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Sociology' which had once been treated as social philosophy, or the philosophy of the history,

emerged as an independent social science in 19th century. Auguste Comte, a Frenchman, is

traditionally considered to be the father of sociology. Comte is accredited with the coining of the
term sociology (in 1839). "Sociology" is composed of two words : socius, meaning companion
or associate; and 'logos', meaning science or study. The etymological meaning of "sociology" is
thus the science of society. John Stuart Mill, another social thinker and philosopher of the 19th
century, proposed the word ethology for this new science. Herbert Spencer developed his
systematic study of society and adopted the word "sociology" in his works. With the
contributions of Spencer and others it (sociology) became the permanent name of the new
The question 'what is sociology' is indeed , a question pertaining to the definition of sociology.
No student can rightfully be expected to enter on a field of study which is totally undefined or
unbounded. At the same time, it is not an easy task to set some fixed limits to a field of study. It
is true in the case of sociology. Hence it is difficult to give a brief and a comprehensive
definition of sociology.
Sociology has been defined in a number of ways by different sociologists. No single definition
has yet been accepted as completely satisfactory. In fact, there are lot of definitions of sociology
as there are sociologists. For our purpose of study a few definitions may be cited here.
1. Auguste Comete, the founding father of sociology, defines sociology as the science of
social phenomena "subject to natural and invariable laws, the discovery of which is the
object of investigation".
2. Kingsley Davis says that "Sociology is a general science of society".
3. Harry M. Johnson opines that "sociology is the science that deals with social groups".
4. Emile Durkheim: "Science of social institutions".
5. Park regards sociology as "the science of collective behavior".
6. Small defines sociology as "the science of social relationships".
7. Marshal Jones defines sociology as "the study of man-in-relationship-to-men".
8. Ogburn and Nimkoff : "Sociology is the scientific study of social life".
9. Franklin Henry Giddings defines sociology as "the science of social phenomena".
10. Henry Fairchild: "Sociology is the study of man and his human environment in their
relations to each other".
11. Max Weber defines sociology as " the science which attempts the interpretative
understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at a casual explanation of its
course and effects".
12. Alex Inkeles says, "Sociology is the study of systems of social action and of their interrelations".
13. Kimball Young and Raymond W. Mack say, "Sociology is the scientific study of social
aspects of human life".
14. Morris Ginsberg: of the various definitions of sociology the one given by Morris
Ginsberg seems to be more satisfactory and comprehensive. He defines sociology in the
following way: "In the broadest sense, sociology is the study of human interactions and
inter-relations, their conditions and consequences".

A careful examination of various definitions cited above, makes it evident that sociologists differ
in their opinion about definition of sociology. Their divergent views about the definition of
sociology only reveal their distinct approaches to its study. However, the common idea
underlying all the definitions mentioned above is that sociology is concerned with man, his
social relations and his society.

The term, sociology has been derived from the Latin word, 'Societas' or 'Socius' meaning society
or associate and the Greek word, 'Logos' meaning theory or study or science. Etymologically,
then, sociology human society or of human association. The term, sociology is not very old. Its
origin can be traced to recent past. It was coined by Auguste Comte (1798-1857) the French
Philosopher and sociologist in 1833. He introduced it to designate the science of human
association. Now it has been regarded as a specialized field of study.
For a clear understanding of what sociology deals with and of its field of investigation, we would
do well to examine some important definitions of sociology given by eminent sociologists, out
their opinion is divided on its scope and subject matter. There are as many definitions of
sociology as there are sociologists. All of them have discussed sociology from their own
viewpoints. They have emphasized on one aspect or the other, depending upon their
understanding and interest and few important definitions are given below.
Gillin and Gillin says that in its broadest sense sociology may be described as the study of
interaction arising from the association of living beings.
Mac Iver and Page say that sociology is about social relationships, the network of social
relationship we call society.
M. Glinsberg thinks that sociology is the study of human interaction and inter-relations, their
conditions and consequences.
Ferdinand Tonnies holds the view that 'Sociology on the whole is the theory of human living
Kimball Young believes that "Sociology deals with the behavior of man in groups."
J.F. Cuber is of the opinion that "Sociology is a body of scientific knowledge about human
R.E. Park and F.W. Burgess feel that "Sociology is the science of collective behavior".
A.W. Green defines sociology as "the synthesizing and generalizing science of man in all his
social relationship",
L.T. Hobhouse defines it as "the study of the interaction of human mind".
There are many definitions of sociology in addition to the ones already mentioned above. These
definitions indicate that sociologists differ from one another in their views on sociology. Some
sociologists have defined sociology as the science of society cut they do not agree on the
meaning of society. Some sociologists think that sociology is the scientific study of social

