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Scope of Sociology

Scope of Sociology

  There are two schools of thought with different viewpoints regarding scope and subject matter of sociology- formal school and synthetic school. According to formal school sociology was conceived to be a social science with a specifically defined field. This school had George Simmel, Ferdinand Tonnies, Alfred Vierkandt and Leopord Von Wiese as its main advocates. On the other hand the synthetic school with Durkheim, Hobhouse and Sorokin advocated a synthesis in form of coordination among all social sciences.
Formal School of Sociology

Formal school argued in favor of giving sociology a definite subject matter to make it a distinct discipline. It emphasized upon the study of forms of social relationships and regarded sociology as independent. According to Simmel sociology is a specific social science which describes, classifies, analyses and delineates the forms of social relationships or in other words social interactions should be classified into various forms or types and analysed.Simmel argued that social interactions have various forms. He carried out studies of such formal relationships as cooperation, competition, sub and super ordinate relationships and so forth. He said however diverse the interests are that give rise to these sociations; the forms in which the interests are realized may yet be identical. He emphasized on the process of abstraction of these forms from human relationship which are common to diverse situations.Vierkandt maintained that sociology should be concerned with ultimate forms of mental or psychic relationship which knit the people together in a society. According to Von Wiese there are two kinds of fundamental social processes in human society. Firstly the associative process concerning contact, approach, adaptation etc and secondly disassociate processes like competition and conflict. Apart from these two processes a mixed form of the associative and disassociative also exists. Each of these processes has sub-classes which in totality give approximately 650 forms of human relationships. Sociology should confine itself to the discovery of the fundamental force of change and persistence and should abstain from a historical study of concrete societies. Tonnies divided societies into two categories namely Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (association) on the basis of degree of intimacy among the members of the society. He has on the basis of forms of relationship tried to differentiate between community and society.Max Weber also makes out a definite field for sociology. According to him the aim of sociology is to interpret or understand social behaviour.But social behavior does not cover the whole field of human relations. Indeed not all human interactions are social. Sociology is concerned with the analysis and classification of types of social relationships.
Criticism of formal School

Formal school has been criticized on the issue that it has emphasized on merely abstract forms and neglected the concrete contents of social life. Abstract forms separated from concrete relations cannot be studied. Ginsberg says that a study of social relationships would remain barren if it is conducted in the abstract without the full knowledge of the terms to which in concrete life they relate. Sociology doesn't alone study the forms of social relationship. Political science, International law also studies forms of social relationship. The conception of pure sociology is not practical as no social science can be studied in isolation from other social sciences.

Synthetic School of Sociology

Synthetic school wanted sociology to be synthesis of the social sciences and thus wanted to widen the scope of sociology. According to Durkheim, sociology has three principal divisions' namely-Social morphology, social physiology and general sociology. Social morphology is concerned with geographical or territorial basis of life of people such as population, its size, density and distribution etc.This can be done at two levels -analysis of size and quality of population which affects the quality of social relationship and social groups. Secondly the study of social structure or description of the main forms of social groups and institutions with their classification. Social physiology deals with the genesis and nature of various social institutions namely religion, morals, law and economic institutions etc.In general sociology the main aim is to formulate general social laws. Attempt is made to find out if there are links among various institutions which would be treated independently in social physiology and in the course to discover general social laws.Hobhouse perceived sociology as a science which has the whole social life of man as its sphere. Its relations with the other social sciences are considered to be one of mutual exchange and mutual stimulation. Karl Mannheim's divides sociology into two main sections-systematic and general sociology and historical sociology. Systematic sociology describes one by one the main factors of living together as far as they may be found in every kind of society. The historical sociology deals with the historical variety and actuality of the general forms of society. It falls into two sections-comparative sociology and social dynamics. Comparative sociology deals mainly with the historical variations of the same phenomenon and tries to find by comparison general features as separated from industrial features. Social dynamics deals with the interrelations between the various social factors and institutions in a certain given society for example in a primitive society. Ginsberg has summed up the chief functions of sociology as it seeks to provide a classification of types and forms of social relationships especially of those which have come to be defined institutions and associations. It tries to determine the relation between different parts of factors of social life for example the economic and political, the moral and the legal, the intellectual and the social elements. It endeavors to disentangle the fundamental conditions of social change and persistence and to discover sociological principles governing social life.

