorno (1903-1969), Antonio Gramsci, Franz Fanon, and many others.
Sociology is the study of multiple different aspects of human society, all under the umbrella of the ‘social sphere’, which some people have coined it. A sociological theory is an attempt to explain human behavior in the context of a society, whilst simultaneously attempting to create a framework at which one can make fairly accurate predictions. Because the area of focus can vary based on the social theory, attempts have been made to create classifications for the types of theories that exist. There are two metatheoretical axes that we can analyze a theory by, to understand the assumptions and presuppositions that stem from their specific observations and thus compose the theorists work.
There is the question of order, where theories try to determine to what extent people act as individual prerogatives vs. collective followers of a trend in society. While there is tentative agreement that the answer is “both”, we of course beg the question of: “Well, how much of each is applicable to the majority of human nature?” Do we follow trends semi-aimlessly? or do we choose to follow a trend? This axis on the metatheoretical framework tries to pinpoint where a theorist is talking about.
There is the question of action, where theories try to determine what kind of thought is exhibited by people in a society. The contrast on this axis is the rational action versus the nonrational action. Rational actions are considered to be calculating, goal-oriented, and methodological ways that a person acts in accordance with the society around them. Non-rational, not to be confused with irrational, covers everything but that, including basic presuppositions we don’t even know we have, forces of habit that we have learned via inductive reasoning, possible indoctrination of what is true, and in general reasons for behavior that are not conscious activity.
(While this raises the question of what consciousness even is, we can still identify times where people think about their situation critically vs. going to force of habit!)
When a person is familiar with these two axes, one can loosely apply a theory on parts of the grid that manifests from these axes to determine what type of theory they are analyzing, and judging what their rough answer is for the question of why human behavior is what it is in regards to social life.
A sociological theory is an approach to research that offers a perspective on society. It attempts to explain and predict behavior within the context of the social sphere. Traditionally, there are three major theories in sociology, however theories tend to branch out and intermingle with each other to make up for observed deficiencies in theories that already exist.
Sociologists using a Structural-Functional approach look at society through a lens of interconnectivity, identifying the parts of society that specifically work through and against each other comprising the ‘organization’ of society. They will identify the differing spheres and institutions that comprise social life in order to understand how they correlate with each other to form the complete image of a society.
For instance, they will identify the social stratification of identities borne from certain important sections of the institutions, such as the family, the school, religion, and many other forms of communication that exist. All of these put together construct a world around each person, and as a consequence those people themselves continue to permeate the social sphere they live in in the first place.
Prominent theorists that operate under this set of reasonings can include Robert Merton, who established “strain theory” as an attempt to identify the roles and characteristics of people within an established system, particularly those affected by the shortcomings, and Émile Durkheim, who identified the term ‘anomie’, meaning normlessness (a feeling that one does not belong in the system they live in) and the prevalence of suicide, specifically studying various structures within society, such as marriage and religion, and identifying the effects of social change.
Sociologists using a Social-Conflict approach identify and observe the hierarchies in society, and attempt to explain the causes of said hierarchies of groups, socially and materially. They will identify that there are people with more power than others, and thus some people have a higher capability for change than others. In turn, the people without the capability for change are forced to instead choose from a set of higher-power people (power itself being a separate issue) to either work for or simply choose something that is presented to them via bourgeoisie presentations.
For instance, in the time of the industrial revolution, there were clear objective measurements about who had more resources than others(e.g. money, property, land and business ownership). This differentiation is more hazy in this day and age, as the capability to own land or property is no longer necessarily indicative of being a part of the bourgeoisie class. Another example is the demonstration of symbolic power, where a person that potentially has a lot of popularity over social media, like a celebrity, sparks a social movement. Someone at a lower level in the social ladder would not have the simple path that allows them to do something like that, therefore the person who sparked the movement in the first place has the capability to open the option to lower-powered people, and and in extension, power over them.
Additionally, the theory usually asserts to a reasonable degree that people want to maintain the power they have in the first place. Whether it means that they develop their social position, attempt to maintain their social status, or try to identify with a social group that has power, regardless of the means, conflict theorists will tend to place an emphasis on analyzing those who maintain the power relations in society and how they exist.
