The fact that sociology officially appeared only at the end of the XIX century sheds some light on the human nature. While paying close attention to society in general and the behavioral patterns of other people in particular, as well as the interactions between the members of society was practiced earlier, the idea of studying the society scientifically came comparatively late.
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However, apart from the weird fact that people discovered the study of society much later than they could have, the origin of the idea to study society academically is also quite hard to nail down.
Despite the fact that there are strong indications to the nature of sociology pertaining to the effect of the Age of Science spawned by the French Revolution, sociology has clearly emerged as the solution to the chaos that the world was at the moment, which Heilbron’s work indicates in a very graphic way.
The shift from theology and metaphysics to positivism can be seen as one of the most obvious reasons for the French Revolution and the following social changes, as well as the collapse of the society that was traditional for the XVIII century, to be the key factor in the emergence of sociology.
As soon as the concept of the divine intent and the following idea of searching for the specific events to have particular reasons were switched by the suggestion to acquire knowledge based on the results of experiments and observations, the premises for studying the phenomenon of society by adopting the “anti-metaphysical conceptions of knowledge” (Heilbron, 1995, p. 198) appeared.
One of the most frequently used arguments against Heilbron’s concept of sociology being created as the response to social disruptions is that chaos cannot possibly produce an orderly and well-structured theory.
The given argument admittedly has a grain of truth in it; being completely disoriented and disorganized, people cannot possibly conjure an idea that will somehow help arrange the elements of the disintegrated society into an orderly structure.
However, it is worth mentioning that Heilbron considers the creation of sociology, not the phenomenon of order as opposed to the social disorientation that penetrated every single sphere of people’s lives.
In other words, Heilbron defines sociology as the method of studying various social mechanisms instead of viewing it as the saving grace for the post revolution France and the world that was facing an economical and a social crisis of massive proportions.
Thus, it is quite logical that sociology as the set of methods for studying the society in order to structure it properly could appear within the realm of complete chaos and obsolete principles of building social relationships.
As a set of theories that could help explain the changes that occurred to the society and help work on the possible solutions, sociology could not have developed in the society without crisis or negative economic, financial and cultural tendencies – there would have been no reason to work on the theory that could shed some light on the means to improve the situation.
Therefore, in some way, it can be assumed that sociology could only emerge in the world that was literally torn apart by the social and economic inconsistencies.
It is quite remarkable that sociology was born together with significant changes in the political structure of France, i.e., the creation of conservative and liberal political movements: “In addition to these conservative and liberal groups, contributions to the social sciences were also made by men from the natural sciences” (Heilbron, 1995, p. 196).
Thus, it was clear that the social changes that the entire nation – or, more to the point, the entire world – was shaken by actually spurred the creation and evolution of social sciences in general and sociology in particular.
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After the Revolution, the world was literally in ruins, and people were in a desperate need to set the elements of society in order. However, to make sure that every single element is put in its place and that there is actual way to restore the balance between social forces, it was necessary to study the ways in which social relationships are built, as well as understand the principles of the social hierarchy.
Hence sociology was born. While it would be wrong to claim that sociology was considered to be the silver bullet for the entire humankind even at the time, it is still quite clear that sociology was meant to help structure the society.
Since the latter was completely disoriented after the French Revolution, sociology could clearly provide the answers to the questions that bothered people in the XVIII century, the key one being the definition of society and the principles of its clockwork.
Although the world would figure out later that sociology is only a tool to study the specifics of society and not the solution to the emerging problems, there can be no denial that the given discipline appeared as a response to the chaos within the post revolution society, as Heilbron’s works explain.
Heilbron, J. (1995). Reform, revolution and the Napoleonic Era. In J. Heilbron (Ed.), The rise of social theory (pp. 115–118, 195–204). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.