What is Sociology? (History and Branches)

Sociology is the scientific study of human social relationships as well as institutions. As a social science, sociology studies human societies in detail, their interactions, along with the processes that change and preserve them. This is done by examining the complex dynamics of various constituent parts of societies like communities, institutions, populations, and racial, gender, or age groups. Curious about what is sociology? Hopefully this article helps!

The word sociology was coined by a French philosopher by the name Auguste Comte in 1837. Up to that time, the matter of sociology was categorized under philosophy. It comprised of brilliant ideas and literature concerning interpersonal actions, group life, and social organization.

Historical Summary of Sociology

Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, began a systematic thought about society.  At that time, their follower persisted in identifying society with its political order. As science, sociology developed in the 1800s in Europe. Outstanding sociologists did not even know about the field in which they’d help grow.

France, Great Britain, and Germany were undergoing a rapid change in the political and industrial revolution. Following the emergence of new social classes, old norms could not work anymore. Cities developed along with the issues faced in the urban centers. Sociology seeks to explain human beliefs and activities underlying social realities.

The Historical Emergence of Sociology

Sociology emerged as a tool of social activism. Liberation movements emerged following inspirations by the work of the sociological thinkers. Sociology also offers a great framework for understanding global economic trends as the sociologists continue to have interests in structural relations such as inequalities and technology on human life.

Sociology is considered different from other social sciences in the sense that it makes an attempt to describe different forces that set in the development of society at different times and places. Society is dynamic and sociologists endeavor to explain the change based on its nature. The changes themselves lead to different explanations of this change.

For instance, Marx in his political, economic theory explains capitalism as it developed in Britain. This theory couldn’t have developed earlier since the forces he describes were only starting to develop. Based on Webers analysis, bureaucracy and rationalization emerged sooner because bureaucratic structures resulted from rationalization.

Durkheim analyzed the industrial development, the change in the division of labor and social trends. As the society continues to change, this change became apparent. New approaches and theories come up to understand and explain these changes.

Emile Durkheim is one of the most successful founding fathers of sociology. He created history within sociology.  Durkheim came up with an elite system in France with enough content and method that it could be built upon. He emphasized the importance of methodological research.

Spencer and the Scientific Approach to Sociology

Herbert Spencer was also a prominent sociologist. He developed the concept of evolution being the development of the physical world. Spencer contributed greatly to the subject of religion, and economics. He came up with the idea of social Darwinism.

The University of Chicago had great sociologists at the time. It brought them together and gave them together, providing a working hub and a network to link them. They focused on studying human social problems and how the world dealt with them. Many people were hesitant of sociology based on the controversial theories by Weber and Marx. 

In the twentieth century, improvements were made on quantitative methods used in sociology.  The developments come following increased research. The social network gives an instance if a new paradigm. In many sociological fields, the influence of social networks is pervasive.

Sociology plays a significant role in provision of solutions to social problems. Most of the world’s problems are being solved through a scientific study of society. Sociology studies, social problems through scientific research and give a solution to the problem.

Information About Sociology
Information About Sociology

What is Sociology?

In addition, sociology studies stratification or social status, social movements, and social change, including societal disorder usually in the form of deviance, crime, and revolution.

Many sociologists try to perform research that can be directly applied to social policy and welfare. On the other hand, some focus mainly on refining the theoretical knowledge and understanding of social processes.

Subject matter tends to range from the micro-sociology level of personal agency and interaction to the broad macro level of the social structure and systems. Sociology is an illuminating and exciting field of study that explains and analyzes important matters in our personal lives, our groups, our communities, as well as the world.

Note that at the personal level, sociology studies and investigates both the social causes as well as consequences of things as racial and gender identity, romantic love, family conflict, aging, deviant behavior, and religious faith.

On the other hand, at the societal level, it examines and explains important matters such as law and crime, poverty and wealth, schools and education, prejudice and discrimination, business firms, social movements and urban community.

Finally, at the global level, it studies and explains such phenomena as migration and population growth, war and peace, and financial and economic development.


Sociology as a proper discipline and subject came into its own after the French revolution took place and slowly garnered the reputation that it has today. That said many believe sociology was recognized long before the French revolution. During the 14thcentury an Islamic scholar by the name of Ibn Khaldun, a scholar residing in North Africa, brought about one of the first major studies in sociology. He was the first scholar to have studied advanced social philosophy and science where he had formulated theories about social differences and conflict.

French Revolution (1789-1799)

After the end of the French Revolution for the first time in history, a man by the name of Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes coined the term sociologie. He formed the term from the Latin word “socious” which translates to companion, and the suffix of “-ology” that translates to “the study of”. However it is in 1838 where Auguste Comte, a French philosopher, gave sociology the definition that everyone uses to this day.

Industrial Revolution (1820-1840)

The industrial revolution brought about the most significant change in the course of sociology and how we see it today. Before the industrial revolution, sociology was more of a positive subject that discussed topics on how to improve society and how to make a society safe rather than abruptly calling all of these issues out. That is when Karl Marx stepped in and managed to flip the idea of sociology on its head. Karl Marx did not believe in the overall optimistic studies of sociology that scholars like Auguste Comte brought out; instead, he wanted to make people more aware of the problems that a society faces and how to rectify them.

