Friday, November 9, 2007

Sociology as a social science discipline

Sociology is one of the core disciplines of the social sciences, along with political science, economics and anthropology. So one might imagine that it is a coherent, unified, and comprehensive science with a well-defined subject matter and a clear set of methods. But as most practitioners will agree, this is not the case. And that is a good thing, because the social world is not a unified system that can be reduced to a small number of theoretical premises.

Since its founding (or emergence?) in the nineteenth century, sociology has taken on a somewhat meandering set of topics for study: classification of whole societies, analysis of large social factors (race, crime, urbanization), study of the behavior of groups, provision of tools for social policy design, and study of particular institutions, social movements, globalization, and the organization of businesses. In 2007 the American Sociological Association includes 44 sections devoted to particular topics and methods. The methods of inquiry and the models of explanation are equally varied, including quantitative analysis of large data sets, small-N comparisons, micro-sociological investigation, process-tracing, Marxism, functionalism, structuralism, and feminism.

What does this diversity of topic, method, and theory imply about the discipline of sociology today? Is it a unified discipline, or a patch-work melange of many topics and approaches, unified only by the fact that the subjects of investigation have to do with social processes and social behavior? One possible interpretation is that the vast range of potential research subjects for sociology are covered by this patchwork structure. Another possibility is that the current range of sub-disciplines is itself the product of many "random walks" down particular research approaches, with heavy coverage of some areas of potential research, sporadic coverage of some problems and no attention at all to other problems. The latter possibility suggests in turn that there is ample room for future development of sociological research, in the formulation of new empirical problems and new theoretical approaches. The discipline of sociology can continue to evolve and grow -- possibly in ways that lead to significant innovation in approach and explanatory strategy.

An earlier posting on "Racial Inequalities" illustrates this point well. There is no single methodology or theory that is uniquely suited to attempting to understand the racial outcomes that we observe in American society. Instead, we need to combine the insights of many fields and approaches, in order to have a basis for explaining the patterns of segregation and inequality that we observe.

The diversity and multi-dimensional aspects of contemporary sociology is in fact a scientific advantage, in my view. This aspect of the discipline permits researchers to seek innovative approaches and innovative explanations of the social phenomena that they consider. In fact, it is the occasional impulse towards trying to make the discipline "more scientific" by enforcing a paradigm of research and theory on junior researchers that is most debilitating to the progress of knowledge -- whether it is the rational choice paradigm in political science, Marxism in Chinese social science, or the quantitative methods paradigm in sociology. Methodological and theoretical pluralism is an intellectual advantage. Sociological researchers who are receptive to analyzing the multiple aspects of a social problem from several different points of view are more likely to arrive at truly illuminating analysis. Not all these approaches will be equally fruitful; but a mixed "portfolio" of research strategies and theoretical models is more likely to be adequate to the messy reality of a changing social world.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was inspired after having read your piece.

Thanks

Unknown said...

Hi, I've just started studying sociology last week. I came upon this post because my homework assignment is an essay on "Why sociology is a discipline and a science". Already the teachers are telling us that "the positivist method is the way!" but I feel like the only one who sees human behavior and too complex and radical for that alone! Thanks! I'm gonna mix as much theories as i feel like in the future! XD

mwendeclinton said...

why sociology regarded as a social science displin

Jyoti Agrahari said...

nice

Unknown said...

Sociology is a very interested course of study.

Unknown said...

Dicuss the nature and scope of anthropology and sociology

Unknown said...

Thanks,,,,kindly tell the relationship between sociology and social science

Alegu Osmond said...

What is the value of sociology knowledge in the practice of your discipline

Ariana Flores said...

This is such an interesting post, as most sciences try to explain and compartmentalize everything in a single section with branches. However, as stated in the most striking sentence in my opinion, "the discipline of sociology can continue to evolve and grow -- possibly in ways that lead to significant innovation in approach and explanatory strategy", if we stay away from sectioning off explanations to one or two theories. The fact that our ideas and answers are constantly changing is a good thing! For example, history believed the Nuclear Family was a great concept, but now we are moving towards being accepting of all kinds of families. Another example is the way we used to use IQ tests and measure craniums to equate knowledge. Had it not been for the evolving of knowledge, such false theories wouldn't have been disproven. Lastly, as the mentioned above, it is unfair to answer some queries with "one" simple explanation, sometimes issues are so complex, that they need more than one theory and approach to make sense of our ever evolving society.

