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The main characteristics of sociology are as follows:

Sociology is one of the several social sciences. Each of the sciences


represents a particular way of looking at a common subject matter-human
behaviour.
here are no hard and first boundary lines between the social sciences since
each of these perspectives has implications for each of the others. Still, it is
useful at the outset to have a survey of the characteristics of sociology to
distinguish its particular perspective from those of other social sciences. The
following are the main characteristics of sociology.

1. Sociology: a Generalising Science:


Sociology is a generalising sciences and not a particularising science. It aims
to establish general laws of principles about interactions and associations. It
seeks to find general principles about the nature, form, content and structure
of human groups and societies. Like history, it does not attempt to make a
description of particular events or particular societies.
History is the study of human behaviour from particularising perspective. But
sociology is generalising in its perspective. Whereas history is concerned with
particular wars and revolutions, sociology is concerned with war and
revolution in general as social phenomena, as forms of social conflict and not
with their particular and concrete manifestations.

2. Sociology: a Generalised Science:


Sociology is a general science. It is not a specialised science like history,
political science and economics. These social sciences have specialised

subject matters and these are all parts of one general subject matter: Mans
social behaviour, which sociology studies. Only certain kinds of behaviour
engage their attention. The economist, for example, is interested in one kind
of behaviour, economic behaviour. The political scientist likewise is concerned
with political behaviour.
In contrast to these specialised sciences, the generalised sciences of
sociology, psychology, and anthropology recognise no such limitations of
scope of interest. One may readily speak of noneconomic or nonpolitical
behaviour. But it simply makes no sense to speak of non-psychological or
non-sociological or non-anthropological behaviour. All behaviour has
psychological, sociological and anthropological dimensions and the scientists
in any one of these fields must necessarily take all kinds of behaviour into
account.
Sociology studies social factors that all social phenomena have in common,
whether they are economic or political. Like economics, it does not deal with
the economic behaviour of man as such but sees economic behaviour as
simply a partial abstraction from the total social behaviour of the individual.
Although the focus of sociology is also special one, the area of enquiry of
sociology is general.

3. Sociology: a Social Science:


Sociology is a social science, a humanistic science. It is a social science like
economics, political science and psychology etc. It is not a physical science.
Sociology deals with social universe and not with the physical universe.
Sociology, deals with social facts, social phenomena, mans social
relationships and behaviour.

4. Sociology: a Special Kind of Abstraction:


Psychology, anthropology and sociology have in common in their interest in all
aspect of human behaviour. The difference between them seems to lie in their
different ways of thinking about human behaviour in general.
These differences may be understood by noting that human behaviour is a
variable and that these three social sciences represent different system of
explanation of this variability. In other words these three social sciences adopt
three different kind of explanation of single fact of human behaviour, namely
the variability in amount of discrimination practised by people against other
racial groups.
The Psychologist tends to explain variability in behaviour in terms of the
personalities of the behaving persons. Each kind of behaviour is a specific
manifestation of kind of organisations of psychological traits or elements.
For the anthropologist, variations in human behaviour tend to be explained by
variations in culture. Different groups of people have different ideas and moral
conceptions, and persons living in groups with different cultures may be
expected to display different patterns of behaviour.
Sociology tends to explain variability in human behaviour in terms of variation
in society of social structure. Different persons are seen to have occupied
different positions or statuses in that structure and these positions condition
the behaviour of the occupants in a number of ways.
These differences among psychology, anthropology and sociology are
differences of emphasis rather than absolute differences. However, Sociology
is a special kind of abstraction. It has its own system of explanation.

5. Sociology: an Objective Science:


Sociology is an objective, but not a normative science. This means that
sociology is primarily concerned with facts and not with value judgments upon
them. Durkheim shared the vision of an objective sociology and in his Rules of
Sociological Method, he urged that the sociologist must eradicate all
preconceptions and deal with facts rather than with his ideas about social
facts. The German Sociologist, Max Weber devoted major essay to the
problem of objectivity or Value- neutrality in sociology.
Sociology studies values as social facts but does not deal with the problems
of good or bad, desirable or undesirable. It is ethically neutral. According to
Weber, the sociologist may well be involved in partisan political activity to
stimulate his intellectual curiosity but that, as a social scientist (e.g. a teacher
of sociology) he must leave out his personal bias, remembering always that a
podium is not a pulpit.

