Emergence of Sociology : As part and response to modernity

  • by Dr. Surendra Singh

Sociology like every other branches of social science with its inception in 1838 tries to study social phenomena, social behavior in a systematic manner.However we need to remember this fact that like the subject it studies, Sociology is a social product an intellectual framework, deeply influenced by the socio-historic conditions in which it found its genesis. Though as a discipline it was new in the series of social science, it reflects a long chain of Historical roots that could be marked as period of anticipation.


Historical root can be traced back to common human knowledge, works of art, philosophy politics that crystallized later on in the western Europe that also witnessed a transformation from pre modern to modern. In this period monarchy was disappearing, feudalism was rooted out, politico economic condition was rapidly transforming, religion was eroding as a system of authoritative explanation and was giving way to scientific enquiry. It also marks the transition from pre modern to modern, thus Sociology as a discipline emerged as a part & response to modernity and the dislocations emerged. In other words Sociology emerged as a way of explaining and dealing with problems & dislocations that emerged within the gradual transformation of western Europe from pre modern to modern, from feudalism to industrialism and from monarchy to democraticism. It changed not only the intellectual landscape but ultimately rattled the foundation of old traditions. In the old explanations being based on traditionalism and authoritative religiosity started proving inadequate and requiring a new rational approach to thinking.

3. The perspective of “the Great chain of Being” which for many centuries worked as a valid explanation providing hierarchical gradation of animate and inanimate objects was challenged. The thinking based on assumption was put to testification, the discovery of truth by the scientific procedure was highlighted . The Culture tied to land that provided readymade answers begun to prove inadequate. The   drastic change elucidated by economic – politico revolution made people to rethink, re orient their thoughts. The gap between past & present that had widened required bridging through new social thinking. However the tentative change in this direction emerged in the 13th century that with the period of renaissance crystallized. It tried to free people form the grip of medieval, religion and convention and it promoted national logical thinking, equipped with empiricism. Consequently heading towards a progressive direction. The development of modern science in 16th century led to the emergence of new optimism but with a critical note. It initiated a shift from the idea of God as a supreme creator of universe to the idea of God expressed by law of nature that could be discovered by human beings through scientific investigation.  DaVinci remarked that reason is the only unbreakable law governing nature and only through sufficient reason secrets of natures can be unfolded. The old explanations were not only challenged but also put to the scrutiny that ultimately paved the pathfor introspective beginning in the socio-cultural life. The discoveries and the voyages beginning from the 15th to 16th century opened up the intellectual landscape of Europe having the contact with the diverse culture & its people.The development of science further accelerated the new optimism, idea of progress centered around the scientific fervor. However the enlightenment period of 17th& 18th century in a true sense initiated the age of reasoning. In other words though the Enlightenment had its beginning in the European renaissance was moving in a new direction with development & institutionalisation of modern science. It   reflected a critical reaction against tradition authority & religiosity the Enlightenment scholars argued that neither knowledge of nature nor self knowledge could drive from obedience to tradition and authority, nor could persist from practical everyday experience. The Ideas of ReneDescartes & Newton are most significant in this context. Descartes argues that rationalistic control over phenomena could be obtained through a rigorous use of mathematical methods. He was against the blind obedience to the dogma of Romancatholic church. However it has to be remembered here that the “reformation movement” initiated by the German Monk Martin Luther had challenged the authoritative dogma of Catholicism that had also led the catholic church to initiate counter reformation in the middle of 16thcentury. The views, books were also banned by the church and it seems true in the case of Decartes later on, whose writing was put in the index of forbidder books by the church.

Newton believed that there is no contradiction between his protestant faith and his use of reason and observation to understand the universal law that of nature & universe since scientific investigation itself is a form of worship, that upheld the dignity of man, the most sublime creation in the Earth. There ideas influenced the historians and social scientists to initiate similar kind of rational analysis in society. It means like the physical world social world could be understood by the means of reason. In this context the Enlightenment scholars emphasized on the possibility of social progress and perfectibility of human kind. Voltaire challenged the church and the traditional authority, vouched for religious tolerance. He writes that though I may disagree with your view but I’ll give my life for your right to speak. Rousseau on the other hand by inquiring the basis of all legitimate authority argued that no person has natural authority over another. He rejected the possibility of force giving rise to any right.

