System of sociological knowledge has its specific structure that includes three levels:
First sociological level - general sociological theory.
Second level - special sociological theories.
Third level - concrete-sociological (empirical) investigations.
First sociological level presents general sociological theory that covers the most general laws and regularities of functioning and development of such social communities as society in general and humankind. In this context we can view sociology as a theoretical-methodological basis of not only second and third levels of sociological researches but also as methodology of other humanitarian and sociological sciences.
General sociological theory gives an idea of society as an integral organism, system of its social mechanisms, reveals place and role of basic social relationships, formulates principles of social cognition, basic methodological demands of system analysis, stratification-class approach, genetic analysis, complex concrete-historical approach, analysis of phenomena in relation to other phenomena. From this point theoretical sociology can be viewed as a science about laws of human society development that includes a set of concepts and approaches to explanation of social mechanisms of society development. Let's speak about the most significant ones.
Socio-cultural approach or theory of cultural-historical types. This approach recognizes existence of different cultures that cover common stages in their development to be principal in tendencies of society development. The representatives of this approach are N. Danylevskyi, O. Spengler, A. Toynbee and others.
Formational approach. Supposes common way of development of all the peoples through the change of social-economical formations that are defined by way of production. The representatives of this approach are K. Marx, F. Engels, V. Lenin.
Civilization approach. The stage of development of civilization in the given historical period of society development is the most important factor of human society development. This approach includes a set of concepts starting with theory of industrial society, represented by A. Comte, W. Rostow, R. Aron, and ending with theory of convergence, represented by P. Sorokin, D. Galbraith, Jean Fourastie, and others.
It is important to realize that each of the mentioned above approaches is restricted to some extend having not only strong but also weak points. But in unity they are able to reflect a set of the most common regularities of society development that take place in certain concrete-historical conditions and reflect different sides of society life. They reflect a complicated set of processes and phenomena that take place in any society. This fact enables us to ground on them as on the methodological basis during investigation of social life in our society.
A certain level of knowledge in the field of theory of sociology is necessary to make an adequate and integral idea of social phenomena, processes and tendencies that take place in the world, to find our own place and personal position in this world.
Speaking of the second sociological level we should mention that general sociological theory serves as the basis for special sociological theories. It makes the basis for study of relatively independent social communities, for instance social-structural, ethnical, territorial ones, etc., social institutions, such as family, school, state, etc., social processes, such as labor, leisure, education, upbringing, social movements, etc. We analyze not only general regularities in certain social sub≠systems but also regularities that are common to given sub-system are singled out. Sociological information that is gathered on this level is used for orientation of social governing in different spheres of social life. Special social theories also specify dogmas of general sociological theory applying to separate kinds and mechanisms of social interaction. There are three kinds of special theories distinguished.
1. Theories that study laws of development and reproduction of separate social communities. They include sociology of city, village, ethno-sociology, etc.
2. Branch sociological theories that reveal regularities and mechanisms of vital activity of social communities in certain spheres. They include sociology of labor, economical sociology, sociology of education, sociology of leisure, etc.
3. Theories that analyze separate elements of social mechanism. They include theory of social control, theory of communications, theory of social activity, etc.
Special sociological theories concretize dogmas of general theory, transferring from general conceptual notions to operational ones by means of which a concrete social process can be valued. If we are interested in efficiency of television we have to transfer from general notions of social consciousness, spiritual life to such notions of special sociology as television auditory, its interests, needs, cognitive activity, satisfaction; we also have to develop a system of indices and indicators that will help to estimate process of television influence on individuals. We should also have idea about peculiarities of social groups that comprise auditory that gives special knowledge about social structure. It is necessary to know the way outer influence is transformed in people's consciousness, i.e. we have to consult sociology of personality, theory of public spirit and so on.
Processes of socialization and adaptation of a person are probably the most important ones. They include a huge system of interaction between man and surrounding him social and natural environment. Cognition of social mechanisms of this basic processes, acquiring of skills to develop tactic of individual adaptive behavior in life enable a person to optimize interaction with environment, to avoid dangerous psychological stresses.
Third level of sociological system of knowledge comprises concrete-sociological or empirical investigations of social factors, i.e. theory, methodology and technique of concrete-sociological analysis. Evaluation of concrete sociological processes and phenomena takes place on this level. It is made on the basis of approaches, principles, indices that are given by general sociological and special sociological theories. Sometimes this level is called empiric investigations but this is not precise because there is its own theory, for instance theory of dimension. Actions, characteristics of behavior of social communities, groups and individuals and reflection of facts of social reality in human's consciousness are the subject of investigation in this case. Usage of sociological methods of collecting, processing and analysis of social information enables not only to check actions of these or that regularities of social theories of higher level in concrete conditions but also to predict tendencies in social processes, reveal problems, formulate hypothesis and sketch programs of future sociological researches. There are many kinds of concrete-sociological investigation. They differ according to scale (international, national, regional, local), time (lasting, quick), etc. According to the aim all the sociological researches can be divided into fundamental and applied. Fundamental ones aim at the development of science. Applied researches aim at those perspectives that are related to solving of different practical tasks of vital activity of society.
Special sociological theories and concrete-sociological (empirical) investigations bear more of applied character then general sociological theory. They are oriented at solving certain social problems. Thus deep fundamental investigations can contribute to the field of applied sociology. Data of applied sociology (if the investigations are of deep character) are used for the development of scientific theory. Division of fundamental and applied investigations does not coincide with their division into theoretical and empirical because the last ones differ in the level of abstractness of received knowledge, in specific methods and ways of analysis but not in aims. Theoretical and empirical investigations can have fundamental character as well as applied character depending on the aims of investigation.
Division into the above mentioned levels has rather conventional character. In fact they all are related with each other and are in constant interaction. They supplement each other forming single system of sociological knowledge. This is seen in revealing of scientific-methodological basis of sociological investigation in the system of principles, laws and categories, concepts of social relations, theoretically generalizing practically all concrete empirical display of these relationship?.
Transfer of theoretical dogmas into their empirical reflection is grounded with the help of a set of indices of investigations of social structure of society, culture, public spirit, etc. This unity is realized by methodological and methodical provision of social services in every sphere Ó activity and in every level and kind of sociological investigation.
Modern sociology tends also to speak about two important trends more -macro- and microsociology. Macrosociology is oriented at investigation of big social communities, systems and groups and also at study of global social processes. It is aimed at cognition of laws and regularities of social life in general. Macrosociology claims that it is possible to cognize a man only through analysis of society as an integral unity.
Microsociology investigates social processes, phenomena and tendencies that take place in relatively small social systems such as family, small social group, etc. It is oriented at empiric description of phenomena and events that occur in the form of social contacts. All these cause its orientation at social-psychological methods of investigation. Microsociology aims at cognition of integrity of social life through the study of interaction, i.e. social interaction of individuals.