Sociology – How, When and What: A Look at its Origins

Sociology – How, When and What: A Look at its Origins
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When it comes to ‘Sociology’, it is considered to be the most recently developed subject in our modern world. However, if we dig deeper and look into its actual birth, we will find that it is as old as all other social subjects.

Philosophers such as Plato have always indulged themselves in questions of social issues and have tried to find an answer to various social problems.

For example, Plato was the first exponent of the organic theory in society and Aristotle subscribed to it. They have accepted society as a unified system that is structured around the division of labour and social inequality.

Kautilya has also spoken about the social division in India in his book ‘Arthashastra’. If I have to convey my idea of sociology to a person without any sociological background, I would tell them that it is all about the study of any society with a primary focus upon social institutions such as Family, Marriage, Educational and Economic institutions, etc., unlike Anthropology where the primary focus is upon Human beings.

So, if sociology is as old as the emergence of philosophy, then why is it considered to be the most recently developed social science? Well, the answer to this question is more about giving priority to the subject. What I mean here is certain circumstances have developed in the recent past that has resulted in the development of this subject as an individual discipline.

These circumstances have also led to the systematisation of this discipline. So, what are these circumstances that I am talking about here? Let me explain it to you in detail!

Sociology

Before we understand these circumstances, first let us understand that it was not a sudden development and it was preceded by a series of events that precipitated the emergence of this new discipline. So basically, these circumstances I am talking about is the series of events in our history.

The most important event that is credited with the development of sociology is the ‘Enlightenment period in Europe.’

The pre-enlightenment period was a period of the ‘Dark Age’ where multiple social evils existed with a feudal structure of society.

This period has resulted in ushering in new ideas and material development, which gained popularity and eventually led to the emergence of the Renaissance.

Renaissance was basically a cultural movement, which put man and humanism at the centre of all activities and it hacked back to the so-called
‘Classical Golden Period’ of European history. It has resulted in some profound questions such as human existence in contemporary society.

They even questioned the Feudal structure of society. Can you see how this event has led to questioning social division in old Europe? Famous philosopher Marshall Berman has also stated that it is not only about some new liberal ideas and practices but was also about the existential experience of the conditions that they produce even today.

Now this ‘Enlightenment Period’ is a culmination of multiple developments within it and to have a proper idea about how it has resulted in the development of sociology, it is necessary to understand these very developments.

Intellect

Intellectual Idea was the first such development. It basically means developing reasoning in a person’s mind. In fact, it is the backbone of the Enlightenment
period. Famous philosophers such as Montesquieu and Rousseau had emphasised generating an intellectual idea by giving emphasis upon
‘Reasoning and Individualism.’ Irving Zeitlin, a sociologist said that Early sociology developed as a reaction to Enlightenment.

Another development was Material and Social development. It basically meant that now a new economic system was coming and people desired material products upon after-life happiness. It was an outcome of Industrial development and the growth of capitalism.

Now, from the sociological point of view, all we have to understand is that due to the coming of the Industrial Revolution, a new class of society emerged. The Middle-Class Group. And this group has dismantled the old Feudal estate. The industrial system has given birth to a new, complex system of the urban world and this has intrigued the intellectually awakened group of people to understand this complex social structure.

Lastly, the Political Development in Europe acted as an immediate context for rising of sociology. The event of the French Revolution which gave the idea of democracy, liberty and fraternity completely changed the old social system and gave birth to a new one that we see today. This disruption had given many
philosophers and intellectuals such as August Comte, Herbert Spencer and Emile Durkheim the initial foundation of sociological thoughts.

This new set of thought was first given the term ‘Sociology’ by Auguste Comte and hence is also considered as Father of Sociology, even though as I have already stated Sociology has its history as old as Philosophy itself.

(Ravi Chama is a Civil Servant currently posted in Arunachal Pradesh. Views expressed in this piece are his own.)