Lecture 2. The main stages of formation and development of sociology
1. The main stages of the historical development of sociological knowledge
2. Social ideas of ancient, medieval and modern times’ thinkers
3. Classic Stage of sociology
4. The positivist doctrine of Comte
1.Although sociology emerged from Comte's vision of a discipline that would subsume all other areas of scientific inquiry, that was not to be the future of sociology. Far from replacing the other sciences, sociology has taken its place as a particular perspective for investigating human social life. Early sociological studies considered the field to be similar to the natural sciences, like physics or biology. As a result, many researchers argued that the methodology used in the natural sciences was perfectly suited for use in the social sciences. The effect of employing the scientific method and stressing empiricism was the distinction of sociology from theology, philosophy, and metaphysics. This also resulted in sociology being recognized as an empirical science. This early sociological approach, supported by August Comte, led to positivism, a methodological approach based on sociological naturalism. The goal of positivism, like the natural sciences, is prediction. But in the case of sociology, it is prediction of human behavior, which is a complicated proposition.
The goal of predicting human behavior was quickly realized to be a bit lofty. Scientists like Wilhelm Dilthey and Heinrich Rickert argued that the natural world differs from the social world, as human society has culture, unlike the societies of most other animals (e.g., the behavior of ants, wolves, etc. is primarily based on genetic instructions and is not passed from generation to generation through socialization). As a result, an additional goal was proposed for sociology. Max Weber and Wilhelm Dilthey introduced the concept of verstehen. The goal of verstehen is less to predict behavior than it is to understand behavior. Outside observers of a culture relate to an indigenous people on both the observer's and the observeds' own terms in order to comprehend the cultural conditions. While arriving at a verstehen-like understanding of a culture employs systematic methodologies like the positivistic approach of predicting human behavior, it is often a more subjective process.
The inability of sociology and other social sciences to perfectly predict the behavior of humans or to fully comprehend a different culture has led to the social sciences being labeled "soft sciences." While some might consider this label derogatory, in a sense it can be seen as an admission of the remarkable complexity of humans as social animals. Any animal as complex as humans is bound to be difficult to fully comprehend. What's more, humans, human society, and human culture are all constantly changing, which means the social sciences will constantly be works in progress.
In the past, sociological research focused on the organization of complex, industrial societies and their influence on individuals. Today, sociologists study a broad range of topics. For instance, some sociologists research macro-structures that organize society, such as race or ethnicity, social class, gender roles, and institutions such as the family. Other sociologists study social processes that represent the breakdown of macro-structures, including deviance, crime, and divorce. Additionally, some sociologists study micro-processes such as interpersonal interactions and the socialization of individuals. It should also be noted that recent sociologists, taking cues from anthropologists, have realized the Western emphasis of the discipline.
Other events of that time period also influenced the development of sociology. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries were times of many social upheavals and changes in the social order that interested the early sociologists. As George Ritzer (1988, 6–12) notes, the political revolutions sweeping Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led to a focus on social changeand the establishment of social order that still concerns sociologists today. Many early sociologists were also concerned with the Industrial Revolution and rise of capitalism and socialism. Additionally, the growth of cities and religious transformations were causing many changes in people’s lives.
Other classical theorists of sociology from the late 19th and early 20th centuries include Karl Marx, Ferdinand Toennies, Emile Durkheim, Vilfredo Pareto, and Max Weber. As pioneers in Sociology, most of the early sociological thinkers were trained in other academic disciplines, including history, philosophy, and economics. The diversity of their trainings is reflected in the topics they researched, including religion, education, economics, psychology, ethics, philosophy, and theology. Perhaps with the exception of Marx, their most enduring influence has been on sociology, and it is in this field that their theories are still considered most applicable.
2. Sociology is rooted in the works of philosophers, including Plato (427–347 B.C.), Aristotle (384–322 B.C.), and Confucius (551–479 B.C.). Some other early scholars also took perspectives that were sociological. Chinese historian Ma Tuan-Lin developed, in the thirteenth century, a sociological history by looking at the social factors influencing history in his general-knowledge encyclopedia Wen Hsien T’ung K’ao (General Study of the Literary Remains). Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406), profiled below, conducted studies of Arab society (Restivo 1991, 18–19).
Sociology is a relatively new academic discipline. It emerged in the early 19th century in response to the challenges of modernity. Increasing mobility and technological advances resulted in the increasing exposure of people to cultures and societies different from their own. The impact of this exposure was varied, but for some people included the breakdown of traditional norms and customs and warranted a revised understanding of how the world works. Sociologists responded to these changes by trying to understand what holds social groups together and also explore possible solutions to the breakdown of social solidarity.