Anonymous said...

Sociology enables us to understand society through incorporating the knowledge of other fields, which is essential towards gaining insight into our behaviors, roles, and identities as individuals and as humans. The diversity within the field of Sociology is evident in the topics it covers for which it provides an understanding as to the social issues that persist in society and how to solve them, incorporating knowledge from other fields and different perspectives to view a situation.

Anonymous said...

Sociology enables us to understand society through incorporating the knowledge of other fields, which is essential towards gaining insight into our behaviors, roles, and identities as individuals and as humans. The diversity within the field of Sociology is evident in the topics it covers for which it provides an understanding as to the social issues that persist in society and how to solve them, incorporating knowledge from other fields and different perspectives to view a situation.

justin_10 said...

At times when I think my understanding of Sociology is all over the place, I tend to worry if I truly understand the subject at all. After reading this however, the insight gained has illuminated my multifaceted approach to holistically understanding Sociology as a social science discipline; one that truly is not a unified system but one that is nevertheless advantaged. Sociology is able to combine the insights and approaches of many fields, allowing one to remain receptive to analyzing the multiple aspects of a specific social problem. Therefore, I agree with Daniel Little and have found his blog post to be very motivational and assuring in my ongoing study of Sociology.

Unknown said...

It was an interesting read as Sociology is not a set in stone type of field with a strict methodology or theory. This in my opinion is a good aspect of the field. An advantage of sociology is being able to continue to research and improve or completely change theory within our field. There can even be new discovery within a subset of research and find new evidence or theory from something already studied. I think one of the strongest show of quality of a field of study is to be able to criticize and continue to challenge the field and each other to create stronger research and more adept study. 

Anonymous said...

I read this for a course. It was quite interesting to understand sociology and how it emerged or become more active in the 19th century. It discusses how it came out analyzing topics such as race, crime, urbanization along with studying behavior of groups and classificaiton of societies. That is a big part of sociology because to me sociology is the focus of studying individuals and society at a entire level. It is also important how they mentioned race and crime because in my eyes sociology is directed related to race and crime because of how people respond and act within those topics. Most of sociology in my eyes even with topics is the study of social behavior. Sociologists almost always study the behavior of individuals and how they will react in a social environment. Overall, the idea of this material is to understand sociology and it does a decent job at that pointing out how sociology ist he study of social behaviors of people along with the study of groups, society, and topics. For somebody who doesn't know sociology at all, this material would be a good way to help them understand it in the way that when it mentions crime and social behavior you can realize that when it comes to crime people react differently and have different social reactions to when a crime occurs.

The idea mentioned that socioloogy can grow is an going thing. There are ways we study sociology now, but years ago the way they studied it now is different from the past. There are always going to be changes in sociology whether it be new ways to do research, new topics or definitions that arise, and new issues that will come up with sociology since it is a sensitive topic. It is a discipline that if doing studies, has to respect boundaries and privacy due to topics that might be sensitive to others. Overall, sociology is great at teaching individuals a lot about society and how they view things. Research does a great job at teaching individuals a lot about society and is a good way to show what society thinks depending on if the research was pulled from society.

Unknown said...

When I read this blog, I thought it was unique how the different disciplines of sociology tie together despite their differences. Theories of past sociologists will always be a part of sociology, but as time passes by we are either trying to evolve those theories for the future generations or coming up with new theories that support the actions of those in the present day. Sociology along with the other social sciences will continue to change as long as society is looking for that change. 

Anonymous said...

