Sociology: What is It and Why is it Needed?

Sociology: Why is it needed and why is it so important?

An overview of sociology

What is It and Why is it Needed? The importance of Sociology first emerged in the nineteenth century, in the wake of Newtonian and Darwinian advances in science. These were key in establishing that science could provide rational explanations and solutions for all the problems that human beings faced.

It was hoped that so-called “social sciences” could provide similar answers to the questions in human relations and activities around the importance of Sociology.

Almost from the dawn of civilisation, people have lived together in distinct groups which we call “societies”. The advent of sociology allows us to apply scientific analysis to the relationships between different sections of society, how they adapt to change and changing needs or demands.

The importance of Sociology hangs among the question’s sociology attempts to answer are: why do people live together in groups, how do communities develop, survive, grow and fragment, and what impact does society have on the individual and vice versa. Common areas of social study include the home and family, school and education, organised religion, government, work and association.

Sociology examines the role that these play in society and looks at ways in which their roles could be amended to provide better services to both the individual and society.

Because the importance of sociology and within everything we can think of impacts on society in one form or another, the scope of sociological study is boundless. As well as those listed above, sociology also examines the main divides in society, including race, gender, sexuality and disability and how these can be determining factors in the experiences and lives of people, both individually and as part of a group.

A good grasp on the importance of Sociology better equips us to understand the world in which we live and the role which we ourselves play in it.

Sociologists are interested in the experiences of individuals and what role society and social groups have in forming those experiences. In the eyes of a sociologist, nothing happens by accident. Cultural influences and patterns influence people in making the decisions they do and it is the role of the sociologist to identify these patterns, usually by examining the experiences of large groups of people living in the same area and undergoing the same societal pressures.

Famous sociologists

No one individual can be truly called the “father of sociology”. Numerous individuals, overwhelmingly from France and Germany, pioneered the field in the 19th century. Among the most significant of these was Frenchman Emile Durkheim (1858-1917). Among his most important theories was functionalism. This theory proposes that if something should happen to disrupt the ordinary

flow of the system, then society as a whole must adapt in order to re-establish stability and that society consists of a series of interrelated parts that must function simultaneously in order to maintain a natural flow. An example of functionalism in action concerns education. The state funds education through taxation.

The children who benefit from education grow to adulthood and subsequently become taxpayers themselves. But if, for instance, the education system is below par and children begin to drop out of school and turn to crime, then the level of education (and rehabilitation for those who have been imprisoned) should be improved in order to turn the drop-outs back into law-abiding and contributing citizens.

Although Karl Marx (1818-1883) is more recognisable today as a prominent figure in the history of communism, much of his work was in fact to do with society, and thus he too can be considered as a prominent early sociologist. Marx’s work devoted itself to the study of the relationship between the economy and its workers.

He divided society into two social classes; the “proletariat”, meaning the working class, and the “bourgeoisie”, the upper-class rulers, managers and magnates. According to Marx, the system of government was designed to cater for the wealthier sections of society and not for any common good. Marx outlined his theories in his two seminal works Capital and The Communist Manifesto, the latter of which was co-written with Friedrich Engels.

Marx’s fellow German Max Weber (1864-1920) wrote prolifically throughout his relatively short life. He coined the term “iron cage” to describe social pressure applied by others or the self to act in a way which is strategically beneficial to themselves.

An example of this is someone who is forever striving to advance their careers or otherwise climb the ladder of success. Weber also advanced the theory that the position one holds in society in relation to others is dependent on more than mere wealth and pointed to education, occupation and politics as being additional factors. When all these are combined, they produce a hierarchy of people in society. In his most famous work, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”, published in 1905, Weber pointed to Protestantism as a key factor in the development of capitalism due to its argument that work was a calling from God.

In the United States, W. E. B. de Bois (1868-1963) was an early pioneer of using data to solve social issues, especially for the African American community of which he was a member. His work transformed the way in which the lives of black Americans was seen in US society. In 1899, he published his landmark study “The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study”. In his findings, he deduced that “the Negro problem looked at in one way is but the old-world questions of ignorance, poverty, crime and the dislike of the stranger.” Another of his keynote accomplishments came ten years later, in 1909, when he co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, thus marking a watershed moment for sociology when it transferred from a

purely theoretical standpoint to a more practical approach. Du Bois’ best-known work, “Black Reconstruction in America”, was published in 1935 and challenged orthodox views condemning African Americans for perceived wrongs and mistakes during the Reconstruction Era of 1863-1877.


Sociology helps us to understand such complex social issues as the causes of crime and poverty and to better understand different cultures and all else that affects and moulds individual attitudes. Society is ever-changing and so long as society continues to evolve and present fresh challenges and complex questions, the need for sociology will remain great. Covering subjects as diverse as health and religion, sociology is always looking for new ways to benefit and improve society as a whole.

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