6. Sociology: a Pure or Theoretical Science:


Sociology is a pure science. It is not an applied science. This means that
sociology aims at the acquisition of knowledge and it has no concern whether
the acquired knowledge is useful or applied. Sociology aims at exact
description by the analysis of the properties and relation of social phenomena
and explanation by the formulation of general statements.
In this way sociology adds to our knowledge about human society. The aim of
sociology is the acquisition of knowledge about human society. Such
knowledge can be used to solve social problems, but it is not an applied
science. The knowledge acquired by sociology is helpful for administrators,
legislators and social workers etc.

7. Sociology: a Rational and Empirical Science:


Sociology is both a rational and empirical science. It is empirical in the sense
that it is based on observation and experimentation. To quote H.M. Johnson,
It is empirical, that is, it is based on observation and reasoning, not on
supernatural revelation and its results are not speculative. Sociology is
rational as it stresses on reason. Sociological theories are built on the basis of
logical inference.
The theoretical sociology emerged historically as a kind of speculation as
illustrated in the broad theoretical schemes of August Comte, Herbert Spencer
and other pioneers. In the twentieth century, most sociologists have shifted
their attention to the gathering of empirical data about social life, a stage that
perhaps reached its climax in the 1930s.

8 essential characteristics of sociology


Sociology as a branch of knowledge, has its own unique characteristics, it is different from other
sciences in certain respects. An analysis of its internal logical characteristics helps one to understand
what kind of science it is. The following are the main characteristics of sociology.
1. Sociology is an independent science:
Sociology has now emerged into an independent science. It is not treated and studied as a branch of
any other science like philosophy or political philosophy or history. As an independent science, it has
its own field of study, boundary and method.
2. Sociology is a social science and not a physical science:
Sociology belongs to the family of social science and not to the family of physical science. As a social
science, it concentrates its attention on man, his social behavior, social activities and social life. As a
member of the family of social sciences like history, political science, economics, psychology,
anthropology etc. The fact that sociology deals with the social universe distinguishes it from
astronomy, physics, chemistry, zoology, mathematics and other physical sciences.
3. Sociology is a categorical and not a normative discipline:

Sociology "confines itself to statements about what is not what should be or ought to be". As science,
sociology is necessarily silent about questions of value. It does not make any kind of value
judgments. Its approach is neither moral nor immoral but amoral. It is ethically neutral. It cannot
decide the directions in which sociology ought to go. It makes no recommendations on matters of
social policy or legislation or programme. But it does not mean that sociological knowledge is useless
and serves no purpose, it only means that sociology as a discipline cannot deal with problems of good
and evil, right and wrong and moral or immoral.
4. Sociology is a pure science and not an applied science:
A distinction is often made between pure sciences and applied sciences. The main aim of pure
sciences is the acquisition of knowledge and it is not bothered whether the acquired knowledge is
useful or can be put to use. On the other hand, the aim of applied science is to apply the acquired
knowledge into life and to put it to use. Each pure science may have its own applied field. For
example, physics is a pure science and engineering is its applied field. Similarly, the pure sciences
such as economics, political science, history etc. have their applied fields like business, politics, and
journalism respectively. Sociology as a pure science has its applied fields such as administration,
diplomacy, social work, etc. Each pure science may have more than one application.
Sociology is a pure science, because the immediate aim of sociology is the acquisition of knowledge
about human society, not the utilization of that knowledge. Sociologists never determine questions of
public policy and do not recommend legislators what laws should be passed or repeated. But the
knowledge acquired by a sociologist is of great help to the administrator, the legislator, the diplomat,
the teacher, the foreman, the supervisor, the social worker and the citizen. But sociologists
themselves do not apply the knowledge of life and use as a matter of their duty and profession.
5. Sociology is relatively an abstract science and not a concrete science:
This does not mean that sociology is an art and not a science. Nor does it mean, it is un-necessarily
complicated and unduly difficult. It only means that sociology is not interested in concrete
manifestations of human events. It is more concerned with the form of human events and their
patterns. For example, sociology is not concerned with particular wars and revolutions but with war
and. revolution in general, as social phenomena as types social conflict. Similarly, sociology does not
confine itself to the study of this society or that particular society or social organization, or marriage
or religion, or group and so on. In this simple sense sociology is an abstract and not a concrete
science.
6. Sociology is a generalizing and not a particularizing or individualizing science:
Sociology tries to find out the general laws or principles about human interaction and association,
about the nature, form, content and structure of human groups and societies. It does not study each
and every event that takes place in society. It is not possible also. It tries to make generalizations on