4. He further argues that civil liberties derive their legitimacy form social contract and social contract is the sole foundation of the political communities. Rousseau’s ideas alongwith Montesquieu and Locke had a deep impact on the culmination of French revolution’ later on and ultimately in the development of sociological tradition of Hegel and Marx as well. The greatest thinker of Enlightenment ImmanuelKant further provided a new direction to social thinking as he writes, that Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self cause in maturity. Thus he argues to have the courage to use your own intelligence for which freedom is required, freedom of man to make public use of his reason in all matters. It was basically the appeal to reason over authority and tradition. The Kantian philosophy later on influenced the sociologist like George Simmel and Max Weber. Even Durkheim argues that Sociology is highly influenced by the Enlightenment. Though Zeitlin remarks that in the development of Sociology counter Enlightenment movement also played an important role in which the views of da Maistre and da Bonaldare significant.Enlightenment not only initiated a new beginning in the western Europe but also reflected its impact later on the culmination of anti aristocratic movements, particularly theFrench Revolution FR of 1789. That also reflects its link with American war of independence of 1776 which brought a new socio-politico order by replacing monarchy with democratic rules. Likewise Industrial Revolution broke the ideological karnel of   feudalism, initiated a movement from rural to urban in the new industries in which the new discoveries and inventions like steam engines, spinning jenny made it possible for the new mode of production. Industries came out that brought revolution in the socio economic condition. However it also brought certain problems like exploitation, poverty, hunger. Thus the social thinking that developed out of it had diversified its perspective hidden within it. The culture tied to land was broken. It now required a new thinking. In other words the change brought by the components of modernity initiated the beginning of new social thinking that ultimately provided an impetus to the emergence of sociology asa discipline. The consequent changes having diversified or divergent issues that hadaffected the old social fabric, require reorientation as well as redressell. Social atomism, alleviation, disorganisation, increasing rationality, widening class division, all become the new issues requiring a different rational thinking in society for which a science of society was required whose foundation was laid down by the French scholar AugusteComte in 1838 that was further institutionalised through the writings of Spencer, Pareto, Marx, Durkheim, Weber, this tradition of social thinking is a heritage which is being carried forward by the contemporary sociologists. Today in the contemporary perspective the different dimensions of social life & society are being put to critical analysis and in it the classical sociological theorists or ‘locus classicus’ are being evaluated. In this process the scope of Sociology in being widened. Ina very generic statement it is put forward that everything under the sun is the subject matter of Sociology. However is seems that it is a vague statement. In other words pertaining to the scope of Sociologythere is no one opinion about it. Since when sociology converges with Psychology, Economics, political Science is difficult to decide. That means where the boundary begins and where it ends remains to be a matter of great concern inSociology. Despite this there has also been a realization that the scope of Sociologyneeds to be specified and defined so that its true character could be depicted. Though it is to be remembered that almost all branches of social science somehow or other share common interest in terms of the study of human behaviour and social life. In this sense there emerges two broader perspectives concerning the scope of Sociologyi.e., Sociologymust demarcate itself from the other branches of social study and confine itself to the defined aspect of social life. Whereas contrary to it the other viewpoint argues that the field of social investigation is wide that it needs to be inclusive. In other words the first viewpoint focuses on specialist dimension in which George Simmel’s Formalistic school is most significant Von Weise, VierKandt, Max Weber belongs to this school. Whereas Durkheim,Hobhouse, Sorokin focus on the synthetic view point. In this context not only the scope of Sociologybut also its relationships with other social science are to be analyzed.

Sociologywhich emerged and developed to study society scientifically got institutionalised through its own locus, perspective, methods and theoretical dimensions, which provided Sociologya definite entity and specificity in social science different from other branches. However the difference between Sociology & other subjects is not in the topics that each subject studies rather it is in the perspective, each discipline bring to the subject. Hence, the analysis of relationship bet wear b/w different social science must deal with convergence as well as divergence that is similarities as well as differences.

For example when we analysis the relationship of Sociology with psychology we find that Psychologyis the study of individual, is a science of human experience, it is the study of mind. Whereas Sociology,is concerned with collectivity. Thus the perspectives of these two differ in terms of individual v/s collectivity, mental v/s social system Thought it is true that Sociologists share the interest of Psychologists in individuals but the unit of analysis for (Psychology)is the individual but for (Sociologist) it is individual in collectivity or the whole configuration of group life. In a society that cherishes individual rights or individualism, a tendency exist to develop psychological explanation of all behaviours. People tend to believe that behaviors always stems from personalities difference or different motivations but from sociological point of view psychological explanation are not wrong, just incomplete. The people’s behaviors arises not only from the motives and interests internal to the person but also from the social context in which they live one person’s behavior might be attributed to personality, a psychological explanation,what it becomes apparent that there are consistent pattern of thought & behaviors across the whole society, a larger perspective than individual in required . Here Sociology with its explanation extends to the large social unit of all that is society itself.