Karl Marx, initially part of the Young Hegelians in Berlin, followed their ideology of attacking Christianity in order to undermine the Prussian establishment. Later on, he formed his own group and slowly began to take apart his previous groups ideals. Karl Marx believed that most of the core of society is not the faith in god or ideals; rather, they are materialistic processes that employ people and the power that controls them. Through his many studies Karl Marx for many became the father of sociology and became the man who created and constructed the economic and political landscape of socialism.

Nevertheless, the efforts and grounds work laid out by Karl Marx not only lasted for the current generation, but through his works one the communist manifesto, gave rise to the October revolution. Sociology thanks to Karl Marx was no longer just a study rather a critique on what society is and how we can improve it.

Types of sociology

Sociology is a very diverse subject with a multitude of different meanings and topics within it. Since there are over 12 different studies of sociology, each for a specific topic and for a specific issue, we will only be going over the most famous and well known types of sociology. In each branch, approaches vary. Of course, some are at odds with one another. The key for professionals is to focus on one approach at a time. Some scholarly works are research-based. Others criticize the research of others. Hegel’s work, for example, is a direct critique of positivism. Humanities employ more humanistic, subjective approaches than the sciences. Let’s start with positivism and the stress of scientific research first.


Starting off with the very first version of sociology, positivism is sociology without all of its different social issues and a great emphasis on scientific research. Positivism in many ways during its early interpretation is the most dependant on science and is scientific proof. This made it very similar to natural sciences, where people would combine their theories with proper laws of science. The key to science is setting up a theory and proving it right. Unfortunately, this can get very muddied with data. For instance, numbers and methodology can be worked in a way to provide the positive results you look for. As sociology adapts, science has not gone away. Rather, things like anti-positivism and other movements have pushed for a broader approach.


Anti positivism is the second iteration of sociology. The branch is a criticism of positivism and its scientific focus. A German scientist by the name of Hegel opposed the ideas of positivism and sociology being dependant on scientific research. This directly influenced a young German philosopher and father of sociology Karl Marx. Hegel founded Phenomenology. Phenomenology is all about the truth which lies in one instance of something. For example, clowns are not scary. However, some are afraid of clowns. They can have an affect on that one person, but not all. This directly contrasts positivism and its seeking of the scientific truth. Positivism and anti-positivism come down to subjective and objective findings. Subjective findings are key to anti-positivism.

Rather than in with positivism where someone can find a weak link with respect to science in their theory and many would consider it true, Karl Marx preferred that his followers take upon themselves the role of critical thinking. In this branch of sociology people take facts and research into account, rather than trying to link two different fields of science.


Moving onto some more recent advancements of sociology, functionalism focuses solely on the social structure and social organizations. Here, experts look at how a society divides its classes and how society functions as a result of these classes. Functionality is often rarely positive for all classes. For example, a serfdom is great for those in charge. However, those who are at the bottom do not thrive in this system. Classes help in a number of ways because it simplifies things. That being said, the truth of the matter is lost in oversimplification.

In functionalism, experts also look at the norms within a certain society and how they differ from other societies. It is common knowledge that different societies have different norms; this means that a norm in one society may be a taboo in another society.


Utilitarianism is also a very unique and famous branch of sociology. As a part of Utilitarianism, experts determine individual interactions of different societies and whether these individuals strive to complete their own motives. A lot of students pursue a career in this field. Utilitarianism is a popular focus of post-modern thinkers. The core of the branch is all about individual motives. Because modernism argued for a more objective tone in research, utilitarianism rejected this. The key to utilitarianism is knowing why someone does what they do. If you believe you can define their actions through individual motives, then you do so. Utilitarianism is still to this day widely popular.

Symbolic Interactionism

Symbolic Interactionsim is a very different form of sociology. Unlike other forms of sociology that tend to look for the many issues and problems with society, interactionism sees how people interact with each other by accessing all of these interactions through micro analysis. This study believes that society, rather than forming on the people and how they live, is formed through the interactions that people have among themselves. The theory also believes that society is simply a shared reality among people who live in a certain community that they develop thanks to their many interactions.

This is a very controversial type of sociology as, although common for someone to look for their own self-interest, it is not rare for people to also talk in the other person’s favor. This category teaches people how to make alternatives while talking to another person and accessing the possible risk of their alternatives.

What is Sociology Going to Become in the Future?

Philosophy isn’t strictly the key to sociology. For many scholars, there are philosophical considerations to be had. The key to sociology will always be relationships, not individual thinking or thought. In the future, many will continue to study sociology. It’s helpful for us as a society. Knowing why we behave the way we do to one another helps us improve our lives. Nobody wants to be outcasted or treated poorly. In order to live a full life, socialization is important. For that reason, we explore the anti-social aspects of human interaction in sociology. As the world grows more diverse, we’ll see more of these conflicts emerge. Instead of assuming life is getting worse, it’s the job of researchers to find why these conflicts emerge. Knowing sociological theories and findings helps us understand humans better. In the future, sociology will help dilute issues emerging in a global, digital world.


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