What is Sociology? Meaning, Nature and Scope

The most question in conceptualizing sociology is ‘what is sociology?’. Sociology is a discipline in social sciences concerned with human society and human social activities. It is one of the youngest social sciences. Auguste Comte, a French social thinker, is traditionally known as the ‘Father of Sociology’ as he coined the term ‘Sociology’ in 1839.

Meaning of Sociology

The term sociology is composed of two words; the Latin word ‘Socius’ means companion or associate and the Greek word ‘Logos’ means study. Thus the etymological meaning of sociology is, “The science of society”. However, almost all sociologists differ in their views regarding the exact definition of the term. They generally define sociology as the study of:

  • Social action- Max Weber
  • Interactions- Gillin and Gillin
  • Social relationships- MacIver and Page, A.W. Green
  • Social groups- H.M. Johnson
  • Social institutions- Durkheim
  • Society- Giddings, ward etc.

Definitions of Sociology by Famous Sociologists:

  • Auguste Comte: Comte defines Sociology as the science of social phenomena “subject to natural and invariable laws, the discovery of which is the object of investigation”.
  • Kingsley Davis: “Sociology is a general science of society”.
  • Morris Ginsberg: “In the broadest sense, sociology is the study of human interactions and inter-relations, their conditions and consequences”.
  • Anthony Giddens: “Sociology is the study of human social life, groups and societies”.

Thus, in general, Sociology is concerned with man, his social relations and his society.

Model of Sociology

Social Action >> Social  Interaction >> Network of Social Relationships >> Social Groups and Social >> Institutions >> Society

Nature of Sociology

In the nature of sociology we investigate, what type of subject Sociology is? Is sociology a science, or an art or what? To answer this question Robert Bierstedt enlisted the following characteristics of sociology in his book “The Social Order”:

  1. Sociology is an independent science. Sociology like any other discipline has its own area of study and is not fully dependent on other disciplines.
  2. Sociology is a social science, not physical science. Social sciences focus on various aspects of human society while physical sciences deal with natural phenomena. Thus Sociology is a social science as it deals with man and his social activities.
  3. Sociology is a categorical and not a normative discipline. Sociology is value-free. It is only interested in ‘what is’ and not ‘what should be’ or ‘ought to be’.
  4. Sociology is pure science and not applied science. As a pure science, it is only interested in the acquisition of knowledge, it has nothing to do with the application of that knowledge. Like Physics is a pure science while engineering is its application.
  5. Sociology is relatively an abstract science and not a concrete science. It studies society in an abstract (Theoretical, not physical) way. Like, Sociology is not interested in particular families but in the family as a social institution that exists in all societies.
  6. Sociology is a generalising science and not a particularising science. Sociology is not interested in particular events rather it studies events in a general way. Example: History studies French Revolution but Sociology will be interested in revolutions in general.
  7. Sociology is a general science and not a special social science. Like Economy or Political Science, Sociology does not focus on only one aspect of human activity. As it has to deal with society, it includes all aspects of human life in a general way.
  8. Sociology is both a rational and empirical science. It studies social phenomena in a scientific way. It is based on reason (logic), observation and experimentation.
What is Sociology
Sociology IsSociology Is Not
Social SciencePhysical Science
Categorical ScienceNormative Discipline
Pure ScienceApplied Science
General ScienceSpecial Social Science
Abstract ScienceConcrete Science
Generalising ScienceParticularising Science
Independent Science
Both Rational and empirical Discipline

Thus we can say that sociology is a science of general nature and falls in the category of social sciences.

Scope of Sociology

Scope means the subject matter or the areas of study or the boundaries of a subject. What we have to study in a particular subject is known as its scope. Every science has its own field of inquiry. It becomes difficult to study a science systematically unless its boundary or scope is determined precisely. Sociology as a social science has its own scope or boundaries. But there is no one opinion about the scope of Sociology. However, there are two main schools of thought regarding the scope of Sociology: (1) The Specialistic or Formalistic school and (2) the Synthetic school. There is a good deal of controversy about the scope of Sociology between the two schools.

Specialistic school

The supporters of this school of thought are George Simmel, Vierkandt, Max Weber, Von Wiese, Small and F. Tonnies. They believe that Sociology is a specific, pure and independent science and thus its scope should be limited. The main views of the school regarding the scope of Sociology are –

  • The scope of Sociology is very narrow and limited. It need not study all the events connected with social science.
  • Sociology studies social relationships. Furthermore, only forms of social relationships are to be studied and not their content.
  • Sociology also focuses on the mental and psychic relationship which links men together in society.
  • The aim of sociology is to interpret and understand social behaviour.

Synthetic school

The supporters of synthetic school are the sociologists like Durkheim, Ginsberg, Comte, Sorokin, Spencer, F. Ward, and L.T. Hobhouse. According to this School, Sociology is closely related to other social sciences. It is a synthesis of social sciences. Thus its scope is very vast. According to this school Sociology should deal with the following areas of study:

  • Social Morphology: deals with population (social structure, social groups and institutions)
  • Social Control: deals with formal and informal means of social control such as customs, traditions, morals, religion, law, court etc.
  • Social Process: different modes of social interaction (conflict, cooperation, isolation, integration etc.)
  • Social Pathology: social maladjustment and social problems like poverty, beggary, unemployment, overpopulation etc.
  • General Sociology: philosophical part of sociology. Its function is the formulation of general social laws.
Specialistic/ Formalistic SchoolSynthetic School
Thinkers Associated: George Simmel, Vierkandt, Max Weber, Vonwise, Small and F. Tonnies.Thinkers Associated: Ginsberg, Durkheim, Comte, Sorokin, Spencer, F. Ward, and L.T. Hobhouse.
About Sociology: Sociology is a pure and independent and special science. It has a limited scope.About Sociology: Sociology is a general science. It is synthesis of various sciences. It has a vast Scope.
Scope: Forms of social relationships mental and psychic relationships social BehaviourScope: Social Morphology (Population)Social ControlSocial Processes (Social interaction)Social Pathology (Social Problems)General Sociology

Broadly speaking, Sociology studies all aspects of Human society, viz.,

  1. Social Behaviour
  2. Social Relationships
  3. Social Structure
  4. Social Institutions
  5. Social Processes
  6. Social Control
  7. Social Change
  8. Social Stratification
  9. Social System etc.

From the above discussion, we come to know that Sociology is a growing science. Therefore, it is neither possible nor desirable to restrict its scope.


6 thoughts on “What is Sociology? Meaning, Nature and Scope”

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