Thus on the basis of viewpoints of different sociologists we can get a general outline of the scope of sociology. Firstly the analysis of various institutions, associations and social groups which are results of social relationships of individuals should be the concern of sociology. Secondly the links among different parts of society should be studied. This objective is dealt with justice by functionalist school of sociology and Marxist school also gives importance to this viewpoint. Thus social structure should be given adequate importance in subject matter of sociology. Thirdly sociology addresses itself to the factors which contribute to social stability and social change. Fourthly sociology should also explain the trend of the changing pattern and the aftermath of the changes in the society.

Sociology and Social Anthropology

Sociology and social anthropology had quite different origins. Sociology originated from philosophy of history, political thought and positive sciences while anthropology has descended from biology. In the earlier periods of their periods of their growth the two disciplines grew up in close cooperation with each other in terms of the concepts used, areas of interest and their methods of study as can be seen in the works of founders which cannot easily be assigned exclusively to either one of the disciplines. The early convergence was followed by a period of extreme divergence in terms of their universe of study, areas of interest, methods of study and even the concepts employed. Social anthropologists tend to closely study small societies which are relatively unchanging and lacking in historical records such as Melanesia; on the other hand, sociologists often study parts of an existing society like family or social mobility. The methods employed by sociologists are loaded with values, and hence their conclusions are tinged with ethical considerations; on the other hand, social anthropologists describe and analyze in clinically neutral terms because they can place themselves as outsiders without being involved in values. For the social anthropologists the field is a small self-contained group of community; whereas, for the sociologists the field could be large-scale and impersonal organizations and processes.

Social anthropologists generally live in the community that they study in order to observe and record what they see. Their analysis is essentially qualitative and clinical. On the other hand, sociologists often rely on statistics and questionnaires and their analysis is often formal and quantitative. In spite of the obvious differences between the two in the 19th century, as stated above, there has been a good deal of convergence in modern times. The small units of study which the social anthropologists require are fast disappearing because of the influence of Western ideologies and technology. Placed in such a situation, both the social anthropologists and sociologists are concerned with the process of economic growth and social changes. Both the disciplines are equally useful in studying the African and Asian societies which are changing under the impact of the West. It is no longer the prerogative of sociologists to study advanced societies.

There is an increasing number of anthropological studies in advanced societies, like the studies of little community, kinship groups, etc. Some basic concepts such as structure, function, status, role, conflict, change and evaluation are used by both sociologists and social anthropologists. These feature differences indicate the interdependence of sociology and social anthropology in understanding social behavior. The works of Talcott Parsons and R.K Merton are attempts towards an adaptation of functionalist approach to study industrial societies and William White has adopted participant observation for the study of modern industrial society. Thus the disciplines are increasingly merging into each other.

Sociology and Political Science

The two distinct disciplines of social science sociology and political sciences do converge often as the subject matter is men and the convergence is on the increase. A beginning was made with the works of Marx. According to him political institutions and behavior are closely linked with the economic system and social classes.Provoked by this thinking some thinkers by the end of the 19th century pursued the matter in more detail like studies of political parties, elite, voting behavior, bureaucracy and political ideologies as in the political sociology of Michels, Weber and Pareto.By then another development occurred in America known as behavioral approach to political phenomena. This was initiated by the University of Chicago. In the 30s attempts were made by various scholars to create a scientific discipline of behavioral politics.

In another area there is c lose relationship between the two. Both functionalism and social system have been adopted into politics. There is a renewal of interest in Marxist sociological ideas. It is interesting to note that there is a renewal of Marxist sociological ideas because of revolutions in developing countries, as studied by political scientists, sociologists and even anthropologists. The forces at work and the changes that are taking place in peasant, tribal or caste societies belong more to the sphere of sociologists and anthropologists rather than to that of the political scientist. Moreover, the fields into which Michaels, Max Weber and Pareto led sociology by the end of the 19th century are still being pursued. A new feature of these studies is that they are comparative. It is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish political science from political sociology. There are a number of Marxist studies having Marxist socialist ideas as their hypothesis. Also, as modern State is increasingly getting involved in providing welfare amenities, sociological slant to political activity and political thinking is gaining more and more of acceptance.

