Sociology is one of the members of the family of social sciences. As a young social science, it has acquired a distinct status for itself. Its importance and practical utility are widely recognized. Like all other social sciences, sociology also is considered with the life and activities of man. It studies the nature and character of human society, and also its origin, development, structure and functions. It analyses the group life of humans and examines the bond of social unity.
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Sociology tries to determine the relationship and interdependence between different elements of social life; between the moral and the religious; the economic and political; the intellectual and philosophical and the artistic and the aesthetic. It also discovers the fundamental conditions of social stability and social change. It analyses the influence of economic, political, technological, cultural and other factors on the human life. It throws more light on social problems as well.
Karl Marx was one of the most important thinkers of the 19th century. He never called himself a sociologist, but his work is very rich in sociological insights. He believed that the task of the social scientist was not merely to describe the world, it was to change it. According to Marx, the supreme end of man is an immanent and material one, and consists in happiness. This material happiness must be obtained through organized collectivism. In fact, according to Marx, reality is governed by economic needs (historical materialism).
Durkheim, the French thinker considered societies to be important units of sociological analysis. In Durkheim’s theory the ultimate social reality is the group, not the individual. Social life has to be analyzed in terms of ‘social facts’. According to him, social facts are things because they are outside us, they are not a product or creation of the present generation; they are a given, pre-existing condition for human agency and they cannot be known by introspection, by reflection. Durkheim was always concerned with establishing the specificity of sociology as a scientific discipline different from biology and psychology.
Max Weber’s approach is almost contrary to that of Durkheim. For Weber, the individual is the basic unit of the society. According to him sociology is a science that attempts the interpretive understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at a causal explanation of its course and effects. In “action” is included all human behavior when and insofar as the acting individual attaches a subjective meaning to it.
Mills was concerned with the responsibilities of intellectuals in post-World War II society, and advocated relevance and engagement over disinterested academic observation, as a “public intelligence apparatus” in challenging the policies of the institutional elites in the “Three”, the economic, political and military.
Gilligan propounded the consequences of differential structural conditions of socialization. She has differentiated between the moral perspectives of the two sexes. Her basic contention is that these differences are not because of some essential characteristics of men and women, but rather come out of a particular context in which women mother and men are absent from childcare.
Mead, who is regarded as one of the founders of social psychology, had put forth the contention that self arises only in interaction with the social and non-social environment. He argued the antipositivistic view that the individual is a product of the society.
Harriet Martinaeu wrote the first systematic treatise in sociology. She undertook many pioneering methodological, theoretical, and substantive studies in the field that would now be called sociology: the analysis of women’s rights, biography, disability, education, slavery, history, manufacturing, occupational health, and religion all came within her gamut.
Functional Perspective: Functionalism or functional analysis is a sociological paradigm proposed by Talcot Parsons and his followers. This perspective emphasized the importance of cultural patterns in controlling the stability of the society. According to this theory, society has the ability to absorb disruptive forces while maintaining overall stability. Functionalists look at the society as made up of interdependent sections that work in consonance with each other to fulfill the needs of the society. Here society is viewed as a system looking forward to achieve equilibrium. This theory believes that behavior in society is structural and follows a certain value pattern.
Conflict Perspective: Whereas the functional theories emphasize the stabilizing processes at work, conflict theories highlight the forces producing instability, struggle and social disorganization. The most famous and influential of conflict theories is the one proposed by Karl Marx who said, “All history is the history of class conflict.” History is actually the story of conflict between the exploiting and the exploited classes. What is to be stressed here is that Marx and other conflict theorists deem society as basically dynamic and not static. The consider conflict as a normal, and not an abnormal process.
Interactionist Perspective: It is based on the major contention that self reflects society and organizes behavior as well as the nature of human action and interaction. This interaction is symbolic and is conducted in terms of the meanings people develop in the course of their interdependent conduct.
Post-Modern Perspective: In the early 1980s, Jean Baudrillard proclaimed the death of the social and with it sociology, the discipline responsible for the explication of the social. For Baudrillard sociology’s object of analysis is no longer discernable among the simulacrum of informational technologies and the resulting saturation of the social evident in postmodern culture. In the postmodern cultural environment the social becomes empty. Postmodern approaches may be a fad and may be unable to contribute positively to the development of sociology. However, the arguments of postmodern writers has been important in challenging earlier perspectives and has led to questioning some of the traditional sociological concepts such as subject and object, social reality, meaning, and function. Out of the sociological ruins, perhaps new sociological views can be constructed which will provide an improved understanding of our social world.
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Biographies of Sociologists – School of Sociology and Anthropology – University of Canterbury – New Zealand.
Sociology after Postmodernism.(Review) (book reviews) Social Forces – Find Articles. Web.