In the early formative era of Sociology the claim that Sociology has nothing to do withpsychology & Psychological cause are merely the manifestation of social courses has been put forward by Emile Durkheim. He considered social fact to be the subject matter of Sociology Even in his analysis of suicide rather than focusing on individual he focuses on supra-individual forces. Whereas Max Weber who initiates interpretative movement in Sociology considered social action to be the subject matter and tries to make verstehen as an intrinsic method in social sciences. In this context he advocates the use of common sense psychology. These two above works ina miniscule reflects the perspective of convergence and divergence between these two discipline, consequently manifesting the stand of sociologists in this context. These two discipline though remains to be distinct from one another and even the difference could be viewed “in a reference to quantitative v/s qualitative methods”. Though today this distinction is becoming blurred with the rise of social psychology and cultures personality school of thought.The gap between these two discipline has narrowed down. And there is interchangeable perspectives emerging in both. Thus MacIver writes that both have proved beneficial to one another as it provide aid to each other. However despite the similarity on the,basis of foci of study, use of methodology and emergent perspectives, these two discipline remains distinct with one another.

The relationship between sociology and Anthropology can also be approached through the perspective of convergence and divergence. Sociology which is made up of two hybrid words emerged in 1838 with its focus on the modern Industrial society. Whereas Anthropology is made up of two Greek word Anthropus-meaning man and logus- study, it emerged when West had on encounter with local culture. Initially it was referred as science of odditives but it gradually developed as a holistic discipline to study man in totality,i.e., from biological as well as social dimension. It is broadly concerned with the study of premodern pre industrial simpler society. Thus apart from the etymology context of origin, the difference between these two can also be viewed in terms of our own culture versus other cultures.

Anthropology is the study of human culture and views culture as a basis for society studying how people live in different culture and how cultures evolve. Sociologist study culture as well but see it as a part of other social system that together constitute society. Generally sociologistare more likely to study a society of which they are part of. The primary difference in this context between these two is not where to do their works but the central emphasis that the anthropology give to culture.

Broadly anthropology has four main branches like Biological/physical anthropology Socio cultural anthropology. Prelnstoricand anthropology linguistic anthropology.Though todayseveral other braches have also emerged. Anthropologists have broadly been accused of romanticizing with simpler society, though during 1930s,Robert Redfield initiated the study on peasant society and during 1940s. and 50s it dwelt on the life of urban industrial society. However Robin Fox remarks that anthropologists are not concerned with Urbanman per se, rather they are concerned with tribals in the urban setting. Sociologists also moved to the study of simpler society and thus this cross cultural dimension initiated an inter-disciplinary integration Thus A L Kroeber remarks that they are twin sisters. Where as the Indian scholar M N Srinivasconsiders both as one and same. These statements reflect a close familial resemblance precisely between sociology & social Anthropology Questionnaire, schedule, Social survey, participant observation, methods which though developed differently in these discipline have become the common tool of data collection. But despite this similarity these two discipline cannot be clubbed together as the foci of interest, use of methodology and theoretical orienation make them distinct with another.

The relation between these two discipline can best be illustrated with the statement of GE Howard “History is past Sociology and Sociology is present history:. This statement crystallizes the inter connectivity between these two discipline however as a discipline history claims a wider viewpoint as it deals with the entire range of human activities and interests. It is a chronicle of idea’s institutions,.Societies,their emergence, survival and so on. The data stored in the wombs of history providea pathways for action to other social science. It is broadly the reconstruction of past. However sociology is an empirical study of society. Though it has to be remembered that behind every present there is a past and without taking this into account a better analytical description cannot be provided. This statement seems true even in the case of sociology and its anticipation within which the historical works provided an aptplatform on which the foundation of sociology was built. That shows that history provided a root to the sociological analysis (sociology without history is rootles) The early sociologists while analysing the different facetsof social phenomena relied heavily on historical data that could be viewed in the writing of Comte, Durkheim, Marx and even Weber. However Weber in his relation of science to values establishes the fact that the true objective study is not possible in sociology and history. And thus if at one hand he becomes critic to the positivists, he also goes against those historians claiming to provide objective analysis. Here Weber recognizes that the methods, concepts developed by sociology would be fruitful to the historical analysis. However there also emerges a debate that is sociology akin to natural science! In this context one of the ardentsupporter of Durkheim A. R. Redcliff-Brown argues that sociology is a part of natural science. That reflects ahistorical stand in sociology. Whereas in American tradition use of ‘history was emphasized. Thus the noted social anthropologist Franz Boas commented that go grab the History before it dies out. We need to focus on particular history. Thus he initiated ‘historical particularism.’ It is true that the idea of progressivism in sociology become possible when the data of past was used to reconstruct present. Even the historian like Arnold Toynbee contributed to the sociology school. The particular areas like evolution, change, movement entails the description provided by history. However history has also enriched with the development of sociology reflecting that both have benefited from one another. Though despite this convergence the underline contrast between these two like history is diachronic, sociology is synchronic, History is about past, sociology is about present, History is concrete, sociology is abstract, history is descriptive sociology is analytical can be outlined.