the basis of the study of some selected events. For example, a sociologist makes generalizations about
the nature of secondary groups. He may conclude that secondary groups are comparatively bigger in
size, less stable, not necessarily spatially, limited, more specialized, and so on. This, he does not by
examining all the secondary groups but by observing and studying a few.
7. Sociology is a general science and not a special science:
The area of inquiry of sociology is general and not specialized. It is concerned with human
interaction and human life in general. Other social sciences like political science, history, economics
etc., also study man and human intention on certain aspects of human interaction and activities and
specialize themselves, in these fields. Accordingly, economics specializes itself in the study of
economic activities. Political science concentrates on political activities and so on. Sociology, of
course, does not investigate economic, religious, political, legal, and moral or any other special kinds
of phenomena in relation to human life and activities as such. It only studies human activities in a
general way. This does not, however, mean that sociology is the basic social science nor does it
simply is the general social science. Anthropology and social psychology often claim themselves to be
general social sciences.
8. Finally, Sociology is both a rational and an empirical science:
There are two broad ways of approach to scientific knowledge. One known as empiricism is the
approach that emphasizes experience and the facts that result from observation and
experimentation. The other known as rationalism, reason and the theories that result from logical
inference.
The empiricist collects facts, the rationalist co-ordinates and arranges them. Theories and facts are
required in the construction of knowledge. In sociological inquiry, both are significant. A theory
unsubstantiated by hard facts is nothing more than an opinion. Pacts, by themselves, in their isolated
character, are meaningless and useless. As Immanuel Hants said, "theories without facts are empty
and facts without theories are blind". All modern sciences, therefore, avail themselves of both
empirical and rational resources. Sociology is not an exception. It is clear from the above that
sociology is an independent, a social, a categorical, a pure, an abstract, a generalizing both a rational
and empirical social science.

This unit introduces the discipline of sociology, including something about its
history, questions, theory, and scientific methods, and what distinguishes it from
other social science disciplines. Central features include social interaction and
relationships, social contexts, social structure, social change, the significance of
diversity and human variation, and the critical, questioning character of sociology. It
also explores what sociologists do. For more information, see the full curriculum
description of this unit.

Why Is Sociology a Science?


