History of Sociology


Sociology has a relatively short history.   The systematic study of "patterns of behavior" began in the early part of the 19th century in France, and then appeared in other European societies and the United States as that century progressed.

Why did sociology appear at that time and place?

Answer:  there was a need to understand the rapid social changes that were occurring throughout these societies as they experienced dramatic political, economic, and social upheavals.  What was happening in France around 1800?

There was a great desire to know what was happening, why it was happening, and where it was leading.  Were these changes beneficial ones?  Were they harmful ones?  Could anything be done to influence the course of change?  These were the central questions that all the founders of sociology addressed.
 



 
 
 
Founders of Sociology
Person/Orientation
Key Concepts/Short Excerpts


August Comte

"The Liberal"

"Sociology", Positivism

Excerpt from Positive Philosophy (1830-42)
"The Positive Philosophy offers the only solid basis for that Social Reorganization which must succeed the critical condition in which the most civilized nations are now living....  It alone has been advancing during a course of centuries throughout which the others have been declining. The fact is incontestable. Some may deplore it, but none can destroy it, nor therefore neglect it but under penalty of being betrayed by illusory speculations. This general revolution of the human mind is nearly accomplished. We have only to complete the Positive Philosophy by bringing Social phenomena within its comprehension, and afterward consolidating the whole into one body of homogeneous doctrine. The marked preference which almost all minds, from the highest to the commonest, accord to positive knowledge over vague and mystical conceptions, is a pledge of what the reception of this philosophy will be when it has acquired the only quality that it now wants—a character of due generality. When it has become complete, its supremacy will take place spontaneously. and will re-establish order throughout society."  click for more...

Herbert Spencer

"The Conservative"

Evolution, "Survival of Fittest"

Excerpt from The Principles of Sociology, Vol. 1 (1876)
"Society is an organism... It undergoes continuous growth; as it grows, its parts, becoming unlike, exhibit increase of structure; the unlike parts simultaneously assume activities of unlike kinds; these activities are not simply different, but their differences are so related as to make one another possible; the reciprocal aid thus given causes mutual dependence of the parts; and the mutually dependent parts, living by and for one another, form an aggregate constituted on the same general principle as an individual organism. The analogy of a society to an organism becomes still clearer on learning that every organism of appreciable size is a society; and on further learning that in both, the lives of the units continue for some time if the life of the aggregate is suddenly arrested, while if the aggregate is not destroyed by violence its life greatly exceeds in duration the lives of its units. Though the two are contrasted as respectively discrete and concrete, and though there results a difference in the ends subserved by the organization, there does not result a difference in the laws of the organization: the required mutual influences of the parts, not transmissible in a direct way, being transmitted in an indirect way."  click for more...

Karl Marx

"The Radical"

Class, Revolution, Dialectical Materialism

Excerpt from The Communist Manifesto (1848):
"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.  Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes....
It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the spectre of communism with a manifesto of the party itself....
In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things. In all these movements, they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time. Finally, they labor everywhere for the union and agreement of the democratic parties of all countries. The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. 
Working men of all countries, unite!"   click for more...

Emile Durkheim

"The Scientist"

Social Fact, Anomie

Excerpts from The Rules of the Sociological Method (1893)
"Before beginning the search for the method appropriate to the study of social facts it is important to know what are the facts termed 'social'. .. When I perform my duties as a  brother, a husband or a citizen and carry out the commitments I have entered into, I fulfill obligations which are defined in law and custom and which are external to myself and my actions. Even when they conform to my own sentiments and when I feel their reality within me, that reality does not cease to be objective, for it is not I who have prescribed these duties; I have received them through education... Here, then, is a category of facts which present very special characteristics: they consist of manners of acting, thinking and feeling external to the individual, which are invested with a coercive power by virtue of which they exercise control over him.  Consequently, since they consist of representations and actions, they cannot be confused with organic phenomena, nor with psychical phenomena, which have no existence save in and through the individual consciousness. Thus they constitute a new species and to them must be exclusively assigned the term social." click for more...