activities or relationship. Others believe that sociology is a study of social life, action, behavior
and incidents.
Overall, sociology is the systematic study of society and of the social institutions; it studies them
as they are. If is not concerned with their origin and growth. It studies society from scientific
point of view. It makes a positive and secular approach to understand the working of the social
institutions. Sociology is regarded as a social science which studies society as it is. It studies the
group living of human beings. It takes society as an organic whole, discusses the inter-relations
of the institutions mat constitute it. It studies society as a whole.
The essence of all the-definitions and viewpoints discussed so far is that sociology is primarily
concerned with human social relations, society, its subject matter, but the individual occupies a
position of very great significance in its field of investigation. In other words, the individual can
by no means be ignored in the study of sociology.

Scope of Sociology:
In order to have a better understanding of the definitions of sociology and its subject matter, it is
essential to discuss its scope. Opinion differs on the scope of sociology but there are mainly two
important schools of thought about it namely, formalistic school and synthetic school. The first
school is led by the German sociologist, George Simmel, Vierkandt, Max Weber and others,
where as the second is inspired by the French sociologist, Emile Durkheim, the English
sociologist, Hobhouse, P. Sorokin are their followers.

(1) Formalistic or Specialistic School

The sociologists who belong to the formalistic of Specialistics School believe that sociology
deals with various forms of human or social relations. They regard sociology as a pure and
independent branch of knowledge distinct from all social sciences.
George Simmel
George Simmel, a leading German sociologist considers social science. He feels that it should
describe, classify, analyze and explain the several forms of social relationship. It should not be
concerned with their contents, which are dealt with by other social sciences. He makes a
distinction between the forms of social relationships and their contents and subject matter. In his
view, sociology should confine itself to the study of formal behavior and avoid the examination
of actual behavior.
It means that the different forms of social relationship and not the relationships between
themselves should be the subject of sociology. This viewpoint turns sociology into a science
dealing with the same topics as other social sciences, but the topics are judged from a different
angle namely, the angle of different forms of social relationships. George Simmel has referred to
the several forms of -social relationships such as competition, domination, subordination,
division of labor etc. They have an important role to play in different spheres of social life. The

spheres being economic, political, religious and the like. It is an important function of sociology
to separate these relationships from one another and study them in abstraction.
Vierkandt, another leading sociologist holds more or less similar view-point about the scope of
sociology. He maintains that sociology is an independent social science or a special branch of
knowledge. It should concern itself with the ultimate forms of social or mental relationships,
which bind people to one another in society. Sociology should not study concrete societies in
detail like history. It should study the irreducible categories of science, which are nothing but
ultimate forms of social or mental psychic relationships. These relationships consist in love and
hate, attitude of respect, submission, shame, co-operation, competition, the approval of others
etc. that bind individuals into groups.
Max Weber:
Max Weber an eminent German sociologist expresses his own viewpoint on the scope of
sociology. He says that the scope of sociology consists in interpreting or "understanding" social,
behavior. For him social behavior does not refer to entire field of human relation.-He means by
social behavior what we call social activity or social action. It is related to the behavior of others
and is determined by them. For instance, a bicycle accident is merely a natural phenomenon, the
way in which the bicyclists behave with each other after the accident in the form of avoiding or
using the language reflects their true social behavior. Sociology is thus concerned with
fundamental types of social behavior. In other words, sociology should aim at analyzing and
classifying the various types of social behavior or social relationships.
Tonnies, Von Wiese and Small
There are sociologists like Ferdinand Tonnies, Von Wiese and Small who have similar views on
the scope of sociology. Tonnies agrees with other sociologists when he says that sociology is an
independent and pure social science but he has distinguished society from community on the
basis of forms of relationships. Von Wiese is of the opinion that sociology should confine itself
to the study of the various forms of social relationships. He has divided these social relationships
into different kinds. Small says that sociology should study all activities of society. It should
study the genetic forms of social relationship, behavior, activities etc.
Thus, we can safely conclude that the specialistic or formalistic school demands that sociology
should be social science dealing with the different forms of social relationships. The sociologist
who belongs to this school what the scope of sociology should be delimited.
Criticisms of the formalistic school:
Attempts have been made by sociologists to define the scope of sociology. These attempts are
really praise worthy. All the same, the formalistic school is subject to criticism on the following