Russ Long

Why is social science (sociology) science? Is sociology simply a pseudoscience? After all, its ability to predict the future is questionable! Isn't it? What
is science? In mathematics, 2 + 2 always = 4. Sociology often cannot make
precise predictions.
In response, one might argue that just because the subject matter of sociology
is more difficult to study than the subjects pursued in other sciences, it does
not mean that the scientific method is inappropriate for the social sciences.
The subject matter of sociology experiences continuous change. This fact
alone renders efforts at prediction difficult. Problems relating to prediction can
be found in the biological science as well. One should note the problems
encountered as biologists try to track the AIDS virus. It too continually
mutates.
Sociology is a science every bit as much as biology or chemistry. Social
sciences, like natural and biological sciences, use a vigorous methodology.
This means that a social scientist clearly states the problems he or she is
interested in and clearly spells out how he or she arrives at their conclusions.
Generally, social scientists ground the procedure in a body of existing
literature. This is precisely how other sciences function.
3. Is sociology a science?
With the analysis of science in the previous section in mind, let us turn to sociology.
Early sociologists tried to establish sociology as a science, and their arguments are
mainly on the methodology of sociology. Comte claimed that sociology uses four
different kinds of methodologies, namely observation, experiment, comparison and
historical research as a special case of comparison (CST pp. 89-90, SCS pp.42-54).
These are the methodology used in several other scientific field, especially in biology.
So if his sociology had really followed these methods, it would have been a st rong
case for sociology as a science. But actually he never did empirical research (CST p.
110), so we cannot take his argument at the face value. But his argument influenced
on other sociologists, especially Durkheim. For Durkheim, sociology is a study o f
social facts (CST p.185). A social fact is "a thing that is external to, and coercive of,
the actor" (ibid., emphasis original). Because they are external, social facts cannot be
investigated by introspection (ibid.). We should use empirical research. A typical use
of this methodology is in his analysis of suicide (CST p.195). Durkheim used statistics

on suicide rate to establish his argument that suicide is a social phenomenon. He


refused alternative hypotheses because their predi ctions did not agree with the actual
statistical data. This is an admirable attempt of empirical research of society, but there
are several problems. Durkheim applied too strict criteria of falsification to rival
accounts. Adoption of these strict criteri a is suicidal for sociology, because it is hard
for a sociological theory to make a precise prediction, let alone to make a precise and
correct prediction (and without this, the falsification criteria do not work). Another
related problem is in his reject ion of introspection as a sociological method. This
restricts the scope of sociology too narrowly, and in fact even Durkheim's own study
becomes impossible. For example, Durkheim's definition of suicide is "any case of
death 'resulting directly of indirec tly from a positive or negative act of an individual
against himself, which he knows must produce this result'" (ED p.32). But, without
using introspection, how can we decide if 'he knows' the result or not, from external
evidence only?
I think that W eber's methodology provides an answer to these problems. His key
word in this point is "Verstehen," a German word for "understanding" or
"interpretation" (CST pp.222 -224, FMW pp. 55-56). According to him, we can
"understand" other people's motivation thr ough introspection of our own intentions,
and this kind of knowledge is necessary for sociology. This is exactly what Durkheim
denied as a method of sociology, but as we saw above even Durkheim himself used
this "understanding" in his actual work. But, o f course, the problem is if this is
permissible as a scientific method. Strong falsification of a theory is almost
impossible by such "interpreted" facts, because if an interpreted fact runs counter to
the theory we can just change the interpretation. But , as we saw in the last section,
such strong falsification is given up by philosophers of science as too strict a criteria.
Moreover, the arbitrariness of interpretation is not as great as one might worry. For
example, Comte's three stage theory (the deta il of the theory does not matter here) has
no follower today because there is no way we can reasonably interpret the evolution
of society as obeying such a law. In this case we can say that Comte's theory was
falsified. As far as we have this minimal poss ibility of falsification, we can admit
"Verstehen" as a scientific method of sociology, thus "interpretive" sociology as a
science.
Before we proceed to next section, I would like to make a brief remark on the use of
models in sociology. One of the re ason people may argue against sociology as a
science is the lack of thesociological theory. We have Marx's theory, Durkheim's
theory, Weber's theory and so on, but none of them are shared by all sociologists. This
seems to make a strong contrast w ith other fields of science where scientists agree on

the basic theories. But, as we saw in the last section, some philosophers think that
even in other scientific field what scientists are working on are piecemeal models, not
a universal theory. And as f or such models, we can find abundant models shared by
many sociologists. Actually, this is what Weber called "ideal types" (CST pp225-228).
Ideal types are constructed through exaggerating some features of real cases. By
comparing with ideal types we can find characteristics of each real case. These ideal
types are useful conceptual tools for sociology just in the same sense as the planetary
model of atoms is a useful conceptual tool for chemists. So, in this point, the
difference between sociology and o ther scientific fields is not so great as it seems to
be.