What is sociology?
The focus of sociology is on the inﬂuences from society which mould the behaviour of people, their experiences, and their interpretations of the world around them. To learn sociology is to learn about how human societies are constructed, and where our beliefs and daily routines come from; it is to in a new light many of the taken-for-granted assumptions which we hold, and which inﬂuence the way we think about ourselves and others. Sociology is above all about developing a critical understanding of society. In developing this, sociology can itself contribute to the changes in society, for example by highlighting and explaining social problems like divorce, crime and poverty. The study of sociology can provide the essential tools for a better understanding of the world we live in, and therefore the means for improving it.
Sociology is the systematic study of human groups and social life in modern societies. It is concerned with the study of social institutions. These are various organized social arrangements which are found in all societies. For example, the family is an institution which is concerned with arrangements for marriage, such as at what age people can many, whom they can marry and how many partners they can have, and the upbringing of children. The education system establishes ways of passing on attitudes, knowledge, and skills from one generation to the next. Work and the economic system organize the way the production of goods will be carried out, and religious institutions are concerned with people’s relations with the supernatural.
Sociology tries to understand how these various social institutions operate, and how they relate to one another, such as the ence the family might have on how well children perform in the education system.
Sociology is concerned with a wide range of issues in social life; the interests and concerns of sociologists are not that different from those of most people in the
society. However, what makes the views of sociologists different from those likely to be aired in the canteen, at work, or in any other daily situations where views get exchanged is that sociologists try to provide evidence to back up what they say. The evidence is collected from a variety of sources and through the use of a number of research methods.
In trying to explain human social life, sociologists have built up a body of concepts (or key ideas) and terms (a specialized vocabulary). Central to the study of sociology are concepts such as culture, subculture, values, norms, status, roles and socialization.
Culture. The term ‘culture’ refers to the whole way of life in a particular society. It includes the values, norms, customs, beliefs, knowledge, skills and language of a society. This culture is socially transmitted (passed on through socialization) one generation to the next. Sociologists recognize that culture is not ﬁxed and uniform around the world but varies according to time and place. This can be illustrated with reference to food and diet: meat such as roast lamb is eaten without a second thought by many people in Britain, but roast horse or dog are not. Whole roasted guinea pig is enjoyed as a traditional delicacy in Ecuador, while guinea pigs are often kept as family pets in Britain.
Subculture. Sociologists appreciate that within any one society there may be a variety of subcultures or social groups which differ from the dominant culture in terms of language, dress, norms and values.