(i) The formalistic school has extremely narrowed down the scope of sociology. It states that
sociology should study the forms of social relationships. In fact sociology should study not only
the forms but also the contents of social life.
(ii) Abstract forms cannot be studied in isolation forms of concrete relations. They should be
studied together but the formalistic school makes a distinction between the abstract forms and
concrete contents. It states that sociology should not go beyond the study of abstract forms. It
should always be bore in mind that abstract forms and concrete relations must be studied
together. In reality, social forms cannot be isolated at all from the content, because social forms
keep on changing like the contents. No social "form" can exist independent of content. P.
Sorokin says that it is impossible to think of a social institution whose form remains unchanged
when its content has already changed. In other words, he emphasized on the points that the forms
and the contents change at the same time. We cannot say anything without knowing their
concrete contents. For instance, the study of competition will he of little profit, if competition is
not thoroughly-examined in concrete form in relation to economic life.
(iii) The conception of sociology as a pure and independent social science is to say the least not
practicable at all. No sociologist has so far succeeded in contracting sociology as a pure and
independent social science. It is not difficult to see that no social science is completely
independent of other social sciences. All social sciences are interdependent and inter-related.
Therefore, the conception of pure and independent sociology is not practicable.
(iv) All social sciences study the forms of social relationship, but the formalistic school contents
that it is sociology, which alone studies the forms of social relationships. This contention is

(2) Synthetic School:

The synthetic school of thought holds the view that sociology is a synthesis of all social sciences.
Sociology is the science of science. It embraces all social sciences within its scope. In other
words, it synthesizes them all. There are some modern sociologists like Emile Durkheim,
Hobhouse, P. Sorokin and others who share this view.
Emile Durkheim
Emile Durkheim, an eminent French sociologist divides sociology into three principal parts,
namely social morphology, social physiology and general sociology. Social morphology has
direct reference to all those objects, which are basically or fundamentally geographical or
territorial in nature. These objects are of many kinds such as the problems of population, its size,
density and local distribution and the like. Social morphology not only analyses the size and
quality of population but also examines how population affects the quality, of social relationship
and social groups. It also studies the main forms of social groups, institutions and their
classifications. Social physiology is very complex and it covers all subjects studied by particular
social sciences like religion, economy, language, morals, laws, etc.

It is seen that social sciences like physiology has a number of branches such as sociology of
religion, sociology of economic life, sociology of language, sociology of morals and sociology of
law. All these branches are regarded as special sociologies, these sociologists to have subject of
their own for example, the sociology of religion studies language and so on and so forth. It
should not be forgotten that each branch of social physiology is related to a set of social facts,
which is nothing but activities of social groups. Emile Durkheim is of opinion that general
sociology is the philosophical part of sociology. The function of general sociology is to discover
the general character of these social facts. It should discover general, social law of which the
different law established by the special social sciences is particular expressions''.
Hobhouse an English sociologist holds somewhat a similar view on the scope of sociology.
According to him, sociology should be a synthesis of numerous social sciences. It should include
other sciences in its scope. In his opinion, all aspects of social life are inter-connected and
therefore, the study of one aspect of social life cannot be adequate for an understanding of the
entire social fact. Owing to this reason, sociology should study social life as a whole in a very
systematic way,
P. Sorokin
P.Sorokin has also expressed his view on the subject-matter of sociology. According to him,
sociology should aim at studying the relationship that exists between the different aspects of
social phenomena and between the social and non-social phenomenas. It should study the general
features of social phenomena as well.
From the foregoing discussions on the scope of sociology, it can be conveniently concluded that
the range of this science is very wide. Sociology is regarded as a general science as well as a
special science. Like all other sciences, the subject-matter of sociology is society. Each of these
sciences, as mentioned already, deals with only one particular aspects of social life. But it is
sociology which not only studies social relationships but also studies society in its entirety. It
aims at standing all aspects of society. At this stage of its development, it is neither essential nor
possible to determine the scope of sociology. As sociology is a developing science, it is not easy
to delimit what exactly cannot be studied by sociological method,

