Sociology is the study of human social life. Because human social life is so expansive,
sociology has many sub-sections of study, ranging from the analysis of conversations to the
development of theories to try to understand how the entire world works. This chapter will
introduce you to sociology and explain why it is important, how it can change your perspective
of the world around you, and give a brief history of the discipline.
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.
Early Sociological Studies
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 were perfectly suited for use in the social sciences, including Sociology. 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.
However, as early as the 19th century, positivist and naturalist approaches to studying social