Monday, November 18, 2013


The study of social life, and social change, and the social causes and consequences of human behaviour. Sociologists investigate the structure of groups, organizations, and societies, and how people interact within these contexts.
American Sociological Association. “What is Sociology?”

For general overview see Encarta Encyclopedia article: Sociology.
  • One of the broadest social sciences
  • Originated in Europe but primarily an American subject up to the 1960s
    • From 1800s what we associated, focus on Chicago – different ethnic groups, crime, deviants, social activism; make things better, become involved to do so
  • Auguste Comte generally considered to be the founder of modern sociology
  • History of interest in solving problems associated with urbanization and industrialization, e.g. poverty, inequality, family breakdown, crime/deviance, racial/ethnic minorities, and other topics socialists would be interested in
  • Methodologies developed primarily for study of modern Western societies
    • Questionnaires
    • Surveys
  • Research methods include
    • Fieldwork: direct observation
    • Quantitative methods
      • Statistics; look at numbers related to groups
    • Survey research
      • Questionnaires, interviews, polls, focus groups
    • Heavy reliance on primary statistical information
      • Census, vital statistics, employment statistics, immigration statistics, crime stats …
  • Numerous areas of specialization
    • 50+
  • Sections of the American Sociological Association
  • Sociological Specialities
Topical areas
(featured areas of both non-public and public interest)
  • Crime and deviance (Criminology as a separate discipline/profession)
  • Demography
    • population study using government statistics
  • Ethnic and racial relations
  • Gerontology
  • Marriage and the family
  • Women’s studies
  • Men’s studies
  • Urban studies
  • Rural studies
  • Closest relationship with anthropology
  • Traditional division based on pre-industrial (anthropology) and industrial societies (sociology) breaking down – anthropologists looking more at urban, industrialized societies
  • Traditionally, sociology was anthropology in an urban, industrial setting
  • Sociology the social science discipline most likely to lend to other social science disciplines 
  • Sociologists often concerned with reform and are frequently critical of the status quo
  • Has led to reputation of “pusher of unpopular causes,” sociology department may be seen as a “centre of radicalism”
  • Sociological literature jargon filled (Sociologese) see Jargon Free Sociology
Structure of sociological literature
  • 50 – 62% of all citations from scholarly research are from nonserial publications
    • Sociologists use monographs more than many other social scientists
  • 90 – 93% of all citations English language
  • 50 – 70% of all citations from sources less than 10 years old
User needs
  • Academics: interest in “hot” problem areas, topics, issues, statistical sources
  • Postsecondary students: popular works summarizing state of the art, subject dictionaries, encyclopaedias, handbooks
  • Social workers: “how to do it good”, info on types of clients, regulations, laws, licensure
    • Few practitioners read research periodicals or use research findings
  • Lay persons: interest in problem solving literature with step by step format; local sensational social problems (careful selection of popular material required)

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