Nature of Sociology

Nature of the Sociology

Sociology, as a branch of knowledge, has its own unique characteristics. It is different from other science 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 as enlisted by Robert Bierstedt in his book, ” The social order”. An  always of its internal logical characteristics helps one to understand what kind of science it is.

  1. Sociology is an Independent Science.
  2. Sociology is a Social Science and not a physical Science.
  3. Sociology is a categorical and not a Normative Discipline.
  4. Sociology is relatively and Abstract Science and not a concrete Science.
  5. Sociology is pure science and not an Applied Science.
  6. Sociology is a General Science not a special Science.
  7. Sociology is a Generalizing and not a particularizing or Individualizing science.
  8. Sociology is Both a Rational and Empirical Science.


  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.

  1. Sociology is a social science and not a physical science.

Sociology belongs to the family of social sciences and not to the family of physical sciences. As a social science, it concentrates its attention on man, his social behaviour, social activities and social life. As a member of the family of social science it is intimately related to other social sciences like history, political sciences, economics, psychology, anthropology etc. The fact that sociology deals with the social universe distinguishes it from astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, mathematics and other physical sciences.

  1. 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 a science, sociology is necessarily silent about questions of value. It does not make any kind of value-judgements. 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.

  1. 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 to use. Each pure science may have its own applied field. For example, Physics is a pure science and engineering is its applied fields. 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 knowledge. Sociologists never determine questions of public policy and do not recommend legislators what laws should be passed or repealed. 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 to life and use, as a matter of their duty and profession.

  1. Sociology is relatively an abstract science and not a concrete science:

This does not mean sociology is an art and not a science. Nor does it mean, it is unnecessarily 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 evolutions but with war and revolutions in general, as social phenomena, as types of social conflict. Similarly, sociology does confine itself to the study of this society or that particular society or social organization, or marriage, or religion, or group and so on. It is in this simple sense that sociology is an abstract not a concrete science.

  1. Sociology is a Generalizing and not a particularizing or Individualizing science:

Sociology tried 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 a 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.

  1. Sociology is a General Science and not a special social 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 interaction, but not all about human interaction. They concentrate their attention on certain aspects of human interaction and activities and specialize themselves in those 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, moral or any other special kind of phenomenon 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 science nor does it imply sociology is the general social science. Anthropology and social psychology often claim themselves to be general social sciences.

  1. 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, stresses 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, solid facts is nothing more than an opinion. Facts, by themselves, in their isolated character, are meaningless and useless. As Immanuel Kant 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 an empirical and a general social science.

Scope of Sociology

What is the Scope of Sociology? What is the Subject matter that is Studies? There are two main Schools of thought among the Sociologist on this issue.

  • Specialist or Formalistic and 2) Synthetic

The Specialist or Formalistic School

This school of thought is led by the German sociologist George Simmel. The other main advocates of this school are Vierkandt, Max Weber, Von Wiese and Tonnies.

Simmel and others are of the opinion that sociology is pure and independent science. As a pure science it has a limited scope. Sociology should confine itself to the study of certain aspects of human relationship only. Further, it should study only the forms of social relationships but not their human relationship only. But not their contents. Social relationship such as competition, sub-ordination, division of labor etc, are expressed in different fields of social life such as economic, political, religious, moral, artistic, etc. Sociology should disentangle the from of social relationship and study them in abstraction, Sociology as specific social science describers, classifies and analyses the form of social relationships.

Vierkandt says that sociology concern itself with the ultimate form of mental or psychic relationship which links men to one another in society. He maintains that in dealing with culture, sociology should not concern itself with the actual contents of cultural evolution but it should confine itself to only the discovery of the fundamental forces of change and persistence. It should refrain itself form making an historical study of concrete societies.

Max Weber opines that the aim of sociology is to interpret or understand social behavior. But social behavior does not cover the whole field of human relations; He further says that sociology should make an analysis and classification of types of social relationships.

Small insisted that sociology has only a limited field. Von Wiese and Tonnies expressed more or less the same opinion.


The views of the Formalistic school are widely criticized.

  • The formalistic school has unreasonably narrowed the fields of sociology. Sociology should study not only the general forms of social relationships but also their concrete contents.
  • The distinction between the forms of social relations and their contents is not workable. Social forms can not be abstracted form the content al all, since social forms keep on changing when the contents change.
  • Sociology is not the only science that studies the forms of social relationships. Other sciences also do that. The study of international law, for example, includes social relations like conflict, war, opposition, contract etc. Political science, Economics also study social relationships.

Synthetic School

The synthetic school of though conceives of sociology as a synthesis of the social sciences. It wants to make sociology a general social science and not a pure or special science.

The main argument of this school is that all parts of social life are intimately inter-related.

The views of Emile Durkheim: one of the stalwarts of this school of thought, sys that sociology has three main divisions or fields inquiry.

  1. Social Morphology: social morphology studies the territorial basis of the life of people and also the problems of population such as volume and density, local distribution etc
  2. Social physiology: social physiology has different branches such as sociology of religion, of morals, of law, of economic life and of language etc.
  3. General Sociology: general sociology can be regarded as the philosophical part of sociology. It deals with the general character of the social facts. its function is the formulation of general social laws.

Morris Ginsberg

Ginsberg, another advocate of the synthetic school, says that the main task of sociology can be categorized into four branches:

  1. Social Morphology: Social Morphology deals with the quantity and quality of population. It studies the social structure, social groups and institutions.
  2. Social Control: Social Control studies-formal as well as informal-means of social control such as custom, tradition, morals, religion, convention and also law court legislation, etc. It deals with the regulating agencies of society
  3. Social Process: Social Process tries to make a study of different modes of interaction such as cooperation, competition, conflict, accommodation, assimilation, isolation, integration, differentiation, development, arrest and decay.
  4. Social Pathology: Social Pathology studies social mal-adjustment and disturbances. It also includes studies on various social problems like poverty, beggary, unemployment, over-population, prostitution, crime etc.