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What is Sociology?

For those interested in studying the social sciences, sociology is one of the keystone disciplines. It is also integral to understanding many of the issues with which modern, Western societies grapple. The article below explores the finer functions of this social science and provides answers to some of the most fundamental questions prospective scholars may pose.

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What Sociology Entails

While sociology has its roots in anthropology, it has come to entail different research methods. Primarily, when most think of sociology, they envision studying western cultures, industrialized nations, and the problems these realms entail. Formally, this branch of social science is defined as the study of society, exploring the social lives of people, nation-states, and corporate groups.

But echoes of its parent discipline may be discerned in its finer functions. Sociology seeks to describe and understand human behavior in the contexts of everyday activities and specialized social mediums. It may explore the dynamics of short-term interaction between strangers in public spaces or how international diplomacy functions to mediate or diffuse potentially adverse situations.

Just like anthropology, this discipline seeks to understand human social behaviors and how individuals or groups define themselves. Sociologists may use words such as habitus to describe these community boundaries and differing identities an individual espouses when moving between communities. But these social scientists can also be found performing non-participant observation in public spaces, conducting surveys in both virtual and corporeal settings, and in the classroom.

Research and Data

While some might assume that social sciences are without rigor or rule, they would be incorrect. Sociologists, like any other type of social researcher, rely on the scientific method to perform studies of social behavior that adhere to the highest standards. Ethics are also primary concerns. These scientists recognize that, as they collect data and record their observations, they may encounter culturally or personally sensitive materials.

Sociologists parse their analyses into two data categories—quantitative or qualitative. Each respective area focuses on different criteria and standards of measure. The former relies on numerical expressions and statistical analysis. For example, a quantitative study might examine the rates at which a specific behavior or trend occurs in individuals or groups. The latter focuses more on qualities of behavior or trend and individual expressions. Personal interviews, newspaper articles and website content, and diaries or journals are prime material for qualitative analysis.

Distance and Method

As with other disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, sociologists differentiate between primary and secondary sources. The researcher collects primary data. They use surveys and questionnaires, observation and experiments, and individual interviews to collect data which may be more tailored to their specific research questions. Secondary sources and data include data and research compiled by other researchers, government institutions, statistical comparisons completed by organizational bodies, and other publicly available materials and meta-analyses.

Surveys are one of the most useful tools of the qualitative researcher, although they may also be used to analyze quantitative concerns. Because they are brief and include closed questions pre-selected by the researcher, they can be tailored to the needs and research goals of an individual. Experiments tend to be focused on establishing a relationship between known variables. These follow the scientific method closely in order to preserve the integrity of observational data.

While the methods of sociologists include interviews and ethnographic analysis, their primary motive is to understand social patterns from a broad perspective and one that is fine-grained. As a discipline, sociology ultimately permits a sort of predictive forecasting, and by studying previous and existing patterns, scientists and social organizations can better understand how individuals and groups will react to events or stimuli.

Source: American Sociological Association

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