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Sociology Definition

Before attempting to define what sociology is, let us look at what the popular conceptions of the discipline seem.  As may be the case with other sciences, sociology is often misconceived among the populace.  Though  many  may  rightly  and  grossly  surmise  that sociology is about people, some think that it is all about “helping the unfortunate and doing welfare work, while others think that sociology is the same as socialism and is  a  means  of  bringing  revolution  to  our  schools  and colleges” (Nobbs, Hine and Flemming, 1978:1).

The first social scientist to use the term sociology was a Frenchman by the name of Auguste Comte who lived from 1798-1857.   As coined by   Comte, the term sociology is a combination of two words. The first part of the term is a Latin,  socius- that may variously mean society,  association, togetherness or companionship. The other word,  logos, is of Greek origin.  It literally means to speak about or word.  However, the term is generally understood as study or science     (Indrani,1998).   Thus, the etymological, literal definition of sociology is that it is the word or speaking about society. A simple definition here is that it is the study of society and culture.

A simple definition of sociology

Sociology is the study of society

Although the term   “sociology” was first used by the French social philosopher august Comte, the discipline was more firmly established by such theorists as Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx and Max Weber (Nobbs, Hine and Flemming, 1978).

society and culture

Before going any further, let us note that the concepts “society and “culture” are central in sociology.  While each concept shall be dealt with later in some detail, it appears to be appropriate here to help students differentiate between these two important concepts. Society generally refers to the social world with all its structures, institutions, organizations, etc around us, and specifically to a group of people who live within some type of bounded territory and who share a common way of life. This common way of life shared by a group of people is termed as culture (Stockard, 1997).

Distinguishing between society and culture

Society: a group of people who live within some type  of  bounded  territory  and  who  share  a common way of life

Culture:  is a common way of life shared by a society or a group.

Now, turning to the definitional issues, it is important that in addition to this etymological definition of the term, we need to have other substantive definitions.   Thus, sociology may be generally defined as a social science that studies such kinds of phenomena as:

  • The structure  and  function  of  society  as  a system;
  • The nature,   complexity, and   contents   of human social behavior;
  • The fundamentals of human social life;
  • Interaction of   human   beings   with   their external environment;
  • The indispensability of social interactions for human development;
  • How the social world affects us, etc.

Formal Definition

A more formal definition of sociology may be that it is a social science which studies the processes and patterns of human individual and group interaction, the forms of organization  of  social  groups,  the  relationship  among them, and group influences on individual behavior, and vice versa, and the interaction between one social group
and the other (Team of Experts, 2000).

Sociology is the scientific study of society, which is interested in the study of the social relationship between people in a group context. Sociology is interested in how we as human beings interact with each other (the pattern of social interaction); the laws and principles that govern social relations and interactions;   the /influence of the social world on the individuals, and vice versa (Ibid.). It deals with a factually observable subject matter, depends upon empirical research, and involves attempts to formulate theories and generalizations that will make sense of facts (Giddens, 1982).

Regarding the detective and expository nature the science,  Soroka  (1992:34) states that “Sociology is a debunking science; that is, it looks for levels of reality other than those presented in official interpretations of society and people’s common sense explanations of the social world.  Sociologists  are interested in understanding what is  and   do not make value judgments.”

founders of sociology


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