Enlightenment thinkers also helped set the stage for the sociologists that would follow. The Enlightenment “was the first time in history that thinkers tried to provide general explanations of the social world. They were able to detach themselves, at least in principle, from expounding some existing ideology and to attempt to lay down general principles that explained social life” (Collins 1994, 17). Writers of this period included a range of well-known philosophers, such as John Locke; David Hume; Voltaire (the pseudonym of François-Marie Arouet); Immanuel Kant; Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu; Thomas Hobbes; and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
In ancient philosophy, there was no difference between the liberal arts of mathematics and the study of history, poetry or politics. Only with the development of mathematical proof did there gradually arise a perceived difference between scientific disciplines and the humanities or liberal arts. Thus, Aristotle studied planetary motion and poetry with the same methods; Plato mixed geometrical proofs with his demonstration on the state of intrinsic knowledge.
This unity of science as descriptive remained, for example, in the time of Thomas Hobbes, who argued that deductive reasoning from axioms created a scientific framework. His book, Leviathan, was a scientific description of a political commonwealth. Within decades of Hobbes' work a revolution took place in what constituted science, particularly with the work of Isaac Newton in physics. Newton, by revolutionizing what was then called natural philosophy, changed the basic framework by which individuals understood what was scientific.
While Newton was merely the archetype of an accelerating trend, the important distinction is that for Newton the mathematical flowed from a presumed reality independent of the observer and it worked by its own rules. For philosophers of the same period, mathematical expression of philosophical ideals were taken to be symbolic of natural human relationships as well: the same laws moved physical and spiritual reality. For examples see Blaise Pascal, Gottfried Leibniz and Johannes Kepler, each of whom took mathematical examples as models for human behavior directly. In Pascal's case, the famous wager; for Leibniz, the invention of binary computation; and for Kepler, the intervention of angels to guide the planets.
In the realm of other disciplines, this created a pressure to express ideas in the form of mathematical relationships. Such relationships, called Laws after the usage of the time (see philosophy of science) became the model that other disciplines would emulate. In the late 19th century, attempts to apply equations to statements about human behavior became increasingly common. Among the first were the Laws of philology, which attempted to map the change overtime of sounds in a language. In the early 20th century, a wave of change came to science. Statistics and probability theory were sufficiently developed to be considered "scientific", resulting in the widespread use of statistics in the social sciences (they are also widely used in most other sciences as well, including biology).
The first thinkers to attempt to combine scientific inquiry with the exploration of human relationships were Emile Durkheim in France and William James in the United States. Durkheim's sociological theories and James' work on experimental psychology had an enormous impact on those who followed.
One of the most persuasive advocates for the view of scientific treatment of philosophy is John Dewey (1859-1952). He began, as Marx did, in an attempt to weld Hegelian idealism and logic to experimental science, for example in his Psychology of 1887. However, it is when he abandoned Hegelian constructs and joined the movement in America called Pragmatism that he began to formulate his basic doctrine on the three phases of the process of inquiry:
problematic situation, where the typical response is inadequate
isolation of data or subject matter
reflective, which is tested empirically
With the rise of the idea of quantitative measurement in the physical sciences (see, for example Lord Rutherford's famous maxim that any knowledge that one cannot measure numerically "is a poor sort of knowledge"), the stage was set for the division of the study of humanity into the humanities and the social sciences.
The “early founders of sociology all had a vision of using sociology” (Turner 1998, 250). Sharing Comte’s belief, many early sociologists came from other disciplines and made significant efforts to call attention to social concerns and bring about social change. In Europe, for example, economist and philosopher Karl Marx (1818–83) teamed with wealthy industrialist Friedrich Engels (1820–95) to address class inequality. Writing during the Industrial Revolution, when many factory owners were lavishly wealthy and many factory workers despairingly poor, they attacked the rampant inequalities of the day and focused on the role of capitalist economic structures in perpetuating these inequalities. In Germany, Max Weber (1864–1920) was active in politics. In France, Emile Durkheim advocated for educational reforms.
In the United States, social worker and sociologist Jane Addams (1860–1935) became an activist on behalf of poor immigrants. Addams established Chicago’s Hull House, a settlement house that provided community services such as kindergarten and day care, an employment bureau, and libraries. It also provided cultural activities, including an art gallery, music and art classes, and America’s first Little Theater. Louis Wirth (1897– 1952) built child-guidance clinics. He applied sociology to understand how social influences impacted children’s behavioral problems and how children could be helped by using this knowledge. During World War II, sociologists worked to improve the lives of soldiers by studying soldiers’ morale and attitudes as well as the effectiveness of training materials (Kallen 1995).
Sociologists are also responsible for some of the now familiar aspects of our everyday lives. For example, sociologist William Foote Whyte (1914– 2000) improved restaurant service by developing the spindles that waitstaff in many diners use to submit food orders to the kitchen (Porter 1962). Robert K. Merton (1910–2003) developed the concept of what would become the focus group, now widely used in the business world. Sociological perspectives are also the basis of many concepts and terms we use on a daily basis. Lawyers plead “extenuating circumstances” on their clients’ behalf, an acknowledgment of the sociological position that social forces influence human behavior; to talk about “fighting the system” acknowledges that social structures exist and influence our lives (Babbie 1996).