ranches of Sociology
Sociology is broadly defined as the study of human society. Society is vast and complex
phenomenon and therefore it is generally debatable that which part of society should be studied
by sociology. There is a great degree of difference of opinion regarding the definitions, scope
and subject matter of sociology.
According to Durkheim sociology has broadly three principal divisions which he terms as social
morphology, social physiology and general sociology. Social morphology covers the
geographical settings, the density of population and other preliminary data which is likely to
influence the social aspects. Social physiology is concerned with such dynamics processes as
religion, morals, law, economic and political aspects, each of which may be the subject matter of
a special discipline. General sociology is an attempt to discover the general social laws which
may be derived from the specialized social processes. This is considered by Durkheim as the
philosophical part of sociology.
Max Weber combines two schools of thought ie historical and systematic and he adds
something more. His analysis with regard to relations between economics and religion enables
him to use both historical as well as systematic method. The sociologies of law, economics and
religion are the special sociologies which are part of both systematic and historical methods of
According to Sorokin, Sociology can be divided into two branches- General Sociology and
special sociology. General sociology studies the properties and uniformities common to all social
and cultural phenomena in their structural and dynamic aspects. The inter-relationships between
the socio-cultural and biological phenomena. In the structural aspect sociology studies various
types of groups and institutions as well as their inter-relations to one another. In the dynamic
aspect sociology studies various social processes like social contact, interaction, socialization,
conflict, domination, subordination etc. Special sociologies study a specific socio-cultural
phenomenon which is selected for detailed study. According to Sorokin, some of the most
developed sociologies are Sociology of population, rural sociology, sociology of law, sociology
of religion, sociology of knowledge, sociology of fine arts and many others.
Ginsberg has listed the problems of sociology under four aspects- social morphology, social
control, social processes and social pathology. Social morphology includes investigation of the
quantity and quality of population, the study of social structure or the description and
classification of the principal types of social groups and institutions. Social control includes the
study of law, morals, religion, conventions, fashions and other sustaining and regulating
agencies. Social processes refer to the study of various modes of interactions between individuals

or groups including cooperation and conflict, social differentiation and integration, development
and decay. Social pathology refers to the study of social maladjustments and disturbances.
Raymond Aron has mentioned six schools in sociology. These are historical, formal, society and
community, phenomenological, universalistic and general.
Sorokin has referred to the main currents of recent sociological thoughts in the following four
branches of sociology-cosmo-sociology, bio-sociology, general sociology and special
Sociology of Religion studies the church as a social institution inquiring into its origin,
development and forms as well as into changes in its structure and function.
Sociology of Education studies the objectives of the school as a social institution, its curriculum
and extracurricular activities and its relationship to the community and its other institutions.
Political sociology studies the social implications of various types of political movements and
ideologies and the origin, development and functions of the government and the state.
Sociology of law concerns itself with formalized social control or with the processes whereby
members of a group achieve uniformity in their behavior through the rules and regulations
imposed upon them by society. It inquires into the factors that bring about the formation of
regulatory systems as well as into the reasons for their adequacies and inadequacies as a means
of control.
Social psychology seeks to understand human motivation and behavior as they are determined by
society and its values. It studies the socialization process of the individual how he becomes a
member of society- it also studies the public, crowd, the mob and various other social groupings
and movements. Analysis of mass persuasion or propaganda and of public opinion has been one
of its major interests.
Social psychiatry deals with the relationships between social and personal disorganization, its
general hypothesis being that society through its excessive and conflicting demands upon the
individual is to a large extent responsible for personal maladjustments such as various types of
mental disorder and antisocial behavior. In its applied aspects it is concerned with remedying this
Social disorganization deals with the problems of maladjustment and malfunctioning, including
problems of crime and delinquency, poverty and dependency, population movements, physical
and mental disease and vice. Of these sub-divisions crime and delinquency have received
perhaps the greatest attention and have developed into the distinct fields of criminology.
Group relations is concerned with studying the problems arising out of the co-existence in a
community of diverse racial and ethics groups. New areas and sub-areas of sociology are
continuously evolving over the period of time.