Sociology and Philosophy

Sociology means the study of society on a generalized or abstract level. In an empirical science the generalizations concerning a specified field of inquiry are drawn from facts observed in that field or in closely related fields these generalizations are drawn. Without assuming any knowledge on a level of higher abstraction concerning reality as a whole. All propositions that constitute an empirical science from a self-sufficient system. No propositions are allowed to play a role in the system if it contains knowledge which is not empirical. In other words it is not formulated under the limitations just stated.

On the contrary philosophy is primarily an attempt to understand reality in its totality. From a multitude of observed facts the philosopher proceeds to certain ultimate principles which have taken together attempt to explain reality as a whole. Thus whereas the sociologist explains society in terms of acts observed in society and eventually in related fields of empirical knowledge, the social philosopher explains society in terms of the explanation he gives to total reality. The latter can speak of the first causes, supreme values and ultimate ends the sociologist is not entitled to do so. Modern philosophy and sociology came into existence during one time period to explain the social crisis of Europe in the 19th century. Sociology aimed to be in with to provide a social doctrine that would guide social policy. This aim has now been abandoned. There exist some links between sociology and philosophy. There is a philosophy of sociology in the same sense as a philosophy of science that is an examination of the methods, concepts and arguments used in sociology. There is a close relationship between sociology and moral and social philosophy the subject matter of sociology is human social behavior as guided by values: moral and social philosophy studies values and the sociologists study values and human valuation as facts. On occasions the sociologist is made to distinguish between fact and value. It is only by some training that social philosophy becomes competent to distinguish between fact and value. It can be said that the study of sociology leads to philosophical quest.Durkheim thought that sociology has to necessarily contribute to a renewal of philosophical questions. This made him indulge in some epistemological discussions a branch of philosophy. Karl Mannheim argued that sociology of knowledge had implications for epistemology. Both of them thought that sociology can make a direct contribution to philosophy. While sociology leads to philosophical reflections much of it also begins there. Sociological research will become trivial if it ignores the larger problems of social life which are coordinated in philosophical world-views and in social doctrines.

Sociology and History

Both sociology and modern historiography had their origin in 19th century. The latter established the concept of historical periods and thus bequeathed to historiography theoretical ideas and concerns which were entirely absent from the work of earlier narrative historians and chroniclers. It bequeathed to modern sociology the notion of historical types of society and thus enabled the socialists to build classification of societies. The interaction between two disciplines can be found in their subject matter. Subject matter of sociology and history overlap to a considerable extent. The historian frequently provides the material which sociologist uses.Infact historical sociology depends upon the data which only a historian can supply. Even comparative method often requires historical data. But the dependence is two fold. Sociological research also provides the information which the historian's need.Infact the subject matter of social history overlaps to a very great extent with sociology in general and historical sociology in particular. There is evidence of cooperation by sociologists and social historians. Historian's account of social structure of 19th century towns and of the characteristics of the medieval peasantry or the 18th century nobility and sociologist's study of social history of a variety of professions. There is a point of difference between the two. Radcliffe- Brown provided a clear-cut though simplistic answer. According to him 'Sociology is nomothetic, while history is idiographic'. The historian describes unique events, while the sociologist derives generalizations.

Indeed, there are generalizations in history too, but a sociologist analyses sociological data with the help of generalizations. In other words, the historian examines particular sequences of events; whereas a sociologist tests a generalization by examining the sequence of events. To word this particular difference between history and sociology in a very simple language: the historian is concerned with the inter-play between personality and social forces; whereas, the sociologist is largely concerned with the social forces themselves. History is primarily concerned with the past and essentially tries to account for the change over time while the main focus of sociology continues to be to search for recruitment patterns and to build generalizations. However given such works like Weber's Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism and Pitrin Sorokin's Social and Cultural Dynamics, the line for demarcation between history and sociology is becoming increasingly blurred. Yet H.R Trevor-Roper has tried to make a weak distinction by stating that historian is concerned with the interplay between personality and massive social forces and that the sociologist is largely concerned with these social forces themselves. However it is becoming increasingly clear that historiography and sociology cannot be radically separated. They deal with the same subject -matter viz men living in societies sometimes from the same point of view and the trends that the two shall continue to borrow from each other extensively.