Prominent theorists that operate under this set of reasoning are those who primarily identify social/economic inequality. A famous example is, of course, Karl Marx who famously wrote “Capital” over a series of years, that demonstrated a critique on the power relations and subsequent harm of this difference through the lens of capitalism. Another theorist that touched on this was Patricia Hill Collins, where she described a ‘matrix of domination’ within the social sphere, in which different parts of your identity rest on different regions of the hierarchy. Therefore, there is a complicated totality of how oppressed/oppressing you are in your social position.
Sociologists using a Symbolic-Interactionist approach tend to focus on the nature of interaction itself, in the form of language and communication, however do have some large-scale tendencies. Despite this, this framework of looking at social life is one in which the main focus is on communication and ‘symbols’, which basically translates to all forms of language, including languages that transcend the spoken word(such as imagery, body language, tonality, etc.) Considering that sociology is a study about society and not an individual, it is vital to on some level identify what happens during a social interaction.
For instance, while someone may have a way of doing things throughout their life, at what point can we make a judgment about their social capabilities in isolation? The answer, obviously, is that we can’t. Instead, we must rely on additional situations where people are in the vicinity of others, and communicate off of each other and present their “selves” to each other. Self is a word here that loosely refers to an image, not necessarily a philosophical self but a manifestation of a set of personalities. This framework tries to identify the more detailed interactions between people/groups, and understand the forms of communication and interaction that exist. Is the interaction hostile? funny? annoying? happy? sad? And what happens after a person walks away from any of these particular types of communications? Overall, the study focuses primarily on the individuals capability to understand a situation but does admit that one learns symbols outside of a vacuum.
Prominent theorists that operate under this set of reasoning are those who analyze what the ‘self’ is, and what forms of communication exist. Georg Simmel, in his work “Exchange”, lays the foundations for a social exchange theory(which is a conglomeration of this theory and conflict theory(but a mostly large emphasis on interactionism)) and reasons that social interactions are a form of exchange, and exist in a consistent and constant dichotomy between two opposites. For instance, I will give you my time if you give me yours. In losing my time I gain information etc. Another theorist that pinpoints the self is Erving Goffman, who identified meaning, specifically, and attempted to find areas of social life where they are stripped away from you to demonstrate that they do, in fact, exist. In his book, “Asylums”, he demonstrates that within our regular social life we are surrounded by a set of tools that we use to construct our identify, or our self meaning, and without that set of tools, moving into what he calls a ‘total institution’, we become defined one-dimensionally.
Other, more complicated theories
- Derived primarily from conflict theory, Feminist theory takes the concept of economic and cultural domination and applies it to sexism.
- Derived from a combination from all three theories in tandem, Critical theory points out the parts of society that we take for granted that control our every move.
- Derived from symbolic interactionism and conflict theory, Exchange theory takes a micro approach for understanding the concept of social exchange.
- Derived from symbolic interactionism, Dramaturgy takes a micro approach of people as actors in a macro understanding of the world they all live in, based on definitions that already exist externally to them.
- Derived from functionalism, Phenomenology is a unique study that identifies not institutions, but instead habits and traditions we have in daily life that build our social lives in tandem with each other.
- Derived from functionalism and symbolic interactionism, Post-structuralism is a rough sketch of social life in a developed world today in an attempt to identify the structures and how they have a hand in how people live their lives within the social sphere.
- Derived from functionalism and conflict theory, Postmodernism analyzes the development of technology and how the new version of society we live in today runs 'simulations' of social interaction, and how we navigate through that type of society and walk through the social control that exists as a result of said technology.
- Derived from conflict theory, World-systems theory primarily identifies the global relationships countries have with each other in this developed day and age, where one person can call another from Bangladesh to the UK in less than a minute. As a result, borders are becoming defined differently and there's a clear hierarchy of countries.
- Agents of Socialization
- Industrial Revolution
- Sociology of religion
- Sociology at Uncyclopedia
- See the Wikipedia article on Nature versus nurture.