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founders of sociology

Brief Historical Overview

Sociology and other social sciences emerged from a common tradition of reflection of social phenomena; interest in the nature of human social behavior and society has probably always existed;  however, most people in most past societies saw their culture as a fixed and God-given entity. This view gradually was replaced by more rational explanations beginning from the  17th century especially in  Western  Europe (Rosenberg, 1987). The sociological issues, questions, and problems had been raised and discussed by the forerunners starting from the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers’ and Hebrew prophets’ times. founders of sociology.

Sociology as an academic science was thus born in the 19th century  (its formal establishment year being  1837)  in Great Britain and Western Europe, especially in France and Germany, and it greatly advanced throughout out 19th and 20th centuries.

The development of sociology and its current contexts have to be grasped in the contexts of the major changes that have created the modern world  (Giddens,  1986). Further, sociology originated in 18th-century philosophy, political  economy and cultural  history (Swingwood, 1991)

The major conditions, societal changes, upheavals and social  ferments  that  gave  rise  to  the  emergence  and
development  of  sociology  as  an  academic  science include the Industrial Revolution which began in Great
Britain,  the  French  Political Revolution of 1789,  the Enlightenment and advances in natural sciences and technology.   These revolutions had brought about significant societal changes and disorders in the way society lived in the aforementioned countries.  Since sociology was born amidst the great socio-political and economic and technological changes of the western world, it is said to be the science of modern society.

The founders of sociology were very much concerned about the great changes that were taking place and they felt that the exciting sciences could not help understand, explain, analyze and interpret the fundamental laws that govern the social phenomena. Thus sociology was born out of these revolutionary contexts.

The founders of sociology are the following (Henslin  and  Nelson,  1995;  Giddens,  1996; Macionis, 1997):

Auguste Comte, French Social Philosopher (1798- 1857)

Comte was the first social philosopher to coin and use the term sociology (Nobbs, Hine and Flemming, 1978). He was also the first to regard himself as a sociologist.

He defined sociology as the scientific study of social dynamics and social static.  He argued that sociology can and should study society and social phenomena following the pattern and procedures of natural science.  Comte believed that a theoretical science of society and the systematic investigation of human behavior was needed to improve society. He argued that the new science of society could and should make a critical contribution to a new and improved human society. Comte defined sociology as the study of social dynamic and social static,  the former signifying the changing, progressing and developmental dimensions of society, while the latter refers to the social order and those elements of society and social phenomena which tend to persist and relatively permanent, defying change.

founders of sociology

Karl Marx (German, 1818-1883)

Marx was a world-renowned social philosopher, sociologist, and economic historian. He made remarkable contributions to the development of various social sciences including sociology.  He contributed greatly to sociological ideas. He introduced key concepts in sociology like social class, social class conflict, social oppression, alienation,  etc.  Marx,  like Comte, argued that people should make active efforts to bring about societal reforms.   According to Marx, economic forces are the keys to underestimating society and social change.  He believed that the history of human society has been that of class conflict.  He dreamed of and worked hard towards realizing,  a classless society, one in which there will be no exploitation and oppression of one class by another, and wherein all individuals will work according to their abilities and receive according to their needs.  Marx introduced one of the major perspectives in sociology, called social conflict theory (Macionis, 1997).

founders of sociology

Harriet Martineau, British Sociologist (1802-1876)

At a time when women were greatly stereotyped and denied access to the influential socio-political and academic arena, it is interesting to ha a female academic to be numbered among the pioneering sociologists.  Harriet was interested in social issues and studied both in the United States and England. She came across the writings of Comte and read them.  She was an active advocate of the abolition of slavery and she wrote on many crosscutting issues such as racial and gender relations, and she traveled widely.   She helped popularize the ideas and writings of Comte by translating them into  English (Henslin and Nelson,1995).

founders of sociology

Herbert Spencer, British Social Philosopher, (1820-1903)

Spencer was a prominent social philosopher of the 19th century.  He was famous for the organic analogy of human society. He viewed society as an organic system, having its own structure and functioning in ways analogous to the biological system. Spencer’s ideas of the evolution of human society from the lowest (“barbarism”)  to the highest form (“civilized”) according to fixed laws were famous.   It was called   “Social Darwinism”, which is analogous to the biological evolutionary model. Social Darwinism is an attempt to apply by analogy the evolutionary theories of plant and animal development to the explanation of human society and social phenomena (Team of Experts, 2000).

Emile Durkheim, French Sociologist, (1858-1917)

Durkheim was the most influential scholar in  the academic and theoretical development of sociology. He laid down some of the fundamental principles, methods, concepts, and theories of sociology; he defined sociology as the study of social facts. According to him, there are social facts, which are distinct from biological and psychological facts.  By social facts, he meant the patterns of behavior that characterize a social group in a given society. They should be studied objectively. The job of a sociologist, therefore, is to uncover social facts and then to explain them using other social facts. Some regard Durkheim as the first sociologist to apply statistical methods to the study of social phenomena (Macionis, 1997; Clahoun, et al, 1994).

Max Weber, German Sociologist (1864-1920)

Weber was another prominent social scientist. According to him, sociology is the scientific study of human social action. Social action refers to any “action-oriented to influence or influenced by another person or persons. It is not necessary for more than one person to be physically present for action to be regarded as social action….” (Team of Experts, 2000). It is concerned with the interpretive understanding of human social action and the meaning people attach to their own actions and behaviors and those of others. Weber was a renowned scholar who like Marx, wrote in several academic fields. He agreed with many Marxian theses but did not accept his idea that economic forces are central to social change. Weber argues that we cannot understand human behavior by just looking at statistics.  Every activity and behavior of people needs to be interpreted. He argued that a sociologist must aim at what is called subjective meanings, the ways in which people interpret their own behavior or the meanings people attach their own behavior (Henslin and Nelson,  1995; Rosneberg, 1987).


Fields And Levels of Sociological Analysis

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