I loved that this post mentioned all the work that can still be done within Sociology. That this is an expansive field and that the social world is forever changing which means so is sociology. I also enjoyed that it talked about how there are different levels of coverage on topics. Research seems to be geared by public interest and the hot topics of the world. The post states, “the discipline of sociology can continue to evolve and grow -- possibly in ways that lead to significant innovation in approach and explanatory strategy.” I think that we must always take this into account as a sociologist and be willing to always adapt to what the new “hot topic” is. Sociology is a great field for people who get bored easily because there is always research that can be done and new ways to approach social problems. I like that sociology is a scientific study of society. Bringing in that scientific aspect is interesting because I remember one point in time scientist were just making things up and projected that information as the truth. As a sociologist, we learn to think critically, and we can question and analyze social phenomena from different viewpoints that help us look at the big picture. Being able to study something so vast that affects everyone is such an amazing aspect of sociology. When I think about sociology, I often think of it in terms of macro psychology, in my mind were just studying people on a larger scale. While I am sure there are different theories and perspectives, being able to study different societies and not just one individual can create solutions to problems multiple individuals face. I would not want to be anything other than a sociologist because I feel like this profession fits my life perfectly. Many things a sociologist study is what gets my curiosity going and building a life out of that is exciting. It is also exciting to know that I can do it all and have many applicable skills to other fields without having to change my field. I think it would be great to update this post in 2019, things have changed so much since 2007 and I think it is important to stay current. Something that really caught my eye was where it says innovative thinking about a global world. If sociology is anything, it is that. Very innovative in various ways and very applicable to the masses of the global world.

Unknown said...

This article articulated the field of sociology so well. Sociology is indeed a science, however very different from sciences such as chemistry or biology. Society changes and adapts so often, for this reason many of the methods and theories have to adapt or be further elaborated on as well.  An example, to relate back to this idea talked about in the article would be theories related to feminism, LBTQ+, family types, etc. Theories such a structural-functionalism can introduce these topics, but not necessarily fully explain due to the lack of representation of these communities historically speaking when these theories were first developed. These types of things were ignored, non-existent or just happened less frequently in the past. Now that the world is seeing a shift in gender roles, heteronormativity, and family types, sociology allows for "ample room for  future development" to be able to explain whats happening in society today. The world will always be diverse and changing, but as the article mentioned contemporary theories set the framework and modern theory can be applied and further developed to better define what is going on in the modern world.  

Anonymous said...

I definitely appreciate how sociology is diverse and multidimensional. As stated in the entry, sociology does have a great potential to evolve and grow. Sociologists are not only studying the past but also looking forward and researching modern politics, technology, social media among other topics of interest. For example, a topic like systematic racism is so complex that sociologists have to look at culture, group dynamics, and the power of institutions and even work with other areas of study, such as anthropology and psychology, to continue discussions on why it exists and how it can be addressed in the future.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the author of this blog. The ability to conduct a scientific inquiry in varied ways strengthens sociology. I would imagine that each method can be likened to a vantage point, allowing you to see why things unfold the way that they do from where you stand. Having alternative methods of testing hypothesis would enlighten the sociological world as to other contributing factors that the original form of inquiry did not perceive. The ability to have varied methods of research allows for more robust findings.
I also agree that diversity is an advantage that can help shed light in many areas that have been ignored for too long. With a diverse group of sociologists, the interests will vary, and what they choose to study will demonstrate what they feel is important. This might mean doing genuinely original research that may seem daunting, yet it is comforting to know that there are different methods to conduct the study. It doesn’t have to fit a cookie-cutter approach. Also, it seems that if we had to stick to one method of inquiry, we could be susceptible to the shortcomings of that particular method.

Anonymous said...

After reading Sociology as a social science discipline, I can feel more comfortable in what I believe sociology to be. Sociology to me is something we can use to look at a specific topic using different many fields in sociology which is also talked about in the article. Taking a sociological point of view in a topic of your choosing helps to look at different fields in sociology to find what other factors play a part or role in shaping the outcome of topics of interest.

J'Liyah Miles said...


I love that this article mentions that there isn’t just one methodology or theory that could help one understand the racial outcomes in our society. I have always thought of society as this melting pot of sociological theories and understandings, and it’s nice to get a better perspective of this idea I had. That society is growing and evolving and changing, and that won’t always be explainable with just one answer.

Unknown said...

Great article! I completely agree. As diverse and complex as society is, we need to utilize many different theories and methods as possible in efforts to gain as much knowledge and understanding available. I believe that the study of sociology is truly a study of science simply because we use empirical evidence to support our evidence, in the same way a scientist would after conducting an experiment or research on a topic of natural science.