A typical textbook definition of sociology calls it the study of the social lives of humans, groups and societies . Sociology is interested in our behavior as social beings; thus the sociologicalfield of interest ranges from the analysis of short contacts between anonymous individuals on the street to the study of global socialprocesses .
Sociology as a discipline emerged in the 19th century as an academicresponse to the challenge of modernity : as the world is becoming smaller and moreintegrated, people's experience of the world is increasingly atomized and dispersed. Sociologists hoped not only to understandwhat held social groups together, but also to develop an "antidote" to social disintegration .
Today sociologists research macro- structures that organize society, such as race or ethnicity , class and gender , andinstitutions such as the family ; social processes that represent deviation from, or thebreakdown of, these structures, including crime and divorce ; and micro-processes such as interpersonal interactions.
Sociologists often rely on quantitative methods of social research to describe large patterns in social relationships,and in order to develop models that can help predict social change and how people will respond to social change. Other branchesof sociology believe that qualitative methods -- such asfocused interviews, group discussions and ethnographic methods -- allow for a better understanding of social processes. Anappropriate middle ground is that both approaches are complementary, that results from each approach can fill in results from theother approaches. For example, the quantitative methods can describe the large or general patterns, while the qualitativeapproaches can help to understand how individuals understand or respond to those changes.
The term was coined by Auguste Comte , who hoped to unify all studiesof humankind--including history, psychology and economics. His own sociological scheme was typical of the 18th century ; he believed all human life had passed through the same distincthistorical stages and that, if one could grasp this progress, one could prescribe the remedies for social ills.
In the end, Sociology did not replace the other social sciences, but came to be another of them, with its own particularemphases in terms of subject matter and methods. Today, Sociology studies humankind's organizations and social institutions,largely by a comparative method. It has concentrated particularly on the organization of complex industrial societies .
Sociologists study a great variety of topics. To get a good idea of the range of topics, visit the International SociologicalAssociation's ResearchCommittee's page which lists topics such asAging, Arts, Armed Conflict, Disasters, Futures Research, Health, Law, Leisure, Migration, Population, Religion, Tourism, Womenin Society, Work, and many others. The American Sociological Association's sections page lists sections covering many of the same topics, aswell as others.
Below are some of these areas and topics, with links to Wikipedia discussions of these areas and topics.
Key sociological topics
Sociology and the Internet
The Internet is of interest for sociologists in three views at least: as a toolfor research , for example by using online questionnaires instead of paper ones, as a discussion platform (see 'External links' section below), and as a research topic. Sociology of theInternet in the last sense includes analysis of online communities (e.g. as found in newsgroups), virtual communities and virtual worlds organisational change catalysed through new media like theInternet, and societal change at-large in the transformation from industrial to informationalsociety (or to information society ).
Terms and methods
See List of sociologists for sociologists with entriesin Wikipedia.
Famous sociologists include Auguste Comte , Emile Durkheim , Ferdinand Toennies (Ferdinand Tönnies), GeorgSimmel , Max Weber , Albion Woodbury Small , CharlesHorton Cooley , Ibn Khaldun , Pitirim Sorokin , Vilfredo Pareto , RobertE. Park , Karl Mannheim , Talcott Parsons , Robert K. Merton , Peter Blau , ReinhardBendix , Norbert Elias , Ralf Dahrendorf , JohnRex , David Lockwood , Erving Goffman , Harold Garfinkel , and Anthony Giddens . Karl Marx would not have called himself a sociologist, but his thought has had animmense impact on sociological theory. Other references can be found in the "Famous Sociologists" section  of the SocioSite  .
Comparison to other social sciences
In the early 20th century, sociologists and psychologists who conducted research in non-industrial societies contributed tothe development of anthropology . It should be noted, however, thatanthropologists also conducted research in industrial societies. Today sociology and anthropology are better contrasted accordingto different theoretical concerns and methods rather than objects of study.
Sociology has some links with social psychology , but theformer is more interested in social structures and the latter in social behaviors
A distinction should be made between these and forensic studies within these disciplines, particularly where anatomy isinvolved. These latter studies might be better named as Forensicpsychology .
As shown by the work of Marx and others, economics is often influenced bysociological theories.
Social theory is a distinction applied to the work considered outside of the mainstream of sociology. Among sociologists whomodel their work on the successful sciences of physics or chemistry, social theory may be applied to all work produced outside ofthe scientific method , in contradistinction to asociological theory which has been "correctly" tested. However, a natural science model has never completelypredominated sociology, nor has there ever been much consensus, even among the adherents of that model, as to what wouldconstitute valid evidence or even the proper unit of analysis. Consequently, the distinction between sociology and social theoryhas always been more reflective of classifier than the theory described as belonging to one or the other. Many theorists preferto describe themselves as social theorists because they are critical of the sociological community or were not trained associologists.
Marxist theory , criticaltheory , post-colonial theory , feminist theory , structuralist theory , post-structuralist theory , queer theory , Postmodern theory , and other theories probably unmentioned have all at times beenconsidered outside the mainstream of sociology and been referred to as social theory. However, as all these theories have beenadopted to some extent by mainstream sociology, distinctions are made less often.
See also Category:Philosophy .
See also: criminology , disabilities , education , etiquette , Frankfurt School , Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft , gender & sexuality , Marxism , mass media , media studies , Milgram experiment , revolution , social engineering , political economy , race & ethnicity , social control , social movements , tautology , teleology , theory , sociological imagination , socioeconomic systems , racism , social order , socialstructure , social issue , scale (social sciences) , Important publications in sociology
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