Sociologists have also been actively involved throughout the civil rights movement. Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862–1931) who is profiled below, published and spoke out against lynching. W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963) was involved for most of a century in studying race and social activism. Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma (1944) focused public attention on race. The voter-rights efforts of Charles G. Gomillion in the 1940s and 1950s were instrumental in the U.S. Supreme Court decision that defeated gerrymandering that had excluded almost all Macon County blacks from voting (Smith and Killian 1990, 113).
Although they have not traditionally received the recognition of their white male counterparts, women and sociologists of color have made significant contributions to the discipline since its founding. In recent years, efforts have been undertaken to reinvigorate the voices of these “lost” sociologists. What we know about their lives and works shows some truly outstanding accomplishments. For example, Comte’s Positive Philosophy (1896, orig. 1838) was translated into English by Harriet Martineau (1802–76). Comte was so pleased with the results of her translation that he had her abridgment retranslated back into French. Martineau was a prolific writer and bestselling author in her own right on a variety of social issues. Her work earned her recognition as the first female sociologist and “Mother of Sociology.”
These early women and scholars of color were working in a social context in which women and blacks were often denied education and faced other types of discrimination. Most were trained outside the field. The first Ph.D. in sociology was not awarded to a person of color until 1911, when Richard Robert Wright received his doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania. Many of these early sociologists were active in fighting for a number of social causes. For example, many supported the suffragist movement. Also, black sociologists often “sought not simply to investigate and interpret social life, but to redress the conditions affecting the lives of African Americans” (Young and Deskins 2001, 447).
3. International cooperation in sociology began in 1893 when Rene Worms founded the small Institut International de Sociologie that was eclipsed by the much larger International Sociologist Association starting in 1949. In 1905 the American Sociological Association, the world's largest association of professional sociologists, was founded.
As Macionis (1995, 12) explains to introductory students, scholars have been interested in the nature of society throughout history. They typically focused on what the ideal society would be like. During the 1800s, however, scholars began studying how society actually is and how social arrangements actually operate (how society “works”). Armed with this knowledge, they felt they could better attack social problems and bring about social change (Collins 1994, 42). These scholars became the first sociologists.
The contrast between positivist sociology and the verstehen approach has been reformulated in modern sociology as a distinction between quantitative and qualitative methodological approaches, respectively. Quantitative sociology is generally a numerical approach to understanding human behavior. Surveys with large numbers of participants are aggregated into data sets and analyzed using statistics, allowing researchers to discern patterns in human behavior. Qualitative sociology generally opts for depth over breadth. The qualitative approach uses in-depth interviews, focus groups, or analysis of content sources (books, magazines, journals, TV shows, etc.) as the data source. These sources are then analyzed systematically to discern patterns and to arrive at a better understanding of human behavior.
Drawing a hard and fast distinction between quantitative and qualitative sociology is a bit misleading. The first step in all sciences is the development of a theory and the generation of testable hypotheses. While there are some individuals who begin analyzing data without a theoretical orientation to guide their analysis, most begin with a theoretical idea or question and gather data to test that theory. The second step is the collection of data. This is really where the two approaches differ. Quantitative sociology focuses on numerical representations of the research subjects (e.g., Do conservative Christian fathers spend more time in child care than secular fathers, when measured in hours?. Qualitative sociology focuses on the ideas found within the discourse and rhetoric of the research subjects (e.g., What is the narrative homosexual men use to explain their continued participation in religions that condemn their sexual orientation?. The goal of both approaches is to answer a question and/or test a theory.
4. In response, many sociology departments around the world are now encouraging multi-cultural research.Auguste Comte, Father of Sociology. The term sociology was coined by French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798–1857), in 1838 from the Latin term socius (companion, associate) and the Greek term logia (study of, speech). Comte is known as the “Father of Sociology. He first publicly used the term in his work Positive Philosophy (1896, orig. 1838; Abercrombie, Hill, and Turner 2000, 67). Originally an engineering student, Comte became secretary and pupil to French social philosopher Claude Henri de Rouvroy Comte de Saint-Simon (1760–1825). Saint-Simon was an advocate for scientific and social reform. He advocated applying scientific principles to learn how society is organized. Armed with this knowledge, he believed he could ascertain how best to change, and govern, society to address social problems such as poverty.
Comte saw history as divided into three intellectual stages.
· The first, or theological, stage included the medieval period in which society was seen as reflecting the will of a deity.
· The second, or metaphysical, stage arose during the Enlightenment and focused on forces of “nature,” rather than God, to explain social events.
· Comte considered his own time period the third stage, which he termed the positivistic, or scientific, stage.
During Comte’s lifetime, scientists were learning more about the laws that govern the physical world. For example, in the area of physics, Sir Isaac Newton (1641–1727) had developed the law of gravity. Advances were also being made in other natural sciences, such as biology. Comte felt that science could also be used to study the social world. Just as there are testable facts regarding gravity and other natural laws, Comte thought that scientific analyses could also discover the laws governing our social lives. It was in this context that Comte introduced the concept of positivism to sociology—a way to understand the social world based on scientific facts. He believed that, with this new understanding, people could build a better future. He envisioned a process of social change in which sociologists played crucial roles in guiding society.