Sociology and Economics

The battle as to which should be given precedence, sociology or economics, is present in these two disciplines also. However attempts have been made to link the two disciplines .One extreme position has been adopted by Marxists. According to them the understanding of the super structure consisting of various social institutions can never be complete unless seen in the context of economic substructure. Thus economic behavior of man is viewed as a key to understand social behavior of man or economics is given precedence over sociology. On the other hand sociologists have criticized the economic theory as being reductionist in nature and according to them the economist's conception of man ignores the role of various social factors which influence the economic behavior. Thus various sociologists have tried to show that economics cannot be an entirely autonomous science.

A. Lowie considers that two sociological principles underlie the classical laws of the market: the economic man and the competition or mobility of the factors of production. A contemporary of Durkheim argues that since the first principles of economics are hypothesis they can be tested only by a sociological enquiry. In recent times Parsons and Smelser attempted to show that economic theory is a part of the general sociological theory. In actual practice there are a number of sociological studies which are concerned with problems of economic theory. Of late, the interaction between two disciplines has been on the increase. Barbara Cotton analyses the classical economic theory of Wages and presents a sociological analysis of the determinations of wages and salary differences based on British data. Sociologists have explored the aspects of economic behavior neglected or treated in a hurried manner by economists such as Marx, Max Weber and Hobson. In recent times there are many studies in the same field like those of Schimpeter, Strachey, Galbraith, Gunnar Myrdal and Raymond Aron.Apart from this contribution; sociologists have also studied particular aspects of economic organization like the property system, the division of labor and the industrial organization. A branch of sociology called economic sociology deals with the social aspects of economic life. Economics would lay emphasis on relations of purely economic variables- relations of price and supply, money flows, input-output, etc. Whereas sociology would study the productive enterprises as a social organization the supply of labor as affected by values and preferences, influences of education on economic behavior; role of caste system in economic development and so on. Thus sociology and economics meet in a number of areas of knowledge. The factors that contributed for this convergence are two. Economists are no longer interested only in market mechanism but also in economic growth, national product and national income and also development in underdeveloped regions. In all these areas the economist has either to necessarily collaborate with the sociologist or he himself has to become a sociologist.

Sociology and Psychology

Sociology studies the social systems while psychology studies mental systems. The nature of relationship between sociology and psychology still remains controversial and the study of social psychology in relation to both is still unsettled. There are two extreme views: J.S.Mill believed that a general social science could not be considered firmly established until its inductively established generalizations can be shown to be also logically deductible from laws of mind. Thus he clearly sought to establish primacy of psychology over all other social sciences.Durkheim on the other hand made a radical distinction between the phenomena studied by sociology and psychology respectively. Sociology was to study social facts defined as being external to individual mind and exercising the coercive action upon them, the explanation of social facts could only be in terms of other social facts not in terms of psychological facts. Society is not simply an aggregate of individuals; it is a system formed by their association and represents a specific level of reality possessing its own characteristics. Thus sociology and psychology are totally separate disciplines.

Most sociologists however have adopted various intermediate positions. According to Ginsberg many sociological generalizations can be more firmly established by being related to general psychological laws. Similarly Nadel argued that some problems posed by social enquiry can be illuminated by a move to lower levels of analysis viz psychology and biology. German scholars like Weber came to believe that sociological explanations can be further enriched if an attempt is made to understand social behavior in terms of underlying meanings. Such understanding was conceived in terms of common senses psychology but Weber was not opposed to the development of a scientific psychology in broad sense and Weber was even sympathetic to some of the Freud's ideas. Similarly the interdependence of sociology and psychology for the study of human behavior is given still greater prominence. The divergence between sociology and psychology can be illustrated from various studies. In the study of conflict and war there have been mutually exclusive sociological and psychological explanations. In the studies of stratification and political behavior the two disciplines have remained divergent. According to Bottomore in almost every field of enquiry it can be shown that psychology and sociology continue for the most part and two separate universes of study. However some attempts have been made to bring them together. One of the most valuable works is of Gerth and Mills. According to them the study of social psychology is an interplay between individual character and social structure and it can be approached either from the side of sociology or from the side of biology. They have even suggested the concept of role to bridge the gap between the two sciences. Social role represents a meeting point of the individual organism and the social structure and it is used as a central concept and social structure in the same terms. Yet in spite of these efforts sociology and psychology continue to offer alternate accounts for behavior and if they are to be brought closer together, it will be necessary to work out more rigorously the conceptual and theoretical links between them.

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